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By this Author: 2012trip

(Tha)i(s)land hopping!

The good, the bad and the crazy..

sunny 34 °C
View The journey continues.. on 2012trip's travel map.

Sawasdee ka!

Well hello again, from Thailand this time. I can't believe I'm saying this, but unfortunately, after eight countries this will be the last one on this world trip.. From Malaysia we went to Phuket, Thailand. For all of you who are wondering; no ,there we in our opinion no signs of a tsunami ever happening. Maybe if we would have seen the place before it happened, we could compare it to now, but there was nothing odd about this tourist hotspot. Nice beaches, gorgeous weather and an insane amount of Russians. Thought we left that part behind us, but I guess it wasn't quite over yet. Everywhere you looked were Russians. All restaurants had English and Russian menus, stores and tour operators were run by and completely in Russian, random people we met would just start speaking Russian to us. Seriously, if you would close your eyes on the street and didn't know where you were, you would think you would be in Russia, because thats all you hear. Families, but mainly very old Russian men with half naked girls (who could have been their granddaughters), drinking alcohol all day long and be openly sexual active the end of the afternoon (read: drunk 70yr old guys with boners making serious moves on 22yr olds).. Thank god for dark sunglasses, mp3 players and a good book to hide behind, it was just embarrassing..

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So after two days of soaking up our first rays we took a boat to the Phi Phi Islands. Yes, this is the island where the movie "The Beach", with Leonardo DiCaprio, was shot. We imagined this idyllic island in the middle of the ocean (Andaman Sea), but nothing seemed to be further off when we arrived. Loads and loads of tourists and the town of Tonsai beach was quite the village. Lots of souvenirs shops, fruit shake stands and diving schools, it was just as developed as Phuket, it just had a little more tropical feeling. Nevertheless, we felt very Malibu-easygoing right from when we got there, and learned that the actual movie was shot at Maya beach, which is on PhiPhi-Leh a small island next to Phi Phi Don, so we booked a day trip there the next day.
It ended up being a great day of snorkeling, our first trip on a real Thai longtail boat, visiting different islands and beaches around PhiPhi (bamboo- & mosquito island) and ended at Phi Phi Leh. Dark clouds were already coming when we got to Maya beach, and yes, it started pouring when we arrived.. So sucky.. It's supposed to be paradise and its pouring rain! But I guess thats the chances in rainy season. Nevertheless it was still very pretty! We stayed for a few hours, had some fresh melon and pineapple and had a rough boat ride back towards shore. Then we had a barbecue dinner at a deserted beach, which was only reachable by boat. They dropped us off around 4.30, and in the end there was probably around 60ppl from all nations. The barbecue was nice, great food on paper plates, beer and off course there was fire shows by the thai guys. All in all a great once-in-a-lifetime night! As the tide came up, our beach slowly filled up with water and at 8.00 there was barely any beach left to stand on; time to leave! But not before we swam with the bioluminescent plankton, pretty amazing! Since we were not able to take decent pictures of it, here is one from google, just to get the idea. We didn't see it like this, because we were in the water, but it was pretty cool to be swimming with the lit-up plankton!

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Also, we met some great fun people who we were going to meet for a drink later that night.

When we asked our guesthouse lady later, what a good place was to have a drink, she pointed us around the corner of our guesthouse; there was a street full of bars, which went all the way until the beach and continued there. Well, we learned very soon that Phi Phi is the biggest party place we have been too so far, and discovered what Thailand is famous for, buckets! A plastic bucket gets filled up with ice cubes, they add a Mickey of whatever booze you like, 1-2 small cans of red bull and any pop/juice you like. All this for the amount of $6.50..

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So, the golden rule, which we were already told by several people while traveling, is that you should not drink more then one bucket per person per evening, or else you will wake up on a different island.. Point taken.

Well, so far for idyllic PhiPhi, which turned out to be the best party place in our whole Thailand trip. Lots of fun people, dancing on the beach, burning hoops, rope skipping and limbo, other fire shows, it was one crazy but fun party place! So, it seems something shocking happens at every destination because here the drug scene was insane. Having to go pee after a bucket, the new friends that we made told us to go pee on the beach, but we thought this was gross and went looking for a bathroom. Walking into the bathroom, never in our lives have we seen a more horrific scene. People shooting up heroin in their arms, sniffing coke from the sinks, and other ones popping pills, we were just startled. It took us a few seconds to realize it was actually happening as one of the girls said, "you want some? I got clean needles!". Too shocked to say much, we mumbled "no thanks" turned around and went to pee on the beach. We get it now, it's not gross, it's safe :). Besides the horrific bathroom scene, we never ran into any other drug things like this in the rest of the trip, so I guess if you're not into it, you don't even see it, but obviously if you are, it's available in every bathroom ;). When someone came up to me later and asked me what drug I was on (because apparently, "I'm bouncing around like Tigger"), I tell him with a big smile it's an all natural one, called 'energy' and that he should try it sometimes ;).

The little street right of the beach bars is filled with tattoo shops and quick-grab food places, and around 3am when the clubs stop playing music and it's time to go, the tattoo places fill up like its a bakery selling their first fresh bread of the morning.. We wonder how many of these people will actually remember they got a tattoo when they will wake up in a few hours..

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After PhiPhi, we took a boat to Ko Lanta, a bigger island, more east, almost near mainland Thailand. Ko Lanta is less developed then the other places we've been, but that made it very nice! Next to our hostel, there was an international bookstore, the cutest place ever! We even found some books of Dutch writers!

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We rented a scooter and drove around the island one day. At every nice beach we saw, we stopped for a swim and had dinner while watching the most amazing sunset ever! The colors were magnificent and the people on this island were very friendly and less tourist minded, it was quite nice!

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From Ko Lanta we went to Krabi by mini van. We went onto a ferry twice to reach the mainland, but it was faster and cheaper than taking the boat. We spend two days in Krabi but only to fix Jo's entry stamp, because they missed her visa while entering and only gave her 30 days instead of the 60 we need. But it got all taken care off in two days so; off to more Thailand hopping!

We left the Andaman Sea to go to the Thai Gulf coast. By bus from Krabi to Surat Thani, then took a SongSerm to Koh Samui. Nice weather, so we spend it on the deck hanging with our legs over the railing, just to get back in the mood again :). Since we arrived in the evening we decided to spend the night in Nathon and move to Lamai the day after. That's when it started. Not lightly, no it poured, luckily only a few hours, so by the time we wanted to leave for Lamai it was dry again.

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Took a real thai Songthaews, which is a taxi like a pick up truck with benches in the back an a roof over top, but open on the sides and back. You can just hop on/off as you like, and hold your hand up on the side of the road if you wanna hop on. Very easy, convenient and cheap! Two hot days at the beach followed. As did Jo's 27th birthday! Complete with an awful tasting cake, we celebrated again with the green candles that made it here with us through all these countries! Enjoying this beautiful paradise, little did we know that rainy season was gonna hit hard soon. Two days we were able to lay on the beach for a few hours, but the other days the rain came down like we haven't seen before. Luckily our hostel had a tv and DVD player, so we killed some time watching movies.

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When we moved to Koh Phangan it was even worse. We were here for six days in total and already upon arrival it was raining so hard that, while we were sheltering from the rain, just outside the pier, you could almost swim in the street. When we went over to check out full moon beach, it was held together with sandbags.. Nice.. It obviously had rained for a while here, and nothing seemed like it was gonna change any day soon.. And it didn't. When Alyssa, Janelle and Eileen arrived all the way from Canada the next day, it was still pouring. Good thing about Phangan was that you basically live at night and sleep during the day and this weather at least didn't make you feel bad about it. Our breakfast was served until 7pm daily, so I guess that says enough about the rhythm of life here ;). Even though the island is famous for the full moon party, on all other evenings there is enough other parties to go to. We went to a real pool party, a waterfall party and off course the full moon party. On the 28th of November it was full moon night, free dinner from our hostel included as were the buckets. We all went shopping for some glow in the dark clothes (signature for the party), we found some glow in the dark body paint on the way and off to Haad Rin beach it was. Luckily for us it stayed dry till 7am, which was a first this whole week and it was great!

In contrast to the nice Thai people we have met in most places, on Koh Phangan they are really taking advantage of them in every possible way they can. It shocked me to see that during the full moon party, lots of Thai people are just wondering in the crowds, searching the sand, to hopefully find wallets, cellphones and money, which they will resell to third parties.. Lame way to make a living if you ask me..
They're is almost just as many 24-hr doctors offices in Koh Phangan as bars and no, this is not over exaggerated. Also the amount of people that have bandages/gauze wrapped around some body part is totally normal. You're almost not normal if you don't have a part wrapped. Some reasons for the wrappings..
First, the amount of glass that gets broken on average party nights and that end up on the street and beach is insane. Secondly, the fact that if you take you flip flops off when entering a bar/restaurant (which is normal here, you leave them at the door) and won't find them when you get back there, because someone (accidentally) took yours (or just liked yours better), you end up having to walk home with none. Add the two together and you end up with a lots of cuts in feet and legs. Add the stumble drunk home people that fall into a pile of garbage bags which contain broken glass and the people that seriously got injured during diving/snorkeling and they are really busy 24hrs/day. I assisted an Irish girl one night, that fell into glass with her hand and was bleeding so badly, yet wanted to go home. I told her she would need stitches and was able to convince her to come to the clinic. A small hour, 13 stitches and 7500 baht ($250/€185) later, it was clear to me how all these doctors offices can stay in business no problem.
But, great thai food, good parties, good buckets, nice massages, SameSame; Koh Phangan was sure a special place! Pictures say more then words, we had a blast!

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On December 1st, after a week of living at night, we decided to head over to the more quiet Koh Tao, 1.5 hr north of Koh Phangan. We took the SongSerm and even though we left Haad Rin beach with sunshine, big black clouds covered the sky soon. Half an hour later, were in the worst weather I've ever been on at sea, (luckily with Gravol) and I didn't have to throw up this time, Leash was less lucky. The whole boat got quiet when lightning hit the water right next to our boat. An orange explosion is what it looked like and the sound was awful. Since it was pouring so hard already, so you could barely hear one another speak, was probably a good thing, cuz it would have sounded even louder if it didn't. After more then two hours, we finally arrived on Koh Tao, but at least our boat didn't sink and it was dry which was nice. We got a transfer to Sairee Beach and had a well deserved lunch at the beach. That's when it happened..

All of a sudden, some personnel came up through the restaurant with a christmas tree...
We almost bursted into tears. In that instant, it hit us that it really is December and this trip is really getting to an end. We decided to pretend we didn't see it, and focused on the beach and ocean, and minutes later it felt like it was mid-July again :). Then "All I want for Christmas" blurted out of the speakers and we could not deny anymore that the last three weeks of this amazing journey had begun. At least it was lighter in the sky and dry. Jo and Eileen went dive-school-shopping and registered that night for a four day Padi open water course. Luckily the next day and all the days after, the weather changed for the better and we were really in paradise. Hot weather, no clouds, palm trees, white sand and bright blue water, Koh Tao is simply amazing! The girls got their Padi licenses on day four and the rest of us baked in the sun and enjoyed the beach every day. We made a day trip to Koh Nang Yuan island, just minutes by long tail from Sairee Beach. We walked up to the viewpoint and had an amazing view that accentuated all the beautiful colors of the water and beaches. Beautiful fish swam around, and got closer then you can imagine! Another thing Thailand is famous for, we found on Koh Tao; lady boys! Pretty ladies in the bars, on the street trying to pick people up, in massage parlors. As beautiful like some of them are (seriously, some you can just not believe they're actually men!) they are men, not women. We only got one pic, a little bit sneaky (cuz they dont like their pic being taken or want money), and they were not the "best" looking woman we've seen, but again, to give you an idea! All in all, Koh Tao really is a gem!

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The girls left to go up north on the 8th, we followed on the 11th. We took a night boat from Koh Tao to Chumpon. It was a big freight boat, which had two rooms with each 42 beds (all in bunk style) in the back. It was surprisingly nice and the beds were bigger then the ones in the Chinese night bus, so it wasn't bad at all! Left at 11pm and at 5am we docked in Chumpon. A mini van was waiting to take us and nine others, all the way to Bangkok. We got there around 2pm and got dropped off somewhere in the city center. Everybody we've met, told us Bangkok is crazy, so we were surprised to find a relatively quiet Bangkok.. And we were next to Kao San Road! I guess after China, nothing is really crazy anymore.. We had to get to the train station somehow. Taxi's and tuk tuks plentiful but we decided to take the local bus. Bus 53 was the one taking us there for 6.5 baht ($0.20). Then we had to wait till 10pm for our train, which went by rather fast. We took the night train to Chiang Mai, and the train was decent.
Different from all the trains we've been in. It was old and dirty, so nothing new there, but it worked and the beds were quit nice. Luckily we had top beds, so didn't have to deal with the cockroaches on the floor, under the more expensive! lower beds :). When waking up the landscape had totally changed. In the van on the way to Bangkok, we were able to see the Gulf coast almost all the way to the city, now waking up in north Thailand, no water to be seen, and there was small mountains again, combined with lots and lots of trees and other vegetation.

We arrived in Chiang Mai around 2pm, so 41 hours of traveling it took, to get from Koh Tao to Chiang Mai (1244 km) at the cost of $49.. We left to go to Pai the next day, three hours by mini van from Chiang Mai, close to the Laos border. Well our driver was a maniac, as apparently are all others. We got there alive but all is said with that, and once again, thank god for Gravol. Others in our van were less lucky..
We checked into this seriously cool hostel, which was hand build by the owner from bamboo and leaves. So basically sleeping outdoors indoors it was. Our own mosquito net which was nice, and since we were in mountain area, it cooled down to 10 degrees Celcius at night, something we haven't had in a few months, so it felt quite cold! Pai is a very relaxed hippyish town. More dreads than we've seen in our whole trip, old and young, but all funky kinda people if you know what I mean. Flower power all over :). Since all the scooters were rented out for the day, Dutch as we are, we took a bicycle instead and went to a waterfall. At least that was the plan. 8km in 30-some Celcius weather, steep up a mountain is not one of our best ideas, I'm just saying.. An hour and a half after we left Pai, we got there, and it was disappointing as can be.. No tropical waterfall, with a nice lagoon under it, which we pictured but just a small very unattractive waterfall with a pond in front of it.. All that effort.. pff at least we burned some calories :). Downhill went a lot faster and after returning the bikes, we had a nice supper and enjoyed the lively night market of Pai. Lots of cute souvenirs type booths, but also different (local) foods. There was a wide selection from deep fried insects to deep fried ice cream, seriously. Pretty tasty (the ice cream) but the deep fried part is overrated and doesn't add anything. We vote: Don't mess with the ice cream! There was a big reggae festival going on that night, which you were able to hear all over town, so buying tickets was really unnecessary ;).

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Back in Chiang Mai, I signed up for a Thai cooking class for the day after. First our group of nine, was dropped off at the local market, where we learned about veggies, curry paste, coconut cream and other ingredients used often in the Thai kitchen. Back at the cooking school, everyone got to choose their own foods. I picked chicken coconut soup, pad Thai noodles and Massaman curry, my favorite! Most Thai dishes all have the same base, it's just a matter of different quantities and a few other ingredients that make them different. Quick, easy, healthy and delicious! I became an even bigger fan than I already was. Now hope they have the necessary ingredients in Canada..
We explored the beautiful temples of Chiang Mai in the afternoon and spend the evening on the famous Sunday Market, another lively night market full of great experiences!

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One thing we kept seeing everywhere and really loved about Thailand was all the beautiful flowers that grow here. Flowers that hard to find and very expensive in Canada, just grow on the tree here! It's amazing!

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Our last day in Chiang Mai we spend following a full day Thai Massage course. Early up again, pack and off to the school it was. It was great because our class existed of three people and the whole day we learned different techniques of the traditional Thai Massage; back, neck, shoulders, legs, feet, head and face. It was very interesting and we learned a lot!
Right after the massage course, we were dropped off at the train station, where we caught the night train back to Bangkok. We got to the capital round 11.00am and found our way to the hostel by public transport. An afternoon of shopping with the little money that's left and a last great Thai massage (two hours for $5!) was the end of last day together. Tomorrow the alarm sounds at 6am and I will fly to Dubai and stay there for a day, before heading to Holland. Jolijn will be here another day and we should arrive around the same time on Schiphol airport Friday.. And then.. It's frikadel speciaal time! ;)

Thank you for reading our travel stories, hopefully you enjoyed following our adventures. Canadians, see you at the end of January but first: Op hoes op an veur kesmis

Posted by 2012trip 07:54 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Beautiful Malaysia!

semi-overcast 33 °C

Just before arriving to Kuala Lumpur (KL) airport late in the evening, we hit a major thunderstorm. Surrounded by lightning and heavy rain, we once again, hope we will land soon.. Which we do. Since there is no walking bridge to the terminal (and we are parked basically next to it), a rack full of umbrellas does the trick this time. Selamat Datang ke KL!

A world of difference compared to Nepal. Transfer busses are waiting to take us to the train station close by, and an hour later we arrive at KL Sentral. Even the 'teksi' system here is brilliant (unfortunately the monorail didn't run at midnight). Inside the terminal we have to say where we want to go, they print you a confirmation ticket/receipt, you pay and you give the receipt to the taxi driver. No hassle to find a taxi, no discussions about the price or if the meter please can be turned on, it's delightful! Twenty minutes later we are dropped off in front of our hostel, which apparently is located in a street full of restaurants & bars and the atmosphere is great!

On our first day in Kuala Lumpur we explore the area around our hostel and visit the Petronas towers, a famous sight in KL. Since we do not have a Lonely Planet of Malaysia, since this destination was kind of chosen randomly, we decide to visit the tourist information center to get some more info about this country. With all the info we get, we go back to our hostel and start scheduling the next three weeks. On day two we visit other parts of KL like the city centre, Chinatown, Little India, Central Market and Dataran Merdeka. We even visit a mosque, since most of the Malaysians is Muslim, which off course means as females we can enter the property, (after slightly adjusting our outfit before going in; see photo 13) but of course we can still not enter the prayer area. It's very hot and humid every day, temperatures around 32 Celcius, but "feels likes" up to 45 Celcius! I guess we better get used to it!

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After KL we go to Melaka, a place 150 Km south of KL. The busses that run here are very new and spacious, but still cheap! A total opposite of Nepal. It's refreshing and very comfortable! Melaka or Malacca as the Malaysians write it, is famous because it was a big trade town back in the day. It is the birthplace of Malaysia's historical and cultural heritage and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. Even though it was possessed by the British (they still drive on the left side of the road) the Dutch also invaded here in the 1600's. The famous Malacca Stadthuys is the most famous Dutch building that remained, the mill on the other side of the streets is also a very obvious Dutch landmark. It's funny to see, but the mass tourism that comes with it is a lot less attractive. Our hostel provides us with breakfast and its delicious! Rice with fresh coconut wrapped in a banana leaf, a deep fried little meat bun, all different kinds of fresh tropical fruits and something that looks and tastes a lot like a Timbit!
In the evening we enjoy some delicious Malaysian satay, and this is definitely a little different that sate sauce at home. It's made fresh from ground peanuts and Cajun. It's runnier than we are used to but very tasty! You walk into the 'restaurant' which is more an empty shack (cement on the floor, nothing on the walls and TL lights in the ceiling) with some lawn furniture inside. There is a hole in the table, where they put a big pot of satay into. Under the plastic table is a huge gas tank, which is connected to the satay pot and heats the pot. Then, you have to grab a tray and walk to the fridge in which there is a lot of meat/ seafood and vegetables on satay sticks, just pick what you want. Minor issue, no signs in front of everything so you have no idea what is what, and the staff doesn't speak enough English to explain. So we grab something that looks like chicken, something that looks like beef and some tofu. You bring the tray to the table, dip the sticks in the hot satay, let it sit for two minutes and ready to eat it is! When your done, the waitress comes to count the amount of sticks on your tray and you pay. Genius!

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After Malacca we take a bus to Mersing on the other side of the peninsula, and from there we take a boat to Tioman Island. Already suggested to us by two Dutchies in Chengdu China and also more family and friends, we decide to explore this gem, even though its off season and the weather might not be great. We got almost flushed away in Malacca so it can't get much worse :). Semi overcast but dry, we arrive late in the afternoon at Tioman Island's ABC Beach. Nothing booked, but since its off season it's not a problem to find a shack to sleep. It's private, it's clean and there is a fan, which is very much wanted in 34degree Celsius weather. The island is deserted! Low season okay, but having a beach and a bar basically for yourself is luxury that is priceless! We enjoy our first night at the sunset bar with some great food and drinks! Day two was hot and sunny and we get sun burned big time, even though we had factor 85 sunscreen, crazy!
So the next day we spend in the shade, which was a good thing! Unfortunately for us, visiting Tioman Island in the low season also has down sides. Apparently Wednesdays is their day off (like we have Sunday), but when there is no restaurants open at all, finding food is a little bit of a challenge.. Day four we wake up and it's raining. Yuk! But it gets worse, after breakfast it starts pouring, it's literally like the clouds all broke and just emptied their whole content. And it rained until 4.30 so we spend the whole day on our bed in our shack reading a book. Luckily the sunset bar was open again that night and for the last time we enjoyed great drinks, awesome pizza, the best banana milkshakes we've ever tasted and a beautiful sunset!

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From Tioman we take the boat back to Mersing, where we wanted to take a bus to Kuantan and from there to the national park Teman Negara. Unfortunately for us, this Friday was the start of a Muslim holiday and there were no busses to Kuantan or any other little town. The only options were Singapore and KL, so KL it was. 6 hours later we were back in KL and booked the bus to Penang Island (Georgetown) for the next day. Another five hours by bus, but we made it to Georgetown! The first night we stayed in little India, obviously a famous India area in Georgetown. The Indian vibe was definitely there, music, good foods, traditional clothing, henna tattoos, it almost felt like how I imagined India must be. Georgetown is like Malacca an Unesco World Heritage site, with a lot of old buildings which we visited on our first day. The fruit here is delicious and plentyful! Everywhere there is little fruit stands on the side of the road that sell delicious fresh tropical fruits and juices, yum! The heat is hard to handle, the 34 degrees is do-able, the humidity isn't. Every day though, around 3.30pm the rain and thunder come in and at least it cools down a little bit. The food here in Georgetown is also great! Lots of Malaysian and Indian places to try some new delicious dishes! Main difference here, is that the locals don't use cutlery, but eat with their hands. Or hand, that is, because they only use their right hand to eat, not there left. A little challenging for us, if something needs to be separated, so the left hands comes to the rescue sometimes, but we at least try to not use our knife and fork. Chicken tandoori, nasi campus, nasi goreng, satay ayam; it's a delicious week!

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We visit the tropical fruit farm on the west side of the island, which is quite interesting. 260 different kinds of fruits are grown here, all organic. There is a lot of fruits we have never heard of but it's amazing to see, taste and learn interesting facts about all this fruit. The fresh fruit shake and the fruit buffet were off course the best part of this day trip! Getting there, was a whole different story. "Just take the bus 101, it will take you all the way there". Well.. Bus 101 ran just over a full hour until it got to a national park which was the end station. We had to transfer to bus 501, okay no problem. But, bus 501 only comes once every two hours.. Yeah, little note they forgot to mention.. We end up waiting almost an hour and a half, but luckily this bus does take us to the fruit farm ;).

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Our second hostel in Georgetown organized a guided walking tour which was awesome. First we got to decorate our own chopsticks, that we would be using along the way to try some delicious Malaysian dishes! The other thing we had was an ice ball, which really is like a canadian snowcone, but than made round like a ball. The ice ball then gets soaked with rose and rootbeer syrup, and you suck the syrup out of the ball. Apparently a refreshment for hot days from the old days! Its probably delicious when you like rootbeer! haha. We also saw the biggest incense sticks I've ever seen in my life! Beautiful murals on old buildings and great local markets. We had a nice group of people, learned a lot of little did-you-know's and enjoyed a lot of good food/drinks!

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We also make a day trip to Kulim area to visit the "World's longest tree-top canopy walk". Or at least we'll give it a try since bus schedules don't seem to work all the time. It's located in the middle of the rainforest, so it should be exiting and different! After the free ferry to the mainland city Buttersworth, we take a bus to Kulim. From there we want to take a bus to this canopy walk. Goes a little different, since there is no busses to that area.. You would think it would be crawling with people (but we know now, its not China anymore..), but fair enough, once we arrive by taxi there is not a single person present, besides the lodge lady, who grabs her scooter immediately when she sees us. We said to each other, she's probably going to notify someone we are coming. Well, she actually is the one working at the canopy trail and gives us our entrance tickets. The amount of spider webs at the start give us the impression that there haven't been very many people here lately, because it doesn't seem like Halloween decorations ;). And fair enough, we are all alone and hear the many sounds of the jungle immediately when we start. Lucky for us we see a whole bunch off Gibbon monkeys play in the tree tops, jumping, sitting, hanging, falling, it reminds us of Tarzan :) It's great to be able to watch them from so close, I don't think they even noticed us! Besides the monkeys we don't see much else exiting, besides some insects, flowers, trees and beautiful butterflies! But the Gibbons were awesome!

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October 31st was Halloween! Even in Malaysia; surprisingly we thought. Even though we didn't have a costume we still had great fun! The hostel organized a night out to Slurping Senoritas, where it was ladies night, which means in Malaysia that ladies can drink free! It was great! Our hostel tour guide was the one that took us there, apparently thought it was funny to make that night my birthday, so the performing artists sang happy birthday for me. Soon we got some devils horns with a light in them as a gift and our Halloween party was really getting somewhere. Great night with great people!

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Last stop in Malaysia was Cameron Highlands. An area southeast of Penang, and north west of KL. Because of the insane amount of traffic on these narrow roads, it took almost 8 hours, instead of the scheduled 5 to get there, but we made it. Apparently Malaysian schools are out untill the new year, because they don't have summer holidays, good thing were leave soon!
Not situated at sea level anymore, Cameron Highlands felt quite a bit cooler then any other destination in Malaysia we've vistited. The highest point we went to here was 2030mt, which is not that cold, but since Monsoon season is rolling in, it cools down immediately when the rain falls, which is basically all day, except the morning. So, we booked a morning tour the next day to explore Cameron Highlands most famous sights, which is the rainforest (we only had a short but very muddy walk through Mozzy Forest, a forest that is 216thousand years old and yes, is covered in moss), the tea plantations (very interesting to see and never knew tea was such a short process!), strawberry farms (plentiful here, no they don't taste much different than the ones at home but are delicious, especially when you add a Belgian waffle, warm chocolate sauce and some whipped cream ;)) and last we visited a butterfly and insect place. Interesting to see all the insects and reptiles that live in Malaysia, crazy that some of them (a beetle and the centipede) seem so innocent but are so deadly! Butterflies we've seen a lot in the last three weeks, with a big thank you to all the beautiful flora Malaysia has! The most colorful flowers and plants grow here in the wild, it's sooo amazing!

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Back in KL, we innocently go out for supper, because they have the most delicious beef tacos in this street! Its monday, so nothing special, except the fact its ladies night and vodka strawberry is free.. So why pay for beer if you can get free drinks till 10pm? When we leave at 10 (eh, we are cheap Dutch backpackers;)), to go back to our hostel, the bar next door begs us to come in; they have free drinks for ladies tonight, okay.. because your sooo persuasive we'll have one. When you get to bed at 4am, after an incredibly fun night, we realize that a full evening of drinking costed us $0.. Crazy!! We love Malaysian ladies nights!

So, three weeks in Malaysia are already over.. Time is flying, but I mean seriously flying!! It's not funny!
Tonight we're headed to Thailand, the last country on our trip already. There is only three weeks left that we will spend together and the last three weeks we will be in company of three of my beautiful Canadian friends, and after that, it's almost the end of December and... No, we're not talking about that yet, first six weeks of Thailand!!

Posted by 2012trip 20:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

A sweet reunion in Hong Kong and "The flying Dutch girls"

Hong Kong city life and Nepal's majestic Himalaya

sunny 24 °C

Once upon a time, there were two exchange students. They both left their home countries Hong Kong and Holland, to cross the ocean and to go the great country of Canada to learn how to speak English. Both were chosen by families in the little town of Sylvan Lake Alberta, where they both attended H.J. Cody high school. That's where it all begun ;)

10 years later, they meet again, in Hong Kong and have a fantastic two days of catching up! And they lived happily ever after. The end.

No, seriously, Hong Kong is fun, cool, relaxing but European priced, which is something we haven't had in a while and we find everything extremely expensive! We visit Stanley Market on the ocean, pass Repulse bay, explore Causeway Bay, Kowloon, visit the peak with April, enjoy the night markets, visit a theme park that is home to a famous mouse ;) and enjoy the luxury of having normal toilets, bathrooms, toilet paper and soap in public washrooms and good food in to us common places (they had Delifrance bakeries here!:) we ate the most delicious sandwich in three months)

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Once upon another time, there was these two girls from Holland, who both decided in time of economic crisis, to quit their jobs and travel the world...
They flew from Hong Kong to Kathmandu through Delhi, and the main reason to visit Nepal was the Himalaya range, luckily for them, visible from the plane when flying in from Delhi early in the morning. Once arrived in Kathmandu, they witnessed the oldest international airport they've ever seen before. No building in their home country looks older then this airport. That standards changed, was immediately clear when the "luggage belt" showed up..

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The city itself is crazy! Busy, dirty, polluted and poor, very poor. The first sights of Kathmandu make it seem like there was an earthquake and a tsunami just days before. Piles of rocks, rubbish and garbage, combined with tree branches and leaves everywhere you look. It's a weird sight, we realize this is the furthest from home (standard wise) we've been since we started this trip. Our hostel is ok. It's private, there is a bed, but the water that comes out of the tabs is orange/brown and cold.. We explore a bit of Kathmandu that is within walking distance from the hostel and shop around for the trekking. A day later we decide to book a 14-day Gokyo, Everest Base Camp (EBC) loop and we leave two days later, exiting!

The last full day we have in Kathmandu, we spend exploring all Kathmandu's famous sights. Bauddhanath, the biggest stupa in the world, it was amazing! Pashupasinath, a place where they burn the deceased, Durbar Square, Bhaktapur square and the monkey temple (yes, there are monkeys). It was a very interesting, but exhausting day! We enjoy a great steak, in a by a friend recommended restaurant, say cheers to the trekking and hope for a safe return!

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The next day we leave for the trekking, from our hostel we are being picked up by our guide (Chuda) and a driver that bring us to Kathmandu airport, because we have to fly to Lukla before we start our trekking. It's only a 35 min flight, so no biggie. This is what makes this trek more expensive, but if you wanna see Everest, it's this or, take a bus for a day and then hike 6 extra days (with appr. 800 mt elevations up and down daily, and the extra costs for the accommodation, food and beverages make it the same price as flying), so we flew. Delayed that is, because about an 1-1.5hr later then expected we are on our way to Lukla. The plane is a Twin Otter DHC 6/300, a small plane that fits 19 people. When we go in, we're sitting one seat from the cockpit, and the cockpit is separated from the rest of the aircraft by a curtain, that remains open. We can look through the front window of the plane, sweet! The cockpit itself seems older then out grandparents ever were... Different, that's for sure. After 35 minutes we see a little strip of asphalt near some houses on the edge of a mountain, Lukla is in sight, but the runway seems way to short!

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Two days after our arrival in the mountains, we learn that Lukla is the most dangerous airport in the world, not only because of its short runway, but also because of the situation, it's on a cliff, in front of another mountain. And the reason we were delayed on our departure day was not because of the weather (we assumed it was), but because another plane that was heading to Lukla crashed, (on the Kathmandu end) killing all 19 of its passengers (7 Chinese, 5 British and 7 Nepali)... We were in shock, we were just arriving at the airport when it happened, and didn't notice a thing! Our guide didn't tell us, because he didn't want us to get scared, which was probably a good thing. So here we were, alive and well on our way to Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar.

On day one we walked only 2.5 hrs from Lukla to Phakding. It was mostly downwards, but very nice. Lots of green, waterfalls, yaks that carried products up the hill as well as the so called porters (mostly (young) men that carry anywhere from 30kg - 50kg up the hill for $9 a day. Insane!)
During this trek we sleep in so called tea houses. Ran by Sherpa families, they provide a bed (+ blanket at high altitudes) and have a little restaurant in living room style where all the trekkers and the guides and porters can eat and sleep before heading on the next day. The building(s) are not insulated, so we were happy with our rented sleeping bag, even though Helens' shed feathers like crazy (I looked like a chicken when I woke up every morning ;) ). During the whole trek we have a twin room everywhere, quite nice, we thought we would be staying in dorms. There is one stove/furnace in the living room/restaurant, which runs vey efficiently, on yak poop. The women gather the poop outside, flatten it and lay it to dry in the sun. Once its dry enough the men collect it and use it, together with some lamp oil, to start the stove/furnace.

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We have an acclimatization day in Namchee Bazaar, a place at 3400mt, quite a town compared to the other hamlets we've passed on the way up. Still forestry, big bridges over rivers and some great views of big white snowy peaks tempted us on the way. We can not wait to get higher. On day four we can see Mount Everest for the first time. With less snow then surrounding peaks, Everest is not as big as we thought, but its a very colossal peak, and we are already at 3500mt. It would probably be a lot bigger if you would look at it from sea level. Nuptse, Lhotse and Ama Dablam are other peaks we see and they are all amazing.

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The weather is gorgeous after day four, barely any clouds at all. We are able to trek in a T-shirt up until 4800mt, insane! In Macchermo we visit a little meeting in the hospital about altitude sickness, quite interesting, I guess hiking in higher altitudes is more dangerous then we knew. When we reach Gokyo on day five (4800mt) we have a slight headache. Maybe it's because of the altitude, maybe it's because we walk quite fast (and gain too much elevation in too short of time), but luckily its gone the next day. Since day two, there have been two Austrian ladies as well as two German men walking the same distances as us every day, and some of them will until the second last day. Since we sleep mostly in the same places, we make some new friends :)
Soon we get a new nickname, "The Flying Dutch Girls". We basically took about a little more then half the time our schedule tells us every day. Gokyo Ri is the first peak we climb above 5000. It's 5360 and we start climbing at 4am, in the dark, a sky full of stars and a bright moon that gives us enough light to climb up the hill without a light. But is it ever though. You can definitely feel that there is about 40% less oxygen in the air here, compared to sea level. The fact that it's dark is good so you can not see how steep the mountain is your climbing. When we get to the top, just over 2 hours later, the view is amazing!

We do this pattern of walking early in the morning twice again, once for the crossing of the Cho La Pass (we had to go early because of the possibility of falling rocks and melting snow And ice once the sun was warming up the mountain), and the second time for climbing our highest peak this trip, Kala Patthar at 5550mt. Every time a sky full of stars and a bright moon led us up the mountain and once on the summit, we would wait for the first sunlight and actual rays to shine over Mt Everest and neighboring peaks, truly witnessing majestic Himalaya!

The trek itself was fantastic, we loved it soo very very much! But pictures can describe better then words, so:

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After we got back to Kathmandu, this time in a little bit newer airplane, still small, still shaky, everyone on board obviously nervous but at least we didn't crash. We learned that two days after we flew, there was no airtraffic possible to Lukla for 7 days because of the weather. Good for us, since it was nice and quiet on the mountain. On our last two descent days, we met literally hundreds of trekkers going up.. It was a turn off, so busy, but we were happy we weren't part of them and that we were able to enjoy all the peace and quiet on the mountain! We were invited by our agency (High Spirit Treks) to dinner. They took us to an authentic Nepali cuisine restaurant, with live entertainment, Nepali music and folk dance. Very interesting and delicious food! (The Rakshi, a local made alcohol which is very very strong, was a little too much after being a saint for 14 days). Afterwards, met up with two Danish girls who we've met in China, our guides from the last two weeks joined us and had a great night catching up with everybody again!

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Our last days in Nepal, we spend in the south of the country, in Chitwan NP. In contrast to the high mountains we visited in the north east, in the south they have jungle, with crocodiles, elephants, rhinos and much more. We did a three day trip to Chitwan, which took us 6 hrs on Nepali roods to get there. We enjoyed some local cultural show, saw rhinos (from quite far away, but close enough to see that they were rhinos), did a jungle walk, had a canoe trip where we spotted two different types of crocodiles, we bathed with the elephants and made an elephant back ride through the jungle. Incredible! And weird to think that only two days earlier we were still in the Himalaya, and now in a bathing suit on top of an elephant in the extreme heat! I guess we can slowly prepare for what's coming next, and that is Malaysia! It was sad to leave Nepal, which we thought was kinda weird, because neither of us have ever been in a place so dirty which yet felt so comfortable when it was time to go.. Let's see what Malaysia has in store for us!

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Posted by 2012trip 09:21 Archived in Nepal Comments (8)

Around the world in 47 days

Twice. And all within China

semi-overcast 28 °C
View The journey continues.. on 2012trip's travel map.

More than 45000km (28000miles) we have travelled in the last 47 days in the People's republic of China, an average of 960km/600miles per day. Just writing these numbers down, seems like it was a very exhausting six and a half weeks. But it wasn't really, at least it didn't feel that way. We used every possible way of transportation in China, by foot, bike, tuktuk, car, bus, nightbus, boat and airplane and we've seen all we wanted to see! Now lets get the **** out of here!

When we got back to Chengdu after our Lhasa trip, we had time to plan the rest of our China trip. Since we got the extension, there was no rush and we could do everything we wanted. First, we did a day trip by bus to Leshan, home of the biggest Buddha in the world. And was he ever big! 71 meters tall (233 feet) and with a shoulder width of 28 meters it was a real giant!

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That night we were surprised by a visit of our dear friends Kat and Fran whom we travelled with in Mongolia during our 11-day Central and Gobi trip. Even though it was short, it was great to see them again!

The next day we decided to leave Chengdu and Lazybones hostel, where we ended up staying three times during our stay in China. Awesome hostel, great food and even better staff! It became sort of a safe haven for us in all of China's craziness.

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We took a train to Chongquin and since it was a fast train (207km/h) we made it there in an hour and a half. So a short travel day for us. Chongquin is famous as a departure city for the Yangtze river cruises, one of China's highlights if you believe all the tourist magazines and LP. We heard mixed stories, but since we were heading east anyways and could board a ship for two nights, three days for €50/ $65, we figured its also the cheapest way to go; seeing we have a bed for two nights as well. Off course for this price you can't expect much, and we didn't, which was a good thing. A five hour bus ride to the boat was an unexpected 'extra' that apparently was also included. When we got to the boat we checked out our 6-bed dorm. Our Chinese roommates seemed nice, but of course, no English. The guy across from us, in his fifties, asked us where we were from, or at least thats what we think he asked, so we answer with Hulan. Ahhh, is the response and he makes a movement with his hands and legs, what we after a few guesses think is supposed to mean soccer. Then he says with a heavily Chinese accent " van Basten" and "Gulliet", and we nod yes. He smiles and puts his thumbs up and enthusiastically tells the other two that we are from Holland.. Funny.

The last guy that enters our dorm speaks English, which makes the whole deal a little easier because he can translate. The beds are so small that we can't even lie in them and because there is a board on the head side as well as the foot side, we have to lay sideways to be able to sleep (normally our feet just hang over the end of the bed). Add the fact that its 35 degrees outside and the aircon is blowing like it's life depends on it, it's quite the first night.. 
We do meet four other non-Asians on the boat, a German-Portuguese couple and two Danish girls. So the next day we are able to have some normal conversation, play cards and share crazy China stories :)

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We also visit the Three gorges the main highlight of the Yangtze river. We had to pay an extra €20, but we get a six hour 'excursion' for it. We dock and get transferred to a smaller boat, which is still huge! We imagined idyllic little Chinese rafts, but nah, another illusion shattered ;) This luxurious big boat, sails into the three gorges, the weather is alright, but the gorge is not that great. I didn't want to say to much but after we evaluated the day that night, Jo and I concluded that the Verdon in France is prettier.. The water here is dirty, except for the furthest away smallest gorge ( it had blue water, the others all red/brown) and there was a lot of other ships, so definitely a busy route even though it's so touristic. The couple in our room asks us if they can take a picture with us, of course we say sure, and 5 minutes later the pics are taken. The lady is so happy with her picture, she literally stared at the picture for at least 15 minutes and kept saying; beautiful! Eyes, nose, beautiful... Strange..

The next morning when we wake up the weather is great, sunshine and blue skies, too bad the water is full of rubbish and other huge freight boats. We do enjoy a coffee in the sun and count the insane amount of shoes, boots and flip flops floating by, before we reach Yichang. We get here a few hours earlier then expected, so after we cabbed to the train station with the Danish girls, we changed our tickets to an earlier train and are on the way to Wuhan. An hour later we get there, after another really fast train ride, and the bus to the hostel ends up taking an hour and a half within Wuhan. Not uncommon in the cities here, they are just too big.

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One of the things we totally had enough off, is a 'game' we unfortunately witnessed a lot. "How to get 70 people into a 22 person mini bus", the answer is simple, just keep pushing on.. No, its not nice to be squished by 68 Chinese people. One advantage, we are taller, so at least we rise above them and are not stuck smelling their armpits like they have to smell ours (since they are so small). Another thing that is extremely annoying, is their spitting habits. They inhale to get the mucus from their throats into their mouths which makes a lot of noise, but it doesn't end there. No, they have to spit it out after. Outside, this is not a big deal, but when you are in a bus or a train, they just spit it out on the floor!!! On the carpet even, it's too disgusting! No one but us seems to care or notice, so apparently it's very normal here, like the burping and shooting out your snot on the floor (at bus- and train stations, on the bus floor).. but we just can't get over it..

From Wuhan we travel to Shanghai, another 6 hours by fast train (206km/h), we booked a hostel near the Bund, one of Shanghai's famous spots. The location is great, we are very central! In the morning, we walk to the famous People's square and park, visit a bird and insect market, very strange! They have all kinds of animals here, kittens, squirrels, turtles, mice, birds, puppies, chipmunks, guinea pigs, fish (all sorts and sizes) but most of all grasshoppers. And lots of them. You can imagine the noise all these animals make together, it's sad they are in little cages, containers, and they're only there to be sold. The grasshoppers are being used for fights. Interested buyers are poking them with sticks to see how they defend themselves. Once they are bought, the owner use them in fights were they bid for money. It's a crazy business..
After the YuYuan Gardens, we stroll around some back alleys and we end up finding a fake Apple mp3 player with 4GB of memory for $6. Since mine got stolen, we decide this is a good price to try, at least if it's crap it didn't cost much money. At the hostel we transfer Jo's music onto the computer and put it on the new mp3 and it works great! Quality of the sound is not awesome, but eh, we got music again!! Great for the long train and bus rides! :)

We visit the Bund, a popular boulevard, where we see more white people than we have seen in the last six weeks in China. So this is were all the tourists hid! Lol. We visit Pudong, the business center of Shanghai, which has a great skyline. From the Bund, we take the so called "The Bund sightseeing tunnel", which connects the Bund with Pudong, Shanghai's business area, that is separated by the river. We expect it's something for tourists, but what we see here is just outrageous. Once underground, you get put into this cart, like your in a theme park ride, and as it starts moving, lights come on, as does a voice that tells something about heaven and hell.. We are amazed by this weird experience, but luckily videotaped it from beginning to end because we already had a feeling something was gonna happen. We've learned in the last few weeks the Chinese like to use the words harmonious, delightful and beautiful a lot. Many places where we have been they use these words, to make it look perfect when in reality, they are just trying to make it sound magical, when it really is not.
We do still find, China looks a lot like Disneyland. The tunnel brings us to Pudong, which is visible from The Bund, and we visit the Shanghai World Financial Center, where we can go up to the 100th floor. At the moment this buildings the second highest in the world. And is it ever high! In 60seconds we make it to the 94th floor, the view is stunning! Even though it's cloudy, the clouds are higher then we are, and as far as we can see, we see city. Skyscrapers, skyscrapers and more skyscrapers! It's cool to see this much constructed country from this altitude, it's crazy! But yet so beautiful!

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We go back to the hostel to relax and freshen up, and head to the French concession for supper. At least that was the plan. We end up at Marzano's pizza, a chain that Jolijn knew from Barcelona and has great, real Italian food, what we were both craving! So after the best pizza yet and Tiramisu, our night is perfect!

The next day we head again by train, south west to Hangzhou. This is the fastest train we have been in China, in reached 300km/h! In one hour we make it to Hangzhou. We need a bus to the hostel, but can't find the busnumber the hostel gave us. We do find one that is close and go to the driver and ask him if he goes to the zoo. He nods and gestures that we should come in. We pay the $0.50 and sit down. Minutes later we pass the West Lake that Hangzhou is famous for, it's on the Unesco world heritage site. Smoggy, but what else do you expect with 32 degrees, it looks quite nice. We see a lot of tourists here, all Chinese, and enjoy the scenery during this bus ride. After an hour and a half were back at the trainstation. A girl who works for the bus tells us to get out, but we say we haven't gotten to the destination yet. When we finally make her understand we have to go to the zoo, she says we're in the wrong bus; really? Haha, again one of those moments.. Luckily she finds someone, who can tell us in English we have to take a different bus and transfer to get to the zoo. At least we saw all of the famous west lake area for $0.50! The next day we decide to walk through the west lake area and after 6 hours of walking in 32degree, very humid weather we enjoy some cold ones at the hostel!

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Huangshan is our next destination, so from the hostel we have to take the bus to the west bus station which surprisingly takes 1.5 hrs! The bus to Huangshan is another 4.5 but when it stops, we're in the middle of the mountains, not in a city.. We did want to visit the mountain tomorrow, but were not even sure if this is that place..There is two other foreigners on the bus, who happen to be Dutch and according to them, we are in the mountain town, Huangshan. Huangshan city, as the chinese call it, is called TunXi now.. So we should have take the bus to TunXi. Luckily their LP has a hostel in the mountain town in it, so we go there because it is too late to get back to TunXi today. The hostel is a really old hotel and way have to pay way to much for a crappy room (it's $10 for the both of us, but last night we paid $3, so big difference here). We even transfer rooms after we discover mouse droppings in the one we were supposed to sleep in. At least we have a place to sleep and its only for one night. We decide to go eat and go to sleep early so we can wake up early tomorrow to go to the mountain and head back to TunXi in the end afternoon  (apparently the last shuttle leaves at 5). The hostel owners who barely speak English, guide us to a 'good place to eat' not far from the hostel. This town is so small, it's probably only here in summer for tourism, so the choice isn't that great anyway. When we walk in, there is a big dead snake in a jar full of liquid on the counter..yuk! I immediately lost my appetite, but as Jo reminds me this is not an usual thing, we sit down and open the menu. 

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Yeah, sorry.. We get up and leave, both lost our appetite. This is the first time we actually saw dog on the menu, it's just a gross idea! We go to a little supermarket and buy some nuts, tuc crackers, a roll of cookies and water, that's gonna be supper for tonight. We're in bed by 8.15, a record. Hopefully tomorrow is a better day. 

We wake up at 6.30 so we can catch one of the first busses to the gondola so we can get up the mountain early. When we get there at 7.30 and want to buy the tickets, there is already a 4 hour waiting line for the cable car.. 4 hours!! At 7.30 in the *** morning! The only alternative we have, is to walk, so fine, we'll walk. Its just climbing stairs, with 1000 other Chinese people, and after 2.5 hours of climbing stairs through the woods, we were up 3km, we saw some foreigners coming down the mountain. It were four German guys, who stayed overnight at a hostel on the mountain. When we ask if are close the answer is, "it's another 2.5 km till you reach the cable car, from there its a two hour climb up to see the first peak. We just came from there we wanted to see the sunrise but you can't see anything, it's too foggy". Well, the weather isn't great. The sky is grey and it looks like it might rain any minute. Just as the guy finished talking, the clouds just seem to rip and it starts pouring!! We sheepishly conclude that we have no good reason to keep on going, and decide to go back down. Lightning and heavy ripping/rolling thunder joins this insane weather party and as we are trying to get down the mountain, the Chinese get their umbrellas out and keep going up.. Seriously?! How stupid can you be? Have these people never heard of the danger of metal and lightning? They say the chance of being hit by lightning is very small, but we feel we just might witness it today. Luckily we don't, but part of the trail turned into a waterfall! I guess when it rains here, it really rains here! We reach the bottom of the mountain again by 11.00 totally drenched, soaked and the storm is still going strong. One thing is for sure, we're out of here. 

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We get to TunXi at 13.30 and luckily the hostel is great, hot shower, good mattress, good food and wifi, all you need :) and that for $4. From here we head back to Hangzhou by bus and from there by train to our last destination in China; Guilin. Another 18hour train ride all the way to the south of China, luckily we have a bed! Two hours late, we arrive at Guilin train station where again we have to participate in one of our other pet peeves, negotiating. This time it's the bus, because Guilin apparently doesn't have a legit bus ticket office. Instead, there is about 40 little busses outside that are all going to Yangshuo, but since they are all privately owned, they can charge whatever they like. In the LP we read it should costs between ¥15-20, but those were last years prices. The first one that comes to persuade us charges 40 p.p so we say no. For the next 45 min we keep walking around with our big bags, in the heat of southern china until we finally find one that we negotiate ¥18 with. An hour and a half later we make it to Yangshuo and the last part of this trip goes by tuk tuk, which takes us to our hostel. 

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We take a one day trip to the famous Dragon's backbone rice terraces in Longshen, about 2.5 hrs north of Yangshuo. On the way we stop in a village that is famous for the ladies with the long hair. This minority village is famous for all the female inhabitants with their amazing long hair. Often over 5.5 feet! It used to be forbidden for anyone to see the hair loose, only the husband on their wedding day, but these days their long hair is visible to anybody. Of course it's a touristic play now, but it was still incredible to see hair this long!

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We then reach the rice fields and are they ever impressive! We witness a lot more then just rice, a funeral which was quite interesting to watch, but also their local food, rice and all kinds of meets prepared in bamboo stems.

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The hostel is awesome, its in the countryside, nice and quite and beautifully renovated. It's run by Dutch people, so we enjoy a plate of fries with 'oorlog' sauce for supper! Yum! We stay here for a week, so some real relaxing time before we head on to Hong Kong. The Yangshuo area is famous for the lime stone peaks and the Li and Yulong river. We have days where we rent a bike and cycle through the country side, days that we do absolutely nothing and just read and sleep, we explore the town of Yangshuo, take a bamboo raft on the Yulong river, find the Moon Hill and have a great relaxing week!

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Our last transport out of China, was the sleeperbus. Yes, this is a bus with beds. Just imagine a regular bus, image a tiny bunk bed on the window side, a narrow aisle, another tiny bunkbed, another narrow aisle and on the other window a tiny bunkbed again. Three wide, 6 bunkbeds long, the bus sleeping capacity is 36 plus two extra people in the back of the bus on the bottom (they sleep in the aisle. We had the two top bunks in the very back of the bus. Besides the fact the you can't lay very comfy on 40cm and you can't stretch out totally (yes, like on the boat), add the fact your in a bus in China (bumpy bumpy) and your neighbour thinks its totally normal to smoke a sigaret on his bed, It was duable. Not much sleep, but we made it to Shenzhen. From there it was not more then a quick 5 min to get through customs, and the subway to downtown Hong Kong in 25 minutes.
When we find a McDonald's and have an delicious Big Mac meal and a mc flurry, we are even more happy after a bathroom visit, where there is seated toilets (no more hanging!), toilet paper (not having to bring our own) and soap (we are almost out of disinfection lotion) at the sink to wash your hands! Gosh it feels good to be back in civilisation!!
It's hard to believe that after almost 7 weeks, we left China! Part of us is relieved, but we have seen and experienced a lot of beautiful and interesting things! 

And one more picture we forgot in our last blog ...
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Posted by 2012trip 20:51 Archived in China Comments (3)

Tibet

A dream come true! An experience richer and lost an illusion

semi-overcast 22 °C
View The journey continues.. on 2012trip's travel map.

Still partly in (a good) shock by the news that we got our Tibet permit last night, we find our selves, 24 hours later, all packed up heading to the North train station of Chengdu to catch the train to Lhasa! 

We had to tell the agency beforehand if we wanted to go by train or plane, since the train is a lot cheaper we decided on train (we were also told that apparently you have more chance of getting the permit if you enter by train). The train ride is supposed to be fenomenal as well, so not a hard choice. We decide on the plane back, since at the time of requesting the permit we didn't have the extension of our Chinese visa yet, and the expiry date was September first. Since the train takes 44 hours from Chengdu to Lhasa, (it's 3360km by train) getting the train back to Chengdu would have given us one day to et to Hongkong from Chengdu.

When we get to the train its super crowded! We wait a little while and after the regular passport and security checks, 20min later we board the train. We booked a so called soft sleeper compartment, the most expensive ticket there is, but the hard beds were all sold out already when we got to Chengdu and you really don't want a seat for 44 hours. We did 22 which is manageable for nice, but not two nights in a row. The soft sleep tickets cost € 130 /$ 175 so really for first class and 44 hours its not that bad. Set up is the same as the Russian train, 4 bed closed off compartments, this time there is a magazine in Chinese and English, a thermos for hot water, slippers for us to wear while in the train and even some flowers on the table. 

When you buy a train ticket in China, you have to buy it with your passport, so they print your passport number on your ticket, probably so can't sell them further and make money off of it. It's quite a good system, since you can return your ticket at the station or a ticket office, until the day you go and get 95% of your money back. So when you enter the station there is a big gate with a lot of rail station people checking tickets and passports. So only people with tickets can enter the train station. Then, later when you actually board the train, they check your ticket and passport again, so you really cant just get onto a train and tag along. Once in our compartment we met our two Chinese roomies. No English, but at least nice people. Soon after the train personnel comes to ask for our permit. We only got a copy from the agency but it should do. It's funny, the first page is the actual permit with a big stamp, it looks very official, the second page is a list of the people that requested this visa. Since the rule right now is that you can only travel to Tibet in groups of 4-5 from the same nationality, this is of course what we had to do to. So there is five Dutch names and passport numbers on there, and the other three people "don't exist" is what they told us. They just use them to get us in. If they would ask us any questions about it, we have to say they went by plane.. But luckily all is good, no questions asked and since we left at night we went to sleep pretty soon after we left Chengdu. We're really n the way now!!

The next morning where quite a ways north already and at 15.00 we reach Lanzhou, where we've transferred numerous times already. A short stop here and two hours later we stop again. We have to switch trains. It's funny because the lady that manages our compartment doesn't speak a word of English, so she gets someone else from the train to come in to our room, to tell us that we have to switch trains and the train will be on the track across from where we arrive. And it is. Again we have to show are passport, ticket and permit and again, no questions asked. This new train is a lot more luxurious then the other one. Every bed has their own bed light, tv, electrical charging plug, sound control system, oxygen supply and air conditioning. Now we're talking ;) but soon it seems nothing at all is working, not even the bed light. Bummer! We eat some of our own brought noodles, we looove noodles (not anymore :s), but its cheap and easy train food, so maybe the last time, out of a box that is. Soon after the scenery outside is stunning! Sand dunes again, green fields and blue sky, and not much later a beautiful sunset!

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Next morning we get woken by our roomies, apparently there is something amazing to see outside. I get up, it's 7.30, and the excitement is the sun rising.. Not in a special way.. You almost want to tell them politely this happens every morning (they might have just nap ever seen it before) and I'm not too amused I'm awake now, especially since Jolijn was smart enough to ignore the roomies and turn around and is sound asleep again. But soon, the landscapes gets very interesting again, from green fields with cattle (yes we haven't seen much construction since yesterday evening, it's amazing), to lakes and mountains even! Then there is mountains with a little snow on top, and the further we get, the more beautiful this train ride becomes. This last part of this train ride is called the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

The Qinghai-Tibet railway is the highest railway in the world. Almost 1000km of the tracks run higher then 4000mt altitude. It s only been operating since 2006. The highest point we reach by train is 5072mt, with snow capped mountains on both sides, in the middle of summer, it's quite a nice view! We are surprised there is not more snow to be seen, but apparently it's quite warm here at higher elevations, compared to the Alps or the Rockies. We pass Namco (Namtso) lake, apparently the highest salt water lake in the world (we thought that it was Titicaca), at 4718mt. Is it ever beautiful! We are very lucky with the weather too, because even though there is some clouds, the scenery is stunning and the weather make the colors of the landscape stand out beautifully. Slowly we get back to civilization, when we see more little 'villages' and when we pass some trains with big tanks andnother army equipment, we realize we must be getting close. Shortly after we pass a whole army base and 15 min later at 16.15 we roll into the Lhasa area. Lots of industrial sites first, then when we cross a river we get our first glimpse of the Potala Palace in the city center. The fact that we can see it already, shows the size of it. Lhasa is situated at 3650mt and is surrounded by mountains, although it doesn't feel like you're up that high.

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The railway station of Lhasa is enormous and very modern, probably because it's not very old yet. Our guide is supposed to waiting for us on the other side of the square, but before we get there we have to get through the police control. We show our passport and the permit, he wants the original. We tell him that our guide on the other side of the square has our original permit and we get directed over to an area where more people are waiting. It's infested with policemen and army people here. Patiently (it seems to be the secret), we wait. There is about 10 others (all Chinese, we are the only two white people on the whole station) and we all get summoned to follow the police officer. Luckily we soon see a man that's holding a sign with our name on it. He has two white scarfs for us, it represents good luck. The police officer talks to him, but apparently he also only has a copy of the permit. The police officer takes of with Jolijn's passport and the permit and the driver tells us we will go to the car and then we have to go to the police station. Luckily we don't have to go in, only our guide does and 10min later we are on our way to the hostel. With 24 degrees its way hotter then we ever expected.

Our guides name is Nima, a real Tibetan guy with decent English which is good, since we will see him a lot the next three days. We get to our hostel, check in and have to check our room. It's a very basic 12-dorm hostel, nothing fancy, a little dirty, but nothing different then we've seen lately, so it s fine. but apparently our guide doesn't think it's find. When we get back to the reception we get a different key from a different room that we have to go look at. It's a private twin room and Nima tells us we can have this room for the same money. He thinks it's better, our stuff will be safer and we can sleep better. Okay.. Paying ¥55 a night (€6.80) instead of the regular ¥280 is always nice..
Nima gives us 30 minutes to freshen up, we can not shower, we don't understand why but it will make us sick he says, so we don't. The conditions of the bathroom and showers and very very poor in this hostel, you can't flush the toilets because there is not enough pressure at this altitude. Instead, there is a big barrel with a plastic bucket that you have to fill and throw in the toilet after you have been. You can imagine the smell.. 

Nima takes us out for supper, he asks used we want Tibet, chinese or western food. Of course, adventurous as we are, we say Tibetan and he takes us to a place, that we wouldn't have even found ourselves. It seems liked we were going into some ones home in an apartment building, but instead there is this little tiny restaurant, probably in a two bedroom apartment. Very funny. We order Tibetan noodles and sweet tea. Sweet tea comes in a thermos, the noodles in an individual bowl. Add chopsticks and very spicy chili and you're complete. Off course everyone is staring at us, but they are all very friendly, we get a very spicy potato wedge from our neighbor girls, and apparently the look (or the red ness on my face) makes her apologize and refill our cups of tea very fast. It's funny. People here really like and can handle spicy food! The food is good though, we really enjoyed it and the damage for three persons? ¥19.. (€ 2.35). Next to all the Chinese signs we have seen the last few weeks, here we also see signs that look like Arabic, but when we ask Nima its Tibetan. hey have their own dialect and written language. While we are walking through the streets of Lhasa we notice the insane amount of police and army people. Its infested! Literally on every corner of the street there is a police station where at least 5 policemen are sitting, besides that there is army people just walking on the streets with guns, shields and sticks. They do all seem friendly to us, but we feel bad for the people that live here. Nima tells us its been a really bad year for him as a guide, since there is barely any tourists, so not enough work. He also tells us how quickly everything is changing, new rules arise daily with no particular reason or explanation, admission prices rise insanely (apparently the Potala Palace entrance fee was ¥ 100 up until July 1st, now its ¥200; and it used to be free..) amazed by all these weird new impressions we get, he guides us back through the busy streets tour hostel, we have to have a good sleep because we have to be downstairs at 7am tomorrow morning.
But first... After Nima dropped us off at the hostel, we decide to go for a beer at a bar behind the hostel. We say Nihao and the lady asks us something in Chinese. We make a drinking motion, and she grabs another customer from her chair who speaks English. We tell her that we would like to drink something. Tea, water or beer? Beer please. The owner sits us down in two chairs and seconds later we get our beers. You never guess what brand.. Budweiser.... SERIOUSLY?? I could have imagined a lot of beers if they would not serve Tibetan beer, but American beer in Tibet? ....

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It's still dark when we wake p at 6.30. We meet Nima downstairs at 7 and take a cab to the ticket office of the Potala palace. Still dark when we arrive, there is a huge line up already and even Nima seems to be a little shocked by this. The ticket office doesn't even open till 8 and there is 150-200 people already in line when we arrive. Apparently there is only a certain amount of tickets available each day, since it's a Unesco World heritage site now, it's protected by rules like that. The amount used to be 1200 but now, in the high season, it's 3500 people per day. A lot! We have to come personally to buy tickets because they are issued (like the train tickets) on passport number. Luckily for us, Nima knows someone in line and has us sit at the entrance while he sneaks in, way in the front of the line. At 9.30 we have our tickets and it's time for breakfast. Of course, Tibetan noodles and sweet tea. They don't seem to eat anything else, but we're fine since its soo cheap and delicious.

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We then take the public transport bus to the Drepung monastery, 10km south west of the city. We're shocked by the amount of police and army people once we get there. And it doesn't stop there, there is cameras on poles and attached to the monastery an literally every angle. There is not a spot where you can stay out of sight of the camera.. Very weird feeling. The monastery itself is beautiful! Buddhists are very decorative in there temples and monasteries. Everywhere you look there is something, totally different than our 'boring' churches. The colors are amazing but it's so full that sometimes it looks very unorganized. Of course photos are prohibited, but we've seen that before in Xiahe etc, you don't take pictures because it's their sanctuary. Well, here it's a little different, you can take pictures, if you pay.. Depending on the importance of the room were in, price varies from ¥5-¥20 per picture. Now we all of a sudden feel turned of.. Here its not even about sacred anymore, it s about money! When we ask our guide, he explains that the government is the one earning all this money, it seems the monastery gets it, but in reality they only get a little bit. Also, the influence of the police and army we see all around probably also gives a good sketch of the influence the government has in these "holy" places.
Another thing is that before big statues etc there are always boxes to drop money into. The average believer here, walks around with a beed necklace in one hand and a pack of small bills in the other, to make sacrifices to the statues, their Gods. Totally opposite of what we have been taught with our Christian background. It's funny though, cuz Nima tells us that Buddists believe that if you do good in this life, you will come back as a richer person in your next life. Otherwise, if you steal, kill or do something else bad, you will be less fortunate in your next life. So, most Tibetan people try to do good, it just seems that everything else around them doesn't.. 

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Like in the rest of China, very little English is spoken here. Some munks nod their head when we enter, some give us a smile but there is also a lot that don't even seem to notice/care. Like in the rest of China we are still celebrities, everybody wants to take pictures with us and at this point were far past done with this.. Even outside in public places in Lhasa, even on monastery squares, it doesn't matter where you look there is always a lens or a video camera pointed at you. After almost 4 weeks it's really not fun anymore and we can only imagine how horrible it must be for celebrities to be in the spotlights the whole time..

We stroll around Barkhor street, a very busy but well known market area in Lhasa. We get to a square where we will visit a temple. Jokhang temple is situated in the heart of the city, very surprising to us, there is a temple in a busy place like this. First we have to go to a security booth before we can enter the square. Our bag goes through the scanner, as do we, it's liken the airport. After we're cleared, we enter the square. Soon we notice on the rooftops on all sides of the square , there is a tent with a military person sitting underneath it. There is a big police station on the square, as is a big police van halfway on the other side. Then we see 5 marching soldiers with guns walking there rounds on the square. It's hard not to notice but no one seems to really care. One of the things Nima told us on day one is that is illegal to take photos or film the police and military, but of course we have to show you what this is really like, so we did it sneakily.. ;)

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The Jokhang temple is beautiful!! When your inside you don't even notice that you're in the middle of the city, until you make it to the rooftop, what a view! Here we get our first decent sight of the Potala palace! And is it ever big! It's nice to see the city from a higher viewpoint, it's interesting to see all that is happening below, yet see all the mountains around the city. Only a few monks are still living in this temple, the Chinese government is apparently the one who decided if you can be a monk or not, even if you think it is your calling. Of course they don't want too many and it is really hard at the moment to be ale to be a monk. Nima is worried about this, especially because the easiest job to get is join the police/army. And since the job opportunities are very low at the moment, a lot of young people do join the police/army.

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After another round of to sweet tea in apparently the most popular tea house in town (the looks of it would make our moms say, please don't go in there), but the tea was in fact delicious again. It's been a long day with a lot of information, so we decide to call it a night. When we ask about the shower again, Nima's first response is no, but then he looks at us and asks us if we had any headache, nausea etc and we didn't so then he said; you are strong women, maybe. He's terrified we will get sick, but little does he know what we have already done and eaten the last two-three months.. So we decide to choose ourselves and have a shower when we get to the hostel. After two days of train and a full day in a city, a shower kinda sounds like a good idea :)

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Next morning we can sleep in till 9.30. Nima comes to get us at 10. Before he gets there we decide to get some breakfast, which here means some packaged biscuits, if else it'll be noodles and we really don't want to eat noodles three times a day.. Nima told us yesterday to go to the market because it's cheaper, but we discover if you just ask a price and you get a vague Chinese answer, you say okay, start picking the biscuits you want and if the price is higher then the price on the market, just walk away and they'll give it to you for cheaper, that's how we do it :). We walk to the Potala Palace which is only a 15 min walk from our hostel, but with Nima's pace 10. We walk fast, but he runs, only he hides it very well because it seems like he ps walking at a normal pace.. The whole way there we are just passing people on the sidewalk and some people's mouths are almost touching the pavement when they see us pass by. Only little children and the tuktuk drivers who are our age, happily shout 'Hello!'. Nice as we are, we say hello back with the nicest smile we can produce ;) our entrance tickets for the Potala Palace are for 11.00 and when we get there its just getting in line. Of course there is a green dressed person watching the line, and he is probably not the only one, but for now the only visible one. After a security check we get to the courtyard. Wow!! All of a sudden we are overwhelmed by the reality that we are standing in the courtyard of Potala Palace, a beautiful building, which was build by monks and various Dalai Lama's and they can't enjoy and live here anymore because the Chinese government chased them away. It's sad and kind of pathetic to see how they are controlling what they don't believe in, it's like the song " it's all about the money".
The Palace itself is gorgeous! Even though we have to rush through it to see it all in an hour, it's very amazing to see all the beauty they've created. The stupa's (tombs where old Dalai Lamas are buried in), are decorated with kilograms of gold, and the one of the fifth Dalai Lama is about 10meters high. It's very impressive. Also to see all the Buddhists pray in front of it. 
Off course here there is a no picture policy, so unfortunately we can't not show you what we can't describe with words. You really have to see it for yourself.

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We eat noodles for lunch with sweet tea (tea with a lot of milk and sugar), spot some wildlife, a gazelle, on the hill where Potala Palace is build on, our first wildlife in China! and take the public bus to the Sera monastery. This monastery is located on the north east side of the city. It's very pretty like all the other, but here we are able to witness the monks have debates together, outside in the courtyard. Its quite the sights, of course the courtyard is closed when we get there and minutes before the debating is supposed to start, the police officers open the gates and take their place. Apparently this is quite a touristic site, because there is lots of visitors and while everyone finds a spot, the police is commanding people to stay on the sides, they can't enter the courtyard. Three third of the monks sit down on a cushion and every single one of them has a monk that has a higher rank then they do and where they are having this debate with. They debate about Buddhist scriptures. As they are debating they clap their hands, sometimes push the partner to win the virtue of the Buddha. It's very interesting to see as they are really in to it, it almost seems they don't even notice the tourists and the policemen.

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Another interesting day in Lhasa. We have sweet tea and noodles again with Nima before he drops us of at the hostel. In the evening we decide to walk to the Potala square, to see the Potala Palace once more by night. The walk there is good, before we enter the square we have to go to security but the view at nighttime is stunning! Just as I found the right spot for a picture, while sitting on the ground, a military guy runs onto me and waves his arms. I get up, have no idea what he is saying, but he walks away. At exactly 10 minutes to nine loud music comes out of the speakers and a fountain show starts on the other side of the square. Pretty nice but nothing new. While all the attention is on the fountains, I think I found the perfect spot to capture the Potala Palace once more. As I'm on the ground, 2 military guys come running up and tell me to get up. When I ask why I can not sit on the ground I get a Chinese answer... It's just pathetic, they tell you to do something and you just have to obey because they say so, even if there is no reason. As they walk away I see them run off to a different guy who's bag is on the square as he's taking a photograph, and yes he has to take his bag of the ground.. Yet there is a few 100people standing here and that is okay? When we ask Nima the next day what the whole sitting on the square deal was about, he has no idea. He finds it weird.. We're almost glad were getting out of this communist f*** place. I'm sure the Tibetan plateaus and highlands are amazing, but Lhasa itself is not a great place to be.

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Next morning we wake up, check out, and Nima and the driver bring us to the airport which is 65 km outside of the city. It's still dry, scenery is nice, just hilly, sand and construction of the newest train tracks towards the south west of Tibet. We wonder what this place will look like in 10 years..

Posted by 2012trip 09:40 Archived in China Comments (4)

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