Tag Archives: china

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:
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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)

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.

(YOU GUYS! LOOK AT LARUNG GAR!)

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!

No.

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 guy 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.

Dali, China: Beautiful Scenery, Dead Butterflies and I Get Lost and Hitchhike

I woke up in Kunming this morning and had a fight with my VPN for way too long to actually admit to, so let’s just say it was a long time.

Took my hotel’s airport shuttle to the airport and checked into my flight to Dali.  The flight was a short 57 minutes but I screwed up everything about it.   I thought it was leaving at 9:35, but that was the time it was arriving.  I also at some point thought we were leaving an hour late because it was 8:30, but that is the time my flight was supposed to leave (and I thought it was 9:35 so wouldn’t 8:30 be an hour early and not late?)  Yeah.

We land in Dali and I am picked up by a prearranged driver for my hostel.  This is a luxury I love affording myself because it sure beats figuring out where I have to go.  Which as you read on, you will see why it is probably best I am not left to fend for myself.

I checked into my room at the Dragonfly Guesthouse.  There are so many places to stay in Dali, all with amazing reviews.  How do you choose?  Easy.  Pick the one with the Gilmore Girls related name. Easy, peasy.  Lorelai would be proud.

dragonfly

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I guess I should also show you my journal for this trip.  Isn’t it beautiful?

InstagramCapture_5fd076c3-91a1-435b-add0-5d1a84f79d58[1]
Now back to Dali.

Today’s plan was to go to Butterfly Spring and Er Hai Lake.  Both of these things are near each other.  Actually Er Hai lake is near everything, it is so HUGE.  But I wanted to visit up top and Dali is at the bottom.  My hostel was super helpful with telling me how to get there.  What they did not account for was me being an idiot.

I got totally lost looking for the bus I needed to take.  Dali is small.  OH YEAH AND – Dali is known as the begninng of the banana pancake trail, which means it is a regular stopover for backpackers.  So it should have lots of English, but does not.  It is also supposed to be a lovely place to get lost in. Maybe it would be if I had gotten lost on an interesting street, rather than in what appeared to be military housing.  I am not kidding.

Unlike most of China, no one is yelling “HELLO” at me and I cannot find anyone who speaks English.  Finally I find where I need to be.  Or so I thought. But once I am there, I don’t see the bus I need.  Every person I show the Chinese writing my hostel wrote out for me, doesn’t seem to know anything other than a random direction to point.  I don’t know how the hell I ever found this bus.  It was down some street and up some road and honestly, I was really just following the dude in the pink shirt that said “U WILL NEVER WALK ALONE’ because he had a guitar and leather boots in 80 degree weather.   At this point, I figured he would lead me to a more interesting place than Butterfly Spring.  But I found the bus!  And I went.

When you walk into Butterfly Spring, there is a whole park in front of you and an exit to the left.  When you walk towards the exit, you walk through a basic outdoor shopping mall of so much flea market type crap, hello typical China.  But the thing is, I did not realize this was the exit until I walked through all of it.  Up and down aisles, looking for the lake.  In and out and around and then back to the entrance where now of course, I see the exit sign.  Sigh.

I made my way up to the lake.  I caught a live show going on.

butterfly spring dali chinaHere is a walkway of wishes:

wishI went to “Butterfly World’ which is where all the butterflies live. When you walk in, there are tons of glass mounted dead butterflies and some freshly dead ones on the walking path.  If you know anyone who loves butterflies, do not take them here.

My very first photo using my wide angle lens:
butterfly spring lake dali china

Now the true clusterfuck begins.  Er Hai lake.  Okay this is my fault. Because I kept trying to say “lake” and no one knew what I was talking about.   I should have been saying “Er Hai.”

Pointing on a map got me nothing, which was really just COME ON NOW because this lake is so huge.  But I think the problem was that I kept pointing to a specific spot on the map while saying “lake” and no one would drive me.  Except for one taxi driver.  Who drove me to somewhere, with a ticket booth, that was not the lake.  He then took off and left me there.  I don’t even know what this ticket booth was for.  I kept saying “lake” and the response I got was “no English.”

So I began walking for about half an hour before asking someone “Er Hai?”   From what I could gather, the lake was nowhere near where I was and no one would tell me where it was.  Everyone kept saying “taxi” which would have been fine at this point except that these were really tiny streets and the “taxi” was actually a horse carriage. And being China, the carriage was actually a flimsy metal cage.  Mother fucker.

I am opposed to horse drawn things.  It is okay if you want to do this, but I do not.  But I did not have a choice at this point.  I am in the middle of nowhere, getting eaten alive by flies, with no way to get where I am going and no way to get back to where I came from. So horse cage it is.  This was brutal.  I was in that thing for at least 45 minutes until we finally saw the lake.  I jump out and try and pay the guy.  He does not understand that I am getting out and staying out.  He thinks that we are stopping for photos.  I cannot pay him because I don’t know how much to pay him, because he doesn’t understand me.  Finally some girl comes out of nowhere and translates.  Then she asked me how I am getting back to Dali and saying “I don’t know, can you help me” would have worked better than what I actually said, which was “I don’t fucking care, I am not getting back in that thing.”

I would venture a guess that maybe after half an hour of walking, I find some guy on a bicycle who is very concerned when I tell him I need to get back to Dali.  He names a town that is nearby but tells me that it will take me at least an hour, if not longer, to walk there.  I don’t have a choice so I am kind of okay with this.  But not really. I have no water, I am burning, I am starving and I am sweating.  The entire time I am walking, all I can think of is that poor horse and how I deserve to live though this for making him live through that.

I keep going.  It gets hotter, I get sweatier and more dehydrated.  I don’t know how much further this town is, or what is going to happen when I get there.  Do they have taxis?  Will I find anyone who understands the word “bus”?

I then start doing the opposite of what a 40-something should do in this situation and I begin telling myself that I need to quit my job and travel full time.  Stay with me here:  The reason I am busting my ass to get back to Dali is that I need to get up tomorrow and go see Cangshan Mountain.  If I did not have a job, I could stay here an extra day.  Then I could be free right now, take this walk leisurely, soak in the sights and whenever I found a town, I could figure out my options.  Or fucking hell, I could fucking walk all the way back to Dali and sleep all day tomorrow and then go to Cangshan the day after.

But I do have a job, which means my time is limited.  So I have to plan my trips rather than just go about it day by day.  And since this trip is planned, I have to go to Cangshan Mountain tomorrow because I have to leave Dali the day after, to stick to my “I am too much of a pussy to quit my job” schedule.

As I am getting madder at me, I decide that fuck it, let’s start hitch hiking.  AND IT WORKED.   A tuk tuk driver pulls over with a full tuk tuk.  I try to wave him off because the back is overflowing with Chinese girls and they all move to sit on each other’s laps to make room for me.  Oh China, I love you so much.

He drives me to the Dali bus.  This was such a long drive.  I never, in a million years, would have found that bus.

Then it is back to Dali where I do not technically get lost, but I have to keep stopping for directions to make sure I am walking the correct way and I can find no one who speaks English.  But luckily for me, my room key has directions on the back so I just hand people that and they point me in the direction I need to go.

My Fitbit registered seven miles today.  About 6.5 of those were me being lost.  Sigh.

I got back to my hotel and typed this up while sitting on the roof, with this as my view.

Dragonfly roof

Life is the coolest thing ever.

OH AND:  Er Hai Lake erhai lake dali erhai lake dali china er hai lake dali

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And the area I was lost in.  Not too shabby, eh?

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Stopover in Xining, China and Getting Knocked Down a Stairway. Oh China.

I took my first overnight train from Xi’an to Xining.  It was not as bad as I thought it would be.  I was fortunate to have a bottom bed in a soft sleeper car.  My cabin-mates were nice, did not try to speak to me, but did try to give me cookies.  It appeared they were all together.  The (one I assumed was the) father had the bottom bunk opposite me.  He coughed nonstop all night which kept waking me up.  But other than that, not bad at all.

I make it out of the train station. I attempt to walk down the steps.  There is a ramp on the right side of the steps, intending for you to roll your luggage down it as  you walk down the steps.  I could not figure out how to use it.  Neither could the woman in front of me.  Unlike me though, she kept trying.  This was holding up everyone.  Except that this is China so by “holding up everyone” I mean “making everyone smash into me to get me to go, but I couldn’t because she wasn’t.”  Next thing I know, I am pushed really hard, I still don’t want to knock the woman in front of me down, so I try to steady myself and end up falling backwards.  No one stops, they all keep continuing down the steps.  Sigh.

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It is only 8:00 am and I have planned to store my luggage, pick up my train ticket for tomorrow and go to the Ta’er Monastery.  To get here, you need to take a local bus from the train station, to a shuttle bus to the monastery.  Well I am outside and I do not see an actual station. Before I could even get my bearings, I am immediately bum rushed by a bunch of taxi drivers offering me rides. I say “no” about fifty times, this does not stop them from being in my face.  It is very difficult to deal with this.   I had a full wall of men in front of me yelling “TAXI” in my face.  So many, I could not see past them.  I cannot look to the right because when I try to, they all follow my head and stand and block me this way.  I look to the left, same thing.  It is overwhelming and makes it impossible to actually SEE ANYTHING or to get  your bearings.

One of them tells me that I am at the West train station and that I cannot get to my hotel cheaply from here, no buses go near there, etc.  I consider what he is saying and once again, second guess myself and once again, fall victim to someone taking advantage of me because I am a foreigner.  I consider that maybe those “bus to the shuttle” directions are from the wrong train station and I am screwed.  FINE.  I take a car to my hostel.  It was $50 yuan = $8.10 USD.

As we are driving forever, I think maybe I was too harsh and maybe the guy was not ripping me off.  This was indeed a long drive and the ride was pretty cheap.

Then we get to my hostel and there are buses EVERYHWHERE so I now know he lied to me.  Bonus:  taking a cab back cost me $25 Yuan – half the price.  I keep trying to console myself with “it is not a big deal, it’s only $8.10” but I have been doing that way too much on this trip and I vow to be a victim no more.

I stayed at Qinghai Heng Yu International Youth Hostel.  Booked via Agoda, it cost me $31.79 for a private room.  I was able to check in even though it was only 9:00 am.   I don’ t know if they wanted to, but they did not speak English at all and I don’t speak (I am not even sure what language is spoken in Xining – Mandarin or Tibetan?) so after looking a bit perplexed by my arrival, they gave me a room key.

I was so excited when I saw the courtyard:

courtyard of Quinghai Heng Yu International Youth Hostel in Xining China

WOW!  What a beautiful hang out area.  This place rules!

Then I get to my room.   It was bi-polar.  Enormous television, my own private water cooler.  But the room was gross and very stained.  The bathroom had that awful smell as if seven elephants were allowed to poop under the drain in floor.   The bed was just a box spring with a mattress pad.  But who cares?  I am in China!

Quinghai-Heng-Yu-International-Youth-Hostel-in-Xining-China

My hotel offers tours to see golden rape flowers.  I originally thought this was horribly translated English but it turns out that Canola flowers are called “rape flowers’ in China.   I am not sure why I think this makes it not horribly translated English.  Hmm.

rape flowers
My plans were to shower, take a nap and go see Xining.  That did not quite work out. Showering I thought was going to be a real treat since there was an actual shower curtain and for once, I would not soak the entire bathroom when taking a shower.   But the bar for the curtain curved up many inches so the curtain would not stay closed, because it couldn’t, because gravity kept pulling it down into a wad in the center of the bar.

Nap time.  I set my alarm and it went off for an hour and a half before I actually woke up.

I went out to get some food and discovered that there is no place at all near my hotel with cold drinks.  Everything is sold on the counter, warm.  Even milk tea and milk coffee.  This is weird.

I spot an ATM and make what I hope is my last withdrawl and then ended up really hoping it was not my last one since I forgot to get a receipt.  You need the ATM receipt to show when you change your Yuan back into USD before leaving China.  So hopefully I end up spending it all organically and don’t find myeself shopping in an overpriced (for China, underpriced for United States) airport just to get rid of it.

I get back to my room with some bread and warm drinks.  Then I decide I don’t want to go out and see Xining. I really wanted to go to the Ta’er Monastery and it is now too late. The rest of the things to see here were just things I was going to see since I was already here.  So I spent the late afternoon sorting pictures as much as I could with my netbook constantly malfunctioning.  I tried to download some podcasts to listen to on my 24 hour train ride tomorrow, fail all over the place.  All three USB ports do not register anything inserted to them any longer, this is new.  They all worked yesterday.  I have never in my life owned any electronic item that did not malfunction.  I am clearly cursed.

It is also worth noting that every time I tried to leave my room, it took me about ten minutes to get the door unlocked.  Same with getting back into my room.  They key was an actual metal key and kept turning but the lock would stay locked.  It got to the point that when I would go between my room and the courtyard, I would just leave it unlocked.

Outside my room is a swing that people like to sit on.  It squeaks so bad and it is a few inches from my window.  Of course it is.  I finally went out to glare at the couple who had been swinging on it for a good half hour and that actually worked.  They got up and went inside.  I was again woken up by it at 6:30 am.

Check out is at 11:00, my train is at 3:00.  I wanted to hang out in the pretty courtyard and use the internet but the whole “You don’t speak English and I only speak English” thing got in the way of me asking if this was okay, so off to the train I go!

I got to the train station no problem, thanks to having my destination printed out in (again, I have no idea what language.  The nice lady who was my train ticket broker sent me the print out to hand to a cab driver.)

From there, my story continues here.  Read all about my mental meltdown while surrounded by stunning scenery, aboard the train to Lhasa.

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.