A Travellerspoint blog

Crossing the border to Vietnam

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11.12.2011 - We made our way down to the bus station in Yuan Yang and bought tickets to Hekou. It's the border town on the Chinese side, and from there you make your way over to Vietnam. Our visa for Vietnam has been ticking away for almost 2 weeks now as we'd been having too much fun in China, but with the weather and the cold front coming in, we thought it was finally time to head over.

The distance is less than 200km, but this journey takes HOURS! Not helped by the fact that we kept stopping to pick up random passengers/boxes and packages, as well as every time we had a checkpoint, we had to wait while they took people off the bus and walked them around in the bushes (to avoid being caught with an overloaded bus). A 15 seater bus with around 20 passengers for most of the journey, and a flat tire along the way as well (with no spare and no jack.....what is wrong with these people!).

Anyway, we eventually made it to Lao Cai, the border town where our bus dropped us off and we took a taxi to the border crossing. Despite leaving at 10am, we only just made the crossing at 5:15pm (it shuts at 6pm). We crossed over and became instant millionaires with the Vietnamese Dong (32000 = £1). Despite plenty of hawkers and hassle we ignored them all and grabbed a taxi to the railway station, around 3km away only to be told they didn't have any tickets left to Hanoi. They did though, have tickets to Long Bien, but only in 2nd class. Despite not knowing it at the time, Long Bien is perfectly fine also if you are staying in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, if anything, it's closer.

We later were told if we'd gone to any of the agencies, there would probably have been tickets available for 1st class as apparently they sell them all to the agencies. Unfortunately too late for us, we were stuck in the top bunks of 2nd class. We grabbed dinner at a little cafe called 'Fansi Pants' just outside the station and enjoyed some great burgers before making our way back across to the station. The main thing we've noticed so far is the volume of tourists compared to China. We've gone from being the odd-ones out, being stared at, meeting only a handful of tourists at a time, to hearing Aussie accents everywhere, and sitting in a cafe with 30 other westerners. Very different.

Back on the train, we crawled into our top bunks and suffered a painful night with a snoring old man in the middle bunk. Not a lot of sleep for either of us tonight. We arrived into Long Bien at around 8am and unknowingly, caught a taxi about 4 streets to our hotel street. We'd just chosen a street out of the Lonely Planet, and then proceeded to walk around and enquire about rooms and prices. We soon found a great place for $25 called Sunshine Hotel on Ma May Street in the Old Quarter.

Welcome to Vietnam.

Posted by Long way home 21:56 Archived in China Comments (0)

Yuan Yang Rice Terraces, China

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10.12.2011 - While I woke feeling slightly better, the weather didn't follow the same thoughts - visibility on the main square was down to about 3-4 metres. The two Irish girls were heading to a guesthouse in a smaller village outside of town, so Chris tagged along to try and get some photos of the rice terraces.

It proved to be a fruitless attempt, as he could barely see anything, but still managed to have an enjoyable day wandering the local villages, markets and interacting with the local people. Some people have been waiting around for over a week for the fog to clear, we've only been here a day and we're already frustrated with it!

We have decided we're going to leave tomorrow and cross the border to Vietnam. We're sick of the cold weather and really keen for some sunshine! There is a bus that goes to Hekou in the morning, and from there we can cross the border on foot and take a train to Hanoi. That's the plan anyway, we'll see how we go!!

Posted by Long way home 08:45 Archived in China Comments (0)

Kunming, China

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07.12.2011 - Back in the big city, we immediately felt the difference between the last few towns we'd been in. After a hustle and bustle to get out of the train station and into a taxi (including strategically nudging and blocking everyone who kept trying to push into the taxi queue - backpacks are handy!) we made it to Kunming Cloudland Hostel, a cool little converted high rise with a great communal area.

We were given free welcome teas and enjoyed breakfast while we waited for our room to be ready. It's great travelling in off-season, as we almost always get our rooms when we arrive, even if it's 7am off a night train. Our room was ready by 8:30am, so we grabbed a shower and a change of clothes, and I head off do some exploring while Chris had a sleep as he hadn't got much on the train. There was a giant Walmart nearby, as well as a great market - which happily entertained me for around 2 hours until I went back to grab Chris and tell him about all the bargains.

We wandered back to the market together and Chris was stoked with all the stuff on offer. The main draw of this place was that everything was priced - it was very much a locals market so there was no haggling and no rip-offs! He bought himself a tablet, similar concept to an Ipad but running on Android - and only £100. Great for watching movies, listening to music and surfing the web - and it even came loaded with Angry Birds to kill some time on those long bus journeys. That pretty much meant I'd lost Chris for the rest of the day, as he spent the afternoon playing with his new toy and trying to understand the Chinese instructions on various websites.

08.12.2011 - Unfortunately for Chris, he was sick - again! This time, we decided it was time to consult a Doctor, as it was the third time in a few weeks - so we got some help from the girls at the hostel and headed to a private hospital nearby that provided consultations. The service was great, and we were seen, examined, tested and sent away with medicine in about an hour - for a cost of about £10. Non-conclusive diagnosis, just a bug apparently, but at least we had some peace of mind that we'd seen somebody.

Back to the hostel and it was bed for Chris, and more wandering for me. I found a local market selling fruit and vegetables, great fun watching the locals interacting with each other (and staring at the westerner!). I even had a little old lady grab my arm to ask for the time - she was very intrigued with my watch.

We have booked tickets on the bus to Yuan Yang tomorrow, which is where the rice terraces are famously photographed. It leaves in the morning, and we found two other Irish sisters who are catching the same bus, so we're all going to head out there in the morning.

09.12.2011 - For some reason, we just can't catch a break at the moment, as this morning, I woke up sick! Unbelievable! Determined to get out of Kunming and back to the countryside, we decided to catch the bus anyway. This proved to be a terrible decision as I was sick 4 times on the bus and then again several more times once we finally arrived and found ourselves a hotel. Not a pleasant day at all! We can't seem to work out why we keep getting sick, as we are often eating and sharing the same food - but only one of us is getting sick. Very weird.

Meanwhile, Yuan Yang is currently eclipsed by a thick fog, and you can't see a thing. People had warned us that it can be like this, and we spoke to some travellers who had been waiting 4-5 days for it to clear, and it still hasn't. Hopefully both the weather and our health begin to improve soon.

Posted by Long way home 08:43 Archived in China Comments (0)

A few more days in Lijiang, China

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04.12.2011 - This morning we slept in, before wandering around the Old Town and visiting the Black Dragon Pool. It wasn't the nicest day for it, a bit cloudy so our photos weren't quite the postcard shots on sale in the shops, but we enjoyed ourselves all the same. It's very peaceful in there, an escape from the crowds and tour groups in the small alleyways, but only 5 minutes from the water wheel.

We were in need of a bit of a 'nothing day' so we chilled at the hostel, updated our photos and blog, caught up with friends on Facebook before grabbing dinner at the local restaurant we'd eaten at a few days earlier. Yum. My stomach was on-fire, as I'd ordered a dish with pickled chilli (meant to not be spicy!) and green peppers (again, not spicy!) - but I'd got a dish completely filled with red peppers! I was literally burning up as I ate it. Oh dear, indigestion heading my way......

We wandered down to the night markets and grabbed some cool yoghurt to try put out the fire in my stomach. It helped a little....but I think bed might be best now.

05.12.2011 - This morning we were able to collect our visas, so it was back to the PSB Office we went. Less than 20 minutes and it was all sorted. Visas in hand, we celebrated with breakfast in the Prague Cafe, a really cool cafe just off the main square. Someone who's travelled has obviously designed the place, as it's exactly what a western traveller is looking for! Great food and a really nice atmosphere.

Unfortunately Chris wasn't feeling well today, so his day was pretty quiet, but I wandered around all the little streets and alleys of Lijiang, getting lost but thoroughly enjoying myself. It's a great little town to explore, and I'm enjoying it more the more days I spend here. The first time round, I thought it was too touristy and not nearly as nice as Dali, but after a bit more exploration, it's got a few things going for it as well.

Not really much more to report today - I had dinner by myself while Chris slept the night away, grabbing a delicious burger from N's Kitchen, it was nice to have western food for a change! Chinese food is great, but sometimes a burger/salad or a pizza/pasta is just what you feel like, particularly after last night's plate of chilli's.

Back at the hostel I met some lovely Dutch girls who are working in Australia. They've seen more of the place than either of us!! We swapped travel stories and they made for some great company.

06.12.2011 - With both of us out of bed today, we headed back to Prague Cafe for breakfast and enjoyed muesli and pancakes. The Dutch girls joined us, and we ran into Sarah, the American girl I did my cooking course with in Dali. Together we all went to the Black Dragon Pools again, as it was a much nicer day than when Chris and I had visited last time, so we wanted some better photos. We also climbed to the top of the hills, with a spectacular view over the city.

I had told them about N's Kitchen, and they were keen to try out the burgers, so we headed there for lunch - it's western food day today for everyone. We grabbed burgers and pizzas while playing with 2 gorgeous puppies that they had at the cafe. Only a few months old and really sweet.

Tonight we are catching the night train back to Kunming, and are sharing a taxi with a nice couple who are cycling around China. There's so many interesting travellers in this region. We said farewell to the Dutch girls and head to the train station around 8pm to catch our sleeper train. We were in Hard Sleeper for the first time tonight, but fortunately it was a special train, so we still only had 4 bunks in the room. A Chinese guy tried to steal our beds, but we quickly showed him our reservations and told him to bugger off. Hard Sleeper doesn't have any doors on the cabins, it's all open plan and as such, there are plenty of stories floating around about things being stolen while people sleep. I padlocked all our bags to the bars of the beds, and then even tied the strap of my little handbag to my bra strap. Perhaps over the top, but they aren't stealing MY stuff!! :o)

We will wake tomorrow in Kunming where we're staying at Cloudland for a few days before heading to Yuan Yang. Getting closer to Christmas, starting to think about our plans and where we'll be spending it....might be time to check out of China and head to Vietnam!


Posted by Long way home 02:06 Archived in China Comments (0)

Tiger Leaping Gorge & Shangri La, China

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01.12.2011 - This morning we woke, ready to begin the challenging hike of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Legend has it that a hunter was chasing a tiger through the gorge, and it leapt an incredible distance across the river to safety, via a stepping stone. Hard to believe when you see the distance that it was meant to have crossed, but still a story all the same. Given the rest of the tourist spots in China have been well and truly exploited, it was pleasantly surprising to see that the hike has been left relatively untouched, with minimal signage and a reasonable entrance fee of 50 Yuan.

After a dinner plate sized omelette for breakfast at Jane’s guesthouse, we checked out and began to walk. We had directions, which weren’t always easy to follow, but sure enough soon found our way onto the right track and began ascending into the mountains. We passed through little villages along the way, with many farmers going about their daily chores. The first lookout had been hijacked by a little old lady selling fruit, drinks and marijuana, complete with pipe or rolling paper - your choice. We politely declined and continued walking around 2 hours to the Naxi Family Guesthouse, where we were greeted with a cup of tea and a comfortable chair in their courtyard.

After a short rest, we continued walking and began a tough uphill climb known as the 28 bends. I have no idea why they call it this, as there are at least 40 bends! The top seem forever away as you’re walking, and there are several keen punters waiting with donkeys and horses to carry you up the trail if you aren’t able to make it. But, determined to do it on our own two feet, we waved them away and continued to climb. Around 2 hours later, we made it to the top! Another set of locals who’d roped off the best photo spots and demanded money in order to take pictures…..highway robbery….but what do you do.

We had some snacks at the top, admired the view for a little while, before continuing along the way towards the next guest house. We must have walked until around 11am before we saw any other tourists on the trail, as we’d left earlier than all the buses from Lijiang, but eventually were caught by Laurence and Tessa from Holland, who provided some welcome company, despite leaving us for dust after a short while with their fast European strides. We walked through past the Tea Horse Guesthouse, and eventually after what seemed like a very long day, arrived at the Halfway House.

We negotiated on a room, enjoyed a hot shower and grabbed a drink to watch the sunset on the ‘inspiration deck’, a lookout point over the gorge. We had dinner with some other weary travellers before retiring for a well-earned sleep.

02.12.2011 – Despite thinking it was a good idea to rise early for sunrise, it quickly became apparent that being trapped within the mountain walls meant that sunrise wasn’t going to be appearing anytime soon! So, shortly before 8am we packed up and began our descent down to Jane’s guesthouse at the bottom of the gorge. An easy enough walk, we chatted with Lau and Tess a bit more and made our way down via some great scenery and waterfalls to Jane’s Guesthouse at the bottom in a few hours.

We had originally intended on maybe spending a second night in the gorge before heading back to Lijiang, but the weather was a bit cold, and we were tired from hiking already, so we were easily tempted by the plans of the others to head to Shangri-La. We’d considered it, but for some reason had changed our mind – oh well, time to change it again! We enjoyed some mint tea at Jane’s before booking into a minivan and headed to Shangri-La (with no clean clothes – oh well!).

Early afternoon we arrived and after walking around for a little while, negotiated a great deal on really nice rooms @ £6/night. The owners didn’t speak English, but with a little bit of sign language and some iphone interpretation, we worked it out. Shangri-La is a really chilled little town with a very heavy Tibetan influence, and some great little cafes and restaurants. We had been warned that the town virtually shuts down in December for the winter, and around 10% of the shops and hotels were already closed. Fortunately though, the weather was still good and the sun was shining so we happily spent the afternoon wandering around and exploring the little alleys and streets.

There is a really cool little temple within the central streets which we visited giving us a panoramic view over the city centre. Compared to Lijiang, Shangri-La is a relaxed paradise – very little hassle despite there being many shops, and still plenty of smiles everywhere. We grabbed some street BBQ and some drinks in a nearby café before returning to the comforts of our cheapest bed yet in China.

03.12.2011 - The next morning we woke up and there was no power in the whole of the Old Town. We'd originally thought we might stay another night here, but the thought of cold showers and no electric blankets made us pack up our stuff and check-out. We made our way up to the Songzanlin Monastery. This is one of the main sights that people come to Shangri-La to see, and despite another ridiculous entrance fee (which we’re now completely used to in China) we weren’t disappointed. We spent a few hours wandering through the various buildings and around the grounds before making our way to the bus station to take bus back to Lijiang.

Arriving back early evening we ran into Paul at the hostel, a kiwi guy we’d met in Dali. It’s funny how you keep on running into the same people when travelling through this region. We grabbed dinner together before he had to head off to the airport, and then I got my clothes off the line that I'd left there 4 days earlier (guess nobody wanted them!!) and we chilled around the hostel for the evening.

Posted by Long way home 02:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

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