A Travellerspoint blog

January 2019

January 16, 2019, Pakse


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On my second day in Vientiane, I followed the rest of the Lonely Planet cycling tour.
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I went to a couple of temples, and at the third one, I found some monks who had just finished an English exam, so we chatted under the shade of the garden pagoda. They said i should come back and teach English in their hometowns, in the north of Laos. Of course I promised to do exactly that, as long as they gave me food and a place to sleep. How could anyone resist?
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From there, I had a Lao lunch of delicious lahp (meat salad).

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I still had a few hours of daylight, so I headed across town to the COPE rehabilitation centre, a place that makes artificial limbs and otherwise helps people who have been injured by unexploded ordinance in the last 50 years since the Vietnam war and the secret war in Laos.
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I had to catch the bus to Pakse in a few hours, so I walked back, picked up some takeout noodles and chatted with a woman who had just lost her baby’s father to the civil war in Cameroon. It was really a terrible shame. I tried to connect her with Will, my Cameroonian friend in Nanchang, because at the moment, she was in between visas in Thailand. She was just waiting for all the paperwork to go through so she could get back to work. That could take weeks, but she would be stuck in limbo in Vientiane the whole time. I hoped that working in China would maybe be a better option, because maybe her daughter could join her in China, unlike in Thailand. However, Will said even he was not sure he’d have his own job in September. Not a really good situation for Africans or non-native speakers teaching English in China at that moment.

Finally my tuk tuk came and it sped me off to the bus station. Gustav surprised me when he was already there. He said he already told me he would do that, but I guess I forgot.

January 17, 2019
The bus ride was terrible. I was at the very back of the bus sleeping with three other people. Gustav was on another bus, but when I tried to confirm where we would meet when we both got to Pakse, he didn’t hear me. We had discussed staying at Sabaidee 2, so when we got there, that’s where I waited. Apparently I was supposed to wait at the bus station, which we had also discussed, but he had left maybe an hour before me, so I figured he’d already be there. On top of that, I really had to poop, so I pretty much ran to the hotel and found a toilet before even checking in. Gustav later said he was irritated about that decision of mine as well.

Anyway, I had met a couple of Gustav’s friends, Estelle and Matt. We were on the same bus, so we started to plan our day together. We were walking to a nearby temple, when Gustav came walking by. He checked into the hotel, and then we immediately rented a motorcycle and went off to Wat Phou, which was older than Angkor Wat.
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We wandered around there in the heat, looking at a crocodile and an elephant carving as well as the intricate designs on the buildings themselves.
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When we came back to the hotel, I fell right asleep without dinner. I was exhausted from not sleeping all night on the way to Pakse. The driver was a crazy person and he flew over the bumps and potholes all night. That also meant that my knees knocked together and created a horrible pain that lasted into the next few weeks. Meanwhile, Gustav, Estelle and Matt planned the motorcycle tour we’d take in the morning.

Posted by baixing 00:46 Archived in Laos Tagged laos pakse Comments (0)

January 14, 2019, Vientiane


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January 14, 2019
Early in the morning we walked, no ran, to the bus stop because Gustav thought we’d be late. We were half an hour early and the tickets were more expensive than at the hotel. On top of that, it was the same price to go to Vang Vieng or Vientiane, which was double the distance. So, I decided to go to Vientiane and promised I’d wait for Gustav whenever he wanted to go south to Pakse. I’m not sure if that irritated him or not, but he got off the bus in Vang Vieng and I arrived in Vientiane late at night. We had some good chats, but he called the MeToo movement a witch hunt and I should’ve seen that red flag and left him alone at that moment.
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Anyway, I followed some people on a big jumbo tuk tuk to the city centre and they led me to a cheap hostel where three long term residents lived. It was a little strange, but fine for two nights.

January 15, 2019
I had a shower and breakfast early in the morning. I sent some clothes out for washing and got ready for my cycle tour of Vientiane. I followed the guidebook’s plan and went to the busy temple and museum in the morning, when there were fewer people milling about.

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I realized the one dress I had, had gotten moldy, so I went shopping in the central market for a new one. They didn’t look quite right, so I kept going deeper into the market and came across endless rows of traditional style Lao clothes. Exactly what I wanted. I chose a nice white jacket with black embroidery and paired it with a black skirt with white embroidery. The skirt had to be custom made, so I paid and was told to come back in one hour.

I stopped in the tourist information centre, and they gave me a really nice map. I also met a really nice couple from Victoria. We climbed up the arch in the centre of the “Champs Elysee” of the east. It was a fancy monument built with foreign aid money that was meant for a new airport.
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After that, Sandra (the lady from Victoria) came with me and helped me refit my skirt. I couldn’t have done it without her.

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Brian, her fiancé, waited for us in a cafe and had a mango passionfruit smoothie. So refreshing.

From there, Sandra and I went to have a Lao style massage together, which I thought was amazing. The masseuse had feet like hands and he pulled my body around in many new directions. Afterwards, we relaxed with something like rooibos tea and met more Canadians, Rachelle, also from Victoria and Brody from Calgary.

Sandra went back to her hotel, but she messaged me about two minutes too late and I never met up with them for dinner later on. Maybe it would have turned out better because Rachelle and Brody were just getting over food poisoning, so I ate another papaya salad in front of them on a little table on the street. We walked around along the river and finally we all got tired and said goodbye.
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Rachelle was a really useful person to meet though, because she’s a doctor in Canada! She helped me identify the weird thing the Chinese doctor pulled out of my belly button a few weeks before. She called it a schwanoma. A non-cancerous tumor my body created to push something out of my body. She said I could email her anytime if I had any other health problems while abroad. What a kind lady!

I was a little sad though, that she didn’t have such a great trip in Asia. She knows a lot about people in pain and she could see it everywhere. It must have been difficult. She verified the stories I had heard in China about people who had been maimed or blinded on purpose, so they could collect money begging on the street for other bad people. She could see that the amputations and the eye injuries were done on purpose. She said that no doctor would ever do amputations like that, and that people were blinded on purpose with hot spoons. To my untrained eye, none of this is obvious, but it was really astounding to find that these rumours were true.

Posted by baixing 00:45 Archived in Laos Tagged laos vientiane Comments (0)

January 12, 2019, Luang Prabang


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I grabbed a bunch of bananas and got thrown onto a truck. Nobody told us what time we were leaving, so everyone was waiting and angry. While they waited, I also had to fill my water bottle up still. I would’ve rather walked down to the pier by myself. It was probably 500 meters away. Stupid.

Lynne found me a few minutes after I sat down on the boat and I was glad she wasn’t tired of me from yesterday. We had another luxurious day watching the scenery slide by.
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On the way there, we saw the Chinese construction sites for the "Belt Road Initiative". Something I had seen lots and lots of propaganda about in China. I was amazed and astounded at the scale of it all.

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Finally we disembarked at Luang Prabang. Another pickup truck took us to Gustav’s guest house, where he was waiting for us with a big exhausted hug. We sat down with Reiko and Masao and I explained that I had to go on my own now. I explained that my style of travelling was very different from theirs and yaddayaddayadda. I felt this was quite obvious but it took a long time to explain. I guess they didn’t want to hear it.

Later, Gustav took me to the night market and we had dinner near the hotel. Many laughs ensued. I learned that the moon in southeast Asia is happy or sad, unlike the moon in Sweden, Canada or Jilin, where it is a crescent.
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January 13, 2019
We went to town in the morning, but I forgot that you have to wear a long skirt or pants in the temples.

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We walked all the way back to get it, but Gustav was sick, so I left him there while I ambled around on my own. The Lao temples are a lot more delicate than the Chinese ones, so I really enjoyed looking around there.

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I poked around a few more, and then found myself turned around heading back. Our bus to the waterfall Kuang Si was leaving at 1:30 p.m. and I had time to pick up some art (done by a seemingly crazy homeless person) and snacks. I found him painting with his fingers, so I talked to him in Chinese for a while which confused him quite a lot. I bought a little painting, so that was my souvenir shopping done for the entire trip. I felt very accomplished at that moment.
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After I bought some longan, Gustav found me on my way back to the bus station. We ate some lunch on the street and caught our minivan to the waterfall. A guy in the back seat was flipping out because we were driving too fast for him.

There was a small bear zoo at the front of the park, I guess they have been rescued by poachers and now they live in a small enclosure.

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We hiked up the flooded stairway to the top and came down and jumped in the pool at the bottom. The water was cool, crisp and clean, but there were fish swimming around my feet, so I didn’t stay in too long. The water cascaded down in many layers which were more beautiful than I had expected.
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Refreshed, we headed back to the van where that weirdo from before was. He ended up being an alright guy, and we chatted about Canadian politics all the way back.

When we got back to the guest house, I wasn’t hungry, but Gustav met a very good looking young Swedish lady, so I pressured him to eat dinner with her and leave me to sleep. He went, but I didn’t sleep. I ended up at a party with one Russian guy and five Japanese people, including Masao and Reiko. I asked the Russian a lot of questions about life in the USSR for three hours while the Japanese got drunk. He was a technician at a nuclear power plant way up in the Arctic Circle, so we talked about northern life too. It was great.

When Gustav came back, he found out I didn’t lock the door and he got mad at me. This was the beginning of times I would make him mad at me. Later, he was OK with me not locking the door and I joked that I would literally puke if I had caused him to lose his passport. I almost peed my pants laughing when he pointed out that this would only make the problem worse. Not only would he not have a passport, but there would also be puke to clean up.

Posted by baixing 00:44 Archived in Laos Tagged laos luang_prabang Comments (0)

January 11, 2019, Pak Beng, Laos


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We were probably two hours early for the boat, but we had to sit in our seats at that time because there were no assigned numbers. I saw a friendly looking lady who looked like my uncle’s sister Ruth. We immediately hit it off and chatted the whole way to Pak Beng.
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Lynne was taking a two week holiday with her teenage daughter, Grace. She had spent a good bit of the 80s and 90s traveling around Asia. It was great to talk to her about my problems with Reiko and Masao. She helped me work out my feelings about the whole thing. She was very empathetic and I totally vented out everything on her all day.

Reiko and Masao were looking miserable at that point and my heart was breaking. I felt so guilty for bringing them all the way there. At the same time though, they didn’t give me any guidance about this trip. They simply said they would follow me. So, I guess it was maybe bad communication all around. I tried to explain my travel style to them before we left, but I don’t think they understood at all.

Anyway, the scenery was languid and Lynne and I lazed away the day chatting casually and zoning out, admiring the jungle landscape.
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They sold us a hotel room on the boat, and there was another kerfuffle. Reiko didn’t want to share a room. When I said I would go to another hotel, she relented and then I felt bad again. Ugh. A nosy Austrian guy even asked if I knew them or not, that’s how awkward it was. We checked in at our hotel and later had a nice dinner together with more green papaya salad.
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Posted by baixing 00:42 Archived in Laos Tagged laos pak_beng Comments (0)

January 10, 2019, Huay Xai, Laos


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January 10, 2019
I woke up at 4 a.m. to the sound of a mouse or a rat eating my apples! Oh my lord get out of there! I threw some nearby garbage at it. I tried to fall back to sleep but it was no good. I was listening for more mice.

At 6 a.m. we left for the bus station. I thought I heard rain, so I repacked my bag, and wore a lot of clothes, but I was wrong, there was no rain. I guess it had been raining so much, I just assumed it was still raining. I didn’t know what the world sounded like without rain anymore.

When we got to the bus station, they told us there was no bus today. Excuse me? Why did you sell me a ticket then? They gave me some money back and we got on a bus bound for the Lao border but no more.

On the bus, I tried to sleep, but it was no good. I kept thinking of different ways to get myself out of this mess I was in with Reiko and Masao. It was all my fault and I felt guilty. I couldn’t go on for two months acting as their tour guide and babysitter.

I had a friend in Luang Prabang, who I had met two years ago in Cambodia. Gustav would wait for me and then we’d go off on our own. I had planned it all out in my head. Reiko and Masao were very uncomfortable and their pained expressions constantly on their faces looked miserable. I believed it’d only get worse.

Anyway, we got to the checkpoint for leaving China and I was quite nervous about it. Every Chinese person we met was mentioning the 13 Canadians who had been detained in China as a result of political bickering. I was worried they’d fabricate something about me and I’d be stuck. But on the other hand, I’d be free of these people I brought with me. Ugh what a horrible thought. I was so desperate that I’d rather be interrogated and jailed than continue on this trip with them. Maybe it doesn't seem like it, but I cared about them a lot. They were really nice sweet old-fashioned Japanese people... but we just needed to break up. It wasn’t them, it was me.

The border guard looked intently at every single page in my passport. He asked me how long I’d lived in China, what the name of my school was, why I didn’t want to stay in China for my vacation, why my parents didn’t visit me in China, when I was going back to Jilin, how come I was such a young teacher (???) I realized he was just killing time as his boss sauntered over to look me up in the computer *gasp* Did they know I had a VPN so I could watch Youtube and Netflix? Did they know I regularly searched for foreign news on Google? I was extra nervous because a random guy at a bus station a few hours ago asked me direct questions about those exact things. Was he a spy??? I hadn’t admitted anything to him about my VPN and I was glad. There was nothing else they could accuse me of. He asked me if I was “escaping” China and I emphatically said no. After staring at the serious looking pair in silence for what seemed like centuries, they smiled and stamped my passport.
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I exhaled and went outside where someone was pushing me into another van. They promised they were going to Huay Xai and I had no other choice but to believe them. 100 yuan seemed like an OK price for a 200 km trip through the mountainous jungle. I was safe from Chinese prison anyway.

We drove on muddy roads until we stopped at a little shack for lunch. I couldn’t find a way to buy anything with my Chinese money, and then I just gave up. Reiko thought I was starving and brought me a plate of plain rice. It totally broke me. I felt so guilty. They were so nice, but I couldn’t explain to them how lonely I felt. What is the point of travelling with people when every conversation is one-sided? They never tried to talk to me about anything, they only used their translation apps to ask questions and make complaints. I felt like a tour guide and just started crying at that little shack on the side of the road in Laos. I tried my best to translate my feelings, but it didn’t come out right. I walked back to the car and Masao tried to hug me, but it made me cry more. I hoped they wouldn’t be upset if I went with Gustav when we got to the city.

At Huay Xai, we got in a little truck, which brought us to our hotel.

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Our first task was to get some Lao kip at the ATM. Two of them were empty of cash, but we found one and then paid for our boat ride to Luang Prabang leaving the next day. I had a nice dinner of green papaya salad, which I ate every chance I got thereafter. We tried to get a good sleep, picked up some snacks, and then got on the tuk tuk to the boat in the morning.

Posted by baixing 00:41 Archived in Laos Tagged laos huay_xai Comments (0)

January 8, 2019, Jinghong, Yunnan


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Reiko and Masao knocked on my door at 6:30 a.m. ready to go. I had told them to leave early, but I didn't really now what time would be best. We didn't catch a bus out of there until 8:30 a.m. anyway. The rain was still pouring and my pants were still damp from the day before. It didn't matter because it all just got soaked again.
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When we arrived in Nansha, we had about four hours to kill, but it was still raining. My plan was to find a restaurant for lunch and dry off, then buy some snacks and go to the bank. Masao had other plans. He took off and left us behind.

I just kept going on my way to lunch, I wasn't going to wait in the rain for him. I lost the both of them and got me some rice noodles again. I sat there for a while but then got kicked out because they wanted to close the shop. I went around the market and bought a bunch of oranges and guava. It's been a long time since I had a fresh guava. When I got back, Reiko was still waiting at the same spot in the rain. What? We all had our tickets, why not walk around and meet me back at the station? I was annoyed.

I put my things on the x-ray conveyor belt, but she started asking me something nonsensical and then my fruit bag got caught and broke as she tugged on my sleeve, miming something I couldn't understand. The bag broke and the fruit went all over the gross bus station floor. Getting more annoyed, I read a book in silence until the bus was ready to go. It was pretty much impossible to explain my feelings via Google translate, so I just didn't.

The bus arrived in Jinghong very late, maybe midnight, but our hostel wasn't too far, so we walked there in the rain. Masao navigated us there with his ever present cell phone. The woman had overbooked it and we had to stay in two rooms for the night. She gave Reiko and Masao one private room but Reiko said the bed was too small. So I took that room and they went to the dorm. Suddenly Reiko realized that more people might come in the dorm the next, so she changed with me and I had to move all my stuff back to the dorm again. Oh my god... Just stop... I was slowly going insane. So there I was, moving my bags into the storage room/overflow dorm room to sleep in it with the rats by myself.

January 9, 2019

I tried to sleep in, but I was awoken by the repeated slamming of a door. Something was wrong with Reiko's door, but did they try and find someone to help them? No, just slam slam slam. Good lord. I stayed in bed until 8 a.m. anyway, when I went to buy our bus tickets to Laos, leaving the next day. I came back with breakfast of eggs, rice and pickles. Yum. Only 60 cents for that.

We went to the tropical plant garden after that. Another debacle ensued. At first we started out OK, strolling around together at random. At one point Masao was 50 metres ahead of us, when Reiko wanted to turn right into a fruit plantation instead of left, to see some water lilies. So, she pulled out her phone and refused to walk another step. Really?! Masao is just down the road! I sauntered over to him and told him about Reiko trying to call him. Oh lord what a mistake. Now we were on a frantic goose chase for Reiko. We never found her, so I left them both looking for each other.

What a waste of time in a beautiful garden. Anyway, I had a good time by myself and saw some Bougainvillea, Frangipani, which is the official flower of Laos, rubber plant trees and lots of palm trees. To this day I don't understand why a fruit plantation would be more important than strolling happily with your husband in an idyllic garden. But I'm not married for 10,000 years either.
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I met them back at the hostel and took a nap. I found a random Chinese guy who wanted to go to the night market for dinner. It was 3 km away, but Reiko and Masao didn't want to walk. They also didn't want to take a taxi without me. ugh. Sorry I'm walking, do what you want. So they walked, but then we had to walk slow. More ugh. We had a really nice Dai minority dinner with the help of the Chinese guy. Women were singing old folk songs while they played guitars, serenading the diners. Ha.
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The Chinese guy took us to the night market, which was huge and completely manufactured and fake for tourists. More women were dancing in I guess a Thai or Lao style and everything was sanitized and spotless. Maybe I would even venture to call it Disney-fied. Shudder. Unimpressed, we went home to sleep because our bus left early in the morning.
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The Chinese guy bought us little wooden elephant keychains. That was nice. Almost too nice? I suddenly remembered I had left my US money out on the bed. What an idiot. I also couldn't remember how much was supposed to be in there. I tried to get back quickly, but it was not easy. When we did get back my door was open... WHY?! I counted the money, it was $125. Did that seem correct? I didn't know. I called my mom to ask if she remembered how much she gave me for my birthday. She thought $200, so OK it was probably alright. Nothing I could do now. At least it wasn't all gone. Phew. I couldn't sleep after that, no longer worried about the money, but thinking maybe I'd be the 14th Canadian detained in China over this Huawei trade dispute crap that's going on. Bleh

Posted by baixing 20:50 Archived in China Tagged yunnan jinghong Comments (0)

January 6, 2019 Yuanyang Rice Terraces, Yunnan, China


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We woke up early again to catch a little bus to Nansha. We waited an hour in the cold for the city bus. Oh well. When we got to the main bus station, the bus driver was seemingly waiting just for us and he guided us right to his bus. We took off immediately. He whisked us along a bumpy road through a valley with endless rice fields as the sun rose over the hills. I froze again all the way there, wrapped in my thin silk sleeping bag liner.
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In Nansha, the next bus driver pushed us onto her bus. It was another speedy trip up and around a windy road. When we got to Xinjie, another woman pushed us into her van and I thought it would be the same, but she tried to charge us too much. We argued and got it to half price finally.

We arrived at our hotel and found there was nothing to eat anywhere nearby. I still had some fruit, so I was OK, but Reiko kept looking for a restaurant. Then when she found two, she complained about the price. So, we didn't eat lunch that day.

She also refused to walk around anywhere, so I just sat there at Bada rice terrace and finally they both went back to the hotel.

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I wanted to wait there and watch the sunset. They didn't want to walk back in the dark afterwards. I stayed at Bada to watch it with a huge crowd of people. It was very nice and well worth the trip out there. The colours the sun and clouds reflected in the flooded rice paddies were lovely. No photo or painting could really reproduce it.
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Once I got too cold, I trudged back with everyone else and went to bed. Somehow, Reiko had cooked an egg with vegetables. They saved me some and I went to bed quite early.

January 7, 2019

The day before, I had arranged a driver to pick us up and take us to the sunrise at another rice paddy. We agreed on the price, but he tried to charge us 100 yuan for a one way trip. Uh no, last night you told me it was both ways. So we had to call back and forth with the hotel manager until he agreed.

The sunrise was indeed as mesmerizing as Lonely Planet said it would be. The clouds moved in and out of the valley and as the sun rose, it illuminated more reflective rice paddies in the terraced field. It really was captivating to watch everything brighten and become clear. I just hoped the taxi driver scams would end at some point, but I knew better than that. I knew they never would.
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When we got back, the hotel owner tried to explain how to get to some more nearby rice terraces, but it was completely lost on me. So, we just started walking down the road as Baidu Maps said to do. Eventually someone picked us up and we got a ride there, even though I didn't want it.

Wouldn't you know, it started to rain very very heavily? My friends had no rain coats or umbrellas. We had been talking about this rain for days. They always carried a big bag with them, so I just assumed they were ready for it. But no, they were not. I couldn't believe it. What on earth were you carrying in there, if not an umbrella??? They stood under a tree for a while, and then they ran towards a village which had an expensive cafe. I had already eaten a huge plate of fried rice at the hotel after we came back from the sunrise. That was because I thought we were going to be hiking all day. So no, I didn't want to wait there for the rain to stop. Besides, the Weather Channel said it would only get worse for three days anyway. I had my raincoat, so I walked back by myself cursing that stupid taxi ride we took in the first place. In the end, the walk was very pleasant in the spring-ish weather, even though I was soaked.
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When I got back, I just planned our trip towards Laos. The hotel owner was not helpful once again, but he called to confirm the information I had already found out by myself. So that was fine I guess.

Masao and Reiko took a cab back to the hotel just as I was about to take a nap. I explained the next few days' plans and then went to bed really early listening to podcasts all night.

Posted by baixing 20:35 Archived in China Tagged rice terraces yunnan yuanyang Comments (0)

January 4, 2019, Jianshui, Yunnan, China


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We had breakfast in the hostel. Reiko really wanted to use the five yuan off coupon, so I had a big bowl of banana oatmeal and we took off to the south bus station to make our way to Jianshui. The line for the bus ticket was crazy long and we managed to get out of town by 11 a.m. Not at all what I had hope for. Oh well.

When we arrived, we went straight to the old town to see Chaoyang gate. It's just an old watch tower in the middle of town with some old photos on display on the second floor.
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We tried to find somewhere to eat, but settled on a random tofu barbecuing place in an alley. These places are everywhere and they sell aged tofu grilled and crispy. I tried one piece and almost barfed. Reiko kindly ordered me some fried rice after that.
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It was too late to catch a bus home, so we walked back and picked up some fruit for breakfast along the way.

January 5, 2019

I couldn't sleep because of intense menstrual cramps, and neither could Reiko. She started making breakfast. It took us two hours or more to get ready.
On the way, we saw a bunch of old men selling caged birds in the square. It made quite a racket.
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We went to the beautiful Zhu family garden where we wandered around old rooms and walked behind a little decorative waterfall. Reiko bought a bunch of garbage there. Her bag would end up being really heavy at the rate she went.
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It got a lot warmer, which made me so happy. I had been cold for days at that point. We went to the Confucian temple which was pretty much empty of people and very peaceful. I really loved the giant lake that is called the "sea of learning". Apparently it's designed to look like Confucius' hometown temple. It was first built in the 13th century.
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After that, we had more rice noodles for lunch and I went back to the hostel to take a nap. I was woken up by some guy speaking three languages and having a grand old time talking to Masao in Japanese. He immediately invited us out for barbecue which I couldn't eat too much of because of the knife-like stabbing pains in my pelvis. I stuck to fruits and vegetables for a while after that, ugh.

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Posted by baixing 20:26 Archived in China Tagged yunnan jianshui Comments (0)