Friday, September 30, 2005

last night in laos!

tonight i'll make a night of it, i'll eat a nice meal and have my last beer lao. but it will be an early night, i've only got so many kipps yet and if i spend too much i'll have to start using my usd!

tomorrow i have to be at the airport at 3pm, so i will still have time to enjoy laos a little more and take things slowly. i have booked my hotel in hanoi and have even arranged transportation with the hotel - a driver will wait for me at the airport, with a sign with my name on it! how classy is that! i will have a lovely room with balcony in the old quarter waiting for me on arrival... i love it! and on the 2nd, katy (whom i met in tokyo, she was an english teacher) will meet me at the hotel for months of travel together. i'm really looking forward to it! it will be nice to have someone around, to really talk to! to get to know!

today with the sweedish guys i met in van vien we went to the golden stuppa, the most sacred sight in lao. it was nice, but not breathtakingly so. regardless, i think it made for some good pictures. afterwards they left for bangkok and i walked around, grabbed a pastry and did some reading. a relaxing day. a good day.

a funny thing about laos is that ever since i've been here i have been waking up real realy. i am usually a night person but here, i wake up at 6 am everyday... except for today, which was the record breaking of all time: 4:45 am!!! how annoying is that? i wonder if vietnam will be the same, or if i'll get back to my old self?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

gun capital of laos

i have left the world of "friends" and happy shakes and have now arrived into vientiane, the capital of laos. people were right: this place is pretty unimpressive. impressive and disturbing though is the amount of army guys sitting around with gigantic riffles. for what? i'm not sure. but they sit in front restaurants, government buildings, anything. makes you nervous... not really a good vacation mood! this place needs to learn to chill like vang vien!

i've bought my plane ticket today for hanoi, vietnam and will be flying out on october 1st instead of the 2nd due to the flight being sold out. but that's ok, this city is not that great anyways. and i have the most depressing, jail-cell-looking room ever. but it's cheap!

so, not much to say really... tomorrow i will try to hit a few temples, including the most sacred one in laos and have some cheap pho by the river. and then, who knows!!!

ants in my pants

i have never seen more ants in my life than in laos. and so many kinds. you'll find them in your food, on your table, on the walls, in your bed, on you. there's nothing worst than ant bites: it really hurts! and there's nothing like beautiful moments such as putting jam on the table so they attack it and not your food. or waking up to kill the ants on your face and back and getting back to sleep.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

same same... but different

people here love to say that, "same same", always. it's even on the t-shirts here, and i didn't understand that until i really spent some time here. power out? same same. rain? same same. lazy day on the river, another beer? same same. but always different.

today is the asme as yesterday. a lazy day waiting for the monsoon rain to pass. the "different" of today was electricity, a blessing in the rain. i ate breakfast watching the end of spiderman and then, walking tall (awful movie) and then, man on fire again. lazy days here...

but i did not watch friends today. see, this town (it's really not a city: it only has 2 roads, partially paved and a deserted airstrip in the middle) is known for it's constant showing of friends episodes. for some reason, restaurants here will plau season after season, everyday, and people sit there for hours watching. a different episode everywhere - pick the one you want. i find it crazy that people would spend their time here doing this, especially when it's sunny.

asside from the river and watching friends, there is nothing to do in this city. i spent the first day being lazy on the river, inner tubing (une grosse trippe noir, comme au quebec!) on the river. you start upstream, and go down with the current, and stop along the way for jumps, zip lines and beer. people spend hours sometimes at a pit stop, drinking, listening to bob marley and jumping in the water. in all, it took us about 4-5 hours to go down the small section of the river...

the next day we went kayaking, a good 20 km run down the river. we stopped at two caves along the way, elephant cave which is supposed to be the best but was really nothing and the water cave, which was really neet. the cave is filled with water, on yuo jump in a tube with a helmet and a flashlight and follow the rope into the cave. the ceiling is really low, so you keep hitting your head and the further you go in, the darker it gets until there's nothing possible left to see. a little scary if you were there on your own i'm sure! you keep trying to open your eyes wider but it does nothing. after a bbq, we went back onto the river and then stopped at the jump stops for a while. it was pretty funny though giong down river, because in the rapid sections you really got big drops and waves that went over you. quite refreshing! i had a local guy directing my kayak and he wouldn't paddle much, so i had to do most of the work... and he wasn't even really directing the boat: he got us to hit branches and trees even though i was yelling at him to watch out. but heck! it was fun.

i've met a good bunch of people here, it's quite nice after luang prabang and it makes for really fun evenings. we keep eating by candle light lately because of the power outages... good thing the kitchens here work with coal stoves!

tomorrow i am off to vientiane for 3 nights or so, and then i am off to hanoi in vietnam! i cannot wait!!! but i will miss the lao french baguettes... can someone tell me if they have baguettes everywhere in vietnam as well???

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


i was nearly done posting about my days here in vang vien when the power went out again. we have been power-less since about 6pm last night and at noon today it came back on, but then it went off again and i lost everything: blog, emails, pictures that were uploading. so frustrating!

now i am afraid that the power might go off again, so i will not write the update i wanted to write. see, it is raining now, and the harder it rains, the slower the internet gets and eventually you lose the connection and then, electricity.

i've been lucky though, so far today is the only day where it's been raining: every other time was at night and so it never prevented me from doing anything... except use the internet!

i was supposed to leave for vientiane tomorrow morning but now i'm not sure. no one seems to really like that city and it's quite beautiful here, so i think i'll stay an extra day.

in any case, if the weather clears up, i'll head back over here and do a real update this time!

Friday, September 23, 2005

adios luang prabang

i've loved this city, with it's blue skies, amazing white clouds, brown rivers, multitude of shades of green and of the monk's orange robes. i will miss the relaxed athmosphere, the absense of cars, the roads with mud.

tomorrow i am moving on to vang vien, which is also supposed to be beautiful and small. well, everything is small in laos! no tall buildings here yet, no big streets, not a big population. everytime i look at the beautiful abandoned house down the road i want to buy it, but with what money! ha!

moving on means getting up early... maybe by doing so i'll wake up on time to see the monks receive food and catch a few good pictures.

today i slept-in... and woke up at 9am. there was a big storm during the night after the power went out, completely unrelated i think. ate breakfast, exchangd some yuans, walked around and had an hour long conversation with a monk on the hill here. he gave me a beautiful drawing that he did... i'm afraid that i'll damage it in my bag.

watched another movie tonight, with the museum lady. it was "code 46" and it wasn't so good but it was a good distraction. then we said goodbye, as she went to bed and i went to the internet cafe. it was weird saying goodbye...

when traveling you're always saying goodbye.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

yesterday the movie didn't end up being the much anticipated "y tu mama tambien" but "man on fire". i wasn't too excited about the hange of lineup but the movie turned out to be much better than expected and was set in mexico, so i got my fix of spanish regardless.

dinner and a movie was nice, i had quiche lauraine and a watercress salad with a fresh lime dressing - all were spectacular. but there was no one to meet there either, so my plan failed on that aspect. but whatever!

today i took a boat to go to the caves and see the thousands of buddha statues there. for those who do not know, i'm a big buddha fan and am willing to travel lots just to get to view a good one. the ride to the caves took 3 hours, upstream on the mekong. it was a spectacular boat ride, with great views of the mountains. i have to say that laos has the most incredible cloud formations i have ever seen. perhaps it's because of the humidity and the rain forest but the clouds here and their diversity makes for amazing landscapes.

the caves were nice and filled with old wooden and metal buddha but it was a tad disapointing to have traveled 3 hours to view something that could be viwed in 10 minutes. yes, there were a lot of buddhas there but it was nothing as impressive as the big buddha in nara. i said wow, but didn't think that it was specially beautiful or moving. the caves are in two sections, and the upper section is really the "cave" part, where you need a flashlight. it was pretty boring there, pitch dark and i think that a bat may have urinated on me. i'm not sure, but since i was standing under bunch of them i figure it probably wasn't water... anyhow, i guess the caves were a bit of a disapointment. the ride on the mekong was really the highlight, and i am really happy that i got to cruise on that famous river. too bad getting back only took 1h!

afterwards i went to the temples that i hadn't done yesterday, and took tons of pictures... much too many i am certain. ate lunch and met the lady from the museum to go to the temple up the hill to watch the sunset. it's 329 steps to the top, which sounds a lot but ended up being a lot less than anticipated. th view was beautiful, the sunset was alright, but the clouds, again! insane. i hope that the pictures tunr out ok. afterwards we went for a nice dinner, where i had great noodles for "cheap" considering everything else around. and now, here i am, in an internet cafe, insanely sweaty.

tomorrow is my last full day here. it will be spent walking around and exchanging more yuan for kipps. money flies out of my wallet here - who ever said laos was the cheapest country in s.e. asia mustn't have been here lately.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

the sun is setting over luang pranang. from the window at the internet cafe where i am, i can see palm trees and a beautiful pale blue and light orange sky. perhaps i should have gone to the mountain wat (temple) today to see the su set over the city. the sky is not too cloudy: the view would have been spectacular.

but i've been up since 6am (i just woke up... and the roosters are really annoying!!!) and the heat has been really draining. it's really hot here! hot and humid. i think had i arrived here directly from japan i would have been ok, but after spending more than a week in the yunnan province, where it's cool, the heat is very hard. i'm sweaty and i stink! it's very charming. perhaps that's why i haven't really met anyone here yet! haha!

this morning i wet to the royal museum/palace with a lady i've met in my hotel. she's working for the museum for 7 weeks and after some constant questionning i still don't really know what she's doing at the museum. but she did a master in museum studies at harvard, so! anyhow, i got to go in the palace for free and got a private tour of the place, which was wonderful.

afterwards i simply walked around, trying to do as many streets and temples between the palace and where the two rivers meet. the city is beautiful, incredibly quiet: it's easy to be alone somewhere, or alone with some locals going about everyday life at home. i simply adore it here, it has sunch an easy, safe feel. and the temples are amazing, and i love temples! unfortunately most of them are locked up to prevent luding... but the outside is often enough to amaze.

unfortunately i had to spend a good chunk of my day burning cds. i ran out of memory on my cards and i found out that the cds i had burned while in kunming at the camelia hotel did not work. good thing i hadn't deleted the pictures from my card! it looks like there's a virus that lodged itself on one of my cards and now when i burn the pictures the cd fails. but i can still see the pictures... so i guess i'll have to transfer pictures to a computer instead of burning from the card. but it would take a while and would most probably infect the computer. so i'll try to do with one card for now!

i also wasted a lot of time going from travel agency to travel agency trying to find a place that was 1. going to the buddha caves tomorrow and 2. had people already signed up to go so i wouldn't a. be by myself and b. pay for the entire boat by myself. after over 10 shops and close to 1h, i found a place for $7 USD that included the tuk tuks and the boat ride there. and had 6 people already going! i'm happy now. i get to do what i most wanted to do in this country!

tonight i think that i'll go to "l'étranger" bookstore-resto and watch "y tu mama tambien". i can't wait to see if laos did some editing on the film... and it will be nice to see a great movie, and eat good food.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

saabaa-dii laos!

i am now in laos, in luang pranang, and i can view my blog!!! how exciting.

this city is incredible, in a way that is very hard to explain. i've only felt this way before once about somewhere, and that somewhere was sayulita in mexico. this is the kind of place where at the very first sight, you want to spend a month. it would be easy, it would be lovely, it would end up being pretty expensive though. this city is very touristic, but there are more monks and temples than tourists, so it compensates.

i've found myself a beautiful room with double beds, hardwood floor, a/c, a hot shower (rare apparently in asia) and a western toilet for $4 USD (40000 kipps) a night. i tried other places that were in the book but one had renovated and was charging $25 USD/night and the other had closed down for renovation (but the building is incredible). i am located right in the center of things, between the mekong river and another one, tons of temples and restaurants, shops and bars. there's even a monk here checking his emails right now!

i love the orange robes and the shaved heads everywhere. there's something magical about these people that's hard to explain. i think the fact that they're untouchable (by women, at least) makes them seem a lot holier...

but yesterday in oudomxay we met a monk at the city's stuppa who was breaking all the rules... he admitted to smoking, drinking, kept signing songs, accepted something from a women's hand *and* kept flirting with me. he called me beautiful. what do you say to that, to a monk? ha! it was so weird! but he was so nice. along with a french couple that i met on the bus we talked for a few hours, watching the sun set over the city and the mountains and then by his invitation we went to his english class that evening.

it was really odd to feel like a tourist attraction. to have about 10 young men, mostly monks, ask you questions about your life (where are you from, how old are you, are you married are typical laos questions) to practice their english. it felt a bit overwhelming at times, at points i felt like backing out but this was the kind of opportunity you don't get if you're after it. so class started and they had a new teacher, who had a very strong laos accent and decided that i should teach the class and stand in the front!!! i obliged (again, this doesn't happen everyday...) and ended up basically talking about myself and doing a few pronunciation things (like "world" and "word", so they could hear the difference) and stuff. i even got asked questions like "what is the longest river in the world"! haha.

since in laos i have learned to use the new toilets but still refuse to use my hand to wipe myself. i just don't like the idea that much and the thought of wet panties all the time is not that appealing! but toilets here are super clean, they do not smell, and everyone flushes. why can't these people go to china and show them how it's done???

the weather here is supposed to be a killer (raining season right now, so hot and wet - supposed to be...) but it's been quite nice. we've had a bit of light rain and lots of clouds, so the heat is just perfect. you still need a sweater here at night, which is nice. and helps against the mosquitoes.

i've read everywhere that lao roads are some of the worst in asia. i have to say that so far, after over 10h of bus i have nothing to complain about. most of it was paved, some was gravel but some was earth, wich turned to bright red mud with holes and potholes. those sections where bumpy, but the drivers where good enough to go so slowly that you hardly felt a thing. i have also taken my first tuk tuk ride! it was lovely but it's hard to look outside... too bad.

oh, and crossing the border was super easy. i was really worried that perhaps they'd have stopped issuing visas at the border and that i'd be stuck in between two countries for a while. but no, 260 yuan later i had a lovely visa. it's not as nice as the one you get when you go through the embassy, but what can you do!

overall i'm really happy to be here. tomorrow i'll walk around and check out the temples, the markets, etc. but tonight i'm pretty tired and will go to bed early. there's an hour difference here and it means that it gets dark real early and somehow it's making me more tired. i also want to go to the caves, with thousands of buddha images. this is the number one attraction that i wanted to see in laos. hopefully it will live up to the expectations!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

china redux (revised)

china is a wonderful counrty, and it seems like i have seen nothing of it. beijing, xian, kunming, dali, lijiang, baisha, jinghong, mengla... it's really nothing. china is such a big country with such varried lanscapes and people, it would take years i think to really see it all in a significant manner.

but i will mostly remember china for:

- all of the wonderful people that i met while traveling, from europe and africa. you guys really made this trip wonderful and i will never forget it.
- the lovely people of the south and their warm smile - specifically around dali.
- the great food: peking duck, beijing's dumplings (good anywhere, but best there), xian arab "kebobs", street food in general but mosly the different breads, kunming's food on a stick feast, dali's best omlette, lijiang's super filling naxi bread filled with honey, great orange juice.
- the cheap beer
- the best landscape: the route between jinghong and mengla. i did it three times and i was still amazed!
- chinese music: nothing beats techno music at 7am blaring on the bus. or having a pop song in chinese stuck in your head, regardless of thne fact that you do not know the lyrics.
- the way chinese people can start signing anytime, anywhere, out loud. and how they love to sign when they're drunk.
- chinese transportation, from the train, plane and bus rides i took. some good, some bad. nothing beats being woken up by loud speakers at 2:30 am to go for a pee break.
- the best hotels: beijing's far east hostel, for the people and the late nights. lijiang's old town hostel, for the cute cottage feel.
- the way you can enter a temple or a cultural sight and find "grass" growing in the wild in the yunnan province. no one seems to care.
- the fashion crimes: beijing's popular "half-way up" shirt on fat guys, the awful little nylon socks everyone wears, and the terrible act of throwing anything and everything on the floor, in rivers and lakes, as if the earth was a big garbage. there's nothing uglier than someone with such disrespect.
- the fact that in some places you can be as much of the attraction as them. people look at you with such intrigue sometimes!
- garbage trucks playing the "happy birthday" song non-stop.
- christmas songs in september.


some notes about the hotels:

- far east youth hostel in beijing: the internet is faster in the basement of the hotel section. getting a taxi to drop you off there is near impossible. go for the nearest intersection.
- ludao binguan in xian: well located but the dorms are pretty depressing, and so are the toilets. could be cleaner... but the youth hostel is not much better with that regards, and they have no cheap restaurants around. although, they are located besside a street only occupied by bars.
- camelia hotel in kunming: do not do phone calls there! and coffee prices go up after 10am by Y10. *** the laos and vietnam embassies are in the hotel ***
- jim's tibetan guesthouse, dali: could be cleaner!
- old town hostel in lijiang: not super organised or friendly. will charge you Y5 for checking out 2 minutes late. no doors on the public toilets, only a screen. some toilets in the old courtyard section do not work, so test them first! and the walls are very thin!
- mengla: the hotel in the guidebook no longer exist. go with what a scout will offer. the xiu guesthouse is somewhat clean but *very* humid and dark. and adorned with naked ladies in the bathroom. and can get *very* loud.

bus rides

the two bus rides today went pretty well, i think. my ass is abselutely killing me from the rollercoaster rides but what can you do! i know laos' roads will be a lot worst so i can't really complain.

the ride there was in a very comfortable bus but the ride back had no leg room and was pretty dirty. as for everything in china, even for food, you never get the same thing twice, even if from the same place, 5 minutes later.

i have to say that the scenery and listening to music really helped the trip. the mountains and the clouds were spectacular. but the view is really best in the morning. the return ride lacked the "kodak moment" effect. i kept thinking about taking pictures but nothing would come out, from the speed, bumps, trees in the way. i guess the magnificent scenery will have to stay in my mind.

in jinghong it took me about an hour to find the freaking bank! that's incredible considering the fact that it was located 10 minutes from the bus station. i asked for directions and no one knew where it was. i was on the right street. pointing at the name of the bank and location on a map. and still, no one could tell me how close or far i was, if it was to my right or my left. it's silly how everywhere in china people can't give directions and do not know their city. i went into an hotel and asked for the jade market (two streets away it turned out) and they didn't know where iot was! crazy. but regardless, i found the bank, and it took my card, and so my problems are solved. i was really happy.

to make my bus trip not completely bank related, i walked thne jade market (boring) and found an actual food market (great!) that sold everything from vegetables to goat hoofs. yummy!

i am now back in mengla. this city really has nothing going for it! it's too bad. so it will be, like yesterday, internet, dinner, tv, bed. and it's raining...

by the way, this city is so humid that i've had clothing drying for well over 30h now and everything is still wet. i will have to use the heat of the tv to try to get things to dry... i guess that's what it will be like from now on! i'll just have to pray for a spot in the sunlight to dry my stuff... eventually.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

comme une belle conne!

i am so pissed off at myself right now!!!

i have just endured a 21h bus ride from kunming to mangla, located close to the laos border, only to realise that i do not have enough cash on me and that no banks here have atm that accept international cards and that they all refuse to do cash advance on credit cards. well, i thought screw it, i'll do it in laos but no! there's no atm, no cash advance, no credit cards, no money transfers in laos. the worst thing is that in kunming i took money out, but my mind must have been elsewhere, because i really took out too little and now i'm in deep shit.

the only solution is to take a bus to linghong, 5h away, and go to the bank there, and then hop back on a bus and get back to mangla and cross the border into laos in 2 days. it's just ridiculous! thanks to the visa website though, i now have 3 addresses of atms that do visa/plus withdrawls. the downside is that the addresses are in english letters and thus utterly useless.

i'm mad at myself. at the fact that today (well, the past 25h) utterly sucked for many reasons and that i've felt like crying ever since i've landed in this city. i'm mad that i'm losing so many days in laos. i'm upset that i couldn't meet any fellow travelers here and that i'm doing everything alone. i feel terribly alone and far away from everything. and there are no dumpling restaurants or food on a stick here... la cerise sur le sundea, quoi!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

everything, nothing...

i guess that it's been a while since my last update and i'm not too sure where i left things. so this may be some sort of combined update that covers a lot and where i forget most of what i wanted to say about each day... i'm quite sorry about that.

the last day in dali was wonderful. we rented bikes and biked around close to the lake, in between the rice fields to some smaller villages/residential areas. it was wonderful to see real people, not the ones after your money but the ones going about everyday things. people there were beautiful, with wonderful genuine smiles and an "hello" or "nihao" that really just meant hello. i think that seeing these people and how friendly they can be was the highlight of my trip here in china. and the children! i just love them. they laugh, smile, run around, love the camera. i always thaught that the chinese were more reserved but after that day i really saw another side of them. they seem to have such a contagious joie de vivre, it's simply incredible. we also went on a boat ride to nowhere in the end, but being on a boat on the 7th largest lake in china (as they love to point that out) was quite nice.

biking around though i caught an awful sunburn. i think i've really gotten used to the awful layers of smog around china and assumed this place would be the same and that like anywhere else the rays wouldn't get to me. the sun was out though, the sky was blue: i don't know where my head was.

the next day we grabbed a mini bus to lijiang, a city 4h away north of dali. this city was supposed to be even better than dali, a great place to relax in an old town with rivers, cobblestone streets and wodden house. well, i guess they didn't lie about the unesco site but really it all seems a little disney world to me. i can imagine that this place used to be genuine but now it all just seems like a social and physical construction by the chinese government to take in more tourists. we walked the streets - and granted, it is pretty - and all there was were stalls after stalls of the same tacky souvenirs. clothing, "jade", "silver", yak meat, tea, awful t-shirts, etc. and everything is a lot more expensive here... somehow it seems like the further away i get from beijing, the more i end up paying for things like food and beer. regardless, we had a good time walking around. and we grabbed a really cute private room that looked like a mixed-matched cottage (the double, which was really a tripple, was the same cost as us staying in the dorm bed combined, so we went for the luxery of not worrying about our stuff and privacy). the hostel also has this great rooftop patio, where you get an amazing view of the old city and of all the rooftops.

the next morning we had a long breakfast and then rented bikes to go to baisha, a small town 9km or so north of the city. we took some wrong turns though and ended up taking the longer route through small villages and corn fields. it was weird though, because you could see construction sites along the way where entire cities looking like old cities were being built. baisha was not super impressive though, it didn't have the feel i was expected. but at least there were less stalls and the place was quite small. we had some great noodles and then headed out to the dabaoji gong to check out the best fresco in the region. apparently most temples and frescos around here were destroyed or damaged during the revolution. anyhow, there were a lot of frescos in the small room and they were really beautiful and impressive. there was some damage, and at points it was hard to see but considering they were at least 850 years old, it's understandable. that night we went to a korean restaurant besside one of the rivers, a stretch of the old city that's really pretty with bridged and red lanters. people where signing everywhere, in the bars, restaurants and in the street. it was really great to see and listen to. chinese getting drunk are really funny!

yesterday we headed out to get our bus tickets to get back to kunming. we wanted the sleeper bus for that same night, but everything was sold out. so we had to book the tickets for the next day and check-in again at the hostel (where we got an even cuter room with some fake snoopy posters on the ceiling). the whole changing the date of return thing means that i'll be entering laos one day late, but it's alright. this is what traveling is all about!

after the ticket thing we went to the famous black dragon pool. there's a picture of the place in the front pages of the lonely planet, and i decided to come to this city solely based on that picture. what really won me over was the magestic snow-capped mountains in the background. unfortunately, this is not the good mountain viewing season in china. in dali as well, there were some very tall mountains but they were hidden away. this one here though is an impressive 5500m... i think we saw something that looked like the top of it for 5 minutes. otherwise, it's just a big cloud. without the mountains the view was not the same... but all was well when we ate some good dumplings, at Y2.5 each - the cheapest in china yet. and for dinner we got to witness more chinese drinking and chanting: there were even competitions between restaurants accross the river where they'd go back and forth for what seemed to be hours.

today we walked around the old city and the new city a bit. we went on little streets that go up the hill and it was nice to see less tourists. tonight we are catching the bus back to kunming and will arive early tomorrow morning. hopefully tomorrow i will be able to catch a sleeper bus to jinghong to start to make my way towards laos. if not, it will be another day less in laos!

Friday, September 09, 2005

dali! so pretty!

i am now in dali, an old town north of kunming with strong tibetean influences. the place is set within it's old walls, between a very tall muntain range (one close by is some 4200 meters) and a lake with hills that reminds me of the okanagan back home. the city itself is filled with old buildings and tons of ethnic people in costumes... it's quite different from the china i have seen so far.

today there will be some biking around the lake, and tomorrow i am off to lijiang, a city even more north of here, and apparently even prettier.

china, where the prostitutes are easy but getting ripped off is easier

yesyerday did not start as a good day. i wanted to call my mom and so headed down to the camelia hotel's business center. really, that should have been my first hint. i asked the guy at the desk how much it was to call canada and he said: 8 minutes, Y2. so i repeated what he said and asked him to confirm the price, twice. and he confirmed, twice. so i say ok, and make my phone call. i timmed it to be 16 minutes and when i hung up, he asked me to pay. but not Y4: Y147. i was shocked! so i start to argue (and honestly, "lost face") and so the manager comes and says: it's Y8.20 per minutes. ha! i would have never talked so long had i known! no matter how much i argued, and the fact that he missinformed me, nothing would give. i was to pay. it was my fault. eventually i got a Y10 reduction... but it's the principle that really got me. so, to those travelers out there: never make an international phone call from the camelia hotel in kunming. or at least, get the cost down in writting.

bad thing number 2: my anti-malaria pills are making me really sick. yesterday was my second day and had such bad nausea that i 1. had sweats, 2. felt dizy, 3. puked in the car (in a bag, thank god) on the way to the bus station. fun! i really hope that things get better. i can't imagine 5 months of dealing with this. really.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

thank you china east!

catching a flight to kunming was my best idea as of yet. the whole process went by so well, everything was organised, clean and efficient. there was no spitting, no smoking, and we even left early. in 1h and 40 minutes, i did what would have taken 53 hours by train. really insane! the best $110 i've spent so far.

kunming's visit will have been short and sweet. i am leaving tomorrow for dali, a smaller walled city north-east of here (towards tibet, i guess). today i visited a mountain with temples, some of which were cared directly into the mountain side. it was really nice, probably one of the best things so far. but there was a lot of steps! well over 3km worth of non-stop stairs. a great leg workout i guess!

kunming is pretty cold, surprisingly. when we landed last night is was 15C. that's just insane! today was nice in a t-shirt but a little cool when i wasn't moving, and i walked around all day with a scarf. i think dali will be warmer though...

i have tried finding an internet cafe but it seems that half of the city has been internet deprived for over a month now. so the hotel here can get away charging Y12 an hour... that's expensive for china. and hotmail doesn't work! everytime i try to send an email thne message gets errased. frustrating!

anyhow, i'm off for a cheap hour long foot massage. then, some food. then, some sleep! ha!

by the way, the camelia hotel/youth hostel is really nice but the beds are rock hard. i think, harder than the hard sleepers in the trains. who would have thought!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

killing time in xian

this morning i wanted to go see the big buddha but realised that the bus system to get there was just as reliable as the one for huashan and that i would be taking a big risk in trying to get there and back in time for my flight. so, like huashan, i had to give it up. it's really annoying how i came here to see specific sights and will have left having seen only a third of what i came here for.

so by lack of things to do in this city, and not wanting to walk in the muslim area yet again, i decided that i should try walking the city walls. xian is one of the last chinese city with city walls still standing. so i head out to the spot with wall access, located 2 blocks from here. i pay the *student* price ticket and then start going up the stairs. i don't know what i was thinking, that i could actually make it to the top but i soon realised that i was crazy. see, this "staircase" was really some sort of patented iron stairs, skinny and very steep, going up to the top of the wall. half-way up, i started to feel dizzy and realised that there was no way that i was going higher. so i just stood there, for a few minutes, trying to reason with this stupid fear of height of mine. this is silly i told myself. you can do it. blah blah blah. i finally took one more step. and gave up. good thing i conned the guy and paid the student price.

so here i am, at the hotel, taking it easy. there's no sights around that i want to see. i don't want to walk around, again. and i don't want to shop. so it's really time for me to go! too bad i picked the latest flight out... the funny thing about china is that the latest you travel, the cheapest it is.

today: booyao mo'fo!

we woke up early this morning to catch the bus to mount huashan 2 hours away from xian. huashan is one of the 5 sacred mountains in china. it was featured in one of the past "amazing race" seasons, and being a sucker for beautiful places i knew that i really wanted to go there.

so i asked at the reception at the hotel for someone to write the info in chinese script and everyone here seemed to be confused as to how we would get there on public transportation. regardless, we headed out and got pointed to numerous locations. along the way we kept being asked if we were going to huashan, so that we could join their minibuses and probably get conned into something or dropped off at the wrong place. with everyone after us, for the minibuses, an old lady with no hands who wanted our food, people selling maps and everything else, i really got annoyed. it seemed that no amount of "no" (booyao) was enough and i really felt like sreaming and running away. it was bound to happen, of course...

regardless, we managed to find the bus going there. shame on lonely planet for giving such awful descriptions on how to get places. we hopped on the legit minibus and waited, for over 1.5h, for the bus to fill up. see, these buses do not have a schedule. they leave when full, and when completely full only. so at 11am, we decided to give up on the mountain since we did not knowhow much longer the wait would be and francois had to be back in town for his train at 6pm. it was disapointing to skip the mountain but i really did not want to waste a day waiting in a bus for it to fill up and only end up spending 30 minutes on the mountain. and i didn't want to go through the entire thing again that evening.

so instead we headed out to the big goose pagoda, outside of the city walls. the place was very chinese: cold, big, and not very moving. i have to say also that this was by far the worst pagoda i have ever seen. pagodas belong to buddhist temples and they usually represent the 5 elements (what the 5th one is, who knows). this one though looked like it belonged in a military station. it was all made of brick, with no detailing whatsoever. it did not feel like it was meant to be in a temple at all.

the other frustration is that was paid Y25 to get into the site and were beiing asked for another Y20 once into the site to get into the pagoda and get to the top of it. the guidebook said it was supposed to be Y5. i really don't understand why chinese tourist sights refuse to charge an admission ticket that covers the sight. often you find yourself paying and having to pay again and over again. i guess that they can do what they want, since people still pay. but i found the Y20 (about $3 canadian) to be insulting based on the principle and refused to pay it.

afterwards we went for more dumplings (i have been having tons of these lately, i think i might actually be needing a break... and will not be eating them for dinner!) and to the history museum. the place was huge nd had tons of artifacts, which were badly described. most of everything in there was either a "cooking vessel", a "wine vessel" or a bronze mirror. they even had an entire room, gigantic room, filled only with mirrors. talk about imaginative. but it was neet to see where the discovery of gold, bronze, silver, glass and etc occured. and some of the stuff was really pretty.

i am now alone in xian, and have one day left here. i will try my darnest to get to the big buddha tomorrow, located 3 hours away from here. and then, that night i fly into kunming and will arrive there that night, or perhaps, early the next morning, i am not sure. i think that doing a 53h train ride as a 2h flight was my best idea of this entire trip.

yesterday, warriors

yesyerday francois and i went to visit the terracotta warriors. we grabbed the local bus (way better than a tour, of course) and went down there. the place is huge! it's really incredible to see just how big the 3 sites are and to think that there's probably a lot more of everything under everything we walk on. most of the place has not been excavated yet, which is weird because the site has been opened for over 10 years and was discovered over 30 years ago. most of it is still burried, crushed under the earth. that's the thing about the site: everything is crushed and broken. anything now standing has been reconstructed. but it's still impressive.

after the warriors we got back to xian and headed to the muslin corner (again, for me). i did some more shopping in the antique lane and we then ended up in a tea house on a street with no road (under construction, of course). the lady there was really nice and made us drink lots of tea, and one of them was wonderful and so i bought probably way too much of it. but it was so good, it was worth it. too bad though i'll only be drinking it in 6 months from now! ha!

we then stopped at a muslin restaurant and sat outside for some great meat on a stick. we started with mutton (10 of them, yum! so tasty) and then had beef (24 of them). we also tried a "fried - grilled bread" which wasn't fried at all but seasoned like the meat and quite dry. along with 2 beers, the meal cost me around $1.60 canadian.

then it was back to the hotel, where i had a great conversation with fellow bc travelers. we exchanged email addresses for some potential hicking next summer. should be good!


yesterday while walking to the muslin corner i saw a homeless man try to grap the purse of a young chinese lady. he did not succeed, but it was surprising to see. and then, walking up a flight of stairs to cross the street, i felt i was being followed and turned around to find a kid, not older than 10, inches from my bag and about to razor it. i guess i wasn't paranoid about this city. you really have to walk with your bag in front of you, and watch everyone around you.

stop keeping us in the dark!

i think, trully, that my deepest annoyance with china so far is anything having to do with the internet. half the websites don't load, hotmail only works half the time and yuo will wait 30 minutes for a page to load only for 1. nothing to happen or 2. get an error message.

i thought that my site was being censored but in reality it is all blogs and pretty much most of the web. i can only imagine heeps of tourists trying to check their emails or the news back home during the olympics only to find out that these sites are being censored.

at this rate, who knows. they might even fix the olympic results for the good of the population.

asside from the population being kept in ignorance, i have yet to see another aspect of communism in this country. it seems that capitalism is really big here. there's after money. there's no doubt about it. and no one is equal.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

today i walked around in xian, checking out the city and some of the main central sights. it was lots of walking but i saw the bell and drum towers, as well as the great mosque and some antique alley in the muslim corner.

i have to say that i really loved the muslim area of town, although i didn't see much of it. i think the appeal was in the change of scenery... the mosque was wonderful and it may very well be the best sight so far.

in the antique alley i got to practice my bargaining skills for the first time. i'm not very good, and i am pretty certain that i paid too much for everything. i think that i start too high, but so do they, and i feel that if i start where i think is fair the difference between the two prices would be so big it would be insulting. but i got an amazing snuff bottle down to Y40 from Y120... pretty good but not good enough i'm sure. it is a good one though, with monkeys and everything. i also got myself a necklace and postcards, so that i can finally send people some!

for dinner i had some meat on a stick, muslim style, covered in hot pepper flakes and ground cummin. yum! and thenm i had more dumplings... but for some reason they brought me 20 of them! it was way too much.

i have been trying to upload pictures for well over an hour but it doesn't seem to want to end and post. and now, i've just received an error message. so my whole plan to get pictures up on flickr is pretty much down the drain... boy i miss those japan connections!

i am still very tired and will soon go to bed. tomorrow francois, a french guy i met in beijing and have been sightseeing with, will be in town and so we'll get to check out the sights together. but i don't know when he gets here... it could be a problem!

question of censorship?

everytime i try to view my blog on a chinese computer nothing works. at best today i managed to get a "page will not load" kind of error message (honestly i'm guessing that's what it said, it was all in chinese), but usually i get nothing but a blank page.

it's weird that china would ban blogs. i can post but i can't view it. i say nothing wrong about china and it does not matter.

it's kinda neet though to think that my site is too "hardcore" or "liberal" for a country...

Saturday, September 03, 2005

great wall to xian

yesterday i woke up at 6am to get ready for the trip to the great wall, and so that i could pack my bags and check out of the hostel.

at 8am we were in front of the beijing hotel, with other travelers and then on our way to a section of the wall that is closed to the public. chinese people drive a little crazy, and everything which regards road rules are quite optional and easily ignored. people drive in the bike paths, do not respect circulation lights, change lane like i have never seen and everything else that often makes you feel like you'll end up in an accident. lucky for me, i was tired and slep most of the way. closing your eyes is really the best way to relax in a car in china.

we arrived at the wall 2 hours later and had to hike up a bit and even pass under a barb wire fence. apparently the section of the wall is closed for renovations but it didn't seem like any repairs were under way. the view from the wall was wonderful though, and it was great to see it follow mountains regardless of how weirdly shaped or complicated it might be to follow the mountain top. it's incredible that so much of the wall has survived this long...

we were on the wall 3 hours. walking the wall there was not at all easy. it was old, missing steps and covered in vegetation. but, on the upside, we were only 16 people there, something that would have never happened anywhere else.

the sad thing though is that while being there, i was telling myself that i was walking the great wall but never realised that i was. it never felt incredible because of where i was. it felt more like any other hike, which is pretty disapointing... i guess perhaps my head was elsewhere or that i was too tired to really appreciate where i was and what i was doing.

we got back to the hotel at around 6pm and grabbed some wonderful dumplings from a stall besside the hotel. the amount of food that can be purchased on the streets here is insane, in a very practical and yummy kinda way. street food in beijing is almost always very tasty and very cheap.

i had to leave the youth hostel at 7:30pm to catch my overnight train to xian (a ride of 12+ hours). it was sad to leave the hostel, the people, and beijing because i had such a great time there. but it felt like it was time to go.

the train station, beijing west, is immense. i have never seen anything like it! but it is pretty straight forward. i couldn't believe the crowd though waiting for the train... it never seemed bad in japan because you wait in line for each cart, but here everyone was together.

i had booked for a hard sleeper and it was quite worth it. the bed was hard but not so bad. what was funny though is that i had the top bunk, which is so close to the ceiling that you can't even sit up. but i was happy to be right besside my bags. at 10:30, it was lights out and i slep until 8am when they started playing announcements again. but it was pretty funny though, because they played some christmas music translated in chinese. do they not know it's only september?

i'm at the hotel in xian now, which is right besside the train station. the place was described as new but it looks pretty old to me. the rooms are quite depressing, the carpet are dirty, the toilets do not flush really and some have doors, fallen over the inside of the stall. it's really not a great place. so i will check out the youth hostel and might move there tomorrow if it is better.


i have learned that i cannot pee with a crowd watching me. at the grocery store on the way to the great wall, the toilets had no door... it really kills the inspiration. i guess that i'll probably have to get used to it though, it's likely that more toilets on the way will be doorless.

i did not try the toilets on the train. i did not feel like finding out if the horror stories i have heard are real or not.

apparently it wasn't alergies that were getting to me. it's a really bad cold that is deep in my lungs. yuck. wonder where i got it from...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

i can see!

i'm really starting to think that my love of beijing is purely based on the fact that i am staying at an incredible youth hostel. the people are friendly, the days are lazy and everynight we drink in the courtyard or on the street. i'm just having an incredible time and really liking watching the locals on our street go about their everyday life. yesterday they were drinking with us, some guy was even dancing. people here seem to be really go-happy in the end, and they don't care much about things like walking in the street in your pj or night gown.

the sights in beijing though have not been spectacular. in japan there were many places that i visited where i thought were incredible and took my breath away or brought tears to my eyes due to the sheer beauty. but here, nothing as such. perhaps it's because you think forbiden city and have this idea built up in your head... but you get there and it's cold it seems. nice, but not woiw. as well, beijing is completely under renovation and construction so most sights are open but the main focus will be closed to the public and baricated. it's a little disapointing when you get there and see that instead and the actual building. but yesyerday we went to the summer palace, and that was lovely and the parc was really nice. it was good to see mountains! the main attraction was closed off of course but we hiked up to the one behind and it was a beautiful building covered in buddha carvings... but all of the buddhas had been beheaded... it was really upsetting to see.

tomorrow i am going to the wall on a private tour so i will be in a section with no tourists, which should be really nice. and then after i get back i am heading out to the train station to take the overnight train to xian.

it will be really sad leaving this place and the people... i hope that my trip will be filled with these sorts of wonderful encounters and moments.


yesterday i saw the sky, blue sky, for the first time. lovely!

i am highly allergic to the dust here and am having a really hard time, sneezing and blowing my nose constantly. sucks!