A Travellerspoint blog

The end of Asia...finally!

Kristin and I arrived in Bangkok this morning to exhaust, angry taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, and cranky market ladies. Asia has finally come to a close. Kristin leaves in 3 hours and I leave tomorrow morning way too early for my comfort. This trip has been an exceptional way to shock my system into living again. After last year with all of the extra jobs, boyfriend difficulties, and marathon troubles, I feel like I'm back in sync with myself. Full speed ahead...once again...with balance only a single gal in her late thirties understands. In some ways I feel like this trip made me realize I'm not so keen on cheap backpacker trips, but am too poor to travel the "5-star" way. I've moved myself up to the 3 star mode of travel. Thailand reminded me a lot of Peace Corps with riding in the backs of dirty trucks, eating from street vendors, smelling exhaust and food EVERYWHERE and a certain level of discomfort mixed with adventure. China is far from my mind but I know once I start looking at photos, I'll remember that part of the trip fondly. It's been refreshing spending so much time with Kristin in Thailand. She's a great travel companion. And, thanks to Kylie in China, I began getting back into the game of life again. There won't be any trips in the plans for some time as I really don't want to work 100 jobs. Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and send comments. As fun as trips are, it's easy to feel lonely and homesick. I can't wait to see you all! Signing off from...Asia...finally.

Posted by venisha 04:41 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Final day in Chiang Mai

Today's our final day in northern Thailand. Yesterday we visited a museum about the hilltribe people. Today we visited a silk and silver factory. I'm getting anxious to be home with family and friends. I'm not getting excited to start the daily grind called work. I suppose it all goes hand in hand. Kristin and I have a flight to Bangkok tomorrow at 8:00 AM. She leaves tomorrow night at midnight and I leave the following day at 9 AM. We arrive within an hour of each other.

Stay tuned for the last blog tomorrow. :)

Posted by venisha 08:09 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Jungle Fever

Wow... that was quite the adventure! While the things we did were amazing, it feels SOOO good to be back in Chiang Mai. I got quite ill on the trek. It came on suddenly and for the last hour of our hike on slippery, steep, muddy trails, I was throwing up off and on. Our guide, "Dee" was so sweet. He patted my back and fanned me with a big leaf. I felt pretty miserable. Kristin was remarkable. She was and has been ill for a week or so now and she managed to hang out by my side each of the many times I vomited. Carrying packs, slipping on mud, and watching a friend by ill, is no fun when you are also sick. When we finally arrived at the hilltribe village, I was still sick. This nice Italian man brought me a coca-cola, which I was able to drink most of before emptying the gut again. Kristin and I turned in immediately while the others hung out. We slept on the floor of this thatched hut on stilts next to a river. The floor was bamboo and had random holes where bamboo had broken, rotted, or just never been built. All of us had individual mosquito nets to tuck under the damp pads on the floor. Throughout the night, I had fever, chills and I felt kind of delirious. I felt like I was spinning. Around 2:00-ish I felt like the fever broke. Could it have been something I ate? Malaria? Dengue Fever? The options really seemed endless. The next morning my fever was gone, but I still didn't feel too great.

I still participated in the elephant trek through the jungle, which was spectacular. Elephants are so massive, but they managed to walk on this muddy trail that would have been narrow for my feet. After the elephant ride, we went on a 2 1/2 hour bamboo raft ride down the river. They literally were finishing making the bamboo rafts as we were getting on. We went down rapids on this thing! Our raft started to fall apart a little and our guide was tying bamboo strings around it as we were flying down the rapids. Quite exciting! It was a great way to begin year 36 of my life.

Arriving back at our 6 dollar a night guest house never felt better. I took a shower and crashed out. The owner of the guesthouse knocked on the door and said that our trekking group was getting ready to leave so we should come and say goodbye. When we all got out in the restaurant portion of the trip, I was surprised by chocolate cake and an endless supply of fresh fruit. Our tour group consisted of a swiss couple, 2 Italian guys, 2 British girls, and a British guy. They are so sweet here.

Down time is in order now. We have been taking it easy since the trek. I have been in out of bed (mostly in). I found two new books at a used book shop and will be sitting in cafes reading and really taking it easy. I think a trip to an air-conditioned Starbucks may be on the agenda for the day.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes! As I was spinning on the floor in the thatched roof hut at midnight on the 12th, I thought, "This must be a joke..." I decided it really was a cool place and time to be out of my mind. :) I wonder where I'll be and what I'll be doing at 37?

Posted by venisha 21:21 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Bamboo rafting and elephant trekking

Kristin and I leave today for a 2 day trek to a traditional mountain village. On the way we'll swim in a waterfall, a hot springs, and hike 4 hours. To leave the village, we'll make a bamboo raft and raft for 2 hours and finish with a 1 hour elephant trek to the road and an option to white water raft. The white water rafting is 10K or people can just swim and wait for a truck back to Chiang Mai (the city where we're staying). I don't plan on white water rafting. It's raining pretty hard so I'm sure the jungle trek will be a bit uncomfortable. I suppose it's better to be a bit uncomfortable and have an adventure than hang out in front of my TV watching DVDs in my 750 foot condo. :)

Posted by venisha 18:46 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Thai Cooking

Kristin and I took a Thai cooking class today. We were the only students. Firs, we went to the market to buy the ingredients. I learned how to make Panaeng Curry, sticky rice with mango, spring rolls, coconut chicken soup, and papaya salad. Kristin learned how to make green curry, bananas in coconut milk, spring rolls, coconut chicken soup, and pad thai. The day was amazing. I've eaten SOOOO much food I feel like it's Thanksgiving. We made the curry paste from all fresh ingredients from the market. The paste was made my smashing the ingredients with a heavy stone. It took about 30 minutes. Overall it was pretty easy to make the food. Get ready for a dinner party!

I was going to go to a mediation retreat center for 2 days but it's the Queen's birthday on August 12 (no I'm not talking about me!) Everything is pretty much closed down for the week. Kristin might go on a trek for 2 days, but it includes all the things we did out of Bangkok except you make your own bamboo raft to go down the river AND you see a few hillside villages. I'm thinking I might just hang out in the city and check out the temples.

Thinking of you all. See you next week!

Posted by venisha 03:05 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Last day in my bikini

Tomorrow is the last day I'll be in a bikini and a cotton sundress in Thailand. For the last 7 days that is all I've worn. I'm not sure why I carried any other clothes with me. I bought the bikini and the sundress on the streets of Hat Rai Lay. Kristin and I have a flight to the north of Thailand tomorrow at around 1:00. We're heading to a town called Chiang Mai and plan on trekking in the mountains. This part of the trip has been wonderful. I went snorkeling for the first time ever, saw the Tsunami Memorials on 3 separate islands, and drank lots of cold water and Fantas. We took a day trip snorkeling over to the beach where the movie, "The Beach" with Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed. The water was so clear you could see the fish swimming around. We also went sea kayaking over to an island full of monkeys. The monkeys came right up to us to play with our paddles. That was a bit freaky, but it was all worth it. The last few days have been remarkable since we've been on islands with no cars and "real" coffee. No instant coffee for me... For the past two nights we stayed on an island called Phi Phi Don. The island has a strip where you can see beach on both sides. Depending on the time of day, you can swim on one side or the other. This island was completely destroyed in the Tsunami. The building are all new and are made out of cement blocks. There were so many tourists on this island I had a hard time relaxing. The night life was insane until about 6 in the morning. The music was so loud we had to wear ear plugs.

Kristin hasn't been feeling well because of the heat, so it'll be good to go to the mountains. If she weren't ill, it would be VERY challenging to pull me away from Hat Rai Lay, which is by far my most favorite beach getaway.

Posted by venisha 05:54 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Hat Rai Lay

Massages on the beach, torquoise waters, caves and lime bluffs lining the beaches...

Kristin and I found heaven. We don't have air conditioning in our bungalow, but we have a pool and a beach a short walk away. The island doesn't have any roads, which is wonderful because there are no cars, motorcycles, or exhaust. I got a massage on the beach with coconut oil and tiger balm (the massage therapist said my muscles were too stressed and tight...). After the massage I floated around in the water for another 15 minutes or so. The massage was only around 6 bucks for a 40 minute massage.

We are staying here tonight and heading to Phi Phi Don tomorrow to try and find another fabulous beach. Our lodging is only around 9 dollars each and we have a nice fan, a private bathroom with hot showers, towels, and a TV with the National Geographic channel in English.

Ok, off to enjoy the pool.

Posted by venisha 00:58 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

Krabi

We made it to the islands. We are in Krabi. There were no taxis when we got dropped off on the highway leading into town. We ended up walking 6K into the city. At one point in the walk we were charged by a bull and were in a couple of stand offs with miserably hot and unkempt dogs. The walk wasn't that much fun. :) Kristin was ill. She got super motion sick on the bus, she'd eaten something bad for breakfast, and I think she was still suffering from heat exhaustion for a 13 mile run the day before. She also forgot her sunglasses in her seat on the bus. When we got on the bus outside the airport we ended up without seats. Kristin got a seat about 40 minutes into the 2.5 hour trip. I got a seat as the third person (basically, I was just leaning up against the seat) about 1 hour in. I felt like I was in the Peace Corps again. Our hotel was only 3 dollars each. It was quite simple with just 2 beds and a fan. The bathroom is a shared one right across the hall. It's super clean so I think it's just PERFECT! We are off to an island call Hat Rai Lay today. We don't have a reservation anywhere so it should be interesting. I had an awesome run this morning along the river. I didn't have to deal with ANY traffic since there was a boardwalk along the banks. I would love to stay here for the rest of the trip but I think it's best to keep exploring.

Posted by venisha 18:56 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Luxury

I wish I could say that I'm finished with backpacker style "teacher" travel. Unfortunately, I'm only finished with it for another 15 minutes. Kristin somehow managed to get a first class flight to Phuket from Bangkok. She could bring 1 guest into the "lounge". I'm her 1 guest. She had no other choice. :) I'm drinking a capuccino, eating a ham and cheese sandwich while using free internet. The bathrooms have REALLY nice toilets, lotions, and soaps. I even sat down on the toilet seat. Imagine that! I'm glad we didn't get on a standby flight yesterday and miss this. The flight is only an hour long, but this lounge time is worth the first class price. When we arrive in Krabi, our hotel is only 3.00 dollars a night each. Like I said the backpacker style travel is only for another 15 minutes. I really need to find a "sugar daddy!".

Posted by venisha 23:23 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Southern Thailand

This morning I woke up and went for a run in a park called Lumphini Park. It was a little Chinese paradise. :) It is the only place in Bangkok I've ever seen anyone doing any sort of exercise. There was a 3k loop to run, walk, or bike. There was a huge lap pool, which I would have used had I known about it. The grassy areas were full of people practicing Tai Chi and oga, partner dancing, and playing badminton. This park is completely walled off from the city. Too bad there aren't more spaces like this in this dirty, loud city. :) We're off to the airport for our scheduled flight to Phuket. Our plan is to take a 5 hour bus ride to a town called Krabi as soon as our plane lands. Time to get out to the peace and quiet of island living.

Posted by venisha 20:32 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Bangkok...again

Kristin and I got back to the city last night. The three day tour was so-so. There were a lot of tourists and we kept getting shuffled around to different groups. The lodging was on floating rafts on the Kwai Noi River. We went on a 30 minute elephant ride in the jungle, spent some time at a tiger temple where monks rescue tigers from people who try to make them pets, swam in a waterfall with water so clear you could see the fish swimming at your feet, and spent a lot of time standing around waiting for the tour guides to shuffle us around to different groups. I'm happy I took a tour because we were able to see more around Bangkok without dealing with traffic logistics. I don't think I'll take any more tours here. There was just too much downtime because of the lack of organization. In all we were in 11 different mini-vans in the course of 3 days.

Tomorrow we are off to Phuket (southern Thailand). We tried to go standby today but their flights were all overbooked.

Hope all's well stateside. :)

Posted by venisha 05:00 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Still in Bangkok

Kristin's bag arrived late yesterday. Yippee! We tried to buy a train ticket to the border of Laos but we found out that we need to buy our ticket at least 3 days in advance to get a seat. Also, we need a visa. I'm not sure why I didn't know that. It's a pretty fast process to get one, but given the fact that we have to be back in Bangkok for a flight to the south of Thailand on August 3 it didn't make sense for us to take a 13 hour train ride for only a day or two. Instead we bought a tour. This morning we traveled to the floating markets about an hour our of Bangkok. It took us about 3 hours to get there because our mini-van didn't have air-conditioning and the tour guide pretty much refused to travel without it. It took that long for us to wait for a car and 3 more passengers who were stuck in traffic. When we got to the markets, we took a long boat down narrow canals. I took a video of it. There were traffic jams in the narrow canals. When we finally had some space to move, the driver would kick the motor into high gear and we would zoom away. Since all the boats would do this, we had to go over some pretty high waves. The market was outstanding. Women were cooking on the boats and selling the food. They were selling hats and fruit. You name it, it came floating by on a boat.

After the market we drove to a wood carving factory. Kristin and I were passed off to another tour guide/group and the third mini-van of the day. We went to a crocodile farm and an elephant show for lunch. It was buffet so I got to sample Thai food. The Panang curry chicken was the best. We didn't have tickets for the elephant show, so we were whisked away to our fourth mini-van and tour group to be driven to the rose gardens. We walked around the grounds, checked out the Thai silk making process (outstanding), and watched a cultural show. There was a dance where instead of people jumping over a Chinese jump rope they jumped over moving bamboo sticks. There were about 16 sticks being smacked together in a rhythm that kept getting faster. The faster the bamboo sticks were smashed together the faster the dancers had to jump through them. I video-taped it. Wow, it's nice to have a camera again!

From the rose gardens we went back to the third mini-van we were on and headed into Bangkok. All the tour groups met at a gem factory. I bought a very, very small ruby. Kristin bought a small gem. I don't remember what kind. We were escorted out to our fifth mini-van. The driver brought us back to the hotel.

The traffic in Bangkok is hideous. It is miserable to go anywhere. We sat in traffic for hours. Tomorrow we are off on a three-day tour to a tiger temple where the monks are rehabilitating tigers, a bamboo raft river trip, and elephant trek to a waterfall, and a train trip over the a very famous river (can't remember the name of it). I won't have email for 3 days, so I'll fill you all in when I return. I finally have some cool postcards, so please send me your address, especially if you just moved into a new house (HOLLIE!).

Posted by venisha 05:14 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

Part II: Bangkok

I arrived in Bangkok last night at around 7:30 PM. It was nice to arrive in a new city where I knew a friend was waiting. I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel where Kristin and I had talked about meeting if one of us was delayed. She got to Bangkok at 10:30 in the morning and waited for about 3 hours before realizing that I wouldn't be in until the evening. Her bag is still not here. We were going to leave tonight for the Laotian border, but we're waiting out the bag until tomorrow. We're buying an overnight train ticket for tomorrow night. Luckily she packed the essentials in her carry on. The taxi driver sat on the right side and drove on the left side. I was perplexed. I'm not sure I've ever been to a country where that was the custom.

This morning I got in a run in the extremely cool weather. It's overcast and high 70's. I felt like I should be wearing a long sleeved shirt. The traffic is NUTS! In China there was a separate lane for bikes and scooters and a sidewalk for pedestrians. Here everything just smashes together and there are NO bicycles. Also, there were absolutely no others outside exercising. Nobody was practicing Tai Chi, playing ping pong, or partner dancing.

After the run, Kristin and I ate a buffet breakfast at the hotel. It was DELICIOUS! I ate banana pancakes, bacon, yogurt, scrambled eggs, toast, and fresh fruit. Kristin ate green curry broccoli with rice. She's happy to be eating Thai food; I'm happy to be able to eat American food for a day or two. I'll switch to Thai food when we head out to the rural areas. It was nice to not eat a TON of grease, but not so nice to eat with a fork. I've enjoyed eating with chopsticks.

After breakfast we took a tuk-tuk (a motorcycle with a double seat and a roof on it) to the river for a water ferry. We got off at the Grand Palace and the reclining Buddha. Now we're hanging out in backpacker heaven where internet is about 10 cents for 30 minutes. It's so nice to be able to use internet and not have blocked websites. It's nice to not sit under surveillance cameras.

In a day or two I'll stop comparing China to Thailand, but I think it's human nature to compare and contrast. It also helps me understand the different Asian cultures. Thailand has flowers everywhere. Amidst the exhaust there are hints of jJasmine and Gardenia. There are flower shops everywhere. The airplane had flowers in the bathroom. Our hotel room as plants and flowers in the bathroom. Part II is going to be quite the journey...

Posted by venisha 23:05 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Xi'an

We left Beijing at 7:00 pm after a dumpling fest at a local restaurant. We were expected to eat 16 dumplings a piece but knowing I would be on an overnight train for 9 hours, I opted for 3.

The train wasn't as nice as I thought it would be. I was expecting the first class accomodations like we'd had from Beijing to Shangai. Forget it! We were in the "hard sleeper" section. There was no privacy and the bunks were stacked by threes. I had the middle bunk. It was too narrow for me to sit up. If I wanted to stretch, I had to climb down and stand in the aisle. We were the only foreigners in this section of the train. The Chinese people thought it was so cool to have English speakers on the train. Pretty much everyone on the train was hanging out in our space. Luckily smoking could only occur in the spaces between the trains otherwise we would have been smoked out. China made smoking illegal, but it really hasn't stopped Chinese people from filling every space with second hand smoke. The last elevator ride I took had 3 men smoking in it. Yuck!

We arrived in Xi'an to meet our guide Peter. I'm not sure how to pronounce his Chinese name. He took us to breakfast at this hotel that was the sketchiest place we've been in China. The restaurant didn't even serve any hot beverages...imagine! I drank a cup of airborne before I left. I figured that would balance out the sour potatoes and spicy bean sprouts I ate. After breakfast we headed over to our hotel. It was in an AMAZING location, but it wasn't very clean. Kylie and I shared a room again and when we walked in we needed to call housekeeping to clean up piles of "stuff" all over the floor. Not sure what it was, but we needed a place to put down our bags. The beds were clean, which is really all that matters. I did, however, sleep with the sheet I brought. We didn't have much time in the hotel, which is probably a good thing because I surely would have fallen asleep. I didn't sleep at all on the train. From there we went to see the Terracotta Warriors.

The Terracotta Warriors are a recently new archeological find in China and truly are a sight to see. They are still being excavated and pieced together. The clay soldiers are lifelike in size and appearance. They were built to bury with the emperor instead of following traditional practices of burying alive the emperor's troops with the emperor.

After the warriors we went to the hotel to change clothes for dinner at a dinner theater. We saw the most amazing theater performance about the Tang Dynasty. There were acrobats, jugglers, tradionational dancers, and music. I'm sure tickets for a performance like this would be in the hundreds in the States. I knew, now, we had a gotten a cheaper hotel... The dinner at the theater was steamed dumplings. We all got our own steamer basket of 16 dumplings. I ate a lot of them, but ended up passing many of them off to the guys.

The following day we had a hearty breakfast of dumplings, noodles, and greasy eggs to prepare to climb a mountain. I guess the show "Amazing Race" was on this mountain for some clue. The name of the mountain is Huanshan. We were told to buy gloves for the hike because we would have to climb some pretty steep steps with ropes or chains along the sides. We bought them. There were so many Chinese people climbing the mountain that we didn't really need them. We had to go so slowly that we could just chill out as we went. There was a group of us together heading towards the "South Peak" where there was some rappelling. I got lost when a large group of Chinese people stopped in front of me to rest and I couldn't get around them. Some of them were climbing in business suits and high heeled sandals. I ended up taking a couple of wrong turns and completely losing the group. I went to the "East Peak", half-way to the "West Peak", and finally stayed at the "Central Peak" to just sit and think. All in all I hiked for 3 hours, which proved to be a great workout.

That night we ate at 9:00 after we got back to the city from the mountain. I ate my last granola bar on the drive back. Luckily Kristin has a new stash of Kashi bars for me (if I ever get to Thailand to get them!)!

We got up for a hearty breakfast of greasy eggs, dumplings, noodles, and BANANA BREAD! Not sure where it came from but it was amazing. It tasted just like the bread in the states made from REALLY REALLY ripe bananas. The plan for the day was to eat, visit a mosque in the Muslim part of the city, visit a buddhist temple, and head to the airport for the flight back to Shanghai. I was feeling a bit tired after the hike from the day before and because I knew this was the last day the group would be together. I knew I would no longer be rooming with Kylie Dirks. SAD! I feel very fortunate to have met such a wonderful group of people and to have roomed with such a fantabulous gal. She did wonders to get me motivated to work out. After 4 weeks with her I feel like I can finally say I'm back on an exercise plan. THANKS KYLIE! This group has also inspired me to reconnect with a structured religion. I'm not sure what that means, but I have a couple of books to check out from the library that were being read by Bryce (the dean's son). It always amazes me that a group of people can come together and connect in such a strong way over such a short period of time. We came together for a purpose, became friends, and now our purpose is over so the group breaks apart. We have a reunion planned for August 24, since all of us live in Minnesota. Bryce is heading to Nigeria for a teaching assignment, but the rest of us will be in the Twin Cities area. During the first few days of orientation the dean, Brian, wanted us to have a group hug and do trust falls. We all just uncomfortably laughed. At the end of the trip, we definitely did the group hug thing. And, I believe we did a lot of "trust falls" throughout the four weeks.

When we got to the airport, we tipped the driver--something we were told we should not to do by our Chinese interpreter from camp. The driver took the money, smiled, and thanked us. When the guide came into the hotel after saying goodbye to the driver, the guide gave the money back to us and told us that the driver had never been so offended before. He was offended that we hadn't given him enough money. He was expecting about 8.00 dollars a day per person. Wow! That would have been almost 200 dollars. Peter, our guide, said that since they work with Americans they expect a tip like that. That would have been around 400 dollars. None of us had that kind of money at the end of our trip. Plus, we found it so inappropriate that in the Chinese culture we don't tip for anything else and he is so..."offended" that we didn't give enough money. We thought we were being extra nice in giving something. I have a lot to learn about the Chinese way of life.

The flight to Shanghai was uneventful. I was stuck in the back of the plane with a group of business travellers. The flight attendants were polite enough to pull me from my window seat and put me in an aisle seat. When we got to Shanghai, I felt like I was home. It felt good to be back...until our taxi ride. The driver was so mad that he had to take us into the city. He was yelling at the guards to make us get out of the cab and the guard was yelling at him to drive us to the city. We've had several experiences during our time here when taxi drivers REFUSE to take us. They lock their doors and don't let us in the cab or they tell us to get out. It's the most bizarre experience being refused a ride. It's not even because we aren't paying a fair fare. There is a meter. I believe they just don't like to drive around with "white people." Anyway, since he didn't have a choice, we felt we didn't either. The ride was miserable. He kept rollling all 4 windows down and up. He turned his lights off and was swerving in and out of traffic. Obviously we made it safe and sound, but it wasn't that fun. Hia Feng (our accountant for the camp) was waiting at the hotel for us. The cab driver wasn't going to take a transportation card we had for some reason and there was a small dispute over it. I finally had enough and went into the hotel to order spicy peanut chicken for dinner and wash a load of clothes before the next portion of the trip.

Walking into the room at the JinJiang Inn where I had stayed for 3 weeks was like heaven. The room was so white and clean. It was miserable getting up at 4:30 to hurry up and get back to the airport to sit and wait. Dave and Jamie came with me to the airport to split expenses. I was happy not to have to go through the whole taxi experience alone.

Now, I sit, waiting for my flight to Thailand. Kristin will be waiting for me with a new box of Kashi bars, a new "refurbished" camera from EBay and some new contact solution. After 4 weeks of travel, a small part of me is ready to head to the States. I know, however, that with gas prices as high as they are, I need to appreciate the international travel. In the dead of winter and the burn-out that comes from teaching, I'll wish I were on a trip to some fabulous tropical destination.

China was, overall, a very peaceful experience. Some of my favorite experiences came from the early morning runs and Tai Chi. The streets are so alive with older (retired) people practicing Tai Chi, dancing, playing ping pong, and walking. As polluted as the cities are with cigarette smoke, exhaust, angry taxi drivers, unhealthy food, and factory pollution, there is a peaceful energy here. I'm happy I chose to visit a country that wasn't on my list of places to visit. I've been pleasantly surprised and renewed on this journey.

Posted by venisha 17:37 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Beijing in detail

Internet access has been rather spotty the last week. I'm taking advantage right now of the fact that I'm stuck at the airport as my flight to Thailand has been delayed until this afternoon. They gave me a room to "take a short rest" but I'm a bit worried about the condition of a airport room. I've decided to spend A LOT of my last Yuan (Chinese currency) to update the blog. Ok, I was going to spend some time writing a bit more about the Beijing portion of the trip, but when I read Dave's blog, it made more sense for me to copy and paste and do some editing. Thanks, Dave, for typing this up!!

We left Shanghai on Sunday afternoon and took an overnight train to Beijing - about a 12 hour train ride. It was actually a lot nicer than what I expected. (I was envisioning something that was incredibly dark and dingy, sort of like the trains they have to take on the Amazing Race.) Aside from people constantly smoking on the train, it wasn't too bad.

We arrived on Monday morning in Beijing at 7:15 am and pretty much hit the ground running. At the train station, we met our guide, Cecelia (don't ask me how to pronounce her Chinese name), who took us to a hole-in-the-wall place for breakfast. Normally, Jamie won't eat the food if the quality and cleanliness of the place is a bit sketchy, however, this was so bad, that well over half of us barely touched anything given to us! Right outside the restaurant, we could see dead pigs that had just been slaughtered being brought into the restaurant in plastic grocery bags! Yuck!!!!

From there, we visited Tianamen Square which is full of history, mostly dealing with Chairman Mao, however, it was actually set up during the Ming Dynasty (several hundred years ago for those of you who aren't Chinese historians). Immediately behind that was the Forbidden City. This area covered several square kilometers, and yes, we walked all of it! The architecture was absolutely amazing, with all sorts of elephants and dragons painted on to the buildings. (After awhile, it started to feel like we were just seeing the same things over and over.) However, it was very interesting just to see the place. It's just so cool to see a country that has had numerous kings and dynasties and thousands of years of architecture to see! After that, it was off to lunch and then, the Summer Palace.

The Summer Palace is set on a massive lake with all sorts of beautiful buildings surrounding it with a massive Buddhist temple at the top of a hill. (We didn't go in there because it cost extra money and time...both of which we don't have a lot of. There is a massive overhang that you can walk under that spans the North side of the lake and each cross beam has a different scene hand-painted on it. With over 8000 beams (yes, I counted them...just kidding), somebody must have really been paid well or had too much time on his or her hands! This was where the emperor during the Ming Dynasty would come and, well, spend the summer! The only downside was that the lake was incredibly gross. Apparently, the powers that be have cleaned it up quite a bit in recent years, however, it was still incredibly nasty looking!

From there, it was off to dinner and then back to the hotel to crash.

On Tuesday morning, we got up early and thought we were headed to the Great Wall. (Quick story about breakfast though: there were probably 30 people in the restaurant for breakfast, and our group was the only one to use chopsticks to eat which made us feel a lot less touristy. Then of course, we followed our guide, waving a big yellow flag so that we would not get lost, and got on our coach bus to head north!) Instead of hitting the Great Wall, we stopped off at a place that made authentic vases out of copper. It was really cool to see how they were made, which I can tell you about later, but to be honest, most of us were pretty frustrated that we had to stop because, after all, the Great Wall had only been around for several hundred years and we were afraid that it might disappear in the next 30 minutes! Finally, we arrived at the Wall!

For some reason, unknown to me other than the fact that it was the closest to us, we picked the most difficult part of the wall to climb. (First of all, let me say that the arrival itself was incredible. The land looked completely flat until you were about 5 miles from the wall and then, all of a sudden, we were amidst this massive mountain range.) I take pride in being in pretty good physical shape, however, the wall humbled me. First of all, the weather was hotter than Shanghai, although, a bit less humid. Secondly, the first portion of the wall was about a 60-70 degree grade (yep, almost straight up). Third, the stairs are all of varying heights, widths, and are not anywhere near being level.

After lunch, we headed off to the Ming Tombs where 13 out of the 16 Ming emperors are buried. We liked this one because it was mostly underground and a lot cooler! We then hit Hutong and got to experience life for the normal Chinese citizen. We took a rickshaw ride around a neighborhood that most tourists don't get to see and actually got to see a traditional Chinese home from the early 1900s and sit down and talk with the people who live there (as it was passed down through their ancestors). We didn't get any really great stories out of it, but it was just facinating to see how people live. By American standards, they are definately in poverty, but they were just so happy. The grandpa, a 92 year-old man, was so excited to have company and wanted desperately to be in pictures with us! It was so cool! Afterwards, we did a little bit of driving and saw, from a distance, the "Bird's Nest", or Olympic Stadium, which will be in use very soon!

We then visited a tea shop and became educated on the five different types of Chinese tea and sampled them all,which was a lot of fun. Then, we had dinner and then came back to our hotel, which we've decided is, um, a bit sketchy. Don't get me wrong, it's a fancy place and definately isn't a "hole in the wall", there are just some questionable aspects to this place.

Beijing is so incredibly different from Shanghai. I feel like I've seen more of Beijing's history in 2 days than I saw of Shanghai in 3 weeks. It's definately not as commercialized, however, the pollution is much worse. At the Great Wall, the mountains in the distance were incredibly hazy and at the Summer Palace, you could not see the temple on the island, just a few hundred yards off of the shore. The city is doing many things to clean up the city, however, it's still pretty polluted. I can't imagine what it's like during normal times!

Tomorrow is our last day in Beijing, then it's off to Xi'an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, among other things. I'll try to update this again in a few days. Keep emailing us! It's fun to hear how you're all doing!

Posted by venisha 17:29 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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