Wednesday, June 20, 2018

1 Girl, 2 Bags, 3 Countries, 4 Weeks

So.. Why the Title?

Because I head out on a solo extended trip today.

1 week in Yunnan province in China.
1 week in Laos.
2 weeks in Northern Thailand.

33 days to be exact.

Yunnan, China Facts and Info.

I don't know detailed information about Yunnan province yet because it's more interesting to look into those things when I'm there. These are just logistical facts.

  • I'm flying to Yunnan province from Xiamen, in Fujian province, today.
  • I will be there for one week.
  • I will stay in mainly 2 locations, Kunming and Lijiang. I'll take a bus to travel between the two locations, about 7 hours each way.
  • While in Yunnan I hope to see a 'stone forest', a deep gorge and a tall mountain with snow.
  • It's forecasted to rain everyday I'm there, unfortunately, so I'm going to need to be flexible.
  • I have all my rooms booked ahead of time. I always stay in private rooms, but often in hostels.
  • It's great to travel in China because the data on my phone still works. Which means I can still use Apple maps and my taxi app. 
  • At the end of the week, I'll fly from Kunming to Vientiane, Laos.

My First (and Hopefully Not My Last) Visitor

I had my first visitor to China. It's nice to have some shared experiences in the place I currently call home with someone I knew before China. I met Stef when I lived in Hungary, where she still lives, and we have traveled to Greece and Israel together.

I was a little anxious to be the 'tour guide'. We had decided on going to 3 places (one was Xiamen the city I live in) that I had been to before, but this is still China. But as soon at she arrived I realized I didn't need to worry because she was going to like whatever we did. In fact I had to pray for my attitude because her positivity highlighted my impatience with some inconveniences that come with living here. I could hear and see how my reactions contrasted with her graciousness and friendliness when faced with common annoyances and cultural differences and I was challenged.

Stefanie and I traveled around Xiamen, Hong Kong and Guilin/Yangshuo.

Some Highlights

Xiamen had some extremely clear days (no pollution).

I enjoyed showing off some of my favorite places. And she wanted to make sure she could go to church with me. I met Stefanie at a church in Budapest over 10 years ago.

The Disneyland shows were amazing. 

Stef worked at Disney in France and Florida many years ago and she wanted to experience Hong Kong Disneyland. This was the first time for me to go to this one as well. We flew from Xiamen to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, we also went up to The Peak to see the view, down to see the harbour view and we ate some dim-sum.

The Mountain 'Retreat' was wonderfully located and staffed.

Next we took a train to Guilin. From there we went on a day trip to see the Longshen rice terraces. After spending two nights in Guilin, we took a bus to nearby Yangshuo and stayed at a beautiful 'Mountain Retreat'. From there we were able to bike around the breathtaking countryside. We also hiked up a small mountain to get a view of the Karst mountains in Guilin and I climbed up another in Yangshuo for the same reason.

Good weather all around. 
It was hot and pretty humid, but bearable.

Small Mishaps and Frustrations

- Missed ferry boat
- Bug bites, lots of them (me)
- Loud people at the Yangshuo 'show'. Actually, we came to watch and listen to the show, thank you.
- Too much time in the car on a tour we didn't care for. Car sickness for part of it (me). We just want to see the rice terraces, actually.

Now Stef is back in Budapest and I am officially the owner of only one apartment. For the last month I was renting and going back and forth between two. But today I said goodbye to the more heart-of-the-city apartment and all my stuff was moved to my new place, closer to my work. I'm very happy with the change. I love Xiamen island, but I was ready for a quieter location. And the apartment is new which is nice!

See you next in Budapest!

So, who is coming to see me next? Jill, Angie, Naomi, Valerie, Brenda?!?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

To Do: See Terracotta Warriors

It was on my 'To Do This Year' list.
  • See Terracotta Warriors 

Their fame and history (210 B.C.), and the audacity of a man to make thousands of statues to protect his tomb, drew me.

I was thrilled when my fellow-ex-Kuwaiti-resident-who-now-resides-in-Korea friend said she wanted to join me in the Shaanxi capital of Xi'an to check them out.

Little did I know the incredible detail eat soldier/piece of art held, nor that they were originally intricately and colourfully painted. I also learned the extent to which Qin Shi Huang went to make sure his artists were not able to share their talents with other leaders. We were told that the artisans and probably the ruler's concubines were shut up in the tomb with him, most likely alive.

And little did I know that Xi'an had so much to offer. Besides being home to more than 7,000 terracotta soldiers, it has one of the oldest, largest and best preserved city walls in China.

Our hotel was within the walled city and we spent about 2 hours biking around it.

I also didn't know the warriors are not actually in Xi'an city proper. They take forever to get to. They took us even more time to reach because, unfortunately, I had the taxi driver take us in the wrong direction, for quite some distance. 

Luckily, after we arrived an English speaking guide found us, because I had not been able to acquire one online. She took us to a hidden away place on the grounds for fun tea tasting, before we started the tour. 

In Xi'an, we also went to a, disappointing, musical performance, visited some beautiful towers and pagodas, and meandered through the lively night market in the Muslim district of the city.

I can see why the location of this fun 3-day getaway, is one of China's top foreign tourist sites.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Korea: Journeying to Jeju and Sightseeing in Seoul

Spring break is a great time to check out more of Asia. 

The first time I heard of Jeju was last year, when my cousin, my mom's brother's daughter, told me she was going to be teaching there. I was definitely wanting to see her. I hadn't seen her since she was 7 and she lived in my hometown. After looking at pictures of the small island off South Korea, I was also happy to have a reason to visit Jeju. It was great to reconnect with my cousin and experience many of Jeju's beautiful places with her.

Jeju isn't as small as I thought. In fact it's bigger than Xiamen. I guess it needs space to have so many naturally stunning attributes, but it is a little hard to manoeuvre without a car. Taxis do not frequent the 'Education City' neighbourhood where many teachers, including my cousin, live. But even if you are lucky to find a taxi, they are pricey. I paid 70 USD to take an hour long taxi across the island. There are reasonably priced, regular buses, but they run relatively infrequently, which means if you have to change buses your route could take a very long time to travel. Add those things to the language barrier and it takes some energy to travel around the island, nicknamed the 'Hawaii' of Korea. I definitely got my fill of beauty during my time there, but I didn't see everything. 

Things I saw either with Brittany or solo:

The top of Korea's tallest mountain, Mount Hala. It took us over 7 hours to ascend, and passing the snow was super tricky. 

Canola fields- the flower that gives us Canola oil. I had seen countless images of the flowers on bottles of oil over the years, but I had never thought much about them before. They're pretty.

Jeju oranges. Yum.

Cherry blossom cups at Starbucks. And the actual cherry blossoms.

The aquamarine colored beach with sunrise peak in the rear.

Sunrise Peak- I went 2X. 1X in the afternoon, 1X at sunrise. 

The Haenyo women.These women free dive down to depths of more than 30 feet wearing only rubber suits, flippers, and goggles. They’ve been doing this for hundreds of years and have become symbols of Jeju island. I saw them stroll out of the water carrying nets full of sea creatures. They sell them right on the beach.

Udo Island. We took a short ferry ride to another small island off Jeju island. It has amazing beaches and cute bikes. It took us around 2 hours to bike around its perimeter.

Udo is known for peanuts, so while we were there we ate a peanut Korean shaved ice desert, called bingsu.

Cousin, thanks for moving to such a great place to teach!

Next on the Spring break itinerary- Seoul. Though I like living in large cities, I prefer not to visit them that often. Consequently, I wasn't that excited to visit the second largest metropolitan in the world with more than 25 and a half million people. But as I tend to do, I ended up liking the mega-city known as Seoul. 

Korea Food Rocks

l liked the shaved ice desert, spicy rice cakes and the cheesy rice food my cousin introduced me to. The staples, bimbibap and kimbap/gimbap, are delicious as well and, possibly, healthier options. Or is it bibimbap? I can never seem to get it straight. Whichever transliteration it is, it's a serving of white rice topped with sautéed vegetables, an amazing peppery red sauce, sliced meat and some form of an egg. Kimbap is Korean style sushi rolls and, it seems to me, the Korean fast food.

Spicy rice cakes with seafood.

Seoul is a very international city, having food from every corner of the globe. I also ate at a pretty posh Taco Bell, which serves espresso and beer.

The first day, I spent with some fellow Xiamen-ites, also on the 9 day break from school. We visited a neighborhood with traditional houses, called hanoks, ate yummy food and went partway up the Seoul tower to experience the view on, the rare, crystal clear evening.  

The second day I met up with a friend I met during my time in Kuwait. I'm happy she has relocated to this part of Asia. It rained on the day we hung out but that didn't stop us. First we hiked up a mountain behind her housing complex, and then proceeded to explore more of the city, on foot. A friend of hers, who she also knows from Kuwait, but who is now living near Shanghai, was also in town for the day, so she joined us.

On the last day of my Korean tour, I wandered around on my own, visiting many eateries before heading to the airport. 

Despite Seoul being a city of over 10 million people, I really liked it. It has a convenient modern infrastructure and many international comforts, yet it still maintains enough of its history and culture to remain intriguing.