Mt Rinjani Hike: Reflection

I still remember vividly the moment when I got back to my homestay after the hike. I was sitting in my room and I couldn’t move an inch. My thigh was unforgiving sore, my face was covered with dusts and ashes. I was thinking “Ok so I made it to the peak of the infamous mountain in Indonesia, but damn I did not complete the entire hike.” Did I feel unaccomplished? Not quite so, in fact this hike was more than making it to the peak and completing the entire process. Instead, it was a journey of self discovery and I went home with a bag full of valuable lessons.

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So, let me cut to the chase and say that this was by far the most difficult trek I’ve ever been on. Don’t get me wrong, the itinerary of this hike was essentially same with my previous hikes. You start your hike early in the morning, reach the camping spot late in the afternoon and prepare to summit to the peak next morning. What differs Mt Rinjani from all the mountains I have visited before was the challenging and rugged terrain, the unforgiving sun and the lack of tree shelters along the trek.

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I am not going to elaborate much on the logistics part of this hike as you can easily obtain them from the internet. But there are few things that I would like to share here. There are tons of hiking agencies in you can find in Rinjani. From those established companies with 5-star services, to the smaller ones with basic services and all, you are gonna to get spoiled with choice. Furthermore, you will also have a choice of doing the summit for 2, 3 or 4 days there.

In my opinion, I’d say evaluate your budget and fitness level and get them to suggest an itinerary for you. I opted for a basic and non-luxurious package with Reza Trekker, one of the better ones there. But I overestimated my fitness level and chose a 3 days package. Turned out that my thigh muscles was too painful to continue with the hike after coming down from the peak and I had to return to the base on the second day.

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The porters were carrying at least 40 kilograms of kitchenware and tents, and hike with a pair of flip flop.

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Sunset at the camping site.

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Opting for a basic package doesn’t necessary means that you are getting subpar services. You’d still get regular water and snack replenishment from the guides and porters, as well as decent home cooked food and all the words of motivation you’d need from them. The additional services that some of hikers pay for are mostly things like beers, resting chairs instead of floor mats, or having the porters to carry your personal backpack.

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Hamdi was probably one of the coolest guides I have met from the trip!

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Our guides and porters preparing our lunch.

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Lunch was served! 

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At the end of the day, reflecting on this hike now makes me realised that all the mistakes and hardship I have been through in this trip was essential for me to learn from them and shape my mindset towards the difficulties I encounter in my daily life. The most rewarding aspect of this hike is that it strengthen my mental toughness and gave me different perspectives on how to deal with self doubt and trust my self again, whether it’s through the physical endurance I have gone through along the hike, or through the hikers and porters with diverse backgrounds I met along the journey. It was simply a journey that I saw a lot of shortcomings inside myself and I believe it was a good way to rediscover myself again.

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And the fact that I signed up for this hike was to escape from all the dissent, delusions and discontents I experience in life was simple undesirable to attempt such physical challenge. I neglected the importance of having the right mindset in conquering this challenge and ultimately I paid the price of not completing this hike and having the porters to carry my backpack while going down and constantly slow down to make sure that I keep up with him.

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Campsite with stunning mountain view!

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Taking the cooking game seriously

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Hiking with the guides and porters was a good learning process for me as well. Knowing their backgrounds and how they work hard in every hike they go through to earn a living makes me feel small with all the problems I encounter in my privileged life. On top of that, they give you constant motivations and never once complain about the hardship they endure in the journey. I felt privileged to hike with them and I owed my life to these humbled and great men.

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The sunset I witnessed in this trip was beautiful. It brings me hope and happiness that I couldn’t describe in a more detailed manner. I was speechless. The feel-good vibe at that moment made me forget about all the soreness and pain I had and become hopeful for a successful summit in the next morning.

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Summit Attempt

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To wrap things up, this hike in Indonesia was definitely one of the most memorable hikes I have ever done and I hope one day I can come back again to finish where I left off.

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View from the peak.

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Sea of cloud

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Hiking Snow Moutain 雪山, Taiwan

Two months ago, I decided it was time to take a leap of faith and start experiencing solo travels and in next to no time, I was off to my quest to conquer the second highest peak in Taiwan, Snow Mountain.

“Why Snow Mountain?”, was the intriguing question. There are literally tons of mountains and hiking trails in Taiwan, but Snow Mountain captured my attention. I felt compelled to climb it. I do not have many hiking experience per say, my most recent one was my Mt Kinabalu hike few years back. But this particular mountain seemed to be calling me. The beautiful scenery, the challenging terrain and the cooling weather. What I did not know was how hard it would be to hike up Snow Mountain.

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“Preparation”

Thus began the gym sessions, stair climbings, booking flights, buying hiking gears and equipments. One of the biggest headaches with hiking in Taiwan is the complicated permit application process. Fortunately I chanced upon this outdoor adventure company in Taipei called Taiwan Adventures and they got pretty much everything covered in their hiking package, including permit application and transport from Taipei to the mountain. I signed up for their December hike and didn’t look back ever since. Our guides, Stu and Phil were very professional and everything went really well. The entire experience with them was fun and memorable.

Equipment-wise, we were expected to carry a large backpack – I brought a 65 liter backpack with cold weather clothes and down feather sleeping back taking up most of the space, not to mention the three day supply of water and snacks. Crampons is essential during winter season (though we didn’t get to use it) and yes, hiking poles became our best friend at the end of the hike.

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 The Backpacks All Loaded Up

“Day 1 – The Day”

Our point of meeting was Taipei city. I was accompanied by a group of enthusiastic hikers from all over the world, as well as our guides, Stu and Phil. We quickly got onto the van and we were whisked off to the trailhead near Wuling Farm (About 4 hours drive). At the trailhead, after checking in with our permits and watching some safety video at the ranger station, we started our hike to the first cabin in the dark. It was extremely chilly so most of us put on extra layers at the ranger station. Not a good idea. About 15 minutes into the hike, I was already sweating profusely and regret putting on the extra layers.

One hour into our fairly steep trek, we arrived at the first cabin, Qika Cabin. It’s a no-frills cabin with wooden bed space, kitchen and toilet facilities. The chilly weather was really taking a toll on all of us, so we quickly settle down and  took out our sleeping bag to call it a night.

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“Day 2 – A Long But Rewarding Day”

I woke up full of excitement in the morning. The weather was fantastic, in fact the weather throughout our hike was nothing but blue skies and sunshine, I couldn’t have asked for more.

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Qika Cabin (2,500m)

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Breakfast was bagel and coffee, yum!

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9 degree celcius was about right to kickstart our hike.

The morning hike began from Qika Cabin and took us through the forest, before we were rewarded with scenic view of beautiful valleys and mountains. The trail was well defined but it was a relentless uphill battle throughout the entire hike plus a little bit of downhill hike. In my opinion, this is the part that makes it tougher than Mt Kinabalu hike (My only prior experience with multi-day hike) as Kinabalu trail involves mixture of uphill and downhill hikes.

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Photo Credit: Stuart Dawson

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Hiking through the forest

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Quick break to enjoy the scenic view

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More uphills!

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Lunch was my favourite rice ball from 7-11

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After a couple hours of hiking in the forest, a customary rest stop was followed before the start of the “Crying Slope”, known for its steep and unforgiving trail.

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“Dont Cry for the Crying Slope”

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It was steep yes but certainly not a tear-inducing one

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Snow Mountain East Peak (Photo Credit: Stuart Dawson)

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Heading to 369 Cabin

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Hiking through the forest

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“We are almost there!”

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And here we are, 369 cabin, our final stop of the day. It’s almost identical to Qika Cabin, except that it’s more crowded here. We had our early dinner and our guides came to us with a rather discouraging news. The park rangers told them that some of the groups before us failed to make it to the peak because a section of the path leading to the peak was covered with ice, making it too dangerous to walk on it, even with crampons on. Nevertheless, Stu and Phil assured us that we will still make a summit attempt and fall back when necessary. We went to bed bracing for disappointment.

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Stunning View Facing 369 Cabin

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Love the delicous dinner!

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Inside 369 Cabin

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“Day 3 – Summit Attempt”

We woke up at 2am and in no time, we were off to our summit attempt. The hike took us through the final forested area, called The Black Forest. The trail was dark, steep, and a few vertical sections require us to hang on a rope. I am pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who was starting to feel fatigued at this point. As we moved out of the forest trail, we can more or less see the trail towards the peak.

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And then the good news came. The icy path, which blocked many groups before us from making to the top, miraculously melted a little and open up a short walkable path for us. It was a morale boosting one for all of us and we pressed onwards.

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The summit attempt was absolutely gruelling!

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Still hanging in there!

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Just in time for the sunrise!

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Final push to the summit

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Flowers covered with ice

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And there I was, at the summit! 

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Snow Mountain Peak

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“Veni, Vidi, Vici”

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The little 8 year old boy made it to the peak with his father, love their father and son moments throughout the hike, so inspiring!

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Grateful for the perfect visibility of all directions!

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We then made our descent to 369 cabin and subsequently trek back to the trail head. The descent wasn’t as easy as we initially thought. The constant downhill and my heavy backpack were taking a toll on my knees. By the time I reached the trail head, my knees were falling apart and my toes were blistered already.

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Snow Mountain is an amazing trek. The stunning view, refreshing mountain air and cooling weather were absolutely unforgettable. It was a hell of an experience and I hope to return one day.

Trekking in Sapa, Vietnam

The first thing I noticed after landing in Saigon was the humidity and heat of Vietnam. The gruelling summer heat was almost unbearable and my desire to visit Sapa quickly grew. Sapa is a charming little town in the northwest region of Vietnam near the Chinese border. It is nestled on the mountain top and host to many hill tribes and rice fields. The cooling air and breathtaking view make it the ideal place to escape from the chaotic cities in Vietnam.

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Getting there

To get to Sapa, we took an overnight train in a comfortable 4-person cabin from Hanoi to Lao Cai, a gateway station to Sapa. This was followed by another 1-hour minibus ride to the highland town. At Lao Cai, you would probably see countless operators waiting at the train station attempting to sell their minibus ride + hotel stays package in Sapa. On a side note, You can also shop for Sapa packages in Hanoi whereby you will see plenty of tour agents around the Old Quarters of Hanoi. We saved the hassle by engaging our Airbnb host in Hanoi through her family run tour agency.

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On board the Lao Cai bound train

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Sapa Town

What to do in Sapa

We opted for a two days trek around the Sapa highlands, with a choice of staying the night in a hotel or a local home stay. We chose the latter, which we found out later that it’s the less popular choice among the tourist there. Comfortable bed and clean toilet from a hotel room is probably why the tourists prefer them after a long day of trekking. We didn’t regret the decision though, it was a genuinely wonderful experience to be able to see what life was like on the rural side of Vietnam.

The two days trek gave our legs a good stretch, offered lots of scenic photo opportunities and exposed us to the cultural diversity in various villages there. We were accompanied by a local lad, Dieu Tran. He is a funny and experienced guide with lots of stories about Sapa to share about. What also tends to happen in Sapa is that a large group of Black Hmong women (ethnic minorities in Sapa) with respectable English skills will gather at Sapa town to lure the tourists in becoming their trekking guides to Sapa villages.

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Common scene in Sapa: Cultivating and harvesting rice during the day time.

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A Black H’mong women in action.

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While the adults are out for rice harvesting, the village kids at home are tasked to feed the buffalo.

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Rice field terraces.

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3 sisters munching on pumpkin seeds.

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Accommodation

We ended our day one trek at a local home in one of the villages. The home stay was basic and cozy. We were greeted by our host family with 3 generations all living together. Upon reaching the house, the head of the household was already preparing our dinner all by himself and we were so impressed by how he was able to cook some simple yet delicious home-cooked dishes.

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Spent our evening playing with Duang, the youngest member of the family we were staying with.

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Inside the house.

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No fans, no windows, but we were to able to sleep through the night comfortably.

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Delicious home cooked meal!

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Sunrise shot from the backyard of our home stay.

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More rice fields.

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Local market in the village.

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A young lad waiting for parents to return from work.

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A Black H’mong woman collecting herbs.

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Rice field shot on day two.

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