September 3rd and 4th, 2008. (CHINA,Beijing)
I was very exhausted since I am unable to sleep on the plane. About 9 pm I finally gave up and went to bed. I heard several people in the dorm getting up and leaving the room and looked at my clock and it was 11:00. How could I have slept so long??? I jumped up, took a shower, changed clothes and headed down stairs. It seemed dark to be 11:30 am and it was. It seems I had only slept 2 hrs and the people in the dorm were going out drinking. This is not the last stupid thing I will do on this trip but may be the last I share. We'll see.
I got up at 7 am. Seriously this time. I went to Behai Park, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I have lots of pictures which I will upload later tonight.
These are a few pictures of my hostel, Sitting on City Walls Courtyard House, which is in a hutong. A hutong is a small alleyway which houses many of Beijing's older residents.
Hope everyone is doing fine after Hurricane Gustav. Also, email every now and then so I will know what is going on.
I got up early this morning (6 am) and went with a small tour group to Jinshanling to walk the Great Wall for 10 km (6.2 miles). It doesn't sound like very far until you see the pictures of the walls going up and down the mountains. When we first got there our guide said that the best thing to do would be take the cable car up to the first tower at the top of the mountain to save 40 minutes of walking. Of course, I then preceded to ask him if it was extra and he said only 40 yuan (about $6) and of course I quickly started up the path walking to the top of the mountain.
About 15 took the cable car and 4 of us walked. Much to my surprise I beat everyone is our group who took the cable car up to the top of the mountain.
The walk was very difficult at time but this was an area 3 hrs out of Beijing which shows the wall in its deteriorating state and others which have been repaired as a conservation effort. There are also very few people hiking this far out. Most go close to Beijing at Badaling and there are actually thousands on the wall at the same time. The entire hike of the wall took about 3.5 hrs. At the end you had an option to use a zip line to go across the river and save another 30 minutes walking. 40 Yuan. You KNOW what I did. lol I probably would have done it had I not done the zip line canopy tour a few months ago in Costa Rica.
The crowds from the paralympics, athletes and spectators, have made finding rooms impossible. I intentionally waited for the Olympics to end to travel to China but did not know about the Paralympics. Since I had no hostel room for Saturday night, after the walk I went to the train station to catch the overnight train to Xian to see the Terracotta Warriors. Unfortunately since I had not planned the train ride earlier there were no sleeper cars for the 9 pm to 8:40 am train ride. So I sat in a seat for 11 or so hours. But I had a few limited English conversations through the night and like always, traveling is just great fun and you make the best of every situation.
The Muslim Quarter is really exciting at night with everyone cooking "meat on a stick" and other things which I have no idea what they are.
This morning I went to visit the site of the Terracotta Warriors. It was quite impressive with approximately 1200 of the estimated 8000 warriors having been unearthed so far. There are also many terracotta horses. It is said that every warrior has a different face and were modeled after the emperors soldiers. They were built and placed in his tomb to guard him in the afterlife.There are fewer English speaking Chinese than I expected. Almost no one speaks any English except at the hostels, tourist attractions and McDonald's. Even at KFC they shove the English menu in front of you and wait for you to point.
This was to be my first experience overnight on the train in a hard sleeper car. The three alternatives that you have when traveling on the train are soft sleeper, hard sleeper and hard seat. My trip from Beijing to Xi'an for 11 hrs (9pm til 8am) was a hard seat. Fell asleep once and fell into the aisle much to the amusement of the Chinese on the train. Don't do this for more than 6 hrs.
I had an idea what the hard sleeper would be like. 10 compartments in the car with six beds in each compartment. The compartments have no doors so that everyone walking down the hall can see each person. I was fortunate enough to have gotten a bottom bunk as nobody wants a top bunk, climbing in and out with the ceiling staring at you all the time.
When I got to my bunk, across from me were two elderly Chinese (of course) gentlemen talking and eating fruit. I quickly realized that one of these men was going to have to climb up to the 2nd or 3rd bunk. So I offered my bottom bunk for their 2nd level bunk, mostly by pointing and gestures. He was very appreciative. Though it would have been interesting to see how well he did climbing up into that bunk. Probably would have done better than I did for the next 16 hrs. Hoping Karma will remember this.
The hard sleeper is exactly as it sounds. Kinda reminds me of a metal ironing board with that thin pad covering it. But I saved an extra $12 by not getting the soft sleeper. As all backpackers know, the more money saved, the more you can travel.
September 14, 2008. (CHINA, Chengdu, Giant Panda Research and Breeding Center)
This morning I went to see the Giant Pandas. We left early and got to the Center at 8:30 am because pandas just eat and sleep, kinda like babies, and after 10:30 am you won't see much action. The pandas were great fun to watch even though they mostly just eat. I planned on having a picture with a baby panda but when I found out they had raised the price to $175 and that the "baby" pandas were 1 1/2 years old. I elected to go with the 2 1/2 yr old panda which is probably 50 pounds heavier and not as cute but only $135. No brainer. Only one person out of 50 had their picture taken with the "baby" .
Monday I take the overnight train by hard sleeper for 25 hrs to Guillen. I am skipping the 3 Gorges Yangtze river trip because of info I received that it is no longer what it used to be due to the river rising by such a large amount. Will use that money to try and get to Tibet if I can find the right deal.
Monday, September 15, 2008. (CHINA, Overnight Train to Guilin)
I leave on the overnight train from Chengdu to Guilin at 17:58 this afternoon and will arrive around 21:00 for a total of about 25 hrs in a hard sleeper car. Preparation must be made first which involves going to McDonald's for their cheap lunch meal and then buying 3 cheeseburgers ($1.25 each) for supper and meals for the next day. I also take several moon pie cakes which are only 14 cents each. The train offers hot meals which are on a rolling server which comes down the aisles. I have not recognized any of the food yet so I will stick with cold hamburgers until I get a little more courage.
Each compartment does have a tv which shows old kung fu movies that usually have Jackie Chan or Jet Li when they were in their early 20's. I think I have already blogged this but here it is again.
When I booked my train ticket I somehow ended my destination in Liuzhou instead of Guilin so I have to find a way to continue on the train for another 3 hrs without getting off the train. I got the people in the hostel to write down in Chinese that I would like to continue to Guilin and purchase an additonal ticket. We will see what happens.
I know that sometimes it always seems to be about how cheaply one can travel and how little one can spend, and it is. But that is the vehicle that allows backpackers to travel more frequently to more places and for longer.
I laughed at an English couple last night. He mentioned that he was thinking of getting a beer to which she quickly said that then she could get an ice cream. When I laughed he said that she was in charge of the finances and that there was always compromise on how they spent the money. They were traveling for 1 year.
September 17, 2008. (CHINA, Guilin, Seven Star Park and Caves)
I spent 5 hrs walking around the Seven Star Park in Guilin by the Li River. I really enjoyed the underground caves which were lit up by colorful lights to better illuminate the stalactites and stalagmites.
While still in Seven Star Park I walked up to the top of the karst peak to get a good view of the city. On the way down I found a path that looked as though it has seldom been traveled and of course that is my favorite path. As I walked I started hearing sounds coming from the trees. Mostly a rustling of the branches. The more I walked the louder the sounds got and the more frequent. Then I saw a monkey up in the top of one the trees and I thought "how cute". Then there were a couple of monkeys that I noticed in another tree and I thought how fortunate I was to have run into some monkeys. Then the monkeys started to converge on me. The next thing I knew there were monkeys everywhere and they meant business. They were invading my personal space all of a sudden and I was getting a little uncomfortable. One large monkey was only a few feet from me staring me down.
Then I remembered that I had read somewhere that they were expecting food and that you were supposed to thrust your palms into the air showing that you had no food and start walking. It seemed to work fine and they no longer pursue you.
There is a Chinese saying, " One monkey can halt the path of a thousand soldiers." Now I understand what they meant. lol
Thursday September 18th, 2008. (CHINA, Longii Terraces)
I went on a tour to see the Longji Terraces which is 100 km (62 miles) from Guilin. The photographs that I have seen on postcards and posters are unbelievably beautiful. My pictures in no way do them justice and I recommend anyone to google Longji Terraces to see some truly spectacular pictures. I also saw some postcards of the rice terraces with snow on them in the winter which was beautiful. Did not buy the postcards though, no money for postcards and no room in backpack. lol
While most of us waked up to the top of the terraces, some elected to be carrier at a cost of about 14 cents a pound. 200 pounds, 28 dollars. Obviously some people are in really bad shape or have too much money or a combination of the two. Lol
September 19, 2008. (CHINA, Li River, Evading River Police on Li River Boat Tour)
This tale began shortly after arriving in Yangshou. I walked down to the tourist area by the Li River just to see what kind of river tour specials there were. It was about 3 pm.
Ok, it is now 3 pm and a lady tells me that they have a bamboo boat for only 150 yuan if we leave now since I am by myself. I get her to drop the price to 120 and we go down to the river where I see this bamboo boat with 3 benches and an umbrella covering. It has a small motor to help it get back upstream. The lady tour guide and I had agreed on the destination but there were a few points which I did not understand completely such as why we were to make an initial 10 minute stop and how I was getting back.
After about 30 minutes of cruising down the river she pointed that we would now be making that 10 minute stop. After she got out of the boat she motioned for me to follow. When I asked why she pointed down river and said police. That is when I remembered reading somewhere that it is illegal for fisherman to take passengers up and down the Li River. That is why everyone is on the crowded tour boats.
I smiled and off we went down some dirt path. Our 10 minute path turned into 20 minutes and then finally we ended back up at the river bank. She looked for our boat and the fisherman but he was nowhere in sight. All of a sudden she came back up the bank and said the police boat was coming towards us. She got on her cell phone and called the fisherman (not the first time they have done this obviously) and off we went down another path to another location. We came upon a boy on a motorcycle and she talked him into taking us to the other river bank further down the river. The sight of the boy, me and the woman tour guide on that little motorcycle going down an old run down concrete path had to be something to behold.
Finally after an hour we were reunited with the boat once again. We cruised for another 2 hrs down the Li River and the scenery was stunning. We passed several large cruise boats that were loaded to the brim and they all stared at me in amazement. We reached the local village, I took a few pictures and we headed back upstream.
Now is when the getting back part started to make sense. After 45 minutes upstream we pulled over to another village and she said something about bus and pointed for me to get off with her. When I looked puzzled, she said "Police". Enjoying the first police evasion consisting of walking through rice paddies and riding threesome on a motorcycle was fun but a bus was sounding pretty nice right now.
To the bus we went and 45 minutes later I was at my hostel. What a Great Day. Also, got that Toilet Thing Going On Too. LOL see previous blog if you dont know what I am talking about.
I was able to witness the large cruise ships which I decided not to take from Guilin to Yangshou. At one point there were 10 ships lined up behind each other cruising down the Li River loaded with passengers. Not my idea of traveling. Maybe others though. I caught the bus back from Yangdi.
September 21st and 22nd, 2008. (CHINA, Dali)
Took the 1 1/2 hr bus to Guilin, then took 18 hr overnight train to Kunming, walked across the street and took 6 hr bus to Dali. I specifically went to Dali because word on the street was that there was cheap trips to Tibet. No Tibet trips in Dali I quickly found out. Old Towne was beautiful but very touristy. Go to Lijang tomorrow.
September 23, 2008. (CHINA, Lijang)
One of the most beautiful cities I visited in China. Lijang's Old Towne was even more beautiful than Dali and even more touristy. No Tibet travel permits here either. I leave tomorrow to hike Tiger Leaping Gorge which I am sure will be one of the highlights of my trip so far. The first 2 pictures were taken very early in the morning. The streets are packed with tourists most of the day and night.
September 24-26, 2008. (CHINA, Tiger Leaping Gorge)
I caught the first bus to Quiatou (chow toe) which is the beginning of the trek. I arrived at noon and headed out for the 5-6 hr uphill trek which ascends over 900 meters. It was very hot and I soon began to realize that I had not been in the mountains since last November in New Zealand. Many tourist were riding horses with guides up the mountain. A local with a horse kept following me up the mountain asking every five minutes if I wanted to ride the horse. He just knew I would not make it but I disappointed him. Most of the trip lies along a narrow ridge which follows the river giving great views of the gorge. The path is narrow enough that you do not dare lose your concentration. There are no guardrails along the path. I spent the night at the Tea Hoyse (yes that is how they spelled tea house). I woke up early the next morning and left before it began getting too hot. The second days trek was mostly downhill and involved walking under one waterfall. The scenery was truly spectacular.
September 26, 2008 (CHINA, Shangri La)
After Tiger Leaping Gorge I caught the minivan for the 3 hr trip to Shangri La (3200 meters high). Most tourists do not come this far up and this is as close as you can get to Tibet without actually being there. Most people here are Tibetan. One of my favorite things in Shangri La was that the old and young dance in the city square for 2-3 hrs every night. It is not a performance but done for pure enjoyment. The pictures also include the countryside on the way to Shangri La , Old Towne, a monastery with the Golden Prayer Wheel and an art cafe.
Sunday September 27, 2007. (CHINA, Kunming)
I just finished watching the LSU victory over Miss. State virtue of the internet even though it was 10 am Sunday here. I arrived in Kunming at 7 am after a 14 hr sleeper bus from Shangri La. This was my first sleeper bus experience and not the most fun that I have had in China. The bus is lined with upper and lower beds. What I did not know was that in the back is one giant bed which is for 5 people. Guess who got the middle space in the giant bed. If I had known better I would have requested a single bed. The entire night is made up of jockeying for position and waiting for the next bathroom break, since there is no bathroom on the bus.
I seem to be the only foreigner on most buses and most trains in China. I know visas have been hard to get for some. I was walking around the bus on our first break when a little boy about eight asked me what I was doing on the bus. I quickly realized that most travelers have their own buses and transportation and that the Chinese almost never have contact with foreigners on the local buses. Most of the Chinese that know any English will try and practice it with me when they can. Even walking down the street people will start up a conversation just to hear English.
After arriving, I quickly went and rented a dorm room at a hostel. My next sleeper bus to Luang Prabang, Laos leaves at 6:30 pm today and will last for 32 hrs. Yes, I requested a single bed. The hostel gives me a chance to shower and rest even though it will be shortlived.
The Sleeper Bus from Kunming to Luang Prabang, Laos was once again one of the tests that backpackers endure to travel cheaply. Airfare from Kunming was $550 and 1.5 hrs and the sleeper bus was $42 and 32 hrs.
I checked out of my room and went to the bus station to catch the sleeper bus at 6:30 pm. I was told that the bus had been canceled. With very little explanation I was told to come back tomorrow. When I insisted on a new ticket she marked out the 28th and put 29th in pen.
I went back and rechecked into my room which I had already paid for but had just stayed in for 8 hrs. Luckily I was not charged again. The next day I checked out at noon and went to the internet cafe and spent 4 hrs on the computer to waste time. 4 hrs was only $1.00
Tomorrow a new country and new experiences.
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did. "
September 28-30, 2008. (CHINA, Kunming to Luang Prabang, Laos, sleeper bus)
"The traveler must be born again in the road and earn his passport from the elements."
Henry David Thoreau
I arrived at the bus station 2 hrs early to make sure there were no cancellatons. I was shown to the bus and went in to check out my SINGLE bed. Bed Number 21 was on the back row with 4 other people just like before. I was not happy and let the bus driver know it. I went back to the ticket office and complained with the help of somone who spoke a little English. He went with me back to the bus driver and finally, he assigned me a single bed in the front of the bus. I think it was the backup drivers bed. He was not happy but when I started asking for a refund he knew that he had to find a solution.
The positives are that the bed is the most comfortable bed that I have slept in since I left, there was great air conditioning and Chinese kung fu movies. Arriving at the Laos border was another one of those moments that you wish you were back home. Organized chaos is the only way to describe it. One of those oxymoron that is true. Police trying to maintain crowd control but having very little luck with the 300 people trying to get to 3 windows. After over 1 hr in line and seemingly losing ground, a Chinese woman yelled at the policeman and pointed at me and he allowed me to come through.
When I arrived in Luang Prabang I needed to take a tuk (motorcycle taxi) to the Old Towne. I agreed to split the cost with a couple from Shanghai and Beijing who spoke excellent English. When I told them that I was from Louisiana they looked shocked because he said they thought only black people lived in LA. When I asked why he thought that and I am not making this up. He said that when Katrina hit NO that the only people they saw on CNN were black people. Amazing the perspective that other people have with only limited exposure to the outside world.
I found a great place to stay which is a private room with a balcony overlooking the Nam River and only 2 blocks from the Mekong River for $6. There are really no hostels here.