Marshrutka & Hitchhiking: Daytrip from Bishkek to Ala Archa National Park for under 2 USD

Ala Archa National Park

What led me to Ala Archa National Park? In Chinese culture, the Tienshan mountain range is this mystical place where highly-skilled swordsmen live in seclusion. It’s also the site for magical cure-all “snow lotus” that’s supposed to cure all ills. Ala Archa National Park is part of the Tienshan mountain range, and about 30 min car ride from Bishkek. I didn’t find swordsmen or the elixir of life, but I did find heaven on earth.

There are some places on earth of exquisite beauty that you don’t believe exist, until you visit them for real. My little slice of heaven on earth is Kyrgyzstan’s Ala Archa National Park. Thankfully, it didn’t break the bank. It costs 115 KGS, or less than 2 USD.

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Total price: 115 som
25 som: Bishkek to Ala Archa National Park by Marshrutka
80 som: Ala Archa National Park Entrance fee
10 som: Oto Say to Bishkek

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Getting from Bishkek to Ala Archa National Park

The easiest way obviously involves hiring a car or a taxi, or simply booking a tour from Bishkek. The above still won’t break the bank. Roundtrip prices start from about 30 USD. But I’m not about easy. I am about cheap – I took marshrutka 265 to get from Bishkek to Ala Archa National Park.

Marshrukta 265: Getting from Osh Bazaar to Ala Archa National Park

Marshrutka 265 leaves from Osh Bazaar. I’m not entirely sure about timing, but I’d say marshrutkas seem to leave every 20-30 mins or so. I got there around 10.30 am, and the marshrutka left at 11 am. The marshrutka actually doesn’t go all the way to Ala Archa National Park, it stops at Kashka Suu, but because several other passengers were headed that way (school kids, an older lady), the driver decided to drive there all the way. He didn’t charge extra, but charged the standard 25 som.

Where to find Marshrutka 265 at Osh Bazaar?

It is by the bus station on Toktogul Street by Osh Bazaar. You should be able to find it near the junction of B. Beyshenalieva Street and Toktogul Street. I pinned it on the map below (the Post Office pin). That is where the bus starts. Ala Archa National Park or Kashka Suu is its last stop.

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At Ala Archa National Park

Hitchhiking: First Entrance to Second Entrance
The bus dropped me off at the first entrance of Ala Archa National Park, where the entrance fee of 80 som was collected.

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From the first entrance to the second entrance, it’s still a good 8 km, uphill. There were taxis waiting there for the ride, but I decided to test out how easy it was to hitchhike. Having said that, I was prepared to walk the whole way, and budgeted the time for it.

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Hitchhiking wasn’t very hard, actually. For the trip up to the second gate, I got picked up in under 20 mins by a trio going up to the national park for a photo shoot.

Second Entrance
When you arrive at the second entrance, you’ll see an Alpine hut. Hiking at Ala Archa National Park can take as long, or as short as you want. There are people who go on long hikes and bring their camping gear for overnight camps. I wanted to do this as a day trip, and was mindful of the fact that I potentially had to walk all the way back to the first entrance to catch the marshrutka back to Bishkek.

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I took the River Trail (turn right), and slowly strolled for only 1 hr round trip. Although the hike was very short, the views were truly rewarding. The Ala Archa River has the most mesmerizing color. Fall is also upon Bishkek, so some of the leaves have turned yellow and orange.

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Long story short, do it. You’ll be happy you visited Ala Archa National Park.

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Getting back from Ala Archa National Park to Bishkek

At about 2 pm, I returned to the second entrance, and started walking down towards the first entrance. It took less than 20 mins before three young men stopped their car, and picked me up. They were on a trip to get some fish from Kashka Suu for their family. They dropped me off at Oto Say, where I grabbed a mashrutka for 10 som back to Bishkek Park.

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Some thoughts on Daytrip to Ala Archa National Park

If I were to do it again, I would probably hire a car so I have more time to hike at Ala Archa National Park. Unfortunately, the cost of a solo traveler hiring a car is prohibitive. If you have travel companions, I would suggest hiring a car, or at least the taxi from gate 1 to gate 2.

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I think locals are amazing in their generosity. It was actually the first time I ever hitchhiked, and it was very humbling to have to live off the generosity of others. Having said that, I wouldn’t advice people to continually tax locals by hitchhiking. It was a great experience, and I was very thankful to them for their generosity, but don’t abuse it.

Also, do bring a rain jacket. The weather changes rapidly in the mountains – it went from sunny to drizzle in a matter of minutes.

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USA: 22 Hrs in Chicago, IL,23 April 2016

Chicago Skyline from U.S. Cellular Field

07 00: Boy, am I thankful that our hotel let us check in early! ZZZ 11 00: Time to haul ass. We have reservations at Mexique, a French-Mexican place I saw on Top Chef. The Chilaquiles at brunch was amazing, and brunch only cost us $30 for two of us!

Mexique - Chilaquiles

12 00: Uber to US Cellular Field. Metro would have taken too long. I tried to find their famous bacon on a stick, but I couldn’t find it. 😦

15 00: I’m not built for red-eyes. I was nodding off during the game. P.S. You can take amazing photographs of the Chicago skyline from US Cellular Field!

US Cellular Field

16 00: Chicago is a nice city. We had a nice walk around the downtown, and followed the path along the Chicago River.

Chicago

17 30: I wanted to go to a Jazz or Blues club, but the one we walked into was closed for a private event. We ended up at Dick’s Last Resort, which is more up my partner’s wheelhouse. They give rude service on purpose, and give you hats with insults. The BBQ platter was awesome!

BBQ Combo at Dick's Last Resort

19 00: Metro back to our hotel near O’Hare. There was a Dunkin Donuts shop at the metro. Score!

20 00: ZZZ. I passed out until it was time to leave for our 6 am flight the next day.

Lazy Saturday by the River, Chicago

Taiwan – Taipei to Keelung, 14 October 2012

Our cruise was supposed to depart around 5 pm, and we had to be on board by 2 pm. So, I had the whole morning to myself to explore Taipei. Well, I actually do have a mission – find a companion for Red. Some five years ago, I bought a red Mizuno glove from Taipei. While Red is still holding strong and doing real well, I also do want to get a back-up, just in case – genius that I am – lose the glove by accident, or break it or something. I was initially planning on trying to find the old sports shop in Ximending that I bought Red from, to buy a sibling for Red, but as there was free wifi in the hotel, I spent the night googling, and chanced upon something – a sports complex with batting cages, and softball/baseball equipment sold on site.

Say hello to Taroko Sports. They have more than 10 locations across Taiwan, and within Taipei itself, they have three locations. The one most accessible for me was within short walking distance of Jiannan station on the Wenhu line. Just look out for the huge ferris wheel that’s attached to the mall Miramar. Walk towards that mall, take a left, follow the road. As you walk on the road, you should see landmarks like Victoria Hotel and a love motel across the road. (you’re kinda following the metro line)

I was definitely psyched when I arrived. It was everything that it promised to be. They have more than 8 batting cages for baseball, with speeds ranging from 80 kmph to 140 kmph. They also had 5 softball batting cages, and 2 pitching cages. Well, they have a bunch of other sports, like a mini bowling alley, and hoops, and an arcade, but I was just there for the softball. In terms of pricing, it’s slightly cheaper than the US. Their most expensive option was 200 TWD for 6 tokens (~1 USD per token), and each token is good for 20 pitches. If you buy more tokens, the prices come down, and they have various promotions. For instance, they have a ladies Wednesday, whereby girls get twice as many tokens. Through a remarkable design, they were able to pack all these into a fairly small area. You won’t get to see your ball fly much, but hey, you’re getting some practice, no?

After some fun in the cages, I headed towards their shop, which was within the premise of the sports complex. Service was amazing, and they had a huge range of gloves. I’d guess they had more than 100 different gloves from 6 different brands. As part of my secret plan is to slowly collect the colours of the rainbow for my fielding gloves, I ended up with a blue one. It’s also serendipitous that it was the best fit amongst the different gloves! So, hello Blue!

After my little morning exercise, I met my parents for lunch at Sweet Dynasty, a Hong Kong dessert/food place that has made in-roads into the Taiwanese culinary world. Previously, they were on the same side of the street of San Want Hotel, but looks like business has been brisk. They have since then moved across the street to much larger premises, just above Zara. I wasn’t feeling hungry, so I had one of their famous beancurds, but with walnut paste option. Try a bucket if you have enough fellow diners to share with you!

Post-lunch, we took a half hour cab ride from Taipei to Keelung. Not much to report, as we very quickly boarded the Superstar Aquarius. We had a good three hour before the boat’s departure, so I glanced around Keelung. The warehouses looked pretty old school. I can almost imagine them being in black and white photos!

Taroko Sports

Taroko Sports at Jiannan

Batting cage at Taroko Sports

Softball batting cages

Beancurd with walnut paste

Beancurd with Walnut Paste at Sweet Dynasty [糖朝]

Keelung Harbor

Keelung Harbor

Stateroom with Window on Superstar Aquarius

Oceanview Stateroom with Window on Superstar Aquarius

Malaysia – Legoland (Johor Bahru), 11 October 2012

Today was a mission of three, which includes a little three year old going to Legoland. Legoland is about 10 min drive from the second-link and we managed to get across from pretty quickly, since it was a weekday. They have quite a bit of signage, but I got lost after following the signs for an exit. I needed some help from my cell phone before finding it. Hopefully others will have better luck finding it. Even after getting lost, it took a total of 45 mins from central Singapore. If you don’t have a car, many tour agencies in Singapore provide coaches from Singapore to Legoland, and along with entrance tickets, cost SGD 65 – SGD 70. The entrance was kinda weird. We had problem finding it, because they had a mall we had to walk through before we could get to the entrance.

Legoland has enough rides for different age groups. For the little ones, it might be advisable for them to be at least 90 cm, for them to be able to participate in more rides. 100-120 cm is probably better, though. If you are a roller coaster junkie, this is probably not for you. But this is good enough for the average thrill seeker. I’m pretty chicken, so I don’t really need crazy roller coasters.

As for food, it was pretty decently priced. We paid 60 RM for a family meal, which came with a 14 inch pizza and 4 sodas and 4 soups. Just glad it didn’t break the bank. One note – you might not want to go if it’s raining. They closed all the rides when there was lightning, and there are not many features that are indoors.

The Lego mart does sell pretty interesting things, particularly little lego souvenirs. For instance, they have keychains and fridge magnets. You can also get an engraving for 10 RM.

While the tickets are a little pricey, there are some options for you to get cheaper tickets:

1. 22% – Lucky Plaza. They sell tickets that they bought for groups to individuals.

2. 25% – book online 7 days in advance on the Legoland website.

3. 30% – there are some discount coupons floating around for 30%

Legoland Malaysia

Legoland Malaysia

Lego Singapore

 

Singapore made of lego

Indonesia – Surf’s Up in Bali, 23-26 September 2012

Couple of friends and I managed to put together a short weekday trip to Bali. Only mission of trip? Ride some waves.

Apart from full service airlines (KLM, Singapore Airlines, Qatar, but to name a few) that fly from Singapore and Bali, there are also multiple budget options that head there, including Jetstar , Tiger Airways , and Airasia. Air Asia gave us the best combination of price and schedule, so we ended up taking that option. I think Lion Air flies there too, but I’m not that keen on that. To keep costs low, we stayed at Tune Hotel, which is run by the same company that operates Air Asia. It’s a no frills hotel that’s mostly clean, has a great shower, and a nice bed. We booked into the one at Kuta, and it was located at a central location, giving easy access to Kuta Beach.

Upon arrival, our first mission was to get some lunch. Previously, we ate at Warung Made on Jalan Pantai Kuta (it’s about 500 ft away from the beach) and were satisfied with the fare, so we returned. They offer cheapish and excellent Indonesia food. Our first meal was a nasi goreng (fried rice) and gado-gado (Indonesian salad with boiled veggies, tofu, and peanut sauce), which we washed down with some draft Bintang. Whole meal costs us around 50000 rupiah (~ 5 usd).

As we were still early for check-in at Tune, we ended up going for a foot massage. Recently, multiple massage places have popped up around Jalan Pantai Kuta, and their rates are vaguely the same. They cost around 5 usd for a foot massage, and 7-8 usd for a body massage, both lasting 1 hr each. Frankly I don’t know much about massages, but they all seemed pretty good.

Surfing. Well, there are actually a couple of options available in Bali, including more advanced options. But as we are beginners, we decided that a beginner’s beach break is the best option for us. Kuta is an excellent option, if you are looking for a beginner’s beach break. Equipment rental is cheap (from 4 usd a day to 4 usd for half a day, depends on your bargaining skills, and your willingness to carry a surfboard for some distance), and if you so wish, you can also hire one of the beach boys as an instructor.

Some things to note – if you are not a strong swimmer, I highly recommend that you do not do this. While the waters are shallow, the under currents are very strong. It requires a certain level of water confidence to battle the waves. Also, for a more painless surfing experience, the area that’s closest to the entrance to Kuta beach at Jalan Pantai Kuta is your best option. The further north you head, the crazier the waves get. It can be fun, but it is also exhausting. Do also watch out for surfboards headed your way. As there are many beginners out there, you never quite know if someone rams a surfboard in your direction. So heads up .

In a strange little twist, our surfing trip turned into a shopping trip, due to the intensity of the surfing. One of my friends has lovingly christened our soft boards the cheese grater. We lost quite a lot of skin after the first day, prompting us to invest in rash vests, and non-chaffing board shorts. So do try to bring some equipment, as this can be quite painful. Or if you do decide to buy, there’s a shop at the south end of the bar scene on Jalan Legian that sells surfing (and other beach) stuff for a discount.

We ended our days with cold Bintangs and beautiful sunsets by the beach.

USA – Westport (WA), 07 June 2012

After two years of reading myself blind, I passed my PhD general exams, as of 30 May. What does this mean? I’m moving back to Asia semi-permanently. The last two years in Seattle have been magical, and I am really sorry to leave. If I could choose, and had no responsibilities, I’d have stayed, because I fell for this city. Anyway, couldn’t leave this state without going surfing the Pacific, so off I went with a partner-in-crime!

Choice? Westport. After some research about surfing in Washington State, I found a beginner’s beach break in Westport. Westport is a coastal town along the Pacific, that’s about 2.5 hrs drive from Seattle. Whether the weather cooperates, mission on!

I *erm* woke up late after pulling a late-nighter for my paper, so had a late start at 11 am. Picked up S, and then, we started the drive to Westport. Truth be told, Seattle weather wasn’t that kind. Rain, rain, low visibility. But nothing shall derail this mission. Onward!

Strangely, despite all the crazy rain, I think the heavens must have felt some pity for the heavy heart I have, for leaving this magical place. When we drove into Westport, it was actually clear, and blue. 1 pm, lunch time. I did some homework on Tripadvisor and we ended up at Bennett’s Fish Shack. It was decently fresh seafood, a simple place, whereby the entrees hovered around $10. Portions were definitely big. I had fried oysters, S had fish and chips, and a clam chowder. That chowder was almost solid in texture!

On our way to the Marina (Westhaven Drive), I spotted Steep Water Surf Shop, so after lunch, we turned back, and got our rentals there. The guy, Matt, is friendly, and helpful with information (e.g. daily state park pass that you needed to get, showers), and gave us a 1 min quickie lesson. His equipment was also in good condition, and it’s on the way to West Haven State Park. Random note – maybe I’m not clued into this, but bring your own shower amenities and towels. They have hot water shower, requires 2 quarters for maybe about 5 mins of hot water.

After getting everything, and loading up the car, we drove to West Haven State Park. Just cut through the bushes, and you’ll hit the beach. It’s a fairly typical Pacific Northwest beach … Driftwood, black sand. It was a beach break as promised, and had right and left breaks. Weather wasn’t exactly kind, but soldier on, we did. S was a total trooper in this mission. I did not manage to stand on the board, but for the first time, I learnt how to position to board to catch the wave. So, I will no longer require the services of surfer boys. Waves were breaking too fast for us to catch them.

All in all, it was an amazing day. I finally got to surf the great Pacific. Next stop – world domination!

Bennett’s Fish Shack and Westhaven Drive

Gorgeous Westport

Loaded up car with surfboards

USA – Snoqualmie Pass, 13 Dec 2011

Winter has come early, and I was itching to do some winter sports. H has never skiied in her life, and the various ski parks near Seattle were having a half-priced Tuesday, so off we went.

Having been to Stevens Pass and knowing how daunting it can be for first timers, this time I suggested we try Snoqualmie Pass instead.

Snoqualmie Pass is an easy hour drive on the I-90 from Seattle, and it’s probably passable to get there without snow or sports tires. An when we pulled up, I knew we made the right decision. We could see the whole bunny hill, whereas the bunny hill in Stevens Pass wasn’t quite that easy.

Being a Tuesday, there were few people and tonnes of space to slowly ski around and no lines at the lifts, so that was great for the two of us. Staff there are also friendly and nice.

My only suggestion is to pack some food, because the food at the cafe is forgettable and expensive.

All in all, a fun day out!

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