A Typical Travel day in China

April 27th, 2015

This morning I woke before 5 am, nauseous from interrupting my stomach’s normal nightly routine. We finished packing our bags and caught a 45 minute cab ride to the airport, unable to escape the typical car sickness that comes from a vehicle not having shocks, a driver that knows only to slam on either the gas or the break pedal, and a country where drivers don’t acknowledge that there are rules of the road they should follow.

Our bag packing routine now feels normal. We each bring a medium sized travel backpack, fill small travel sized “packing cubes” with the same small set of clothes, which now include ripped and stained travel pants and rain jackets. We already have a toiletry bag pre-packed because it never gets unpacked. I simply  have to re-fill some Tylenol, motion sickness medicine, and decide how many doses of antibiotics would make sense to bring. I refill the reusable travel shampoo/soap/conditioner bottles we have, sometimes confusing the shampoo with the soap and vise versa. Mike makes sure all the electronics are fully charged, and his “bag of tricks” is complete with travel towels, bug repellant, sun lotion, inflatable pillows, and whatever else he feels like packing.

There’s always something I can’t find; this time it was my headlamp flashlight. Sometimes I spend hours and hours looking for this one thing, but this time I only wasted about 15 minutes before I assigned Mike to the task, who quickly decided I could just bring a standard cheap flashlight instead. Good call.

The other sometimes time consuming task is deciding how to deal with all my camera stuff, including what lenses to bring and how to make sure I can backup my photos as we go along the trip.  I learned the hard way by only transferring my pictures from the SD card to my hard drive and immediately clearing the SD card for more pictures is not a good method if you care about your photos. My hard drive broke in Taiwan. The only pictures I have from that trip are the ones I uploaded along the way, and they are not the originals. Last night I backed up the pictures from my current hard drive, packed that drive, and sorted through enough SD cards for the whole trip to make sure there weren’t any pictures that still needed to be downloaded, over 160 gigs of space. I hope that’s enough. By the end of the night, I have a short list of tasks I need to accomplish in the morning. I always make sure to remind myself to pack my hairbrush, and my phone. I have forgotten both.

At the airport, we used our newly discovered American Express credit card perk and picked up some snacks and drinks at the VIP lounge. Now, before you get jealous, continue reading 🙂 It only took us two years to figure out how to use this benefit.

The 3 hour flight was extremely turbulent, especially at the end during the descent into Lanzhou. Unlike in the US, domestic flights in China usually serve full meals. This one only served us a piece of bread and crackers. Fortunately we had the snacks from the  lounge, and I think one of them must have had some protein because I didn’t get a blood sugar drop from all the carbs.

Upon arriving in Gansu we slowly unloaded the plane and were dragged across the tarmac in an overful bus. Our bags arrived quickly. Our research informed us to get to our next destination, Xiahe, we would need to travel an hour into the city to the South Bus Station, to catch either the a 2PM or the last 3pm direct bus. It was 12:30. We thought we had plenty of time.

Outside the small airport there was a large bus staging area, each bus going to a different part of the city. These were long distance buses with individual seats and because I was sick of being car sick, Mike and I decided to take the bus rather than taxi.

As we were leaving the airport expressway, a huge pileup of unmoving vehicles were waiting to enter the main highway to Lanzhou.  Something was going on to cause this, but we had no idea. Our driver got in line (we’re in China, it’s not really a line) and immediately got out of the bus, walked quickly to his police friend on the side of this mess, and apparently asked him to escort us in the wrong direction on the highway out of the mess. So there we went, driving the wrong direction on a highway full of vehicles, following a police escort. Our driver knew a different way to the city.

Unfortunately this new way took 3 hours, not 1. I’m not sure if this was because the change of direction, or his insanely slow driving, or all the traffic in the city.  Not only did it take almost three times as long as we expected, but we were thrown off the bus randomly on the side of a large intersection, not at the south bus station. Apparently when Mike asked if there was a bus going to the south bus station and they replied yes, they meant it went in that direction, not actually to the bus station. To any novice China travelers frustrated with China confusing you, don’t worry. I think we now qualify as experienced travelers in China, but even experienced travelers have no clue almost all the time. On our last trip to Hunan, Mike kept repeating there was only one explanation… “They’re messing with us!” Most of the time, that’s how it feels. It’s the only explanation.

So we missed the last bus to Xiahe. Fortunately I had a backup plan, which included a bus to Linxia, a prefectural city on the way to Xiahe. The lady at the ticket counter in Lanzhou stated one left in 5 minutes, or another one in 35 minutes. Because we know  when we buy a ticket so close to the departure time, we’re usually stuck in the back row (aka very very bumpy or the worst few hours on a bus you can imagine), we decided to wait and buy the next ticket. We were hoping to go the bathroom and grab something to eat. Almost as we were leaving the ticket window, some guy (a bus driver) grabbed Mike and said he can get us seats in the front of the bus. We hemmed and hawed, and thought they may reserve a few of those seats for some reason such as for travelers along the way (something we’ve seen many times), we succumbed to his pressure and bought the earlier ticket. As soon as we got to the bus, we saw all but the last row seats taken. Knowing he couldn’t fulfill his promise, we started to walk back to the ticket counter and change back our ticket. The driver ran after us, cornering us, and promising he would get us a seat. Without us agreeing, he went on the bus, somehow kicked out two people in the front, and ran back to get us. Mike and I were ready to leave this situation because we didn’t want to be people that kicked other people out of their seats, but through flurried shouting and physically pulling us, we somehow agreed to get on the bus into the seats that other passengers were kicked out of because of us. We are such jerks!

That bus was uneventful. We sat up front, I took Dramamine, and the roads were good. The bus driver helped us arrange a private driver (as he was driving) to go the rest of the way to Xiahe, because we had also missed the last bus at that point. That driver ended up having a nice car, being extremely helpful finding our hotel, and charged us a very fair rate.

Whew. We’ve finally arrived in Xiahe.

Our toilet doesn’t flush.

However, Xiahe was pretty cool.

Mike overlooking the city

Monks

Monk on a skateboard

This bread looked really good. I was wrong…looks can be deceiving.

Prayers

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Vietnam – Halong Bay Cruise

(sometime in late January, I think, er….this was a post we’ve had in our draft folder for a while)

We are in the middle of our Halong Bay Tour, and im FREEZING. The weather did not hold out for us. Everyone told us that it would be cold in Hoi An, and it was not at all. Everyone told us it would be cold in Hanoi, and we still wore shorts. Everyone told us Halong Bay would be cold, and I didn’t believe them. I wish I packed my warmer jacket…

I’m pretty sure most people that travel to Vietnam take a Halong Bay Cruise. Most options are one day (because it’s a 4 hour drive from Hanoi, this would be waaaay to quick to see the bay), or 2-3 days. For Mike and I it was difficult picking out what “junk”, or cruise, to take, since there are so many options and not an easy way to browse the differences.

I stumbled upon a blog that reviewed the junk we ended up taking, which was Vega Cruises. We settled on them because they were the cheapest, most well reviewed mid-range option. I would have loved to take one of the more expensive nicer boats, but we travel too much, and our budget reflects that. I really think with Halong bay cruises, you get what you pay for. Ours was cheaper then many, and the main reason is because we only spent one night on the boat.

We were picked up yesterday from our hotel and joined the other passengers for the drive to Halong City. There were 13 of us and our guide.
Four hours and a pit stop at a tourist market selling Vietnamese crafts before we arrived on our boat.

The boat itself was pretty nice.

We enjoyed relaxing in our room (it was a bit too cold on our balcony) and viewing the scenery for the first few hours while we cruised to our first stop: surprise cave. This cave was definitely impressive and we had enough time to take pictures and enjoy it.

From the cave we took kayaks to explore around the islands and hongs, including a cove. Even though we were cold and slight wet from the paddles, it was pretty enjoyable. It was almost dark by the time we got back to the boat. In summer, there is more time to kayak and explore because the days are longer.

Our boat was parked for the night, and the wind had died down, so Mike and I enjoyed drinking beer on our balcony, followed by a very fulfilling seafood dinner. I wouldn’t claim it was the best food we’ve had in Vietnam, but it was tasty. After dinner our guide challenged us to some fun games, with a free beer as a prize. As a group we succeeded only in one challenge. And then it was time for bed.

I slept better then I thought I would, the beds were very comfortable and the boat didn’t rock too much.

Breakfast in the morning was at 7am and was slightly unfulfilling. The only thing “cooked” was fried eggs, but it also included some fruit, bread, and spreads for the bread. The mango juice was good.

After breakfast we headed for Titop island, and climbed to the peak to see the view. It would have been even more spectacular if we had better weather.

Afterwards, we headed back to the boat and checked out of our comfortable warm rooms and on to a second “day” boat where we would spend most of our time on the second (and last) day with the few others that choose to have a second night in the bay. Our travel companions for this portion were a family with 2 kids from Hungary. They were nice and it was fun to watch the kids play together so nicely. This boat had 2 decks, the bottom was mostly enclosed, but 2 doors didn’t work so it wasn’t completely enclosed, enabling the wind and cold to make that deck uncomfortablly cold. The top deck was worse though, it was open and would have been great in warm weather, but just too windy to spend much time there.

We cruised for a few hours before our planned island stop to go biking and hiking. The stop was worth it, it was nice to be active and get our blood flowing and feel warm…and also see the countryside where they were just beginning to plant rice. The hike was short but interesting. Mike and I both almost tore our clothes climbing up and down some really sharp rocks.

Back in the boat we had lunch, and again it was very good. My favorite was a fish dish with a bunch of herbs, and the French fries.  After lunch, we went kayaking again around the bay. Tip: bring a waterproof bag for your camera to have with you while you kayak.

A few hours after lunch we arrived at Cat Ba island where we spent the night at a very very Chinese looking hotel. Cat Ba island really reminded me of China somehow, I think it had to do with the numerous ugly concrete buildings. We had dinner on our own that night.

The next morning we hopped back on the very cold boat for a few hour ride back to the overnight boat. I think I spent those hours huddle in multiple layers of cold trying to keep warm. We arrived at the overnight boat, but it wasn’t the Vega junk. Apparently the Vega junk had some mechanical problems so we shared the last few hours on another tour companies boat, I’m not sure how their passengers liked that but we needed the ride! It was warm, but the buffet brunch wasn’t nearly as good as the food we had with Vega.

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Sleep on a Soft Sleeper

12am

Soft sleeper bunks on overnight trains are a great idea.  They are overnight and meant for sleep. Problem is, they’re a bad idea for travel if you don’t sleep.

In theory, you wake up in a new place, refreshed and ready for site-seeing, saving the cost of a hotel room night. This doesn’t happen if you don’t sleep. You end up tired, cranky, wanting to rest and do anything but sitesee. You have to wait at the least half a day to even think about checking into a hotel and resting. This is why I don’t like traveling by overnight train if at all possible. I think a few times I may have slept an hour or two, but never the full night. Most times I don’t sleep at all.

We managed to grab the last two soft sleeper tickets from Lanzhou to Dunhuang. We only have one bunk mate, but he is a very loud snorer. I am not sleeping.

He’s a nice guy. Otherwise I would consider throwing things on him. Or smothering him in his sleep.

I almost slept at 9:30.

I read, was tired, turned off my reading light. Mike came up and said goodnight, I grunted slightly, knowing more would wake me completely. I started to drift off…. That’s when the snorer first fell asleep. I was awake and alert!

It’s 1am.

I’ve been reading, making myself tired, and as I put my iPad down to sleep, sleep never comes. I wish I wasn’t such a sensitive sleeper. I’ve tried putting my pillow over my head. Doesn’t work.

It’s now 2:30 am.

I put my music on as loud as it goes and I can still hear him. I’ve started making loud noises just in chance he will wake up. He doesn’t. Sorry Mike. I’m tired and pretty miserable.

It’s making me angry. I can’t do anything but lay here, exhasted, as he sleeps soundly.  It not fair. He is getting such good sleep and I CANNOT WAKE HIM.
It’s 3am.
I want to not feel so angry. But I’m still awake, and I don’t have much battery left. I can’t think about anything other then not sleeping and wanting to. Oh, sleep, I desperately want you.
Writing this is making me more and more angry. I will stop for now and go back to playing the dot game.
I circled the dot! First time!
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New (photo) Blog – and Yuanyang Rice Terraces

We apologize for not updating much on here lately. I’ve just started a photography blog, and I’m still trying to figure it out (so don’t mind the many changes you’ll probably see if you actually happen to check it out more then once…) For the first post I shared pictures and a few stories from our trip to Yuanyang, Yunnan.

Check it out!

https://kimberlykendall.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/i-started-a-blog/

Since it’s still a word-press blog, I know there’s an easier way to share it – but as many times as I go through my settings and it says I can re-blog, I can’t get the button to work! I’m going to blame it on China internet, although it’s more likely a problem with the user.

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Dinner for 1 in Hanoi

On our third night in Hanoi, Kim didn’t feel well, so I wondered out on my own in search of food. Vietnamese food has yet to disappoint me, and this time was no different. Full disclosure: this story may be the most boring entry on our blog.

I wondered for about 3 blocks. There were a few upscale fusion restaurants aimed at tourists, a high end Vietnamese restaurant, and a nice wine store (where I found a bottle reminiscent of that time we took Travis’s VW across the Alps and Danny puked at a vineyard). There were Pho restaurants, a place that served some funny looking soup, some bars, and a pizza place. And there was street food. Finally, I was motioned over to a setup on the corner of Hang Manh and Hang Quat that advertise fried crab rolls and grilled pork.

Continue reading

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Vietnam, Cheap Coffee and Beer

Beer for $.25

Beer for $.25

We’ve flown 9 times in the last month and a half. Yikes! That’s a lot of flying.

We are now on a “last minute” trip to Vietnam. At least, more last minute then our typical travels. Mike had an invitation to join a HADR Exercise and Disaster Management Exchange in Haikou, China , only a few days after arriving back from our US visit. Since we would already be packed and traveling, we decided to continue traveling in that portion of the world and into Vietnam. Continue reading

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Back Home

1/10

We’re back “home”, back in China after a 3 week visit for the holidays in USA.

Actually, we are sitting in a “remote” area at the Shanghai Pudong airport on our Boeing 777 after a 14 hour flight from LA. The pilot just announced, clearly annoyed, that we are parked here waiting for a gate to open up. Our planned gate had a plane in it, and so does every other gate at this airport right now. So we are sitting, waiting, waiting.

Ohhh china, how I did not miss you.

Here are some photos from our recent flights.IMG_0052

IMG_0387

IMG_0411IMG_0418

As you see, the last two of those pictures is not like the first two. We can see the pollution is pretty bad, but we can’t even look it up on our phones because 3G is too slow right now.

6 months to go….

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Not a 2 Year Vacation – Part II (Xi’an and Guoliangcun)

Back to Mike’s parents’ visit. They wanted to see the Terra Cotta warriors, so we started in Xi’an. Flights were just as cheap as train tickets, so we took a flight there. We read that a recommended attraction, the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi (Han Yangling), was on the way from the airport to the city, so it became our first stop. It was an extremely impressive archaeological site with much fewer tourists than other major sites.  The main attractions are several burial pits that have been excavated and renovations of the gates and walls.   There is enough history here to spend a few hours, and it is impressive, but its not a bucket list item that you will regret skipping.  There was also a museum, but we missed it. As usual there was some confusion about the location, and as it turns out the museum was at a separate site nearby.

 “The contents of his tomb are particularly interesting, as they reveal more about daily life than martial preoccupations – a total contrast with the Terracotta Army. ”
Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/china/shaanxi-sh-nxi/around-xi-an/sights/cemeteries-memorials-tombs/tomb-emperor-jingdi#ixzz3KtZYz5aw

One of the pits

Figurines

Continue reading

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Not a 2-Year Vacation – Part 1

Written at the end of October

The Kendalls in Hangzhou

Mikes parents used to tell people we were on a two year vacation, living and traveling in China. They just left after a two week visit, and we changed their minds. “I will never tell anyone that again!” (Mike’s mom at the halfway point) I’m really not sure what kind of impression we are leaving people with when reading this blog. We know we are extremely lucky to be where we are, given this opportunity to be doing what were doing. We know we are growing as people, strengthening our marriage, and learning so much about an area of the world we knew so little about before living here. Its awesome and a fantastic experience, but it’s not always as glamorous as it may sound. We unintentionally showed my in-laws a very accurate picture into our lives here in China. The first few days were very normal. Mike had his thesis proposal due, so he was busy at his computer. We took them to the local farmers’ market (which doubles as a fish market), and had lunch at a pretty touristy street nearby. They seemed awestruck by the newness of it all, but the thousand yard stare in Mike’s dad’s eyes might also have been jetlag. We showed off many of the beautiful places in Hangzhou, shared experiences with them, and introduced our friends. We took them to eat great Chinese food and very specific restaurants we picked out. Mike’s mom commented on how friendly the people were (they were!) along with how generally happy they seemed. Mike and I recently returned from Japan, so we agreed. The food was good and the people were nice. Continue reading

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Change of Plans, Heading Downhill in Sichuan

8/4

We’re back in Chengdu right now. This was not the plan, but here we are.

Background: when planning the trip for this summer, we first decided the general area we wanted to visit and then chose the provinces. We decided to visit Guanxi, a bit of Guizhou, Sichuan and Yunnan. I started my research during one of the many times we didn’t have Internet by reading lonely planet.

The first thing that caught my attention was a horse festival in the Tibetan town in Litang, Sichuan. The second thing that caught my eye was a multi-day horse trek also available in multiple places in Sichuan. Awesome! Our first goal was to figure out the exact dates of this horse festival and see if we could fit in in our schedule, and it seemed to work out perfectly. Our plan once we left Chengdu was to go first to Kangding, adjust to the 8,000 foot altitude, and continue on to Tagong at 12,000 feet and do an overnight horse trek, then end up at Litang during the best days of the horse festival (over 13,000 feet).

Kangding ended up being more then we could hope for. The town wasn’t anything special by itself, but it’s surroundings were beautiful…but Mike already wrote about this. He already wrote about our 2,000 foot climb the first day at altitude,  and the horse that wanted to eat my shoe.

Anyways, at the place we were staying we met many other travelers, most of whom were doing a different loop than us. I meet a guy who had just come down from Tagong. I asked him what it was like, he said he wasn’t sure…he had gotten sick with a fever and had to return back from the higher altitude.

Uh oh. Continue reading

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