Adventures in Asia

by Greg & Francie

Ten of my favorite places on the trip

It was pretty hard to come up with this kind of list but I managed to squeeze it into my busy schedule.  There were definitely other wonderful places (Mae Salong-Thailand, Meung Ngoi-Laos, LiJiang-China) that just barely missed out on the list.

How many years would it have taken to discover all these places if we hadn’t went traveling for so long?

Here they are in chronological order (with a corresponding picture or two):

Koh Jam (Jum), Thailand-This island near Krabi doesn’t have full time electricity and is better off without it.  Great food and an amazing stretch of beach…think ‘quiet time’.

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Koh Jum sunset

Hongsa, Laos-It takes a while to get to dusty Hongsa and there isn’t a lot to do when you get there.  However, it is incredibly peaceful and you can ride an elephant along trails.

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Luang Prabang, Laos-Former colonial town that is a lot of fun to hang out in. Everyone in E Asia passes through Laos eventually.

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Kalaw, Myanmar-Off the beaten track in Burma where you can do hiking or just relax in the hill country.  One of the best bars in Asia (Hi Snack and Drink).  Great Nepali food.

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Hong Kong, China-Absolutely beautiful yet gritty.  Incredible food and excellent shopping.  One of my top 5 cities in the world. 

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Songpan, ChinaOne of the few small towns in China.  Horse trek in the gorgeous Sichuan Province and rest up afterwards at the fun tea houses.

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Wolong, ChinaFreaking Pandas man!  Everyone loves Pandas! 

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One year old Panda

Francie, shifu Wong and shuo yi

Outside of Lhasa, Tibet-Definitely in the running for most stunningly beautiful place on earth. 

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Gili Trawangan (Lombok), Indonesia-Incredible atmosphere with no cars on the small, beautiful island.  Incredible snorkeling right off the beach and a vibrant nightlife.

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Kaikoura, New ZealandThe beautiful coast and unbelievable plush hills were actually remarkable topped off with a small town and lots of seafood.  Seals, whales, dolphins and sheep–oh my!

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November 7, 2007 Posted by | Beach, burma, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, New Zealand, SE Asia, Sichuan, Thailand, Tibet, Travel, Wolong | 11 Comments

More trip photos!

Francie uploaded some more of her pictures to Flickr and I wanted to post some here.  These are from the batch she got developed in Bangkok.  You can see all of them here.

Greg and the one year old Pandas.
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Camping in Tibet.
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5,300 meters up at a glacier in Tibet.
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Me jumping for joy that the hike is over!
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Kids playing in a park in XiÁn.
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Signs in Hong Kong.
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View of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon as we walk down from ‘The Peak’.
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Francie at the main square in Macau.
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Francie screwing around while on the clock at Wolong Panda Research Center.
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Cute Panda pic
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Dried fruits and nuts for sale in the Muslim Quarter–XiÁn, China. I found out that you can only eat so much dried pineapple.
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Two little girls at the Great Mosque in XiÁn, China.
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Slide no workie.
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Figures unearthed from a Tomb in XiÁn, China.
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What this Panda really wants is a Thomas the Train. Balls are boring. 😉
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Suggest your own caption
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Goats in Tibet
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I think I need a thicker coat!
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Ok.  Maybe we will post from Fiji!  Maybe we will just work on that tan!

October 20, 2007 Posted by | China, Hong Kong, Nature, Panda, Photography, Sichuan, Tibet, Travel, Urban, Wildlife, Wolong | 2 Comments

5 Things I Loved and Hated about China

We have been in China for 4 months and 1 day. Wow, that is pretty amazing espeically becuase it is about half of the total time on our trip so far! However, I am really glad we have spent so much time in the different regions and cities of China. It has been very fulfilling.

For the record we hit the Yunnan Province (Jinghong, Dali, LiJiang), Sichuan Province (Songpan, Wolong, Chengdu) and Tibet (Lhasa and hiking around) as well as these cities: Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’An, Chengdu.

I decided to do a 5 things I Loved and Hated about China.

Here are the five things I loved:

1. The People. The Chinese were incredible and blew away any stereotypes or things I had heard about them. They were incredibily friendly and lively (even if a bit loud). We made a number of friends with people thoughout the country and a number of people bought as dinner and hung out and talked with us. We learned a lot about their own opinions about China and abroad. Isn’t that most of what traveling is all about?

Street Food in Beijing

2. The Historical Sites. Wow. China obviously has a lot to offer here from LiJiang and other preserved Chinese towns to The Great Wall and the Teracotta Warriors. Almost every region has some kind of fabulous historical structure. I was truly awed even though we had to miss many places we wanted to go (Pingyao, Hangzhou).

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3. The Food. Dim Sum and Buns were expected but some of the spicy Sichuan dishes were pretty incredible and some of the most hot dishes that I have ever had that were still edible. The most unexpected but wonderful food I found was in the Muslim Quarter of Xi’An (showed to us by a local who bought us dinner there). My mouth is watering again…

4. The Geography. The Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces are definitely high on my list to hit again. I really recommend to people thinking of coming to China to take a close look at the Sichuan province (especially north and west Sichuan) while planning your trip. We learned too much too late but it is really beautiful and much more accessible (and cheap) than Tibet–no permits. They have glaciers, mountains, forests and, of course, Pandas. Regardless, there were many other places that we didn’t make it to that we want to see such as Guilan (and regions around it).

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5. The cities. Ok. Let’s just say it–Hong Kong. HK was pretty amazing and I am glad we spent 20+ days there. I have always had a super-strong desire to go there and I wasn’t disappointed. The hills, the water and the food. A wonderful combination. Beijing was also very interesting and the French Concession area of Shanghai was quite cool. Chengdu was a great, green little city that is quite livable.

5a. The Chinglish or funky use of English by the Chinese 🙂

Tasty Taste

Ok. Fair is fair and here are 5 Things I Hated about China:

1. Censorship of the Media. I know, I know, an American bitching about no freedom of the press in China. What a surprise? However, during our four months here I really internalized what a big deal this is…I mean, the Chinese government tries so hard to curb all information its citizens see and this has some terrible consequences. All newspapers, newscasts, websites, blog sites (including this one or Ways that Are Dark) are limited, modified or are blocked. Of course, they seem to do this out of fear that there will be some kind of backlash (e.g. T. Square) but the resulting consequence is that people don’t have enough information to react against say, the air pollution problem in Beijing or the child slave labor scandal where kids were making bricks, and beaten for it, while their parents looked for them. This really limits the people’s power to solve some problems for its government. For example, take the Mothers Against Drunk Driving grassroot effort that has done the U.S. government’s job there about addressing drunk driving. Or, the activists role in improving the environment in the U.S. or E.U. Hey, China government–throw yourself a bone!

2. Air Pollution. Oh my god–it is bad. Worse than even Athens on a hot day. It is so bad in Beijing and other places that it has completely affected my views about the environment. If more Chinese people were allowed to travel to the U.S. you would think it would raise some questions for them to be in New York and wonder why the air pollution isn’t worse than it is. No real curbs on air quality are happening here and what will the Chinese people do when it begins to kill millions of people a year (and not just the hundreds of thousands it kills now). All travelers to China wonder about this train wreck and many of us predict that this is the biggest world threat to it’s sovereignty.

(That’s not a cool evening mist she is playing around in!)
Kite Flying at Tiananmen Square

3. Queueing. Ok. Maybe a little less important than air pollution but I cannot possibily express how much this drives me crazy so I will refer you to Francie’s post on the subject. I do want to say that, while I like the monthly practice Queue day that Beijing is having for the Olympics, I have to say it’s not going to work. Hate to be a naysayer but what I have learned is that all hope of queueing goes out the window when a Chinese person really really wants something. The second that one person gets out of the queue–everyone is going to get out of the queue. But it does leave us for that delicious moment when we read the Olympic news story about U.K./German’s reactions and incidents. Yum and fun.

4. Chinese Tour Groups. My eyes turn red with anger while just typing those words. Imagine some of the most rude people you have ever encountered. But, as one person pointed out to me, it is probably not that they are just in a tour group but that they are more of an upper class sort of people. Well, you can take that little flag you walk around with and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine while speeding down the road on your tour bus. Nuff said. The Chinese tour groups were especially offensive in The Jokhang–a religious site for the Tibetans…and while we are on this subject…

5. Treatment of the Tibetans. I was going to say something about this but instead I will just tell this little story. I was at a travel agency, in Lhasa, trying to write with a pen and the ink dried up. So, I grabbed a second pen and tried to use that one. I laughed and looked at the travel agent (who was Tibetan) and he looked at me at laughed and said “Sorry, made in China”.

Ok, that is it. We are about to get on a Bangkok Airways flight to Thailand and I am going crazy with excitement!

September 11, 2007 Posted by | Beijing, Chengdu, China, Hong Kong, Sichuan, Tibet, Travel, Yunnan | 5 Comments

Bee on Bus!

It turns out that Sichuan Province is bee country. On the bus ride to Songpan I saw a number of spots where people had boxes of bees that could be rented and taken to pollinate fields or crops. On the side of the road there would be boxes of bees (I would assume that a hive lived in each one) and beekeepers walking around in the neat little beekeeper suits.

On the bus ride back from Songpan I first noticed that this truck had a bunch of boxes of bees and were probably off to do some bee work. I felt a little sad because you could see a few bees flying around the truck and I wondered what happened to them? Did they lose their way and just die? Or could they fly off and find a new hive and be accepted in? I didn’t know and wondered if there were some old and wise bees in the boxes that told any bee that would listen to Never Get Out of the Boat. I also wondered if there were some super cool Queen bees who had the goal to ‘leave no bee behind’?

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So we are driving along further and I am thinking about how little I know about bees–mainly from Jerry Maguire that bees are one of the two creatures that sense fear. This probably isn’t even true but they seem to sense my fear when they are around.

Then the bus gets to this major roadblock and the bee truck sits in front of us. More and more bees start buzzing around until I think we can, officially, call it a swarm. I wonder if the bees are all from different boxes (hives) and are attacking each other? People on the road don’t want to walk by the truck. Passengers inside our bus start to freak out a little as the bees are attracted to the yellow curtains in the bus. A bee gets in the bus and a little girl starts crying. Look closely and you can see the bees here:

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Of course, all vehicles in China that are over 15 feet in height are required to have people riding on top of them. In this case, it happens to be the beekeepers who seem to be getting a little alarmed themselves as they start putting on their gear. See them with their hats on?

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Finally, the roadblock is cleared up and the vehicles start to move on. Only twenty people were killed by bee stings. Just kidding, only lead paint here…no death by bees today.

It just feels like there should be some crazy calamity ending to this story. You know, like Alfred Hitchcock does The Bees.

Oh wait–ha, ha, ha. Bee on bus! Bee on Bus!

You may, or may not, know that Hitchcock–the master of suspense–talked about the importance of letting the public know something bad was going to happen for it to be suspense-full and not just surprising–like there is a bomb on the bus…if only they discover it in time! They often called this Bomb Theory or Bomb on Bus. But you see, I have a bee on the bus!

I think it is very funny, no? Maybe I need a little dinner.

So, the rest of the way Francie and I notice that there are actually a lot of active bees and it must be bee season. Can someone please find the most academically difficult to read journal article on Bee Season in Sichuan Province and send it to me? Jojo, I know you can do that, can’t you?

August 20, 2007 Posted by | China, Sichuan, Travel, Wildlife | 6 Comments

Songpan Travel Info.

I thought I would add a few more pictures of Songpan along with some travel info about what you can expect on a horse trek.

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The bus from Chengdu takes about 9 hours and you should take some drugs if you get motion sickness (several people threw up both ways). The buses to/from Chengdu leave early in the morning.

The Horse Trek

We used the Shun Jiang/Happy Trails Horse Trekking company. It is right there on the main road but there is another horse trekking company near the teahouses (near #20 on the Lonely Planet map) if you want an alternative.

There was a 3 and 4 day horse trek to ‘Ice Mountain’ available (we didn’t ask about any other destinations). The 3 and 4 day treks both cost the same amount–450 RMB per person. I am pretty sure that the two treks go to the exact same place which is a viewing point of ice mountain. Not to ice mountain itself. The big difference is on the second day the 4 day group rides for about 2.5 hours and makes camp by a river (we saw their camp on the way back from ice mountain) at a truly beautiful spot. The 3 day trek rides up to the viewing point and back to the original camp which makes for a very long day (more on that below).

Don’t get too put off by the staff at the Shun Jiang company. They were a little grumpy but I think they are just a little burned out at the end of high season. The main guy is a real character–he always wears a sports jacket and has his hand on his hip with a cig (you’ll see). We had two guides specifically looking after us and they were both great even though they didnt speak English. People who are looking to have a chat with them or want info on sights may be disappointed.

The food was very good even if it was all vegetarian. The first day we had fresh bread and tomatoes for a late afternoon snack and then a bigger dinner with noodles that night. The second day we had fried bread (donuts) made that morning and potatoes/pumpkin for breakfast. That night we had a medley of veggies with rice. I don’t remember what we had the final day but I would rate the quality as high and never felt like we were having leftovers.

At the same time I recommend that you bring snacks for yourself–there are some long rides and you will want something to eat. You can buy a variety of bread, candy and chips in Songpan before leaving. There were also two ‘stores’ around on the trek so you don’t necessarily have to bring all the liquids with you. Even though it was August we found that we didnt drink a lot of water because we were mostly riding and the upper areas were refreshingly cool.

You will have to hike down some slopes–especially the steep ones. This is to give the horses a rest and, I expect, to keep people from falling off the horses. So, be prepared to go down for about 45 min or an hour in three or four places. Sometimes this feels great because you need to walk but I was always happy when it was time to remount.

Tents were provided with extra blankets. It was cold at night even in the middle of August. I bet it was about 5 degrees Celsius. Their sleeping bags were of good quality.

Here is an outline of the general trek:

Day 1, 8:30am: Start out riding for about 5 hours up and down mountains. One major break but no food provided. At this point both the 3 day and 4 day treks are riding together. Camp around 2:30pm. Get snack and wait until dinner at 7pm. This is your personal hiking/book reading time.

Day 2, 9am: 3 day trekkers leave and ride non-stop for about 2.5 hours through amazing forests and valleys. After a short break you continue to climb for about another hour or so to Ice Mountain viewing point. Enjoy about a 30 minute break at 4400 m elevation and then walk down the steep mountain for 45 min. Ride back the same route to your original camp stopping twice for quick breaks. Total time for us on day 2 was about 7.5 hours.

Day 3, 9am: Ride through new terrain for about 5 hours. Several short stops and one long one outside a temple with lots of cool prayer wheels. There are several places where we had to walk downhill for 30 minutes or so.

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One last note on the trek. We had great weather but there were a number of places I wouldn’t wanted to have dealt with if it was raining or muddy.

Other notes on Songpan

We stayed at Yulan guesthouse/hotel. It is recommended by LP and is right above the restaurant. The whole place seems to be run by 12 year olds who speak perfect english. They were a lot of fun and the rooms were clean with western style bathrooms. We paid 150 RMB/night in high season. Others stayed at Shun Jiang guesthouse but didnt seem too happy with it. There looks like a new hostel (Ice Mountain hostel) has just opened up and looked pretty good. It is right by Emma’s Kitchen

I really recommend that you take a stroll down to the teahouses. That part of the town is really interesting and fun. We recommend the Tibetian restaurant down there as well. They do have an English menu.

That is all I can think of and I hope it helps you out!

August 20, 2007 Posted by | China, Rural, Sichuan, Travel, Wildlife | 1 Comment

The big dinner disappointment

After getting back from our horse trek, starving Greg and I went to a Tibetan teahouse in Songpan for dinner. Greg was craving some meat, having not eaten any for 3 days, so he ordered the “Spicy Beef”.

15 minutes later, the waitress brought out a big plate of raw red meat (probably Yak). Poor Greg! Can he bring himself to eat it? Or will he just go hungry?

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August 20, 2007 Posted by | China, Sichuan, Travel | 2 Comments

3 days on a horse = my dreams come true!

That sounds hyperbolic but it is not, I assure you :-). We just got back from 3 days on horseback in the mountains of Northern Sichuan. It was *really* awesome, with lovely horses, nice guides that knew how to cook, beautiful scenery, and the occasional Tibetan village (although even with none of those things except for the riding of the horses i still would have had a good time). I am so glad that we went. It was a little difficult at first to convince Greg that sitting on a horse for 3 days was a good idea, but he came around (and he talked me down from a 4-day trip to a 3-day trip) and he had a great time too.

Okay, enough ooo and awww crap, here are some pics!

Greg & I at the high point of the trek, 4,300 meters:
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My horse “Ja Ja” grazing in a meadow:
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Some of our guides taking a break:
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Row of prayer wheels in a village:
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“Watchu lookin’ at?”
(the horse’s feeding things were all made out of old basketballs)
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Holy cow, it’s a real hitching post!
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Village house with a wheat field in front:
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August 18, 2007 Posted by | China, Rural, Sichuan, Travel | 5 Comments