I Am Leaving for Las Vegas Tomorrow: Pre-trip Report

Once again, I am spending Christmas in Las Vegas.   It is my favorite place to be on this holiday.  See how pretty it is?

Bellagio Christmas conservatory polar bears  Las Vegas Nevada

However, this trip is going to be slightly different.  Why, you ask?  Well let me tell you!

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First off, this is going to be my last trip to Las Vegas indefinitely.  I want to see the rest of the world and the more I go about this, the more I do the math that my Las Vegas budget for two weeks is more than the cost of a month long trip to other places.

Second, I am going to put a lot more effort into doing this trip travel blogger style and do some actual sight seeing.   After having been to Las Vegas a bazillion times, you tend to not do any touristy things because you  have already done it all.  There are days I only make my way to Dunkin Donuts and video poker machines and nothing else.  This trip, I will be revisiting a bunch of attractions that I haven’t looked at in years.  Or at least, this is the plan.  I may forget about this once I see all the pretty lights.

Third, this will be my first trip with a decent camera.  This means I can retake all the same pictures I have 2389743892 versions of and have it be justified.  I am so completely HATE when I upload my older trip reports and see the picture quality.   This was all fine when my trip reports were just posted on message boards.  Vegas addicts have no problem with seeing a blurry Aces with a Kicker progressive picture.  But now I am stuck with those crappy pictures and I don’t like how they look on my blog.   I am constantly struggling with whether or not to post these crappy pictures.  Las Vegas addicts WANT to see them.   People who randomly stumble across my blog looking for information may think these pictures were taken by a blind person whizzing by on a tiny airplane with flood lights shining on the screen.

Fourth, this is a big one: I am paying for rooms.  Wait, what?  Yes.  I am paying for rooms.   I had choices to make and I did not like any of them.  I cannot justify paying a $25 resort fee on a comped Strip room, when for the same price, I could pay for a downtown hotel.  So that is what I did for four nights.  I am also forever miffed that after booking three of those nights on a non-refundable rate, I then got a mailer for cheaper rates.   I hate you Las Vegas.

Here is my hotel list:

Palace Station: One night free via MyVegas.  What is MyVegas?  Go here and find out!

MGM Grand: Three nights for just the resort fee, courtesy of MyVegas.  I had several choices here and ended up picking MGM Grand solely because I just had a feeling.   Gamblers know what I am talking about.   Bonus: I stayed here on my very first trip to Las Vegas so it is also fitting for me to stay here on my last trip to Las Vegas.

Main Street Station: I love Boyd properties.  I am paying for this night, it comes with two free buffets.  I am hoping they give me two separate vouchers as I am traveling solo.

Cosmopolitan:  Yes, Cosmopolitan began sending me offers earlier this year.  None I could use because I wasn’t scheduled to go.  I was so (opposite of) patient waiting for them to send me one I could actually use and there it was in my inbox one day!  I am so excited to stay here.  I do not deserve this offer and whoever wrote the algorithm to generate these offers is going to be fired when Cosmopolitan sees how tiny my gambling budget is.  Sorry (not sorry.)

Orleans: I just love this place.  I have two nights comped here.  I usually start my trips either here or the Gold Coast.  However, I had such a complicated time filling in nights so the puzzle pieces have me staying  here later in the trip.  I am pretty excited to wake up here on Christmas day.

Four Queens:  My last hotel of the trip, and another one I am paying for.  It frustrates me that I am a downtown low roller and most of my comps are for the Strip.  I don’t know how this keeps happening.  So I resigned to pay for the last three nights to be downtown.   I was able to book it as a mystery hotel on Priceline Express Deals.  Here is a hint:  It is easy to figure out the downtown hotels by the resort fee.  $5 fee is the Golden Nugget, $20 is the Plaza (seriously fuck you with your $20 resort fee I hate you) and zero resort fee is the Four Queens.  Easy peasy!

I also have both the American Casino Guide and Las Vegas Advisor coupons to get me lots of free play and other assorted goodies.  I am a degenerate gambler who accidentally bought enough chips on MyVegas to net me five rewards at MGM properties.  Those combined with the other partners outside of the MGM five reward limit got me the following:

  • One night at Palace Station
  • Three nights at MGM Grand = $83-ish for the resort fee on three nights
  • $50 free play at MGM
  • One Bellagio dinner buffet
  • Palace Station breakfast buffet
  • Green Valley Ranch breakfast buffet
  • Red Rock breakfast buffet and a second one for Friday night dinner
  • Sunset Station breakfast buffet
  • Aria slot tournament
  • Four single ride Monorail passes*
  • Two round trip Monorail passes*
  •  A tin of mints from Sugar Factory**

*I don’t think I need this many Monorail passes but the round trip passes went away as it became time to book so I got paranoid

**I definitely do not need this but this is what happens when you start out with over a million loyalty points and want to book anything just to get to use them.

I also have three spa treatments booked.  This may seem excessive, but if you will forgive me, I just started using Groupon and I could not stop myself once I saw the prices.

I normally do a free play day every trip, this year I am doing two different ones just because it makes sense to use the South Strip free play all at one time rather than commuting back down there later in the trip.

Things I am  not doing, that I am kind of bummed about:

Staying at SLS.  I had every intention of staying at the newly opened property, but rates were just insane.  Of course they had a Black Friday sale after I was all booked.  I guess this is okay as the last time I stayed here, it was still the Sahara and there was a ball gag left behind in my room from the previous guests.

I will be posting my daily itinerary with each day’s report so you can see (a) how insane my planning is and (b) how I don’t follow any of it once I get to Vegas and sit down at a video poker machine.

Wish me luck!

Flight Home from Las Vegas: Featuring the World’s Smelliest Man. Seated with Me, Naturally.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009: Last Day

[If you would like to start reading this trip report from the beginning, you can do so by going here.]

My first thought when I wake up at the California Hotel this morning, is that I cannot wait to get home and see one of my favorite bands play.  They are the reason today is my last day. I had to change my flight to come back a day early because they are playing.  This excitement about LEAVING Las Vegas is unprecedented.  It really makes my time in Vegas seem like a waste of money.   I’ve never had any thoughts anywhere remotely along these lines before.

I am woken up by a completely unnecessary text at 5:46 am which causes me to curse myself for getting a phone charger.   I get dressed and go out figuring I can always nap later as my flight isn’t until 11-something tonight and I have the room for the night.

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I play some Ultimate X Double Double Bonus video poker and get four of a kinds with a 4x multiplier.  Too bad I’m on pennies.   I walk over to the Golden Gate to get breakfast with my comps and the booth isn’t open until 9:00.  I thought it was 8:00.  I really hate their system of paper comps when they aren’t open when I want to eat.  I could pay to eat but I don’t wanna.  I could walk to the El Cortez where I still have the $25 food credit from checking in but I don’t wannnnnaaaaaaaa.  So I go and get some iced coffee and a donut to tide me over and then I play a bit.

I hit on the Elvis penny slot machine at the Golden Gate and turn $10-$40.  I love these machines, I love the bonus.

At Fremont, I play nickel Double Double Bonus Supertimes Pay video poker  I hit tens (no multiplier) and a straight flush (no multiplier) and then 3′s (no multiplier.)

After FINALLY eating, I hit Fitzgeralds and played penny 50-play video poker and hit my one and only Royal of the trip.  Woo hoo eeeeee forty bucks!

Back to the El Cortez.  The progressive Royal still hasn’t been hit.   Damn it now I have to lose more money.   I hit Kings and then I hit progressive 3′s with a kicker for $243.44.   Yay!

I cash out and play a Monopoly slot machine.  I get a bonus for $72.90.   I’m not done yet!  I play that stupid Diamond Spinner slot machine that I can’t not play and I get a bonus for $147.  I go up to my El Cortez Cabana suite that I booked for the accompanying free play and dining credit, but that I am not using as a room, (PS – it isn’t a suite) to situate myself.   I have $600 on me. I woke up with only $100 on me.  This is great.  Now I am free to go degenerate all damn day long if I choose to.  And I do.

Back downstairs and back to the progressives.   I hit 3′s and get $120.83 and cash out and put in a $100 bill and get to ZERO.

I play some quick hit and get a $41.88 bonus.  I cash out but put in $65 before I walked away.

Lost $30 on Monopoly.  Here we go. I went up, now I’m coming back down.

I eat lunch at Fitzgerald’s coffee shop.  For the first time ever I had super quick service.  I tipped him $10 on a $9 check.  Even though I asked for iced tea and he brought me root beer.  I don’t care.  Quick is better than correct here.

I go back to the penny 50-play video poker and get Aces with a Kicker on one hand.  I play Supertimes Pay video poker and lose a $20.

Back to the El Cortez where I am hell-bent on hitting this royal.  It’s up to $3900.  I don’t hit it.  Ever.  But I only lose $20 this try so it’s okay.

I head back to the California to pack.   I hate this part.

I stop and play a 7′s Ladder Bonus slot machine.   I leave down $5.   I try the California’s Double Double Bonus video poker progressive machiens and lose $20.  I win $20 on an Ultimate X video poker machine though.

I’m in my room at 3:30 with an ice cream sundae which was a very stupid idea since I’m eating at The Flame steakhouse tonight to use my El Cortez food credit.   But I’m stupid like that.

I nap for an hour and head back to the El Cortez.   I got my usual, Filet Mignon and baked potato.  I am so sick from all the heat and exhaustion and the fact that I have not at all taken care of myself this past week.   I could not stop drinking water or iced tea.  The drink server probably walked a mile just coming back over to my table to refill both.

I couldn’t eat much because I was still full from the ice cream but what I did eat was awesome.

I tried to go up to my El Cortez room to lay down for a few minutes but my key won’t work in the key card thingy to enter the building (which is out back and across  the street from the main building.)  So I have to walk all the way back to the El Cortez from the suites (it’s not far but I’m exhausted) and I decide to just check out instead.

I lost a final $100 on my progressive.  I got four of a kinds twice but with the Royal that high, I was hell bent on going until it was time to leave.  Finally it was.

Back to the California for a final shower, after which I put on my pajamas and got on the bus to the airport.

On the plane, a man sits in my row and I swear to god he has never worn deodorant in his life and has lived that entire life working in a field in a desert.  The stench was so strong.   I couldn’t take it.  I wanted to vomit.  The flight attendant asks me if I’m okay.  I’m in the window, this fucking filthy disgusting man was in the aisle and I yell over him “this smell is beyond unbearable.”  This repulsive human being doesn’t even react.  There are on other available seats.  The flight attendant gives me a pack of coffee inside a filter to overpower the stench of body odor.  And this actually helps a LOT and lasted through the entire flight.  Still though, why me.

Throughout the entire flight, every person that walked past this man in MY ROW, would look around and start to gag from the smell.

We take off and we are in the air for a few minutes before I realize I didn’t do my traditional saying good bye to Las Vegas.  Normally I gaze out the window with sad heart eyes and wave “bye” and tell Vegas “I love you, I’ll see you soon!”   Like I said earlier, this is completely unprecedented.

Now if I had hit that $3900 royal, I’m sure I’d be thinking differently.

Thanks for reading.

My First (and Only) Full Day in Las Vegas This Trip!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009 – My Only Full Day in Las Vegas

[If you would like to start reading from the beginning of this trip report, you can do that here.]

I am up at the California hotel and out at 7:00 am.  I am exhausted and would go right back to bed, except that I never checked out of Harrahs when I moved yesterday.  I realize I don’t HAVE to check out (the hotel will eventually figure out you are gone and check  you out) but I use this as an excuse to get moving and get OUT and experience my only full day in Las Vegas.

I eat breakfast at the California coffee shop.  Cheddar omelet. It’s delicious.

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I play some penny Ultimate X. video poker  This game is addicting and the only place I’ve seen it in pennies is the California casino.  Which is good because you can really lose very quickly, so betting only 30-cents a hand is ideal for me.  I lose ten bucks and go.

I take the Deuce bus to Harrahs.  I revisit Jackpot Party Big Event and leave up $30.

I have some comps here and I want to use them in case I am not back in the next six months. I know this sounds insane because I go to Las Vegas so often.  But moving on.  I had lunch at the Imperial Palace’s Burger Bar and I lived to tell the tale.

I played a penny Lobstermania slot machine.  This was my mother’s favorite machine.  I miss her.   Larry gave me some good lobster picks.  God bless his kind soul.

I went to the Orleans to get my birthday points and a free 6-pack of diet Pepsi with putting 100 points on my card.  The birthday points didn’t show up and I didn’t go to the booth to ask, which means I also didn’t get my Diet Pepsi.   I have no excuses for any of this other than “dumbass.”  I did hit Aces though!

Leaving Las Vegas (See Also: Returning to Las Vegas)

Friday, July 31, 2009:  Day (Something) of (Something)

[If you would like to start from the beginning, the first day of this trip report can be found here.]

Today is a weird day.  I am checked into Harrahs in Las Vegas but I am leaving for California – the state – not the downtown hotel.  I will be leaving my stuff in my Las Vegas room while I am gone for three days.

My time in California is actually the intended purpose of this trip.  I just decided to book some Vegas days around it since I have the vacation time and I’m right here.

[2014 called, it wants you to know I have no freaking clue why I kept a booked room in Vegas when I was going to be in California for a weekend?]

Monday, August 3, 2009 – Day Two (Three? Four? ) of (I DON’T KNOW ANYMORE)

My flight from Oxnard back to Las Vegas is pretty empty and we land at 8:30 am.   I have to switch planes at LAX. I cannot believe the security lines at LAX.   They wrapped around outside and hit the next terminal.   But it did move fast.

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I land back in Las Vegas and get to my room that I have been checked into since before I left for California and I am pleased to discover I still own a “Do Not Disturb” sign.  I am displeased to discover my phone is basically dead and my charger is back in California in the hotel room I accidentally left it in.

I scarf down Starbucks and a sandwich I bought at the airport and try to pass out because I am so dead.  While I cannot sleep at all, I also cannot get up.  But I have to.  It’s Las Vegas.  But I can’t. I no longer own life.

At some point in the day, I get up and dressed and count my money.  The amount of money I spent in California is disgusting.

Las Vegas Trip Report: The Time My Flight Was Cancelled!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009:  Day One

Oh wait, my flight is cancelled?   Never mind…….

Thursday, July 30, 2009: New Day One!

My flight is supposed to leave at 10:18 am  It doesn’t.  I’m following up on my new tradition of taking a picture of the departures screen so you can see mine is the only flight on this board that is delayed.

flight delayed

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I stop at the new JetBlue food court and get a sandwich, a cookie and a Diet Pepsi for $20.33.  Jesus, good thing I have last night’s budget still intact.

We ended up taking off at 11:30.  There are approximately three pages in my notes detailing how much I HATE flying to Vegas but I’ll spare you.

We land at 1:40 and I’m in my room at Harrahs at 2:45.   I asked for no tunnel and the cab driver said “Miss, I never take the tunnel” with a tone that implied how dare I even suggest he would.  Cab came to $17.80 which seemed high to me but I haven’t taken a cab from the airport in forever.

You know how when you stay at Harrahs you get a coupon sheet?  Well I got it and they all expire tomorrow.  Great!

I could have asked for a new one and I also could have asked for the coupon sheet I was due from booking my first night through Expedia (which was last night and I didn’t get to show up for since my flight was cancelled) which included a Paris buffet coupon, but I didn’t.

I got room 1742 in the Carnaval tower.

Harrahs Las Vegas RoomHarrahs Las Vegas ArmoireHarrahs Las Vegas bathroomHarrahs Las Vegas Room View

I don’t have a “Do Not Disturb” sign. This is one of my HUGEST pet peeves in Las Vegas.  And this trip is even worse because I am actually flying to California tomorrow and leaving my stuff in my room for three nights.  So I really want the damn sign.  I normally just make a fake one but sometime they pull it off the door and don’t replace it.   I don’t want to chance it.  I see a housekeeper and ask for one and she says “Noooooo, we don’t have those” and then handed me one of those “please help us conserve the environment!” signs that you see hung on towel racks and tells me to use that.

This isn’t good enough for my peace of mind so I steal one off someone’s door.   I’m sorry to whoever’s door I stole it off it.  If I had waited a bit longer, I would have picked my next door neighbors since they were loud and annoying and smoked weed in their room, but I didn’t find this out until later on tonight when I was woken up to discover this.  By then I could not remember which door I actually stole it off of.

I attempt to make my first stop Gold Coast but god help me if I can’t just walk out of Harrahs without playing something.  So I try Keno.  Why.  I lose $60.  I then walk through the monorail entrance to the Imperial Palace to avoid Carnaval Court, but the escalator isn’t working. So I make my way to Barbary Coast (don’t even try to tell me it has a new name, it is a stupid name and I refuse to acknowledge it) by walking the Strip.   This is a lot of effort to get to some stupid off strip casino. Outside is it so hot, so full of people.

Inside the Barbary Coast I start my expected losing streak.   Today it’s Reel ‘em In Community Bonus slots.   I can’t win anything on here.   I did win $40 on Wizard of Oz though.

I then go outside and take the free shuttle to the Gold Coast.  Lose and lose and lose.  I was playing nickel Double Double Bonus Supertimes Pay video poker.  I got the 10x twice and each time got zilch.  I played a Wolf Run multi play slot machine (I need to never play this again) and lost on there.   Lost on Invaders From the Planet Moolah.  Lost on a bunch of games.  Lost lost lost.  Then I accidentally ripped my last $20 in half when I was pulling it out of the envelope and kind of HAD to stop.

Ate dinner at TGI Friday.  Then shuttled it back to the Barbary Coast and got a $90 bonus on a Star Wars slot machine before putting it all back.

Made a pit stop in my room where the door to the room across from me was open and there were a bunch of security guards in the doorway.  It REEKED of weed (this is a new Las Vegas thing for me, I hate the stench of it and on my last three trips I have been bombarded with it.)   I am trying to be nosy and see what is going on.  All I can hear is the security guard ask “is this acceptable to you” and a woman says “Yes.” I can’t hear much more because I can only play the “oh hey look I can’t get my door open” game for a few minutes before I feel stupid.

Tips for Booking a Trip to China

CHINA!  I love China!  Look at China!  Yes, this is CHINA!

Tibet ChinaBooking my trip to China turned out to be Hell.   Looking back though, I can see that there were so many things that would have been easier if I had just known what I can and what I cannot do, and how to get around the cannot part.  Every single time I tried to do something, I just kept hitting road blocks.  Then I would figure it out and hit another one.  Then another one.  To the point I could not take it anymore and I hated myself for ever wanting to go to China in the first place.

This is a guideline of sorts for anyone who wants to go to China.   If you follow everything below, you will be absolutely fine and suffer no pain.  I promise.

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MOST IMPORTANT!  Know your Visa requirements:  You will need proof of arrival to and departure from mainland China.  You need to purchase your flights before applying for your visa.  If you are planning to arrive at, or fly home from, Hong Kong or Macau, be aware that neither of those are part of mainland China.  You must show proof of how you are getting to mainland China and how you are leaving mainland China.  I showed I was going to be taking a ferry from Macau to Shenzhen.

If you are planning to go to either Hong Kong or Macau in the middle of your trip, and leave for the mainland again, you will need a multiple entry visa to do this.  If you have a single entry visa, your first entry will be your only entry.  Do not count on getting a multiple entry visa and do not book any plans you cannot cancel should you not get the visa you apply for.

In my case, I redid my plans to not leave the mainland and then I was granted a multiple entry visa good for one year when I applied for a single entry. Who knows how this works.  All I know if that I can re-enter China as many times as I want until April 2015.

[Very recently, there was an announcement that China was now granting ten year visas to United States citizens.  I do not know the requirements nor do I know if it pertains to any other country.  I am not familiar with this first hand, but I will be in a couple of months when I go back to get a new visa to go back to China in 2015.  I will update this once I return from the Embassy, probably in April 2015.]

BONUS: If you are going to the consulate in New York City, it is rumored to be the worst place on planet Earth.  I cannot compare it to other places since I only went to NYC, but be aware that you will not be allowed to enter the building if you do not have your visa application ready to go.  This means that it must be typed in ALL CAPS.  The guards outside will ask to see it, I promise you.  If you do not have what you need, they will not be nice.  If you do have everything you need, they will tell you that you are perfect and will tell the people who do not have what they need, that that they should be more like you.

I got there half an hour before doors opened and there were about thirty people ahead of me.   That pushing and shoving thing that the internet warns you that you are going to experience when you are in China?  You will experience this there.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE MOST CURRENT APPLICATION.  When I went, I discovered that the one that I printed out from the actual Embassy website was outdated.  If you cannot get the correct one from the actual Embassy’s own website, what do you do?  I got mine off of Yelp, seriously.  You cannot get one at the Embassy because you cannot get inside the Embassy without the application already filled out.

Still want to go to China?  Of course you do.

If you live in the United States and try and book a flight with a Chinese airline, good luck.  I could not get this done no matter what I did.  Could not.  I even had my credit card cancelled for trying.  I ended up booking my flight with Delta.  I don’t know if this applies to other countries, I can only share my own experience.

China is enormous.  You may want to book domestic flights to get around   You need to book through a Chinese booking agent because you just cannot get a Chinese airline to accept American credit cards.  You cannot book directly.  I used http://www.travelchinaguide.com/ for three of my flights and it went incredibly smooth.   To the point where when I got to the airport to take my first flight, I was so petrified that because this was the one thing that went so smooth, I would be faced with the disaster of finding out my flights were never booked.  But hey they were!

In order to use this company, you fill out a form on their website and then pay through Paypal.  Paying through Paypal is key.  It goes through, unlike credit cards.

Booking train tickets is a whole other nightmare.  Like flights, you need to use a booking agent.   Unlike flights, there are so many variables.  You may want to go from station B to station C and then find out that the line sells out at station A.   So you have to buy your tickets from there, and just board at B.  How would you know this?  You wouldn’t.  Your ticket agent should.

I used http://www.china-diy-travel.info/ which is run by a very nice woman named Helen.  She was an angel.  She even sent me print outs to hand to the ticket agents when picking up my tickets, written in Mandarin, so that I did not have to worry about the language barrier.   She also gave me printouts to hand to taxi drivers with what train station I wanted to go to, so I could just hand it to them and again, not worry about the language barrier.

I knew you could not book tickets until 20 days out (note, as of December 2014, it is now 60 days) so I waited until I was about 25 days out to contact a booking agent.  DON’T DO THAT.    The more and more she told me about nope can’t do this, can’t book that, that train does not even exist despite the schedule being all over the internet, the more I wanted to scream.  I had booked things I could not cancel and my train tickets were supposed to be the easy part.  As a result of this huge mess, I am now going to be on a hard sleeper in a middle bunk for 24 hours to Tibet.  If I had contacted Helen sooner, I would have been able to change my plans.  But by waiting until it was time to book, it was too late.  It never occurred to me that the booking train tickets could be such a nightmare.

You must show an itinerary with booked hotels in your own name.  If you are traveling with someone and they have booked the hotels, you must get your name added to the reservation.  Contact the hotel or booking company to do this.

Once that is all done, you are ready to go!

I will be returning to China in May and this time I will be there for 43 days.  I am doing what I refer to as “deep planning” right now so I can make sure the flights I book are the flights I actually want and not based on a rough itinerary that I may later end up cursing myself for because it would have been way easier to fly to or from somewhere else.

One of the biggest pieces of advice is something that may be obvious, but just in case not: If you do not speak the language of where you are going to be (Hint!  There is more than one language spoken in China!  Do not assume it is going to be Mandarin!), take a bit of time and find out what language is spoken wherever you will be.  Then spend a bit more time Googling anything you may need to ask (“One bus ticket to (this place) please”) in that language.  It will be so much easier to hand someone a piece of paper with what you want written in their language, than to stand there trying to mime the name of a city you don’t even know how to pronounce.   Also hint: If you want to know how to pronounce something, Youtube may be able to help.

As it stands, I think I am only taking two or three long distance trains on my next trip.  I need to get my itinerary cemented ahead of time so I am ready to go at the sixty day time frame to book tickets.  I want a soft sleeper because I am old and I would hate for it to sell out while I was still Googling pretty China pictures, deciding on where I should go.  Because I want to go everywhere.  It truly is a beautiful country. If you think China is all smog and crowds, then you really need to do a lot more research to discover China exists beyond Beijing.  It really does!  See?

Tibet China Tibet China Tibet China

Tibet, China Tibet, China Tibet, China Tibet, China Tibet ChinaYamdrok Lake

Tibet, China

Day Trip from Xian to Mount Huashan, China

Mount Huashan is famous for some horrifying things, including the steps so steep you are basically hiking straight up (see here), and also for the plank walk which just NO NEVER.

cliffside-plank-path-mount-huashan4

The mountain is located just outside of Xi’an, China.  To get here, you can take a bus from the Xi’an train station.  The bus takes about three hours and costs  22 Yuan ($3.52 USD)  You can also opt for a high speed train that leaves from Xian North train station (not the same one the bus leaves from.)  It takes 35 minutes, for 55 Yuan ($8.79 USD.)  You can also take a regular train, but there is really no logic in that.

Going to Huashan from the Xian train station:  the buses are located all the way to the right of the train station if you are facing it. You cannot miss them, there are a bunch.  The the destination is written on the bus in English (read the destination as buses to the Terra Cotta Warriors also leave from here!)
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I traveled to Huashan on a high speed train and took the bus back.   Buses leave from Huashan back to Xian as they fill up. It took a while for us to have enough passengers to leave.   The bus was way too hot to sit on while we waited, so we lined up in the precious shady spot on a nearby curb.

My bus on the left, people sitting on the right:

hot bus back

When you get off the high speed train in Huashan, there are supposedly green buses to take you the rest of the way.   I got immediately latched onto by some taxi driver who kept shoving a map of the mountain in my face and I eventually got in his cab, fuming at myself the entire time because I know better.   Then he got out of the cab at the mountain to walk me up to the entrance.   The walk from the parking lot to the entrance is not long in a “Wow this is a really long walk!” way.  But it is VERY long when you have a cab driver inexplicably escorting you to the entrance.  The more I kept shouting “NO, YOU CAN LEAVE NOW” at him, while pointing at him to go back to his car and leave me alone, the more he kept shoving the map in my face.

I think, I am not sure, that he had planned to bring me up to the cable car.  This fit with several things, including him shoving the map in my face AND the woman he talked to about my tickets only selling me a ONE way bus ticket from the entrance to the cable car.  But I am not sure.  Either way, when you get to the mountain any which way you want to get there, there are a lot of people outside with official badges who will never let you pass unless you tell them what you want.  Then they bring you inside and tell the ticket agent what you want.  It is extremely frustrating and even if this is all legitimate and not a scam, you still feel like you are being scammed.

Once I was finally free, I took a bus to the West Peak cable car.  Or I took it somewhat near the West Peak cable car.  Once you get off the bus, you have to walk up a lot of steps to the actual cable car. I counted 504.   That is a lot of steps for us lazy people taking the cable car!

Mount Huashan climbing oneMount Huashan climbing twoalmost therebut wait theres moreThen finally, I am at the cable car!

Mount Huashan cable car
huashan cable car ride Mount Huashan cable car rideMount Huashan cable carMount Huashan cable carYou can see the steps below for people who chose to hike instead.

steps mount huashan steps mount huashan steps 2

Once you near the top, it looks like you are moving into the sun.  This hole in the mountain is the cable car stop.

Huashan flying into the sun

Whew, made it alive!

After exiting the cable car, it is still a walk up higher to the tea house.

huashan tea house up topOnce you are as far as you can go without committing to make it all the way to the tea house, you are here.  Note: second from the left is the walkway marker for the NO NEVER plank walk:

huashan markers

IMG_1214IMG_1215And of course, the final steps to the tea house:

tea house at topI really, really wanted to go to the tea house.  But as I stood there contemplating whether or not I would slip and die by sliding off the side of the mountain, I became more and more convinced that yes, this would be how I would die if I dared to walk up the steps.  So I did not.  I mean, LOOK AT IT.  Walking up seemed to be doable but walking down?   It is like you are just begging to slide and fall.  Also, let’s remember, I was still feeling a recent fall down the steps at Longsheng Rice Terraces.

Sigh.

Despite my being a scairdy cat, this was still a fantastic day.

Arrival in Xi’an China: The Day Nothing Went My Way

I flew to Xi’an from Guilin.   At the airport, I was doing a combination of trying to stop sweating and silently willing everyone who was staring at me to STOP STARING AT ME.

We had a meal served to us on the plane.  I could not identify it so I did not eat it.   As we were about halfway through our flight, there was an announcement that I had never heard in real life before:  “Is there a doctor on board?”   YIKES.   The very young looking woman in front of me stood up to help. If she is old enough to be a doctor, then I am old enough to live in a nursing home.  I don’t really know what was going on because other than the initial announcement, there was no English spoken regarding what was going on.

Arrival in Xi’an.  UGH.  I need to buy a lighter (yes, smoking is gross) and there is nothing open in the airport.  I go outside to take a cab to my hotel.  No cabs will let me get in.  There are about eleventy billion cabs outside.  Approximately five lanes worth of cabs, all going back way so far that I cannot see the end of the lanes.   Every cab I tried to get in told me “NO.”  What do you mean, NO?  I’ll show YOU no.

I basically just stood in the middle of traffic (all cabs mind you) screaming about how “I NEED A FREAKING CAB.  I AM FROM NEW YORK, YOU CAN’T GET AWAY WITH THIS” and “I WILL STAND HERE IN THE MIDDLE OF TRAFFIC FLAILING MY ARMS UNTIL ONE OF YOU LETS ME GET IN YOUR CAB.  LET ME SEE YOU STARE AT THAT, MOTHER FUCKERS!”

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It didn’t work.

I went and stood to the side and smoked a cigarette before trying again.  This time I scored a cab driver who let me in the cab.  It was so hot in the cab so I opened the window and ahhhhhhh, cool breeze!  The driver then instructs me to close the window.  I assume he is going to turn on the air conditioning.  I was wrong.  Hot.

The driver got completely lost looking for my hotel and never turned off the meter.  He ended up leaving me not really at my hotel at all, but pointing in the general direction.   He also did not give me change.   The cab cost $87 Yuan ($14.22 USD) and I gave him $100 Yuan ($16.35) and he drove off.  I don’t really care about two bucks.  It’s the principal.  I had a cab driver in Guilin chase me down to hand me 2 Yuan (32 cents).

Mind you, all of this is my own fault because I should have just taken public transportation.

i check into my hostel:  Ancient City International Youth Hostel.  I am booked in a private room.  I have a cute room which is a decent size for China.  Everyone who works at this hostel is incredibly nice and they all speak English.  The room actually has American outlets, you rule.  I also like the WHEN you get trapped” as opposed to “if.”
elevator

When I get into my room, I check my email.  There is an email from my bank regarding suspicious activity.  The email has a reference number, and they ask me to call them.  I get instantly furious.  I told my bank before I left that I was going to China.  My bank is forever contacting me for suspicious activity.   I know, I should be grateful they look out for me.  But being that I have dealt with this so many times, I know how long this phone call is going to take.  Not to mention, I TOLD YOU I WAS GOING TO CHINA.

So I call my bank.  FROM CHINA.  They ask for the reference number from the email, I give it to them.  Then there is a verifying that I am me part.  This is long because they ask you about ten questions.  Then there is the “Let’s go over your most recent charges” part.  I had to cut her off and yell about how much this phone call is costing me because I am calling from China, which is where I told you I was going to be, using my debit card.  She then tells me that she sees the travel alert but does not see anything about them contacting me.  Well you did.  You know, like when I first got on the phone with you, I gave you a reference number which is how you looked up my account to begin with.

Finally this conversation ends.

I walk around the corner to 7-11 and stock up on milk tea and I buy this, without any clue what it is, because THIS:

pigIt turns out he had custard inside.

I am so mentally exhausted.  Between the whole “no cab at the airport will take me” to “It is SO HOT INSIDE THIS CAB” to “let me argue with my bank” I am just done.   Even the cute little custard pig cannot cheer me up.  I fall asleep instantly.

Guilin, China: Fubo Hill

My last stop in Guilin is going to be Fubo Hill.   Making it here will be an accomplishment as I have tried a couple of times now and ended up lost.  By now I can kind of figure out how to walk here from my hotel, but I am not leaving from my hotel.  Nope, I am leaving from Yao Mountain.  Boy was this a production.

I want to take a cab to Fubo Hill from Yao Mountain.  There are lots of drivers in the parking lot, none of whom will pay attention to me when I approach them.  A couple walked away, one was sitting in his car and rolled up the window.   I find a group of cab drivers all together.  One keeps putting out a huge wad of cash and flashing hundreds at me to the point I wondered if maybe “taxi” or “Fubo Hill” sounded like “hooker” in Mandarin.

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Okay screw you guys, I will walk all the way out of here back to the main road and catch a bus.  This is a pretty long walk as I saw on the way up here.  But I have a hill to see and then a flight to catch, so off I go.

As I am walking down the hill, a cab stops for me.   He is yelling “FUBO HILL” at me and I am ignoring him.   I am pretty far down and I no longer need a cab since I am already gross and sweaty from the walk.  He keeps yelling at me, I keep ignoring him, pretending I am so engrossed in taking pictures of whatever this is (I have no idea what this is):
park outside yao“FUBO FORTY YUAN.  FUBO FORTY YUAN”

It becomes clear that he is never going to stop yelling at me until I get in the cab.  I get in the cab.

Fubo Hill!  I am finally here!   Hello General Fubo!

general fuboEntrance:
Fubo Hill entrance Guilin ChinaLook at the giant topiary peacock!

fubo hill peacockAnd Fubo Hill with the peacock’s head sticking out below:
Fubo HillI tried to go into the Thousand Buddha Cave and got shooed out.

golden statue

Back out on the other side, this is Sword Testing Rock where legend has it that General Fubo had used this rock to test his sword.

IMG_1053There are also carvings and statues:

fubo hill1 fubo hill statues fubo hill grottoAfter leaving here, it was time to go back to my hotel to collect my stuff and head to the airport.  To prove once and for all that after all the times I got lost looking for the bus to Fubo Hill this trip, I did actually know where I was, I walked back to my hotel.

 

 

 

Guilin, China: You Can Ride a Bobsled Down Yao Mountain!

Today is my last day in Guilin and I still have lots to do!   I do not want to leave this place at all.  It is so beautiful here.

Karst Guilin, China

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I am up and out with my luggage in storage and I head off to Yao Mountain.  I have to take the #3 bus here and I have a very good idea where it is.   Only problem?  I pick the wrong corner of an insanely busy intersection for which you need walk underground and through a little mall to cross the street in any direction. I do this and come out still at the wrong corner.  Third time?  WRONG CORNER.  I have zero directional skills.  I decide to get on any bus and just connect to the #3.

Sigh.  We never connect to the #3 (save for when the bus crossed the intersection and I felt too stupid to get off the bus 50 feet from where I got on.)

So I take a little sightseeing trip and when I feel as if I am okay to get off without my Chinese paparazzi figuring out I am lost, I do.  I am now going to go for a cab, which takes a while because there are none since I have ended up somewhere that is not along such a main road.  Yeargh, idiot.

Finally a cab comes and it is a good thing I have a map with everything written in both Chinese and English.  It is much easier to show someone where you are going, than to figure out how to mime “Yao Mountain.”

The cab cost me 23 Yuan ($3.75 USD) for what was a pretty long ride.   My cab driver walked me to the ticket booth.  I am not really sure why.  The cable car costs 95 Yuan ($15.52 USD.)

Yao Mountain is a place I have been dying to visit.  Not only can you take a swing chair up, you can BOB SLED DOWN.  That’s right, you heard me!  BOB SLED DOWN THE MOUNTAIN!!!

yao bob sledYao mountain bob sled track Guilin China

Unfortunately, my dreams were crushed when I found out that to bob sled down, you have to take the swing chair up, then walk halfway down to the bob sled platform.

bob sled platform I was still considering doing this, even though I am pressed for time.  But on the ride up, looking down at the steps, I was positive I would twist my ankle and die.  Bob sled dreams CRUSHED.

Here is the start of the stairs.  You know, underneath that rust colored debris.  Yes, THIS is what  you walk on to begin your descent to the bob sled.
Yao Mountain death trailIf you make it past that without slipping, you then have to make it down steps without a railing, covered in debris.  I hate myself for being such a fraidy cat.  If I had time, maybe I could have sat down and scooted down them.

stepsView from the swing chairs going up.  Note the beautiful karst in the background and bob sled track below:
Yao Shan Mountain cable car bob sled Guilin ChinaJust beautiful views all around.

gorgeous greens as far as the eye can see Guilin China Yao Mountain cable carview of guilin china from yao mountain View of Guilin from Yao Mountain cable car Yao Mountain swing chair high up Yao Mountain swing chairsWhen you get to the top, there is not really much up there.   Your picture is automatically taken as you exit the cable car and you can purchase it as a key chain if you would like.

If you have a loved one with you, I imagine that sitting here and gazing out over beautiful Guilin would be a very romantic moment though.  Even more so if they had positioned the chair so that the view was not blocked by a tree.

heart swing yao mountainAfter arriving back at the bottom, I found bottled iced milk COFFEE.  I have not seen iced coffee in so long.   I wanted to buy a case of it.   It was so delicious.

Up next: Taxi frustration into Fubo Hill.