Tag Archives: solo female trip to 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:

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


Cost of Traveling in China: Dali, China

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

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

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

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


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


dali cost

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

Ways this could have been cheaper:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

three pagodas dali china reflecting

Dali, China: The Gorgeous Three Pagodas of the Congsheng Temple Grounds

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you may have seen me post that once upon a time, I saw a photo of Dali’s Three Pagodas and immediately thought “I need to go there.”  So I did.

This is one of the many things I love about travel.  That as you go further and further, you realize how attainable things are.  You can be a person who looks at a picture in a magazine and thinks “Oh how pretty” before turning the page and running for your car keys when you see an ad announcing that your preferred brand of kitty litter is on sale, or you can be the person who does not turn the page and instead brings the magazine to her laptop and begins Googling to figure out the logistics of getting there.  I will always be the latter.  How could I not be when this exists:

Dali three pagodas Conghsheng Temple China

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The pagodas were built during the Tang Dynasty and are part of Chongsheng Temple complex.  It is a very large area featuring beauty all over the place.

congsheng temple gardenview of er hai lake from congsheng temple complexcongsheng temple ground tree with hearts

Here is Chongsheng temple:

Congsheng Temple Dali China

What could be more beautiful?  How about THIS picture of the pagodas from the other side with the Cangshan Mountains in the background?

three pagodas dali cangshan mountains

Or how about THIS view with the pagodas reflecting in a lake?

three pagodas dali china reflecting

Do you see what I mean here?  Totally worth traveling to Dali for.

You used to be able to enter the main pagoda and climb up, but the ladder is now broken so the best you can do is gaze lovingly from the ground.  Trust me, there could not possibly be a better view from inside, because if you are inside, you cannot see the pagodas.

The entry fee of 121 RMB ($19.51 USD) is a bit steep by China standards. To give you a comparison, those beautiful mountains in the background?  Those are Cangshan mountains. The entry fee is 40 RMB ($6.45 USD) and a cable car up will cost you an additional 50 RMB ($8.06 USD).  So for 90 RMB ($14.51), you get to take a cable car ride and explore a mountain.  You can also just pay the entry fee and hike up if you wish to do so, making it one third the cost of seeing the pagodas.

Personally for me, seeing the pagodas was worth the high cost.  I have day dreamed about seeing them in person.  Today may be the longest time I have ever sat and just stared at something.  I could not believe I was seeing this or that it looked just as beautiful in person as it did in a guide book.   Dali was kind enough to give me such a beautiful sky as a background.

underneath large pagoda dali three pagodas

smaller leaning pagoda three pagodas dali china

smaller pagoda three pagodas dali china

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.


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

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


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


31 Hours from My Apartment to Kunming Via Kong Kong: Then Not Finding an ATM That Takes My Debit Card.

After taking an hour long subway ride (that includes taking three trains to avoid having to carry my bags up several flights of steps,) I missed my airport train by about two seconds.  I wait half an hour for the next one, and then finally arrive at the airport.  Of course I was excited to see my flight was delayed.  Oh wait, no I wasn’t.  Sigh.

I was a combination of exhausted and hyper and I didn’t even realize I was making some sort of scene by stamping my feet singing outloud and talking to my cute little stuffed dog.  Then an airport employee came over to ask me if I was okay and then I realized I looked like a crack head.

My first flight was seventeen hours.  I always read about how Cathay Pacific is a great airline so I was excited to be flying them.  They do not have individual air vents at your seats, or at least they did not on this flight.  I did not like that.  They also didn’t do regular beverage service on this flight.  I am not sure if it was because it was an overnight flight or if that is normal.  Yes, you can hit the call button and someone will come, but I felt weird after eight hours of nothing, asking for a snack.  I don’t even know what kind of snacks they had.  It was weird.

My row only had two seats.  I was in the window and my seat mate had a seat’s worth of empty space next to her, until some woman decided to start jogging in place in it. I could not stop laughing.  I understand the reasoning for the jogging in place on a plane.  I do not understand why you would  think it was okay to do so, so close to another person.

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Descent into Hong Kong:
plane landing in Hong Kong

I need to start bringing a phone charger with me.  Oh and a toothbrush.  I would have loved to have brushed my teeth at the airport.  Or killed time on my phone. But the battery was dead, so I could not take a picture of the guy who was using plastic bags as socks, underneath his sneakers.

I wanted to go to Ngong Ping during my layover to see the Tian Tan Buddha when his head is not completely enveloped in a rain storm like last year, but wouldn’t ya know it.  It is storming outside again today. I am sorry Tian Tan Buddha, I am trying here.

Killed the 4.5 hour layover by walking around the airport and using every free internet terminal they have.  My Fitbit told me I walked seven miles in the airport!  Then it was time to fly to Kunming.

Although this flight is only two hours, I just about lost my mind on it.  I handled the seventeen hour flight with grace, I handled this one by having a mental meltdown and GET ME OFF THIS FREAKING PLANE ALREADY.

Descent into Kunming.  Look at that blue sky.

Blue sky plane

I am staying at a hotel that is meant for people with a long overnight layover between flights. I had the idea that I could make my way back to the airport to catch the subway to get to the East Bus Station to go to the Stone Forest tomorrow.  I ask a woman at the information desk to call my hotel for me to let them know I am here. She does and I ask where the ATM is.  She points me and it will not give me money.  It keeps asking me to enter the correct pin.  Um, I am?  I give up because it clearly hates me.  I try another card, nothing.  I try an actual credit card, nothing.

It is amusing to me that before I traveled, it took me so long to finally go overseas alone because I was scared of exactly this: not being able to get cash out of an ATM and having no one back home to call for help.  Now that it appears this is happening, I really don’t care.  I know that I was able to get cash last year, I am sure this is just a dick ATM machine.

When the shuttle driver comes, I follow him.  One thing I have noticed about China is that no one will help you with your bags.  This is fine because drivers also do not accept tips so it evens out.

I know from reading  hotel reviews that mine is very close to the airport, under a ten minute drive. So obviously five minutes in, my driver’s friend gets a text and they  have to go back to the airport to pick up more people.  So many more people.  When we get to the hotel, they all get out before me and now the line to check in is very long.

I tried to pay with a credit card but they do not take them, which is fine, I knew this.  The woman walks me outside to an ATM…that will not take my card.  I don’t know what to do.  I go back and SUPER NICE – the woman asks me what I am doing tomorrow.  Stone Forest. She gets excited and tells me that they will drive me back to the airport tomorrow so I can get cash.  Then I can go to the Stone Forest and come back at night and pay.  So we are basically operating on the honor system here that I am going to pay for my room.  Can you imagine trying this in America?  HAH.

I had some RMB leftover from last year’s trip, thankfully.  I offered to pay for one night.  The super nice woman pointed to where there was a store and offered that I want to order food, to be delivered to come downstairs and they will call for me.  Also notable:  She apologized to me for not speaking English too well.  Um, I am the idiot who flew here without speaking Chinese.  The last thing on Earth you owe me is an apology.

I head out and basically run to the store to get some iced milk tea. I got so addicted to this last year and the only place I have seen it in NYC was in the hand of a guy on the subway and rather than asking him where he got it, I opted to drool instead.

milk tea

I went to my room and went online to ask my friend Google where I could find an ATM in the airport that works.  This is when I find out my VPN is not working.  Oh not today VPN. I had to reinstall it and whew, works.  Google tells me that Kunming is a major airport and all ATM’s should take foreign cards.  BUT IT WON’T.  I find a message board where someone tells the tale of how China ATM’s have six digit pins and if you put in two zeros before your pin, it should work.  Although I did not have this problem last year, I am willing to try the zeros thing this year.

This morning I got up and took the free shuttle to the airport.  The driver did not speak English, I do not speak Chinese.  She tried to ask me something, it did not work. Someone else in the car used her phone translator and I figured out she was asking what terminal.  I don’t care, I just need cash.  So I just said 1 because it was easier than trying to translate that.

Back at an ATM that actually accepts my card with the double zeros but will not give me cash.  The only options if offers is a transfer.  I don’t really know what that means, is in bad English for withdrawal?  I don’t want to take the chance.  So again, I am in China walking all over the airport trying ATM’s that will not take my card.  I start getting paranoid because Google told me last night that if you try too many times, your bank may lock your card.  Then I spot an ATM that I know is going to work.  I just know it.  AND IT DID.  AND I HAVE CASH.  I blew kisses at it and waved it goodbye as I left.

I go back outside and know that there is no way in hell I am going to the Stone Forest now.  I am so mentally drained from walking all over the airport and the idea of getting to the Stone Forest at around noon and walking with dense crowds that I would have missed had I been able to go early like I wanted, sounded more like the opposite of what I wanted to do today.

I am sure I could have called my hotel to come pick me up for free but i just wanted to get away from the airport right now.   I took a cab back to my hotel, fully knowing I would be ripped off.   And I was.  He charged me 100 RMB = $16.  In the US, this would have been a $20-25 cab ride.  So on the one hand, not so bad.  But to consider that my hotel is only 156 RMB and comes with free round trip airport transport AND A ROOM, then know I was ripped off.  Also the driver tried to drop me at many different places that were not my hotel.  Luckily, I had already done the drive and knew where my hotel was.  I don’t necessarily think he was deliberately trying to take me to the wrong place.  We were on the correct street.  But still.

At my hotel, the nice woman who speaks broken English was not there.  So it took a bit to explain to a new person that I am checked in, no I am not going to the airport today, I am going tomorrow, etc.  But I got my key renewed and I am right now in my room, drinking iced milk tea and preparing for a nap.

This means my trip actually starts tomorrow.  Even though I did not make my way to the Stone Forest, I am happy that I had plans to do that or else I would have been leaving Kunming today.  I am so glad I didn’t have to deal with the cash thing on a day where I had to catch a bus or plane or train.

Booking a Trip to China? Here Are Some Helpful Hints

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 book 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 needs help in booking a trip 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 simply applied for a single entry visa, good for 30 days.  What they ended up giving me was a multiple entry visa, valid for a year, each entry up to 60 days. Who knows how this works.  All I know if that I can re-enter China as many times as I want until April 2015.

[China just started granting ten year visas to United States citizens.  I would not assume you are guaranteed a ten year visa if you apply.  Do not assume anything when it comes to China actually.]

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 mock you.  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.

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!

China is enormous.  You may want to book domestic flights to get around.   You need to book domestic flights through a Chinese booking agent because you just cannot get a Chinese airline to accept American credit cards.  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.  Paypal goes through, unlike credit cards.

Booking train tickets in advance from the United States is a whole other hassle.  You cannot book online.  You can wait until you are there and book in person, but that runs the risk of your train being sold out.

Also, 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.  But a ticket agent would, use one.

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.  This was extremely helpful in Xi’an, which has two train stations.  Even if I were able to mime “train station” without her helpful print outs, who knows if I would have ended up at the right one.

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.

I will be returning to China in May and this time booking everything is going so much smoother because I know what not to waste my time with.  I know what I cannot do (book China domestic airlines for one) and I am not feeling the frustration of hitting so many walls.

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.

China truly is a beautiful country and is worth anything you have to go through to get there. 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 Yamdrok Lake

Tibet, China

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):

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.

Guilin, China: Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces Day!

I am up early for my trip to the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces  in Longsheng County, China.  This is such a huge wish list item for me and I just cannot believe I am finally going to visit a rice terrace!

I booked the trip through my hostel in Guilin.  It cost me 220 RMB ($35 USD) for the tour.  This is considered a very expensive tourist attraction for China.  I still think it was a bargain.

I had to meet my bus outside.  While waiting, I met a guy who was staying in my hostel, who was also making the trip.  Typical me felt like an asshole for not wanting to make a new friend.

I know there are a lot of shy people out there who find making conversation with strangers very painful.  See, the thing about me is that I am not shy.  At all.  I just honestly prefer my own company.  I don’t think talking to strangers is scary, I think it is exhausting.  I have had so many people come in and out of my life that I am just honestly happier when I am all by myself.  It is easier.

Fortunately, my new almost-friend did not sit next to me on the bus.  I felt relief and again, felt like an asshole.

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The bus was hot and the vents were blowing hot air.  Then we came upon a traffic accident and got stuck for over an hour in traffic.  Get on the bus, burning.  Get off the bus, pouring rain.

While I was alternating between the discomfort of pouring rain and bigger discomfort of burning bus, I noticed a couple wearing the same outfit.   While this was the first time I saw this in China, it was not the last.   It seems this is the “in” thing to do.  Boyfriends and girlfriends wearing the same outfit, usually a t-shirt with some cutesy character on it.  I saw everything from Minnie Mouse to Sponge Bob Squarepants and tons of characters I did not recognize.

When we got to Longsheng, we had to transfer from our bus to another bus that was suited to drive up narrow and windy roads.  Then we got to the rice terraces and ate lunch at the rice terraces restaurant, which is for sure a kickback type of thing for the tour company.  We were also presented with the opportunity to buy perfume on the way home, same deal.

The restaurant was pretty cheap and it was really good.   There was such an adorable puppy wandering around.  I wanted to steal him.

My friend from the hostel asked if he could sit with me.   He is from the States and has been working in Shanghai.  He had five weeks left in China between the end of his job and returning home so off he goes to see the country.

At the rice terraces, you have options.  You can walk up and down, or take a cable car.  You can also mix and match and take a cable car one way and walk the other.  The cable car cost is in addition to the tour that I paid for at my hotel.  We all made our choices (mine was to take a cable car up and then walk down) and paid the driver’s assistant on the bus.  A one way cable car ride was 70 RMB ($11.41 USD.)

We shared the cable car ride.   Again, introverted me kind of wanted to be alone.  Oh woe is me, some nice guy is trying to be friendly with me.  Wah.  Yes, I know.

The cable car reeked of cat but at least it was open.

Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, Longsheng China cable cars

The rice terraces, WOW.  I have wanted to see one for so long.  It is astounding how beautiful they are.  The idea that this is all man made is crazy.

Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, Longsheng China with town belowDragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, Longsheng China close upDragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, Longsheng ChinaDragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, Longsheng Chinadragons backbone rice terracesDragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, Longsheng China

As if that wasn’t enough, I also got to see an adorable mother and puppy:

longsheng mother and puppy

Since it had been raining, everything is wet and slippery.  Add to that my gripping fear that I am going to fall and twist my ankle on these horrible steps.  They kept alternating in both size and steepness.

steps of death Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, Longsheng China

slippery walkway Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, Longsheng China

I decided to get a head start walking down.   It was really bad in some spots and then it happened – I actually fell and slid down a few steps.  Of course, by this time some people had caught up to me and saw it.  I wasn’t really embarrassed but it turned into this whole thing with Chinese people who do not speak English, trying to show me how to walk down the stairs.  Meanwhile they all have tiny feet that fit on the smaller steps and I have big dopey Westerner feet that do not.

I keep going and slipping and freaking out.  Then my friend from the hostel catches up to me.  This poor guy.  He was so nice.  There were spots where he would hold my hand and guide me.  There were spots where I just all out could not handle how uneven and broken the path was.  I would have to sit down and scoot my way down because walking was not going to happen.

Meanwhile I am sweating and it is pouring into my eyes AND my glasses kept fogging up.  I was such a mess.  My poor friend would not leave me, and I felt horrible that I was holding him up.  I was so scared we were going to miss the bus.

Finally we get all the way down to the town and OH HEY I  MADE IT!

Houses at Longsheng Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces Guilin China

We probably had literally like one minute before the  bus left.   Whew!

This is the guy who was super nice enough to make sure I made it down okay.  I never even bothered to learn his name.   Those of you who prefer solitude in life will understand.  Those of you who enjoy human interaction will think I am a big bitch.   Those who prefer solitude in life will  understand that I don’t care who thinks I am a bitch because the more people who think I am a bitch = the less people who try and talk to me.  Those who don’t understand are now thinking I am vain and think I am better than everyone.  I am not sure why that tends to be the natural progression, but I have dealt with the internet cutting me down long enough that I recognize the pattern, however odd it is.

thanks for saving my life

When we got back to Guilin, I stopped to get some milk tea.  When I stepped out of the store, I saw a circle of little boys with their pants down, hands around their backs, having a pee off right there on the sidewalk.  No one passing by even gave a double take.  Sigh…China.