So we last left off last month in my “Three Months Until Asia Extravaganza” post. In the past month, I have modified my itinerary and have decided to not leave China. The more research I did, the more I realized it was stupid to go through complicated routes just to leave a country that I will exit with things still not crossed off my bucket list for. I have not applied for my China visa yet, as it is still too early. I did manage to (I hope) cement my itinerary. The plan now is:
MACAU: The real reason I am flying to Hong Kong. I LOVE GAMBLING AND I LOVE LAS VEGAS. I want to see the Las Vegas of Asia. I decided to splurge and booked a five star hotel. This is not really in a typical backpacker’s budget. Despite not being a typical backpacker, it should still not really be in my budget either. I do not even care about staying in fancy hotels. In Las Vegas, I often give up comps in nice hotels to stay in crappy ones. I would much rather wake up in a crappy room next door to a 24 hour Starbucks and across the street from the nickel Double Double Bonus Supertimes Pay machines, than wake up in a fancy bed on the Strip. It’s all location. But for Macau, I am going to be more of a tourist than a gambler so why not just go for it? Plus LOOK AT IT. I love how the tower on the right sort of resembles the now demolished Sands of Las Vegas. One thing I was so looking forward to doing in Macau was seeing the House of Dancing Water show. It is the Cirque du Soleil show of Macau. I love Cirque shows. But unfortunately, it is dark when I am there. I guess that leaves more time for gambling!
ZHANGJIAJIE: The third stop of this trip was so hard to choose. I wanted to go everywhere. Every time I narrowed it down to one spot, something would happen for me to change my mind. I finally landed on Zhangjiajie. I will arrive here by overnight train – FINALLY – I get to live my dream of taking an overnight train. The hotel I booked has free pick up from the train station. So my first few steps on mainland China will hopefully be that much less of a clusterfuck. I will be going here: I will not be doing this: XI’AN: My second overnight train takes me here. While doing research for Xi’an, I had a temporary mental meltdown. I was Googling looking for maps of the city and everything was written in the Chinese alphabet. Well of course it is, I am going to China. Then it really hit me that I am going to CHINA and I cannot read Chinese symbols. I can’t speak any language other than English. Most people I encounter will not speak English. OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE? Then for a couple of minutes, I will admit, I wished for someone to travel with to make it easier. ME. The person who will stand triumphantly while speaking loudly about how every woman should stand proud and travel alone.
Fortunately, all it took was for me to flash back to the last time I traveled with anyone who was not me. We were in a crappy motel with a clogged sink, located outside the bathroom. As I was sitting on the bed texting, I just happened to look up and see my travel mate using MY TOOTHBRUSH to unclog the sink. She never said a word to me. If I had not seen it, I would have used my toothbrush without any clue. At the time I was too furious to say anything because I would have said too much.
But now, I am glad that happened. All it took was that memory to remind me that the luxury of turning to someone and saying “YOU ask him/her if he/she speaks English” is not worth having to travel with anyone ever again. Crisis averted!
In Xi’an, I will be seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors, obviously. I will also be traveling to Maijishan Mountain, after which maybe I will stop referring to it as “Magic Mountain” I hope to spend a day at Huashan mountain. I will be riding this: Instead of climbing this: Or this: While simultaneously never doing this: From here, I am flying to JIUZHAI-HUANGLONG. Why am I suddenly now hopping on a plane rather than taking yet another overnight train? Because I am going to HUANGLONG PARK. There are no trains that go to this area. I am so confused IF there is a bus to Huanglong Park, and if so, what time does it go back to Jiuzhaigou? Because oh yeah I am also going to JIUZHAI VALLEY NATIONAL PARK as well! So I discovered that if you fly to Jiuzhai-Huanglong Airport, there are shuttle buses that go from the airport to Jiuzhaigou, stopping for a few hours at Huanglong Park. How easy is that? I get to see THIS: I found that gorgeous creature by playing on atlasobscura.com. I cannot get enough of this website. It’s like spinning the globe and blindly pointing. Then I will sleep in Jiuzhaigou and see Jiuzhai Valley National Park. It is not going to look like this when I am there because this is what it looks like in the Fall. But still, let’s pay some homage to such a beautiful place! CHENGDU: I will be taking a bus here from Jiuzhaigou. This particular route has a lot of doom attached to it. Back in 2008, there was an earthquake that rendered the expressway impassable. The route was then moved to a lesser traveled road that the internet tells me is a very rough ride. I am not sure at all if the expressway is reopened. I am having a hard time finding current information. The internet does tell me though, that I will be passing remains of the earthquake. The ride can take anywhere between eight and twelve hours. So I am budgeting for twelve and hoping for the best.
In Chengdu, I will be seeing the Leshan Buddha – LOOK AT HOW BIG HIS TOES ARE COMPARED TO THE PEOPLE: AND OBVIOUSLY I am going to the Giant Panda Research Breeding Base! I am also hoping for time to go to Mount Emei. I may consider just staying near there / Leshan because that seems to be easier than commuting to both separately from Chengdu. From Chengdu, I will be taking a 46 hour train ride to LHASA. This is the dream. It is the highest railway in the world and it has been on my bucket list since the day I started it.
TIBET: All of the places I am going are exciting. If they weren’t, I would not be going. But Tibet is more than just a “I want to” type of place. It is a life changing place. I am going to see MOUNT EVEREST with my own two eyes. Although I can now say with absolute certainty that doing so is actually a lot easier than I had imagined, I do not think most people realize this. Therefore most people do not do this in their lives. I will not be one of those people.
Due to it being illegal to travel solo in Tibet, I will be joining a tour group. Between Lhasa and Mount Everest Base Camp, I will see other incredible places. I will also be sleeping in a yak hair tent. You know, because that is how you get to wake up HERE: Sometimes, I cannot believe my life is real. Sigh.
SHANGHAI: The next and last stop of my trip. I still do not like big metropolis cities, but I do want to see Shanghai. I had originally treated myself to an apartment here. My main thought was that it would be wonderful to have a washer and dryer in my apartment and go home with all clean clothes. Then I had this conversation. With myself.
Me: This trip is adding up. Maybe you should rethink the Shanghai apartment
Me: But WASHING MACHINE
Me: But doing laundry when you get home costs $2.75. Are you really willing to pay more than a hundred times that to do laundry in Shanghai?
Me: GOING HOME WITH CLEAN CLOTHES
Me: BUT AT A HUNDRED TIMES THE COST
Me: Are you really going to want to go to the laundromat when you get home?
Me: Well, no
Me: So apartment it is?
Me: Okay. WAIT NO WAIT. It is stupid to pay that much just so you can do laundry. Besides, when you get home, you have to go outside anyway. You will have no food in your apartment. Why not put your clothes in the washing machine, go get food and when you are done, so is your laundry!
Me: Um, did you forget we live in Brooklyn? We have the world’s best coffee shop that delivers ICED COFFEE.
Me: Okay. Hmm. Maybe we should…wait NO. We are not paying a hundred times more than the cost of laundry, just to do laundry.
Me: But CLEAN CLOTHES
Me: But FUCK YOU, NO.
Me: FINE. YOU WIN. Let’s cancel the reservation and stay at a cheaper place. Are you happy?
Me: Good, at least one of us is
In the end, the room I ended up reserving is in a hostel that just so happens to have a public washer and dryer. It also has two floors and a balcony. And it is only $170 for three nights. This may not sound like a bargain, but compared to the apartment I had originally reserved, it sure is.
I have not been able to book anything other than hotels. I do not want to book any flights until I have my visa. As far as trains, you actually cannot book trains until 20 days in advance. That is a whole other complication that I guess I will talk about for a little bit.
Buying train tickets for China: They go on sale 20 days in advance. I will not be in China 20 days in advance of my first two train trips. You cannot buy tickets outside of China. You have to get an agency to book for you. Or else you may find all the beds are sold out and then you will sit on a hard seat for an overnight train. Honestly, I personally know I could handle this. On a normal train. But not on a train in China.
From everything I have read, I expect the seating area to be pure hell. There will be people sleeping on the floor in the aisles, there will be fights to use the toilet, the toilet will be disgusting. Once you get up, someone may steal your seat. I have also read several blogs where the author had their picture taken while sleeping. I am considering a ski mask. I mean come on now.
So I need to be in a cabin away from the masses. I am just hoping that the people sharing my cabin do not have a baby wearing split pants. I won’t make it out alive. Or I will be the only one who makes it out alive. It could go either way really.
That concludes this version of my itinerary.
Places that almost made the cut:
Datong with a 24 hour layover in Beijing. When I went to actually book it, I discovered that Datong is best done by renting a cab for the day. The cost of this is really not known. I found a bunch of blogs that were several years old where it cost around $100 a day for this. I contacted the CITS office, they quoted me $270 for a car for the day. So now I would be paying airfare AND maybe $270 for a car? Maybe not. I am an obsessed maniac when planning trips and this was too expensive of a mystery for me to be comfortable with. So Zhangjiajie took its place.
Kunming / Yunnan Stone Forest: This was actually probably the third place I had picked to see on this trip, right behind Hong Kong and Shanghai. It fell victim to being old news to me once I started researching and found all these exciting new (to me) places to go to. I am sorry Kunming. I didn’t mean to neglect you.
Guilin: Oh man did I want to go here! It looks incredible. Plus I could cross “see a rice terrace” off my bucket list. But this seemed a tiny bit complicated to get to the rice terraces. I am sure I could have done it, it was really only something like “take a bus to another bus and stand on the road because there is no bus stop” But honestly, I just got tired reading it. Which sucks because right now I am wide awake and considering going back and rearranging my itinerary.
Me: NO DON’T YOU DARE!
Me: BUT GUILIN
Me: BUT NO
Up next: I will apply for my visa. Once it is approved, I then go nutso with my plans for each place I am visiting. I will book my Tibet tour (I already have it all picked out, I just need my visa approved before China finds out I am applying for a Tibet permit) Then I can also start with booking trains. It is still too early to book, but I can contact ticket agencies now and get that set up. I will also start budgeting down to the penny because I am a maniac who actually enjoys budget planning.
I will also be taking a camera class! I purchased a Canon EOS Rebel T3. I do not know what any of that means. It hasn’t even shown up yet and to be perfectly honest, I already regret buying it. I am not only bad at technology, I am jixed with it. For example, my laptop stopped working a month after I bought it. My laptop type thingy (which I think may be a netbook?) is forever frozen. My real PC – ugh. I haven’t even been able to talk about this because I have been too busy bottling it inside. I recently did a disc cleanup on here. I checked the box “compress this drive to save disc space” It ran for TWENTY FOUR HOURS and now that it is done, I no longer have an option for 256 colors on my monitor. Everything is all big and fuzzy and so ugly and I cannot look at it without my eyes spazzzing out.
So there’s that.
Join me next time for what I hope will be my announcement that I have a China visa in hand!