Saturday, April 29, 2006

Photo links!

We've finally had a chance to upload some of our photos to imagestation and have posted the links according to city/area on the right side of my blog. Enjoy!

The Rooftop of the World

We're now in Tibet and man, is it ever amazing. I can't believe we're actually here! The flight in was a little rocky. Every 20 mins, the stewardess would announce turbulence .. why bother? It was an awesome flight regardless though as we flew right over the himalayas. I was hoping to read about Lhasa on the 90 minute flight but ended up staring out the window the entire time. I was amazed by the snow capped peaks and deep valleys we flew over. I was even more amazed at the fact that there were villages in some of these valleys! Amazing how they can sustain life in such harsh conditions.

Once landed, Tibet didn't feel much different than any other Chinese city initially. Still many potential landslides along the way from the airport to Lhasa. Even in Lhasa, a good chunk of it is run by the Han Chinese which was a little disappointing but that all changed soon enough when the Potala Palace came into view. WOW. I was speechless. I didn't know what to say. It is absolutely beautiful and it's presence is quite overwhelming. It's a massive structure ... what a feast for the eyes. We haven't gone in yet but will soon even with the steep 100Y entrance fee. It's totally worth it.

It's also amazing to see all the pilgrims in the city and a few on the pilgrimage to the Palace and Jokhang Temple (Tibet's holiest shrine). Tibet is amazing, I think I already said that but I can't say it enough. The Tibetans are extremely friendly and their faith is impressive.

The altitude (@3700m) affected me a little yesterday, big bad headache but nothing 12 hours of sleep couldn't solve! :D We'll be looking into our overland to EBC soon!

Prayer flags

I always loved the site of prayer flags when I saw them in photos. Finally I've had the chance to be within them in person and oh, they're even better in person. We hiked up this hill in Zhongdian where there were prayer flags galore. I loved the sight and sounds they made as the wind blew.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Monks of today

While still in Zhongdian we visited the Ganden Sumtseling Gompa, a 300 year old monestary where 600 monks lived. It was awesome.

We managed to catch the last part of an afternoon prayer which was very interesting. All the monks are sitting on the ground in a temple chanting away but what was weird was that they were all so easily distracted! You would have thought they would be deep in prayer but instead there were busy looking at us as we passed by while still chanting. Someone else who had visited earlier told us that they saw blue lights during the prayer service and it turned out to be cell phones going off with text messages! The monks would take time out of chanting to SMS! :D Monks today I tell yah, they all have cell phones and state of the art ones too!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Almost in Tibet!

We're now in Zhongdian at 3200m ... very very close to Tibet. Our trip into Zhongdian was an interesting one as we decided to ride with this lady who owns this little van/truck. She was heading in our direction so we flagged her down. It was funny because people would get in and out as we went through this town. At one point, this man handed this woman in the front seat a baby. About 30 minutes later we stop and the lady hands the baby over to the mother! Wow - what trust. That would never happen in Canada.

Zhongdian is another wonderful town in the province of Yunnan but it's freezing here! Last night it reached about 5 celsius ... not so great when heating doesn't exist here! Thank goodness they had electric blankets. We've both had a little bit of a headache from the altitude but nothing too bad so far. Hopefully it stays this way.

We're now applying for our permits (or Mao's visa as someone here puts it) into Tibet. Hopefully we'll be flying into Lhasa on Friday!!

A lifetime of excitement in just 3 days

We've been MIA for the last few days because we've been trekking at the infamous Tiger Leaping Gorge (see Ian's blog) which starts just after the first bend of the Yangtze River. As Ian said, completely nervewrecking at many points. I felt so bad for Ian being that terrified of heights and having to do this trek because there were some serious drop offs where if you slipped, that was it. You were falling 300 to 400 metres down to the gorge. Needless to say, I was terrified as well but I managed to enjoy the scenery a little more than he did. It was absolutely beautiful there. We were so close to the snow capped mountains.. amazing.

Our first night into the trek we stayed at the Teahorse Guesthouse. Loved it there, it had the most beautiful platform facing the mountains. I was so excited in the morning, I woke up super early to enjoy the peace and quiet. Reminded me of camping mornings but even better! Here's a photo of us on the platform.

Second day, our trek was along the lower trail as we've had enough of the heights. I thought this would be easy! Was I ever fooled. Now did I not only have to worry about falling over the edge into the gorge, I had to worry about crazy landslides! You would see these huge indentations in the roads from falling rocks. I was so glad to finally get to our last destination, Sean's Guesthouse. It had quite the scene as well as it faced this huge mountain wall. Ian managed to unwind then with a beer.

It's so sad to think that all this might be under water someday. There is talk that the damns will cause the water to reach the height of the road.

Our ride back out of the gorge was about all our hearts could handle. There were possibilities of landslides galore. When we got to the part where Ian and I had to run across because of falling rocks the previous day, it got even worse when we had to drive across! All we saw was our driver in this little tiny minivan looking up at the mountain to see if anything was about to fall. All of a sudden, he guns it over this pile of rocks that had already fallen! I swear, I thought we were going over and into the gorge at that point. This little vehicle bounced left (towards the gorge!) on the rocks twice before we cleared it. I think we might have had a foot clearance before we would have toppled over. Yep that was it for us. We were never coming back. Glad we did it though, it was quite the adventure for both of us.

Monday, April 17, 2006


The very charming little old lady who dressed me up (see Ian's post). She had the most delightful laugh and as Ian said, technology savvy!

Wild Chinese West

On our bike trip to Baisha (see Ian's post), we stopped by this beautiful ranch to take some photos. The Naxi's there were amazingly nice and the scenery was breathtaking.

We were amused by a group of elder Naxi women dancing in this circle so we went over to take photos. They invited us to dance with them so I decided to join in the fun! Man did they ever put me to shame. I was so totally uncordinated and messed up their whole routine. :P But I got the hang of it after a couple rounds.. it was a lot of fun and they were all such cute old ladies.

Where have all the big dogs gone?

While we've been here in China, we've seen many dogs and cats roaming the streets. Interestingly though, we've seen very few large dogs and many pups. Where have all the big dogs gone? Hmmmmm......

Speaking of pups, our current hostel has two very cute ones. We named them Killer and Punisher ... we're sure you can see why.

Although Punisher has now been renamed Trouble as he came into our room and pee'd on our mat!

Killer on the other hand is a total cutie and comes out and greets us when we come home. We think he'll live up to his name someday though.

Three pit well


One night in the old town of Lijiang, we came upon the bar/party street and it was awesome! There were bars facing each other seperated by walkways and a little creek and the patrons of the bars were verbally duelling with each other with local chants! We had no clue what they were saying but I think it was a mockery each time as we would see people laughing. At the end of each chant they would yell 'YAH SO, YAH SO, YAH YAH SO!'. Not sure what that was either but I assume it's along the lines of 'Right back at you'.

The SouthWest Rocks!

We've been in the ancient town of Lijiang (@2500m!), home to the Naxi ethnic group, for the last few days and I must say, south western China is awesome! The scenery in this part of China is absolutely beautiful ... love being surrounded by the mountains. Many parts of sw China haven't been developed quite as much yet so it still maintains much of it's traditional charm. Also love the fact that so many are still in traditional wear and they still do laundry by the river!

Friday, April 14, 2006


I've had a couple people ask me how I feel so far about the trip so I thought I'd share my thoughts.

I must admit it was a little nervewrecking at first. I felt a little unsettled about what we were doing and not as comfortable travelling as I thought I'd be. The time seemed to feel longer than it had been which could be good or bad I guess.

It's now been just over a month and well... none of the above applies anymore. I'm having a fabulous time and loving every single minute of our travels. I've asked Ian if he feels like he would want to go home now and he doesn't... good.. cause I'm not ready either.

We've been lucky enough to meet some great people and see some wonderful sights. A lot of what we've seen has been absolutely eye opening and very educational. I'm ready to soak in some more.

Villages and customs

The trip around the lake took us to a few local villages with interesting customs to share.

Xizhou had the best preserved Bai (ethnic group in the Dali area) architecture around. Years ago, the Dali area used to be a country on its own and Xizhou was the capital. Today, it has a bustling market where many are still in traditional wear.

We visited a local home in the area and discovered the government would allow a family to build a large entrance to the home if they were rich. In pre-communism days, one family would live in the house. Afterwards, the rich would share their homes with the poor and 8 families would live together there.. to this day. Just inside the entrance, there is usually a blank wall present to scare away any spirits that may follow you in.

As we were walking Xizhou, there were stalks all over the ground. We found out that these were dried soy stalks and were placed on the ground basically for free labour! Any pressure from people walking on them or carts going over them would crack open the pods and the soy beans would fall to the ground! Someone will come by later and separate them. Very smart! No need for expensive machinery.

Zoucheng, another village, is famous for its batik although it was more like tie dye. It originated here about 1000 years ago and slowly moved down to SE Asia.

As we went through all the villages, we saw one large tree within. These trees were planted when the village was created. The size of the tree depicts the age and the wealth of each village.

What an absolutely wonderful and educational trip around the lake.

Don't shoot!!

We booked a day trip around Erhai Lake since it's too massive to bike around (would have been about 116 kms .... again too old) with a couple Amercian guys we had met previously. We had a driver (Mr. Ing), a guide who spoke English (Harry) (hard to come by) and our 7 seater minivan.

Getting out of the city was an adventure in itself. Since this festival is on, it's quite difficult for vehicles to onto many of the roads as they are reserved. Mr Ing. managed to get a hold of a festival pass (basically a piece of paper) and stuck it on his windshield. As we got onto a street, this army guy tried to stop the car but Mr. Ing kept going! I was thinking maybe we should duck in case he opened fire!! We didn't get too far though because there were a couple army guys and a cop at the end of the street and they stood right in the middle of the road. After some talk, they let us through. Harry told us that if we didn't have the pass, we would have had to pay lots.

We thought we were cleared at this point but nope. Just a couple minutes later on another road, we got stopped again by festival officials. Two army guys and the festival dude asked to see our pass. Apparently they had found a fake pass just earlier. After some inspection we were finally on our way ... that was enough excitement for the day.

Festivals and Mountains

Old Dali City has just been absolutely amazing. We are lucky enough to have come just in time for the Third Moon Fair which is basically a massive festive market with people from all over the Yunnan province coming in to buy and sell goods. We managed to catch the opening ceremonies which included dancing and some good ol' horse racing. It was very cool.

That same day we took a chairlift up Zhonge Mountain (@ 2600m) and did an 11km hike across. Wow! Absolutely amazing scenery but also quite terrifying if you're not so fond of heights (as you can see from Ian's blog). Suprisingly, the path was completely done up. It was a nice cobbled stone path with metal railings where needed. The path itself went through insane valleys with dramatic cliff dropoffs to a walk in the woods (weirdly similar to Algonquin).

Along our hike, we visited the Seven Dragon Daughter Pool. Beautiful but man are Ian and I old and wimpy. We're slowly ascending these 'steps' carved into the stone and you see these kids running up and down them. *sigh*

Monday, April 10, 2006

Now in Old Dali City

We just arrived in Old Dali City today... looks like an amazing place. Again, surrounded by beautiful mountains and this old city is enclosed by stoned walls. Huge touristy area though but I think we'll be able to spend a few days here biking out to the areas surrounding Dali.

It was a fun experience getting to this city too. We were dropped off in Xiaguan which is the new Dali city and it's 30 mins from the old. We knew which bus we had to take so we tried to find it and had an older American couple following us since we looked like we knew where we were going (they had a lot of faith in us). Poor them, we dragged them down this street with their luggage on wheels and hopped onto a bus without asking if it was going where we thought it would be. All of us standing on a crowded local bus managed to get to the old city 30 minutes later. :)

Funny too, we ended up running into two backpackers here we met in other cities. This looks like the place to be.

Foreigner to the locals ... Local to the foreigners

Ian and I are in a unique situation here travelling throughout China. As we've posted in the past, all locals speak to us in mandarin but since we can't respond, we are immediately known and treated as foreigners. Most get frustrated with us and do not understand why we can't speak the language. Some are very nice and do try to help us out.

On the other hand, since we're on the backpacking circuit, we always end up staying in places where foreign backpackers congregate. In this case, first impressions to them are that we are locals. It's not until we interact with them do they know we're not. In the end we've met some wonderful travellers with intriguing stories to tell.

All in all, it makes for an interesting yet challenging experience.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

22 hours later ...

We made it to Kunming this morning! 22 hours on that train ... overall it wasn't so bad. We were lucky because our car was relatively empty on for the first 8 hours or so and we could stretch out. Once we arrived in Nanning, we saw the crowds and got a little scared. Our car filled up to the max and it was quite the experience being packed in the hard sleepers with everyone. So much for the no smoking sign as well as since the train employees were all lighting up in there. Once I get a chance, I'll post a photo here of what it looks like.

We both ended up getting the top bunk which is actually quite high. There's not much keeping you in either (2 vertical leather straps). It worked well for Ian though because his feet hung off the bed but we were high enough to be out of everyone's way.

We found our way to our hostel at 7 in the morning and it's a nice dorm! We were quite surprised, very busy too. I think there were a bunch of backpackers on that train because it filled up quite fast.

Kunming is a nice and relatively clean city compared to others we've been to. It's also very modern - many brand named stores everywhere. Surprisingly its elevation is at 1900m! No altitude problems here yet ... soon we'll be heading to the higher grounds.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Guilin ... it's overrated

We came to Guilin because we've heard so many rave about it. Unfortunately, that might have set our expectations a little too high. Coming from Yangshuo probably doesn't help either as Yangshuo does visually surpase Guilin.

In our two days here we've walked/bussed it too all the major sites within and have not been impressed. Of course, it probably didn't help that we were too cheap to go into the sites themselves either. :)

We're ready to move on though. Tomorrow morning we're on the train to Kunming... 22 hours (yikes). Hopefully it won't be too crowded. We'll be in touch again in a couple days!

No Thank You

So I guess we really look like tourists here. There are touts everywhere in Guilin. It's pretty annoying because they'll just come up to you and start talking. Of course we understand none of it but they keep walking beside you and blabbing in your ear. Saying 'boo yao' (don't want) doesn't seem to deter them either. Then we tried responding in English with 'No Thank you'. For the most part, that seems to work! They'll stop with a confused look and start giggling. It's kinda weird! I think they just don't know how to react to us Chinese people speaking English to them.

We also get a lot of '... but you look Chinese' when we tell them we can't speak Chinese. I think they really get a kick out of us :)

8 Yuan for tea and peanuts!

We're getting better at the bargaining thing. We managed to knock down our hotel price among a couple other things. Then we decided to eat in this restaurant one night to try the infamous Guilin Rice Noodles. 18 Yuan for one dish! A little bit of a rip off considering we can both eat dinner in a local stall for 9 Yuan (about $1.30 cdn). Despite the high price, we wanted to try it. Then the bill comes and there is this mysterious 8 Yuan on it. I asked what it was for and they said it was for the tea and peanuts which had just appeared in the beginning of our meal without us asking for it. Usually these things are free. So I told them we didn't order it and she didn't seem to budge. After a while, she actually said 'Ok, no pay 8 Yuan'. Yes! Victory :D Now I call that street 'Rip off street'.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces

Today, we took a trip out to LongSheng to see the infamous Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces. The ride to the terraces was a little frightful as we had to weave through the moutains on unpaved roads with large boulders on the sides from the landslides. They dropped us off at a couple minority villages where we saw some dried fried rats.

These are the baskets the minorities carry their goods in.

The hike up to peak number 2 of the terraces was pleasant. It was amazing to see the sheer size of it all... quite magnificent.

Next stop ... Guilin for a couple days!

On the way to Fuli Village

We took another bike ride out yesterday, this time to Fuli Village. It's supposedly a picturesque cobbled stone village. Fuli itself is nothing to rave about but on the way there, we passed a beautiful little village. It's set far away from the highway sitting quietly between the peaks. It was so amazingly tranquil. I loved it.

Unfortunately, I only had my telephoto lens with me and wasn't able to capture the beauty of it all.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Moon Hill

Took a bike ride out to Moon Hill (photo to the right) today. It started out without much excitement as we were following many other bikers heading towards what we thought was the same destination. They all ended up turning up a dirt road and we followed. It was actually pretty cool as it passed through many local villages and rice terraces. Unfortunately, we were headed in the wrong direction and since it was a country road and it has been raining, we got pretty muddy. You'll probably see a shot of our shoes on Ian's blog.

Turned around, found our way back onto the highway, found Moon Hill, and started our hike! According to LP, it's 1251 steps. It was painful... but we made it to the top! Photo on the left shows Moon Hill village and apparently a 1500 year old Banyan tree (not sure where it was though). Now, I'm very, very, very sore but we might try to head out to check out the night scene here tonight.