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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Good times in Laos (again)

Drinking Beerlao and "Tiger Whisky - Coke", sunbathing, tubing and doing absolutely nothing.

That about sums up what Shos and I did after we left Kunming and went to Laos. The bus ride there was anything but smooth... During the first hours and most of the night we experienced no problems, but at around 7 in the morning everyone was rudely awoken by an abrupt and totally unexpected move of the bus. I felt and sounded like we hit something and immediately the driver and his helpers left the bus to check. Of course we followed them and then we saw what happened: we hit a big rock on the left side of the road. Whether the driver fell asleep and hitting the rock prevented us from a really bad accident or whether the rock fell on the road just before we got there and the driver was unable to maneuver around it will always remain a mystery... Luckily the bus was damaged only lightly so after some basic fixing we were able to continue or way. At the border they really fixed the bus and we continued with slightly less than 7 hours delay. Below some pictures of the damage and a short demonstration of how Chinese fix a bus...

We dropped Marc in Luang Prabang at 1 at night and hoped to see him a few days later in Vang Vieng to join us. For us the delay meant that we arrived in Vang Vieng at around 6 in the morning, which is a very decent time to get breakfast and find a room. The next 10 days were quite uneventful except for the unexpected sighting of someone I knew from the time I lived in Weert. His name: Maarten Teunissen. I had no idea that he was doing a big trip through Asia together with his girlfriend (Sandra Poodt). Of course we decided that we had to go tubing together and that is exactly what we did the next day. Filling up a couple of bottles with a strong "Tiger Whisky - Coke" mix, grabbing some tubes and of we were! And for everyone that knows what tubing is like in this part of the world it is obvious that we had a great day! Teun en Sandra, bedankt!!!

We only saw Marc on the last day before we left. Had a couple of beers and buckets with him at the Smile Bar on the island, got a little drunk and talked about absolutely nothing important. Isn't vacation great..?!

Last Saturday at 1 in the afternoon Shoshannah and I took a "direct" bus to Bangkok where we would arrive at 6 or 7 in the morning. The ride was boring with a few too many stops, but it got us were we wanted to be without any hassle. The only downside was that we arrived at 4 in the morning instead of 6 or 7 and all hotels were fully booked. After waiting a couple of hours we got a room in My House, took a shower, got some food and went to the Weekend Market. Besides that we really haven't done a lot in Bangkok. On Friday I am leaving for Myanmar where I will stay until the 12th of February. More news will be posted here after I get back. On the 13th we have an afternoon flight to Xiamen (China) and we will be back in our own country ;-). The plan is to visit Xiamen, Shanghai, Nanjing and probably Hangzhou, a city near Shanghai where a "second cousin" of Shos lives.

We spreken jullie laters.
Ruudje & Shos

Monday, January 14, 2008

Deqin and surroundings

Hiking over mountains, through the snow in the north-western part of Yunnan!
In Zhongdian a.k.a Shangri-la it was cold... very, very cold! During the day it was very nice: blue skies and a warm sun. But during the nights and mornings... brrrrr!!! After a little stroll through the old town on Friday we decided to have some exercise the next day. So we rented two bikes and made a trip to Napa Hai, a lake north-west of the town. We had pretty decent mountain bikes, so we also went off road and cycled over some frozen fields to the edge of the lake. On the way there were several beautiful sights of the local culture and of course the lake itself with all its birds.

On Sunday we took a bus to Deqin. The ride was both fantastic and scary! To get to Deqin the bus has to go over passes of more than 4000 meters and drive on roads that have very steep and deep cliffs right next to them. After about six hours in the bus we arrived and straight away took a taxi to Feilai Si, a temple just outside town from where you have a great view of the mountain range that includes Kawa Gebo, with 6740 meters the highest mountain in Yunnan.

We spend the night there and shared a taxi with three Chinese people the next morning to get to the MinYong Glacier. The walk from the parking lot to the glacier took Shos and me about two hours (the Chinese girls 3,5...) walking uphill, but it was worth it. The glacier looked really cool, almost otherworldy. So we spent some time admiring it, but then still had to wait for the Chinese girls to arrive. So we walked back a little bit to the TaiZi temple at 2940 meters and I played some pool with a young monk :-) After we got back down, the taxi dropped us at the entrance gate of the park where we waited for a ride to the XiDang Hot Springs. We got one and the car dropped us in XiDang, which meant that we still had to walk 5 kilometers uphill to the other place. Found it and got a good meal, a beer to wash it down with and a fire to keep us warm!

On Tuesday we were expecting our hardest day. We wanted to go to Lower YuBeng, which is a little town close to all the big mountains, but it can only be reached by foot. So we had to go uphill for 12 km (from 2680m to 3680m), then down for 6 km and another 2 km to get to the town. It was a little less heavy than expected, but it was still very rewarding!!! The little town is beautifully simple! People working on the fields, building houses from wood and so on. On the way there we met the owner of a guesthouse (The Mystic Waterfall) and since he seemed to be a genuinely nice person we decided to go to his place. Once there we had one of the best experiences of this little trip. He and his two best friends (who all traveled to Tibet, Nepal and India to study Tibetan and English for several years) joined us during the evening. Lots of tales and of course tastes of the local food and drinks (such as warm, homemade barley alcohol mixed with yak butter and egg).

The next day we undertook the trip to the Sacred Waterfall (one way about 7 km). Once again we had amazing weather. It was so warm that we actually brought way too much clothing and we were sweating all day long. The water of the waterfall was not exactly rushing down the mountain, the reason might have been that it was frozen solid ;-) But nonetheless the views were great and we stayed there quite a while to enjoy the scenery (although we were warned for a high possibility of landslides and avalanches...). Later that afternoon we moved to Upper YuBeng and stayed at the guesthouse of one of the three friends. We had dinner with the whole family and shared several drinks, after which we decided it was time for bed.

On Thursday we walked back to Hot Spring town and called a taxi to pick us up and take us back to Deqin, so we could catch a bus the next day to Zhongdian to start our long ride back home! The next morning we took the 8.30 bus to Zhongdian (where we arrived safely, probably due to the prayers the driver and passengers did before leaving...), booked sleeper bus tickets for 16.30 that same afternoon and after 14,5 hours in the bus we arrived at 7.00 in the morning in Kunming.
In Kunming we met Marc again and he was planning to leave to Laos either on Tuesday or Wednesday. And our plan was to leave on Tuesday... So to add some fun to the more than 24 hour busride to Laos we decided to go together. So tomorrow at 17.00 the second part of our wintertrip will start!!!

Ruudje B. & Shos B.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Parents in China

Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, Zhongdian and now going to the unknown...

Last week Friday I picked up my parents from the Kunming train station. After they visited Beijing, Xi'an and Chengdu they had finally arrived at their son's city. On Friday, after a nice cup of coffee at our place, we strolled along the water and through the city. Their impression of Kunming was extremely positive, so they totally understand why I don't mind living there :-) That night we had dinner at Hong Dou Yuan together with a bunch of our American and Dutch friends and even my mom (who "hates" Dutch Chinese food) enjoyed the meal.

The next day was entirely arranged by one of Shoshannah's former students who works for the Yunnan government. He wanted to show Shos (and me and my parents) the beauty of his county by providing us with an all-day tour. We got picked up at 8.30 by an nice, big SUV with a driver and guide and they took us to a rose and lily farm where we got explanations and a pretty sight of all the flowers. After this we enjoyed a great meal at a restaurant in Jinning. This was the first real Chinese meal for my parents in the way that it included sitting at the right places, lots of toasting and exchanging gifts. The food and the experience were incredibly nice.
(the Chinese text translates as: "Holland old person"... lol)

After the meal we went to the Anning Hot Springs to enjoy the (too) hot water, a rough scrubbing session and a relaxing massage. Of course we also had another meal there and at around 22.00 we were dropped off again at our apartment. A long, but amazing day (with the complements of the Chinese government...).

On Sunday we paid a visit to the famous Stone Forest. Normally I would be really looking forward to this, but just when my parents arrived in Kunming the weather turned from hot and sunny to cold and cloudy... On the way to Shilin we even had some light rain :-( But once we got there it the sun broke through the clouds and it was nice enough to walk around comfortably. After three hours of looking at rock formations we decided it was enough and took our little minibus back to Kunming.

On Old Year's Day we headed out to Dali. Our bus left at 10.00 and a pretty comfortable 5 hours later we arrived in Dali. Switched buses to get to the Old Town and checked in at our guesthouse. The weather here was amazing: sunny and hot!!! After a short stroll through the streets of the town we decided we had to catch a few rays of sunshine and sat down for some nice, cold beers. Another few beers, a dinner (with beer) and some brandy-cokes later it was almost midnight. We rushed out of our rooms and walked onto the streets where you could hardly notice that it was almost midnight on New Year's Eve... We found some other foreigners and after wishing them a happy new year, playing with some fireworks and checking the streets of an empty Dali we decided to call it the night (for me this was probably the shortest celebration of this evening ever...). But nonetheless, it was a good last day of 2007.

On New Year's Day we took a bus to Lijiang. The luxury bus wasn't exactly as luxurious as anticipated, but it got us to our destination. Over the next two and a half day we did what most tourists do when in Lijiang: walking over the old cobble stone streets, checking out the stores (which all sell the same things), enjoyed the sun (yes Mark, this time there was sun and we even had a clear view of the mountain...) and visited the famous Black Dragon Pool Park. My mother and Shos bought a bunch of scarfs and other goodies and that is about everything we did there. According to me a very nice and slow ending of my parents' visit to China.

I really enjoyed and appreciated that they came to visit me. Now they finally know what it is when I am talking about the great food other things that are so characteristic of China. And of course it felt good to see and hear them again!!!

When my parents left for the airport on Thursday, Shoshannah and I took a bus to Zhongdian. On the way we passed the little town of Qiaotou, the entrance town for Tiger Leaping Gorge, where Shos and I met exactly "15 months minus 1 day" ago :-) Fifteen minutes later the happiness disappeared and made room for a little horror. A tow truck blocked the road right in front of us. We wondered why but as soon as we got out of the car the answer became clear: an SUV broke through the railing and crashed into the river some 8 meters below. There was nobody in the car anymore, but seen how the car crashed and the fact that there was a little fire burning next to the water, we assume at least one person died there earlier that day... After seeing that we still had two more hours to go over, sometimes small, roads with very steep and deep drops right next to them. Pretty scary...

But we got there in one piece and now are preparing ourselves for the rest of our 8 week trip! More news about our adventures will come when I manage to find a place that has Internet. That might be a little harder than usual since we are planning to cross some big, snowy mountains on foot :-)

De groeten,
Ruudje & Shos