Safari Experience: Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti and the Great Migration

December 2015, I had my first trip to the African Continent. I went to Tanzania. The highlight of my trip is to go on a safari in one of Tanzania’s famous national park, Serengeti. I have to admit that I was a bit worried traveling to Africa alone. Fortunately, I have a friend who was working in Dar Es Salaam (the capital of Tanzania), so I have a reason to visit her there. Although the national park that I want to visit is located in Arusha, far away from Dar Es Salaam.

 

Preparation

                There are two things that need to be prepared before going to Tanzania. First is Visa and second is vaccine. Tanzania offers Visa On Arrival to most countries (there are some countries or passports that is exempted from visa and there are others that is forbid from using Visa On Arrival). You only need to pay 50 USD and to bring your passport with some blank pages and make sure that it’s still valid for at least 6 months. Moreover, Tanzania is also endemic of yellow fever disease. So, make sure you had the vaccine for yellow fever at least 3 weeks before entering the country. All tourists entering Tanzania will be asked for the yellow fever certificate before you can apply for the Visa on Arrival. Thus, do not forget to have the vaccine. I had a discussion with my doctor about the vaccine and she didn’t recommend me to take it as the disease is only endemic in some part of the country and that I should be fine without having a shot of the vaccine. However, my friend who was working in Dar Es Salaam insisted that I took the vaccine. I’m glad I did because as soon as I arrive at the terminal building, the airport authority asked for my vaccine certificate before I can proceed to the immigration.

I flew from Amsterdam to Dar Es Salaam by Qatar Airways. I bought the ticket long before I made some research on how to conduct the safari in Serengeti and it was a mistake. To join the safari to Serengeti, Arusha is the nearest town to start the trip, but I will enter the country from Dar Es Salaam and as I checked on the map, Dar Es Salaam and Arusha is quite far. I have limited days in the country plus I’m gonna spend some days at my friend’s house in Dar Es Salaam and also will visit Zanzibar, neighbouring tropical island to the capital. Therefore, as I cursed myself for not doing my homework, I booked another flight back and forth to Arusha from Dar Es Salaam. If only I knew that the safari starts from Arusha, I would’ve bought my flight from Amsterdam to Arusha and skip all the hassle. Anyway, Arusha has two airports, Arusha and Kilimanjaro, so check before-hand to which airport you want to arrive. If you arrive from Kilimanjaro airport, you might get a chance to view the top of Mount Kilimanjaro as you descend.

The next preparation that I did is of course to find way to conduct the safari to Serengeti. Usually I travel with the Randomtravelers (my travel buddies, contributors of this blog), but since I was undertaking my master degree in the UK, I did this travel by myself. So, I have to find a group of people who are going to conduct the safari at around the same time as me and it is not an easy task. It is impossible to conduct the safari alone unless you are filthy rich because the fee to enter the national park alone is already over 100 USD. I have to find a tour operator and a group of people to share the cost.

I tried TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet to find fellow travellers that might want to share the cost for safari. I found a few, but as I contact them I didn’t get any reply. From what I read in the forums of the two website, the cost for safari can go as high as 1000-1500 USD. Geez, that’s a lot of dollars for me. The price can go lower if I travel in a bigger group, for example in 6 to 7 people. I asked my friend in Dar Es Salaam if there are better options to do the safari. She suggested to do safari at national parks that located near Dar Es Salaam, it’s smaller and there are some that can be done in just one day. That might be feasible, but I really wanted to visit Serengeti of all national parks in Tanzania. I almost give up on the idea of safari, but then again my purpose of went all the way to Tanzania is to do safari. Lol. Eventually, I found out that there’s a huge online market for safari in Africa. There’s a website dedicated for safari operators across Africa with ready itinerary complete with the price, called Safaribookings. In the website, there are also reviews from past customers on how the operator provide their services, so it’s really helpful for me to decide which operator that I will choose.

I immediately contacted an operator whose itinerary and price fits my interests. I was lucky as there is a tour that’s going to be conducted that fits my schedule. I ended up with 4 days and 3 nights of safari in a group of 6 people (2 girls and 4 guys, including me). To ensure that it is not a fraud, I asked if I can pay on the spot at the day we start the tour and they said it’s fine. So on the promised date, they pick me up at the airport and transfer me to my accommodation (airport transfer is usually included in the tour which is very convenient as taxi is not very apparent as I arrived in Arusha airport). The next day they pick me up at my accommodation and took me to the meeting point where I meet with the guy in charge (with whom I’ve exchange email about the tour) and paid the agreed fee in cash. However, I paid an extra charge for sleeping bag as It was not provided in the tour plan. So, if you don’t want to pay this extra, you should bring one.

 

How it goes

So, I ended up booking a 4 days and 3 nights safari covering Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro crater and Serengeti national park. Included in the package is tent, breakfast, lunch and dinner, a driver who also act as guide and a caretaker who took care of the catering and setting up camps. I went with 5 other tourists, 2 guys from Korea who just finished their climb to Mount Kilimanjaro, a Dutch girl who’s volunteering in Dar Es Salaam, and 2 Spanish guys who’s volunteering in Zanzibar. Yes, there are many foreigners doing volunteering work in Tanzania. They enter the country using tourist visa that are valid for 3 months and do volunteer work throughout the country. The Spanish guy taught Spanish language to the kids in Zanzibar, while the Dutch girl helped in local hospital (as she is currently studying medicine).

Birds-birds-zebra-baboons-elephant-giraffe-hippo… oh look another zebra! Lake Manyara is home to lots of wild animals. I literally lose counts after 15 minutes driving through the park in a jeep. Day one of the safari was great. There were only 4 of us for half day of the safari so the Jeep was pretty spacious for the 4 passengers.

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Inside the Jeep

 

It was dry season so the lake looked pretty small. Our driver took us to the supposed to be part of the lake but there was nothing there but dry sandy plain. He said, in the rainy season the volume of the water can get triple the size of the current lake or even more. He also took us to the hippo pool where we can watch many hippo taking a bath. From the Hippo Poll we can see The Great Rift Valley, a range of hills lining up as far as from Jordan to Mozambique! Awesome!

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Before going back to our camp just outside the park, we are reunited with 2 other guys who’s gonna join us for the rest of the safari. Now the jeep has become a little bit cramp with additional two persons. But hey, I’m going on a safari, who cares!

 

Our campsite is called Jumbo. It has bungalows and an area to set up camps. If you have more money, staying in bungalows could be a better option as it has its own bathroom plus you won’t get wet when it rains. In the evening, it was raining heavily. Electricity is only available after dark (but there was no light in the bathroom so it’s better to take a bath before dark), so you have to make sure that you charge all your cameras/phones for the next day. Bringing an extension cable might come in handy as all the socket will be full.

There was a cultural dance at night in the cafeteria of the camp site. It was interesting. They ask for some tip at the end of the performance, and they even sell music CD.

p_20151212_104610_pnIn the morning of the second day, we departed to Ngorongoro crater. Early noon we hit the camping ground in Ngorongoro that’s located on a higher ground. Ngorongoro crater is the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera. It’s 610 meters deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometres. It’s magnificent.

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I’m at lost in describing how pretty this place is. It is home to thousands of wildlife animals. Lions, hyenas, leopards, zebras, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, birds, impalas, you name it. I feel like being in the Disney’s Lion King movie. The crater is also home to some Masai tribes. Our driver told us that in the past, the Masai used to hunt for the lion’s head as proof of one’s bravery. As a result, the population of zebras, wildebeest, impalas and such animals grow significantly because the number of predator shrink. So the government forbid the Masai to hunt for lion’s head.

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We had lunch in a beautiful picnic area called Ngoitoktok. Our caretaker warned me for the eagle who flew above the picnic site as they love to steal food from tourists and it’s probably safer to have lunch in the jeep. I ignored him and proceed having lunch by the lake. He was right. As soon as I hold my chicken drumstick, an eagle attacked me. I managed to hold it in my hands, close my lunch box and return back in the jeep before the eagle attack me again. On the other hand, Gabriel, the Korean guy in our group wasn’t as lucky as me. He lost his chicken to the eagle and had to settle for egg and bread for lunch. As I ate my lunch in the jeep, I can see other people being attacked by the eagle in the picnic site. Well, it was starting to rain anyway so I’m content eating my lunch in the Jeep.

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The camp site we stayed in Ngorongoro is more remote than the one we have in Lake Manyara. There’s no bungalows, only tents. But this time we were accompanied by many other groups who also set their camp there. To prevent taking a bath in pitch darkness, I took a bath before dark. But this campsite’s bathroom has light so there’s no need to worry. However, since it’s highland, it’s so much colder than Lake Manyara. I remember waking up to the coldness in my feet early morning despite the fact that I wore my socks and securely tucked inside my sleeping bag. Staying inside the national park is a unique experience to me. Unlike the campsite in Lake Manyara that’s located outside the park, the campsite in Ngorongoro is located inside the park itself. I remember at night I need to use the bathroom and when I want to go back to my tent, a guide warned me that there’s a buffalo around my tent.

JpegA buffalo! A buffalo right in front of me. But I couldn’t see him as there’s no light in the camp area. The guide helped me with his flashlights so I won’t hit the buffalo while I walk back to my tent. I can hear the sound of the buffalo munching grass near my tent while I go back to sleep. To be honest, I was worried he will crush my tent while searching for grass.

On the third day, we departed to Serengeti. I feel so small being in Ngorongoro and then Serengeti. As the jeep drove towards the national park, I can only see long and straight road to the horizon, while on the left and right hand side I can only see the grass plain and the sky and wildebeests.

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Lots and lots of wildebeests! Serengeti means “Endless plain”, no wonder, the scenery speaks for itself. In fact, the time when I visited was the migration time of the wildebeest, zebras, buffalos (practically every animal) or also known as “the Great Migration”. It was the changing season of dry to wet so the rain moves further north. That’s why the wildebeest follows it because the plain in Serengeti will have taller grass for them to eat. I was so glad that I finally able to experience first-hand, seeing the Great Migration that I usually watch on NatGeo. Our Jeep is stopping by at times so that we can take pictures of the surrounding area. We can only take picture from inside the Jeep as getting out of the car will get us fined by the park rangers.

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At the entrance of the park, we took a seat together while our guide and caretaker took care of the permission to enter the park. From that discussion we found out that each one of us paid a different amount of fee to join the safari. The Korean guys paid the cheapest, the Spanish guys paid the most expensive, while me and the Dutch girl are in the middle. Turns out we book the tour from different company. Moreover, the tour that was currently serving us is also from different company. It seems like they hired a third party to serve their client on the safari. The Koreans booked from a tourist information in Kenya and they told them a black list of safari company in the market. They got the cheapest price compare to the rest of us with the same food and facility as us. I feel pity for the Spanish guys as they paid 3 times the price of the Korean guys while the only different of the service is, we got tent in Serengeti while they get to sleep at a hotel inside the park, but still with minimum electricity, just like us who stayed in the campsite. This could be a lesson for all of us to pick the company wisely and to do your research for tour company thoroughly.

The campsite in Serengeti is the worst of the campsites we have stayed in so far in regards of the bathroom and toilet. There’s not enough water for everyone to do their business at the toilet so some of us had to improvise and go “back to nature”. During the two days of our stay in Serengeti, it’s always raining. Our guide wasn’t lying when he said that the volume of water in Lake Manyara can triple its size during the rainy season. I saw it myself when a lot of area in Serengeti are turning into small rivers due to the heavy amount of rain. Our jeep even got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled by another Jeep that pass by. Our friend joked that we might run into a lion or leopard while being stuck in the mud. Thank goodness, we manage to get out of the mud before dark.

When it rains, we might find lions, cheetah or leopard on the trees. Like their fellow, the domestic cats, these big cats also hate getting wet. Therefore, we might get lucky to see one sleeping on a tree. And we did! We spot a leopard sleeping on the branch of a tree. However, we were not the only group that saw them. In the end, there were many jeeps lining up in front of the tree to catch a glimpse of the leopard. The big cat then woke up and move to a higher branch to escape the camera of the tourists.

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Sunset in Serengeti

Serengeti is the last national park in our list. The next day, we were transferred back to the city of Arusha where we will part ways. I can say that I had a wonderful experience joining the safari. Our driver did a great job. He managed to show us the highlights of the safari. I get to see all the Big-5 Game Animals (African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard and Rhinoceros). We also stop by at a Masai village on our way back to Arusha (I’ll keep the story for next time). However, there was a little problem before the group was dismissed. The night before, we already collected some money to give as tip for the driver and the caretaker. As tip of course we didn’t give that much as we already paid an expensive price for the tour. We were startled when we know that the amount of tip expected was 25 USD per person per day. Wow geez! That’s a lot of additional cost outside our safari cost. We then rejected the request (especially the Spanish guys who was already robbed so much since the beginning) and asked them to talk about it with the tour company. We then said good bye to each other and went our separate ways.

 

Despite the not so good closing of the safari, I had a great time with the group and an unforgettable experience. I was then picked up by the tour company that I used and transferred back to my accommodation. The next day, they pick me up again and transfer me back to the airport so I can catch my flight to Dar Es Salaam. All is well. (npa)

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Lesson learned: A Simple Guide to Chiang Mai’s Lantern Festival

If I did not write this article, I would not be realized how time flies! It is already September though it feels as if 2016’s New Year’s Eve were just yesterday. However, there is this one thing that we can long to see as the closer we get to the end of the year. It is called: Yi Peng Sansai!

Float lanterns, float!
Float lanterns, float!

Yi Peng is actually a religious ceremony for paying homage to Buddha. It occurs at the same time as Loy Krathong. The two events involve lights. For Loy Krathong, people will release lotus-shaped vessels made to bodies of water for good luck.  Meanwhile, for Yi Peng, people release fired paper lanterns to the sky. So, you can already imagine how amazing it is!

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Yi Peng is mostly common in northern part of Thailand. In Chiang Mai, it is breathtakingly festive! The exact date could be tricky as it is announced only a week before. However, normally it is held in November each year, depending on the full moon phase. The mass lantern release can be seen in two events. The free and crowded one is usually held in the yard of Mae Jo University of Chiang Mai. The other event will cost you around USD100. While I am not sure where the paid one is held, I am pretty sure that it will be more convenient as the committee does have a quota of people.

I attended the (free) festival two years ago (and I’d still like to go again! Anyone?). While the reason why I attended the festival was very childish, it was very memorable. Even now, the images are still vividly running in my head. If I ever go back again, these are the points I will take into account:

  1. Make sure of the date

    Guidance of the event
    Guidance of the event

Again, this is the trickiest part. You must be proactive in looking for the date! This year, this site says that Yi Peng is to be held from 13 to 15 November 2016. However, it is held only on one of those dates. For the rest of the dates, you could either float your own lantern at the square of Chiang Mai or do other activities available around the city. It would be best if you could stay for the whole week so that there is not even a chance for you to miss it!

  1. Book your means of transportation to Chiang Mai early, really!
Bus Ticket from Don Mueang to Mo Chit
Bus Ticket from Don Mueang to Mo Chit

Yi Peng is a big festival attended by so many people. It means, bus providers are extremely busy by this period of time.

if not…be ready for the consequences!

I remember that my train ticket to Chiang Mai from Bangkok got cancelled because some parts of the tracks were being repaired. However, had I gone with such train, I would not have made it to the festival because I only spared a day before the festival. It was a wrong move because I arrived in Bangkok. I found out the exact date right only few days before I left for Bangkok. Later, I tried to book overnight bus but all online tickets were sold! Consequently, I went directly to the Mo Chit bus terminal right after I landed just to buy the bus tickets.

Being a cheapskate, I did not want to lose the opportunity to use the room at the hotel that I had booked. I managed to have a name and take a shower. However, drama begins at the evening when Bangkok’s traffic jam was so cruel that it did not let my taxi go through. I arrived at the station after the bus left. I was furious and sad. But few minutes later, one of the station’s officer approached me and told to get on one of the buses. In the middle of the journey, the driver told us to get off and changed to another bus. I did not have any clue where the bus was heading to as there was no sign that its destination was Chiang Mai. I could not sleep because of it. During a stop, I asked where the bus heading to. Luckily, one of the Thai passengers explained to me that it headed to Chiang Mai. The written destination was different because it was additional bus operating during high season. 😀

  1. Stay somewhere close

I managed to book a room at a residence close to Maejo University. Hence, the university is within walking-distance. If not, you could also go with a songthaew (it is like a van with specific route, in Indonesia it is known as angkot) or tuk-tuk (tricycle) to reach the university. If you have a big budget for this, you can also hire a car or taxi which waits for you.

Staying close to the venue is also useful as it would be difficult to get a means of (public) transportation. It was and will be very crowded after the event. It was very difficult even to walk.

  1. Come early

    Space to choose. :D
    Space to choose. 😀

People are welcome only until 5 pm. If you come early, you can choose where you want to sit. Do note that there are many tourist agencies arranging tour and taking plenty of space for their guests.

  1. Take plenty of water and snacks

    Sunny side up, anyone?
    Sunny side up, anyone?

Seriously, you could use the waiting time for picnic. It can be really hot during the day and the event itself will finish late so you may want to have something to eat. There will be a small bazaar outside the venue. However, once the gate is closed, you can no longer access the bazaar as it is located exactly outside the gate.

Fresh pressed orange juice!
Fresh pressed orange juice!

If you managed to go to the bazaar, though, you could taste varieties of Thai snacks. My personnal favorite would be their pressed orange juice which is very refreshing!

  1. Don’t bring lanterns bought outside the venue
    The kits
    The kits

    Huge lantern is fired!
    Huge lantern is fired!

Though the event itself is free, the lantern is not. I paid around THB 250 for a lantern from the committee. We cannot bring lanterns from outside though they are cheaper. Maybe this is how they raise their fund. But it is okay, I think. The price is also not so bad as the lantern can be for 4-6 persons.

  1. Wear something polite yet comfortable

I understand that the climate could be very warm, but please remember that this festival is a part of religious ceremonies. Pay some respect by not wearing tank tops or see-through clothes. This way, you are helping yourself from wasting your time and money as there will be officers at the gate reminding how you should dress.

  1. Bring a sarong as substitute of picnic mat

    Our mat and snacks!
    Our mat and snacks!

Whenever I travel, I always bring my Balinese sarong. It is light and useful, especially as I can use it as a mat. People who do not have mats can also use newspapers. Or….you can also sit directly on the grass if you do not mind getting a bit of dirt on your pants.

  1. Don’t go alone

As much as I encourage people to travel solo, I would really recommend you to go with your friends. Even better, with your significant other as it is such a romantic festival. If you are planning to propose your SO, the floating lanterns can make a mesmerizing background building the right moment to say yes!

...and at last I see the lights!
…and at last I see the lights!

Lastly, enjoy the view and experience! Do it at least once in a lifetime!

 

Made in China (Bagian 6) : Beijing dan The Great Wall of China

Rupanya ada banyak sekali objek wisata yang wajib untuk dikunjungi ketika berada di Beijing. Sayangnya pada waktu itu kami hanya punya waktu satu setengah hari sebelum harus berpindah lagi ke kota lain. Pagi hari pertama kami di Beijing, kami menargetkan dua tempat untuk di kunjungi, the Forbidden City dan the Great Wall of China (sisi Badaling). Untuk pergi ke Forbidden City kami menggunakan subway dari stasiun Pudong dan berhenti di stasiun Tiananmen East (atau Tiananmen West) dan dilanjutkan dengan berjalan kaki menuju Tiananmen Square.

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Mausoleum Mao Zedong

Forbidden City ini letaknya tepat di belakang Tiananmen Square, jadi kami sempat masuk ke mausoleum Mao Zedong terlebih dahulu sebelum ke Forbidden City. Untuk masuk ke mausoleum kami harus melalui security check-in. Di dalam mausoleum kami bisa melihat antrian panjang turis lokal yang ingin melihat jasad Mao Zedong yang disemayamkan di tempat ini. Karena antriannya cukup panjang, kami memutuskan untuk tidak ikut mengantri dan beranjak langsung ke Forbidden City.

Tiket masuk ke Forbidden City adalah 40 yuan dan bisa sewa audio guide juga. Karena pengalaman yang kurang begitu menyenangkan di museum Terra-cotta (baca: Made in China (Bagian 2) – Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses Museum) kami agak kapok menggunakan jasa tour guide. Akhirnya kami memutuskan untuk menyewa audio guide supaya agak paham di dalam Forbidden City nanti. Ternyata ada audio guide berbahasa Indonesianya juga lho! Keren! Pastinya kami sewa audio guide yang berbahasa Indonesia ini. Audio guide-nya bekerja secara otomatis tergantung di sisi mana Forbidden City kita berada.

Begitu masuk ke dalam, saya takjub dengan betapa luasnya kompleks istana Forbidden City ini. Tadi di lapangan Tiananmen dan mausoleum Mao Zedong juga ukurannya giant! (Museum Terra-Cotta dan Maosoleum Qin Shi Huang juga gigantic sih) membuat saya berpikir mungkin untuk mengakomodasi jumlah penduduk China yang juga besar kali ya.

DSC02369Forbidden City adalah kompleks istana di era 4 kaisar selama dinasti Qing dan dinasti Ming berkuasa. Kompleks istana ini adalah inspirasi untuk set film “Curse of the Golden Flower” lho! Ada banyak fakta menarik tentang kompleks istana ini. Misalnya, kenapa disebut Forbidden City?! Rupanya jaman dahulu, rakyat biasa tidak diperbolehkan masuk ke kompleks istana ini tanpa izin khusus dari Kaisar makanya disebut Purple Forbidden City atau Forbidden City. Ada simbol khusus yang dibuat untuk kaisar dan permaisuri dimana kaisar dilambangkan dengan binatang Naga dan Permaisuri dilambangkan dengan binatang burung Phoenix.

Setelah puas keliling Forbidden City, tak terasa sudah tengah hari maka kami memutuskan untuk makan siang di restoran lokal sebelum melanjutkan perjalanan. Tujuan selanjutnya adalah the Great Wall of China. Untuk pergi ke the Great Wall of China, ada dua jenis transportasi umum yang bisa dipilih, bis dan kereta. Kami memutuskan untuk naik bis, karena menurut hasil riset yang saya lakukan sebelumnya, bis menuju Great Wall akan berhenti di dekat pintu masuk ke Great Wall, sementara kalau naik kereta, masih harus berjalan lagi cukup jauh karena letak stasiun keretanya.

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Peta seadanya yang sangat membantu kami dalam menemukan jalan

Menurut sumber yang saya temukan di internet, dari Beijing ke Great Wall akan memakan waktu satu setengah jam (ternyata 3 jam lebih kami ga nyampe2!). Setelah makan siang, dengan berbekal peta yang kami foto di pintu keluar Forbidden City, kami mencari jalan menuju stasiun bis. Sebagai informasi, di sini berbagai macam social media kekinian diblok oleh pemerintah, yahoo, facebook, bahkan google. Sebagian besar website yang dapat diakses berbahasa mandarin. Karena kami berdua tidak bisa Bahasa mandarin, jadi meskipun di hotel ada wifi, kami tetap sulit mengakses informasi. Satu-satunya search engine berbahasa inggris yang dapat kami akses pada waktu itu adalah Ask.com dan itu butut banget! Sebaiknya segala macam riset yang perlu dilakukan seperti gimana cara ke suatu tempat, makanan apa yang mau dimakan, dll, dilakukan sebelum sampai di sini.

Dari restoran tadi, kami naik subway dan turun di stasiun Jishuitan dari sini seharusnya sudah dekat dengan terminal bis Deshengmen. Bis yang kami mesti naiki adalah bis nomor 877 atau 919 tapi hati-hati. Banyak scam di sini. Ketika kami keluar dari stasiun subway dan berjalan menuju stasiun bis, banyak minibus/mini van dengan tempelan kertas sesuai nomor bis yang kami mesti naiki dan tulisan yang menyatakan jurusan Great Wall. JANGAN naik minibus/minivan ini. Kalian akan dicharge dengan harga yang jauh lebih mahal dari bis umum yang seharusnya.

Bis yang benar ada di dalam terminal Deshengmen. Sayangnya, nomornya gak keliatan dengan jelas karena ditulis dalam Bahasa Mandarin. Kami muter-muter seluruh terminal beberapa kali untuk mencari bis tersebut. Akhirnya kami berhenti pada antrian panjang orang lokal yang kami yakini akan menaiki bis jurusan Great Wall. Saya mencoba bertanya pada salah satu ibu-ibu di situ menggunakan buku panduan berbahasa mandarin yang kami bawa dari Jakarta. No use. Dia tidak mengerti sama sekali apa yang saya bicarakan. Mungkin karena pelafalan saya yang kurang tepat. Akhirnya saya coba menunjukkan print out hasil riset tentang Great Wall yang kebetulan ada huruf kanjinya. Dia mengerti dan menunjukkan papan besar berisi jurusan yang tempat-tempat yang akan dilalui oleh bis. Saya cocokkan huruf kanji di papan dengan print out yang saya pegang, ternyata sama. Akhirnya kami naik bis tersebut dan berdoa mudah-mudahan bis ini benar menuju ke Great Wall. Kalau salah, wassalam deh!

Tidak berapa lama naik bis tersebut, kami terlelap. Sebangunnya dari tidur singkat di bis, saya mengecek jam tangan saya dan waktu sudah berlalu sekitar 2 jam sejak kami naik bis ini. Kenapa belum sampai ya? Padahal menurut informasi yang saya dapat dari internet, hanya memakan waktu kira-kira satu setengah jam. Hampir 3 jam, akhirnya kami sampai di suatu halte dimana semua penumpang bis turun. Otomatis kami pun ikut turun. Saya bingung mendeskripsikan halte tempat kami turun itu seperti apa. Terdapat gedung yang sepertinya sudah tutup dan depannya ada laman parkir dengan beberapa mobil terparkir. Tidak ada apa-apa selain halte bis, gedung kosong dan parkiran. Tadinya saya pikir ini pintu masuk ke Great Wall, tapi gak mungkin! Soalnya ga terlihat Great Wall sama sekali di sekitar tempat tersebut. Great Wall kan tembok terpanjang di dunia, jadi mestinya mudah terlihat kalau kami berada di tempat yang benar. Hadeeuuhh ini dimana lagii… -_- mana udah sore, ga ngerti ada di mana.

Kami mutar-mutar di tempat tersebut beberapa kali mencari petunjuk kami berada dimana. Beberapa pemuda menghampiri kami dan berbicara dalam Bahasa mandarin, bahkan ada yang sempat mengajak bicara dengan Bahasa inggris tapi tidak saya gubris karena saya takut kena scam lagi. Beberapa orang terlihat menaiki sebuah bis yang baru datang. Termasuk salah seorang pemuda yang tadi mengajak kami bicara dalam Bahasa inggris. Akhirnya saya bertanya pada dia karena sepertinya dia harapan terakhir kami untuk tempat bertanya. Rupanya dia mahasiswa s2 dari Uzbekistan Yang sedang kuliah di China. Tadi dia mengajak kami bicara juga karena ingin bertanya arah ke Great Wall. Yaampuunn! Maaf ya masnya saya udah su’udzon… habis dipikir tour guide scam yang kayak di Terrra Cotta.

Si mas ini bisa Bahasa mandarin juga, dan bilang bahwa bus ini menujur ke Great Wall yang letaknya masih sekitar 1,4 km lagi dari lokasi kami saat itu. Apakah bis yang kami tumpangi sebelumnya itu memang menuju Great Wall atau tidak kami tidak pernah tahu. Yang jelas meskipun kami nyasar, rupanya tidak nyasar-nyasar amat. Syukurlah…

Sekitar 7 menit kemudian sampailah kami di halte bis Great Wall. Kami berterima kasih dan mengucapkan selamat tinggal kepada mas tadi. Sekarang kami mesti berpacu dengan waktu karena kami sampai di Great Wall-nya udah sore sekali dan nampaknya sebentar lagi tutup. Kami berjalan ke arah stasiun kereta gantung supaya bisa diantar menuju spot yang direkomendasikan di internet yang terletak agak tinggi posisinya. Dari spot tersebut, kami bisa berjalan kaki untuk ke pintu keluar.

Ketika sampai di stasiun kereta gantung, stasiunnya sudah tutup!! Kami sungguh kecewa mengingat betapa susahnya untuk sampai ke tempat ini. Akhirnya kami berjalan kembali ke arah halte bis tempat kami datang tadi. Menurut petugas di stasiun kereta gantung, Great Wall-nya sendiri masih buka, hanya kereta gantungnya saja yang sudah tutup waktu itu. Jadi kalau ada pengunjung yang mau ke Great Wall, harus lewat pintu depan dengan berjalan kaki.

Tidak mau pulang dengan sia-sia, akhirnya kami berjalan kaki menuju pintu masuk Great Wall yang rupanya cukup jauh jaraknya dari halte bis. (Ga ada yang deket di China ini men!). seperti motto pemadam kebakaran “pantang pulang sebelum padam!” pantang menyerah sampai titik darah penghabisan! Sesampainya di pintu masuk, ternyata masih buka! Meskipun tinggal setengah jam lagi!

Akhirnya kami beli tiket dan menapakkan kaki di tembok legendaris tersebut! Horee!

Saya ingat betapa dingin dan angin berhembus cukup kencang sore itu dari atas Great Wall tempat kami mengambil foto. Kami mengambil sisi tembok yang sepi supaya mendapat angle foto yang lebih baik dan tidak perlu berdesakan dengan pengunjung yang lain. Rupanya ada alasan kenapa tidak banyak pengunjung yang pergi ke sisi tembok yang kami tuju. Sisi tembok yang kami tuju tidak terkena sinar matahari sore, sehingga jauh lebih dingin. Temboknya juga menanjak cukup curam tinggi ke atas, sehingga angin berhembus lebih kencang. Tapi kami cukup puas dengan pemandangan dari atas tembok. Kami juga bisa berfoto tanpa ada pengunjung lain yang ikut photo bomb di foto kami. Catatan kami untuk teman-teman traveler lain yang akan mengunjungi Great Wall, siapkan stamina dengan baik karena mengunjungi Great Wall membutuhkan banyak energi karena kita dituntut untuk banyak berjalan kaki.

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Lihat betapa cerah dan hangat kelihatannya sisi Great Wall sebelah sana
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Lihat betapa curamnya sisi Great Wall yang kami pilih (^_^)a

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DSC02475
Dapat pemandangan bagus dari sisi Great Wall yang kami pilih

Sepulangnya dari Great Wall, kami memutuskan untuk menggunakan kereta api untuk kembali ke kota Beijing. Antrian tiket kereta cukup panjang namun semua orang mengantri dengan tertib sehingga tidak menjadi masalah. Tidak lama kami mengantri, kami sudah bisa duduk nyaman di kereta bagus yang akan membawa kami direct ke downtown Beijing. Rupanya menggunakan kereta jauh lebih mudah dan tidak seribet dan membingungkan seperti naik bis! Meskipun harus jalan sekitar 1,4 km dari stasiun kereta untuk menuju Great Wall, naik kereta lebih praktis untuk traveler yang terkendala Bahasa seperti kami. Perjalanan kembali ke Beijing memakan waktu sekitar 1 jam tanpa drama seperti waktu naik bis sebelumnya. Kami sudah sampai kembali di hotel kami sebelum jam 9 malam dan bisa beristirahat untuk hari selanjutnya.

Hari terakhir kami di Beijing hanya setengah hari karena kami harus naik pesawat menuju kota selanjutnya. Ada banyak tempat wisata di Beijing, tapi kami hanya punya sangat sedikit waktu hari itu. Sebetulnya saya ingin melihat Temple of Heaven, tapi saya juga ingin melihat Summer Palace. Duh ribet ya. Akhirnya kami memutuskan untuk pergi ke Summer Palace yang letaknya lebih jauh dari hotel kami, dengan harapan masih sempat untuk mengunjungi Temple of Heaven sebelum kembali ke hotel lalu cus ke Bandara.

Maka pergilah kami menuju Summer Palace menggunakan subway dari stasiun Pudong. Ternyata Summer Palace itu besaaaar ya saudara-saudara! Hahaha. Terdiri dari kompleks kerajaaan yang super luas lengkap dengan istana, menara, danau, dan taman di sana-sini.

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Pintu Masuk Summer Palace

 

 

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DSC02550Yang saya ingat dari kunjungan kami di kompleks istana ini adalah kami terkesima dengan keindahan tempat ini dan berjalan berputar-putar tak tentu arah sampai kami tiba di pintu masuk/keluar yang berbeda dari tempat kami datang. Karena hari sudah siang, kami tidak sempat mengunjungi Temple of Heaven dan langsung kembali ke hotel untuk check-out dan menuju ke Bandara International Ibukota Beijing (Beijing Capital International Airport). Untuk pergi ke Bandara ini dari kota Beijing, cukup naik kereta khusus dari stasiun Beijing Realway kira-kira satu jam perjalanan.

Demikianlah petualangan kami di kota Beijing dan Great Wall of China. Selanjutnya, kami menuju wilayah utara China, kota Harbin, untuk melihat festival es. Stay tuned! (npa)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watch Out!

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Image is taken from here

Safety should always come first when it comes to travelling. In this case, I mean safety from being scammed or pick-pocketed or tricked, etc. Careless tourists can be an easy target. Europe is known as one of the most civilized region on earth. However, it does not mean that it is 100% safe! In major big cities, scams and pick-pockets are all over the place. I did not believe it until I learned it the hard way. When travelling, especially in a group, I have to admit that sometimes I become a bit careless. I used to think that Jakarta was the winner when it comes to petty crimes, but apparently I was not entirely correct! Here goes my list of unfortunate events during my trips over Europe.

 

Paris

#1 Petition Scam

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Sign the petition NOT! — Image is taken from here

 

“How do you react when a little girl approach you and give you a paper when you have just finished climbing the stairs in one of Paris Metro station?”

If I may suggest you before you even think to answer my question: do not take the paper! Do not even bother! It was one of the infamous scams that have been lingering around Paris. I was not aware that this scam existed until I experienced it. I was walking with Maya to go to the Notre Dame. Suddenly, a six/seven-year-old girl approached me and put a pen on my hand to sign a petition. It read “petition for deaf people”. It could also read something else, depending on how creative the scammers are.

Without thinking, I signed the petition and tried to walk away. Acting as if she were deaf, the little girl asked me to give her some money. “Give me five euros!” she said using body language. At the beginning, I said no but at the end I gave her two euros as she was really persistence! Meanwhile, Maya successfully walked away when she knew that the girl was asking for money! Smart move, May! But next time, please

grab me with you! ^^

Total loss:

EUR 2 and a life-time embarrassment for being fooled by a little girl!

 

#2 Pick-Pocket

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Attention! Image taken from here

The second time was even worse. I got pick-pocketed on my first day, just few minutes after I arrived from the Airport. It was actually the first time in my life when someone stole my wallet including all of my money, cards and passport!

It happened when I was walking down the stairs in Gare du North to reach my hostel. I already felt something was wrong when I took few steps down. I used a backpack with a clip-on pocket which can be opened very easily. Stupidly, I put my wallet exactly there – as though I was not aware it was the city of pick-pockets.

I heard a sound of clapping clip of my bag – meaning that the pocket was opened. I looked back, nothing was suspicious. There was only a blond-woman behind me – who could be the person behind the scene! I continued to walk without checking my bag.

When I arrived at the platform, I checked my bag.  To my horror, it was opened! My wallet was not there. I rushed back to the path that I took. I saw a yellow wallet lying on the stair case. It was mine. It was tightly closed. Probably I sounded naïve, but I thought that I just accidentally fell down.  I continued my trip to the hostel without being suspicious at all……until I wanted to buy lunch.

Again, to my horror, I found my wallet was without any cash. I looked for it again and again. It was everything but cash. A sudden realization that I had just been pick-pocketed finally came. Luckily, I had pants pocket full of coins. I dug it and paid my lunch.

As an Indonesian, of course* I would still consider myself lucky, though. As the pick-pocket only took the money, I got the rest of my stuffs back. I could still use my atm card to withdraw some money – preventing me to rely on someone else’s money. I still got my passport back, meaning I could save some cost of getting a new passport from Indonesian embassy, etc. On the other hand, it was really a hard way to realize that being alert is very important. I took safety for granted for a really long time until it happened!

Total loss:

EUR 88, CHF 20, GBP 50 and USD 100

Oh well! Let what happened be a lesson to learn! I always leave my passport and some of my money in the safe at the hostel ever since. If I ever come back to this city again, I will make sure that I will not be an easy prey anymore!

 

Vienna

This city has always been my favorite. It is indeed one of the most magical cities I have ever been to! However, it does not make it immune from pick-pockets! I survived my first trip there without any hassle though I took public transportation a lot. So, I thought that the city was safe enough. Obviously, it was safer than Paris, but still uncomfortable experience occurred.

When I was there with Grumpy Girls, it was during Christmas week. Many shops and restaurants were closed. On the other hands, tourists kept on coming. Public transportations and u-bahn stations were quite crowded. One day, we wanted to go to the zentrum. While we were standing on an escalator, there was a young woman gave me a please-give-me-a-space-to-stand-behind-you look to me. I gave her some space only to find out that the she actually meant ‘please give me a space to stand behind you so I can open your bag and take your money’.

Few seconds after she stood behind me, as if an angel whispered to my ear, I began to feel that someone opened my backpack – it was the same backpack that I used for my second trip to Paris. I automatically grabbed my backpack to the front and found that it was half opened. Apparently, her trick was to cover her hand with her big bag so people do not notice. “Not again!” I screamed silently.

I quickly checked whether I lost anything. I did not. I even had the chance to scream “Don’t steal from people!” to that young woman because I saw her walking with her colleague trying to look innocent.

Total loss:

Nothing but a feeling why I put my backpack at my back again!

 

Budapest

The experience was similar as the one I had in Vienna, but with a little bit more spice. If the potential pick-pockets in Vienna went away when we yell at them, don’t expect that happen in this city!

We went to the infamous Terror Museum in Budapest. The stations were not crowded that day. There were only us and two other men. I walked up the stairs slowly and peacefully, so did the others.

“Eva! Your bag!” Diana suddenly warned me. I took my bag and looked behind. All of the other girls looked at me. One of the men was there right behind me. He then walked angrily towards Diana. He probably said “What did you do that?!” He clearly did not realize that I was not alone but with some friends.

I just stood there, reluctant to continue my step. The man tried to corner Diana, but Diana was so brave! She whispered at us to continue walking. The man finally left us alone.

We resumed our journey with another line. We started to laugh and joke around. The subway was quite crowded this time. I started to put my backpack at the front so I felt less worried. Nonetheless, I felt something was wrong. I looked around and found a middle-aged man was looking at me from my head to toe. I gave him a bitchy look to make him stop looking at me. It did not work. He kept on staring at me as if I were an ET. He got off at the same stop. Even when we walked, his eyes were still after me. Until now, I am still not sure whether he was just curious because of my look or not. To be honest, it was scarier than pick-pockets.

Total loss:

Nothing….but still!

 

Milan

It took me four hard lessons to learn how important safety is! I applied it when I went to Milan with Ranila. I googled the typical scams in Milan. It seems that friendship bracelet scam is the most common one. We had many people throwing friendship bracelets when we were near Piazza Duomo. Some tried to target us, but they did not insist when we did not pick them up.

Though we successfully avoided such scam, we got scammed eventually! This time, by an Italian restaurant – this makes it ambiguous whether it was a scam or really good persuasion!

After walking around Milan, Ranila and I were famished. We looked for a nice restaurant by walking some more. When we were lost in one of Milan’s small alleys, some waiters came to us. They handed us the menu, said that they had wifi and good food. We finally went inside the restaurant. We ordered a pizza and a plate of pasta. The taste was disappointing. Even more disappointing, they were actually overpriced! They also charged us more for something that they called “service”. In short, they were only sweet to us when they persuade us to come in. After that, everything was bitter.

After we paid, Ranila was still angry about that bad experience. She drafted a long bad review of the restaurant on TripAdvisor. She wanted to post it with their wifi yet without any success. The wifi was too slow to send it through.

 

Total loss:

Approximately EUR 40

 

Some advices…

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Image taken from here

In summary, having a lesson learn is nice as long as it is not through being scammed. 😀 The ones that happened to me are just few of tons of scams in Europe!

These days, I prefer using a small sling bag which I can protect from the front, instead of a backpack. I know, it is less efficient compared to backpack. But it is safer. Sometimes, I bring another small backpack just to put some snacks and a bottle of water so I don’t have to carry them with my hand. 😀

Also, travel insurance is important! I did not realize it until I lost my money in Paris. It is cheaper than losing something. You will be grateful when you buy one!

To minimize the risk, I left important documents in a locked safe at the hostel/hotels. Some hostels provide a lock while some others don’t. My suggestion is, have one! It is not expensive and it is very useful.

Finally, don’t let scams discourage you from exploring a new place! Be alert is all you need. 🙂

 

*still (being) lucky is the terms that Indonesians used whenever we experience unfortunate events. For example, when someone get an accident, he/she will still say “I am still lucky that I am still alive”. Or, when someone gets pick-pocketed in the public transportation, he/she will still say “I am still lucky that I only lose some money, I can still look for them.” Indeed, we are such grateful people. 😀

 

Free Walking Tour: Visiting a City in A Shoestring

When I arrive in a new place, I always have the urge to explore it. It could be the history, urban legends, or foods of the city. Sometimes, trying to read everything to know the story of such places is too much work. Nevertheless, paying for a guided tour is often not affordable by (or simply not a priority of) travelers on minimum budget. One big solution for people like me: free (walking) tour! (Bless you who started this and make it available in various places!)

Those who are not familiar must be wondering how ‘free’ a ‘free’ walking tour is. It means the tour itself is free, yet you are encouraged to tip the guide (remember, the guides don’t do free walking tour out of charity. It’s actually their source of living!) The amount of the tip depends on you. If the guide is really good — on the terms that the explanation is compelling, hospitality, recommendations, etc; I will usually tip more though still within my budget.

Finding them is quite easy. Usually they are equipped with colorful umbrellas and/or jackets. They can be found in noticeable touristy places (squares, monuments, etc.)

I am summarizing my favorite walking tours (in no particular order) below. I put the website as I can because sometimes the information about free walking tour can be found in the hostels.

Hanoi's Temple of Litterature
Hanoi’s Temple of Litterature
  1. Hanoi Kids – Hanoi, Vietnam

My first encounter with free walking tour is in Hanoi. The activity is operated by Hanoi Kids, a non-profit organization. It is based on donation (could be given through their website here). Hanoi Kids is not really a walking tour. We can choose what places we want to visit. What means of transportation we want to use.  Where we want to eat. Hanoi Kids is not a usual free walking tour. It is more like a private tour.

The idea is spending times with Vietnamese students who are also the guides throughout the tour. They will pick you up in your hotel. Together, you will proceed to the sites you have chosen. You can also modify it yourself so long as you communicate it with the guides. 😀 They tell the history and legends of the places in Hanoi. The tour itself is very valuable because you get the chance to see Hanoi from local perspective.

Our guides were Nắng Lạnh and Bùi Trí Dũng. They helped us a lot! Especially to know the normal price in Hanoi. They also brought us to local restaurants and recommended the foods! I really had a good time!

Free walking tour in Prague! Though not clear, :p this is in the square to Charles Bridge
Free walking tour in Prague! Though not clear, :p this is in the square to Charles Bridge
  1. Extravaganza Free Tour – Prague, Czech Republic

My grumpy friends and I joined Prague’s free tour on the last day of 2014. It was winter. A little bit wet. Nevertheless it was still so much fun! Probably, it is the most comprehensive Prague walking tour. Our guide, Clara, was so energetic and interactive! She also told us ‘secret menu’ that we can order in the local restaurants. 😉 We spent three hours enjoying Clara’s explanation about Prague’s Old Town, its infamous Charles Bridge, Castle and many more! You will see the black dark story (or history?) of Prague despite its now reputation as one of the most romantic city in Europe. I will not spill them for you. 😀 The good thing about this tour is that it has a break in the middle of the tour. Therefore, if you miss the first part, you can still definitely go for the second part.

Do you see yourself?
Do you see yourself?
  1. Graffiti Walking Tour – Berlin, Germany

I felt so hipster for joining this tour in Berlin! It was different from the usual walking tour as its highlight is Berlin’s graffiti. Graffiti is part of Berlin and the tour operator understands it! Our guide, an Australian living in Berlin, provided us with explanation about the story behind Berlin’s graffiti. Through the tour, I found out how the artists avoid being jailed for drawing a graffiti; the artists persistence in ‘preserving’ their works from being removed by the authorities; the characteristics of the works of some (such as scratches of ‘6’s); and even how valuable a graffiti can be (because there is part of a wall with graffiti was stolen and sold!) This tour is so alternative that it gives people new perspective!

Here is Big Ben (I have no picture of the tour! haha)
Here is Big Ben (I have no picture of the tour! haha)
  1. Jack the Ripper Tour – London, England

I joined several walking tour in London because this city is so big that one walking tour is not enough! My favorite of all is this Jack the Ripper Tour. If you are a fan of thriller or horror movies, you will like this tour! You will explore East London’s White Chapel area in the evening (so you get the feeling, of course!) Instead of magnificent buildings, you will see houses and small alleys. The guide will then tell you story on the spot where Jack did his action. There will also be explanation of how the killing was done and the typical victims.

Eagerly explaining
Eagerly explaining
  1. New Amsterdam Tour – Amsterdam, Netherlands

I only had one day in Amsterdam, so I joined Amsterdam’s free walking tour to get overview of the Netherlands’ capital. The meeting point was at the National Monument, 10-minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal. Our guide was a funny Dutch guy. We started from the monument itself and ended the tour in the Jordaan District. It was a tour about Dutch history, habits and arts. Through this three-hour tour, you will know that Amsterdam is not limited to weeds and prostitutions. 😀

Also, after the tour you can head directly to Anne Frank’s house as the last stop was close by and by evening there is fewer crowds.

P.S.:

Although free walking tour is popular, it is not available in every city. In substitute, you can hire an audio guide from the tourist office for little amount of money and do the walking tour by yourself. I did it in Trieste, and it was not less fun!

(eff)

Made in China (Bagian 2) : Terra-cota Warriors and Horses Museum

Cuaca pada pagi itu sungguh kurang bersahabat. Salju turun dan kabut cukup tebal terlihat di atas kami. Jadi kurang semangat untuk jalan-jalan. Tadinya kami berencana untuk main ke beberapa icon wisata di kota Xi’an seperti Bell Tower, Big Wild Goose Pagoda, dan City Wall. Tapi karena cuaca yang kurang baik, kami memutuskan untuk langsung pergi ke Terra-cota warriors and horse museum, tujuan utama kami datang ke kota Xi’an.

Untuk pergi ke Terra-cota museum cukup naik bus nomor 306 (no.5) atau 307 (no.6) jurusan Terra-cota dari Xi’an Railway Station (east gate), harga tiketnya 7 Yuan. Jangan lupa perhatikan tulisan “Terra-cota” di badan bis selain nomor bis. Karena kami sempat hampir salah naik bis karena hanya memperhatikan nomornya saja. Cukup tanya petugasnya pake 2 kata “Terra-cota?”. Kalau dia menggeleng, berarti bukan itu bisnya.

Kami naik bis 1 kali dari depan hotel lalu turun pas di stasiun kereta Xi’an. Kami mengalami kendala sewaktu naik bis ke stasiun. Ongkos naik bis di Xi’an adalah 1 Yuan. Sementara kami yang baru mendarat tengah malam hanya punya uang receh 1 Yuan, sisanya uang pecahan besar. Padahal saya naik berdua dengan adik saya. Akhirnya saya nekat saja ngomong pake Bahasa Inggris ke penumpang lain yang notabene lokal semua, “Does anyone speak English?” “Does anyone have change? (sambil melambaikan selembar uang 20 Yuan)”. Hening. Tidak menyerah, saya bertanya pada 3 penumpang yang duduk dekat saya. Salah satu mbak-mbak mengeluarkan uang 2 Yuan dan memberikannya pada saya tanpa ngomong apa-apa. Err….  saya mencoba menjelaskan pada dia bahwa saya tidak minta uang tapi mau tukar uang… tapi dia keukeuh ngasih. Akhirnya saya ambil 1 Yuan dan bilang “xie xie” pada si mbak itu.

Setelah membayar ongkos bis (cukup masukkan uang 1 Yuan per orang ke kotak yang telah disediakan) kami berdiri di dekat si mbak tadi.  Tidak lama kemudian ada 1 mas-mas yang berdiri dari kursinya kemudian pindah ke bagian belakang bis tapi tidak turun. Sepertinya sih mau ngasih saya tempat duduk tapi gak berani ngomong karena ga bisa pake Bahasa Inggris. Mungkin saya dikira hamil (padahal cuman gendut) jadi dia kasih tempat duduk. Kemudian mas-mas satu lagi yang duduk di bangku sebelahnya ikutan pindah ke belakang. Saya pikir rejeki ga boleh ditolak, akhirnya saya dan adik saya duduk di bangku yang ditinggalkan 2 mas-mas tadi.

Menurut orang hotel, rute bis kami hanya luruuuus saja. Pasti sampai di stasiun kereta Xi’an. Tapi karena gak tahu ancer-ancernya, saya minta adik saya untuk mencoba tanya ke mbak-mbak yang membantu kami tadi. Sayangnya si mbak tidak mengerti maksud adik saya karena kendala bahasa lagi. Lalu kemudian adik saya kembali ke tempat duduk kami. Tidak lama kemudian si mbak tadi pindah duduk di sebelah saya dan menyodorkan hp-nya berisi pertanyaan dalam Bahasa Inggris yang dia translate dari Bahasa Mandarin menggunakan aplikasi pada hp-nya. “Are you going to the train station?”. “Yes!” Kemudian dia menjelaskan bahwa kami bisa turun bareng dia karena dia juga akan turun di sana. Rupanya stasiun kereta Xi’an  adalah perhentian terakhir dari rute bis yang kami tumpangi. Setelah mengucapkan terima kasih pada mbak-mbak baik hati tersebut, kami pergi ke terminal bis untuk mencari bis yang menuju Museum Terra-cota.DSC01812Terminal Bis di Xi’an. Terlihat di belakang saya “City Wall” Xi’an. Salah satu destinasi wisata di kota ini.

Perjalanan dari terminal bis ke museum Terra-cota memakan waktu kira-kira 1 jam. Bis ini layaknya bis jarak jauh biasa dimana orang bisa naik turun di sepanjang rute bis ini. Ada saatnya bis tersebut sangat penuh sampai-sampai orang harus berdiri. Semacam naik patas AC Jakarta-Depoklah. Keuntungan naik bis dari terminal adalah kami bisa dapat tempat duduk dan cukup diam duduk manis sampai perhentian terakhir, Terra-cota Warriors and Horses Museum.

Sesampainya di perhentian bis terakhir, kami berjalan kira-kira 20 menit menuju pintu masuk museum. Jaraknya lumayan jauh dan tanda petunjuk arahnya juga membingungkan. Kami sempat nyasar (makanya 20 menit) berjalan kaki ke arah Ice World dan bukannya ke Museum Terra-cota. Di sepanjang kami jalan ke arah yang salah tersebut, juga ada beberapa tour provider yang menawarkan untuk side trip di luar Terra-cota. Yakali kami baru sampai masa langsung pergi side trip. Saran kami begitu turun dari bis, ikuti saja penduduk lokal. Biasanya mereka jalan menuju pintu masuk Museum Terra-cota.

Mendekati pintu masuk Museum, ada stand official tour guide Museum Terra-cota yang menawarkan jasa kepada para turis yang datang. Tarifnya 150 Yuan untuk tour keliling Museum selama 2 jam. Mereka sangat gigih dalam menawarkan jasa tour. Jadi kalau tidak mau pakai tour, harus galak nolaknya. Bujuk rayunya adalah di dalam tidak ada penjelasan informasi dalam Bahasa Inggris, lalu, kalian kan tidak setiap hari kesini. Jadi ini adalah kesempatan yang sangat baik untuk menggunakan tour guide. Saat itu kami terperdaya dan akhirnya pakai jasa tour. Tour guide kami bernama Sani. Kami membeli tiket masuk di loket (120 Yuan per orang – sudah termasuk tiket masuk ke Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum). Dari pintu masuk, Sani menyarankan kami untuk naik mobil kecil ke museum yang katanya jaraknya cukup jauh, padahal gak jauh sama sekali. Tarifnya 10 Yuan per orang (bahkan lebih mahal dari bis jurusan terminal Xi’an-Museum  Terra-cota yang baru saja kami naiki selama 1 jam). Kalau masih muda dan kuat, kami sarankan jalan kaki saja. Kami menyesal buang-buang uang untuk naik mobil tersebut.

Museum Terra-cota terdiri dari 3 Pit (lubang galian pasukan Terra-cota) dan ruang display serta museum. Pertama kali ditemukan oleh 3 orang petani lokal pada tahun 1974 di Distrik Lintong, Xi’an, Provinsi Shaanxi. Disinyalir terdapat lebih dari 8000 tentara Terra-cota, 130 kereta kuda, 520 kuda, dan 150 pasukan kavaleri di dalam ketiga Pit tersebut. Ini belum termasuk artefak dan pasukan Terra-cota lainnya yang masih terkubur di dalam tanah. Diyakini di dekat kuburan sang Kaisar, Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum, masih terdapat banyak pasukan yang terkubur.

Pit 1 adalah yang paling besar dan paling bagus menurut kami. Sani menjelaskan bahwa pembangunan pasukan Terra-cota dilakukan bertingkat-tingkat ke bawah tanah. Bagian tubuh dan kakinya kopong, hanya bagian kepala, tangan dan telapak kaki yang penuh. Bagian tubuh dan kaki dibuat terpisah dengan bagian kepala. Bagian kepala dibuat khusus karena setiap wajah dari pasukan dibuat mengikuti model wajah prajurit yang sebenarnya sehingga setiap pasukan terra-cota memiliki wajah yang berbeda. Setelah semua bagian tubuh disatukan, patung prajurit terra-cota dicat warna-warni. Tapi tentunya sekarang sudah tidak terlihat warnanya karena sudah tergerus waktu ribuan tahun.DSC01884Selamat datang di Museum Terra-cota. Pit 1.DSC01830Pit 1 – tampak samping.DSC01832Zoom in – pasukan terra-cota.DSC01855Pembuatan Pasukan Terra-cota.DSC01851Serupa tapi tak sama. Carilah persamaan pada wajah patung-patung ini.

Sani membawa kami mengitari Pit 1 sambil menjelaskan (dengan cepat) tentang sejarah tempat tersebut dan memberikan kami waktu foto-foto (yang sangat singkat) lalu kemudian berjalan ke Pit 2. Pit 2 berukuran jauh lebih kecil dari Pit 1. Disini kami melihat sisa-sisa kereta kuda dan pasukan terra-cota.DSC01840Pit 2 – Kuda dan pasukan terra-cota. Kereta-nya dahulu terbuat dari kayu sehingga sudah hancur tergerus waktu. 

Sani membawa kami ke toko souvenir (dia bilang “Display room”) dan membujuk kami untuk belanja. Di “display room” tersebut kita bisa melihat banyak replika pasukan terra-cota berbagai ukuran dengan banderol harga yang sangat mahal. Sani bilang bahwa replika disini dibuat dengan material yang sama dari pasukan terra-cota yang asli. Harga satu replika mini dari pasukan terra-cota di “display room” tersebut adalah 100 Yuan (ya hampir sama dengan harga tiket masuk ke museum ini).DSC01852“Display room” – yeah right.DSC01850Mejeng di “display room”.

“Hmm… ini baru hari pertama kami di China, masa udah mau belanja. Mahal pula harga souvenirnya,” pikir kami. Akhirnya meskipun Sani bilang apa, membujuk seperti apa pun, kami tetap tidak bergeming dan hanya menanggapi dengan “hmmm… oh ya? Really? Cool.” Tanpa membeli apapun dari “display room” tersebut. “Mulai aneh nih mbak-mbak tour guide” gunjing kami dalam Bahasa Indonesia.

Sani yang manyun karena kami tidak belanja apapun di “display room” tadi melanjutkan tour kami dengan tingkat penjelasan yang semakin cepat dan waktu untuk foto-foto yang semakin singkat.

Di Pit 3 kami tidak melihat ada reruntuhan pasukan ataupun kuda di sana. Sepertinya sudah dipindahkan ke tempat lain. Di sana ada tempat untuk foto dengan dekorasi pasukan Terra-cota sehingga kita bisa berfoto dari dekat dengan pasukan terra-cota. Disini lagi-lagi Sani “membujuk” kami untuk foto. Tarifnya 30 Yuan per orang untuk foto menggunakan kamera pribadi. Sebenarnya saya mau, tapi karena disitu saya merasa sedih, maksud saya karena saya mulai merasa kesal dengan Sani, akhirnya adik saya saja yang saya suruh berfoto dengan dekorasi tersebut. Sani tambah manyun.DSC01875Pit 3.DSC01859Berfoto dengan pasukan terra-cota. 30 Yuan.

Di Pit 3 ada display dari pasukan dan kuda Terra-cota (sepertinya inilaah “display room” yang sebenarnya) dan kami berfoto-foto di sana sambil di buru-buru oleh Sani disuruh cepat-cepat. Akhirnya saya bilang ke adik saya kita dismiss saja si mbak ini segera, nanti kita balik lagi kemari sendiri.DSC01918Terra-cota warriors.DSC01879Kereta kuda terra-cota.DSC019242000 tahun yang lalu, kira-kira beginilah warna dari salah satu pasukan terra-cota.

Selanjutnya Sani mengajak kami menemui petani lokal yang pertama kali menemukan pasukan Terra-cota pada tahun 1976. Mereka sekarang sudah pensiun dan hanya tertinggal 2 orang dari 3 petani tersebut karena yang satu sudah meninggal dunia. Setiap akhir pekan mereka akan ada di museum sehingga turis bisa menemui dan berbicara dengan mereka.DSC01854Salah satu bapak petani penemu pasukan terra-cota. Semoga panjang umur ya Pak!

Kebetulan kami kesana pada akhir pekan dan kami melihat kedua petani tersebut. Di sini lagi-lagi Sani “membujuk” kami untuk membeli buku kumpulan foto pasukan terra-cota yang bisa ditandatangani oleh kedua petani. Kami menolak membeli dan Sani manyun lagi.

Akhirnya kami sampai pada penghujung tour di Museum Terra-cota. Kami membayar jasa Sani 150 Yuan dan dia meminta tip. Kami tambahkan 50 Yuan untuk tip dan kami berpisah. Bhai! Setelah dia pergi, kami kembali ke Pit 1 dan berfoto lagi karena tadi sangat sebentar disana. DSC01894Cukup waktu untuk mengagumi keindahan peninggalan sejarah ini.

Kami juga menyusuri lagi Pit 2 dan 3 serta display room tanpa ada gangguan tour guide yang selalu menyuruh kami buru-buru. Kami membeli souvenir dari pedagang yang keliaran di Museum, 5 miniatur pasukan terra-cota dengan kotak yang bagus seharga 140 Yuan. Kami pikir itu sudah murah, tapi ada lagi yang menawarkan barang yang sama dengan harga 70 Yuan. “Buset. Ini barang sebetulnya berapa sih harganya,” pikir kami. Kami juga membeli magnet kulkas di toko di luar museum seharga 40 Yuan (karena toko yang di dalam museum menjual dengan harga 120 Yuan per magnet), namun belakang kami tahu ternyata itu masih mahal.

Jadi ada 3 hal yang kami pelajari dalam perjalanan kami di Museum Terra-cota. Pertama, saran kami sebaiknya tidak usah membeli souvenir di area museum karena di bandara juga ternyata ada dengan harga yang lebih murah. Kedua, tidak usah juga pakai tour guide karena ternyata reseh. Ketiga, di pintu masuk, di pintu keluar, di area souvenir, berjalanlah menempel dengan rombongan turis lokal. Karena jika kita berjalan sendiri, niscaya akan banyak pedagang atau tour operator gangguk yang gigih menawarkan produknya pada kita dan kita akan capek sendiri berusaha menolaknya karena mereka sangat gigih.

Usai putar-putar di Museum Terra-cota, kami pergi ke Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum yang termasuk di harga tiket kami. Untuk pergi ke Mausoleum cukup naik shuttle bus yang disediakan (gratis) dari halte yang terletak di dekat stand official tour guide.DSC01929Di pintu keluar Museum Terra-cota banyak pedagang. Kalau tidak mau beli, usahakan jaga jarak 5 meter dari stand dan jangan nengok-nengok ke arah stand *pasang kacamata kuda*DSC01934Karena kami lapar, kami beli mie kuah take away dari salah satu stand makanan di pintu keluar. 20 Yuan.DSC01936Taman di luar Museum Terra-cota.

Kami sampai di Mausoleum sekitar jam 4 sore. Area ini terdiri dari bukit tempat Kaisar disemayamkan dan taman yang sangat luas.DSC01939Sepaket dengan Museum Terra-cota. Situs ini juga termasuk UNESCO World Heritage.DSC01944Taman di sekitar Mausoleum. Guedeee bangeeet!DSC01957Xie-xie Xi’an!

Kami berputar-putar di sekitar tempat ini menuju bukit (yang tidak bisa dimasuki) sebelum akhirnya kembali ke kota Xi’an naik bis (no.306/no.307) dari tempat parkir di Mausoleum. (npa)

Made in China (Bagian 1) : Ni Hao Xi’an!

Bukan. Made in China disini artinya bukan ‘buatan China’ ataupun dibuat di China, melainkan ‘Made di China’. Ya, perkenalkan nama saya Putu dan Made adalah adik saya yang jadi partner traveling saya kali ini ke China selama 10 hari.DSC01800Sewaktu transit di KLIA.

Awalnya saya berencana pergi bersama Feliks dan Willy. Namun, karena satu, dua, tiga, dan lain hal, akhirnya saya pergi berdua saja dengan adik saya. Rute kami adalah Jakarta-Xian-Shanghai-Beijing-Harbin-Xian-Jakarta. Rute yang cukup ambisius mengingat waktu kami hanya 10 hari dan jarak antar kota yang ingin kami kunjungi cukup jauh.

Perlu waktu yang cukup lama bagi saya untuk merampungkan itinerary trip ke China ini di sela-sela kesibukan (baca: kemalasan). Masalahnya adalah sempitnya waktu dan banyaknya kota yang akan kami kunjungi, membuat opsi transportasi antar kota tersebut tidak bisa tidak haruslah pesawat terbang. Saya sempat mempertimbangkan opsi untuk naik kereta dari Beijing ke Harbin misalnya. Namun, opsi itu kurang menggiurkan mengingat waktu tempuh yang 20 jam dan harga tiket kereta yang ternyata malah lebih mahal daripada tiket pesawat domestik.

Kami naik pesawat Air Asia untuk ke Xi’an, kota pertama yang kami kunjungi di China. Beli tiketnya udah dari bulan September 2014, kebetulan dapat tiket promo 3,8 Juta Jakarta-Xi’an pp. Pasca kecelakaan pesawat AA bulan Desember 2014 yang lalu, agak ngeri juga. Apalagi sedang musim hujan. Untungnya penerbangan kami aman-aman saja. Kami berangkat 30 Januari 2015 pagi hari dan transit di KLIA, Kuala Lumpur-Malaysia lalu lanjut ke Xi’an dan mendarat di sana tengah malam. Airport di Xian adalah Xi’an Xianyang International Airport (XIY), terdiri dari 3 terminal dimana terminal 2 khusus domestik dan terminal 3 digunakan untuk domestik dan internasional. Kurang paham juga dimana letak terminal 1-nya. Waktu di sana ga sempat lihat.

Karena saat itu sudah tengah malam, kami memutuskan untuk tidur di airport. Pertimbangannya adalah berdasarkan info yang saya dengar dari beberapa teman yang sudah ke China, belum banyak orang yang berbahasa Inggris, ini termasuk supir taksinya. Selain itu jarak dari bandara Xianyang ke pusat kota cukup jauh (sekitar 1 jam). Jadilah karena khawatir sudah malam dan takut dibawa muter-muter sama supir taksi, kami menginap di bandara. Bukan opsi yang terlalu bagus, mengingat saat itu musim dingin dan suhu di luar -4 derajat celsius dimana Arrival hall tempat kami numpang tidur tidak menyala heaternya. Begitu mendarat di Xi’an kami membeli tiket Airport bus untuk hari berikutnya kemudian mencari tempat duduk untuk tidur.DSC01803Penampakan eskalator di dekat bangku tempat kami numpang tidur.

Saat kami sedang melamun di salah satu bangku di Arrival hall tersebut sambil menunggu kantuk, kami diliatin oleh 2 ibu-ibu cleaning service. Berusaha untuk sopan, kami sapa mereka dengan “ni hao”.  Eh, malah mereka datang menghampiri kami sambil bicara bahasa mandarin. Berbekal buku percakapan sederhana yang kami bawa dari Jakarta, kami bilang “wo bu hui shuo Zhongwen” yang artinya “saya tidak bisa berbicara bahasa China.” Namun, kedua ibu itu terus saja ngerocos. Kami berdua hanya bisa nyengir kebingungan. Dalam hati sih agak khawatir, jangan-jangan kedua ibu ini mengusir kami dari bandara karena tidak boleh menginap di bandara. Tak lama kemudian ada mbak-mbak berjilbab yang duduk di bangku sebelah menyapa kami dalam bahasa Inggris. Rupanya mbak itu adalah mahasiswa China yang sedang kuliah di Kuala Lumpur dan dia tadi naik pesawat yang sama dengan kami. Dialah yang menjadi penerjemah kami dengan kedua ibu tersebut.

Rupanya kedua ibu ini mau ngasih tau kalau di hall itu suka ada bersih-bersih malam-malam. Kalau lagi bersih-bersih, ga boleh ada di hall itu. Tapi kalau ga ada sih boleh aja diam disitu sampai pagi. Mereka menyarankan kami untuk pindah ke Departure hall karena lebih banyak orang di sana yang numpang tidur kalau mau bisa sewa sleep box atau tidur di hotel dekat bandara, demikian penjelasan si mbak mahasiswa ke kami. Dia juga ternyata berniat untuk tidur disitu karena pesawat dia jam 8 pagi hari berikutnya. Akhirnya kami memutuskan untuk tetap tidur di Arrival hall.

Si mbak mahasiswa namanya Lia. Dia berasal dari Inner Mongolia (salah satu provinsi di China) dan dia muslim. Saat ini dia sedang kuliah di sebuah universitas di Kuala Lumpur dan sedang pulang ke China karena mau Imlek. Bersyukur banget ada dia yang bisa nerjemahin percakapan dengan ibu-ibu cleaning service tadi. Kami ngobrol-ngobrol sepanjang malam baru kemudian (berusaha) tidur.

Tidur di bandara tanpa heater saat musim dingin sungguh betul-betul sengsara. Kaki dan tangan saya membeku! Untungnya tidak jauh dari tempat kami duduk ada mesin air minum gratisan yang ada air panasnya. Jadi kami bolak balik ambil air panas pakai botol air mineral sekedar untuk menghangatkan tangan yang membeku. Alhasil saya hanya berhasil tidur 1 jam karena udara yang super dingin.

Menjelang pagi, Lia pamit untuk pindah ke Departure hall karena mau check in untuk penerbangannya ke Inner Mongolia. Tidak lama setelah itu kami menunggu bus di depan bandara untuk menuju hotel kami. Bus paling pagi dari bandara adalah jam 7.40, tapi karena saat itu musim dingin, jam segitu pun masih berasa seperti subuh.

Perjalanan dari bandara ke kota memakan waktu sekitar 1 jam 15 menit. Kami turun di stopan terakhir “Xi Shao Gate” kemudian lanjut naik taksi (30 Yuan) menuju hotel. Hotel kami adalah Ibis Xian Heping.DSC01804Pemandangan dari jendela kamar hotel. Ga menarik yah.. hahahaDSC01805Quite decent. Lumayan banget 200ribuan ini mah ^^

Letaknya cukup strategis dan rate kamarnya hanya 200 ribuan semalam. Karena kami berdua jadi split setengah-setengah bayarnya. Harganya jadi sama dengan kalau menginap di backpacker hostel di Singapur atau Jepang misalnya untuk 1 orang, tapi kami dapat kamar private dengan kamar mandi dalam. Untungnya harga kamar hotel di Xi’an tidak jauh berbeda dengan di Jakarta. Sesampainya di hotel kami istirahat sejenak sebelum memulai petualangan kami di kota Xi’an. (npa)