Yangshuo town – Saturday, November 24

Hoping my scratchy throat is just allergies and not the beginning of a cold. Also, although my knees are okay now, my legs are quite sore from the recent days’ walking. So, I just had a lazy day in Yangshuo.

Taxi into town, wandering around, tea and people watching at every tea shop with seating.

One place had a menu with only Chinese characters, so between my “is there a popular dish you can recommend?” card and the worker’s phone, I wound up with something “most popular with foreigners” – a boba milk tea. That works!

Just outside the restaurant next door, there appeared to be some minor flooding – big puddles in the street. I’m not sure if the water was coming up out of the sewer/storm drain, or what, but the fix appeared to be placing some plastic(?) sheets below a paver stone, and then scooping the excess water into a bucket and dumping it on the other side of the street. It seemed to work.

At another place, I tried a tea with cheese because it sounded weird. The “cheese” bit was a freshly whipped topping with a slightly salty processed cheese flavor. Interesting, but I don’t need to have it again. When I heard people behind me meowing (and not Nihao’ing!) I turned to see a white cat sauntering through, and getting more attention than it cared for.

Later, I stopped in for a Thai massage, and although my legs are still sore, I found that I can walk both up and down stairs again, now, without wincing. Yay! Hopefully my scratchy throat stays in check. I’m looking forward to doing more active things, tomorrow.

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Huangshan to Yangshuo – Friday, November 23

Up again before dawn and a short hike up to a sunrise viewing spot. The headlamp was much more effective when not reflecting against mist in the air. A promising start! I found a comfortable sitting rock in a less crowded area and settled in. As the sun began to rise, it wasn’t the camera chirps, cellphone chimes, or constant chatter that interrupted my moment of zen, but rather the loud phlegmy throat clearing followed by someone hocking a loogie. In the near-dark. In a crowded place. With multiple tiers of viewing areas. And I wasn’t on the highest. I think I now understand why people are so set on climbing to the absolute top, and it’s not necessarily all about better views!

Anyway, I escaped un-rained-upon and on my way back down to breakfast, my knees told me that hiking down the mountain would be a bad idea. There’s no fallback plan of using Uber (or the Chinese version, DiDi) if I got tired, since there are no roads. And I didn’t want to be the person being hauled down in a bright yellow chair after being unable to make it out under my own steam. So, the gondola it was. And even the small hike from my hotel to the top of the gondola was enough to confirm I’d made a good decision. It wasn’t the uphill that was hard, it was the going down. Ow. Ow. Ow.

Since it was morning, everyone was going up the gondola. I could tell I was going the right way as much because of the mass of tour group people coming towards me as because of any signage. One girl stopped and wanted to have her picture taken with me. Yeah, sure, I guess. Why not?

I felt like I was swimming upstream, and I had to just stand my ground on the far edge of the trail at times, because the mass of people coming at me were taking the full width of the path. But, since everyone was coming up when I was going down, I had a gondola all to myself.

At the bottom, I walked and caught the blue bus back to Tangkou town. I had a few hours to kill before I needed to be at the Tunxi airport, so I walked very slowly around Tangkou.

There wasn’t much going on (aside from it being a good day to air out the bedding!) I stopped to enquire about some small pastries for sale. Using google translate, I asked “what’s inside?” (Confusion). Tried again. “What is the filling?” (First attempt, google thought I said “feeling.” Argh. Second attempt got it right). “Dried plum”. Ooh, okay. She then gave me one to eat. It was alright. Kind of dry. I wanted to pay her, but maybe they weren’t sold individually? I walked a bit and then came back and tried the app again. “I’d like to buy a small portion” confusion again. While I was standing there, a man came up, reached into the bin and picked one up with his fingers, sniffed it, said something, and threw it back in. I try not to let my germophobic side win while traveling, but between the language barrier and that, I decided it was best to just move on. Sheepish smiles and apologies/thanks, and I left the poor lady alone.

I moseyed some more, eventually ate lunch, and then figured that since I’d walked every street (some more than once) in the dense area of Tangkou, I’d head on towards the airport. I was ready to sit down for awhile.

I showed my slip of paper with “Tunxi Airport” written in Chinese and after some brow furrowing, was pointed towards a bus. The driver wasn’t on board yet, so I showed the slip of paper to some fellow passengers, just to confirm I was on the right bus. A bunch of chatter in Chinese ensued. Hmm. Not the simple head nod or thumbs up or smile that I’d been hoping for. I thought perhaps the handwriting was bad or something, so after hand motions indicating an airplane taking off failed to elicit the desired reaction, I pulled up Tunxi Airport on my phone’s map app, which included a picture of airplanes. More chatter and gesticulating. An older woman showed me a picture of a building which might’ve been an airport terminal. Eventually a younger girl who seemed fed up with the situation pulled out her phone and using a translation app communicated that this bus goes to the train station, and that I’d have to get a taxi to the airport from there. Not ideal, but I guess it’d work. (Also: thank you!) The consensus seemed to be that there was no direct bus to the airport. Maybe because it’s low season? Not sure. Anyway, I still had plenty of time, and I figured I could look for a tea shop around there or something where I might sit and people watch (there had been no such places in Tangkou, that I could find). So, onward.

As we got into town, the driver started calling out various stops. At one point, the girl indicated that he should stop so I could get out. My maps app showed that we were in fact near(ish) the airport, but this wasn’t the train station. It was literally just a bus stop on the side of a busy road with nothing around it.

Someone else had gotten off with a small suitcase, so I asked if he was going to the airport. Nope – or else he didn’t want to talk with me. Not someone to tag along with, either way. I pulled up the DiDi app and checked to see if there were cars around, and there were, but I wasn’t sure if it was pinpointing my location correctly, since it said something about a bus station (not a bus stop). So, when a taxi came by, I hailed it, climbed in, and handed the driver the slip of paper with the destination. Ok. And he used the meter, and the price was in line with what I expected based on the DiDi app (around 17cny), and he was able to make change for my 100cny note. Phew!

At the airport too early to check in, I wandered over to the only restaurant and looked at the menu. All in Chinese, with only one picture per page suggesting to me that the items might be beverages or food or dessert. Using our translation apps, I told the worker at the counter that I wanted something a little sweet. He asked if fresh juice was okay. Sure (my throat’s getting a little scratchy and maybe that’d help). The next translation made me giggle, as the options he listed were whether I wanted to quit my job or apple or orange juice. Maybe giggling wasn’t the best response, but he then said something about winter pear, and that sounded interesting, so I went with that.

Check-in, security, and then more waiting at the gate. They had fancy chairs that I think maybe were massage chairs you could activate with your phone. There are QR codes EVERYWHERE here, and I’ve seen people using their phones to scan QR codes to pay for food, and the taxi had one, as well. Someone sitting next to me was snacking on a whole cucumber.

The flight itself was on time and uneventful, and provided some good people watching. The lady sitting next to me had taken up the entire row with her stuff and was eating some kind of flakey food that looked like multiple layers of folded paper, when I boarded. I had to ask her to move her things out of my seat so I could sit there. Her husband was across the aisle, and gestured to ask if he could take a picture of the wife and I, together. Alright, sure. Eventually he had to move to sit next to her (apparently he’d been trying to stake claim to the row on the other side of the aisle, and wasn’t in his assigned seat). Tray table down, massive grocery bag full of food. Eating a loaf of bread and a sausage before takeoff. Flight attendant eventually came by and had him put the table up.

Got to Guilin, found my driver waiting where planned (holding the sign with my name upside down) and settled in for the long drive to Yangshuo. The moon rising over Guilin was full and orange. Maybe I’ll be able to get a picture of it in Yangshuo.

The silhouettes of karsts at night look really cool. Some look like giant anthills or termite mounds. Some of them are perfectly triangular.

Getting into Yangshuo, I noticed a number of scooters with umbrellas mounted on them. I can’t imagine they’d provide much protection against rain while moving, so maybe they’re mostly for shade?

Finally at my hotel, it was a relief to find the receptionist spoke good English. Talk about a day of being a bumbling idiot in a foreign land. I’m so grateful that people are friendly and patient with me. And that there hasn’t been a mass of people behind me that I’m holding up, in these situations.

Huangshan day 2 – Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

I woke up super early, and headed out before dawn to join the throngs of people hoping for some cool sunrise photos. It was still pretty misty so we didn’t get warm colors, but it was cool to see the shapes of the mountains come into view as there got to be light in the sky, and waves of mist blew through.

Back to the hotel for a hearty buffet breakfast and recharging my phone (the cold did a number on it!) and when I looked out my hotel window, the sky was brilliant blue and I could see mountains. Woohoo! What a difference a day makes!

Off on a day hike involving MANY flights of stairs (mostly down and very steep). I had intended to make a loop hike and climb out, but when I got to the bottom, was told the trail was closed. Cable car up, it was. And, probably a good thing as my knee started hurting not long after we got to the top.

Along the hike down, an older Chinese gentleman and I took turns taking pictures for one another. Later, a girl who was apparently part of his group chatted with me for awhile. Her name was Xin and she had lived in Iowa for 7 years or so, and spoke great English.

After I eventually made it back to my hotel area, I stopped in at the next hotel over where I was able to get a painful yet therapeutic Chinese foot massage while attempting to use google translate to communicate with the guy. I’m hoping the massage and a good night’s rest will be all I need to be back in hiking shape. I’ll have to see how my knee does in the morning before deciding whether I can hike out, or if I’ll have to take the gondola. Since I’m trying to take it easy tonight, I didn’t hike up to a sunset view spot. Looks like I missed a good one, but at least I got some cool moonrise views.

Huangshan – Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Woke up at 4am, and thought I’d take advantage of being one of the first ones up, to charge my phone. There weren’t any outlets in the train cabin, so I sat in the hallway charging my phone (slooooowly).

Got to Huangshan station right on time, and the gentleman from my train cabin that spoke some English pointed me in the direction of the buses to Tangkou. They would’ve been hard to miss anyway – not only were they straight ahead of the exit, but a lady had a speaker and was loudly directing people to various buses. I couldn’t understand any of it (all in Chinese) so I asked to make sure I was getting on the right bus, and settled in for an hour long ride with my legs and pack stacked above the wheel well. Cozy!

Then, on to buy a ticket for the next bus, and a twisty ride later, we were at the base of the east stairs (and gondola).

There were very few people around – it was not the mass of tourists I’d been expecting. I probably could have ridden the gondola up without too long a wait, but I came intending to hike up, so I did. Many times, I couldn’t see anyone ahead of or behind me. I also didn’t see much in the way of mountainous scenery – it was so misty all you could see was the trail and a few hazy trees.

There were quite a few porters on the trail, lugging up their heavy loads. I thought of myself as the (wo)man in black, scaling the cliffs of insanity, and gaining on them. Inconceivable! Of course, I wasn’t carrying their load. I didn’t see anyone get carried up.

I had started out with a warm jacket and ski hat, but as I climbed, shed a lot of layers since the stairs were a good way to work up a sweat. It wasn’t until the very top when the wind came up, and the mist/clouds really socked in, that I felt cold again. But I didn’t want to stop to get bundled up, so just held my poncho in place around me and hurried on to my hotel.

Visibility was so poor that you had to get really close to the signs to read them, but I eventually found the right place.

It’s supposed to clear up tomorrow, so instead of hiking in the chilly mist this afternoon, only to not be able to see anything, I’m staying warm and catching up on…this!

And I have to say, backpacking that ends with a hot meal, shower, and comfy bed is pretty excellent.

Shanghai – Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My strategy of (mostly) staying awake on the long flight to Shanghai seemed to have worked. I was ready for a hot shower and a comfy bed by the time I got to my hotel, and got a good nights sleep. The extra walking around that I did as a result of “favoriting” the wrong Central Hotel Shanghai might’ve helped. I circled a completely wrong block a couple of times (and even went down a dark and narrow alley) trying to figure out where the hotel entrance was, before ultimately going back to my reservation information and mapping the address again.

Anyway. I made it, and after some quality pillow time, was up fairly early. Greeted by a hazy morning, I walked a bit looking for something just right for breakfast.

I found the hotel where A and I had stayed a few years back, and walked the street where I’d remembered having amazing scallion pancakes, but I couldn’t find them. I eventually ducked into a restaurant whose entrance was in the back of a food hall, with an upstairs seating area overlooking the pedestrian street, where I had some unremarkable noodles and a “latte” that lacked milk. Disappointing first meal. It might’ve been the view of the M&Ms store across the street, but I had a sudden craving for chocolate, and picked up a hot chocolate at a nearby bubble tea place.

After packing up my things and leaving my bag at the hotel desk, I wandered the city some more. After following the concierge’s suggestion, I wound up in the Yu Garden area – a total tourist trap.

Walked a bunch more. I was finally hungry for lunch, and was looking for something tasty from some smaller restaurant north of the pedestrian street. Then, something caught my eye in the street. A rat. A dead rat? A dead rat. And then along came a man with a giggling toddler in his arms. He kicked the rat (again) and she burst into a fresh round of giggles. One more thwack and it was in the gutter. I suppose one dead rat in the street is one less rat in the kitchen…but I decided to walk a bit further before eating.

Eventually found a place with hand pulled noodles with braised beef. Now THIS is what I’m talking about. Slurp!

And then, I was tired of walking so decided to indulge in a foot/body massage combo, before going back to the hotel to grab my pack and head to the train station just as rush hour was beginning.

I was glad I’d given myself some extra time at the station, as the ticket counter was in a totally separate building from the station. After asking directions several times, I eventually wound up in the right place, and was able to pick up all my train tickets while I was there.

Then dumplings, and a night train to Huangshan. Seemed like I didn’t actually do much, but my phone says I did indeed walk a lot.

Pulau Perhentian – April 29 – May 2, 2018

KLIA express train to KLIA2, a 1hr AirAsia flight to Kota Bharu, a 1hr shared taxi to Kuala Besut jetty, and a 45min bouncy boat ride to paradise.

Last year, I stayed on the bigger island at a resort that was tucked away from other things (and my room rate had included all meals). This year, we stayed on the smaller island, and even on the quieter side, there were several places to eat.

The days run together a bit, but it was perfectly relaxing. Beach side roti canai (banana & cheese: interesting, but not good with the curry sauce, IMHO), an evening stroll over to the Long Beach side for a swim, a mid-afternoon milkshake with the girl we met on the taxi ride, snorkeling in the mornings (still amazing!), hiking beach to beach, a water taxi back when we got tired…

Related note: I love my dorky full length swim getup. I didn’t burn while snorkeling this year (it’s UPF 50), and I pretty much lived in it on the island. As long as I took a quick dip in the ocean every so often, it kept me really cool. Also, it helps prevent both jellyfish stings and insect bites. Plus, I look like a mermaid. A really, really pale mermaid.

Melaka, April 28, 2018

Since I was finally feeling a bit better, we decided to make a day trip to Melaka. We took a train to the TBS stop, where we found our bus. We had bought tickets online the night before (and found that all of the earlier morning buses had filled up!) so we spent a leisurely morning in KL before getting our 11:45am bus. That also gave us time to find the right line at the bus station (to get our boarding passes), and to scope out the glamorous snacks available for purchase.

In Melaka, we took a taxi to Nancy’s Kitchen and enjoyed a very tasty (and very late) lunch before exploring the city on foot. It was a hot day, and we wound up splitting up for awhile before wandering the night market together. Unfortunately neither of us was very hungry since we’d had such a late lunch, but we appreciated the fresh watermelon juice.

Eventually, we needed to find a taxi back to the bus station. We stopped at a corner hoping to flag one down, when we saw a hotel/cafe that advertised taxi services. When we first enquired about it, they told us their boss had just left, and asked if we could wait (no, sorry). Then as we were about to leave, he returned. We agreed upon a price, and we followed him outside to his car, and got in… Only to have him turn around in surprise to see us. He was just moving that car to a better parking spot. The taxi was the next car, up. Oops! We all had a good laugh about that.

Back at the bus station, we ordered food and chatted with the manager(?) who had spent some time in Texas. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to eat because our bus was (surprisingly!) on time.

Travel tip: when ordering food that might wind up being “to go” rice or noodles would be a smarter choice than soup.