Las Vegas Trip Report: 37 Hours in Vegas, Part One

So I explained my logic for taking this trip here.  Now here is the report!

I had originally booked Southwest, leaving San Francisco at 8:00-ish AM and arriving at 11:30-ish AM. I booked it because I had flight credit from a trip to Atlanta, where the airfare kept going down so I kept rebooking. I did not like this flight at all.  It had a layover which made the flight too long.  But the first direct flight of the day only landed half an hour earlier and was like three times the price.  What to do, what to do…..?  Ah fuck it.   I ate the Southwest ticket and booked a brand new ticket on United, arriving at 7:40 am.   I now have $42 in Southwest credit.  But they go literally nowhere from NYC that I would be flying Southwest for.  So unless a surprise trip comes up…..well whatever.

I was super, insanely excited to go to Vegas.  I ended up upgrading my seat for $24 and ended up with my own row.  I was like the tenth person off the plane.  This was so exciting!  The flight went so fast!  What time is it?  7:11!  This is an omen!

Look at pretty Las Vegas!  I never arrive in the daytime so this made me excited.

las vegas landing

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And then I went outside.  And saw the WAX bus pulling away. NO NO NO NO NOOOOOOOO! BAD WAX BUS! BAD!

The WAX bus only runs once an hour.  My original plans were to stop at MGM Grand on my way downtown, to use a MyVegas reward for a free buffet.  So now I had two horrible choices.  One was to wait an hour for the bus.  My second choice was to take a cab or shuttle.  That made even less sense.  Why pay for a cab or a shuttle to eat a free breakfast, when breakfast downtown would be cheaper than either a cab or a shuttle?

I looked at the bus schedule for the CX bus and figured I could take  this downtown.  One should be along in around half an hour.  Sounds good to me, new plan = formed!

After about twenty minutes, a CX pulls up.  I get up off the bench I am sitting on and walk towards it.  The driver puts his hand up to motion me to not get on the bus.  Okay, sure. So I move back a bit and stand closer to the wall than the bus.   He eventually gets off the bus and asks me “What do you need?”  Um, I need to get on the bus?  Don’t you start with me, I  have zero temper for this.  Ask your buddy I had a fight with last year.  He asks where I am going.  “Downtown.”  He slowly nods like he is mulling over whether or not I am allowed to get on this bus.  I mean I get it.  He is probably used to people piling on his bus, thinking it is the WAX so he is expecting that from me.  So I let it go.

Finally he lets me get on the bus and we leave.  He stops at a 7-11 and says “I’ll be right back” and goes inside.  Oh come on.  Then he stops somewhere else, I had no idea where we were for the first half of this bus ride.  He is now getting off and a new driver is getting on.  This takes so long.   Hey, how are you today?  Blah blah small talk weather blah blah. GO AWAY AND LET’S GO ALREADY.

We do.

Some guy with a bicycle gets on at the next stop. Something is going on with him. I think he probably cannot figure out how to attach the bike to the bike rack on the front of the bus because this went on FOREVER.  Guys, hello?  I just got to Las Vegas and you are taking up all my degenerate gambling time.  Can we please get it together?

I arrive at the California hotel at 8:30 AM.  I love this place so much.  I had fallen out of their good graces for a while there.  I finally got them to love me again during a degenerate session last December and now my offers are strong again.   I could not be more thrilled.

california hotel casino las vegasI am trying to check my bags so I can go gambling.  The Bell Man is helping everyone but me.  I am getting mad.  I am trying to not get mad.  Bad karma and all, but no really, PAY ATTENTION TO ME.  Finally all the people who got there behind me, that he bypassed me to help, are helped and I am left standing there all by my lonesome.  He looks at me, I look back with a raised eyebrow.  He asks me if I need help.  Uh yeah, I  need to check my bags.  He tells me to check in.  It is too early.  “No it isn’t, go check in!”  Fine.

I check in but am not given a room because it is not ready.  The check-in clerk has to then call the freaking Bell Man over to get my bags. Sigh.

I go gambling.

I start out on California’s progressive nickel Keno.  The top jackpot for hitting 10/10 is over $17k.  I didn’t hit it.  Or anything.  Like literally, nothing.

I decide I need to go and get some iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts.  So I do.  And I lost $30 on  my way out the door, which is pretty understandable given that the door is at least 100 feet away.  Not my fault the machines are so pretty and shiny.

Breakfast was at The D.  I had a mailer for $10 dining credit.  I used that plus a couple of bucks on delicious stuffed French toast with blueberry sauce.  Highly recommended.  From here, I want to GAMBLE NOW.   But I have to get an iced coffee first, because that is the rule.  So I walk over to Dunkin’ Donuts, get an iced coffee and spill at least half of it down my shirt.   Oh fuck you.

Back to The D.  I am kind of on boycott of The D.  Here is what happened.  Last year, they sent a whole lot of people, including me, short offers.  I should have been getting three free nights any day + $50 slot play.  I got buy one get one, and I think $5 slot play.  HAH.  No way in hell ever will I darken your door again.  But I did.  Because I was going to gamble that $5 free slot play.  So I did.  And when I got home from that trip, waiting in my mailbox was a new mailer.  Three free nights + $50 slot play.  Fuck.  This means that they brought me back to where I should be.  But since I had only gambled that $5 and maybe two $20’s, my next offers would be based on that meager play.  And over time I saw I was right.  Now I am legitimately getting buy one get one and $5 free play. DAMMIT.

However, on this day, The D is offering 5x points.  So for every dollar you gamble, it is as if you are gambling $5.  This means you are earining 5x comps and 5x cash back.  I can let my boycott go for this.

I head upstairs to play Double Double Bonus video poker at the bar.  The progressive for four of a kind was close to $100.  I wanted it so bad.  Nothing, nothing, nothing, some more nothing, oh hey more nothing!  Did anyone here order the nothing?  I think I got your order by mistake?  No?  Nothing?  OH HEY WAIT LOOK!  I was dealt four Kings!  I would show you a picture but I hit cash out so fast that I forgot.  WOO!  I WON!

I take my $100 and try to get out of here.  I have to of course, stop and play some stupid slot machine because SLOT MACHINE.  Then I try and play Cleopatra Keno at the Longbar downstairs.  Some guy yells out to me “That machine is $2 now!”  I look and damn WOW.  The minimum denomination on this machine is $2.  It used to be quarters.  I move away, the next empty one, $2.  The one next to that, $2.  Are you freaking KIDDING ME?  WHY ARE ALL THESE MACHINES STARTING AT A MINIMUM OF $2 DENOMINATIONS?  HAVE YOU GONE MAD?

I finally find a quarter machine.  It won’t take my $20.  I am now getting ready to kill someone.  Oh hey wait look!  There is someone getting up from a quarter machine YAY!  I sit down, and immediately I hit a bonus for $125.  I cash out and try again to get out of this casino.  But SLOT MACHINES WHEEEEEEEEEEE!

Finally I made it back to California.  I am given my room key and I go up.  First thing I do is count my winnings.  There is a hell of a lot less money here than I thought.  To be fair, I hadn’t counted my money since I left my glamper camper for in Oakland, to go to a show in Berkeley a couple of days ago.   So I am not even entirely sure how much money I left for Las Vegas with.  But it seems to me like I lost $100 in The D, despite having two $100 wins.  DAMMIT.

Oh yeah, my glamper camper.  Here is where I stayed when I was in Oakland, prior to flying to Las Vegas.  Isn’t she cute?  I heart Airbnb.

muffin mansion oakland california

Back to Las Vegas!

I could take a nap.  Since I had been up since 1:00 am to fly here and it is now 1:00 PM.  Or I could not take a nap because I am in Las Vegas.  No nap it is!

I went over to Main Street Station, stopping at Lapperts for an iced chai latte.  Delicious and addicting.  I put a $20 into a quarter Double Double Bonus video poker progressive and played forever on it.  I kept mostly between $20-30.  Which was weird since I never once hit a four of a kind.  Finally I got to zero and went about finding lunch.  It ended up being take away from Triple 7 Brew Pub.  Loaded potato chips.  This was a very good choice.

Back to my room to gorge and finally, nap.  This is a lot of text so I will cut it here and continue with part two tomorrow!

Las Vegas Pre-Trip Report: Musings of a Degenerate Gambler

Here is something you should know about people who frequent Las Vegas: They all love to talk about how cheap a trip is, and how you will never find another city in the world where you can go and stay in beautiful hotels and eat fine dining, for even a fraction of the cost as Las Vegas.  Note that I said “they” and not “we”.  I used to be part of that group.  I used to love the idea of staying in a nice hotel that I was comped in, versus paying $150/night for some shitty motel in Anywhereelse USA.

But then something happened.  I started traveling outside the United States.  Guys, I have to tell you something.  The world outside of the United States is so much cheaper.  Sure there are lots of countries you can travel to where the cost is relatively the same, or even higher than travel in the States.  But then I went to Eastern Europe.  And China.  Suddenly, that “Wow, this is such a great bargain!” Las Vegas trip morphed into “Wow, for less than the cost of a two week trip to Vegas, I can spend six weeks in China!”

So I began vowing that every trip to Las Vegas would be my last.  But see, I didn’t tell anyone this, except for my cute little stuffed dog.  He doesn’t judge or hold me accountable for things I say, so I was free to break that vow at will.

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Then I started to tell other people.  I swore up and down that last year was my last trip to Las Vegas, as I was wanting to instead, focus on seeing the rest of the entire planet.

Well that didn’t exactly go as planned.

Last December, I took what I had planned on being my last big trip:  Good bye Las Vegas!  But I ended up leaving dissatisfied.  My trip was only nine days.  While most people love to chime in with “Nine days?  That’s too long!  I am ready to go home after five!,” I don’t really have those kinds of trips.  I have the kind of trips where I do things like visit casinos off Strip and live like a local.  I don’t drink, I don’t go nutso, I don’t do any of the things that make people wish to make it STOP ALREADY after a mere five days.

With only nine days, I felt like I did nothing but travel around and I didn’t really see or do anything.  I was armed with my new fancy camera and got to take zero pictures of the Strip, despite actually staying on it for five days.  I actually got annoyed with myself for having gone degenerate gambling on night one and then spent the rest of the trip frugal gambling instead of going to the ATM.  This should be a “score one for me!” item, but it left me without doing the thing I go to Vegas to do: GAMBLE.

So when I got home, I decided to do one more trip.  For Thanksgiving.  Airfare was only $303, which is the lowest I have paid in many years.  Booked and done.

Then my mind started doing that thing again.  Where whenever I fly to California, I end up checking flights home from Vegas, since I am already going to be on the West Coast.  I decided that fine, I could do this.  I could allow myself 37 hours in Las Vegas en route home from San Francisco.

Then I realized this was never going to end.  My Thanksgiving trip is only five nights.  If nine was not enough for me to get it out of my system, five were not going to be.  Nor were five + an additional 37 hours.  So I started booking a three week trip to Las Vegas, which I leave for on December 23.  That one will be the final one.  For real this time.

Since rebooking my airfare for November would cost more than the entire flight, I am keeping that trip.  And I indeed went to Las Vegas for 37 hours last weekend.  Up next will be that trip report.

Shangri-La China: Guishan Park and the World’s Second Largest Prayer Wheel

I arrived in Shangri-La by bus from Lijiang.  The ride cost 68 RMB ($10.97 USD),  took about four hours, and was full of beautiful scenery.

lijiang to shangrila

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I knew I wanted to buy my ticket for Baishui Terraces tomorrow as seating is limited.  Or so I thought, but more on that in my next post.

After buying my ticket, I went outside and as is standard China, any Westerner who emerges from a bus station, train station or airport, must be greeted by every taxi driver who ever lived.   I honestly do not find this as over the top frustrating as I did last year.  It is still annoying as all hell, but I have come to accept that this is China.

I pick a driver and off to my hotel we go.  The ride cost me 20 RMB which = $3.23 USD

I am staying at N’s Kitchen and Hostel.  I walk in and am greeted with “Jennifer?” because that is a perk of being a Westerner in China.  You get five star diamond service by being greeted with by name whenever you walk into a hotel.

I am taken to my room, followed by the hostel dog.  It turns out there were two of them, the tiny one was so adorable I wanted to steal her so badly.

ns kitchen hostel dogs

Shangri-La was a victim of a fire back in January 2014 that completely destroyed the old town.  The view from my window showed construction going on to rebuild.  I could constantly hear it as well.  It was a very noisy place.  The noise did not bother me but I find that sometimes when you visit a place (Istanbul comes to mind) and you hear the background noise it is a bit surprising as you are in a real life movie scene complete with background music.

Room view:

room view N's Kitchen and Hostel

It was around 4:00 pm when I arrived and I was told the internet would be on in half an hour.  I internally groaned thinking that this meant my internet would be incredibly sporadic and slow but it turns out I had the best internet speed here so far in the trip.

As dusk hit, I walked over to Guishan Park.  This was about a five minute walk from my hostel.  At night the locals dance from 7:00 to 9:00.  It was really cool to watch.

Guishan temple dusk Even cooler was up above lives the Golden Temple and the world’s second largest prayer wheel.  A lot of people think this is the largest prayer wheel in the world.  That is because up until 2010, it was.  Then a bigger one was built in Guide County in Qinghai, China.

prayer flags outside prayer wheel

People spinning the large prayer wheel.locals spinning prayer wheel shangrila china

Prayer flags everywhere:Golden Temple Shangrila China

View of Shangri-La from the top:

Prayer Flags over Shangrila ChinaDown below, the locals dance nightly in the square:

dancing guishan

Lijiang, China: My Budget for a Three Day Visit

I spent three days and nights in Lijiang, China.  You can read about that here.

Total cost:

lijiang cost

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The Old Town Protection Fare is required if you are going to be in the Old Town.  I wasn’t quite sure how to go about paying for this.  I was eventually stopped and asked to show my receipt, which I did not have.  So I paid it then.

Once upon a time, my mother bought me a pig change purse for good luck for an upcoming trip to Las Vegas.  A year after she died, I lost the poor pig at a fest and was quite upset about it.  Imagine my glee at finding the same exact one while lost in Lijiang:

The food and drink budget was spent largely on fresh squeezed fruit juices and yogurt drinks.  Oh and one lunch at McDonalds.  Sorry foodies!.

Unlike my gross overspending in Dali, the only real way this trip could have been cheaper would have been to book a cheaper hotel. But I was not going to do that when I had a chance to sleep in a round bed.

round bedOh and those stupid ATM fees.  For some reason, I am being charged to check my balance every time I go to an ATM, in addition to the ATM fee.  Yes, I am aware Charles Schwab exists and yet I am still using a bank.  So this is my own fault.

The way this could have been more expensive would be if I hadn’t been sick from the altitude and had gone to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain like I had planned.

To leave Lijiang, I took a bus to Shangrila.  When I got to the bus station, I was getting a lot of stares that I accept, but hate.  Luckily there was a car crash outside the station so everyone turned away from me to look at that.

I was surprised at how nice and clean the bus station was.  I decided to use the bathroom, which is on the second floor.  This is China so that means up three flights of stairs, with luggage. Sigh.  The bathroom was so gross and the opposite of everything the rest of the station was.

And for anyone who has asked me how I get around China without speaking any Chinese language, this is how:
lijiang bus station englishHere are some stray photos from Lijiang:

couple statue lijiang china coy black dragon pool bridge stone bridge lijiang china


Lijiang, China: Round Bed, Choking on Altitude and Getting Westernered

Upon arrival in Lijiang, I was picked up by a driver my hotel set up for free, and I was brought to my hotel.  I am staying at Xi Tang Exquisite Hotel.  When I had booked it, I picked it because it had round beds and I had always wanted to sleep in a round bed.

Shortly after booking, I got an email letting me know that there is going to be construction going on during the day…my heart sank as I thought this was going to continue to tell me that the room is now not available.  But it was!  I had a reduced rate because of the construction. YAY ROUND BED!

round bed

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The room was really nice.  It was Tibetan style.

Xi Tang Exquisite Hotel Lijiang China Tibetan sink Xi Tang Exquisite Hotel Lijiang room xi tang exquisite hotel lijiang window

I was brought to my room by a woman who I assume is the owner,  She pulls out a map that is the size of my bed, and shows me how to walk to the old town.  She shows me the nearby school on the map that I can use as landmark if I get lost, and gave me the WiFi password.  I truly appreciated this.  This may be the first time in China where I was actually given a map and shown how to walk to anything.  Oh plus the WiFi password.  I cannot tell you how many times I have to go back downstairs and ask because I never remember when checking in.

Lijiang was a struggle for me with altitude.  I felt fine for the most part, but stairs and sleeping were difficult.  Actually scratch that.  Stairs were difficult.  Sleeping was a literal nightmare.  When you sleep, you breathe in deeply.   But when you are in high altitude, you cannot breathe in deeply and you start to choke.  And your brain thinks you are dying so you wake up shaking with your heart pounding, because you are dying.  The sleeping part was so much better on day two.  Walking through Lijiang Ancient Town was a bit slow for me because I kept getting tired.  But there are plenty of places to sit and ignore all the people staring at you by playing with your phone.

I got lost twice in Lijiang.  Okay three times.  But one was my own fault.  Okay all three were my own fault.

The streets of Lijiang are a wonderful place to get lost in.  They are so pretty.

Lijiang China pretty flowerslijiang flowers chinaroof top bar lijiang china1stone bridge lijiang china

I surprisingly found the area I was looking for pretty easily.   I was shocked to end a maze of old streets with a square that had a Haagen Dazs, KFC and not one, but two McDonalds.

I had wanted to go to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain but with the altitude kicking my ass, I thought that might not be the best of ideas.

I spent at least an hour walking around trying to find the tea bar on my map that was listed as “Waste of Life.”  I thought I could post a photo of the sign on Instagram with the message “I am with my people!” But since I never found it, you will have to appreciate my cleverness without an accompanied image.

Lijiang is happening at night.  There was one bar that was blasting techno music that I found extremely hilarious because the lyrics were things like “Shake that ass”and “Get on the fucking dance floor” being repeated over and over. No one batted an eye.  I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that very few, if any, people understood the lyrics.

Lijiang China night

Lijiang China at nightLijiang is full of places selling fresh squeezed fruit juice and my hotel was right next door to a store that sold large yogurt drinks.  I probably ate healthier here than anywhere else in the world.  This includes my own apartment.

I had never heard of Lijiang before booking this trip.   So I was a bit surprised at the hotel prices when I first began searching.  They were higher than Dali or Shangrila.  But now that I have been there, I understand. It didn’t actually feel like a real place. It felt like a fabricated sort of amusement park with a China section that was man made to look like a stereotype of China.  I had to keep reminding myself that it was real.  This is a real city.  It was not constructed with an engineer following blueprints drawn up at a CEO for an amusement park’s directions.

If I were to come back here, I would spend a full week so I could be completely adjusted to the altitude and take the ride up the cable car to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.  I am also a bit bummed that I could also not go see the Lijiang Impressions Show.  Okay maybe bummed is probably not the right word, given the elation I felt once I convinced myself that by not going, I could instead, stay in an air conditioned room and breathe.

Lijiang was also the hottest city so far in the trip, with temperatures in the 90’s.  the only time I like the 90s is when I flash back and talk about life in my twenties.

Black Dragon Pool.  This photo was the first thing I saw when I did research on Lijiang.  Of course I wanted to go here and take one myself.  I guess that the time of year makes a difference because in the photos I saw online, the background mountains were reflected in the water.  Not when I was here.  Still a beautiful sight though.

black dragon pool in lijiang china

Somewhere while walking through this area, I of course got “Westernered.”  This is when people get overjoyed to see you and take photos of you with them.  I hate this so much but you kind of have to just let it happen or you will drive yourself insane with trying to avoid it.

Later on, I was sitting on a bench and I hear “OH FOREIGNER” and I look up and see two Western girls in complete fits of laughter as they mime taking my photo.

I also saw what I guess is China’s version of a dollar store.  No idea why this amused me so much:
dollar store Lijiang China

And then there were the waterwheels that are a big attraction in Lijiang.  I honestly didn’t see the big deal. They were much smaller than I imagined.  Actually, when I first saw them, I somehow thought they were an entrance to THE water wheels.  As if that even makes sense?  Sigh.
Lijiang China water wheels (2)

Escape from Ganzi to Dege, Tibet: Hotel Horrors and Hotel Highs

So when we last left off, I had just had a complete nervous breakdown in the middle of Tibet and was told that I would be leaving Ganzi in a shared minivan at 8:00 the next morning.  You can read all about that here.

Well that morning was this morning and I should probably start off by telling you that I did indeed get out of Ganzi (YAY) but the story is a bit more complicated than that.

I knew I was supposed to be leaving at 8:00 so I planned to leave my hotel at 7:30.  The shared minivans gather about ten feet from the door.  I woke up at 6:00 am and was just about to eat a Cliff Bar and drink some milk tea when someone began knocking on my door.  What the hell.  I open it and it is a dude standing there who says “Dege” to me.  I say “I thought we were leaving at 8:00” which he does not understand, as if it mattered anyway.  He does a driving motion and says “Dege” and points down, meaning “come on, let’s go.”

If I wasn’t such a maniac, I would not have even been awake yet.  I could in theory have set my alarm for 7:30 and still have been outside by 8:00.  As it was, I was only awake for maybe five minutes.  So now I have to rush like even more of a maniac and pack and get out now.  I am ready in five minutes, but I am all shaky from doing too much when I was only awake for five minutes in high altitude. Plus, I had consumed zero calories.  But hey, I am getting out of Ganzi so let’s go!

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In order to have gotten ready so fast, all I did was squeeze some toothpaste into my mouth and swished it around while I changed out of my pajama pants into jeans, put my hair in a pony tail,  put on my sneakers and hoodie and ran out the door.  It did not hit me until we were almost at Dege (seven hour drive) that I was wearing a band shirt that I had slept in that reads “If there’s a god he hates us.”   In a region of the world where religion is a pretty big deal. Luckily, I don’t think anyone could read it.

The minivan was horrible, as expected.   They pack so many people in these things.  This one had bucket seats so people had to sit on stools in the aisle between the seats  There was too much luggage to fit.  But this is China so it was put in anyway.  For the entire ride, I had a wheel of someone’s suitcase digging into my shoulder.  I tried using it as a massage tool for a while, but once we left paved road, it became excruciating.

There are so many roads that are not paved. Then there are the are mountain passes.  You are driving around a fucking mountain, on the edge, on a driving path that is so narrow, it would be a single lane in the United States.  But this is China, so it is a double lane.  There are trucks going on this route.  When they pass and you are on the edge of a fucking mountain, there are only mere inches of space between you and the truck, and you and the end of your life if you fall over the side.

Add to that, my driver had this annoying habit of sticking his head out his window and looking behind him.  Without stepping on the brake.  So we would be slow rolling and he wasn’t watching.  It was quite the fingernail biting experience when we were on solid ground. But when he did it a few times as we were about to veer off of a 5050 meter high mountain pass, I nearly vomited.  Like literally, I was burping up bile.

We passed an overturned minivan that had a bunch of people outside looking absolutely devastated.  I imagine there were people either dead or trapped inside. Even seeing this, did not make my driver drive any less like a maniac.

The view though…guys…the view.

chola pass between ganzi and dege tibet china gorgeous blue sky behind chola pass between ganzi and dege tibet china snow on chola pass between ganzi and dege tibet chinaGood thing we didn’t die or else you guys would never have seen these photos!

I have a new thing that whenever we pull into a new town, it starts raining.  I do not mean drizzling, I mean the skies open up and vomit more than I did when my driver almost drove us off a mountain.  So my first impression of Dege was standing under an awning for about half an hour getting “hello!”ed at by the locals.  I got “hello” yelled at me here more than anywhere ever before.  Some of the younger kids followed it up with “What is your name?”

Then it was time to find a hotel.  Oh you guys.  The mistakes I have made in my entire life pale greatly to today’s mistake.

I passed a few hotels as I was walking through inches of mud.  The sidewalks here, when they exist, are all broken and missing in spots so there are unusable.  The hotels I kept seeing had nothing written in English, only had photos of beds on the awnings.  They were all up staircases.  High altitude, seven hours in a death van, still zero calories consumed.  I did not want to walk up and find out they do not accept foreigners so I kept walking, hoping to find one that says “foreigners accepted.”

I finally find a guy who does the mime for “hotel” and I am all “sure!”  He takes me to this place.  We walk up stairs and he calls to a woman who comes out.  She shows me two rooms.  One is a shared bathroom, one is private.  Private please!  I pay the 100 RMB (about $16 USD) and then begin to realize I do not want to stay here. The room was gross, which is fine.  The beds are clean, who cares about the walls.  Okay I know a lot of people care about the walls. Maybe you are licking walls as entertainment, but I am not.

shitty room dege walls

But the bathroom. Why did I not look at this?  Oh dear.  This is the bathroom.

dege disgusting bathroomI sit on my bed, clutching my adorable stuffed dog and ask him what I should do. He suggests I should eat something because obviously the fact that I have had a full day and have not yet eaten, plays a huge part in me accepting this room.

I go out of the room and ask for the WiFi password and I swear the woman laughs at me as she is shaking her head “no.”  This is the final straw, I am not staying here.

I leave my crap here and go outside to find a new room.  It hits me that I did not lock the door, nor was I handed a key. I ask for a key.  “No key.”  Oh you are fucking kidding me.   Meanwhile, the irony of this is that this woman is actually mopping the hallway during this conversation.  Here’s a hint: TRY MOPPING THAT DISGUSTING BATHROOM IN MY ROOM.

I leave my stuff in my unlocked room because honestly at this point, I would rather it be stolen than to carry it up 982374837 staircases in Dege before I find a hotel that allows foreigners. Seriously, there were zero hotels that had a lobby on the ground floor.  They were all up staircases.

It has stopped raining but Dege is a mess today.  There is mud everywhere, in inches.  But they are also redoing the main (only?) street in the town so there is wet cement, dust, jackhammering, missing sidewalks, missing street and a HUGE traffic jam that passengers cannot even get past because a cement truck has shut down the entire town.

dege streetsThis is unfortunate because Dege seems really pretty.

dege river tibet chinadege prayer flags behind tibetan architecturedege mountain viewI find one  hotel, walk up to the second floor and the entry door is locked.  There was an adorable dog on the mat outside the door. I went to pet it and it bit me.  Okay, this is not the hotel for me.

I find another one.  I walk up two flights of stairs and I see the bathroom door open.  It makes the one in my room look clean.  So this is also not the hotel for me.

I find a third hotel but it is across the street from the traffic jam so even if I do find a way there right now, I will not be able to get through with my luggage.

NEXT!  I find a fancy looking hotel.  SO FANCY I LOVE YOU.  But the entire ground in front of it is ripped up and the only way to get to the hotel is to walk over a wooden plank that does not look like it would support my weight.

Then I see a sign for a hotel that looks fancy and BONUS – is on the river.  I go around the corner and cannot find any English sign like I saw from the street. There were so many hotel entrances here but none of them with lobbies on the ground floor.  Just photos of beds and stairs for you to walk up and find someone.  Which one is the nice one I saw from the street?  Is it this one?  Or this one?  Wait, this one has an elevator…oh my god what is THAT?!?
prayer flags hotelI have found my hotel. I do not know the name of it, but I am inside of it right now.  I don’t even know how much it costs.  She showed me 190 RMB ($30.59 USD) but then asked for 390 RMB ($62.79 USD) so either I paid $200 deposit I will get back tomorrow, or I paid 390 RMB for this room.  I do not fucking care.

I checked in, went back to the other place to get my stuff.  When I walked in, I realized I had left the bathroom door open. Oh the stench.  Oh we have GOT TO GO.  I left without saying anything.  The woman had her back to me, still mopping the same spot in the hallway she had been mopping two hours earlier.  Best choice of thing to obsessively clean in this place.

I am now showered with water that was too hot (this is not a complaint) and wearing hotel slippers that are actual slippers and not shared shower shoes described as slippers, and I have the fastest WiFi I have had since I left home.  Excellent end to a shitty start.

I am not entirely sure if I will be able to get to Yushu tomorrow, like I would like to do.  I am not entirely sure I can get there at all from here.  Which may make you wonder why I am here.  I am with you on this one.  I don’t know if I should try to find a shared taxi at 6:00 am?  Like do I really want to wake up and go strolling looking for a minivan at 6:00 if they do not leave until noon?  No one knows what time they start collecting people, not even GOOGLE knows for crissfuckingsakes.  But I will figure it out.  As always.  And if not, I can still go back to Chengdu and try out my “spend twenty days in a hostel eating Subway” plan.

Ganzi, Tibet: A Nice Place to Visit, but I Don’t Want to Live Here.

I am sitting here on my hotel bed typing this out.  My laptop is the only thing warm in this room and I am using it as a heater on my feet as I sit Indian style.  To my right is the sound of thunder and lightning shaking my windows, to my left is the sound of the shower dripping as a reminder that I now have not showered in two days.  Or maybe the five or six flies buzzing all around me are the reminder.  I don’t really know anymore. I do know that I am putting off showering today because I want to wait until the very last minute to discover that once again I do not have hot water.  I have already verified I have no heat.  I did not expect to.  Actually, if we are going to list things I was not expecting, let us put “spending yet ANOTHER night in Ganzi” at the top of the list.

See, I am an independent woman who travels solo.  I speak online with a lot of women who are scared to take the leap.  My signature stance is that:  if you are temporarily lost, just get in a taxi back to your hotel.  Problem solved.  No one has ever had to relocate and live in a city they traveled to because they got lost and could not get out.   But I now live in Ganzi.  Because I cannot get out.

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I started out in Ganzi about a week ago.  It was an intended stop to take a detour to Larung Gar, which was the purpose of this entire trip.


larung gar buddhist institute tibet

My first stop here in Ganzi was after a ten hour bus ride from Kangding.  I am still a bit miffed about my Kangding hostel insisting I take the 9:00 bus instead of the 6:00 bus because the 6:00 doesn’t exist as I was told, and it does.  Or that the ride is only about six hours, and it most certainly is not. Which is what I knew before I left, but was swayed by thinking someone who lives here would know better.

So when I arrived in a horrible rain storm, I cursed my Kangding hostel because had I taken the 6:00 bus, it may have not been impossible to see one inch in front of my fogged up glasses.

I knew about two decent hotels here.  But both required me to exit the bus station, which I could not do since I could not see through the pouring rain.  Because this is China, and you cannot get off any sort of public transportation without someone in your face yelling stuff at you, I had a woman who did not yell at me, but who gestured “sleep” to me.   I ignored her at first because I wanted to stay in a pre-reviewed hotel.  But after ten or so minutes of trying to not be soaked by standing under an awning, I realized I would either have to go out in the rain that made it impossible to see, or go wherever this woman was going to take me. I went with her.

She led me up a staircase that was about ten feet from where the bus had parked.  This was fun. I wish I had pictures of this.  When we got to the top, there were some couches and some outlets that had burn marks all up the wall from them.

She led me to a private room and gestured “five” with her fingers.  50 RMB.  Approximately $8 USD.  The walls were filthy, but the room was clean, as was the bed.

ganzi hotel 1 walls

bus station hotel ganzi china

If you are curious about where to find this hotel, I took a photo from my room.  That staircase with the blue writing above it is the entrance.  There is no English or any indication there is a hotel up there.

bus station hotel entrance ganzi chinaI tried asking where the bathroom was and she did not understand me.  She brought some guy over and he didn’t understand me either.  I tried “toilet” and got nothing.  So obviously let me go more complicated and ask “water closet.”  Not surprising, nothing. I asked both of them “please do not make me mime this” as they stood there silent.  FINE.  I motioned by crossing my hands over myself and bent over like a three  year old who has to pee.  OOOOHHHH!   Instantly they both knew what I meant and I was escorted to a shared squat toilet.

I am well aware that  you cannot travel to Tibet and complain about squat toilets.  Oh, Jennifer from Brooklyn is coming to visit?  Let us redo all our plumbing and install Western amenities for her!   No.

But I can prefer a Western toilet, even at a higher cost.

After a couple of hours, the rain slowed to a drizzle and I went out to buy an umbrella and of course, milk tea.  I spotted a Golden Yak hotel that was on the opposite side of the bus station from me. I couldn’t see it before because blinding rain.  I knew I would be checking in there the next morning.  This is a chain that offers Western toilets.

The next morning, I ran across the parking lot and checked in.  I meet a guy in the lobby who speaks English. Paul from Singapore. He offers me the holy grail, a ride to Sertar. In an 18 passenger van that him and his family are traveling in. At this point. I had just checked into a Western hotel and wanted to reap the amenities and politely declined. Huge mistake.

I get to my room and there is my beloved Western toilet.  That will not flush.  Oh fuck you. At least I have a shower that actually has a wall and will not soak the entire bathroom.  WRONG. The part of the door that actually closes has been removed.   Thanks, China!

golden yak ganzi shower

The walls are also filthy in this hotel.  I did not take a photo because at the time I was unaware that I would be starting a series.

I spent the day sulking in bed, reading a book. I went out late afternoon and braved the rain for as long as I could handle the staring. Like literally traffic stops for westerners here so that everyone in the over packed cars and vans can get a good look at you.  I got a couple of nice photos though.

ganzi tibet chinasuspension bridge ganzi tibet china

When I checked out the next day, a woman kept trying to give me back 100 RMB.  I think she thought I paid a deposit.  I hadn’t.  She kept motioning to me for a pink deposit slip, which I did not have because I did not pay a deposit.  The rates on the wall were 200 RMB, which I paid.

So she hands me a notebook and motions for me to write in there. So I wrote “I have no idea why I am writing in this book” and she keeps trying to give me 100 RMB.  I keep insisting “no” and she won’t stop so eventually I take it.  So by this happening, my room now cost 100 RMB, which was a much fairer price than 200 RMB so whatever.

I returned to Ganzi after Sertar. You have to come back to continue to Yushu, where I am flying out of Tibet from. This time I tried the Hotel Himalaya. This involved picking up some random stranger to show my minivan driver the way. I could not figure out how to enter the hotel. Then a Westerner dude saw me and told me in English where to go. Up a ramp, high altitude, I can’t breathe.

When I got to the top, a woman automatically appears, takes my luggage and brings me to a room. She motions to wait and I sit on the bed heaving from the walk up the ramp. She comes back with a registration form and a piece of paper showing me 200 RMB. Wifi and Western toilet, sign me up.

I did not realize the toilet would look like this:

ganzi hotel 3 toilet

By now, I expected the walls to be looking like this and I was not disappointed.

ganzi hotel 3 wallThe next morning, I walk to the bus station. I strike out with everything I ask for. Manigango, Dege, Sershul, Yushu. The woman answers “no” to everything I ask, and instantly turns her head away from me so I have to yell “NI HAO” to get her to turn back around so I can ask for a new town, only to be told no.  I don’t know if she means there is no bus today (they leave early morning) or if she means it is sold out, or there is no bus at all, or if she just hates me.

Outside the bus station, I am approached by three English speaking people. Why I did not ask them to go inside the bus station and ask where the fuck buses go from here, I will never know.

On the walk back to my hotel, there are a bunch of mini van drivers yelling “Dege” at me so I decide I will stay here one more night and go to Dege tomorrow.

I go back to my hotel and Western boy from last night is there. Again, I should ask an English speaking person anything and dont. The woman who gave me my room comes up and I point down to motion I am staying here again and hand her 200 RMB and she nods.

I went to the store later on and when I stopped at the top of the ramp to breathe, she came out and handed me 80 RMB. So I guess you pay less if you spend two nights.

I went back Inside, psyched to take a shower and use a towel for the first time in days. No hot water. Argh.

I woke up this morning and took photos on my phone of things written in Tibetan. Yushu, Dege, Manigango, Sershul, and the word “tomorrow”. All I got at the bus station was a head shake “no” before the woman would turn away. This was so insanely frustrating. Like look at the fucking photo before telling me no. There are many places on the internet that say there is a daily bus to Yushu that stops in Manigango and she told me no for both Yushu and Manigango.

Next thing I know, I am standing in the bus station crying hysterically.

I calm down and as I walk out of the bus station, some guy yells “DEGE” in my face.  I want to convey that yes, I am going to Dege, but I have to go back and get my stuff from my hotel.  But I can’t so I just shake my head “no.”

I head back out and have someone yell “DEGE” at me.  A horseshoe forms around me of men trying to tell me something, I don’t know.  I keep saying “Dege” and some of them say “Dege” back and this gets boring to me.  Like let’s go.  Finally one steps up to the plate and pulls out his phone and shows me 2000 RMB. Oh fuck  you.  This ride should be no more than 120.  I burst through the horseshoe as they are all yelling ‘DEGE” at my back.  I resist the urge to give them all the finger.

Back to the minivan drivers by the bus station.  First try, I get a ride to Dege for 120 RMB.  I am taken to a minivan and put inside. After about an hour (of still sitting there) I am moved to a second minivan.  We wait about another hour.  A couple comes up, traveling to Dege.   So now we have three.  My driver motions that he is going to drive around the corner to see if there are more people and for me to stay here.  Okay.  As soon as he pulls away I start panicking because my stuff is in his van. I pull out my phone and text myself his license plate number and then continue to wonder why I did that, rather than run and pound on the window to get my stuff out.  I spend the next half hour begging him to come back.  I feel like I am going to vomit.  And during this time, everyone is starting at me, coming close to my face, talking to me in a language I do not understand, yelling “CHENGDU” in my face.

Finally the guy comes back and I am so relieved.  He motions for me to get in the van, which now has more people in it.  This is it, I think, I am finally leaving Ganzi.  My excitement grows as the van begins moving…and travels like the length of a city block before pulling into an alleyway.  The next thing I know, I am taken out of the van and replaced by 98347387438 monks.  Oh no you didn’t.

I try to get my bag out of the back (I am now fixated on keeping my stuff with me) and the driver is trying to tell me something, I don’t know what.  He keeps motioning to the corner, pointing at me, and making a “driving” motion with his hands. I don’t know if he is telling me someone is coming for me, someone is at the corner or what the fuck.  So I shoo him away and as soon as he is gone, I burst into tears.  I am stuck in Ganzi.  Again. I don’t know how to get out of here.

So as I am standing there crying, as an entertainment package to the locals who were already over excited just to see a Westerner, some guy comes running down the alley towards me yelling “Dege.”  Oh!  You are going to drive me to Dege!  I am so excited!  That driver totally did hook me up and not ditch me after I waited three hours to leave!


This new guy takes my bag for me and as we are walking, he stops and make a motion that I have now become very familiar with, tilted head up against two hands together.  This is sign language for “hotel.”  OH HELL NO.  I am not sleeping in Ganzi.  I keep saying “Dege” and he keeps nodding yes, but making the sleeping motion and then saying “Dege.”

I am done.  I start crying.  I cannot spend another night in Ganzi. I cannot and I will not.  I am trying to compose myself.  The dude is walking with my bag and I am walking alongside him trying to stop crying.  We stop at a hotel and he brings my bag inside and I lose it.  I just fucking lose it. I am not fucking spending another night in Ganzi.  How the fuck do you get the fuck out of this fucking town if the bus goes nowhere and you cannot get a minivan to drive you further than one block away.  I cannot stay here.  I am in complete hysterics, I am yelling that I absolutely refuse to stay in this hotel.  I am not staying here, I am not.  I am getting out, get me the fuck out of here.

By now there are at least 25 people gathered all around me, trying to speak to me in a language that I do not understand.  I keep talking aloud to myself, saying over and over that no way in fucking hell am I spending another night here, get me the fuck out of here, I will go anywhere that is not here, get me out of here.

Somehow, some way, someone finds a woman who speaks English.  I tell her that i need to get out of here.  I keep having to stop myself from saying “before I kill myself” because this is Tibet and people self immolate themselves to protest China ruling over them.  She asks me where I want to go.  I want to go to Dege but I also offer that I will go to Manigango, which is much closer to Ganzi than Dege.  If that is as far as I can get, I will take it.  Just get me the fuck out of Ganzi NOW.

I think this was mistranslated because she secures me a ride to Manigango tomorrow.  No.  I don’t want to go to Manigango tomorrow.  I want to go right now.  I need to get out of Ganzi.  Now.  Today.  Get me OUT of here.

She is communicating with someone, while the crowd of now above 30 watches me wipe the snot off my face with my sleeve because I am still in hysterics.

The final solution was (maybe) that I will stay in this hotel that I am typing in right now and some guy will meet me outside tomorrow at 8:00 and drive me to Dege.  You might think I would be elated but I am not because the price is 120 RMB, which is the price of a shared minivan. Which means that he will have to fill the van, and we could have a repeat of today  I will never again in life be happy until I am at least 100 miles away from Dege.  I did not even want to come here at all, it was just a necessary stop to get to Larung Gar.  I saw Larung Gar.  I can leave here now, please let me leave here now.

I do not know what will happen if I do not get out of here tomorrow.  Will I pay some guy 2000 RMB to drive just me to Dege and then have to worry about getting to Yushu?  Or will I just quit and go back to Chengdu and change my flight and go home early?  Or will I go to Chengdu and keep my flight and sit in a hostel room eating Subway for twenty straight days?  God I would do anything for Subway right now.  Hold on, let me throw out the wrappers from my prepackaged croissants that have a 2014 expiration date on them.

Maybe I could jump out my hotel window and be air lifted out of here.  Key words: OUT OF HERE.  Hmm…

I do not know what will happen to me tomorrow.  I do know that since writing this out, I manned up and tried the shower and found hot water.  I am in bed all comfy and feel a lot better.  So hopefully, my mood stays up.  And maybe goes higher as Ganzi disappears in the rear view mirror of a minivan tomorrow.  Or maybe I will ride this stray donkey out of town:

ganzi donkey

And of course, the walls in my fourth Ganzi hotel room.  What on earth are they doing in the rooms here?

ganzi hotel 4 wall


Update!  I escape Ganzi. Read more here.

Cost of Traveling in China: Dali, China

How much does it cost to visit Dali, China?  Let’s find out.

I spent two nights in Dali.  I arrived early morning on day one and left early morning on day three.

How did I travel to Dali?  I flew from Kunming.  There are bus and train options which are way cheaper.  But one of the benefits of being employed full time is that you can justify these splurges in order to get a few more hours in a destination.

While here, I stayed at the Dragonfly Inn (Hi Lorelai and Sookie!)  in a private room with private bathroom.


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I visited Butterfly Spring, Cangshan Mountain, Er Hai Lake and Congsheng Temple complex, which includes the Three Pagodas.


dali cost

Please note:  I have been keeping a tally of what I have spent in RMB.  As I type this up, I then figure out the USD cost.  Since rates fluctuate always, there most likely will be future posts where the RMB amount stays the same, but the USD cost differs.  

Ways this could have been cheaper:

Public transport for sure.  I had my hostel set up a driver to pick me up from the airport (120 RMB = $19.35 USD) and to again take me from the hostel to the train station when leaving (60 RMB = $9.67 USD.)  I do not regret the airport pick up, I do regret the train station drop off.  The bus would have been a straight shot and cost under $1 USD.

I also took transportation that would not have been taken had I not gotten horribly lost and needed help.

Learning how to read:  When I did not notice the exit sign at Butterfly Spring, I walked in that direction for about half an hour, completely lost looking for entrance into the park.  By the time I finally figured out my huge error, I was so annoyed that I laid out 20 RMB to take a shuttle ride to the top.

Being a physically fit full time traveler:  If you want to, you could hike up Cangshan Mountain rather than take a cable car.  When you are not physically fit, nor do you have a full day to devote to this, you will spend more money zipping up in a cable car.

Hotel:  I strongly prefer private rooms with private bathrooms.  Had I been willing to budge on either of these items, the cost would have been cheaper.  Even more so had I been willing to budge on both.

ATM Charge:  Every time I have gone to the ATM so far this trip, I have been hit with a $2.50 ATM fee and a $2.50 fee to check my balance.  I have never checked my balance.  I don’t know if this is a China issue or a my-bank issue.  Either way, it counts as cost.  I only went to the ATM once in Dali.

Sightseeing:  Congsheng Temple complex is pretty expensive by China standards.  Had I chosen to just stand outside the entrance to get a photo of the Three Pagodas, I would have saved 121 RMB (plus an additional 30 for the shuttle to the top inside.)  But I wanted to see these pagodas way too badly to settle for taking a picture from outside.

three pagodas dali china reflecting

Train Ride from Dali, China to Lijiang, China

To get from Dali to Lijiang, you can take a train or a bus. I took a train, because it was only two hours compared to five.  But it ended up feeling like seventeen hours, so maybe the bus is a better option after all.

Arrival at Dali train station.  Look at those stairs you need to get your luggage up. I pitied myself for only the ten seconds it took before I saw a woman with two full sized suitcases navigate the steps without any help.

Dali China train station

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I had a choice between a seat and a hard sleeper bed.  I chose seat.  I got on the train and immediately noticed it made a stop inside an inferno before pulling into the station, and had retained all the inferno’s heat.

I confirmed my car number and thought I had mistakenly purchased a hard sleeper ticket after all since this was a hard sleeper car.  Then I just assumed that the seats are us being seated on lower bunks in hard sleeper cabins,

I find my cabin and take a seat.  There are already four women in there, all sitting on lower bunks.  More than halfway through the trip, I realized I did not belong in here.  I belonged in an actual seat outside the cabin.  See, when I had taken China trains before, the seats outside the cabin were not sold as seats.  But I guess on shorter rides they are.  At this point I had been in the cabin for too long to try and explain my error to the poor dude who was in what I now believed was my seat, that I totally messed up.  So I stayed. I don’t think he was that upset since he voluntarily helped me with my luggage at the end of the trip.

During the ride, women will come through with drinks and snacks for you to purchase.  On this trip, some woman was coming through with little tablets that looked either like breath mints or those little dishwasher soap packets.  I was not sure what it was and since no one else accepted one so I could watch and see what to do with it, I did not accept either.

Here was the view outside the window near the end of the trip:

dali to lijiang train view

My hotel in Lijiang had sent a driver to come pick me up for free.  When you exit, there is a rope a bit away from the exit where everyone was being met.  This is not the first time in China where I saw people being kept far away from the entrance to a train station.  China train station fun fact:  In order to enter, you have to put your stuff through a scanner.  Even with this security, China seems to have some troubles with violence at random train stations.

Ticket cost for a seat was 34 RMB which at time of writing = $5.48 USD  I do not exactly recommend this trip.  Although we did arrive on time, we spent so much time just stopped still.  It was so hot on this train and the stopping just made me crazy.  I kept wanting to scream.  If I were to do it again, I would give the bus a shot.  It may be just as bad, but it could not possibly be worse.

Dali, China: Beautiful Movie Set-Like Setting and Cangshan Mountain Cable Car

One thing you never realize while growing up American is that all the things you are exposed to are just replica of real things thousands of miles away.  So when you arrive in a place like Dali, China, it takes a while for your mind to comprehend that this is the real deal.  This is all authentic China.  This is not an amusement park, not a theme park, not a Hollywood movie set, this is an actual true town that looks like this:

Dali ChinaPretty, right?

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I wish I would have taken more photos of the streets but I was so lost and growing more impatient with lugging my camera around my neck as I sweat out eleventy billion bottles of water.

Dali is pretty used to seeing Westerners so you do not have the entire population staring at you as you simply exist.  It was a nice change.

Dali is framed by Cangshan Mountains.  They are so beautiful to look at.  Here is what the view from the cable car:
cangshan mountain cable carIMG_3980

See number five: China does not want the insane riding their cable cars.  Too bad this sign was up top.  Neener neener China, I rode your cable car!

insane persons
Cangshan has three cable cars.  One that goes all the way to the top, which is what I originally wanted to do.  But the owner of my hostel told me that once you are up there, the clouds cover everything so you cannot see.  The other two go halfway up and you can walk between the two on the “cloud path” that is a well maintained pathway on level ground. No continually hiking up and down steps like this:

just noIt costs 40 RMB ($6.45 USD) for entrance to the mountain.  I rode to the middle which was 50 RMB each way ($8.06 USD)  You can also opt to hike the mountain, which I believe is free.