July 24, 2017

Sakura ♥

Alhamdulillah I've been so lucky to have witnessed something so beautiful, the cherry blossom! Been wanting to see it since forever. But as you may know, the flowers only bloom for a week in the beginning of spring so you must plan your travel wisely.

I was in Shanghai and my friend was in Tokyo during spring last year (wanted to go to Tokyo but I got Shanghai ticket for only RM200 yo!). Exchanging whatsapp messages, I told him I was jealous cos he got to see the sakura.

"I wanna see sakuraaaaa"
"Eh China also ada sakura la"
"Ye ke? I thought Sakura is only in Japan"

Hahahahahah silly me! All this while I thought you can see sakura only in Japan.

I quickly googled cherry blossom viewing in Shanghai and the next day, I was already making my way to Gucun Park in Baoshan district, the main venue of Cherry Blossom Festival in Shanghai.

The park has over 12,000 cherry trees belonging to 82 species. Pink, white, red.. it was definitely a feast for the eyes.

And then, I was lucky to be invited by Korea Tourism Organization to visit Gangwon Province in South Korea. I couldn't ask for more when we were brought to see the Cherry Blossom Festival in Gangneung. Yeayyyy!!!

But I always feel cherry blossom is a Japanese thing so I must see it in Japan at least once!

So I flew to Japan a few days after I returned from Korea. It was already mid-April which means my chances to see the blooming sakura in Tokyo is almost zero. In Tokyo, the best time to see them in full bloom is end of March till early of April.

As expected, the flowers were gone when I arrived in Tokyo but I kept my cool. I would be heading to Hokkaido a week later, so still got chance cos sakura in Japan starts from south in Kyushu island going up north to Hokkaido. 

But I didn't have to wait cos I saw this in Kawaguchiko!

Mount Fuji peeking at the back 

Lake Kawaguchiko

Mount Fuji area is colder than Tokyo so the flowers bloom later than Tokyo.

Sighhh...so beautiful!!

Sakura in China. Checked.
Sakura in Korea. Checked.
Sakura in Japan. Checked.

I'm a happy girl! ;)

July 17, 2017

PyeongChang Winter Olympic : Hyo Seok Cultural Festival

In PyeongChang, 2018 Winter Olympic hosting city, you will be amazed with endless flower field and the great novel from this beautiful village by Lee Hyo Seok (1907-1942). Hyo Seok Cultural Festival is held to commemorate modern Korean writer Lee Hyo Seok and his popular novel 'When Buckwheat Flowers Bloom', which demonstrates the connection between human life and beauty of nature through the dazzling scenery of Bongpyeong.

The Festival offers various participatory programs such as poem exhibition, literature night, Hyo Seok essay contest, nature experiences (e.g. fingernail coloring using balsam), buckwheat food cooking, and many more. Furthermore, visitors may tour Lee Hyo Seok’s birthplace and memorial hall.

Admission : Free
Period : 2-10 Sep 2017
Address : 157, Ihyoseok-gil, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do
Transportation : Take an intercity bus to Jangpyeong Intercity Bus Terminal. From Jangpyeong Terminal, take a local bus bound for Bongpyeong or Phoenix Park shuttle bus.

Lee Hyo Seok Culture Village and Lee Hyo Seok Cultural Hall

Lee Hyo Seok Culture Village is the place where the author Lee Hyo Seok was born and raised. The village is also the setting of the author’s story 'When Buckwheat Flowers Bloom', one of the most celebrated Korean short stories to date.

In 1990, the village place was designated ‘first national cultural village’ by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The village is comprised of the author's birth house, a water mill, Chungjujip, Gasan Park, Lee Hyo Seok Memorial Hall, and a buckwheat museum. At the height of the blossoming season, you can enjoy the beautiful scenery of snow-white fields of buckwheat flowers and from late August to early September, the annual Lee Hyo Seok Cultural Festival takes place.

The literary house consists of the Literature Exhibition (chronology of Lee Hyo Seok’s works), Literary Class, Art Research, Creative Idea Room, and a Theater for literary plays. There is also a mock-up of the old Bongpyeong Marketplace and videos for children, as well as a number of different activities. The facility houses valuable documents such as the author’s first printed newspaper, magazine, and book publications. In addition to its deep literary significance, the house is known for its exquisite exterior, Literary Garden, and buckwheat flower trail.

Admission Fees : Adults 2,000 won / Middle & High school students 1,500 won / Elementary school students 1,000 won
Address : 73-25, Hyoseongmunhak-gil, Bongpyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do
Operating Hours: November-April 09:00-18:00 /May-October 09:00-19:00

Bongpyeong 5 Days Market

Bongpyeong Market opens on days with ‘2’ and ‘7’ with the interval of five days. Recently, buckwheat without fail, has been the top product in the market. From buckwheat noodles, buckwheat pancake, buckwheat crepe, buckwheat steamed bun, buckwheat noodles hotpot, buckwheat bibimbap and more, a variety of buckwheat-related foods can be found in this market.

buckwheat pancake

Market Opening Dates : Every 2nd, 7th, 12th, 17th, 22nd & 27th
Address : 14-1, Dongijangteo-gil, Bongpyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do

July 4, 2017

Umrah Ramadan : The end of the journey

My family and I did 3 umrah on this trip, following the schedules planned by Andalusia. You can do more if you want, just hire a taxi to go to the nearest miqat and do on your own.

We thought 3 was enough and decided to focus on other ibadah as well. We spent time at Masjidil Haram doing tawaf sunat, prayers, reciting the Quran, sedekah etc. Being inside the holy mosque, I was motivated. I met a lot of ladies and saw a lot of men performing iktikaf, devoting themselves to ibadah in this holy month.

We were supposed to return to Malaysia via Jeddah but due to some issues, our flight was changed to fly back from Madinah. So we had to cut short our stay in Makkah and stayed a night in Madinah. Not a problem for us because we love both places.

We arrived in the afternoon and I felt happy. Felt like the first time we arrived here a couple of weeks ago. Went to Masjid Nabawi to perform the prayers, buka puasa at the dataran and terawih after. That night was beautiful as the Imam khatam-ed the Quran during the last rakaat of terawih prayers, signifying the end of Ramadan.

The next day, I got to be in Raudhah again; visited our Prophet, performed sunat prayers and doa. Alhamdulillah.

If you come at the right time, you can pray peacefully without all the pushing dramas. I had a lot of space, just like in the photo :)

Saying our goodbyes, we headed to the airport after Asar prayer. Our flight would be at 9ish but we departed early to avoid any troubles.

Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport

interior design

mosque just across the airport

ladies section

Thank God we left early cos while we were waiting to board the plane, news broke that there was a bomb attack at Masjid Nabawi. Oh my God! My heart sank thinking about all the jemaah at the mosque. With heavy heart, we left Madinah.

My first visit to Madinah and Makkah and hopefully it won't be the last.

June 21, 2017

Umrah Ramadan : Puasa & Terawih in Makkah

Buka puasa at Masjid Nabawi was really happening. It is the same in Makkah - nasi Arab, roti Arab, shawarma, fried chicken, kurma, yogurts, juices etc was distributed around the mosque by kindhearted people. Everybody wants to get more pahala by giving sedekah.

But I didn't join the crowd buka puasa at the dataran outside Masjidil Haram as I want to pray inside the Holy Mosque and look at Kaabah. If you buka puasa outside, chances to go in after that is rather slim as it is super crowded.

It was really really crowded during the last 10 days of Ramadan so you have to be quick if you want to pray inside Masjidil Haram. Guards will close the route to the mosque half an hour before prayer time (one hour if it is during Friday prayer), redirecting you to other gates which are usually very far.

Closing the route is one thing. The gates to enter Masjidil Haram are also restricted because it was already full inside. If you are late, you have to pray at the dataran. They will only let those who are doing umrah to go in. Guys in ihram are safe. Ladies are usually safe too cos they can't tell whether or not we are in ihram. But to make it easy, what my sisters and I did was we walked quickly following guys in ihram to pass the guards :D.

We ditched buka puasa spread at the hotel and the dataran and just contented buka puasa with kurma and zamzam water inside Masjidil Haram. Sometimes with fruits or biscuits we got from the ladies next to us. Everybody was so generous, sharing whatever they were having. God blessed them.

There were plenty of time in between Maghrib and Isyak prayer so we did tawaf sunat. Done with tawaf, we would walk around the mosque to find places to pray Isyak and terawih later. Jemaah who didn't manage to find place to pray would continue doing tawaf.

See the crowd! And this is only at the mataf area. Everywhere inside the mosque was full to the brim.

Terawih in Makkah is same as in Madinah. 10 rakaats non-stop, break for 5-10 minutes and continued another 10 rakaats.

Hungry after terawih, we would dash to Hyatt Regency Hotel Mall nearby for Albaik or Hilton Towers for Al Tazaj hehehe.


Al Tazaj

And my must have drink!

Best mango juice ever! I brought so many cartons back to Malaysia haha.

It was very crowded during Ramadan but it is definitely the best time to be there. It may be uncomfortable for some. I felt uncomfortable too in the beginning, what with the pushing here and there (mannn.. those old ladies from the Middle East are really rough), people walking freely in front of you while you were praying (or even walking over you while you sujud!), shouting to each other (maybe their voices are naturally loud I don't know). Add that with over 40 degree Celsius heat.

Fuhhhh!!! It totally menguji my kesabaran.

Despite everything, I don't mind to repeat the trip to the Holy Land in Ramadan again. Once you prayed and focus, everything just felt beautiful. I felt peace. And that's all that matters.


June 19, 2017

Umrah Ramadan : Best birthday gift ever

Heading back from ziarah, we stopped for miqat at Ja'ranah to perform our second umrah.

Oh did I tell you it was my birthday? I would be doing umrah on my birthday!
Best birthday gift ever!!!

I could not eat any cakes during the day, but I was the happiest!!

Syukran Ya Allah!

June 17, 2017

Umrah Ramadan : Jabal Rahmah, Mina & Muzdalifah

We also have ziarah day in Makkah. Went to visit Jabal Nur, Jabal Rahmah, Arafah, Mina and Muzdalifah.

First destination was Jabal Nur. This mountain houses the famed Hira' Cave. Our Prophet Muhammad is said to have spent a great deal of time in the cave meditating and it is believed that he had received his first wahyu from Allah, through Jibril, inside the cave.

We weren't going to hike the mountain and as I mentioned before, about 90% of my bus-mates already visited this place so they didn't want to go down when we stopped there. The few who haven't visited didn't seem interested either. I wanted to go down to snap some photos but I didn't want to make them wait for me so I just looked at the mountain from the bus window and regretted now haha. Nevermind.. a reason to repeat for sure :)

Next stop was Mount Arafat or usually known as Jabal Rahmah. It is a granite hill, east of Makkah, in the plain of Arafat. Historically, this is the place where Adam was reunited with Hawa after decades of being separated since they were thrown out from heaven.

Thus, if you are single, many will ask you to doa lebih sikit here. #semogabertemujodoh

There are many places inside Masjidil Haram that is more afdhal or mustajad to doa, but yeah.. just continue to doa, everything is up to Allah. I did not only pray for love here, but for other things as well..

the mountain 

It was also at the valley of this mountain that our Prophet Muhammad delivered his final khutbah.

Arafat is an important place in Islam cos during hajj timing, on 9 Zulhijjah, pilgrims come from Mina, and spends the afternoon here. Failure to be present in the plain of Arafat on the required day invalidates the pilgrimage.

We then passed by Mina and Muzdalifah. We didn't stop at both places, just watched the areas from the bus while Ustaz explained about them.

tents at Mina

More than 100,000 tents that can house more than 3 million people provide temporary accommodations to visiting pilgrims. In the valley of Mina is the Jamarat Bridge, the location of the ritual of the Stoning of the Devil, performed between sunrise and sunset on the last day of hajj.

After sunset on the 9th of Zulhijjah, pilgrims travel to Muzdalifah. Muzdalifah is an open area, just south east of Mina on the route between Mina and Arafat. Here, pilgrims collect pebbles which will be thrown in the Stoning of the Devil ritual in Mina.

Seeing all these places and hearing the explanation from Ustaz really moved me to go for hajj soon.

June 15, 2017

PyeongChang Winter Olympic : Tourist Attractions in Jeongseon

Another must-visit county in Gangwon province is Jeongseon. You might have heard Korean folk song, Arirang, often considered as the unofficial national anthem of Korea. There are many variations of the song, but the original form of Arirang is Jeongseon Arirang.

Songs aside, Jeongseon is also one of the venue for 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic. Jeongseon Alpine Centre will be hosting the alpine speed events of Downhill, Super-G, and Alpine Combined. The centre can accommodate up to 6,500 spectators.

The men's downhill starts at an elevation of 1,370 m (4,495 ft), with a course length of 2.857 km (1.775 mi), to a finish area at 545 m (1,788 ft). The vertical drop of 825 m (2,707 ft) surpasses the minimum drop of 800 m (2,625 ft) required by the International Ski Federation (FIS).

Jeongseon also has a number of attractions.

 Auraji River

 Auraji is the name of a lake that Jeongseon Arirang originated. The area has long been famous for its beautiful, clean mountains and rivers. Its name is derived from the Korean word ‘eoureojida’, meaning ‘to meet’ as the waters of Pyeongchang and Samcheok merge in this area.

Part of the upper stream of Namhangang River, Auraji was a famous starting point of log rafts transporting timber to Hanyang, the original name of Seoul. The lyrics of Jeongseon Arirang reveal the sadness and longing of a woman awaiting her husband who left for business to a far-away place or left to transport timber.

Today, numerous tourists visit Auraji to enjoy its great scenic views.

Jeongseon Arirang 5-Day Market

Jeongseon 5-Day Market is one of the major local market in Korea and opens every 2nd, 7th, 12th, 17th, 22nd, 27th. In the market, visitors can experience the lively bustling atmosphere of a Korean folk market and purchase agricultural produce at low prices. Its specially featured product is the Goraengji, a vegetable that grows in mountainous regions or on plateaus at 500~700m above sea level.

On market day, you will be able to watch the musical performance titled Arirang at the center of the market. The show will be in 3 parts, explaining Arirang’s story with enjoyable music.

Operation Hours : 9 am ~ 8 pm (operation hours may vary by store)

Arii Hills: Byeongbangchi Sky Walk and Zip Wire

Byeongbangchi Observatory is located in between Gyuram-ri and Buksil-ri in Jeongseon-eup and features breathtaking views surrounding Bamseom Island whose shape is like the Korean peninsula with streams of Donggang River.

Byeongbangchi Skywalk experience offers a thrilling experience as it gives a feeling of walking in the sky thanks to the tempered glass on the ‘U’ shaped structure (11m) projected from the cliff at altitude of 583m. From this observatory, tourists can see the beauty of Bamseom Island and Donggang River, making it an attractive point to visit.

Admission Fees: Adults (ages 19-64) 2,000 won / Teenagers & Children (ages 7-18) 1,000 won / Zip wire Fees 40,000 won
Operation Hours: Summer 9 am ~ 6 pm, Winter 9 am ~ 5 pm

Jeongseon Rail Bike

The rail bike in Jeongseon Auraji is a new type of leisure sport that combines biking along a railway and scenic views. The sport makes use of an abandoned railway track that runs from Jeongseon Auraji to Gujeol-ri. The total track is 7.2 kilometers long and is a continuous descent that is easy to ride along clean valley waters and crimson red foliage. The rail bike starts in Gujeol-ri station and ends in Auraji Station.

Admission Fees: [2-seaters bike] Individual 25,000 won / Group 22,500 won
[4-seaters bike] Individual 35,000 won / Group 31,500 won
Operating Hours: March to October 9 am ~ 6 pm, 5 times a day / November to February 9 am ~ 3 pm, 4 times a day

Samtan Art Mine

Samtan Art Mine is a cultural art complex, transformed from an abandoned mine at the foot of Hambaeksan Mountain, the main production area of stone coal in Korea. The name ‘Samtan’ refers to Samcheok Tanjwa, one of the major coal mines in Korea, and ‘Art Mine’ plays on the history of the coal mine.

There are many cultural art spaces throughout the nation, but Samtan Art Mine attracts visitors for being located inside an actual mine site. Opened in 1964 as a industrial establishment, the mine operated until October 2001. Samtan Art Mine draws even deeper artistic meaning due to this poignant history.

For K-drama fans, it was also the shooting location of Descendants of the Sun.