Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Miri - Brunei Daytrip

Sun 10/5/15

We went for a daytrip from Miri to Brunei to visit my aunt at Bandar Sri Begawan (BSB). The journey from Miri city to BSB took about 2 hours including immigration clearance at both sides of the checkpoints at Sungai Tujuh for passport check and filling in the customs form. Please keep this form for your return trip to Miri. Immigration at Sg Tujuh opens from 6.30am to 10.30pm daily. For each way, we paid RM10 for toll at the Malaysian side and BND3 at the Brunei side. As mentioned in a previous post on Brunei, both Brunei and Singapore currency can be used in Brunei and vice versa.

Asean bridge before Sungai Tujuh Immigration centre

Brunei toll

At BSB, my aunt brought us around the city, stopping to take photos at the Istana Nurul Iman, Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin at the banks of Brunei River, Brunei government buildings, Kg Ayer or Water Village,Masjid Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah and the most expensive hotel in Brunei - The Empire hotel. We also stopped by to have noodle soup at Tini's. 5 bowls of noodle with drinks cost BND 18.

at the Istana Nurul Iman gate

Kg Ayer from BSB

school at Kg Ayer

car park for Kg Ayer residents

Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin

Masjid Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah

Tini's restaurant in a house
Tini's noodle

Empir Hotel

We departed back for Miri around 5.15pm, targetting to reach Miri before dusk as there is no street light at the stretch towards the border. We reached back at Ajang Hotel in Miri by 7.30pm

long queue of Bruneians returning from Miri

Ajang hotel

Labels: ,

Friday, May 08, 2015

Beijing : Badaling and Zoo

12-16 April 2015

Ah, hello again Beijing! This time Partner In Crime is joining the trip. We stayed quite far from the city centre, i.e. at Haidian district, which is near to the Olympic stadium (but still not within walking distance).

We stayed at the Gloria Plaza Hotel Dongsheng, a neat hotel with a very artsy modern design (but somehow dark! - they don't like to switch on the lights, but have sensors) which is in the Dongsheng Science Park (explains the high tech switch mechanism in the rooms). The nearest Metro station is Yongtaizhuang at line 8, which is about 600m away, or about 15 mins walking.

standalone bathtub

ipad provided

comfy bed

Our flight departure to Beijing was delayed 30 minutes due to late arrival of the plane, then further drama ensued high in the sky. Around 11pm while everyone was fast asleep, I felt like checking our flight progress on the screen display, and I was surprised to see that our flight was making loops. So I quickly asked the flight steward what was going on, he said that we have not received clearance from Beijing due to a a storm and there was a backlog of flights which made it impossible to land during the designated time. We were probably going to be diverted to Hong Kong or Shanghai until the backlogs were cleared. Not long after my enquiry, the Captain announced that we would be diverted to Hong Kong and land there to refuel and only depart for Beijing after receiving clearance. We were stranded on the Hong Kong airport tarmac (in the plane) for about 4 hours before finally making the clearance at around 3.30am and landing at Beijing at 6.30am - a 5 hour delay - 1 hour circling mid air and 4 hours on the tarmac. What a relief to be able to leave the plane!

From the airport to our hotel, there was a massive traffic jam, possibly due to the flight delay when hoards of passengers have just arrived around the same time. We had booked a cheap studio room at Cinderella apartment near to our hotel (CNY 112 ) to sleep for the night as we were expected to arrive at 1.30am, but ended up just taking our bath and made a quick meal as we only arrived at 9am! There was no way we could cancel this booking, so might as well just check in and have a short rest.

After a record check in and check out time (2 hours only!), we asked for help from the staff at the reception to book a return taxi to the Badaling Great Wall. She was not really good in English so she passed us to her supervisor who was really helpful. We paid CNY 600 for the taxi return trip from Cinderella Apartment to Badaling Great Wall, and return to Gloria Plaza hotel, which is not far away from Cinderella. We departed for the Great Wall at 11.30am and arrived about 1 hour later. Our taxi would be waiting for us while we went sightseeing. We set to meet back at 3pm.

you can also cook, there is an induction cooker
simple furniture at Cinderella

our taxi to Badaling

From the pick up point of Badaling's main car park, we took the free 000 green coloured shuttle bus to the Great Wall entrance. We paid CNY 40 per person as entrance fee to the Great Wall, then hiked up a bit. We did not opt for the cable car ride, which had a different entrance and separate ticket. There were not many tourists today as it was very windy, gloomy and cold - there was light snow while we were up there. Though gloomy, the view was still magnificent, reminiscent of the glory old days of the Ming Dynasty. This section of the Great Wall was built in Ming Dynasty(1505) occupying a commanding and strategic position for protecting the Juyongguan Pass on its south, further protecting the city of Beijing. (from Wikipedia)

shuttle bus pick up point
hop on the free 000 green shuttle bus

Magnificent view of the Badaling Great Wall

we met a solo travelling Malaysian lady who took this picture of us

end spring foliage

We then walked a bit to the shuttle bus drop off point and took the same shuttle bus back to the main car park where our taxi driver was waiting. We paid the driver only after completing our trip, upon reaching our hotel. Our driver was honest, he waited for us and delivered his service as promised, although he didn't speak a word of English. The Cinderella apartment manager helped arrange everything and even called us when we reached Badaling just to make sure we had arrived and told us to get on the shuttle bus for free. We couldn't have figured it out on our own. Too bad I didn't get the manager's name, but I did email them back to thank for their help.

Finding our hotel Gloria Plaza was a bit tricky as it is located in a Science Park after all, as the hotel is not visible from the road and you would have to pass through security check (there are offices located in the Science Park as well). The park is surrounded by beautiful landscaping, emanating a peaceful zen like abode, with soothing Chinese classical music playing in the background.

dark Gloria Hotel reception

Gloria Plaza hotel facade

garden in Dongsheng Science Park

We settled down at our marvellous hotel for a bit of rest and shower, then headed for dinner at Shichahai - I went here last year, but didn't try the food at the Muslim restaurant there. According to Farah, a colleague also on this trip - the Muslim restaurant in Shichahai is the oldest in Beijing. To get to Shichahai, we took the Metro from Yongtaizhuang station, on the same Line 8. The Metro is now charged by distance, no more CNY2 flat rate. The one way ticket to Shichahai cost CNY 5

We picked the wrong restaurant at Shichahai (not the one recommended by Farah) - it should have been the most prominent one of the 3, a double storey building. The one that we chose was only so-so, perhaps our choice of menu was not the best on offer. We selected our dishes based on the pictures on the menu as the waitresses didn't speak English. Our dinner cost us around CNY 60. As it was really cold that night, we made a quick stroll around the lake and took some pictures before heading back to our hotel to rest for the night.

wrong restaurant

right restaurant

leek (daun bawang)

fried rice

noodle with eggs and tomato

lamb, beef and chicken skewer
lake just before dusk

Shichahai revisited

The next day we had a half day free after a short meeting at the office. Partner In Crime, being someone who loves animals, he had always wanted to see the panda, so we decided to go to the Beijing Zoo! Yes, it's rather peculiar to visit a zoo during a short trip, but since it was a Monday, the Forbidden City was closed. Summer Palace is a bit further away, and we didn't have enough time to make the trip. So Beijing Zoo it is!

But before going to the Zoo, we stopped for lunch at Farah's favourite haunt - a halal la mee (or pulled noodle) restaurant near the office (office is at Kerry Centre). The soup broth was tasty and it was a huge portion of a bowl! I couldn't finish mine, but everyone else wiped clean their dishes.

the la mee
the halal noodle shop near Kerry centre
other dishes we enjoyed there

We then proceeded to the Beijing Zoo via the Metro from the  Jintaixizhao station to the - yes you've guessed it right - Beijing Zoo station. On the way to the station, we stopped by to take pictures of the unique CCTV (China's state owned television network) building.

CCTV building

The ticket entrance to the zoo is CNY 20 including the Panda House. Unfortunately for us, the Panda House was undergoing renovations, so only a section of it was opened and there was only 3 pandas. Although we need manage to see the 2 pandas frolicking while the lone panda in a separate enclosure was having lunch. Other animals available here are red pandas, polar bears, and snub nosed monkey, among others. The zoo is also surrounded by a beautiful lake and a canal runs through it where you can also take boat rides.

red panda
zoo lake
spring foliage

canal at zoo

We then called it a day and went back to the hotel via the Metro. Tomorrow Partner In Crime would be on his own visiting Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square next to it.

We went our separate ways on the third day as I had some business to do. According to Partner In Crime, there were so many tourists on that day at the Forbidden City (perhaps the build up of 2 days volume of tourists as it is closed every Monday). So he only took pictures from the outside. Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty.

Forbidden City from the outside

moat surrounding the Forbidden City
Potrait of Chairman Mao outside the Forbidden City

Tiananmen Square, next to Forbidden City

We then met back in the evening and proceeded to the Hutong (a narrow lane or alleyway in a traditional residential area of a Chinese city, especially Beijing) via the Nanluoguxiang Metro station on Line 8 (no need for us  to change lines). This sure beats the disappointment of not visiting Forbidden City earlier. Farah told me that you could also take a tour of the Hutong by rickshaw, but since it was already evening we couldn't make the tour. The traditional houses are now converted into shops and cafes but still retain the facade of the past. It was a nice feeling being transported back to old Beijing. We bought some souvenirs here and stopped for dinner at one of the halal eateries there. Nice simple ala carte meal for tonight. Partner In Crime would be making his way back to KL tonight sob sob.

look out for this arch once you exit the Nanluoguxiang station

one of the hutongs
old architecture with modern signage and CCTV

old and modern

Starbucks housed in a traditional building
tourists flocking the hutong

we had dinner here at the hutong

la mee with beef

rice with beef

On the final day we finished work early so we headed out for lunch at a halal hotpot restaurant nearby our hotel as suggested by Farah. I envy her with her fluency in Mandarin, talking like the locals. You go girl! I particulary liked the nut sauce that you dip into with the hotpot condiments. A huge portion of the hotpot (I surrendered again but the plucky Farah walloped everything!) cost CNY 150 for the 3 of us.

hotpot sichuan broth
thinly sliced beef

dumpling. after soaking it in the hotpot, it becomes juicy, love it!

i absolutely love this yummy nut sauce

this is a savoury pastry. no need to soak it :)

all this for CNY150
the halal hotpot

That evening there was a sandstorm in Beijing, perhaps the same one hitting the city on the day of our arrival. We couldn't see the sky, only dust of red. According to our local host, the sandstorm usually comes during spring and the sand originates from the inner desserts of China, perhaps from Mongolia. Luckily our flight back that night to KL was not affected and we safely made the journey back home, alhamdulillah. The queue at the immigration was also short so we were cleared rather quickly. From the Gloria Plaza hotel, it was only 30 minutes to the airport and taxi cost CNY100.

red dust

Goodbye Beijing, may we be reunited again.