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Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 167 June 16, 2010

Last city in China. The capital. The last time I was here was 3 years ago. What a different experience indeed.

We jumped on the subway and got off a little to early. 2 sweaty hours later we found a hostel near the Tienanmen Square. In the afternoon we headed to the Forbidden City and only covered about a quarter of it....

Picture: Enda being Enda at 6 in the morning... :)

Day 166

Back at the mini amusement park....

When we arrived back at our hostel, to our great delight, the hostel owner pulled out an overhead projector and their big screen T.V. outside to watch the world cup! They set up chairs and couches, had the grill and beer opener working away.

Day 165

Datong is known for the famous the Hanging Monastery as well as the Yungang Caves. After talking to some other backpackers, we decided against going to the Hanging Temples, due to the cost/view/overall experience.

Yungang caves: 100 Yuan. They recently increased their price, but it's worth it.

Day 164

Two pictures today. I couldn't decide.

While we checked out the city we came across a random mini amusement park....

and an amusing dog.

Day 163

Ah yes. Datong. The city that we spent too much time in...

Once again, as soon as we arrived we searched out a hostel. The problem was, all the hostels listed in our Rough Guide were either under re-construction or were torn down. The maps didn't help us much at all either... Once we did settle in and get a hostel, we searched for a bar that was listed in the book so we could watch the World Cup.

Surprise surprise, after about an hour of walking we realized that the Bar was torn down as well.

Picture: Random Chicken picture...

Day 162

There's so much to see in Xi'an and not enough time. We went and visited the Music Fountain by the Big Wild Goose Pagoda during the day. (I believe they present a laser and music show every night at 8 p.m)

We then wandered through the back alleys of Xi'an and ate some amazing Mandu and bought some ginormous bread for the train ride.

Day 161

Finally! The day we have been oh so looking forward to! Terracotta Soldier Day!! We grabbed our breakfast at 6.45 A.M., made our way to bus 306 by the train station, and left promptly at 7 a.m. It's great not to be restricted by schedules and tour groups.

After becoming a little frustrated with the audio tour guide, we sorted things out and began our long and amazing journey through the 3 pits and the museum.

It was hard to choose only one picture today....

Day 160

We made our way to the Bell Tower Hostel and decided to stay in the dorms. It was a great location and it gave us a chance to brush up on our pool skills.

Picture: Self-explanatory. They love their BBQ on a stick! Mmm...

Day 159

More train rides, more Ramyen, and more reading time. Nice :) We are off to Xi'an!!! :)

Day 158

Recommended to us by some friends, we decided to head out to the Tea Museum which was about an hour bus ride from the city center. We walked around the tea fields and realized that it was rather quiet. Ah yes, that would be because the museum wasn't open on Mondays. Thank you Rough Guide which said it was open every day....

We still managed to make the most out of the day. We rented a boat on the Lake and steered our way around, and then watched some rather impressive Musical fountains near the Lake, followed by a lot of walking... :)

Day 157

After we took the right bus the wrong way, we re-oriented ourselves and spent the rest of the beautiful sunny day walking around West Lake.

Day 156

Our couchsurfers took us to a local temple, which was absolutely gorgeous.

Day 155

Waiting for the bus on a rainy day in Hangzhou.

Day "154" really day 153

Another train day. This should be Day 153 and Day 153 should be day 154....
Loving the hot water, Ramyen, and duvets....

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 153 June 2, 2010

We left Xiamen today and started our first Chinese train journey to Hangzhou. We made our way to the city center with the help of the Enda's Chinese he learned on the train journey over. We then met our new couchsurfers! :)

Picture: Enda with our new train Chinese tutor friends. They thought Enda had a lot of potential. I, on the other hand, did not. Oh well.....

Day 152

We decided to wander around Xiamen University. It was our first experience with Chinese drivers and we learned very quickly that they believe cars have the right away. Pedestrians on the contrary are smaller, therefore less important.

Day 151

We spent the day on Gulangyu Island. It was great walking around and getting lost in the streets.

Day 150

Xiamen- food market. We went shopping for our lunch ingredients.

Day 149

Dragon boat racing happened to be going on while we were in the area. Today I was especially grateful that I looked Asian. Different times it can be frustrating to be spoken to in Chinese, but it's also nice to be able to blend in.

Today though, Enda, Michael, and Chantal were bombarded with people, ranging from media to middle school girls, wanting to take a picture of them or with them while I was, on the other hand, was able to sit back and watch... :)

Picture L-R: Enda, Michael, Chantal
Behind the lens: Me.

Day 148

We crashed at Michael and Chantal's place (CSers), which was great, but we had some issues with mosquitoes. Michael graciously let us borrow his mosquito racket as well as some repellent, which contained mainly snake bile . mmmm.....

Unfortunately even the snake bile didn't keep the mosquitoes away from us...

Day 147

We were welcomed by rain when we arrived in Xiamen. After being dropped off near a random hotel in the wee hours of the morning, we brainstormed as to how to get to our couchsurfers house....

We eventually did make it after walking for an hour, taking a boat, a bus, and then a little more walking... We stopped at a little restaurant along the way, and seeing that we didn't speak a lick of Chinese, we pointed to some characters on the menu and hoped for the best.

This is what I got :)

Day 146

Ah yes, how to get from point A to point B....that is the question. As soon as we left Hong Kong we felt completely handicapped. Absolutely no one spoke English. No one.

After numerous hand gestures and facial expressions we figured out how to get to the bus station and purchase our tickets.

Once we got to the station I decided to take a little snooze on the chairs, but of course, that wasn't going happen. A security guard informed me that there is no sleeping in the waiting room but then he proceeds to completely ignores the man smoking in the waiting room under the "No Smoking" sign...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 145 May 25, 2010

Today we learned about the different types of noodles while we were eating in a local restaurant. The waiter was extremely energetic and wanted to show us the different types we could choose from.

Happy people Rock.

This picture is one of the numerous clothing stalls in Kowloon.

Day 144

Today we "hiked" up Victoria Peak. Okay. It's not a hike at all. It's more like a sweaty walk. When you get to the top there's a mini-mall and a Starbucks.

It's not a hike.

Later that night we were wandering around the city and we heard bagpipes. Of course any type of live music is going to make us curious, so we follow our ears and find a Chinese Bagpipe Marching Band. Nice.

Day 143

Sometimes it's fun to act like a tourist.

We signed up for a free Chinese cake making class through the Hong Kong Tourism Board which was great! We learned how to make Wife Cakes and Egg rolls...yummy!

Enda was a little hesitant at first but he was grateful he participated when he realized we received a free cookie and got to eat everything we baked! :)

Day 142

Today I met up with some dear old college friends. We had some amazing hot pot.

Picture: Random swimming pool picture taken in Kowloon Park.

Day 141

Another day on H.K Island. Today was their annual Cheung Chau Bun Festival which was extremely crowded and rather hard to enjoy because of it. It was an interesting experience but a little too hot and disorganized for me...

Picture: This is how we felt...

Day 140

Random picture.

We headed to H.K Island again today and had an amazing dinner but along with the dinner came an argument with the waitress....Sometimes the language barrier can be so frustrating...

Day 139

We switched today to the Garden Hostel where the dorms are cheaper ($50 HKD). It was also near the Hong Kong Skyline which is absolutely amazing.

We headed to Hong Kong Island on the Star Ferry and wanted to do some exploring but of course, the rain came... so we relaxed in Pacific Coffee Co. and watched the rain pour down while we were cozy inside.

Day 138

Talk about culture shock. Going from Calcutta to Hong Kong was extreme but we managed to adapt quickly enough. The cleanliness of the city was refreshing, the amount of foreigners was rather overwhelming, and the amount of free things to do was astounding! :) Yay!

When we first arrived we headed to Kowloon and searched for a was rather tiring. After 3 hours of numerous knocks and questions in both Chunking Mansion and Mirador Mansion, we finally found one that suited our budget and location preference.

Picture: Taken in the Fish Market

Day 137

Airplane day to Hong Kong...

Day 136

We had a long layover in Bangkok....Good thing we can keep each other entertained. We were planning on heading into the city for awhile but because of the riots and the airport tax we stayed in the airport. It was a comfy airport but of course we found the best seats as we are heading towards our gate for departure....ugh.

Day 135

There are some cities that just draw you in and make you curious. Calcutta was one of them.

My finger was always ready to snap the next picture. There was just so much to see and digest. Everything from slums on the side of the road to human rickshaws sweating in the heat to men sitting and drinking chai watching the day go by.

An intense city.

We enjoyed a wonderful hour cab ride through the city to the airport for $4 each. It was one of the rare times we "splurged" on transportation. :) Usually we walk or take a rickshaw but we were saying farewell to India and we wanted to do it in style. :) It was a bittersweet cab ride. We were excited about heading to Hong Kong but there were parts of India that were going to be missed.

Day 134

Last City in India...

We arrived in Calcutta safe and sound after the rather tight overnight bus ride. It was great sitting peacefully on the bus and watching the chaos unfold around us. Such a vibrant city. We decided to check out "Date Night" at the local movie theatre. It was Air-conditioned and was only $1.50 for a ticket, $1 cokes and $.50 popcorn. Nice. We had to stand for the National Anthem in the beginning of the movie and got to relax during the Intermission. Yes. An Intermission. :)

Picture: Random Construction work in Calucutta.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Day 133 May 13

Goodbye damp Darjeeling, Hello steamy Siliguri.
We zipped down to Siliguri in our shared jeep and made it in half the time it took us to get up there. When we arrived the heat overpowered us. Phew. No more sweatshirts and layers.
Our bus to Calcutta wasn't until the evening so we hung out and read in a restaurant. We were thinking about checking out the city a little more, but we weren't mentally nor physically ready to undertake that adventure.

Day 132

A day at the post office. Nice. :)
We needed to send some packages home so we picked up some boxes and were ready to send our stuff. Yup. 10 minutes at the Post Office. In and Out.

Yeah, it's India. Things don't work like that.

We got to the counter and they said we needed to wrap our box. Wrap our box? What?
There was a man in the corner of the building with about 5 people around him and a needle and thread in his hands. Turns out what he does is he takes a white piece of cloth, measures it out to fit your package, hand stitches every edge of it, proceeds to use his candle and wax and seal the stitches, then gives us 3 forms to fill out, stitches one of the forms to the package, gives us a permanent marker and has us write our e-mail, address, and return address on the package.

Cost: $4

Day 131

We ventured around Darjeeling today after switching hostels. We decided to move to Long Island hostel where the owners aren't so odd and there is hot water.

Darjeeling is known for their tea so obviously we went to the tea plantation. On our way there we meandered through the back roads and randomly saw 2 women looking out of a window from their house and smiling at us. A few seconds later we realized they were in the shared jeep with us from Siliguri. The small joys in life.

We eventually made it to the tea plantation and asked how much a tour guide would cost. They said we could pay whatever we thought was appropriate, so we said our price and they didn't think that was appropriate...hmmm. Interesting. We decided to walk around the building by ourselves and come up with our own tour :) We took this picture in one of the stairwells.

Day 130

We took a bus to Siliguri today and then, after much debate about price, we found a shared jeep that was heading to Darjeeling later that afternoon. While we were driving there I took this photo, but I was shocked at the number of school kids as well as women walking down these switchback roads on an extremely foggy day with these shared jeeps zipping around the curves.
Thankfully we didn't injure anyone on the way up.
Once we got into town we absolutely fell in love with it. It had a small town feel to it and it was in the mountains...nice. We arrived in the evening and thought we had enough daylight and time to find a hostel. We've never had trouble before so why would places be full now? Oh yes, because it's sweltering hot in the rest of India and they all come up here to escape the heat.

We searched for a few hours trying to find a vacant room. In fairness, there were rooms that were empty, but they were empty for a reason.... Eventually we did find a hostel owned by some rather odd people, but it was a roof over our heads! ;) It'll do for a night.

This picture was taken when we were close to Darjeeling where the fog wasn't too bad.

Day 129

Because it was an overnight bus ride we actually arrived in India this morning. Crossing the border was rather interesting. Once we got off the bus we had to search to try and find the Immigration Office as well as the Officer. It seemed that everyone else was just walking across the border bridge and we were the crazy ones trying to find Immigration.

Eventually he showed up and stamped our passports. We were disgusted though that he didn't even glance at our "mandatory" re-entry visa back into India that we (along with hundreds of other backpackers) paid 700 Rupees for and wasted a full day in Kathmandu waiting around for.

Not cool.

Day 128

So we took a 700 Rupee overnight bus ride east across Nepal and exited via Kakarivitta. Phew. What a trip. Luckily we grabbed the seats behind the driver making the 17 hour bus ride a little more bearable.

Friday, July 9, 2010

May 8

And the strike is finished.

May 7

Entering day 6 of the strike. People are getting restless and frustrated. The schools are closed and are now living accommodations for people who (both willingly and unwillingly) are participating in the strike.

In regards to the picture. I thought I had taken pictures on this day but realized I deleted all the ones I took (they weren't very good) and only have these to show for for this day.

Picture: Me surrounded by deadly snakes...yup.

May 6

Yet another eventful day. During the 7 hour journey back to the capital our journey was only interrupted twice due to road blocks (i.e. logs covering the roads). Other than that it was a smooth journey. When we reached the outskirts of the city, the protesters said we had to walk the rest of the way into the city (about a 20 min. walk). Only media, police, and food/water delivery vehicles were allowed into the city during the strike.

It was such a surreal experience walking into the capital and seeing children playing badminton rather than go to school, and adults sitting on the sidewalks drinking chai and talking rather than working.

The shops and restaurants in the Capital were only allowed to be open from 6-8 p.m making it very difficult to find a decent restaurant that wasn't full and ordering something other than a sandwich, pasta, or soup. If any shop owner was bold enough to break the curfew protesters would vandalize their shops and most likely injure the owner as well. There were a few small shops that got away with it which we were lucky enough to discover. They happened to have some of the best momos and kebabs as well. Mmmmm.... momo's (dumplings)

Picture below: Streets of Kathmandu.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

May 5, 2010- Day 124

The strike was more of a hassle than what we expected. Our visa was going to expire in a couple days so we had to make our way back to the capital a.s.a.p. There was one tourist van heading back to the capital but it was already "full", however if you had 2000 Rupees ($30) they could find a spot for you. It doesn't seem like a lot for a 7-10 hour journey (depending on the driver) but you must take into consideration that the government bus we took from Kathmandu to Dhunche was 240 Rupees ($4). Interesting what money can buy you.

Seeing that we didn't know when the regular buses would be running again, we planned on trekking back to the capital which would take about 4 days, depending on weather and Maoists activists. But that morning there was a group of trekkers who organized a government bus that had a massive white cloth with "Tourist Bus" painted on the front and 5 Nepalese locals in the front. Nice. Well thinking that it's better than walking for 4 days down a dirt road, we decided to join. We paid 850 Rupees ($18). This picture was taken out of a bus window on the way to Kathmandu.

When we neared Kathmandu the driver thought it would be best to put some foreigners in the front of the bus so that protesters wouldn't attack us. Seeing that I supposedly look Nepalese (as well as Chinese, Korea, and Tibetan) I wasn't surprised they didn't want me near the front.... interesting.

Day 123

We then spent the night in Shyaphru Besi, met some other backpackers and realized there weren't any buses running back to Kathmandu due to the Maoist strike in the capital. None of the locals had a clue as to when the city would be up and running again.

We heard there was one tourist bus that left Dhunche (a 3 hour hike away) and decided to make our way there next. On the way there I took this picture of the weaver. I love his bowl of popcorn in the background.

Nice afternoon snack. We aren't so different after all.

Day 122

We decided to do a home stay in Briddhim which was a great experience. They cooked us amazing daal bhat over an open fire in the house for dinner and kept refilling our plates! For breakfast we had omelets, Tibetan bread, and tea. The Tibetan tea (also known as po cha) was a little too intense for us. It consisted of yak butter, salt, and tea leaves. Don't be too jealous of us. It was a little hard for me to swallow but it was an interesting experience! :)

The language barrier was a bit of a problem at times, but it's amazing how creative you can become when you want to communicate with someone (e.g. hand motions, pictures, calendars, facial expressions)

Day 121

Our journey to Briddham. Beautiful.

Day 120

On the hike to Timure we went through a couple more charming villages. Here is a picture of one of the children that we met along the way. She was outside hanging out with her siblings and I had to capture her face. Precious face.

During one of the breaks my Timex watch that has been apart of me for the last 3 years slipped off of me somehow. Of course I didn't realize it until we descended 500 meters into the valley. Ugh. A piece of my heart sank. Enda volunteered to rescue it (and I don't think he wanted me constantly asking him the time) and journeyed back up the mountain.

Thank you Enda!

Day 119

Before we left Gatlang, I decided to wander through the village and try and get a better feel of the daily life. I saw a group of children and loved their colour and facial expressions.

Here is one of the photos that I really enjoyed taking.