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Yunnan in Spring 2024

This year spring break coincides with Eid holiday so kids school was off for 3 weeks instead of the usual 2. After much consideration and since we enjoyed our Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Nanjing trip in December last year and its still visa free for Malaysian until November 2024, we decided to spend our spring break in Yunnan this year. There is direct flight from Dubai to Kunming Changshui International Airport and the flight time is only 6.5 hours which is great.

Our journey to Kunming took a speed bump when we received an sms from the airline right before we leave home, the flight has been delayed for 2 hours (we later found out that the delay was due to poor weather condition in Shanghai, which causes the plane from Shanghai to Kunming to depart late, hence affecting the flight from Kunming to Dubai and hence our flight from Dubai to Kunming).

We still decided to head to the airport despite the delay to check in, had KFC for dinner and waited for our flight. The flight was furthered delayed another hour and we only left Dubai at 11.30pm. Luckily the flight time was shortened to 5 hours instead of 6.5 hours so we landed at 9.15am in Kunming. 

Day 1: 3rd April 

We pre-booked our high speed train from Kunming to Dali at 12.18pm so we still had some time to spare. After clearing customs, we took a cab for RMB 88 to train station, reach at 11am and had lunch while waiting for our train. 

Note: If it is your first time taking train to China, their train ticketing system does need some time to get used to. Best to create an account and add in your passport details to facilitate booking, also getting a local SIM card is highly recommended even if you have international roaming on your phone. The local would much prefer to contact a local number.

After 2 hours train ride, we arrived in Dali. 

As we booked 3 nights accommodation with SheLoves hotel, the hotel has arranged for a driver to pick us from Dali train station.

Note: SheLoves hotel is newly opened in 2024 so it’s really new. All the equipment used are pretty modern, with warm toilet seat, heat indicator in shower and AI in controlling curtain and light in the room. Location is great, just outside the ancient city and can walk there in under 5 minutes. It’s literally just across the street.

SheLoves Dali Hotel: 云南省大理白族自治州大理市大理镇大纸房村喜爱度假酒店

We arrived and checked in, it was seamless. Everyone is tired so we showered and rested. Justin falls asleep as he has little bit of runny nose. So Steven, Jaclyn and me head to the old town just across the road from the hotel to explore. So many things to see and buy, and we chance across very pretty McD and Starbucks.

For dinner, we went for 过桥米线, at 银米. It’s really very very nice. The soup is flavorful and the ingredients are really yummy mixed up together. The trick is the put the meat in first followed by vegetable and mushrooms, lastly add in the noodle. And let them cook in the soup. Do not stir the soup much otherwise the heat will escape and ingredients wont be cooked thoroughly.

I manage to buy the Yunnan insta-grammable sweater for RMB 19, there are many choices in the ancient town and around the same price.

Day 2, 3 and 4 : 4th, 5th and 6th April 

We spend the next 3 days exploring Dali, enjoying the sights, biking along the coast, enjoy local cuisine and did some local activities such as tie dye in Zhou Chen (周成).

We love going to Dali ancient town, it’s a very charming town. Every turn feels like we are a character in an ancient drama. Although now the houses had turn into shops, but the building itself is still very nice to see, the road is wide enough so we don’t feel crowded. It has a different vibes to the town whether you decide to visit in the daytime or at night, I would suggest you do both. I love going to the ancient town be it daytime or when night falls. In the night, the town came alive with live music, pop up store with taro card reading, open air bar, and even palm reading. Even the stores selling local delights, clothes, leather goods open till midnight, you definitely have plenty of time to explore.

Biking along the coastal road is highly recommended. The whole of the west side of Erhai is closed to cars so the only way to enjoy them is to bike. If you are adventurous enough, you can bike from Dali to Xizhou. One can choose to go to S turn ( S湾) which is really popular or opt for Sansheng Island (三圣岛) which is also very pretty and much less crowded.

Tie dye at Zhou Chen is amazing, I did a skirt at the tie dye museum, it is an amazing experience. From choosing the material, design, and needle by needle I work hard, with the help of a granny, and I even go ahead and dye my own skirt in the dye-ing pot, washing the dye off and air dry them. End product is amazing. We paid RMB 220 for a skirt and RMB 78 for a square scarf. Do allocate at least 2 hours to get it properly done. There are many tie dye store but best to do it at the museum, although its at a higher price but the dye-ing material is natural and of good quality.

WHAT TO EAT IN DALI:

We highly recommend their 鲜花饼 (flower pastry), flaky outside and fragrant inside made with fresh rose petal, the taste is out of the world. There are many different store, I would recommend the freshly baked one at RMB 4-6 per piece versus the RMB 2 per piece factory made one. Definitely try their mushroom dishes as their mushroom is very fresh and tasty. For 过桥米线 , I would go for the one at 银米, portion is huge, good enough for 2 pax.

Day 5: 7th April

Today we left Dali for Lijiang. There is a new bus route that takes us to Lijiang for just RMB 29.50 per person. The bus has several timing per day, and we took the one at 10.45am. The bus then went to a couple of town to pick up some other people and left for Lijiang on highway. We reach Lijiang at 2.30pm. It’s pretty comfortable and definitely value for money. A taxi ride from Dali to Lijiang will set us back RMB 450.

For tonight, we stayed at Charming Heart Inn for a night before taking 2 days 1 night tour (We paid RMB 490 per person, booked through 高哥 from Shelove Hotel) tomorrow morning to Shangrila. It is a local Naxi feel inn. We spend our afternoon exploring the old town and rest for our Shangrila tour. We also pre-book our accommodation when we return from Shangrila to Lijiang and left our luggage bag there, bringing with us just clothes enough for our 2 days 1 night tour.

Day 6 and 7: 8th and 9th April

The next two days will be our tour to Shangri-la, dubbed the city nearest to heaven. We were picked up early in the morning and headed to Tiger Leaping Gorge, named after an area in the valley where the water current is really strong. A stone has fallen off from Haba mountain many years back and was not washed away despite the current. The stone has been a leaping stone for tigers to cross between Yulong Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain, hence the name.

TIPS: the stairs leading down to the gorge is pretty manageable so there is no need to opt for the lift ticket, unless you have baby or elderly with you or have difficulty climbing stairs.

On the way, there is a few stops for photo and toilet break. After lunch, we were dropped at Potatso National Park, the first National Park in China and a UNESCO site. We were allocated 3 hours here to explore the area. Our tour guide provided us with oxygen tank and thick jacket. Do use the oxygen tank even if you feel fine, prevention is better than cure as the altitude really high.

First, we took a bus from main entrance to Shudu lake. There is wooden walkway leading to the lake with sights to take in from every corner. There are ducks etc. The weather was not great on that day, it even rain hails. We walked for a bit and then took the bus back to main entrance. Then we hopped on another bus to Bita Lake, the highest lake in Yunnan. The squirrels here are very friendly, jumped and played around with us. The walkway has yak, cow and goat grazing on grass.

Next we tried local steamboat dinner with performance. We tried local tea (very unique taste, salty tea) and yak meat. Do note that the water boiling point at Shangrila is only 70-80 degree C hence it takes much longer for meat to cook. Do make sure the meat is cook for a prolonged period to avoid stomachache. Our tour guide make us something that taste a little bit like sesame ball , its made using 青稞分, make using a barley-like plant, this is their staple food in Shangrila, like how we eat rice everyday, the people here eat this everyday. The powder is mixed with their 酥油茶, a salty tea make with yak’s fat, and they eat it. Check out the video to see how it is made, I have to say it tasted really good.

We then checked in to our hotel and rest for the night. There are some hotels in Shangrila which has rooms that can have oxygen supply in the room, our hotel has a machine but its at extra charges of RMB 60 per day. As we have our own oxygen tank, and only staying for a night, we did not opt for that.

The next morning I did not feel well as I have vomitted in the night. It might be due to altitude sickness or food poisoning as I suspect I might not have cooked the yak meat too well last night. I hardly had any breakfast. Our tour guide brought us to his house and we get to experience how a local house looks like, they stayed on the second floor cause in the older days, their cattle will stay on the ground floor but since covid time, the government no longer allows the animal to stay with human to prevent spread of diseases. Most of the locals survived on their own produce, one yak is enough for a family to eat for 3 months, and they plant potatoes, and maize (dry and blend into powder) for their staple. Due to the high altitude, fruits tree doesn’t grow well and there is limited vegetables that can grow.

In the Tibetan culture, the firstborn will be the one who stayed at home after marriage, regardless of gender. Also, the locals does not eat fish because when they passed away, its is custom to return their body to the nature, they cut the corpse into tiny parts and feed the fishes in the ocean. In the summer, when school breaks for holiday, the children will follow their parents into the mountain to collect herbs, saffron etc.

Our tour guide has some local herbs in their house which they had been collecting and not able to sell after covid, we bought some saffron from them at RMB 60/g. Also we got some of their home made dried yak meat as well.

After breakfast, we headed to Lake Napa for horse riding. The price is not included in the tour. The weather was drizzling and cold, not the best time horse riding but the kids had fun playing with little lamb in the grassland and riding white yak.

After lunch, we went to the Dukezong Old Town to walk around before headed back to Lijiang.

Day 8 and 9: 10th and 11th April

The trip to Shangrila is really tiring as we had to cover many places in two days plus travelling time and altitude sickness. Therefore, we allocated the next two days to rest in Lijiang. We explored their old town, checking out the stores, taking in the olden days feel of the town. The food in the Old Town is pretty good as well, we tried their local Nazi Tribe fish, the famous Over the Bridge Noodle, and their local salted dried pork rib. The clothes in Lijiang town are really pretty with lots of local design dress and crotchet jacket, dress etc.

We also spend a day at Baisha Old Town, a very quaint and quiet town about 1/2 an hour away from Lijiang. The Yulong Snow Mountain can be viewed clearly from most part of this town, making it very scenic. We had lunch at one of the restaurant facing the mountain , strolled around and spend our afternoon listening to live music, having a cuppa fresh rose coffee in one of the cafe in the town.

Where we stayed in Lijiang: https://mm.ctrip.com/html5/hotel/hoteldetail/6793023.html

Day 10: 12th April

Today is our travel day. We took the high speed train back to Kunming and checked into Crown Plaza Kunming. https://www.booking.com/hotel/cn/crowne-plaza-kunming-city-centre.html

The location is good with many shopping mall nearby, staff were helpful and room is comfortable. There is a small balcony in the room and room service is great as well. By the way, their room service includes a selection of Malaysian cuisine such as satay, chicken rice, nasi lemak etc.

Day 11, 12, 13: 13th, 14th, 15th April

We spend the next three days in Kunming. The first day was spend exploring West Mountain. After lunch at a restaurant near our hotel, we took the taxi to the entrance of West Mountain. One could also reach by Metro Line 3.

From there, there is an option to walk uphill or take the bus. We opted for the bus which cost us RMB 12.5 per person and it’s really worth it as it is going uphill and the bus ride is almost 15 mins long. From there, can opt to enter the Longmen scenic area for RMB 30 (that goes further up) or enjoy the mountain by walking down slowly. We decide to skip Longmen and slowly walk down West Mountain, enjoying the view of Dian Chi (largest lake in Yunnan). I really wanted to check out ancient town in Kunming as I enjoyed them in Dali and Lijiang but turns out there is no ancient town in Kunming. The closet one would be a mini ancient town lookalike near the Yunnan Minorities Museum but it pales in comparison to the one in Lijiang. As we have our fair share of exploring the minority village in Lijiang and Dali, we skip the Yunnan Minorities Museum. It’s an open air museum over a large area with many cultural display if anyone is interested, I would recommend it. For dinner, we tried 太二酸菜鱼 and it’s really yummy. By 9pm, they close for order and their dishes are mostly sold out.

Second day, we took a tour to Stone Forest, nestled in a nearby town. We starts the morning visiting DianChi again, followed by lunch. Then head to Stone Forest, it’s huge inside with many areas to visit. The main stone forest is very crowded, we took some photos and then headed to other areas as well. It’s really scenic in there and we were back to our hotel by evening time. Rested and went for a massage in a nearby spa. The massage is good and they even includes a meal where we had our dinner. It’s the first time we were told that we can rest in the room, with TV after the massage for as long as we want before heading out. Apparently, some guests even stayed for the night. It’s that comfortable.

Final day in Yunnan was spend at Yunnan Safari Park, we enjoyed walking in the park as the animals stay in their natural habitat and there is lots of tress around. Do opt for the electric car as there is a few sections of the park and they are quite far from one another. It’s well designed where you enjoyed a selection of animal, take the electric car to the next section, visit , so on and forth and at the end you will be back to main entrance. The red panda is really cute and active, we also were fortunate to see the panda during their lunch time, they ate the bamboo in style. Giraffe cafe is my favourite as we get up close to the giraffe which enjoying our lunch. In the evening, we checked out another massage parlour with the kids, and we all enjoyed the food massage. JC even did an ear cleaning. For dinner, we enjoyed Haidilao.

Day 14: 16th April

We headed back to Dubai on MU 755 and our journey home was a long story indeed. On 16th April, Dubai was hit by the biggest rain in 75 years. We had more than a year’s worth of rain just in one day and the whole city was flooded, flights were diverted and even upon landing at a different airport, there is no taxi available to send us home. We had to take bus to a nearby metro station, hitch a ride, walk home and it was not easy. We were lucky our home was in good condition when we arrives, with no leak as some residents’ house were flooded and all their belongings were destroyed in the flood. We stayed home for the next few days as most major roads were closed. Luckily we managed to collect our checked in baggages 3 days later and ended our 2 weeks unforgettable and memorable trip.

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Snowflake Crisp (雪花酥)

Ingredients (makes two bottles-around 800g)

1. 65g butter
2. 230g marshmallow
3. 80g milk powder and 10g green tea powder
4. 100g nuts (almond, pumpkin seed, pistachio or mixture)
5. 200g Ritz biscuit
6. 60g dried cranberries
7. 50-60g dried mangoes
Methods:
1. In a non-stick pan, melt butter.
2. Next, add in marshmallow and stir until it melted.
3. Then add in milk powder and green tea powder, mix well.
4. Remove from heat and quickly add in biscuit, nuts and dried fruits.
5. Mix well using non-stick gloves, and mould them using square mould lined with baking paper
6. Sprinkle some milk powder on the top and let it cool down.
7. Once cool down, cut them into square and store in airtight container.

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Autumn 2023 in Transylvania on a Campervan

Autumn is considered one of my favourite season. As the leaves changes colour and gets ready for winter, the weather is considerably pleasant and the colourful mountains are pleasing to the eyes.

This autumn, we make our way to explore Transylvania, which not only made famous of Count Dracula but also home to large community of brown bears amidst the wonderful landscape and friendly people. Our trip this time is for 7 nights in which 5 nights will be spend in our trusty campervan.

It is our first campervan experience. We have learned so much during this trip and even met a family who has been staying in campervan, touring Europe for the past 1.5 years. All of us adapted to our mobile home, cooking meals on the go, manoeuvre through the city in our bulky car, and the happy faces when get connected to the mall free wifi (most of the wifi in Romania is without password). At the end of the trip, when we checked in to a proper hotel, everyone is grateful for unlimited hot water shower, huge bathroom and proper bed, indeed a great learning experience.

Some tips for campervan:

  1. It’s important to manage the water level in the tank, for us we use water wisely and our tank is good enough for 2 days of shower, toilet and cooking. Hence, we only go to campsite once every 2 days to fill our water.
  2. Campsite in Romania cost around RON 100-150 per night for 2 adults 2 kids including electricity. Some campsite provides self use washer and dryer at additional cost. We camped at Vampire Camping and Ananas Camping during our trip.
  3. In Romania, you can discard the grey water as long as its to the ground, they are not strict on that but do check as some country has more strict policy when it comes to discarded the grey water.
  4. For the toilet, we added a tablet and it is good enough for 2 days. We try to use toilet in mall, and petrol station whenever possible and we never use our toilet for big business. The waste water is not smelly as what we would have imagine so the toilet tablet is super effective.
  5. Romania allows wild camping so as long as you are not blocking the way, there is usually no issue. There are couple of days we slept in the carpark of huge hypermarket and use their toilet facilities in the morning.
  6. On the first day, we bought a selection of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so whenever needed, we can whipped up easy lunch or dinner while visiting attractions. Example, we make hotdog bun and instant noodle for lunch and pasta for dinner.
  7. When visiting town centre, best to park campervan just outside of city (we usually park at retail park such as Auchan, Declathon, Jumbo etc) and take an Uber into the city as it is difficult to park a huge campervan in the city.

Places we visited:

  1. Peles Castle- a fairylike castle build for the first king of Romania. Set amidst beautiful forest backdrop, it is a nice walk up to the castle. The interior of the castle is very well maintained, exquisite woods carvings and from the garden, you can get very nice view of the castle. Entrance fees : RON 50 adult, RON 12.5 for students (this is price for the ground floor visit). RON 50 for parking.
  1. Bran Castle- made famous by a book called Dracula by Bram Stolker. It is free to explore the castle ground, to enter the castle it cost RON 60 adult and RON 15 for students. Build as a fortress, it later become residence for Queen Marie. The parking here is exorbitant (RON 60 per hour so we just find a roadside space and park there)
  2. Brasov town- walk around the town, passed by Black Church, had lunch at Le Cauen at town square and stroll around Tampa Mountain.
  3. Clay Castle of Fairies. It is a instagrammable place, mini castle made of natural ingredients- clay, stones and straw. But to be honest, it is quite small and not worth the detour. Cost RON 20 per person- same price for children. RON 10 for parking.
  1. Sibiu town- known also as the city of eyes, check out their roof as the city watches you.
  1. Transfagaran Highway- only open end June to early November due to the extreme weather in the mountain. We were lucky to be able to explore this highway, the view is so great, no wonder dubbed as one of the best view highway in the world. We make our way through the hairpin drive (made famous by Top Gear) and head to Lake Balea (RON 20 for parking), the highest water body in the area. We also saw many wild brown bear on the way, they are just too adorable!
  2. Royal Court of Targoviste, where Vlad held his royal court. RON 15 for adult and RON 8 for students.

Sharing the cost of our trip, 8 days 7 nights for 2 adults and 2 teens (Age 11 and 12):

Flight Dubai to Bucharest on Wizz Air : EUR 590

Campervan rental for 5 days: EUR 730

Campsite rental for 2 nights: EUR 50

Accommodation near airport for 2 nights (first and last night): EUR 180

Food at restaurant: EUR 510

Miscellaneous (groceries, pillow cover, towel etc): EUR 250

Entrance fees: EUR 76

TOTAL: EUR 2386 

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Favourite Pineapple Tart Skin Recipe

Ingredients (make 75 pieces):

1. 250g salted butter (soften to room temperature)
2. 50g cream cheese
3. 50g icing sugar
4. 1 egg yolk
5. 380g all purpose flour, sieved
1 egg for egg wash

Methods:

1. Beat butter, cream cheese and icing sugar until creamy
2. Add egg yolk and mix well
3. Add flour, blend well
4. Make the pineapple tarts. 8g of pineapple paste to 10g of pastry
Brush egg wash on the surface , bake for 25 mins at 170 degree C until golden brown.

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Winter holiday in Georgia

Winter is usually very harsh and cold , so we hardly plan any winter holiday in Europe. First, I don’t do well in cold, the only thing I love to do in winter is snuggle at home with a cup of hot chocolate. Secondly, the daytime is really short in winter and it gets dark by 3.30-4pm, with the shops closing early, it doesn’t seems like there is enough time to wander around. Lastly, in where we stay Dubai, winter is really like the best weather, sunny and cooling so it is really a nice place to spend the winter.

Our view in Kazbegi homestay

This year, we decided to spend our winter break in Georgia. Yes, the place where in winter, it snows really heavily in the mountain area and super cold! The one and main reason we decide to venture out of our comfort zone is to do skiing in the mountain or rather to let the kids learn skiing. Skiing in Georgia is relatively cheaper than most places in Europe so we think it will be a good start for us amateur skier to get it started here. Plus, we found out that the daytime in Georgia in winter is pretty decent. The sun rises at 8.30am and it only gets dark by 5.30pm and that gives us enough time to explore this beautiful country.

Surprisingly pleasant flight despite hearing many bad reviews online

As there is not much airline flying to Georgia, we decided to explore Wizzair for the first time. Although it is not so straightforward, as we needed to fly from Abu Dhabi and touch down in Kutaisi rather than Tblisi. Price wise, it is definitely cheaper than taking FlyDubai who has the option of touching down in Tbilisi.

Our experience with WizzAir has been a pleasant one. Although they change the flight timing couple of weeks before the flight, the change has been for a better timing. Check in is effortless and easy and the flight is quite smooth, relatively comfortable seat.

White bridge in Kutaisi

Touching down in Kutaisi at 7.30pm, we checked out by 8.30pm and got in our transport that brings us to the city centre 30 mins away from the airport. Nino’s cosy home which I booked over on booking.com is a really nice homestay, pretty central with everything we needed in the 82 metres square house.

Our first dinner is nonetheless the most signature khinkali at El depot , open 24/7. Passing by the iconic White Bridge, the city lights light our way.

First dinner @ El Depot. Khinkali, lemonade and khachapuri

The next morning, we slept in and explore the town, while getting some chores done (bought SIM card, cash from Revolut). We also visited the Colchis Fountain, Bagrati Cathedral and ah boy got his McD fix at a large Mcd decorated very Christmas-y. For dinner, we visited Lilestan, a really cosy restaurant playing Christmas music all night, decorated in fresh pine tree. Not forgetting FIFA, we watched the exciting match between Argentina and Croatia.

Contrary to many information, there is quite a huge number of establishment including restaurant, shops, that accept credit card. We are quite surprised that a lot of money exchange doesn’t accept UAE so its better to change before coming. Although most restaurant take credit card, all the accommodation we booked on booking.com all requested for cash upon arrival. On top of that, we paid cash for our car rental as well (credit card payment need extra 3%)

Stopped by Sataplia Caves before heading to Tbilisi

Our next leg of journey is visiting the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. The journey was not easy as the road connecting Kutaisi to Tbilisi is not fully highway. There are lots of truck along the way and traffic is not pleasant. After 3.5 hours we reached Tbilisi and its such a pretty capital. Its surprisingly pleasant, we try the sulphur bath which is so good especially in this weather, had hearty Chikhritma (chicken soup), kharco (meat soup) , took the cable car up to Narikala Fortress, catch a glimpse of Mother of Georgia, hike up to The Trinity Church and visited their Christmas Market.

Freedom Square in Tbilisi
Squeezing in for Mother of Georgia

We even make a day trip out to their wine region Kakheti , did some wine tasting and climb the Great Wall of Georgia. On the final night, we went for Thai massage at Good Time Thai Massage and had an amazing time.

The view from Jvari Monastery!
Town of Mtskheta

Next morning, we packed up and head to Mtskheta , the royal capital of Georgia. It used to be the capital of Georgia before the capital moved to Tbilisi. Now Mtskheta is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a lot of churches, monastery and history in the quaint scenic town. We first check out the Jvari Monastery followed by Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. Jvari Monastery, nestled on the top of the mountain, had amazing amazing view of town of Mtskheta, with two rivers converged. Svetititskhoveli, on the other hand, is in the town centre and it’s very pleasant to walk around. Both doesn’t require an entrance fees, though in the Mtskheta town, one would need to pay GEL 3 for parking.

Our accommodation in Kazbegi

Afterwards, we headed all the way to Kazbegi which took us another 2.5 hours on the Georgian Military Highway but please do not think one could drive smoothly up. We encountered so many trucks on the road especially nearer to Kazbegi as the trucks are heading to Georgia-Russia border.

We passed by so so many snow capped mountain and the view is absolutely fantastic. We finally reach our cute wooden house where we will be staying here for 3 nights.

Hiking in the cold

The next morning, we decided to hike to Gergeti Church in -2 degree Celcius. Yes, you heard me right! Hiking in the cold, it is definitely the first for us. We wrap ourselves up in 4 layers of clothing and venture out. The trail starts from Cafe Gergeti, there is a flat trail besides the stream and a steep trail heading right up. We followed the flat trail, it is not very hard but really long and we did not end up reaching the top. On our way back, we saw a group of tourist coming down from the steep path. They took the Delica Car up (you can take them from the town as private car is not allowed up the church) and then hike down , that might be a better way especially in the cold.

Lunch view from Rooms Hotel Kazbegi

For lunch, definitely go for the restaurant at Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, this is definitely the best value food with amazing amazing view of the town, Caucasus mountain, and the Gergeti Church. The food is really tasty, menu is a selection of local and international. We particularly like their Green tea, steak is great too, Mac n Cheese is very yummy as well. They also have some today’s special which the waiter recommended and we enjoyed them as well. We spend the evening at home and to our surprise, it started snowing! OMG, we were very pleasantly surprise and of course we went out and played with the snow. It snowed the whole night and the next morning, the whole town turned white. It was such a fantastic sight.

Of course, we spend the next day building snowman, having snowball fight and just chilling at home.

Our next stop is Gudauri Ski area where we were hoping to enrol the kids in ski classes. Unfortunately this year winter came late and it did not snow enough for the ski slope to be operational. We did see the ski lifts moving but I guess it is just test drive. We ended up exploring the area and chance upon some frozen stream and frozen river. Had so much fun sliding down them.

Georgian Russian Monument
Caucasus Mountain view from the monument

Also, do not miss the Russian Georgian Monument area. Even if you are not interested in the monument, the view there is out of the world. There is also some activities to do for example: horse riding, ATV and even a car ride out to check out area nearby with frozen lake, with thick snow.

Even though the main ski slope is not open, there is one small patch of slope which we can do our own skiing. We rented the ski essentials (GEL 50 for one day) and did our own skiing. Without the ski lift, it’s much more tiring as we need to climb up and ski down. We spend around 2 hours skiing and then head for dinner at Pasanauri. The food prices in Gudauri is on the higher end (as compared to many town in Georgia), it costs GEL 42 for a burger for example. I would definitely recommend Pasaunari if you are in Gudauri. They serve very nice Georgian cuisine at a very reasonable price, definitely do their kharco (it’s so so good especially in the cold weather),claypot mushroom is great as well and salad is very refreshing.

As there is no snow, we cut short our trip and head back to a small town 30 mins away from Kutaisi airport to relax and spend our Christmas Day admiring the vineyard countryside view. The weather is also much milder in Kutaisi (around 3-7 degree as compared to Gudauri which is in the negative side of the mercury reading).

Ananuri region. Love the turquoise colour of the river

In conclusion, we definitely enjoyed our two weeks in Georgia. We are very surprised with their 3G/LTE signal throughout the country, even in the remote mountainous area, the signal is really strong and it only cost GEL 9 for a week (unlimited data). Heating in all the accommodation that we stayed was really good and we had no complain with the hot water supply for the shower. One thing to take note is that it is really dry in the mountain area so good lotion and hydration is very important. The people in Georgia are generally very nice, although a few of them doesn’t really speak much English. Credit card is widely used in restaurants and groceries store. Do bring cash for accommodation and car rental as they prefer cash.

TIPS: If you are coming in winter, do waterproof your sneakers/shoes using this waterproof spray. Instead of getting a pair of waterproof hiking shoes, this proves to be a great saving. It really helps and one bottle can spray up to 4 pairs of shoes.

Useful links:

Flight from Abu Dhabi to Kutaisi :https://wizzair.com/#/

SIM card package (we used both of these provider and their coverage is great in the places we visited):

  1. Magticom: https://www.magticom.ge/en/mobile/tariffs/mobile-internet-packages
  2. Bee Line: https://beeline.ge/en/interneti#30days

Our accommodation:

  1. Kutaisi (very spacious, 2 separate rooms with a double bed in each room, fully equipped kitchen, have washing machine plus dryer). We paid GEL 200/night (cash on arrival) : https://www.booking.com/hotel/ge/ninos-cosy-apartment.en-gb.html?aid=304142&label=gen173nr-1FCAEoggI46AdIM1gEaAKIAQGYAQm4AQfIAQ3YAQHoAQH4AQuIAgGoAgO4Ar3Qg44GwAIB0gIkMmM4MTZlNGUtNmYzNS00YjM5LThmNDgtMTU3NWQ4MzA5OGU22AIG4AIB&sid=cc83f3f1c5072d8b28bf06f009974040&dist=0;group_adults=2;group_children=0;hapos=1;hpos=1;no_rooms=1;req_adults=2;req_children=0;room1=A%2CA;sb_price_type=total;sr_order=popularity;srepoch=1672399739;srpvid=6ab650bdd464008f;type=total;ucfs=1&#hotelTmpl
  2. Tbilisi (great central location minutes of walk from Freedom Square, attractions all within walking distance, good value for money). We paid GEL 145/night (cash on arrival): https://www.booking.com/hotel/ge/pomegranat-in-old-tbilisi.en-gb.html?aid=304142&label=gen173nr-1FCAEoggI46AdIM1gEaAKIAQGYAQm4AQfIAQ3YAQHoAQH4AQuIAgGoAgO4Ar3Qg44GwAIB0gIkMmM4MTZlNGUtNmYzNS00YjM5LThmNDgtMTU3NWQ4MzA5OGU22AIG4AIB&sid=cc83f3f1c5072d8b28bf06f009974040&all_sr_blocks=366199901_131491245_4_0_0;checkin=2023-01-08;checkout=2023-01-09;dest_id=900047975;dest_type=city;dist=0;group_adults=2;group_children=0;hapos=1;highlighted_blocks=366199901_131491245_4_0_0;hpos=1;matching_block_id=366199901_131491245_4_0_0;no_rooms=1;req_adults=2;req_children=0;room1=A%2CA;sb_price_type=total;sr_order=popularity;sr_pri_blocks=366199901_131491245_4_0_0__27000;srepoch=1672399877;srpvid=f3a0510116d60131;type=total;ucfs=1&#hotelTmpl
  3. Kazbegi (amazing view of the town, newly build, appliances provided and comfortable stay). We paid GEL 212/ night (cash on arrival): https://www.booking.com/hotel/ge/little-wood-house-gergeti.en-gb.html?aid=304142&label=gen173nr-1FCAEoggI46AdIM1gEaAKIAQGYAQm4AQfIAQ3YAQHoAQH4AQuIAgGoAgO4Ar3Qg44GwAIB0gIkMmM4MTZlNGUtNmYzNS00YjM5LThmNDgtMTU3NWQ4MzA5OGU22AIG4AIB&sid=cc83f3f1c5072d8b28bf06f009974040&all_sr_blocks=805973101_342043787_4_0_0;checkin=2023-01-08;checkout=2023-01-09;dest_id=-2327687;dest_type=city;dist=0;group_adults=2;group_children=0;hapos=1;highlighted_blocks=805973101_342043787_4_0_0;hpos=1;matching_block_id=805973101_342043787_4_0_0;no_rooms=1;req_adults=2;req_children=0;room1=A%2CA;sb_price_type=total;sr_order=popularity;sr_pri_blocks=805973101_342043787_4_0_0__24400;srepoch=1672400039;srpvid=6354515204c00059;type=total;ucfs=1&#hotelTmpl
  4. Gudauri (location near the central town, corner unit hence extra window with view, cosy room). Paid GEL 184/night (cash on arrival): https://www.booking.com/hotel/ge/double-mountin-view-appartment-new-gudauri-twins.en-gb.html?aid=304142&label=gen173nr-1FCAEoggI46AdIM1gEaAKIAQGYAQm4AQfIAQ3YAQHoAQH4AQuIAgGoAgO4Ar3Qg44GwAIB0gIkMmM4MTZlNGUtNmYzNS00YjM5LThmNDgtMTU3NWQ4MzA5OGU22AIG4AIB&sid=cc83f3f1c5072d8b28bf06f009974040&checkin=2023-01-08;checkout=2023-01-09;dest_id=-2327363;dest_type=city;dist=0;group_adults=2;group_children=0;hapos=1;hpos=1;no_rooms=1;req_adults=2;req_children=0;room1=A%2CA;sb_price_type=total;soh=1;sr_order=popularity;srepoch=1672400077;srpvid=fa6a51651fa801b7;type=total;ucfs=1&#no_availability_msg

Car rental (paid cash or credit card incurred extra 3%) : https://parent.ge

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Camping among greeneries in UAE

Our campsite

Over the weekend, we went on a camping trip with a couple of good friends. Our previous camping experience was always in the desert as there is endless sandy desert here in UAE. We love desert camping and kids can run around barefoot and enjoying the nature. However, we always have to rush in the morning to pack our stuff before it gets too hot as there is close to no shade.

This time round, we headed to Wadi Showkah instead to camp. With some off-road, we manage to reach quite a big area inside the wadi with a lot of flat ground that is great for camping. We found one that is good for 4 tents and there is also a tree that gives us some shade.

The tree that provides us shade in the daytime

The road leading to the site is pretty bumpy hence a vehicle with high ground clearance would be recommended.

Road leading to camp site

For sedan, this is where you can park (this is about 20 mins away from where we camp):

25°06’40.0″N 56°08’17.2″E (25.111116409301758 56.13811111450195)

Our camping site drop pin:

25°06’40.0″N 56°08’17.2″E (25.100088119506836,56.10026168823242)

As it is within the wadi boundaries, surrounded by mini hills, there are many free and easy hiking that one can do while camping here. Kids enjoyed the nature and make their own little enclosure/spot to play. Another plus point for the parents would be there is no internet 3G connection here, so kids had no choice but to blend in with the nature and play.

Busy at work

For meal, we prepared BBQ satay, Korean style pork belly, chicken wings, sweetcorn. We even had tiramisu for afternoon tea and fruit stick for after dinner dessert. Everyone bring little joy to the camp and we had an amazing time.

Afternoon tea
Homemade satay with natural lemongrass brush
Chicken wings in the making
Our macho satay uncle
Fairy lights… new addition to our romantic night

The next morning, we had a quick brekkie- some croissant and coffee, milk with cereal. Then we leave our tent at the site and went for a hike.

The hiking place is around 40 minutes drive away. Drop pin: 25°06’11.3″N 56°03’42.3″E

Due to rainfall couple of weeks back, there are lots of pool along the hike. Be ready to get wet if you would like to hike. Basically, you will get wet from waist down including your shoes as the rocks inside the water is quite sharp so you will have to wear to shoes.

Look at how deep the water is
can even swim

Note to self: There is another access point to reach the hiking site that is easier on the car. This is the entrance: 25°05’52.1″N 56°01’53.2″E (Water tank parking MTB Meeting Point).

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Homemade carbonare sauce

INGREDIENTS (Serves 4):
1. 240g spaghetti (I use Barilla no 13 Linguine)
2. 200g bacon (cut into small pieces)
3. 3 eggs plus 3 egg yolk
4. 3/4 cup whipping cream
5. 50g parmesan cheese
6. Salt and black pepper (to taste)
METHOD:
1. In a pot, add some olive oil and water. Boil.
2. Once the water is boiling, add the spaghetti and cook until al Dante (it took 9 mins for my no 13 Barilla linguine)
3. Drain the water and set aside.
4. In a frying pan, add some olive oil and pan fried bacon until crispy. Remove bacon and keep the oil in the pan.
5. In a bowl, add egg, cream, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, mix well.
6. Reheat the pan with the oil from the bacon, add the spaghetti and give it a quick stir.
7. Next, add in the egg, cream , cheese mixture and mix well (keep on low fire so that the egg won’t harden).
8. Lastly, add in the bacon and give it a quick mix.
9. Serve warm, garnish with some parmesan cheese!
10. Enjoy!

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Al Ain staycation December 2021

A short account of our staycation in Al Ain, December 2021. We visited the Al Ain zoo, definitely highlight of the trip , not forgetting the amazing Aloft Al Ain hotel which makes our stay in Al Ain, a restful trip!

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Al Ain Zoo

As we enter Al Ain, I can see why the city is dubbed as oasis city or garden city. The city is indeed a green oasis amidst the bare desert, worthy of its title as one of the UNESCO Heritage Site.

Al Ain is part of Abu Dhabi region, as we are coming from Dubai, we need to pass by a checkpoint where we have to show our Al Hosn apps and do an EDE scan. For vaccinated individual, we need to have PCR done within 14 days and for the unvaccinated, PCR test has to be within 96 hours of entry.

https://www.khaleejtimes.com/coronavirus/new-entry-rules-in-abu-dhabi-covid-pcr-tests-vaccination-requirements-explained

We make our way to Al Ain Zoo, greeted by the giraffe, hippopotamus, white tiger and many more. I am really glad we gave Al Ain Zoo another chance. Our first visit to the zoo was not pleasant as we missed out quite a big part of the zoo and saw mainly the oryx and gazelle, and with the scorching sun, it did not help.

Loving the giraffe with the mountain backdrop

TIPS: Do check out the map and make a right at the entrance to check out some of the cool animals before going to the right side where most of the animals are located. Also, as most of the zoo is not shaded, it is definitely a good idea to visit when the weather is cool. It was 17-25 degree Celcius when we visit.

We had our lunch at the Zerafa Restaurant inside the zoo, and the prices are really reasonable. The avocado juice is great and fried chicken is pretty yummy too!

One of the highlight for the kids were the petting zoo, and there are lots of grounds for kids to run around and picnic can be a good option too. The zoo is still undergoing extension and we could see koala, elephants and gorilla coming soon!

White tiger

Personally, I really like the big cats exhibit where the white tiger, lion, King Kong , and jaguar roaming around. This is another good reason to come in the winter as these big cats does not sleep as much and really walking around, being active.

Time pass really fast and we actually spend a good 7 hours in the zoo, having fun!

Open 9am to 6pm daily, definitely recommended to visit if you have not done so. The entrance fees are super reasonable at AED 31.50 for adults and AED 10.50 for kids 3-12 years old. If you fancy to feed the giraffe, you can do so at an additional AED 31.50 for 4 pax!

Don’t forget you need GREEN AL HOSN to enter the zoo!

https://www.alainzoo.ae

Check out some of our highlight at the zoo:

We left the zoo at 5pm, heading to check in our hotel at Aloft Al Ain, just 20 minutes away from the zoo. The room is really spacious and modern. Despite not having much facilities in the hotel, we had a really nice stay. Breakfast was not included when we book our room, but upon checking in, we were offered a breakfast deal of AED 40 for adults and kids under 12 eats for free. If you do not fancy the hotel food, there is a good selection of restaurants within walking distance from the hotel. We had dinner at Ziryab followed by desert at Lore. I have to give 5 thumbs up to PULL ME from the dessert menu, definitely one of the most amazing dessert I have ever tested. Their kunafe cheesecake is amazing as well.

Our spacious room with two queen bed! Really huge beds!
Infinite pool at roof top- check out Jabal Hafeet at a distance.
PULL ME- sponge cake with vanilla ice cream , flowing caramel, milk and Oreo pieces. Perfect combination!
Kunafe Cheesecake

The next day, we headed to Jebal Hafeet, the second tallest summit in UAE, but I was quite disappointed as there is no hiking trail on the mountain. I am guessing it is because it is very near the UAE Oman border, hence not advisable to hike around there. They are still constructing the area, so the rest area are under construction. There is no toilet at the submit (at the moment) despite having a small coffee shop. We had ice cream and it is very good price (AED 25 for 4 ice cream at the top of Jabal Hafeet). At the foot of Jabal Hafeet, there is a public park/hot spring but it was not open until 3pm on the day we were there. Seems like it is always only open late afternoon.

The rugged Jabal Hafeet with the Green Mubazzarah park at its foot.

Hence, we decided to check out the camel market, yes you heard it right. A camel market, selling camels, for their meat, milk or for pet?

Camel for sale!

We ended our day checking out Jebel Hafit Desert Park. There is a couple of hiking trails, mountain biking, camel riding and one can even do staycation in the cool looking star bubble clamping tent! The entrance to the park is at AED 20 per family or AED 10 for adults, AED 5 for kids. We reached close to sunset so decided to give this a miss and keep the fun for our next trip down to Al Ain.

https://visitabudhabi.ae/en/where-to-go/adventure-and-theme-parks/jebel-hafit-desert-park

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Easy Lemon Meringue Tart

A great mix of sour and sweet dessert!

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INGREDIENTS (Makes 7 inches tart):

FOR CRUST:
1. 240g digestive biscuit- crush to crumb
2. 20g brown sugar
3. 2g of salt
4. 108g unsalted butter, melted
FOR THE FILLINGS:
1. 105g lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
2. 4.5g lemon zest
3. 90g sugar
4. 18g all purpose flour
5. 1.5g salt
6. 3 egg yolk and 3 whole eggs
7. 21g water
8. 45g olive oil
FOR THE MERINGUE:
1. 3 egg white
2. 40g sugar
STEPS:
FOR CRUST:
1. Crush the digestive biscuit using a rolling pin
2. Add brown sugar and salt, mix well.
3. Then, add melted unsalted in 2 batches, mix well.
4. Then flatten the crust using a small bowl (see video)
5. Place the tart in pre heated oven at 180 degree Celcius (with fan) for 10 minutes
FOR THE FILLINGS:
1. While the tart is baking, let’s prepare the fillings.
2. In a pot, add sugar, flour and salt. Mix well.
3. Add the eggs and lemon juice, stir to mix them.
4. Then add lemon zest and water, mix well.
5. Place it on stove at low fire and cook for 5 minutes or until it thickens (see video)
6. Once it has thickens, add olive oil immediately and stir to mix.
7. OPTIONAL: If you do not want your tart to be too sour, remove the lemon zest by sieving them.
8. Then pour the fillings onto the warm/hot crust that has just came out of oven.
9. Next place the lemon tart into the oven at 180 degree Celcius (top bottom heat with no fan) for 10 minutes.
FOR THE MERINGUE:
1. Beat the egg white with sugar until it stiffen.
2. Next pipe them onto the surface of the tart.
3. Bake at 180 degree Celcius top bottom heat with fan for 5 minute or until the meringue turns brownish.
4. Let it cool down to room temperature and put in fridge overnight (or at least 2 hours)

PHOTOS (For illustration):

Flatten the tart with small bowl
Lemon fillings poured into the tart
Pipe the meringue using piping equipment
Remove from oven when meringue turn brownish
Distinct three layers!

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Siew Bao (Baked Flaky BBQ Pastry Bun)

INGREDIENTS (Makes 24 pieces)
For fillings:
Marinate:
1. 500g of skinless chicken thigh (cut into small pieces)
2. 4 tbsp of hoisin sauce
3. 2 tbsp of oyster sauce
4. 2 tbsp soy sauce
5. 4 tbsp sugar
6. 2 tsp dark soy sauce
7. 1 tsp sesame oil
8. A dash of white pepper
Marinate overnight.
Frying the fillings:
1. Some oil
2. 6 cloves of garlic, minced
3. 4 small shallots, minced
4. 100g of green pea
5. 3 tbsp of tapioca flour plus water
6. 2-3 drops of red colouring
WHAT TO DO: In a frying pan, add oil, then stir fry the garlic and shallots until fragrant, add meat. Fry until cooked, add green pea. When the mixture is less watery, add the tapioca flour with water. it will instantly become very sticky. Let it cool down.
For the water dough:
1. 200g all purpose flour
2. 20g sugar
3. 35g unsalted butter, melted
4. 15g cooking oil
5. 90ml water (+/-)
6. 1/2 tsp baking soda
7. 1/4 tsp salt
WHAT TO DO: Mix all together and let the dough rest for 10 mins. Then cut into smaller piece, and follow the YouTube video on how to make.
For the oil dough:
1. 100g all purpose flour
2. 55g unsalted butter, melted
3. 15g cooking oil
WHAT TO DO: Mix all together. Then cut into smaller piece, and follow the YouTube video on how to make.
YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPTY-uQWxQU
ASSEMBLE:
To assemble, follow the YouTube video.
Add egg wash and bake in oven preheated at 180 degree C for 15 minutes. Then remove from oven. Add another layer of egg wash, sprinkle some sesame seeds, bake for another 15 minutes until golden brown.
Let it cool down before consuming.
Stir fry until dry
Assembled, ready to go for egg wash and bake

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