SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive Review

The following article is about the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive Review

A traveler's worst dilemma is having too many photos to take but with too little memory space. Chances are that you only travel to a particular place once, and you would want to take as many pictures as you could to help you reminisce of it in the future. Running out of memory space is a common occurrence and I've encountered this situation countless times. Thankfully, SanDisk has come up with a new product that has helped put an end to this problem.

SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive Review
Introducing the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive, compatible with iPhone and iPad

According to a survey carried out by IDC, 71% of all images today are being captured using mobile devices. This staggering figure proves the constant struggle of users in finding the most convenient way to transfer content in order to free up space on their devices.

SanDisk iXpand Flash
SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive helps transfer contents in a flash

With the introduction of the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive, users can now automatically and instantly sync photos and videos from their devices, either to free up space or simply as backup. Other noteworthy features include:
  • 3x Transfer speed
  • Content can be played/viewed directly from the drive
  • Content can be password-protected
  • Drives are available at 16, 32, 64 or 128GB

I personally love the multifunctionality of the drive and the convenience that comes along with it. The SanDisk iXpand Flash makes it a breeze to back up memories, free up memory, as well as to act as a digital media library (some sort of an external hard drive, but for smartphones and tablets). With this innovation, I do not have to worry about having to find my cable, or if I have my laptop nearby for the content transfer. The fact that I can also play music directly from the drive once it is connected to my phone also save me the trouble of having to download songs from iTunes.

The SanDisk iXpand Flash is a must-have not just for travelers but for anyone who has a knack for taking pictures!

Yunnan Itinerary and Travel Guide

This is an article about Yunnan Itinerary and Travel Guide

It is almost religious for those traveling to Yunnan to start their journey at the capital Kunming, before proceeding to Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La respectively.

The highlighted route above shows the most common tourist trail in Yunnan

This popular north-bound route include the following attractions:
  • The provincial capital Kunming serves as a transport hub. A highly-populated city just like Shenzhen, Kunming is overpriced and is not a place worth staying over for a lengthy period.
  • Dali offers tourists a taste of ancient Chinese city (completed with olden days architectures) in Dali Old Town (古城), as well as a touch of modernity in Xiaguan (下关) where convenient stores and KFCs are a breeze to find. The Old Town is obviously where you'd want to be heading to.
  • Just like Dali, Lijiang also has its very own Old Town. I personally find that the ambiance in Dali is by far more authentic, while the latter has been turned into major tourist spot with very limited local vibes and characters.
  • Shangri-La and Deqen are wonderlands of breathtaking snow mountains in the vicinity, boundless grasslands, beautiful Yaks and free-roaming wild boars, friendly locals with an extensive Tibetan influence. Less touristy than Dali and Lijiang, Shangri-la is a haven for those seeking for a quiet and relaxing getaway. A perfect place for those who have just hiked Haba Snow Mt. or Jade Dragon Snow Mt.

Since all the places mentioned above are situated at a distance above ground (Kunming is already at 2000 meters) and the altitude increases with each passing destination, tourists might succumb to altitude sickness (a very common complaint among Chinese tourists from neighboring provinces). Spending a few days at each destination will allow your body to adjust and adapt accordingly. I have met a male hiker from Hong Kong who have just flew into Yunnan and started hiking the following day. He obviously wasn't coping well with the sudden change in oxygen level and this has greatly affected his whole hiking experience.

Getting There

  • To get from Kunming to Dali, read the following article
  • To get from Dali to Lijiang, take a three-hour bus ride from Xiaguan at 60 Yuan. Alternatively, if you are staying in Old Town, you can ask your guesthouse to arrange a ride for you so a time-consuming trip to Xiaguan can be avoided. Buses leaving for Lijiang from Dali Old Town cost around 87 Yuan. Train is possible too, takes two hours and 40 Yuan.
  • To get from Lijiang to Shangri-la, a 4-hour bus ride is necessary as there isn't a rail line here. Feast your eyes on the beautiful mountains and picturesque villages along the way. Deqen is a further 4-hour ride from Shangri-la.

Overnight Train in China

Being in an overnight train in China can be gruesome to some, but this just goes to show what we are capable of doing to save some money.

As someone who values comfort, I never thought there would come a day that I would need to experience sleeping in an overnight train. Although time-consuming, this method of traveling is great in helping to cut down on travel expenses, besides allowing travelers to get some rest.

train stations in china
Trains are always almost full, so booking ahead is advisable

china train reviews
Trains are surprisingly spacious on the inside

For long-distance journeys, passengers have the option to choose if they would want to be sitting during the entire ride (which is the cheapest), or to be able to sleep comfortably on beds. Soft sleeper is the best but the most pricey option, with four beds (two levels) in each cabin which allows plenty of room and personal space. Hard sleeper, on the other hand, is probably a very bad choice as six beds are crammed into each cabin (three levels) and it is back-breaking to even lie down.


china overnight train
Took the middle tier in the hard sleeper section. Never again!

overnight train in china
Spaces are a lot more confined than shown in this picture

One of the plus points of the train is that there is an entire carriage made into a restaurant and bar. (Occasionally functioning) Wi-Fi is also available in this section, but no power socket is available.

china sleeper train
Dining car with a bar at the back

food served in china trains
sleeper trains in china
Prices of the F&B available on the train

china train review
Awesome view from the window

The condition of the washrooms obviously needs no commentary. The fact that the journey is "long-distance" only makes the matter worse so always remember to keep a bottle of Tiger Balm and an unlimited supply of tissues close by.

Based on experience, soft sleeper is a much better choice for journeys that are 6 hours or longer. Nevertheless, always remember to check the price for flights as promotional prices are regularly available and this would save up a lot of time. Hard sleeper can be considered, provided you pick the lowest bunk (price difference of only a few Yuan)

Happy traveling!

Getting From Kunming to Dali


This is an article about Getting From Kunming to Dali

kunming train station
Inside Kunming train station

There are several ways to get to Dali from Kunming, depending on your budget allocation:

By Train

Probably the most popular option, there are seven trains available to Dali daily. The fastest train takes only five hours and the longest one takes up to eight and a half hours. Total distance is 358km. The official train schedule from Kunming to Dali is as follow:


Train No.
Departs
Arrives
Duration
Seat
Hard Sleeper
Soft Sleeper
K9612/K9613
09:43
16:03
6h20m
64¥
97.5/102.5/106.5¥
147/155.5¥
K9682/K9683
12:10
17:16
5h6m
-
96.5/102.5/106.5¥
147/155.5¥
K9686/K9687
21:21
05:04
7h43m
-
96.5/102.5/106.5¥
147/155.5¥
K9617/K9616
21:48
05:47
7h59m
64¥
97.5/102.5/106.5¥
147/155.5¥
K9602/K9603
22:06
06:08
8h2m
64¥
97.5/102.5/106.5¥
147/155.5¥
K9632/K9633
22:29
07:02
8h33m
64¥
97.5/102.5/106.5¥
147/155.5¥
K9690/K9692/K9693
23:08
07:22
8h14m
33¥
67/70/72¥
102/106¥


By Air

The journey by air takes only 45 minutes and many airlines offer this route, including China Eastern, Lucky Air, and China Southern. Price ranges from 180 to 400 Yuan. Unfortunately, most of these websites are only in Mandarin (no option for other languages) and only accept China UnionPay cards. It's best to get someone from your hotel to buy it for you with their cards and you can conveniently pay them back in cash. Buying tickets through an agent may cost you an extra 10 to 50 Yuan service charge.


By Bus

Going by bus can sometimes the cheapest option. However, keep in mind that most stations in China (be it train or bus) are divided into North, South, East, and West. It could be frustrating at first, but you'll be an expert in identifying them in no time. In order to get to Dali, passengers need to get to the West Bus Station in Kunming (西部客运站). There are buses leaving every half an hour and ticket fares are at 111¥ to 138¥. Journey takes about 5 hours.

Happy traveling!

Bukit Lawang, North Sumatra Travel Guide

The following is a Bukit Lawang, North Sumatra Travel Guide

I was never able to answer my friends whenever they ask me which is my favorite travel destination so far.

...but now I do.

I have never been to a place where I've gotten more in touch with nature. I was covered in dirt most of the time, yet I've never felt more comfortable and contented. This was only possible in Bukit Lawang, the place with the best accommodation, atmosphere, and route for those who are planning to hike Gunung Leuser.

bukit lawang indonesia
River, trees, the freshest air and friendly folks - everything needed for the most enjoyable travel experience

It was love at first sight.

The first thing that you will see once you get here is the exceedingly inviting river in beautiful emerald green. When crossing the bridge, you'll be immediately enticed by the sight of children frolicking on riverbanks, while mothers rest under wooden shacks while keeping a watchful eye on their children. Further away in the horizon are layers after layers of the greenest trees and shrubs. Then there is the blue, blue sky, dotted with beautiful pastel clouds.

bukit lawang indonesia
From Berastagi to Bukit Lawang through Terminal Pinang Baris. Takes about 5 hours and 50,000 IDR.

best places in indonesia
This friendly driver and his young conductor kept me entertained throughout the bumpy ride

Warning: The ride to Bukit Lawang is extremely rough and could cause nausea - imagine being in a ferry on choppy sea. Unfortunately, there isn't another way in.

how to get around bukit lawang
You'd need to take one of these (becak) in order to get from the Bukit Lawang station to the final destination.

best places in indonesia
best places in north sumatra
best places in north sumatra
Once there, you will find a row of shops selling rocks, clothing, souvenirs, and local Indonesian food.

what to eat in bukit lawang
This is how my everyday meal looks like. Simple, cheap, and yummy!

Immediately after checking in, I made arrangement for tubing, which included a short one-hour hike in order to get to the upper stream. Video will be uploaded soon!

bukit lawang cave
bukit lawang indonesia
Had the best guide ever

bukit lawang indonesia
best places in north sumatra
Spent the evening chatting and watching the locals cook up a feast.

The following day was even more exciting. Hiking Gunung Leuser was challenging, but very fun. To top it off, I got to see Orangutans, black gibbons, and adorable little Thomas Leaf monkeys.

best places in north sumatra
bukit lawang indonesia
bukit lawang indonesia
Shook hands with an Orangutan!

best places in north sumatra
Awesome guides

bukit lawang indonesia
Wouldn't have spent my days any other way
Bukit Lawang is definitely the place to go to for an adventurous and fun-filled holiday. Located only 2 hours away from the capital Medan, there are vans leaving the city directly from Pinang Baris terminal almost hourly. (There isn't a minimum number to go!)

Dangers in Bukit Lawang

Apparently the chances of running into "bad" people and scammers are high, but I've met only the nicest and the most sincere people when I was there. Since Cannabis can be found in the jungle, you may find people smoking it, or even offering some to you (out of courtesy). Politely decline if you do not want any (if you are a smoker, however, be ready for a free flow!)

The Good and Bad of China

Patience.

Patience is all that you need to survive in China for more than an hour.

I am surprised at how drastic the difference is between mainland Chinese and overseas Chinese. I was hoping that my 2-month long travel here would be plain sailing but unfortunately life has been pretty miserable for me. Don't get me wrong - I am not saying that the people here lead a defective lifestyle; I am just unable to adapt to the difference in the way of living.

common chinese behaviors

The list below serves as a reminder to prepare those who will be traveling here:

The Dark Side of China

  • The Art of Spitting 
Men and older women here spit a lot. They also enjoy doing what I dubbed the "flying mucus", in which they press one finger against one side of the nose and do a rather intense nasal blasting, resulting in a startling mucus dart. If you have difficulty visualizing this, I'd be more than glad to send you a video.

what to expect in china
Warning: Spitting is common on beaches and IN THE SEA too.

  • Inevitable Washroom Horrors
The toilets here are literally holes in the ground. Forget about flushing - you'll find a basket for you to discard your used tissues if you are lucky.

chinese public toilets
Some of the washrooms at main tourist attractions may look like this

  • Deafening Conversations
I was in a three-hour bus ride yesterday when a woman and a man in their forties behind me who were sitting right next to each other decided to speak as loudly as they could and their conversation lasted throughout the entire ride. Did I mention that they were sitting right behind me?

This is very common in coffee shops, restaurants and many other places. No, they are not quarreling. They are merely speaking in a volume they have long been accustomed to.

  • Now You See Me, Now You Don't
Cutting queues is very common. Queues here are already very long (duh, you are waiting alongside a fraction of 1.357 billion people), but they don't seem to get any shorter in time. Now you know why.

  • Zero Personal Space
...And as if waiting in a queue for hours isn't distressing enough, you also get people sticking their bodies right next to yours the entire time. I am assuming this is to prevent others from cutting queues, but the experience is exceedingly intolerable. The same situation can take place in restaurants too when you need to share a table.

  • Unpredictable Walking Pace
They could be bolting down the street. Or they could be walking at the rate of one meter per minute. Science has yet to solve this puzzling phenomenon, so quit guessing and try not to run into anyone.

  • Umbrella Community
I can bet my life that every.single.one here owns an umbrella. Some probably have three - one fixed onto their motorbike/bicycle, one in their bags, and a spare one at home. Rain or shine, dry or wet, the Chinese have become overly dependent on the use of umbrellas. (I have seen some shielding themselves with two umbrellas at the same time)


China: The Bright Side

The Chinese have many positive aspects that are worth mentioning too, and the followings are what make up my extremely pleasant travel experience in the country:

common chinese stereotypes
 
  • Zero Harassment
There isn't a need to worry about being harassed here. You might find people shouting "美女! 美女!" (pretty girl) at you but that is only to get your attention so you would buy something from them.

  • Commendable Helpfulness
Another surprising trait of the Chinese people is their helpfulness. While this may not apply to everyone, I am lucky enough to have met a few people who had offered their help voluntarily, e.g. carrying my bags, patting me on the back to let me know that my bag is unzipped etc.

  • Excellent Punctuality
Malaysian Chinese is nowhere near the mainlanders when it comes to punctuality. Whether it is public transport or showing up for an appointment, experience tells me that they always arrive on the dot!


***
China is great and it is a bliss being here. The scenery is fantastic, the food is awesome, and the cultures and traditions are exceptional. I honestly just wish for more flush toilets and less stained tissue papers in the waste bins.

Berastagi, North Sumatra Travel Guide

what to see in berastagi
Panoramic view of the quiet and peaceful Berastagi town

Three things spring to mind whenever Berastagi is mentioned: Chilly weather, horse-drawn carriages, and the sweet, sweet smell of corn. The highland is also famous for the breathtaking view it provides of the active volcanoes surrounding it - Mount Sibayak and Mount Sinabung.


best berastagi attractions
Gorengan, or fritters sold in a rather unpleasant-looking stall by the street on the way to Berastagi

Within the town, tourists can spend their time touring the famous flower and fruit market while enjoying the cool breeze. Fresh produce isn't the only thing sold here - You can also find pets, clothing, and colorful souvenirs to bring home.

what to eat in berastagi
popular indonesia places
mount sibayak mount sinabung
Tens of stalls selling every type of fruit imaginable

berastagi volcanoes
getting to berastagi
how to get to berastagi berastagi fruit market
how to get to berastagi
getting to berastagi
Rabbits, dogs, hamsters - everything. Who even buys them?!

Across the street from the market, you can revel in grilled corn on the cob and the freshest sugar cane drink which will complete your whole Berastagi experience:

berastagi volcanoes
mount sibayak mount sinabung
popular indonesia places

Most of the tourists here are locals seeking for a quick getaway from the scorching city sun. They seem to enjoy taking a ride on a horse for sightseeing around the town.

best berastagi attractions
Street performances, horses, good weather and good food. What an experience!

what to see in berastagi
berastagi indonesia

bakso indonesia
what to eat in berastagi
My first time trying bakso - Indonesian meat balls served with savory soup. Cheap and yummy!

berastagi top attractions
popular places in indonesia


The tourist centers in Berastagi were all closed down when I was there. I could not find a map, so I've decided to go on a little adventure. I climbed stairs, trespassed gardens and private properties, and harassed young children by continuously waving and winking at them. After about an hour of aimless walking, I was rewarded with the most amazing view ever:

what to eat in berastagi
popular indonesia places
mount sibayak mount sinabung

Just how amazing is that view? :)

How to Get to Berastagi

I obviously did not do a good job researching so I ended up going to Pulau Samosir before heading to Berastagi. Berastagi is a usual stop for those en route to Samosir, so make sure you don't make the same mistakes that I did.

The route I took:
  1. Parapat - Pematangsiantar (1 hour - shared cab - 25000 IDR)
  2. Pematangsiantar - Kabanjahe (3 hours - van)
  3. Kabanjahe - Berastagi (20 minutes - angkut-  10000 IDR)

public transport in indonesia
Van from Pematangsiantar to Kabanjahe. The 3-hour ride wasn't comfortable at all - people kept coming onto the van despite it being full to the brim. I ended up being in the van with 21 other people. It was insane.

indonesia public transport angkut
Angkut (a mini van) from Kabanjahe to Berastagi. Be ready to travel with baskets of vegetables and livestock.

Traveling cheap is always exciting. Here's the rest of my North Sumatera itinerary