Table of Contents
‘14/02/01 Ecuador: Quito, Vilcabamba, Cuenca..................................................................................... 1
‘14/09/03 China – Beijing, Datong, Wutaishan, Pingyao, Guoliancun, Kaifeng, Luoyang, Huashan, Xi’an, Jinan, Qufu,.Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Guilin, Xingping, Yangshuo, Longji, Chengyang, Kunming, Shagri-La, Lijiang, Dali.............................................................................................................. 11
‘14/10/27 Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur, Penang....................................................................................... 32
‘14/11/08 Cambodia – Phnom Penh, Siem Reap/Angkor...................................................................... 32
‘14/11/16 Vietnam – Chau Doc, Saigon, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi, Sapa, Halang Bay-Cat Ba......................... 34
‘14/12/05 Laos – Luang Prabang, Vientiane........................................................................................ 39
‘14/12/16 Myanmar – Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay................................................................................. 41
‘14/12/25 Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur, Melaka....................................................................................... 44
‘14/12/25 Ecuador – Otavalo, Cotacachi, Ibarra, Banos, Puyo, Vilcabamba, Cuenca.............................. 45
Sat., 02/01 . At breakfast table, I met a young Dutch couple who had just returned from Boquete. They recommend “Risking Everything: Coming Out in Coffee Land” by Elizabeth Worley, an American who had relocated to Boquete and had established a medicinal finca which the couple had just visited. Also check out her “Romancing The Bean: Chronicles of a Coffee Snob In Panama” and another book by her husband.
After the breakfast, Patrick of Hostal drove me to the airport ($20). We talked about the Panamanians culture. He said a Panamanian will always choose a bottle of rum if he had a choice between a book and a bottle of rum.
We took off for Guayaquil at about 11:30 for a one-hour flight. At 4:00PM we took off for Quito for a 50 minute flight. I took a cab to my hostal It cost $28 and took about one hour. The city is very scenic with tall green hills, windy roads, and volcanic deep crevices. At my hostal my host showed me the various keys to the doors. She is an Italian who worked at Italian consulates in Quito and Tanzania before retiring to Quito and starting this new business. She advised that I should walk on the downhill side of the road to breathe less of cars exhaust systems. She had decorated the place very nicely – as expected from an Italian. She lived in the next door – in a large secret garden with three very loud small dogs that I never saw but would start a chorus every evening.
Casapaxi 12808-88857796 Luigina Fossati
Pasaje R.Navarro 364 (N24-70) y Avenida La Gasca, between Domingo Espinar and Lizarazu,
Twin Private Ensuite US$11.20 * 2=2 US$22.40 WIFI: Mariano Merchan …364karibune
COOP. De Taxi: 0995 800 696 / 2 429 878
Sun, 02/02 I woke up at 7:00, took a long walk to the Plaza de Indepensia or Old Town and walked around there for a few hours before retiring back to my hostal. The Old Town was lively - teeming with tourists and natives in the shopping areas.
Mon, 02/03 As I was still adjusting to the noise after a long period of quiet in Boquete I decided to head for two nearby small towns, Cumbaya and Tumbaco. They are both located on the way to the airport. I took the trole at Av. America – Seminario Mayor. It was a one-hour ride to the Quitumbe bus terminal. The airport bus departed shortly and it took about 45 minutes to Cumbaya – a small town, with many fancy shops and houses mostly behind the gates attended by guards. I stopped by a bakery where I bought a very delicious loaf of bread and some cheese and had it there. I stopped at the peaceful main plaza and rested there for some time before taking a short bus ride to Tumbuco, a typical crowded small town – nothing to write home about. I took the bus back to Quito but a passenger told me I could get off at Cumbaya mid way and take another local bus closer to my hostal. We both got off at Cumbaya and he asked a young woman at the bus stop to help me get to my destination. We again change at a crowded square by the Coliseum that I had seen in the cab on the way from the airport to my hostal and also on the walk to the Old Town. I took another bus there which dropped me off nearby to my hostal.
After seeing Cumbaya I could envision Cotacachi – being close to the capital and also a shopping center for leather products – another undesirable town and decided to cut short my stay in Quito and head for Cuenca.
At hostal I had another cheese sandwich with the bread I had bought at Cumbaya.
I then tried to make an online flight reservation to Cuenca. The system showed two tickets were available but by the time I got to finalize my payment they were sold us and the system tried to give me alternate days for Feb. 6. I then tried Tame Air (edreams.com) but my confirmation was postponed pending resolution of Credit card payment.
Tue, 02/04 When I checked my email after waking up I saw an email from the airline requesting copies of my passport and credit card. I went to three shops to be able to have my credit card scanned. Back at hostal I email the documents and then went out for a walk. I stopped at Santa Clara Produce Market. It was lively and refreshing with the smells. I stopped at a both which had a sign for coffee and coffee pot and since I saw no signs of Nescafe I asked the guy there if his coffee was fresh. He assured me but when I sat down he handed me a cup of hot water and showed me the container of dense coffee previously brewed. I ended up having a meal of rice and chicken there and bought a coffee strainer from a passing vendor. I then walked around for a while longer and headed back to my hostal to check if my reservation was confirmed – no confirmation email. I contacted the US number of edream agent but the woman could rebook the flight that TAME still showed as available. I called TAME directly and the rep made a reservation and said I had till 6:00 PM to stop at the reservation office to pick up the ticket ($118 vs. online price of $82).
I made a decent coffee at the hostal using the coffee that I picked up at Super Maxi and the strainer I had just bought.
By 3:00 PM it started to rain and I headed to the TAME office to purchase my ticket. Finally, after spending so many hours on this simple task I had my ticket at hand.
I then looked for a bank for some time to get some cash and finally found one. After the machine dropped off the old bills it took me a couple of seconds to pick them up but the door closed and the last bill got stuck and after I ended up ripping it off I asked a guy who had just walked in to use my machine so that my bill would be released. He kindly obliged.
I then stopped at a phone store to get a Claro SIM card for my Panama phone as Lonely Plant had advised, but it did not work – same result in the second shop.
On the way back to hostal, I bought a loaf of bread, some more cheese, and two eggs for tomorrow trip.
Later at night, my host, Luigina Fossati, stopped by to tell me that the volcanic ashes of Banos had moved all around from Cuenca to Quito and that is why all the flights to Cuenca were canceled yesterday – hence the shortage of the seats for the next few days.
Wed, 02/05 – Cuenca-Loja-Vilcabamba At 9:30 the old driver in suite and tie that Luigina had called for me picked me up for the 1:15 min. ride to the airport. Initially I waited in the wrong line that was for sales where a man cut in front of me, and when I protested he said his flight was taking off in ten minutes – though I saw him again in the departure hall after 30 minutes.
At the check-in counter I was forced to check in my larger backpack. My departure flight was at 11:50 AM. First, they changed the gate and then they announced the long delays. While waiting, I met a man from Nashville who was planning to move to Ecuador in a few years upon retiring from Whole Food. He is a recent divorcee with two college age kids. We had a long conversation and he said he was in Quito for only one day but already was having a very vibes about the country.
Our flight finally took off at about 4:00 PM, and after landing in Cuenca I took the short cab ride to the bus terminal right as the rain was starting.
When I got off and asked two men for the Loja ticket window, they told me I was in the wrong place and came out of the terminal to take me a taxi that had just dropped off his customer, but it drove away. I then walked to another taxi and asked for a ride to the Loja bus terminal and he pointed me to the terminal I was at. By the time I made to the Loja ticket window it was a few minutes past 4:00 PM departure time and the next bus was at 7:30 PM. I asked the clerk if there were more buses to Cuenca and she said there was none. I walked away and asked another man who told me there was another window on the other side of the terminal. I bought a ticket for the 4:30 bus and entered the boarding section. I had only a few minutes to departure time, therefore I asked a guard on the other side of the turnstiles to buy me a bottle of water.
Next my seat on the first row a six year very pretty native girl was sitting and biting on a big candy bar. I could not help but offering her a small candy bar which she thanked for. She then moved across me and sat between her mother and grandmother. She gave the candy to her mother.
Later on she took out her mobile phone and played with it for some time, read a book for a short time and then fell asleep on the floor. The grandmother covered her with a sweater before I could do that.
A young girl, Kathrin, took the seat next to me. After a while, she took out her only pack of jelly and offered it to me and when I said no, she made her offer for a second time. She was taking training in Internet.
I suddenly noticed that she had not used a cell phone and when I ask her why she told me that it had been just stolen otherwise she would be using it.
The scenery on Cuenca-Loja road was just gorgeous, with many green small fields with some cattle and houses scattered here and there and then as the sunset time approached the skies were brightened with beautiful yellow and red colors on both sides of throughout the horizon.
We arrived in Loja at about 10:00 PM. The bus terminal to Vilcabamba was down the stairs. I bought a 10:15 ticket to Vilcabamba. The turnstile required a dime but I had used all my change for the ticket and had only two nickels on me. The attendant tried the handicap door that was supposed to take nickels but after a few attempts, he gave up and let me use the back turn of someone else who had just used one of the turnstiles.
When we approached the town I asked the driver and the conductor about my hostal but neither one knew where it was. I native said she knew the place and we got off she directed me in the general direction of the place – though somewhat off the mark and I had to ask someone else again.
When I got to the hostel the gate was closed and neither the bell nor the knocks would get anyone to open the door. After a while a car pull over and a couple – the name of the guy was Chris as I later found out – called the owner and since he could not get attendant on the phone Chris drove me to hostal Jardin Escondido.
Thurs, 02/06 - Vilcabamba In the morning after a delicious Mexican breakfast made by Andre, I walked to the plaza where I met Bill and Colleen King, IrishColleen@rocketmail.com, a Scottish-Canadian couple who invited me to sit for coffee. They have been looking for a property under $20K for a while and they had looked at quiet a number of houses for the past year here. They gave me information on a few of their choices.
Fri, 02/07 I stopped by at Huilco Real Estate to meet Bernie Uhe, recommended by Colleen and Bernie. The receptionist called him on the phone and we arranged to meet the next day at his other hangout, the Meditation Center (CMV) http://mindfulnessmeditationinecuador.org/ 593 8 959-2880. I went to look for the place and once I found it I entered the compound and met Sonia Jirka, an Argentinean guest, who told me she was paying $400/mo for the room and the sessions.
The place was very clean and well maintained, therefore I asked the office next door to call Bernie who told me he had one room available and I could move in the following day.
In the afternoon, I walked past the El Atillo and on the way back I took a taxi that happened to drop me off at Kiavash’s restaurant. Kiavash was standing outside and saw me and therefore I ended up having dinner there for the second night in a row.
At my hostel I sat in the yard surf but two guys and a woman with a dog were there also and they did not stop loud foul language and I had to retire to my room.
Sat, 02/08. To CMV. I met Bernie at CMV, talked about my RE needs, and he said he had two lots that he could show me. I then went to Jardin Escondido, checkout and settled in my new room at CMV and then drove to two lots with Bernie.
1. An 8H, 110K lot on Secapo road, 4500’ above the sea, 7km or 20 min from the road to Malacatos, adjacent to Podocarpus National Park. It had some nice views but the home sites have to be flattened. The nearby neighbors, Susan and Sven had two goats on their yard. The lot belongs to the heirs of a native man, with no title. It would take 4-8 months with a cost of 7-12k to obtain a revised title.
2. A 140H, 192K hill in Chigolomaga, towards San Pedro, on the road to Phranama. An American woman, Maryann has purchased the adjacent 200H, 203K lot and I have to build a road to be shared by her to this lot.
Title cost: 15k Road + Power: 20 k
Later in the afternoon I attended ‘Sweat Lodge’ ceremony led by Bernie of CMV. A large pyre with wood with volcanic stones was setup. We entered a circular hut covered with blanket. The session consisted of four parts. Initially someone played the drum and sang the native songs. In the second part we prayed with the chanting of “mitakyasi” that in Lakota Sioux Indian means “to all my relations”. We prayed for good health and happiness - the ultimate goal of Man. We then had a shorter prayer session mostly dedicated to the women and children who are abused. This we followed by another chant.
In each part, seven burning volcanic stones - as the symbol of the four quarters, upper, lower and inner self - were removed from the pyre and piled up in the pit inside the hut. The heat and steam would become very intense at times and the goal of the heat was cleansing of the body, appreciation of the nature, fire and elements, and to sharpen the senses before hunting,
Lakota translations goes as follows, TUNKASILA (made all of Creation).
Sun, 02/09 I woke up early and walked to the Natives Sunday Market behind the bus station. By 7:30 AM it was already lively – with many vendors and customers. I picked up as much I could carry in my backpack, came back to CMV, had my breakfast, and went back to the market for stocking up on a few more items as their prices was much better the than the town’s mercardos. I met Bill & Colleen who said they were moving today and we arranged to meet at 2:00 Pm to meet the lot of San Francisco, a taxi driver, at 2:00 PM with David, another friend of theirs.
Back at CMV, I cleaned my vegetables, had a quick lunch, and went to meet Bill & Colleen. It turned out that San Francisco was sick and had postponed the meeting to the following day. I ended up helping them to move. We hired a taxi for and hours for $8 and loaded their stuff and drove to the new home – on a side road on the road that I had taken a long walk on my first day here.
When I returned to the main plaza, I saw Kiavash who was talking to Golpal, the Kazakh yurt maker. Kiavash invited me to a chant session in his restaurant later that day, lead by Max and his wife. The couple is from Hawaii and moved here with three kids in the mountains after the Fukushima nuclear incident.
The session was interesting, though long, and the attendance was a mix of young and middle age men and women. I left before the end of the session.
I then had a decent pizza at the restaurant at the hostal near the bus station.
Mon, 02/10 I woke up to find out the bathroom door was locked from inside. The previous night I shut that door not to get the noise from the street through the bathroom’s open window. I had to wait for Eddie till 09:00 to show up and unlock the door with a coat hanger.
I then went to the plaza, to meet Dave, friend of Colleen and Bill, and Francisco – the owner of a 2H lot – to drive to the lot. Neither one did show up.
I met Gopal in the afternoon, per as our appointment, to go see his yurts on Yamburara Alto but he had stomach pain and we had to cancel.
I stopped at a couple of RE offices to check their listings.
Tues, 02/11 In the morning, I met Wilson who was waiting for me in front of RE office for a visit to his lot at the end of the one of Malacatos dirt roads.
Wed, 02/12 In the morning, I took the Yambuara road to find the yurts of Gopal. I arrived to the end of the dirt road where the rive continued but the road became a narrow trail. O the return I took a turn for a cafeteria but could not find one and walked a trail for sometime until it became narrow and muddy. On the return, I had a short chat with a Canadian couple who had hired a taxi to see around the town.
Further down I the road I finally saw the yurts in a distance, but the entrance to the camp was closed. At this time I saw the next door neighbor on his lot. He introduced himself as Luis and it turned out that he was the owner of the cabin that I had seen his ad for rent. He had about six cabins with beautiful views of Vilcabamba for $240/mo. though the cabin needed some final changes and he was waiting to rent it before finishing up the place.
In the afternoon, I went to Sacred Valley RE where I met Carlos and Ivan - an American whose parents had moved here in 1976 – as his translator.
We visited a lot in Quinara that did not have good views and then to Yangana to visit a second lot which had some better views.
Thurs, 02/13 In the morning Carlos of Sacred Valley RE picked me up to visit again the lot in Yangana that we had visited the night before.
I noticed that at the home site many trees had to be taken down to be able to see the view if about 40 degrees. Also the frequent passage of road building trucks may be a problem.
In the afternoon, I took the bus to Malatacos for my appointment with Gladys that I had met two days ago when I was walking back from Wilson’s lot. When I arrived there the father, Luis, was preparing the truck and Gladys was leashing the digs and taking care of the turkeys. Soon her sister, Marline, with her kid, and another woman showed up. The father cleaned the back of the truck of the cows’ manure, swept it on the ground, and covered with soil. Gladys and the other women got in the back and Marline sat behind the wheel. It was a 20-minute rise to the lot. We parked and passed through a large gate and stared our long hike to see the 70H lot. It was a beautiful lot with many home sites with beautiful views. There were 40 cows roaming around and 3 streams with small amount of water. The women left us to pick up blackberries and cactus fruit and the father and I circled the beautiful lot.
We came back to the tiny house at the base and we had to wait for the sisters to finish picking the cactus fruits and then Marline drove me all the way to Malacatos. The whole family was very kind and pleasant.
In Malacatos, as soon as I boarded the bus a heavy rain stared and by the time we arrived in Vilcabamba, the raid stopped.
As I had missed my 7:00 PM appointment with Marsha, the Canadian potter, I went out but since I could not see any place appealing, I returned to my place and had some home-prepared food.
Fri, 02/14. I attended the first meditation session in the morning. Robert, the guide, gave a useful summary of breathing – deep breaths, relax on the inhale, calm on the exhale, if the focus is lost bring the focus on the breath, if any annoyance, then resolve it, such as a scratch. In addition to a few expats, a native couple with a father and two teenage son attended the session.
In the evening we I went to the Valentine’s party of a couple on San Jose road (FB: VilcaPeople). They had a beautiful house that looked like a fairy tale, with beautiful grounds and views. I felt out of place, left after a drink, and ended up at Kiavash’s restaurant.
Sat. 02/15. I met Eddie of CMV for a visit to the 140H, 192K hill in Chingolomaga at 07:00. When we arrived there at 07:30 we had to walk for about two hours to get to the base of the hill of the initial lot. The whole hike took about 6 hours. The fog was very intense a couple of times but it cleared in a short time. Open vistas were about 50 degrees, at the maximum, at about 2/3 up the hill. I gave up on going all the way to the top as the walk to the lot was a long way and impossible to build a road. We headed back from the creek side of the lot, somewhat lost, but finally made it back on the road by 12:30 PM. Eddie then drove me from another road to in front of the gate of Maryann’s lot. Bernie later confirmed that there already is some road going up the hill.
Sun, 02/16. SandyLeeJackson@gmail.com, and her husband, Jean-Michel of Malapampa, friends of friends of Alwyn and Lewis Lawrence alwynL@primus.ca of Toronto, came over to CMV. Sandy invited me to go along and we went to their home for a cup of tea and some conversation, which at times was embarrassing to witness as the hosts did not have much interest in topics the guests were talking about. We then drove to Hoseteria for a very good lunch.
Mon. 02/17 I walked on Malapampa Rd, looking for a quiet place but could not find one. I met Edmond, of S.A., who complained about the shift in his rental house. I then walked on Yamburara, stopped at restaurant Copamaco, at the primer puente, for a cup of coffee. The young female attendant was weaving the hair of her Argentinean boyfriend. I asked her for a cup of coffee – not expecting much. The boyfriend fetched the cup of coffee on a dilapidated piece of wood. The cup was cracked, with its handle glued. There was also a slice of banana cake, and on a coconut shell, some raisins and cane. The stirrer was a piece of cracked bamboo. It was the perfect treat.
I then found Charlie’s cabins. He is from Boston-Oregon and moved here thirty years ago.
Tues. 02/18. Nada
Wed. 02/19. In the morning, I drove with Carlos and Ivan to a lot in Taxiche, Malacatos, but the lot was subdivided and possibly sold.
I then returned to Vilcabamba and took a bus to Malacatos to meet Deddine Swyter, 09 6817 4944, who has a house next to Ira’s house (use for taxi direction), but she was not home. The sale sign said 3 casas for sale, with a total size of 11,000 m2. It consisted of one old native’s house and two very small cabins.
Thurs. 02/20. I took the bus to Malacatos and walked to the house of Mr. Luis. He was not home but I found Marlene in her house next door.
She said her father was travelling. I asked her to call him and finally I got the price for the finca,
I walked to the finca. I stopped in a few places to inquire about lots for sale and found a few. I continued my walk on the Mr. Luis finca road and came across a very quiet road where the views were very open. When I walked for about ten minutes, I came across Ira’s house, the direction that Deddine had given me. I asked a woman behind bamboo door about Deddine. She opened the door and introduced herself as Daniela of France. He give me a full report of the neighborhood, walked me to the lot with three houses for sale, where Deddine is renting a cabin, and introduced me to Chris, the owner. She then invited me to her house. She had managed the construction of the beautiful house herself – though with some glitches.
She then showed me the direction to Deddine’s lot. I found Deddine at her site, supervising a construction project. When I asked for her cabin, she told me that since they had not lived in Ecuador for a few years, the adobe house was run down and they had to demolish it to build a new house. She and her partner plan to build two additional houses with pools on the small lot. She had left Ecuador for a few years after the rape of her teenage daughter in that house by two Peruvian laborers. She was not bitter with the experience.
I then walked to Chris of Colorado house and we had a long chat. He had bought the lot with one house three years ago and had built two cabins that he is renting for $230/mo each.
He offered me a banana and some pitaya, a yellow skin prickly fruit - the most delicious and refreshing I have tried here. I can buy them at a stand on 18 De November, across Av. Mercadeo
When I left Chris’ place, Mark (09 8299 5336), a motor cyclist who is a worker at Deddine’s lot, gave me a ride to the main road, right before San Jose. His uncle has a 2H lot for sale in Landangi, near Nick Vassy’s.
On the main road, I got a ride from Hector Gonzales, a very happy, friendly and talkative Ecuadorian who had lived in Madrid for a few years.
Once at my place I made delicious pasta.
Fri. 02/21. I packed and moved my luggage a room #10 which was occupied by Alice of UK. Bernie facilitated my move since I had complained about her loud voice on Skype in his office next to my room.
I then took the bus to Loja, stopped at Claro office but was unable to fix my phone. They told me to go to another location where they were able to unlock my phone.
I met Colleen and Bill at the plaza and joined them for a cup of coffee and some nightmare stories of affairs in Ecuador, from lawyers to cable installation.
I then stopped by the Mercado where I had lunch, and bought some produce and fish.
Sat. 02/22. Bernie and I drove to a finca (65H, 154k) in Malacatos, by brick factory and chicken farm. It was a nice lot with a nice flat area with good views at the front of the lot.
Tue., 02/25. I met John of Tennessee/CA renting a house for $150/mo. We walked to Charlito for lunch where I met Dennis & George, a Vietnam War Vet who left US in 1968, after return from the war and facing the negative reaction of the Americans to the soldiers, calling them baby killers. He married to a Cuban and the US embassy in Panama threatened to stop his VA benefits. They also denied his wife a visa to USA.
Fri., 02/28. In the morning the driver whose name I was given by the Nicole, the daughter of the late Michael - the owner of the house for rent - was waiting for me at CMV. When I got in his car and told him to “Michael’s house’ in Barrio San Jose. Yusanga, he said he did not know where it was. It turned out that he was not “Rafael”, but a different person who was using Rafael’s phone. I called Fintan, Michael’s British neighbor who gave the driver the directions to the house.
As we arrived at house, Fintan drove in and showed me the house. The house was decent and the views were jaw dropping, with Podocarpus on the West and Mandango on the East. I stayed there for a few hours to absorb the views. I also met Manuel – the gardener who works there three days a week for $54 – and his very friendly wife and pretty daughter.
I walked back to the city within one hour and fifteen minutes, had a burrito at Charlito, and by the time got back at CMV and checked my email, I had a message from Nicole that the house was rented.
Sat., 03/01. Today is the start of the Carnival. Due to heavy rains throughout the night the festivities were delayed.
The festivities consisted of mostly throwing water from balloons, buckets, water pumps and gun, and occasional powder and eggs. There was some recorded music. The celebration lasted until Tuesday. On Sunday night there was a loud music in a field near CMV – which I had checked it out a few days due to the noise they were making while setting up the place. I was able to fall asleep a little past the midnight.
On Tuesday, Sonia and Amalia left for US. Sonia left the leftover Cachaça bottle which I left in the freezer for some time and it made a much better drink this time. I also enjoyed the book “the 100 Year Old Man Who Walked Out of the Window and Disappeard”, that Amalia gave me. It was the funniest book I had ever read.
With Sonia gone, Mike, a 40-year old guest who had moved to my first room by the office, move to my section. He could not stop making all sorts of very loud noises, from sneezing to blowing nose and spitting. At night he would sit in the porch at his laptop and kept moving his chair on the tiles – making another loud noise; he is a pain.
Thurs., 03/06. I walked to San Jose in the morning. In the evening, I went to ‘La Cultura – The Enchanting Wind’ http://enchantingwind.com/
email@example.com restaurant at the start of the San Jose Road. The place was already full. When I told the waitress - Ashley - that I had reservation for one person, she already knew my name. That was a good sign. I had met Yasu Umet (https://www.facebook.com/yasu.umet?fref=ufi ) , the chef, in his kitchen, when I had walked into his restaurant – after getting the name of his restaurant from Amalia and reading all the great reviews on Trip Advisor. The sun was setting amid the clouds, with only one opening where the sunset rays were shining on a lone tree on a distant hill – it was picture perfect and it was good I did not have a camera.
The food was great. I was short of a few dollars, so between leaving a tip for Ashley or owing $4 to Yasu, I left the tip and told Yasu I will bring him $4 the next day.
Fri., 03/07 In the morning, in the company of Howard of Brooklyn, and Spencer of Canada, headed for the Cascada, located at the end of Yamburara. We took a taxi to the end of the road and then hiked for about 1 ¾ hrs to the cascade. The hike was pleasant and some beautiful views. The cascade was about 30 meters high. We all took a bath – naked.
We then headed back and stopped for a cup of coffee at the coffee place that I had previously tried. The serving was the same – but the first time I was there by myself, I could appreciate the experience much more deeply.
Howard, 59, has been through two divorces and now is looking for a fresh start but his problem is that he cannot be alone. While having our coffee, he asked us to tell him of his shortcomings. Spencer could not think of any, but I told him he come across as showing off much. He said he had been told of that before. As Spencer was worried about his girlfriend being upset with his long absence, we headed back and as we could not find a cab, we walked all the way back to CMV.
After making and having my delicious salad, I went to Café Cultura and left the $5 balance of my check from the night before for Chef Yasu – as I could not find him and later emailed him as to where to find the money.
I then tried to get a haircut but the hairdresser was busy with one customer for a long time.
Sat., 03/08 - Cuenca In the morning, I packed, and after breakfast said goodbye to the guests and Bernie and took the bus to Loja and then 12:30 PM bus to Cuenca. We arrived in Cuenca at 5:00 PM. I took a cab to my hostal, Macondo. I then went for a walk, though the rain had started by this time. I made it to the rive Tombabamba though it was rather dark,. I headed back to my neighborhood, had dinner and called the night.
Sun., 03/09. After the breakfast at the hostel, I took my camera and headed out. The town, the buildings and the streets were a feast for the eyes. I could not stop photographing almost every building – so much that my full battery was exhausted by 6:00 PM.
In the morning it started to rain again but that did not stop the crows.
I walked to Calle Lagar, the road parallel to Tombabamba. I saw a beautiful house – with large wooden windows - on the stairs leading to the river.
It was a perfect location as it was one the few places that was closed to the traffic. Across the street was ‘Casa del Rio”, at Bajada del Padron 4 -07, Calle Larga. I entered the place to find out more about the house. The owner said that the house belonged to a US Marines, so I could conclude that it was not for rent. The guy showed me a nice room, with a beautiful view of the town and the river, with three bed and access to the large terrace and also the use of the kitchen for $20 per night.
After much walking and photography, I stopped by the charming coffee shop-restaurant Oliveto, at Calle Larga 8-27 Y Luis Corder where I had a good coffee and pastry. The waiter showed me around the beautiful restaurant but as it was still too early for lunch, I continued my walk.
Later for lunch I stopped at Don Carlo, named after the owner whose history was listed in the menu. He had a long and successful career as a chef-owner in US but finally returned home and opened this restaurant. I could guess correctly that the guy who was sitting at a table with a large family was him. O ordered a special Don Carlo sea bass but unfortunately, it came fried with thick breading and therefore not much taste.
By the time I went to the counter to pay my bill, Don Carlo was behind and at the register. I handed him a $20 bill. He asked me if I had $1.50 change. When I gave him two single dollar coins, he had no change to give me back. I thought he was a good person to ask why there was seldom change available in his country – especially even in a place like his as he has run businesses in US, but did not want him to get uncomfortable.
I continued my walk for the rest of the day, taking pictures, until my battery died. I walked to the town Mercado on Lamar. Most of the stalls were closed. I picked up some fruits and headed back to my hostal. After a rest and having some fruits I headed back out but the streets were too quiet and dark and most of the lights in the buildings were out. I returned to my hostal – after a day of very enjoyable walk – though mostly in the rain.
Mon., 03/10. I woke up at 2:30 AM and was awake for a couple of hours. when I woke up in the morning it was already 8:30 AM. I had my breakfast at the hostal – with much strong and delicious coffee, and the integral bread I had bought the night before.
After the breakfast, I took my camera and headed out. The first stop was the Mercado on Lamar. It was lively and in full action. When I passed by the stall of the woman I had shopped from the previous day she recognized me and hissed me.
I walked around and ended up at Calle Larga again. I stopped at the Archeology museum, where the attendant gave me a 30-second orientation of the field with tree civilizations of the Incas, Mexicans, and the Spanish before leading me to the field and opening the gate for me. There was not much left to see except some wheels and stone arches.
For lunch I ended up at café Austria where I had a chicken curry.
I continued walking around after lunch and ventured out to the other side of the river where still I saw more charming buildings.
I then stopped at a barber shop for a haircut at a cost of $3. The radio was broadcasting a prayer – where the pronunciation was clear and slow.
I walked to ‘Original Italy” restaurant on Luis Codera– it was recommended on Wiki Travel. The attentive owner, with a glass of wind in hand chatted for a while and the disappeared. The young waiter recommended their pizza as the best choice – though I had to repeat myself three times until he understood that I only wanted a ½ half bottle of wine. The pizza was delicious but the service was awful. As a lady next to me commended, “the waiter took every order wrong.”
I walked back to my hostal, stopped at an ice cream shop – just in time for their closing.
Tue., 03/11. This is my last day in Cuenca. I headed out for more walking and picture taking. I went to a barber shop for a shave.
I then walked to the flower market, sopped at a lovely coffee shop for a coffee and then walked to Calle Larga to visit Todosantos monastery restaurant. The menu looked good but as there were no other customers i decided to go Oliveto Restaurant where I had had a cup of coffee before. They had a special lunch menu for $7, consisting of mushroom soup, lobster ravioli, and ice cream desert. The food was good and the view was beautiful.
At the main plaza I met Marcelo Carrion. a friendly older man who is a plant trader (Las Trancas arboles y cabras @ La Glorieta, Avendia Primero de Mayo y Calle Carlos V, Cuenca (7) 2-810282 cell: 593-96-781-1397 - firstname.lastname@example.org ). He suggested that I visit the south of the old town, the second river. I took a pleasant walk there as the drizzle started. The section of the town was a large and well-kept area, with many beautifully designed houses.
I then decided to visit the second area, PIasta De Atellana, almost in the continuation of Sangurima, that Marcello had recommended, but I walked to the other side of the town before noticing that the area was towards the airport. As I was approaching to my 08:00 PM flight, I walked back to Sangurima, a lively street, where I did some food shopping for a few sandwiches and then went to my hostal, rested for a while and then took a cab to the airport. As I had left my hand cream in my bag rather than a zip loc, the inspector spent a few minutes, checking my luggage and then put my toothpaste and hand cream in a zip loc bag, though she did not mind my water bottle.
I took the 50 minute flight to Quito and waited for 5 hours for my 11:55 PM flight to Houston.
Wed., 03/12. We had a 6-hour flight to Houston and landed there at 06:00AM.
I waited for my 07:00 AM flight to Newark, but missed the time and lost my flight. I went to the UA counter where they issued me a ticket for a flight that was taking off within an hour and informed me that my luggage will be OK. We arrived in Newark at about noon. I had to look for my luggage on a few carousels and file a report so that UA would deliver my bag to my home. But just as I was giving up, I found it, picked it up and took the air train to Secaucus. I arrived there at 03:00 PM, but as the next Dover train was arriving at 05:00 PM, I took the 03:00 PM Montclair train to Newark Broad St. for the Dover train. The ride was pleasant and scenic as the train cut through the air, with much snow and wind on its path - and a drizzle as the companion.
‘14/09/03 China – Beijing, Datong, Wutaishan, Pingyao, Guoliancun, Kaifeng, Luoyang, Huashan, Xi’an, Jinan, Qufu, Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Guilin, Xingping, Yangshuo, Longji, Chengyang, Kunming, Shagri-La, Lijiang, Dali
Beijing & Great Wall at Zhuangdaokou)
Datong & Yungang grottoes
Guoliancun, Henan (via Changzi)
Kaifeng (via Huaxian, Xinxian)
Luoyang & Longmen Caves >Rail
Jinan & Jujiayo Village
Shanghai & Zhujiajio Village >Rail
Suzhou & Tongli Village
Longji-Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces
Chengyang villages via Longshen, Sanjiang
Shagri-La=Zhongdian >Sleeping bus
Lijiang, Baisha, Shuhe
I woke up at 03:30. At 04:30, as the driver of the Axle’s Taxi Company I had called the day before had not called to confirm, I called another company for a 5:00AM pickup. The first driver should up after a short while but I had to tell him I had called another driver.
We arrived at Newark airport at 05:40 after a 30-minute ride. I went through pre-check security line and therefore did not have to take off my shoes. We had a 5-hour flight to Vancouver on United. The hills surrounding the town looked beautiful with the clouds rising above them. The airport itself was a piece of artwork, not unlike a copy Natural History Museum, and the bathrooms were as elegant as the New York’s Four Season Hotel.
The connecting Air Canada flight was a brand new plane. I had the isle seat and a Chinese woman and a Chinese man were next to me. They were both very friendly, though the man did not speak any English.
There was a small raucous when an older Chinese man, dressed in semi monk dress, started an argument with a young Chinese man because he had pushed his seat too far back. The attendant took the old man’s hand and lead him to business class and that was the end of it. I hoped that I would not confront situations like that on this trip. Otherwise, we had a smooth flight and a timely arrival in Beijing.
09/03/2014 Thursday - Beijing.
I took a taxi to my hostel; that was a mistake as it was close to rush hour. It took me more that 1 ½ hours to get there and the fare was ¥170 (at 6.15 exchange rate to USD.) I then went out for a walk and ended up in the nearby old Hutong. I had some dumpling at a restaurant where I almost fell asleep while waiting for my order to arrive.
I stopped at a place where the server was making a fresh baked wrap and breaking eggs on it to cook and then adding scallions to the mix. I braved it and ordered one but then my stomach started twisting and turning for the next day. Fortunately it did not get more serious than that.
I walked to Tian’amen Square and the visited the Forbidden City. It was larger that I could have imagined - with many building all around.
I then tried to visit the Mao’s Memorial but it was close. I was also rather late to be able to get in the museum. I then visited the charming hilly Jingshan Park where the views of the Forbidden City and its rooftops were great.
I took the metro to Nanluoguxuang stop. Instead of changing for Shichahai to the Drum and Bell Tower, I exited to walk there. It was a long walk but I had a chance to see two very old neighborhoods, one with a canal and the other with a large lake where the Starbucks branch was still close at 8:30AM. Finally when I arrived at the towers I found out that they were being renovated and being connected by a courtyard between them. From outside both seemed very beautiful structures.
After an inedible lunch of liver soup, I tried Mao’s Memorial to find out that it was close for an extended period of time but I was able to make it to the Beijing Museum which was much less inspiring than what I had expected. I then visited the huge Tempe of Heaven Park. The highlight if the visit was a group of the choir singers practicing under the graceful leading of a conductor.
I then took the metro to Dongzhimen station - also used for line 13 to the airport - and had a delicious Peking Duck at LP recommended Jingzun Peking Duck Restaurant.
09/07/2014 Sunday - Zhuangdaokou, The Great Wall of China
I took the metro to Dongzhimen transport hub and then bus 916 to Huarirou. I walked to the bus stop for Zhuangdaokou, a couple of hundred meters ahead. I asked for the bus for the village and was told that I was at the right stop. After a while, a private van showed up and the group at the stop decided to take that one as it was faster than the official bus. They asked me to join them for the ¥15 fare. They were two guys, Shao and Gong and three woman, Hen (a Chinese teacher), Ding (ding_508@email@example.com) and Wang.
I stayed with them for the rest of the day. We took a walk around the park like area of the village where Shao started kicking every tree for some chestnuts. At a tree where a soldier was standing guard he asked for permission to kick a tree but it was denied.
We had a picnic lunch where Shao and Gong where the most gracious hosts and offered me the first tasting of everything that was becoming prepared. Gong opened a bottle that we shared but I gave back some of my remaining drink to Gong who passed it to Shao who became a bit tipsy and lied down on a bench to take a nap.
After lunch, we did some hiking on the wall which was supposedly much less touristy than the other sections of the wall.
Gong was most amusing. Every step of the way it was a photo opportunity where we had to take pictures trying all permutations and combinations of the individuals and cameras, he was possibly doing this as a chance to take a break from the hike.
We then left the village and on the way to bus stop Shao would bargain with each vendor but again he made sure that I would get a free sampling of their foodstuff. He was the most animated and friendly person I have seen in a long time. We made it to back to Dongzhimen station where he and Hen, without saying good-bye to me, left us. I boarded the metro with Ding and Shao but they got off at different stations. Therefore I was not sure if they were a couple or not but they were all very friendly and kind people. It was a great experience to get to know such hospitable people.
09/08/2014 Monday – Datong – Yungang Grottoes
I went to the front desk and asked for the manager. He showed up after a few minutes and I told him about the loss of wallet. He said that was not possible. When I persisted, he asked another guy who was standing there and seemed to be the owner of the place. They accompanied me to my room to investigate. Soon a few more people showed up and started looking for the wallet. Finally, Lucy, the sales manager, who spoke English showed up. I explained to her that I had left my wallet inside a magazine on the shelf. Throughout my stay, I had the “do not trouble” sign on the door. She said that the only person who had entered my room needed to check on my safety and therefore had entered the room. I asked for her. When she came she explained that while in my room, since on that day they had received the new issue of the hotel’s monthly magazine, she had taken away the old one and left the new one. We then went to the storage room where all the last month’s magazine were stacked up, but we could not find the wallet. Lucy, with a very disarming tone, told me that I should have been more careful and should not have used the hotel’s property for use other than what it was intended for. Since the loss was an accident and everybody was helpful I gave up.
I then took the metro to the Summer Palace. It was a huge park, with a large lake in the center surrounded by old willow tree. A perfect Chinese music for the setting was being broadcast. The place was mobbed, yet still there was a sense of peace and tranquility and the beauty of the place could be appreciated. I thought that if the emperors could have done one public service, it would have been the creation of this site for the future generations of their citizens.
I then took the metro to Dashilar neighborhood where I visited Nujie Mosque. It was a very charming wooden ex-temple.
I went back to my hotel, picked up my luggage and headed for the bus station for my four-hour trip to Datong where I checked in at the very clean “Fly by Knight” hostel on the penthouse of high-rise building.
09/09/2014 Tuesday - Datong
I had tofu, a duck egg and a wrap on a sidewalk stand behind the city wall for ¥5. I then took a taxi to Yungang grottoes, a large area made of a dozen caves with many statutes and beautiful temples and grounds.
I then took the bus to the train station and found a favorites restaurant. There was a party coming to and en and the guest were leaving, some very tipsy. The waitress initially did not want to seat me as it was late. But when I insisted she took me to a private room. I ordered their hotpot; it was delicious with some fat and greens. When I was leaving I asked a group of customers at the exit for direction to the bus station and showed them its location on the map. They got into a discussion for a few minutes and finally one of them who was very drunk grabbed my arm and took me to the reception and ask me to sit and told the girl behind the desk to help me. Again, more talk and then a middle age woman with two teen age girls showed up. It seems that the woman agreed to give me ride. The person turned to me and said that even though the woman was old, she was OK. I politely thanked and got out before more discussion.
When I asked a bus conductor for bus terminal to Wutaishan, he asked me to board his bus, and issued a ticket. When I said I planned my trip for the next day he backed off and finally dropped me at the station where I purchased my ticket. I then tried to ask the girl at the information desk to write down the address of the place but now matter how hard I tried I could not make her understand what I meant.
I left the place and entered a pastry shop and while I was looking around a young girl enthusiastically rushed to me and asked if I needed help. I asked for the direction to the old town, she consulted another woman and told me it was rather far. After my purchase of a couple of Portuguese custard cakes, she walked me out and took a taxi for me.
I spent some time in the old tow; it was too commercialized. I then took a cab to my hotel. After some rest I tried to get some cash from ATM at a few banks, but even the ones with the right logos did not give out cash. Fortunately, I found a branch of Bank of China where I took a large sum as there are not ATMS in my next designation, Wutaishan
I woke up at 6:30 for my 07:30 trip to Wutaishan. On the way to the bus station, I showed my ticket to the taxi driver I hailed and asked him if he knew where the bus station was. He said he did but once I boarded he made a few comments and said he did not know, and therefore I got out and took another taxi. He had to call his station to confirm the location. When we arrived at the station, I asked the driver to wait and I ran to info desk to confirm. I was running back to get my luggage from the cab when I hit the flask that a young girl was carrying and it broke with a loud bang. I apologized and went to pick up my bag. I then saw the girl talking to a friend while trying to open the flask. I offered some money but she did not accept and added that it was also her fault since she was running also. Both girls spoke almost fluent English.
I entered the waiting area. The friend of the girl with the broken flask came to me and asked me if I needed any help. She said they were both English major seniors.
After I said good-bye to her, a man approached me and tried to help me. He asked me to show him my ticket and I was afraid of a long one-way discussion and therefore denied. He asked me to show it to the attendant at the gate. He somehow knew my departure time and pointed to clock and added that I should board the bus within the 5 to 10 minutes prior to departure. He later on asked another official to check my ticket. The official asked me to enter the gate to board the bus. The helping man entered the departure area and showed me the written destination on the windshield and the one on my ticket to convince me that I was boarding the right bus. He then tried to help me to check in my luggage but as I was late, there was no room left and I had to carry my backpack onboard.
The helping man then boarded the bus – it turned out to be a full minibus – to help me with my seat. Someone else was sitting at my assigned seat and I found out that the assigned seat numbers did not mean much. Only then I noticed that he was unable to speak and al this time was communicating with gestures. I felt uncomfortable to offer him some money for his efforts – just in case he was not doing all this for money.
After an hour of drive we entered the mountains and soon the fog covered the scenery. The landscape was green, with many cows and sheep grazing on the lush grass. We arrived in Wutaishan at 11:00. I walked while asking the direction to my hotel from many people but as could not ask how far or how long, I had to keep asking. A few drivers stopped and tried to give me a ride. One of them was following me for a long time. I finally boarded a bus. When I wanted to pay my fare a girl told me it was a free bus. After getting off the bus I made more inquires and the last person, a woman in front of a beauty shop who was playing with her son on a bike, accompanied me to a hotel. Only after check in I noticed that was neither of the two places I had made reservations for the night before.
I went to lunch in a nearby restaurant where the waiter-owner even charged me for the plastic wrapped cup and the pot of the hot water.
I visited some of the temples that the town is famous for. They were all very lively with very devout pilgrims, the monks and the incense burning. I then tried to find out the bus schedule for Taiyuan-Pingyo. At the bus station a few drives were playing cards inside a bus and did not even raise the heads to my pleas. At the stop on the other end of the town I asked a photographer for the next day buses but he insisted a bus for the same day day. He made a call and then did not let me walk away until a van with the driver and an assistance showed up and tried to give me a ride. When I pointed to my shirt they figured out that I should have some luggage and would not become a fare that very same day. They were more understanding than the photographer.
09/11/2014 Thursday - Wutaishan-Pingyao
It was raining when I woke up. I waited in bed and wrote some notes while waiting for the rain to stop before I could go for a hike. Since the rain did not stop I decided to pack and leave. I went to the North bus terminal and asked a driver for the bus to Taiyuan. He pointed to another bus the driver of which sent me to a small hotel across the bus terminal. The young girl there told me I needed to go to another station. I asked her to write down the name of the station and after some persistence, she complied. I then took the slip of the paper and got on a city bus and showed the conductor the slip. She said she would let me off at the station. A few people were kind to ask for the paper to check the address while I was riding the bus.
Finally the bus stopped at a small storefront that I had crossed quiet a few times but could have never guessed that it would be a bus terminal. I purchased a ticket for the next bus that was leaving shortly, had a fast noodle, and boarded my bus. The 4-hour ride was uneventful.
Once I got off the bus at the terminal in Taiyuan I entered the ticketing office asked information for the bus to Pingyao. The attendant walked me to a window where the clerk spoke some English. I asked her I needed to go to Pingyao to which she responded there were no buses to Pingyao. I asked for about the train and she said there were no trains to Pingyao. I repeated my request three times and she repeated her answer three times. I told here about buses the following day to which she responded I needed to go to another bus terminal. I begged her to write down the name of the terminal. I then shared a taxi with a young guy who tried to smoke in the car. Fortunately, there was a no smoking sign on the dashboard and when I pointed it to him he complied. At the bus terminal I purchased a ticket boarded on a bus with only six passengers. The driving manners were the worst I had ever seen anywhere in the world. The incoming cars were driving from the rightmost lane; there were no traffic lights even at the throughway intersections. There were only some cameras placed visibly where the drivers would slow down to a crawl and then after a few seconds things would go back to the same lawlessness way.
We made it to Pingyao in under three hours where I took a rickshaw to Hotel Harmony in the old town. The owner showed me my room, which looked like a fantasy room – the Persian version of a Sufi room. But since the view was not too good I asked her for a better view and she complied. I was so excited with the place that I kissed her and thanked her for her thoughtful and charming decoration of her place.
I woke up excitedly early next morning and started exploring the charming small town. I purchased a 3-day ticket of all the sites for ¥180 and then walked the around town and visited only a handful of the sites. I then noticed that all the hotels had a design similar to my place – a beautiful green courtyard with fancifully decorated rooms. But each building had some uniqueness that made it unpredictable and pleasant enough to stop at to take a picture from.
I then walked out of the gates of the old town and stopped by a large electronic shop and showed them my Chinese adapter which was not working and asked them where I could find something similar. About eight people consulted for a few minutes and once they were sure what it was that I was asking, one volunteered and walked me to a hardware store. The owner had to examine the adapter for a couple of minutes before telling me that he did not carry what I needed. The man at the next shop was a bit faster and had the replacement.
I stopped at a restaurant where their menu was showing a braised fish which I ordered and when it came it was as good as I was hoping. The owner offered me some of his own food – I was not sure what it was, and offered me a glass of rice wine.
While walking I stopped at a vendor who had a large fake Omega glass globe clock on display selling it for ¥250. When he did not agree with my asking price of ¥100, he offered e a smaller one for ¥50. I also ended up also buying the larger one for ¥73. But as it was too heavy to carry around for the rest of my trip regretted purchasing it. I stopped by another vendor who had a similar version of the clock on display and I sold my large clock to him for ¥50.
As it was a bit cool and drizzling, I decided to go back to my room to dress properly. I was asking for the directions on the map and I ended up walking for three hours – waking along the same streets a few times each – until I finally saw the other branch of my hotel where I met the waitress
Who had served my breakfast tht morning. She was kind enough to get his bike and walk me to my place.
I then went out and purchased some jasmine tea and fruits. The fruit vendor was kind enough to offer me a couple of free peaches.
In the morning I called Bahram to tell him about my gmail account access issue and asked him to contact me via yahoo.
I then had breakfast at a sidewalk café and went to the bus terminal to inquire about the ticket to Changzi on the way to Xinxiang for Guoliangcun.
They did not offer advance sales and asked me to return the next morning.
I then climbed the North gate to walk on the wall for about half of the path that was open. There was a good view of the houses and the daily lives of the natives as the walls are at least 15m high so one could see everything from that height.
The roofs of the buildings, concaved arcs made of grayish shingles gave the very characteristics of Chinese Ming era, as I had seen in a few other Beijing’s charming old neighborhoods.
I then visited the remaining of the about 20 sites that my three-day ticket covered. I walked along a few of the deserted streets, the wall and then stopped the LP recommended restaurant on Yamen Jie for a delicious braised eggplant.
09/14/2014 Sunday: Pingyao-Guoliancun
I woke up at 6:30AM, 30 minutes past my malfunctioned alarm but was able to shower, pack, and have a sidewalk breakfast of tofu, dumplings and eggs to go and make it to station at before 7:30AM for the 8:00AM departure to Changzi for connecting bus to XinXian.
We arrived in Changzi at 11:30. A group of young China Mobile staff was promoting their service at the entrance to the bus terminal. I showed them my destination on the map and they all very enthusiastically tried to assist. One of the girls who spoke some English commented, “But we are in Hebei and Xinxian is in Henan.” When I showed her on the map how close the two cities are, she ran to the ticket booth and came back to tell me that I have to go to another bus terminal. She then volunteered to walk me to the city bus and tell the bus driver where to drop me off. I told her I was in a bit of rush and preferred to take a taxi. A hawker was present and said the cab fare would be ¥20. The young girl wrote the address for me and she and the hawker walked me out to the taxi. At the next bus terminal I showed the map to the woman at the information desk who informed me that there was a direct bus to Huixian (possibly through Anyang) at 13:30. I had one hour to kill during which I had a decent huge lunch at the terminal restaurant. The bus ride was through a secondary road with some beautiful lush scenery but soon it became very mountainous. It became a bit scary when on a narrow road in the rain the bus driver tried to pass other trucks against non-stop oncoming trucks. At one point we passed through a long solid rock cave with openings at some intervals. It was hard to tell how much of it was natural and how much man-made.
At 15:30 the bus conductor dropped me at an intersection. I took refuge from the rain under a door and I asked the owner of the shop how I could get to my destination. He asked his son to help and at that time a bus arrived and the son hailed it for me. It was a 20 minutes ride to my destination on a beautiful tree lined road. A friendly young man started gesturing that I will be sleeping at his place. We got off at a hotel and I registered for a room (¥200>150). Meanwhile the man waited – possibly to make sure his commission would be materialized. I did not want to take a chance as it was raining and I was not sure how crowded the weekends were. I then walked to the entry point of the village where I purchased a ticket for ¥150 and walked towards the village. It was raining hard and at the intersection of Napping and Guoliancun I took the bus which passed through another cave-like tunnel. The scenery was dramatic - the rocks reaching sky high and lush green vegetation filled everywhere. The LP had recommended the hotels past the tunnel for their better views. On the way back I showed the bus driver my hotel card and entrance ticket but I gathered there was no address on either one of them. The bus started heading down the mountain on a different road and I was sure we were headed for Naping where I had to spend the night as it was getting way past 4:30, the time for the for the last bus. Luckily, the bus ended up at my starting point. I assume we had gone through a loop. I was so relieved that I stopped at a store, got a beer and stepped outside to drink it in the rain. I then retired to my room. The room was not too bad. I had a large bed and clean sheets – I could not have been upset with the woman at the reception for using a hawker to get customers. It could have been a worse night if the bus had not returned to my hotel.
I just hope tomorrow will be a clear day for some hiking and enjoying the magnificent views of the surrounding mountains.
09/15/2014 Monday: Guoliancun-Kaifeng
When I woke up it was still raining. I took the bus to upper Guoliancun and walked around for some time. I then went back to my room to get my camera for a few pictures of the magnificent view but the fog was heavy and visibility bad.
I decided to leave the village since even it stopped raining, the trails would be too damp to walk on.
The staff at the motel was very helpful. The young receptionist called and find out the bus schedule to Huixian. I was waiting outside with a young worker at the motel for the bus but the driver of the coming bus did not see us to stop. The worker called again and was told another bus is leaving soon. Within five minutes the next bus showed up. We arrived at Huixian where the driver dropped me across the bus station and I took a bus that was just leaving for Xinxian.
In Xinxian, I entered a small office with “Tickets” sign and asked for a ticket to Kaifeng. On the ticket it was written 18:00 which meant I had to wait for more than three hours. I then entered the main hall and went to the ticket windows to find out if I could get an earlier ticket. After asking the woman at a ticket booth about eight time to write the departure times, she wrote 08:00 and 13:00 which meant there were no more buses for that day. I then walked along the gates while asking for the gate to Kaifeng. At the last gate, an attendant took my ticket, ripped it and let me through the gate and in a few minutes the bus left for Kaifeng. Both buses in Huixian and Xinxian looked like intercity buses.
After about 1 ½ hours drive the bus stopped and the driver asked the passengers to move to another bus that was waiting in front of us. I picked up my luggage and ran for the next bus. After about ½ hour I suddenly remembered that in the other bus I had took out my LP guide to read it and then had left it on the chair. It was very upsetting. I thought if I wanted to order a copy from Amazon, the shipping will take some time. Possibly, I could purchase a PDF format but that would not be very convenient to use.
I then walked along the bus. I asked a few younger passengers if they spoke English to which they all answered negative. The last couple young couple I asked could speak English. The woman English was decent. I explained to her what had happened and asked her to ask the conductor to contact the other bus to find out if they had my book. The conductor was on the phone for about a few minutes and I kept hearing Meyou (do not have) which was not what I was hoping for. I thought if they had found the book I could go back to Xinxian terminal to get the book back. Just as I had given up, a man, in shabby suit and slippers, who was sitting on a chair back to back to the conductor, mentioned something, opened his shopping bag and pulled out my book – that was some luck especially as it happened that the man was sitting on a chair where he could hear the conversation. I was so glad that I kissed him and thanked him and the girl who was translating. Once we arrived in Kaifeng and when the man got off the bus, I ran to him and tried to pass him a few bills but in spite of my insistence, he did not accept the reward.
Once in Kaifeng, I tried to take a cab but the driver did not want to use his meter and quoted my ¥20. I got off and at this time, another girl, Fan, who was in the same bus as I, checked the hotel that I was going to and we shared a taxi. The fare was only ¥5.
After checking in at Jinjiang Inn, I left my luggage in the room and walked to Gulou night market. Due to the rain the stalls were closed. I found a restaurant with a nice rustic setting and sat for dinner. I had some meatball, a seaweed noodle dish and some edamame and cooked peanut.
There was young father and his 10-year old boy sitting next to my table. The boy came over and handed me a piece of paper on which he had written in English, “Welcome to Kaifeng”
By the end of my meal two young guys came in and took the seat where the father and son had sat earlier. Soon a bottle of rice wine showed up on their table and I asked them if they had ordered it at the restaurant or had brought it in themselves. That started a conversation and the first of many salutes. They invited me to sit at their table and soon we finished three bottles. One of the guys did not drink much and he kept to his only cup. I could see that the other guy as sweating and getting red but I did not notice that I was getting drunk faster than him. Before I knew it was too late and the next I remember was when the guys were taking off my jacket and lying me down in my bed.
I had to stay in bed until noon to recover from the previous night, though I do not remember how I made it to my room – or rather how the guys were able to find my place. As a precaution, I had put my room key and the address cover in two different pockets, just in case I lose one of them it would be of no use to anyone.
I found a note on the desk and could read the name ‘Wang” and a phone number but the rest was in Chinese. I took it to the front desk where I asked them to translate. He had written, “Iran and China are good friends. Welcome to Kaifeng.” I stepped out while filled with much gratitude for the two friends care and hospitality.
I then went across the street to McDonalds at Sheng Fu Jie & Zhongshan Lu for a burger. I walked to the peaceful no-car traffic street to the left of the Sheng Fu Jie Gate where I had a decent coffee (¥8), walked to the Moslem section and visited the Dongda Mosque, a converted temple with beautiful and peaceful grounds.
I walked to the Xisi night market but it was closed as it was raining. The area around the market was a beautiful wide winding river which in better weather should have been a very nice place for a walk.
I had a curry rice and tofu (¥18) at a fast food joint.
Overall, the city was pretty, clean, normal traffic, and charming. It was a pity as it was raining most of the day with some heavy winds and coolness at times.
09/17/2014 Wednesday: Kaifeng-Luoyang
I woke up at 05:30 and after a so-so breakfast the hotel’s cafeteria tried to take a cab on an intersection where there was no place for them to stop, nor a place on each of the intersecting roads. The flow of the traffic was continuous. Additionally, it seemed waving a taxi does not mean much. I finally ran to an empty taxi behind the red light and boarded it. I arrived at the bus terminal at 08:30. The ticket that I purchased was for 09:30 whereas earlier I had been told to be there at 08:40; therefore, they want customers to get there about 50 minutes before the departure to ensure ticket availability.
The ride was a pleasant one as the driver was riding slowly in the rain, playing a soft music video, and I was snoozing most of the time. In the last hour a kid in the seat across from me started crying due to some pain and his mother tried to comfort him. Meanwhile a woman with a loud voice from the back of the bus was grumbling. In Luoyang I tried to get some info about the ride to Huashan. The woman at the ticket booth fetched a young guy who was very helpful.
I then tried to reboot my PC for the address of my hotel, but since before getting off the bus I had turned on it followed by immediate pressing the power off switch it went to a recovery mode for a long time. Fortunately, it finally booted OK. I then went to the street, boarded a cab, and showed the driver the address in Chinese. He consulted the dispatcher and after a long time they could not figure out the exact location though, the driver was quick enough to quote a price of ¥50 without turning on the meter. I got out and crossed the street where a car coming out from a side road almost hit me. I found another taxi and when I was boarding I dropped my large backpack in the rain. The female driver knew the whereabouts and used her meter that came to ¥9. I then had to ask for the hotel from about ten people before finally the owner of a bike shop knew the hotel and pointed me in the right direction on to a side street. The hostel, Luoyang Heartland International Youth Hostel (¥75), seemed very organized with a helpful English-speaking female owner and a friend of hers. The room was just perfect, large, bright, nicely decorated and with a good bathroom. I showered and took the bus to the old town vicinity and tried to practice my Chinese, asking for the old town. Almost eight out of ten people did not understand me. Those who did would only point me towards the main street rather the side alleys where the actual old town would start. I walked in the rain for some time. I took the bus back, rested for some time and this time I took a taxi to Old Town for a LP recommended restaurant. The Peking duck was OK but not as good as the one in Beijing. The vegetable dish was OK, with a kicker of tiny mushroom-like vegetable. The braised eggplant was also OK though there was more pork in it than eggplant. I took a taxi back to the hostel. When Nana, the friend of the owner saw me she presented me a woven wristband souvenir that she said she had made it herself. I thanked her for her kindness.
The rain finally had stopped. I took a taxi to Longmen Caves (¥40) and spent a few hours there. It was a great site known as 100,000 Buddha images; this was nat an overstatment. The grounds were also beautiful – on the banks of the Li River.
I then wanted to go to North (Longmen) train station to buy a ticket to Huashan. I boarded bus 81 and asked the driver if he would go to train station to which he said, “Yes.” He then drove all the back to the town. I had a meal in a cheap fast food joint. I took my tray outside and sat a table of another restaurant. A female worker came over and asked me to leave the table.
I then went back to my hostel, tried to rest for some time but some construction work was going on upstairs.
I packed and took a cab to the train station and bought a ticket on bullet train to Hua shan (17:45-19-10; ~300km at the speed of 300 km/hr with a few short stops).
Two girls were waiting in the line. They helped me with gate and seat.
The scenery along the way was beautiful – rolling hills and terraces, woods and farms – as far as eyes good see, with a beautiful sunset; I could imagine the sacrifice of so many lives for capture of some of this land by the warring armies.
Huashan is a lively town, much bigger that I expected. I met Hiasin, a young woman, who gave me some information as to what to visit and where to eat. I had a decent barbecued fish loaded with spices at the restaurant near my hotel.
I took a taxi to the Huashan Ticket Center that was about 2km from my hotel and the meter showed ¥15, whereas the yesterday’s cab ride from the train station to my hotel that was more than 10km was also ¥15. When I protested the driver settled for ¥10.
The ticket office was packed with visitors – all Chinese. I bought my ticket (¥180), existed across from the entrance and two guys showed me a bus that was going to the start of the walking trail after a ½ hour wait. They said it would also take ½ hour walking there. I decided to walk but at a police booth I stopped and was told that the road was open only to buses. I was told to walk on the other side of the fork. I did that but ended up on the main road that would lead to the hotel. I ended up walking back all the way to the ticket center where I was told that I should exist from the same door that I had entered and walk to parking lot 2. In the parking lot, I ended up waiting for ½ hour for the bus to become half-full and then depart. We ended up at he temple on the road across my hotel – the spot with the reclining Buddha that I had visited the night before.
I climbed for about 2 ½ hours. The scenery was beautiful – very tall granite cliffs, rivers with clear water, many waterfalls and temples. There were a large number of hikers but the trails were not too mobbed to cause slowing down. I then decided to turn back before my knees would cause me trouble as my backpack was somewhat heavy.
I then had a haircut, went to my room, rested and had some tea and went to another restaurant next to the one I had eaten the night before. When the chef at the barbeque saw me standing outside he pulled a chair for me at his worktable and cleared some space for me to sit.
I had some barbequed kebobs, chicken wings, a large fish and some eggplant. Again, they were all loaded with dried spices and very flavorful.
As I was eating outdoors, a few people stopped by to try the food as the chefs were preparing them.
I also saw a mother and her son approaching an older man who looked like a friend. He took the child from the mother’s arms, took him away into a shop and within a few minutes when he returned and wanted to give the child back to the mother the child started crying and did not want to leave his arms. He had a very friendly and kind face.
I then walked to the square by the temple. Last night there was a Tai-Chi group there. Tonight on an adjacent field there was a social dance. About 50 couples, including female partners, some dressed very elegantly - and one lonely gay man were dancing to beautiful Chinese music. Some were very good dancers. The air was clean and fresh, a bit nippy and perfect for the dance. I sat there and watched the crowd for about an hour. A man approached me and we talked for some time - he in Chinese and I in English. Whenever I would stop him to tell him I did not understand him he would try to gesture the writing of the word on his palm, as if I knew the 50k plus Chinese characters.
I then watched a few men and even one woman who would make very loud sound, similar to firecrackers, with a rope, either rolling it on the air or hitting ground. It was amusing. One of them, in full dress rehearsal, offered me to try it but I passed. The people were very friendly and jovial.
09/20/2014 Saturday - Huashan-Xi’an
I made it to the train station for the 07:58 express train to Xi’an but the clerk said, “mey pa”, and offered me the 09:19 train. After paying for the ticket I went outside and sat on the steps to do some people watching on the large plaza. The morning Taichi had just finished. One of the woman got on her rickshaw with the loudspeaker and while the music was still playing pedaled away.
I noticed that the women, mostly young, as most people are here, were very well dressed, more than other countries and carried themselves with confidence. You could also see ready smiles on their faces more than other places.
The train took off on time and at the speed of 250km/hr made it to Xi’an under an hour. I bought a metro ticket on arrival, choosing the longest destination for ¥5 in order not to be stuck at my exit. I then asked a guide what train to take and exited at Zhong Lu. I mistakenly took Dong Dajie where as Bei Dajie would have been closer to Nanxin Jie. Han Tang House, my intended hostel, did not have a room (¥200) for the night and they sent me to Facebook. The friendly attendant accepted my offer of ¥140 vs. the price of ¥160 and led me to a decent room.
I then headed for the Muslim Quarter around Dapi Yuan. It was a very lively spot. I could not find the LP recommended restaurant after many inquires and ended at another restaurant where the bossy female attendant was working from a large tub of carrot rice and meat. I asked for and it was delicious. I spent some time there since even though only about 10% of the seats were occupied yet it was a lively place.
When I was leaving an old Moslem man in traditional garment showed up and when I told him I was a Moslem he became very friendly and asked me to take his picture posing at the rice pan.
I then walked around the area for a few hours, visited a couple of mosques, the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower and then visited the Folk House. On entry, I was stuck with a hawker who he led me to the tearoom and after having been served a few varieties of teas - including the delicious and sweet lychee infused black tea, ginseng and Woolang by the female server - he tried to sell me some tea and tea service. He then showed me a few rooms and in two galleries tried to sell me some paintings and calligraphy. As I was upset with him for delaying me to see the charming building itself I resisted him despite his persistence.
I then walked along the liveliest street I have ever seen, the Beiyuanmen leading to Drum Tower. The place became more crowded at night. I asked a young man who was doing showmanship at his ice cream stand, similar to those in Istanbul, about the whereabouts of the Great Mosque. He asked someone to watch his stand, walked me to a narrow alley, and gave me the directions from there. He was a Pakistani who has been studying in China for three years. The mosque was a magnificent building, both the courtyards and the interior – supposedly dating back to 8th century. I entered the prayer hall and sat there for sometime before getting up and entering inner hall after confirming my religion to some present. They were much more relaxed than the Arabs I had dealt with in Jerusalem when it came to testifying to my religion. At any rate, as soon as I sat in the much smaller inner hall, it was filled quickly with the evening’s prayers and the man I was sitting next to pointed me to join the prayer.
On leaving the prayer hall, Hassan approached me and when I told him I was from Iran he treated me like a lost brother. Someone told him I had left the backpack I just purchased in the hall. I fetched. He then showed me a few older objects around the courtyard, including a Persian Stella from 700 years ago.
I then walked back on Beiyuanmen and the varieties of choices for the dinner where so many I decided to sample small servings of all the sidewalk presentations. I tried some grilled octopus, Kebob, noodle sandwich and a delicious sweet made of flour.
I then headed back to my hostel.
Per as advice of the owner of the hotel I took bus 46 to the train station and as soon as I got off a bus arrived and the female conductor hollered something and when she did not get any response from me showed me the “Terracotta Warriors” sign on the side of the bus. I boarded the bus and after about one hour the bus stopped and everyone got off. I asked the conductor if that was the place and she confirmed. I got off and someone showed us to the ticket booth. I bought one for ¥110, entered the grounds, walked around the pleasant gardens, and then waited in the line to enter a hall that I thought was pit 1 of the “terracotta Warriors.” After about ½ hour wait, we entered the hall and went through four floors, where in each one they displayed the story of a king, his lover, and his defeat in a war and his pain and suffering. The movies were almost full 3D. I then knew that I was in the wrong place. After leaving the hall, I ended up in the restaurant and asked a waitress for help. She fetched someone who walked me out and showed me where to take the bus. This time the trip was about 15 minutes. Pit 1 was as impressive I had read about.
I then headed back to the train station where I took another bus to the Great Goose Pagoda, a seven-storey temple, with huge court in the middle of long plaza. It was very lively with all the couples and parents and their children walking around.
I then took bus 610 to the Drum Tower and went to the Moslem Quarter and ended up in the Moslem restaurant I had eaten the prior day. A few of the relatives of the owner joined me at my table and we talked about religion, and Islam as the only real religion. The men were very friendly. Then a group of for guys entered and sat at a table. One of the men I was talking to told me that the men who just came in spoke Farsi. I got up and went to their table to say hello. They were all Iraqis. One of them, Kamen, was married to a woman whose father is Iranian and he spoke decent Farsi. The others were Mazan, Ghasem, and Mohammad.
I then walked around the old market for a while before heading back to my room.
I walked to the North Gate to take bus #4 to Han Yangling Tomb (The Mausoleum of Emperor Jingdi). I asked a dozen people and a few bus drivers about the tomb and no one had any idea. The last bus I boarded initially said he did not know the site but after I told him I was looking for bus #4 he asked loudly from other passengers and again there was no answer. Finally, he stopped another bus whose driver knew how to get there. After a while the driver dropped me off at #4 bus stop. I knew the bus runs very infrequently therefore I stopped a taxi and asked about the fair. The driver quoted ¥200 and I stopped a second cab who said ¥70 but finally he cut down the fare to ¥50. It was not a far distance to the site and possibly on the meter fare would have been around ¥30.
Once at the tomb the driver got off and led me to the ticket office and after I purchased my ticket he waited around for about 5 minutes. I was not sure why he was waiting – maybe he wanted to give me a ride back. There were a few halls and the burial pit. The museum was not too impressive, but finally when I walked to the archeological hall I saw a magnificent collection of all sorts of discoveries from 2ndc B.C., the emperor’s time. They included mini terracotta soldiers, animals, vases, ironworks, and other remains. The trip was well worth it.
It was just a shame that being the second most important site in Xi’an, not too many people knew about it; though on the other hand, that made the place to be very quiet and almost it was like a private viewing. The clean air, pleasant breeze, and the green grounds were an added bonus.
At one point I sat on the steps outside the museum to get a short beak. I noticed a very rusty faucet that was possibly used for irrigation of the grounds. I wondered why the quality of the merchandise should be so low grade that after a short time more effort would be necessary to replace the piece. Shortly, two elder women who were passing by on a bike stopped by there. One of them walked to the faucet and tried to turn it on to wash her hands but the turner was missing. The woman ended up washing her hands in the stagnant water collected in a pit below the faucet. Then the second woman stepped over to do the same. At this time, the attendant who was sitting at the other end of the building came out, and pulled out the turner from his pocket and let the woman use the faucet. Then they chatted and laughed for sometime before the two ladies rode away.
The guard then started talking to me and I thought he was inviting me to tea inside and therefore I followed him; but I guess I had misunderstood him and therefore I said goodbye and walked away.
I then took the 15:00 bus #4 and the last stop was at subway #2 line on direction of train station to town (6 stops to Bell Tower at Zhong Lou). I looked around for a place to eat but could not find anything appetizing. I took the metro to Bell Tower. I finally found a recommended dumpling joint where I had some mediocre dumplings.
I then walked around the Old Quarter and after many inquires finally found the recommended Moslem restaurant but it was not inviting at all.
I then came across a second branch of the Moslem Food Restaurant I had eaten at the day before, same carrot rice with an on-site bakery.
I walked to the Great Mosque and walked on the peaceful grounds, came across Hassan again, and then headed back the 2nd branch of the Moslem restaurant and sat for a dinner. I picked up a roll of the delicious sesame bread and my kebobs arrived soon. The place was very lively, even though it was dirty and messy. A long line was waiting in the street for the on the orders of kebobs to-go.
Midway my meal a couple came in and I pointed them to share my table as the other five tables were all occupied. The man (Kay,Chung 8618091809124 kay0124@QQ.com) knew some English therefore we talked a bit about our countries, politics, family. jobs, and the fact that U.S. is a “tyrant” ( I should not have been surprised by his knowledge of the word even though his English knowledge was limited) but were agreed China and Iran were good friends. Kay worked at the post office and his wife worked at a lighting business.
He apologized for not being able to speak English well but gave me his contact information and asked me to call him in case of need and he would conference in a friend who was fluent in English to assist me.
As I was finishing my meal, and in the middle of their meal, the wife left the place, and when she returned, she presented me with a tiger doll. This was the fourth time I felt humbled by the kindness of the Chinese on this trip – Shao, Gong, and their female friends at the Great Wall of China, Wang and his friend in Kaifeng, the old lady in Beijing metro, and today by this couple. Many others had extended their kindness to me, including Nana at Luoyang Heartland International Youth Hostel, The sweet receptionist at Facebook here in Xi’an, and the attendants at most hostels I had stayed.
They finished their meal, took some in a plastic bag, and walked to their motor bike that they had parked next to the entrance.
I stayed around as a beautiful ethnic Uighur music was playing and my cup of tea in a paper-thin plastic cup was just rather delicious. It was a warm feeling – in that small dirty restaurant – without a bathroom or a sink. The staff knew I was from Iran. I think earlier in the day, as I was walking around and passing by the place, the son of the owner had seen me and had told his friends about me.
On the way back home, I stopped at the stand that I had purchased some persimmons the night before. They said hello to me. After I had chosen a few and had placed them in a box, the salesgirl came to me and said the ones I had picked up were not ripe enough and replaced them with some more ripe ones from another box. She even made room from the eighth one vs. the usual six or seven that they usually come in.
Today, everyone, even the bus driver, a group that I have not been too impressed with until now, proved otherwise by trying his best to get me to my destination.
09/23/2014 Tuesday. Xi’an -Jinan
I took a taxi (¥130) to the airport for my 10:30 flight to Jinan. It was initially drizzling but the rain picked up in a short time. It took us about an hour to get there, despite the resourcefulness of the driver to even passing other cars on turns. I had forgotten to dispose the knife I had purchase in Beijing and therefore I had to open my backpack for further checking. This made me forget completely about my laptop that I had placed in a tray so after the inspector was done with me I picked up my two backpacks and headed for the gate. After about five minutes I remembered about the laptop, rushed back to the security and told a female guard who was standing at one of the idle entries about my laptop. She checked my boarding pass to find out at which entrance it was stamped and radioed them and within two minutes a guard with the tray of my laptop showed up and asked me if that was my laptop. One more time I felt lucky to get away with my forgetfulness. We had a ½ hr delay and after 1 ¼ hours arrive in Jinan at 12:30. I took the shuttle bus that was waiting outside and it took another hour to arrive at the bus terminal where I asked an attendant for the bus to Jujiayo and walked in the direction that he had pointed. It turned out that the place was the high-speed train station. The attendant asked someone to walk me next door, to the regular train station. I met young bright-face Dimitry (N-ART@bkru.com ), of Kazakhstan who was headed for Beijing and was being helped by the same guard. He gave me his email and said he could help me with my visa to his country. After I showed my destination in Chinese to information desk attendant and she wrote the departure times and train numbers of two early morning trains for the next day.
I then checked in nearby Shendong Hotel. When I asked the attendant about the number of the room where Mao had stayed in he walked me to a plaque and showed me the Chinese writing about the stay of Mao in 1955 but added that the room number is a secret and I could not make him divulge it.
I then went for lunch, but after ordering and waiting for five minutes, I was told that the kitchen was out of chicken and I ended up with a lousy alternative.
I walked to the park area. The city was dusty and after having visited the grand Xi’an, this looked like an also ran place. I walked to the nearby Moslem area and the grand mosque – but again after Xi’an they seemed uninspiring. I sat at a large restaurant at the plaza and ordered some kebobs. The place soon got crowded and lively. It was a hustling restaurant where the staff would chase the passers-by and invite them to sit. I ordered 16 skewers of kebobs – though they were much smaller than the ones served in Xi’an – a quadruple portion of edamame that I left unfinished after digging in it for a couple of hours, a large beer and a skewer of eggplant and the bill came up to ¥29.
I then started to walk back to the hotel. By this time the streets had become livelier and I ended up at a greener part of the town where the air became more pleasant. I stopped at the railroad to purchase my ticket for the morning but when I showed my destination to the window clerk she said there was no train to that site. I left the place, found two officers outside who did not know about Jujiayo but one of them used his phone and told me I had to go the long distance bus station. I asked a rickshaw driver who claimed that he did not know about the second bus station but later said if I use his rickshaw he would take me there. I walked and asked many people, most did not know about the second bus station, but few pointed me in the correct direction. The last woman I asked who happened to be standing right in front of the terminal claimed she did not know about the terminal but engaged me in a conversation for about ten minutes saying there was no terminal there. I finally found out she was a hostel hawk. The last person I asked pointed the sign of the terminal to me where I purchased my ticket for the next morning and asked the security inspector to write down the address of the place for the taxi driver.
09/24/2014 – Wed. Jinan-Jujiayo
I took a taxi to the bus terminal and boarded my 07:55 bus. The ride was supposed to be about 80 minutes. We stopped at another bus terminal after about some ninety minutes where we changed buses. Fortunately, this time just before the change, I had packed my guidebook in case of a bus exchange. After about two hours in the bus, while it seemed that we were still within the Jinan city limits the driver stopped and pointed to the direction of Jujiayo Village. I started to walk and after a few minutes met a hyperactive man who was standing on the road and talking to someone. He offered me a ride and quoted me a price of ¥10. He was talking non-stop and I had no idea what he was saying. Then he offered me to buy the entry ticket to the village from him and handed me a ¥40 ticket. He stopped and asked me to move to the back seat and stay low when we saw the guards just before the gates of the town. I was smuggled into the city but I did wave to the guards and they saw me but possibly they knew about the scheme of the driver.
The driver stopped at my requested hostel, showed me the name written in Chinese – again assuming like others that I could read Chinese and then handed me over to the owner of the place. I dropped off my luggage and went out for a walk in the lovely village – many stone building from 200 yeas ago in a hilly village with windy roads. There were no cars or bikes in the city and it was not crowded so one could really appreciate the scenery. I entered a restaurant and before I could point at a vegetable dish on a table, I was led into the kitchen and found out that it was the recommended restaurant in my guidebook. The cook was cutting up a rabbit. I asked for half the rabbit (¥40) and some potatoes that a female cook was shredding. The rabbit was very good, cooked with some hot pepper and mushrooms – as the guide had indicated. The bones did not go to waste. Three small stray dogs fought for every piece of them.
As I was eating my lunch, the female cook twice approached the roosters’ cages with a scale and ax and each time would use the scale to weigh one, and then within five minutes, an old female help would carry the skinned and fully shrunk pompous rooster discreetly into to the kitchen.
I toured the village and then headed back to my hostel. I asked for a room on the second floor that had a much nicer view of the surroundings.
While I was sitting on the balcony on the second floor I saw that the female owner of the hostel started to wash the lunch time dishes. There was a huge pile and all she had in front of her was a tub of water. Everything, including some small bowls, spoons, chopsticks and other dishes were placed in a huge container after being washed and then about 30 large plates that did not fit in the container sat on top of it.
At that moment, I wished to head back home but it was after 6:00 PM and there was no more transportation out of the village. I assume that this a commonplace practice – as I had also observed it in Datong, in a more high end restaurant – not un-similar to the waitress in a beautiful Santa Fe, Argentina who would use Windex to clean the wine glasses. In case of China, with a large population, something has to give.
I asked the female owner to boil me six eggs for that night and some reserves for the next couple of days – in case I could not find non-plated dishes.
I had settled for the no morning shower at the hostel, but also the sheets were not changed. I also found out about the tub sitting on top of the toilet. It was for self-service flush – it had to be filled with the sink water.
The large mosquitoes appeared after dinner and therefore I had to move in. The barking of the stray dogs was loud for a couple of hours and I hoped it would wind down as the night wore out. I would worry about the roosters in the morning.
I am glad I made this side trip. The village was a reminder of how peaceful the life could have been in another age.
That night I went to bed with my street cloths - hoping they would be cleaner that the sheets.
9/25/2014 – Thursday-Qufu
I woke up early and went out for a walk. The place was still beautiful but this morning the sound of the earthmover was much louder – with heavy banging – it had even quieted the roosters, or maybe they were recovering from the losses that fell upon them the day before at the restaurants.
I went back to my room and wanted to wash hands before having breakfast but the water was not running. I therefore packed, left the room fee under my supper plate and left it on a table near the office.
I had walked about 100 yards when I saw the owner who was coming from the opposite direction. He stopped and mentioned something that I did not understand. I assumed he was asking for his money. I opened my dictionary and showed him the word for watermelon and gestured the word for plate. He called someone - I assumed his wife- and talked for a while. We walked back to the hostel, I gave him the money and told him about the water. We waent to our room for him to check – and he pretended that he did not know anything about this; he even tried the hot water which I was sure it had never been used.
Back downstairs, I tried a sink in the yard where I could wash my hands with some detergent. I told him that I wanted to sit down and eat something but he insisted that I should go. When we walked out, I saw the yesterday’s driver waiting outside, today with even bigger eyes and a bigger sneaky smile. I got in his car and told him I want to go Qindao. I felt that he was reprimanding me for my plan, as there were no buses from that location. We waved to the guards at the village gate and then picked up a few more passengers. He dropped me off on the road and after a few minutes I boarded a bus for Jinan. A young man was sitting next to me. He had three phones that rang often and he would ignore as he was already talking to someone. He told me that he was a tourist leader and when I told him about the Jujiayo village he said he had heard of it. He was kind enough to lookup the bus number for the trip from the bus terminal to the train station. I took the city bus for a ½-hour trip. When I asked for the train schedule to Qindao, the information attendant wrote that it was four-hour trip plus a three-hour wait for the connecting train. I walked to window 1 of the ticket office and the clerk said there were no more tickets.
I tried to take a taxi near the train station but a young girl showed me a line where more that 400 people had queued up and said I had to wait in that line. I therefore walked a few minutes to the street where the bus station was located and took a taxi there. At the bus stop I took the bus that was leaving in a few minutes. It was a 2 ½ hours trip and we arrived in Qufu at 13:30. The scenery on the road could have been beautiful but the haze was too heavy to see anything except the silhouette of the plateau visible for only a couple of hundred meters.
Once in Qufu, as I passed the taxi stop the first driver in the line said he would use the meter and therefore I got in. I checked at hostel Youth ______ with two very attentive receptionists. I had a nice and clean room. That was like coming back to life – especially after a shower with lukewarm water. I then headed out. I felt too hungry to visit the Confucius complex. I therefore found a row of produce shops, purchased a few items and went back to my room to have one more egg and some fruits. They all tasted great.
I then walked to the train booking office on the other side of the town but as I had forgotten to carry my passport I could not buy a ticket. I walked to the Moslem quarter, but the mosque was closed and I did not see any sign of a kebob house, as indicated in LP. I headed back to my hotel, and just next to my hostel, on a row sitting a bit back from the main street, saw a large restaurant. There was a large banquet room full with a group and one lonely customer on the main hall. I entered and walked to the table of the lonely guy and pointed to his dish for the waitress. There was a large bowl of hotpot, an unappetizing chicken dish and a beautiful dish of tofu. I asked for the tofu. The waitress came back with a menu with a listed price of ¥48. When I said that was too expensive, she cut the price to ¥45 and I made a counter offer for ¥40. She left and returned with a piece of paper with a written price of ¥25. The tofu tasted as good as it looked. The kind chef sent me a free soup that was also good.
Today it felt I did not do much but still it was a full day.
09/26/2014 – Friday-Qufu
I visited the Confucius Temple in the morning. I then had an eggplant lunch at the restaurant I had dined the night before. I visited the Confucius Mansion and Forest - where his tomb site is located - in the afternoon.
I met Brigitta of Berlin and had a banquette meal at my favorite restaurant with her. My friendly waitress was fetched and I put ¥300 on the table and said, “feed us”. She took care of everything. The meal was good.
Brigetta was not happy with the situation at her school where she worked. The Chinese manager had raised the tuition for VW Company and VW had pulled out of the contract with them, therefore they had lost a big portion of their students.
I went for a walk outside the city wall and walked along the well-kept canal. I stopped by a tiny baker where the baker was using a very old broom to spread the dough and place them in the tiny coal fired oven. I picked up three loaves. I then bought a couple of large persimmons from a female vendor. That was the only thing that she was offering for sale. I then had a leisurely breakfast at the courtyard of my hostel.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in this small town, even though I stayed there for only two nights. There was much less to do here compared to Xi’an or Pingyao, but it was just the right size and mix to make it an enjoyable stay.
I took a taxi to the train station (¥35) and just made it for my 11:25 -14:37 train to Shanghai. The train averaged 300km/hr. The ride was smooth but the smog was very bad all along the road, unlike the Luoyang-Huashan train path where the visibility was much better.
I bought a metro card and took #2 metro with a transfer to #3/4 lines to my hostel, Rock&Wood International Hostel. I got a nice room (¥260). I went for a walk on W. Nanjing Rd. It could be taken for a street in any European country.
I sopped by LP recommended Le Tour Hostel (¥300), but I thought my hostel was a better value.
After a leisurely breakfast, I took the metro and stopped at Shanghai library. It was busy for a Sunday morning. The building was new.
I then went to French Concession and visited around Xintiandi and the building where the first National Congress of CCP was held with Mao and other comrades. I then visited the similar area around Tianzifang. I took the metro again, and got off at Xiaoanmen and walked around the old town. It was a run down area that looked more like slums. I met a native Chinese who had migrated to Australia and was visiting home for the funeral of his father. He was from that neighborhood but did not like the rampant smell and the poverty there. He also added that the city tore down the wall around the old town five years ago.
I then had had a lunch of duck – I was too hungry to look for something else.
I walked to Yuyuan Garden area – a very lively neighborhood packed with tourists and shoppers.
I visted the Shanghai Museum. They had a great selection on pottery, one from about 6000BC, some beautiful and elaborate bronze wine vessels from 1700BC, and some Silk Road coins with a large collection from Iran from 500BC onwards.
I sat by the People’s Square for some people watching people and enjoying the pleasant breeze.
I walked to East Nanjing Rd. and had a fish and mushroom dinner at LP recommended Sichuan restaurant Yuxin.
I walked along the very lively East Nanjing. The sex trade was very active. They would approach and would always start with, “Hi; where are you going?” to which I would respond with, “Going to see my wife.” They would get the message and walk away with a smile.
I walked to Bund, another lively section on the river The high-rise building across the river were all lighted colorfully and the crowd was very excited with the colors and lights.
On the way to metro I walked by Yuyuan Gardens area again, where people were singing and dancing and right at that time a big fireworks from Bund could be seen.
09/29/2014 Monday- Zhujiajio Village.
I had a breakfast of boiled eggs and Qufu bread before heading for the metro to go to the bus station for trip to Zhujiajio, a Ming & Qin dynasty village 30km away from Shanghai.
In the metro there was a young girl sitting on a chair next to her granny. The granny lovingly handed her a pack of juice. I thought it was nice to have a granny. The girl had a hard time opening the pack but finally managed with the help of her teeth. She then spilled some of the juice on her pretty dress and the granny started scolding her – a bit harshly. I felt sorry for tor the kid.
I exited the metro at People’s Square and asked someone for the bus station. He walked me to it a short distance away. I checked my destination with a driver and he directed me to the right bus. I was sitting behind the conductor and midway suddenly a man walked to the conductor while shivering from the pain and told the conductor he had to get out to relieve himself.
The conductor walked to the driver and explained to him the emergency while grinning. We were riding on a highway with no shoulder and therefore there was not much that the driver could do for the poor man. After five minutes, we arrived at a fork between a bridge and an exit where the driver stopped. A kind woman sitting next to the conductor handed a pack of pocket Kleenex to the man and then he disappeared. He returned in five minutes and when he tried to give back the Kleenex pack to the woman she shook her head and her hands as if saying, “you creep, leave me alone.”
After arriving in the village I sopped at the Tourist office and asked for a map but they said a map could be given only if I purchase a ticket. I bought the cheaper ticket that included four sites for ¥30.
I visited a few sites. The small town was too commercialized for tourism industry, filled with gift shops and many empty teahouses due to the usual high price. When I saw a branch of Starbucks – which really looked out of place - I turned around and headed back to Shanghai.
On the way back, a woman with an infant took off from the side walk to cross the highway while cars were passing at full speed. She had slippers on. Our driver, a big man, who for half of the way had his hands on the horn, not only did not slow down, but he sped up. All it would have taken for a disaster to occur was for the infant to make a wrong move, or one of her slippers had slipped or a car would have been passing on the right hand side of us.
When I got off the bus, I asked for the directions to the metro from two young guys. They happened to be Korean tourists. One used his phone to navigate which took us a long time. I wanted to relieve them of the trouble but they said they were going to take the subway. When finally we arrived at the subway entrance, they said they just wanted to escort me and then we said goodbye.
I took the metro to Guoyan by the football stadium. It turned out a great LP recommendation. I had a delicious eggplant, sizzling beef, and a beer along with tea and the bill came to ¥63 – that could have been the price just for the good tea they served in a pretty green tea service.
A young couple took the seats across and next to me but each of them was mostly focused on his or her phone. Nevertheless, the girl next to me managed to pullout a hair with chopsticks from the beautiful big steam fish. The smiling waitress picked up the plate and without a blink emptied the contents in a trash tray and then went to kitchen to reorder the dish which arrived shortly.
At the end of the meal I asked her for the menu. There were two menus, one in English, laminated, and the other one in Chinese, for one-time use. She gave me the Chinese menu and I asked for the English one. She resisted and I insisted. She kept saying only one – she was thinking I was going to get out with her only copy. The meal and the experience was nevertheless great. However, at the very end the man across from me asked for an ashtray, poured some tea into it and then lit a cigarette. I picked up my bag and walked out.
Later at night, I tried to make hotel reservations in Suzhou, Hangzhou and Xiamen, and could not get the dates that I wanted. I therefore I did a partial reservation for the first two.
09/30/2014 Tuesday - Shanghai-Suzhou
I woke up early and was at the Railroad station by 08:30. I was able to get a ticket to Suzhou for the 10:10 departure. I sat down, listened to some music, read the LP, and before long boarded the train for the ½ hr ride to Suzhou. I took the subway for two stops and then took a taxi to my hotel “Cross Street Shop” as listed by cTrip. When we got to the area the taxi driver could not find the site and tried to call the place. I got off the taxi to ask the front desk of a Motel 99 and they told me I was at the right place. The driver started arguing with them why they did not have the correct name in the front. The motel seemed more like a love motel, with tiny rooms. They could not find my reservation. I had to show them the copy from ctrip email as my confirmation and they accepted it. I then went out to explore the town. The weather was cool and there was a pleasant breeze. A few people kindly helped with the directions. I took bus 262 to the town museum. The best part of it was the design of the building by I M Pei. I then visited the most popular park of the town, The Humble Administrator’s Garden (¥90). It was a pleasant park, tastefully designed and a bit crowded – as warned by LP. It was buit in 1513 by Wang Xiancheng, an Imperial Envoy and poet of the Ming Dynasty. The garden was named (first evidence around 1517) after a verse by the famous scholar official of the Jin Dynasty, Pan Yue, it his prose, An Idle Life. It goes as following: "I enjoy a carefree life by planting trees and building my own house...I irrigate my garden and grow vegetables for me to eat...such a life suits a retired official like me well." This verse symbolized Wang's desire to retire from politics and adopt a hermitic life in the manner of Tao Yuanming.
One pavilion was named, “The Far Away Looking Pavilion”. The name is derived from a poem where the poet describes the beauty of his lover getting more desirable the further away it gets. Interestingly, the son of the owner lost the garden as a payment of a gambling debt. That reminded of the movie, “Gambler.”
I then walked around the alleyways and by the canal. There were some beautiful houses on and off the canal – and the areas were mostly non-commercialized. I then found the Pingiang Lu, a beautiful and lively long narrow street along a canal. There were some very tastefully designed shops – more like the NYC’s Village than a small town in China.
I then tried to have dinner at a LP recommended place. I found the street but there were no numbers on the building so after some search I gave up and had a decent fish at a noodle shop.
10/01/2014 Wednesday - Tongli
I took the metro line 2 for two stops towards Lindun and transferred to bus 933 to the bus terminal. There was a mob and many parked bikes out of the station. Only those with a ticket could enter the terminal. I asked someone where I could buy a ticket and he pointed me to go around the corner. I walked some distance, and then returned and found out the ticket office was underground, in a location that I initially had thought was an underpass. Surprisingly, they had a ticket available for Tongli, though the clerk initially could not recognize the town. I then passed by the guards inspecting the tickets but once inside the terminal, I was pointed to go across the street where was a long and tall construction fence and after some walk I knew I was going at the wrong direction. I returned and found out that the temporarily made stop was adjacent to the terminal. I waited for sometime in Line 1, but as the departure time was approaching, I went ahead of the line and showed my ticket to the clerk. He asked me to wait in front of the line and shortly someone walked us to Tongli bus. This time the seat numbers were enforced.
The ride seemed longer than the only the 18km distance we were supposed to travel. Once in Tongli, I purchased an electric car ticket for ¥5. The car dropped us at the entry to the town. The small town is a Ming era canal town and although it was somewhat crowded, yet it was a pleasant walk and I even found a few non-touristy areas to walk along. The price of the ¥100 ticket included the visit to a half a dozen courtyards and exhibitions.
On the way back I walked about ½ hour to the bus stop, I bought the very last ticket for the next bus that was leaving within a few minutes. When I handed my ticket to the ticket inspector he and the driver noticed that the seat was already occupied. The driver walked me to the seat, checked the ticket of the passenger staking it, and there was some talk between them, and then the driver scolded him and asked him to get off and asked me to sit down. They then had more discussion outside, and finally the driver brought the man in and asked him to sit on the floor just next to me. It seemed that the man had the same seat number, 31, but for the next bus and the guard had just scanned the ticket and let him in.
After ½-hour drive, the driver stopped the car, and walked the man to a bus parked just behind him and the man boarded that bus. When we arrived at the bus terminal, I purchased my ticket for Hangzhou for Friday, and took the metro back to my motel.
10/02/2014 Thursday – Suzhou
I had no agenda on this last day of my stay in beautiful Suzhou. I picked up a couple of small cookies from a nearby pastry, took bus 633 half way to the Museum and got off to walk the remainder of the distance. The streets were packed with holiday tourists.
I stopped at LP recommended Wumen Renjia (Our People). It was about 11:00 and a few tables were full. I ordered a fish from the menu that they did not have. I ended up ordering a sweet & sour Mandarin Carp (¥138). It was heavily battered and too overpriced. I guess they could get away with it based on their laurels and the pictures of the dignitaries posted on the walls. By the time I left all halls and courtyard were packed.
I then walked to the lively Pingiang Lu and continued to Soochow University, stopped by a park were social dance and opera were being performed. I took a long walk to Confucius temple just in time for its closing. On the way back to my hostel I stopped at a lively street. At a restaurant where a woman was barbecuing chickens I ordered one. She asked me to sit at a table inside but I took my plate and placed it on her fridge on the sidewalk to eat standing outdoors. Her attentive young son brought me a chair. Then the next door shopkeeper permitted I sit at the table that he had setup outdoors. The chicken was decent.
As I was eating a middle age woman entered the store of the shopkeeper. A teenager rushed to the store, ordered something and handed the shopkeeper a ¥100 bill. The woman claimed that the bill was the money she had just lost. The teenager denied her claim. As the argument was heating up, the young kid who had brought mea chair went to the middle of the street, picked up the bill and handed it to the woman. The argument ended.
I tried to walked back all the way to my motel but got lost and a few people to whom I showed my motel card could not help. I took one metro stop to my place.
10/03/2014 Friday – Hangzhou
I took the metro to South Bus Terminal and waited for about ½ hour for my 09:15 departure to Hangzhou. The trip was about 2 ½ hours. I had the front seat on the upper deck with a good view. The lower deck was used for storage bins. Once in Hangzhou, I took a taxi from North Bus Terminal to the South Bus Terminal (¥65) and tried to check in but the receptionist seemed to have a problem with my reservation at hostelworld.com. It turned out I had made a reservation for the period of 10/04 to 10/06. My reservation in Suzhou was for 09/30 – 10/02 and on arrival I had paid for the room for 10/03. This morning I had mixed up the dates. While making the on-line reservation for the two hotels neither one had 10/03 open, and I ended up paying for that day twice, once in each town. Therefore, I lost one day of room charge in Suzhou. Nevertheless, I felt lucky to be able to get a room for today, as it seemed the city would be mobbed with tourists today. I got a decent room on the 15th floor, therefore the traffic sound seems to be bearable.
I then walked cross the street to the bus terminal and asked a few guards if there was a bus to the West Lake and the response was “Meiyo.” I then went to the information and asked the clerk, she asked a colleague and wrote “bus 51” on a piece of paper. I stepped out, and at the bus stop boarded that bus. I showed the map to the driver and asked him if he would go there. He seemed confused and did not give me a “yes” or “no” answer. After a while, an old man who felt I needed help walked to me and I showed him the map. It seemed that he knew how to get there. At a stop, he asked me to get off with him. He then accompanied me for about 5 minutes to “bus 51” and told me that was the bus to my destination. The traffic was very slow due to the large number of visitors but we made it there in a shorter time than I was expecting.
The West Lake area was packed with tourists. The lake and its surrounding – whatever visible and the parts shrouded in smog – was pretty. It should have been gorgeous in earlier times – as the emperors would visit here often.
I then looked for the LP recommended restaurant, ______, and after a few times asking for directions I found the place and had a decent eggplant and chicken clay pot and a good and tender steam fish.
After walking out of the restaurant, I accidentally walked into _____, a fun passers-by street mentioned in LP. It was almost as lively as Xi’an’s Moslem Quarter.
After some walk, I tried to take bus 51 but at the bus stop it showed the hours of operation was only till 18:30. I took a taxi and the fare was ¥17 despite the fact that the driver had to take a longer path due to the traffic. At the South Bus terminal earlier in the day, a private car had asked for ¥60 and a cabby had asked for ¥80.
I walked along the path of Bus 51 and stumbled on a hilly temple where I had a nice walk in a very peaceful surrounding and then after a short while I ended up in Wushan. The parents were treating the kids to all kinds of games and treats. I continued my walk to West Lake and on the way visited Confucius Temple and the gallery of painter Pan Tianshou. I stopped at Green Tea Restaurant. There was a very long line and. I had to get a number. I walked away and when I returned I had lost my spot. The receptionist was kind to call me again after a five minute wait. The place was fun and lively, the food was very good and the prices very reasonable. I then almost circled the whole lake. It was a fun place and people in celebratory mood. I also visited the hill grounds of another temple where I had a very nice walk in peace and quiet.
I stayed in my room for most of the morning as I had seen most of what I had planned to see. I then walked in the alleyways and found a bakery with the Xi’an’s Moslems’ bread and a female seller with a headscarf. I had missed good bread so much that I could not stop eating until I finished off the rolls.
I then ended up getting on the main road by the bridge I had passed by in the past. I walked all the way to West Lake area and lunched at Green Tea. The streets were a bit less packed today but at the restaurant still I had to wait for more than and hour – though it was worth it as I had a decent lunch. One appetizer was peppercorn cucumber. It was almost like a pickled cucumber, though fresh and crisp, in sesame oil and soy sauce marinated with chili pepper and green peppercorn. It was so good I had half the bowl and then my lips started to shiver like violin strings.
As I was leaving the restaurant I saw an argument between a young couple and a few police officers. The young man was very aggressive and kept pointing and screaming at one of the cops. Another cop was filming the scene on his iPhone. Had it been in U.S., the man would have been arrested multiple times, but here, in a communist country, he finally walked away at his own will.
I then walked to Wushan and ?Zhong___, stopped at Huqingyu Tang Traditional Medicine shop and Fang Hui Chun Pharmacy. It was doing a brisk business. I walked along the Drum Tower street. It was full of restaurants all preparing for the dinner traffic. I asked a few times for the directions to my motel. The last time I askedit was by the bridge I had passed by in the morning. A police officer who was just finishing his shift pointed me in the right direction. Then as I was planning to enter the alleyways, again he stopped by on his bike and said I was going the wrong direction and offered me a lift which I accepted.
In the elevator there was a notice regarding some undesirable elements that have been slipping business cards for hookers services under the doors. It claimed that the matter had been brought to police attention and the case was under investigation. For the two nights that I was in that hotel I found three times the same business card under the door. Possibly the hotel markets to single male guests and it should be a more profitable business for them that the room charges – even if they have to pay off the police. How they could claim that the cameras were not capturing images of the perpetrators is another story.
10/06/2014-Monday – Hangzhou-Guangzhou
I woke up at 04:30, took a taxi to the airport and settled for a fare of ¥100. At the airport I gave the driver ¥110 and he tried to return the extra bill to me. Same thing had happened in Xi’an airport ride.
I checked in at 06:40 for my 07:10 flight to Guangzhou - just in time - since it was posted that the windows close 40 minutes prior to the flight. As I was late they had given my seat away and the clerk said she would give me a business class seat without the privileges. I did end up getting the privileges. A pair of slippers was placed at my feet. Breakfast was served but the utensils came late and then I had two forks instead of a fork and a knife. I guess the use of two similar chopsticks is institutionalized here! We had a timely and smooth flight to Guangzhou.
I purchased a transit ticket (¥50 + ¥30 deposit) and took metro line 3 to my hostel, Plum Flower House, and I found the place easily.
I then took the metro to the top restaurant of the town. I did get a good seat and a decent steam fish. The tea service was again very uninspiring. I am sure the Japanese can make a robot with more grace and elegance or maybe I should not have seen the Japanese tea ceremonies in New York. The service was lousy for a top restaurant. No napkins – as it was always the case. I asked for a second bowl of rice that came at the end of my meal. Finally, I had to wait for about 10 minutes for my change. In the bathroom, for a change, there was a wall soap holder but it was too filthy to touch. The place has a dozen halls and a map of the halls at the main reception hall. It had also posted the awards for being recognized as one of the top ten quality restaurants in Asia – that possibly meant in China.
I then took the metro to the actors’ studio and Bahia Academy of the Art but they were all closed. As for the ancestral house of Bruce Lee, it seemed no one knew him or his father, an opera singer. Finally, someone who knew of the house said there was nothing to see as it had been demolished. Two cops were kind enough to walk me to another Ming era house but that one was also closed.
The Chen Ancestral Academy was open and I spent ½-hour walking around there. I then walked to the Mosque of Prophet. It was a converted temple with the ugliest minaret I have ever seen. Across the street there was a Halal restaurant where the two Uyghur female attendants where as indifferent as it was possible; occasionally they had to attend their infant babies. The male owner was kind enough to bring me a fork and a spoon. I did forgo the use of the fork with some greasy stains. Nevertheless, the food was tasty. I was the only paid customer for the night, as the rest of the guests were relatives.
I then walked in the lively market in the adjacent alleyway, bought some fruits and headed back to my room.
In the morning I had a chat with Plum, the friendly woman who manages the hostel. She said that the price of the apartment is about ¥6.5m and the rent they are paying is 7k/mo. The owner bought the unit for ¥4.5m 4 year ago.
I headed out for a hike in Baiyuan Shan, a nearby park. It was crowded with hikers, parents and grandparents accompanying kids.
I also visited Shamain Island and hilly Yuexiu Park and the lovely Orchird Garden with a beautiful teahouse on a pond where I had a tea.
I then went back to the hostel to join Plum and other guests, a German and his Chinese girlfriend and another German, Simon Mezger, for a hotpot meal. It was a pleasant meal.
I made a reservation for the flight to Guilin for Thursday.
I went for a pleasant hike with one of the Germans, Simon Mezger, in the morning. The park was much less crowded today as the national Holiday is over.
I headed out to try the Dim Sum place that Plum had kindly recommended and written down in Chinese the items to try. The food was good and the service was yet the most professional.
I then had a hard time locating the Indian Consulate building and when I entered the office, I was told there is a five-day waiting period for the visa application. I guess the India does not need the hard currency much.
I had a great coffee at Starbucks and took the metro to Heizhu where I had a pleasant “Pearl River Cruise” around the river. The views were great – in particular the tasteful lightings on the rooftops of the high rises all along the river.
10/09/2014 Thursday - Guangzhou -Guilin
I said good-bye to Plum, my host, and took the metro to the airport. I tried to get a refund for my transit ticket but I was told I had to do it at a certain station. I tried to give it to a couple of men but they rejected it; I just left it in a corner. The 45-minute flight was on time. Once in Guilin, I took the shuttle to town and walked a few hundred meters to my hostel, Wada. I went for a walk. It took a long time to find the restaurant that I wanted to eat. It also took me a long time to get back to my hostel. The city was featureless, except for the large number of motorbikes.
10/10/2014 Friday - Guilin -Xingping
In the morning I decided to go for a boat ride on the Li river to Yangshuo (¥230). I was late for the 08:30 departure and took the 10:30. We took the bus for about an hour to the pier and then boarded small motor boats. I met Goshen, a Polish/Norwegian psychologist who had travelled in India for four months the previous year. She used her phone camera to take pictures to send her mom so that the mother would be assured of her safety.
The ride was a surreal experience of scenery of karsts on both banks of the river. The haze or smog made the imagery more unreal. Once in Xingping, I decided to stay there rather than going all the way to Hangshuo with the rest of tour group. I checked in at “This Old Place” and then went for a hike to a nearby hill. By the time I got to the top it was 17:00. The sunset should have been pretty but I decided to head back and tried a walking path along the river but as it was getting dark, I decided to the walk the next day. I had a decent eggplant dish at a restaurant belonging to the hostel.
Han Yu, a great poet in Tang Dynasty, had written a popular poem to praise the beautiful scenery of Lijiang River.
The river winds like a blue silk ribbon,
While the hills erect like green jade hairpins.
I planned to go for a bike ride along the Li River In the morning, but I read on Wikitravel that the bikes at my hostel were not well maintained therefore I decided to walk the bike path to Luotian. I was lost a few times and got a bit hungry, but finally made it to a paved road, and walked back to town, dusty and tired. I went to a Wiki recommended restaurant for an eggplant dish and chicken pieces. A Dutch biker stopped at the restaurant and took a photo of a shopkeeper across the road, posing with much pride, in front of a Mao’s picture hanging in his shop. This was the second time I saw a portrait of Mao in China.
I joined a French couple for cormorants’ fishing in the evening. The birds were sitting on the deck with a string tied to their feet. The angler tied up their throats and then we headed into the river – with a very bright light in front of us, encircled by many mosquitoes. The birds were agile and hungry. They would swim and dive fast in front of the boat and with each dive they would come up with a fish in their beaks. They would try to swallow the fish if they were small enough to go through their tightened throat. In case of the bigger fish sometimes they would try to hide it in their mouths but the fisherman would notice from the projected throats and he would stretch a long rod that they would climb and he then would bring them on board and remove the fish from the mouths and then reward them with a smaller fish. It was a perfect cooperation between men and beast with some cheating on the part of the birds.
I did my laundry in the evening, went for walk, and passed by a Moslem restaurant and entered to ask for some Moslem bread, which they did not have. I then wanted to leave but that was not an option. I was led to a seat and had some rice. The owner knew of Iran and its presidents and he showed me the pictures of the huge mosque with a capacity of 25,000 in his city and a page of Quran on his phone. I read a few lines of it to him. He then played a recording of the prayer.
I purchased a few postcards to mail.
10/12/2014 Sunday - Xingping -Yangshou.
I took the one-hour bus drive to Yangshou and then took a taxi (¥30) to “The Cozy Garden”, ¥80, in a village near the town. After going to my room I found out that I had forgotten my LP guide book in Xingping. The friendly receptionist called them and they said they got the book. I had to take a bus to Xinqping. This time the scenery was more pleasant. As we arrived in town we passed by the small well laid garden with raised beds in the front yard of a house that I had passed by the day before and it felt so familiar. After getting off the bus and as I was approaching the Moslem restaurant I had dined the night before I thought of stopping by there to say hello to the owner and maybe take a picture when the man drove by on a bike and greeted me and pedaled away.
At the hostel, I thanked the receptionists and got my book. I stopped at their restaurant for their eggplant dish. The waitress knew what I was going to order. After lunch I took the bus back to Yangshou. This time the trip was a bit tiring, maybe because I did not have a good view of the front windshield. Once in town, I walked to the touristy section of the town. It was mobbed – as crowded as the National Holiday Week. While walking to my hostel I took a wrong turn and it took me a while to get back to the hostel. I was planning to go to the night market but I read in LP that the market is not for the squeamish as they serve everything, including dog meat. I thought of the miserable looking dogs I had seen earlier in the day in cages in the back of a truck. I had hoped that they were stray dogs being collected by the town. However, with LP comment my, second thought happened to be the case.
I rested for some time and went to Trippers Retreat across the road for a dinner of lasagna. For the desert, I had a water buffalo yogurt at my hostel.
10/13/2014 Monday – Yangshou-Guilin.
I made a delicious omelet with fresh eggs at the hostel. There was even some semi whole wheat bread in the fridge. Nancy, the sweet receptions, made a reservation for me for the cooking class (¥180). I walked to town and met the group at the 09:30. Amy, the chef, took us - a couple from New Zealand, and another couple from Israel - to the market for a quick shopping and then at her place, out of the town in a pleasant area, she demonstrated and we cooked eggplant, beer fish, chicken cashew nuts and some steamed stuffed mushrooms. Every thing came out delicious.
I had planned to go to Guilin that night to take the tour of the ”Longji Dragon's Backbone rice terraces” at Wada hostel the next day. But I decided to go to either Longji or Sanjian on my own. I went to the hostel to get my luggage. Once there, Chris, an Australian that I had earlier met at Wada in Guilin was also headed for the bus station. We shared a cab and boarded the bus together. As we were looking for seats, two seats across had one passenger each and each man was reserving the empty seat next to him. Another guy in the front row of these two guys that his adjacent seat was also empty, got up his seat and offered it to us. We sat together. When we got off the bus in Guilin Chris noticed that his backpack that he had left between his legs on the floor was ripped. Apparently, the guy in the back row had managed to go under the seat and use a razor to cut open the bag. The one sitting on the isle could have covered up the man sitting by the window. Fortunately, Chris did not have anything of value in his bag. His camera was in his larger backpack in the side storage and his wallet was in his safety belt.
As it was past 4:30 PM and we had arrived the North bus station I could not make it to either one of my destinations and therefore I went to Wada hostel. That nigh the hostel had free dumpling night. Each of the guests helped to roll or fill the dumplings - many of them. The three girls working at the hostel did the flattening of the dough and the boiling. They were delicious and with the hot chili sauce, every one ate a lot.
10/14/2014, Tuesday - Longji Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces
I took bus 12 to the South bus station and took the 09:35 bus to Longshen. At about 12:00 we arrived at Heping, the starting point of the Longji Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces. Immediately a minibus showed up and the female conductor invited me to board. I asked the driver for my designated hostel in Pin’an. He did not know it – that was not a good sign. Then the ticket agent boarded the bus and I purchased a ticket for ¥100. She said the bus was going to Tiantouzhai, a larger village, and as LP had recommended another hostel there, I decided to go there. Once in the village I found out that I had to hike a long distance. There were many female carriers offering to carry the luggage in the baskets on their backs. Most of them were half my size and twice my age. It did not feel comfortable to have them carry my backpack. I decided to walk on my own but once I started hiking, there were many intertwining paths and there was no one around to ask for the directions. I headed back to the entrance gate. I boarded the same minibus I was previously on and when the conductor came to collect her fare, I showed her my payment receipt. She smiled and walked away. After some 20 minuets of driving she dropped me off at a fork. I walked for some time until finally another bus showed up which stopped and took me to Ping’an village. Once there, another native woman carried my bigger backpack for ¥20. A few times she asked to carry my smaller back also for another ¥20. Hostel Lonji One had upgraded and the new rooms were going for ¥900. I did not take a room there. The receptions said she had another hostel next door that was cheaper. We walked there to check it out. It was a decent room with a great view of the rice terraces. Her sister made a decent ‘Sizzling beef” which I had on the terrace. A group of eight Chinese arrived. The men sat at one table, lighted their cigarettes, took out their tea flasks and started a card game. The woman did the same at another table. The sweeping views across the terrace were not much noticed.
I then went for a walk. The crowd was not too bad. Farmers were working the fields. I saw the receptionist of the hostel a few times carrying large bags of rice in a basket on her back. When I tried to lift one of them in her basket, I could not lift it all the way. Next day when I saw her again she told me that she had carried “eight ten” (literal translation of eighty from Chinese) that day.
I stopped at a shop to buy water. There were some mandarins on the table. I asked the saleswoman if she sold mandarins. She said, “No”, but picked up one and gave it to me.
I went for a pleasant hike to the village nearby. The scenery was pleasant and the weather was perfect. I walked to the end of the trail, by the entrance gates, and then returned on the same path, stopping at a busy restaurant for rice and local wild vegetables. I then purchased five passion fruits for ¥5 from a friendly female vendor. She cut them open for me. She then told me I could take 6 more for ¥5. I did, as I had planned to do so.
Back at the hostel, the Chinese group from the day before was having lunch. They invited me to their table. I told them I had already eaten.
I then got some hot water, made some tea, and sat on the terrace to enjoy the view of the terraces. I had a chat with Hediyeh via Skype.
Later in the evening, I walked to the restaurant that I had eaten lunch but it was closed. I returned to the village and stopped at a large restaurant with a few tables with native customers. Later a large group of French showed up. I had steamed fish and eggplant (¥120). They were both very good. I took a few wrong turns on the way back but finally I made it to my hostel.
10/16/2014, Thursday – Longji -Chengyang (Rain and Wind Bridges)
I relaxed in the balcony for a while – enjoying the scenery and reading some Khayyam. I then packed, and headed to the village gate where I took the bus to Longshen. I had a chat with Luvian, a young friendly woman from Nanning, who had just graduated from the college and has been working in a hotel in Ping’an since February. She said she liked her job since it gave her a lot of freedom. She works one day and takes the following day off. She hopes one day to open her own small coffee shop but she wants to keep her prices low. She was going to Longshen for shopping – a small watermelon that sells for ¥3, as there are no supermarkets in Lonji. A supermarket is not practical there since the natives have to carry their shopping way up in the villages. She recommended I shop at supermarkets as the prices are fixed there. I gave her my email and asked her to let me know when she opens her shop.
Once in Longshen, I walked across the long bridge to the other bus stop and purchased a ticket to Sanjiang. As soon as I got my ticket someone showed up and led me to my bus – I am not sure how he knew I was going to Sanjiang. I left my large bag in the bus, stopped at a noodle shop across the bus station for a quick tasty noodle for ¥4 – my cheapest meal so far in China. The trip to Sanjiang was pleasant as there were collection of large rocks of various shapes in grey and brown at short intervals forming sculpture gardens along the road.
In Sanjiang, I tried to get some cash from an ATM and my third try at ICBC was successful. I then walked across the bridge to the other bus terminal and took a minibus to Chengyang. The road was under repair and dusty but yet pleasant. At one stop, about 40 primary school students got on board. The bus driver dropped me off at the gate of the Chengyang where I purchased my entry ticket (¥80), walked across the bridge and stopped at International Youth hotel. It had no vacancy as a lot of students from Hunan on a drawing workshop were in the village. I met Li Hua, one of the students. I walked to a large hotel nearby with a good view of the surrounding and got a room there. Afterwards, I went for a walk, met Li Hua who was having dinner with other friends. He invited me to join them. I took a bowl and the servers filled it with a few items, vegetables, pumpkin, eggs and meat with carrots. When I tried to pay Li said the meal was free of charge. I think it was part of his college arrangement.
I sat at his table with Li’s male friend, QQ. A few girls, Tantan, Swallow, Ivan from the next table joined us. We had a short walk around after the meal. They recommended going for some rice wine. We went to a cute ancient wine shop and had a few shots of the yellow wine rice that I had seen often. For good measure, we also shared some sort of snake vodka. The girls become very talkative – especially Tan Tan, the tiniest and sweetest one, who kept saying she was shy. They then presented me with a bottle of wine as souvenir. When I tried to pay at the end they did not let me and said I was their guest in China. While walking Tan Tan kept asking if I needed to go the bathroom and made sure kept the path lighted with her phone and asked me to be careful not to fall down.
They showed me to my hotel and then I walked with them to the bridge before returning to my room. It was a fun evening spent with these friendly kind college students.
10/17/2014, Thursday – Chengyang
I did some more walking around the villages, had an uninspiring breakfast at Dong, contrary to what Wikitravel had said, and then a good lunch at Yang. I met a few people from the group of he students I had met the night before and joined them for some tea and then some wine at their hostel. They were leaving for another destination the next day.
10/18/2014, Friday – Sanjiang to Guilin to Kunming to Shangri-La
After a great omelet at Yang, I took a van to Sanjiang. We settled for ¥25 and midway the driver stopped to collect his fare. He picked up a few more passengers and they paid only ¥5. In Sanjiang, I arrived at the ticket booth two minutes late and ended up getting a ¥50 Guilin ticket for an hour later at 13:52. The approximate travel time was 3 hours, plus a 40-minute ride to the airport that meant I possibly would not make it for my 16:00 flight to Kunming. The taxis were charging ¥400 and I passed on that.
I asked the bus driver to drop me off at the road to the airport and he agreed. We arrived as the road to the airport at 14:40 and a taxi was waiting there. I offered ¥80, thinking that it would be a 30km ride and the driver gladly accepted. I then saw a sign indicating that it was only 15km to the airport. The driver asked my departure time and then instead of taking the toll highway took a scenic service road; it was one of the most gorgeous scenes of the rice fields I had seen.
We arrived at the Kunming airport at 17:00. I had some my rice wine hopping to get the rest past the inspection. The inspector opened the bottle and asked me to drink some of it. He then took away the bottle with a quarter of the content left inside.
The departure was on time, as was the arrival. I took the shuttle at Kunming airport and by mistake went to South rather than the West station. It was a messy area with no taxis in site. The customer service at the Metro and another guard nearby could not help. A teenage girl showed up who knew exactly what bus I should take - bus C143 - and walked me to the stop one block to the right of the metro. She had been to States for three months and when I asked her what she liked most in NYC she said, “The Brooklyn Bridge.”
The West bus station was also a bit unorganized. I had missed the last bus, 19:20, to Dali. Therefore I purchased a 20:30 sleeper bus ticket to Shangri-La for ¥20. From the street vendor outside I bought a huge baked sweet potato for ¥10. The next two beds next my seat were empty and the one next to my bed was the longest one and I took that one. I woke up a few times throughout the night. The bus topped for a bathroom break at 01:30 but the driver did not start the car till 05:00. Therefore, the equality was observed and every one could take a nap for the night.
10/19/2014, Saturday – Shangri-La
As the sun came up a magnificent view of the landscape, the mountains and the temples and other structures came into view. We arrived at Shangri-la (Zhongdian) at 08:30; I took a taxi to a recommended hostel and when I got off in the vicinity, I had a hard time to find it. I ended up checking in at a decent motel, Vitality Inn, for ¥280.
The town was mostly unattractive, overbuilt and still being heavily demolished and rebuilt. A small portion in the old town still had some charm left. The air was light and the weather was cool.
10/20/2014, Monday - Shangri-La Day tour
I took a tour to a few sites around the town (¥240). We visited a mostly deserted village, Bala Village, and then drove to a gorge, where we walked on a passer-bys bridge and Shangri-La Grand Canyon. On the way back I took a raft (¥120) which was also overpriced but the views of the gorge were beautiful.
One Chinese and two German girls were in the bus. The Chinese girl was the happiest person I have ever met. She never stopped smiling while talking. When at a temple I told her she was a very wise person to be so happy she thanked for the compliment and said one had to be happy when praying. She asked me for my wish and when I asked hers, she said she wished for some chocolates. She later told me that she was on a three months volunteer work for a foundation established by the children of MR. Malek, an ex US ambassador to the UN. She was studying simultaneous interpretation in UK.
We returned to the town at 16:30. I walked around, visited the Dance Square where a local dance was in full session. I then stopped at Tara Gallery for dinner. Tara, the Bengali Indian owner, was there and she greeted me. She has been living here since 1995 fulltime. She told me that half of the Old Town was burned down the previous year. Nancy, a young woman, who has written “The Shangri-La Story” and her photographer were there and were interviewing Tara for her new book. They were both most kind. The photographer got up about a half dozen times to fetch hot water to fill my cup.
10/21/2014 Tuesday - Lijiang
I went for a quick walk around the old town, then called Bahram to check on my mail, took a cab to the bus station and purchased a 10:40-13:20 ticket (¥71) to Lijiang. A 31-year man from Hong Kong was sitting next to me. He was on a two weeks vacation with his wife. He told me the last time he was here five years ago he had to tell people that he was from Guangzhou in order not to cause any hard feelings but within the past five years the standards of living in the mainland were getting close enough to Hong Kong that he felt more comfortable telling people of his birthplace. He said he had already purchased an apartment with a 3% mortgage rate and the monthly payment on it was about 30% of his and his wife’s total income.
I checked in at Garden Inn (¥160/d) in Lijiang and then went for a long walk in this touristy, lively, and pleasant Old Town. The Old Town was fun and easy to get lost in it. Thought very touristy, yet it was charming with many canals and buildings from the turn of Song and Yuan dynasties – some 800 years history. It was fun and easy to get lost to enjoy the less visited areas.
10/22/2014 Wednesday - Lijiang
I woke up early to go for a walk before the crowds get heavy. I had a boat-shaped eggplant at Sakura Good Food Square for breakfast and lunch at LP recommended “Tian He Canting.” I had a fun training session with the staff at the latter where as soon as I sat down the waiter put the 10-page meu in front me and bent over me with paper and pencil to take my order. He did not understand when I told him I need some time before I can decide what to order. He seemed hopeless. The two other female staff/owners were more attentive. I did a role-play with them. I asked them to hand over the menu to the diner and say, “Please let me know when you are ready” and then walk away. I also made a sign, reading “LP recommended” and the owner posted it on the wall and thanked me. A couple sat next me. The man asked me without knowing Chinese how I managed to order. I said it was very easy. Some restaurants have English menu. Otherwise, I either order from the pictures on the walls or just point to dishes of other customers and I usually like what I end up getting. He introduced himself as Lorne ( 53401265@QQ.com ). He was on his honeymoon. Even though he worked in computer field he thought the email addresses were still case-sensitive. When I explained to him otherwise he did not seemed convinced. I asked him to try it for himself. He recommended visiting “Shuang Lang Town”, on the East side of Lake Erhai, two hours away from Dali.
After lunch, I continued walking around and getting lost before heading back to my hostel, calling Feri to confirm their arrival date to Kuala Lumpur. I then met a couple from Penang who were sitting at my table on the terrace. The man was very friendly and gave me some information about Penang. I then walked around more. The area near the Big Stone Bridge was packed with crowds and the restaurants and many bars with singers and dancers were almost packed with young crowds. I had a Naxi Ham and goat cheese at Prague Café; although the cheese tasted more like mozzarella, yet it was a decent sandwich.
10/23/2014 Thursday - Lijiang
I took the direction to Baisha, from the young man at the hostel the night before. As the road was under construction, instead of taking Bus #6, I had to take bus #11 at Zhong Yi Market and at the last stop change to bus #6. I could not find the stop for bus #6 and when I asked a young girl who was sitting on her bike with her friend at the back seat in front of Lijiang Tourism School, she asked the friend to get off and rode her bike while I was chasing her. She stopped after a few hundred meter and told me to wait there. She did not speak much English. The school should be more focused on domestic tourism.
Baisha had a tiny section with some cobblestone streets and then a very large area filled with hostels and still being heavily expanded. I visited the Governor Mu’s Mansion, converted to a museum with some murals a few millennium old. I also visited the famous Dr. Ho, the 90-year old herbal medicine man, who is a landmark of the town. He had one patient who was given a large bag of a powder. A few other guys were waiting. I asked about the arthritis pain of my mother. He asked whether she had had blood pressure or diabetes. Without giving me a chance to ask any questions he gave me a powder to be added to alcohol and rubbed on the affected areas for the pain (¥50) and an herbal tea (¥600), I passed on the tea and took the powder.
I then stopped by at a local restaurant packed with customers and ordered a couple of dishes. A young girl entered and as there were no other empty tables, I invited her to sit at my table. She was a 26-year old Chinese language teacher though she looked more like a student. She spoke very little English and at times she would start speaking in Chinese for a long time before I would let her know that I did not understand her. She had travelled to Lijiang for two days from her hometown 300km away.
I took the bus to Shuhe where I had a short walk but as it was too touristy, I turned around and headed back to Zhong Yi Market where I purchased a whole rotisserie duck for ¥20. I then did some walking. At a drum store, the popular souvenir of the town, I heard a Persian music accompanied by the drum of a female drummer. She was selling the CDs in packs of five in a pretty case for ¥100. I purchased the single CD at an inflated price of ¥30.
Then as I walked to the restaurant where I had lunch the day before, I saw a printed sign of “Lonely Plant Recommended” as I had told the owner to make.
10/24/2014 Friday - Dali
I had an adequate breakfast and coffee under the beautiful sunshine on the terrace. I met Don & Cynthia Jackson (503 310 8025 DonH.Jackson@gmail.com ) of Portland, Oregon. Don is an Architect with a few Iranian colleagues. I told him I was considering a trip to Roseburg. He said I could contact him for help with any information. They were travelling on their own without speaking any Chinese.
As I had missed the 08:30 train to Dali I had to take the bus which run more frequently. I headed out for one last walk, got lost and therefore missed the next bus. I was getting to like the town so much that I wanted to stay one more day. As I was debating with myself I went back to the hostel. I met Nicholas, the knowledgeable and articulate manager who told me Dali is even more beautiful than Lijiang. I therefore checked out of my room, left my luggage in the luggage room and went out for lunch and one last walk. I then picked up my luggage and took a taxi to the New Bus Station, a different one from the one I had arrived in from Shangri-La, and took the 15:00-17:30 bus (¥63) bus To Dali. As we neared the town, I showed the driver the address my hostel, the LP recommended, Austrian owned, Jade Emu. He dropped me off at an intersection In Dali where I took a private car, as there were no taxis in sight, and checked in at the well-managed hostel.
I went for a walk and as I had a small lunch, went for an early dinner at Panda restaurant. I walked in the main road, “Ren Min Lu.” The Old Town seemed much smaller than Lijiang, and a somewhat quieter, with only a semi version of a small canal.
I saw a Western artist/vendor who was busy drawing and therefore I did not interrupt him to get the scoop about his life here. The next Westerner I met was sitting near the artist with a collection of handmaid bags in front of him. I said and inquired about his life in China. He introduced himself as David from Michigan. He asked me if I wanted to hear his life story or not. I said I did. He continued that he came here in 2004, took a one-year assignment as a teacher and after four years living here was out of job, addicted and with a broken up relationship. At the bottom of his life one night Jesus appears in his dream and saves him from his torments. We had a long chat about religions. He said he believed in the imminent coming of the Jesus and the Kingdom of the Heaven as it was predicted as far back as the age of Adam. I was glad that beforehand I did not quote James Gogle that had quoted in his book, “How to Read the Bible”, that there was a ward for people with that belief in Jerusalem. He was not offended by my different opinion and when we said goodbye, he took my hand and prayed for me.
10/25/2014 Saturday - Dali
I walked around the town today, dined at a restaurant on some lima beans and eggplants. I then stopped by a barbershop, waited a few minutes until the hairdresser finished with her customer. I inquired the price of a haircut and she said it was ¥20. I asked for the price for beard trimming, and she said it was ¥20. After the haircut I handed her a ¥100 note and she gave back to me ¥80 in change. I handed her a ¥10 note and as she was confused, I told her my haircut looked very good.
I then stopped by the big market again and bought some fruits.
For dinner, the hostel, Jade Emu, had a very decent buffet dinner for ¥60 that was my best value meal in China. There were about a dozon customers.
10/26/2014 Sunday - Dali
I had an egg and ham sandwich for the breakfast in the courtyard, had a short chat with the Australian owner who said after seven years of backpacking he opened this place four years ago with his partner. I complimented him on the well run hostel and the professionalism of the staff.
He said a Canadian Iranian man has an organic produce business here in Dali.
I stopped by at the mosque again which unlike yesterday, when it looked like a butcher shop, it looked more like a market day, with old men sitting around the courtyard and at the next-door tea shop. An old man talked to me a few minutes after I told him I was from Iran, and all I understood was when he showed with his kicks and shaking ass that he was happy Iran was kicking some asses.
I then walked towards the Jongdeh Temple for a hike but there was a ¥70 entrance fee. One of the guards was asleep and the other one was busy with his phone. I could have probably just walked past by them but I returned and walked the other way and ended up in a forbidden military zone. I then returned to the town and did some more walking, had a fried goat cheese at “The Good Panda” restaurant. I then stopped at the stand of a Moslem girl and asked for a couple of small cookies. She gave me one extra and with a smile said, “bye bye.”
I stopped at the hostel’s book store to inquire about the notice on the wall regarding the fact as of April 2014 only official China Post postcard are eligible to be mailed as postcard. Therefore, my procrastination in mailing of the postcards that I had purchased in Xing Ping worked out. The helpful attendant said I could use envelopes and ¥6 international stamps to mail them. She then corrected herself and said I could remove the postcard stamps and use them on the envelopes with additional ¥2 stamps. She gave me a glue bar to take care of the task. After I placed the stamps I returned to my room but the envelops did not have enough glue to close up. I went back to the library and glued envelops. I check with the attendant again if only the recipient name on envelop was sufficient or not. She said I had better put the sender address just in case the envelopes are undeliverable. She wrote the address of the hotel on all the envelopes. This whole process reminded me of the teenage girl in a small city in Egypt who after dropping her mail in the mailbox closed her eyes and crossed her chest with a prayer some twenty years ago.
After a rest on the terrace under the pleasant sun and with the beautiful views of the mountain, I went out for a walk and dinner. I walked to LP Bai restaurant Mei Zi Jing, with a collection of a few pleasant courtyards. The table of produce also contained hives of maggots. On second thoughts I though I should try “The good Panda” for their okra, but the outdoor table, which would have been perfect for people watching and the view of the mountain with beautiful clouds above it, was taken, therefore I settled for the first choice. I continued walking around, managed to get lost and stumbled on a road past the South Gate which I had not noticed earlier in the day, possibly because the shallow, almost above the ground canal, did not have running water in the day time. All the bars on the two sides of the street were almost empty.
I went back to Bai restaurant, the female owner showed me to my table, put the ten page menu in front of me, and stood over me with pen and paper in hand. For five minutes I tried to have her leave me alone in order that I could go through the menu. When she did not heed my request, I just ignored her and started looking at the crowds. This time she got the message and left me alone. The English translations on the menu were rather amusing. Some entries were as following:
Fried Peach Kernel Wild Purse
Sewing-Kit Fried Lily
The Fragrance of Oranges Sika Deer
Sauna Old Bacteria
Good Luck Walnut Fried Chestnut
Liver Confer Hair Steamed Tofu
Duck Hotpot Chicken
I settled for braised spicy chicken in pumpkin flower and “Fan fried eggplant with Onion.” I called the bossy lady and placed my order. She repeated the eggplant dish a few times and I thought maybe the “Fan” in the name was a deal breaker but I told her that was what I wanted. She then recommended beer, fried vegetable, soup, and another item, but as I had already upset her, I passed on all her recommendations. When the food arrived, the eggplant was what I was expecting – delicious – and the chicken was spicy with much chili pepper, scallions, garlic, and a couple of other strongly flavored items.
At the counter, after paying my bill, I said goodbye to the young waitresses who were resting on a bench, but had animated the whole courtyard with their chattering. They waved back at me with friendly smiles.
It was getting cooler by now. As I was walking by the ‘Good Panda” the owner saw me and I pointed to the outdoor table that had just become empty to make her understand that the reason for my not stopping there for the dinner was because of the occupied table. She smiled back and I think she could understand my gesture. I headed back to my room and made the last entry of my China trip in my journal. I will be leaving for Malaysia tomorrow.
Today was a recap of the encounters I had in this country, the invitation to breakfast at the mosque, the surprise gesture about the long distance to the Zhonghe Temple when I asked for direction from a young woman at the base of the path, the asleep guards at the start of the path to the temple with a high entry fee, the complimentary cookie by the Muslim salesgirl and tea by the owner at The Great Panda, the friendly attitude of the workers who were finishing a hotel with beautiful woodwork by letting me get in the grounds and check a couple of rooms, another woman who let me in her house to look at the large collection of plant pots she had in her courtyard, and yet another woman who let me get in her porch to look at the beautiful hanging flowers from her wall, the girl at Jade Emu guesthouse who helped all the way with my postcards, and finally the friendly good-bye waves of the restaurant staff.
Without knowing the language, or the possibility of even considering to learn it, somehow I have felt more at home and more welcomed here than in South America. If I could adjust to the hygienic standards, or rather the lack of it thereof, I could have extended my trip a lot longer in this vast ancient land. I am glad that I could make this trip at this time, as with all the rapid construction that is going on everywhere, I am not sure in a decade how much originality of the historic sites will remain.
10/27/2014 Monday – Dali – Kunming - Kuala Lumpur
After the breakfast I went to the front desk and asked Tom, the helpful staff member, for my ride to the bus station for the ride to Kunming. He said it was too early, even though it was only ten minutes before my 08:30 departure time. At 08:25 a young girl showed up and walked my to the near-by ticket office/waiting room where a few other people and I waited for a couple of minutes before the bus showed up.
A guy who sat next to me, Michael Liu (firstname.lastname@example.org), a trader, was a non-stop speaker and on a few occasions when I interjected he did interrupt me – though he was a very informative person, with a wealth of information on many subjects that were brought up. He was travelling with a woman he had shared dorms with on this trip. He quoted an Israeli businessman that, “we may all have different religions, but when we die, we are all Buddhist.”
Prior to arriving at Kunming bus station I asked Mike to check with the driver whether I could get off at a location closer to the airport for my flight to Kuala Lumpur. The bus driver stopped after a short while, four other people got off and he asked me to follow them. Five of us shared a minivan to the airport and paid ¥24 each.
I took the 17:40-21:50 AirAsia Kunming-Kuala Lumpur flight. At KL airport, I took a budget taxi (R80) to Maison Boutique ($47) on Jalan Baba, near Times Square Buildings and Imbi tramway station. I then walked out and found an Egyptian restaurant, Hors, a few blocks away where I had a good meal.
10/28/2014 Tuesday - KL
I went for a long walk to Petronas Twin Towers, the Jameh Mosque, the Centrl Market, and the Merkada Square.
10/29/2014 Wednesday - KL
I took the KLIA Ekpress Train to the airport where I met Feri, Hediyeh and Tahmineh. We took a taxi back to the hotel.
10/30/2014 Thursday - KL
We visited the Batu Caves, a large Hindu temple complex where the monkeys were running amok.
We also visited the Genting Highland, an outdoor park and casino complex where the weather was cool and pleasant.
We also visited The Islamic Art Museum and the National Mosque.
10/31/2014 Friday – KL - Penang
We took the bus to George Town in Penang where we stayed at Glow hotel for three nights. We walked around town, took the ferry across the Island and had a bus ride around the town, tried a briyani at Hamidieh - a town’s institution.
Below are two good restaurants that we tried in KL.
Thalappakattu Briyani #375, Jalan Abdul Rahman, KL – We were taken there by the friendly taxi driver who said they have the best brianiy.
Wadi Almadinah Group – Hadra Mawt Palace - #251 Jalan Bukit Bintang, KL http://www.hadramawtpalace.com. We were taken there by the Chinese taxi driver after we told him to take us to Arabasque in China Town and he claimed there was no such place in China Town. When I asked him if he had tried their food, he said his gods did not allow him to eat the lard that the Moslems use.
Wadi was a large restaurant with very good food. Incidently, on my second trip to KL, I did found Arabasque in China Town.
11/08/2014 Saturday – Phnom Penh
We took a taxi to the airport. I saw off Feri & family for their 13:30 flight to Iran. I then tried to check in for my 470.00 MYR 15:15-16:00 (+1:00 hr) flight to Phnom Penh but I was told I needed on onward ticket out of Cambodia. I therefore purchased a returned ticket to KL – as AirAsia had no flights from Phnom Penh to Laos – to be able to board the plane. Although, the last window I tried to check in did not ask me for my onward ticket.
At the airport in Phnom Penh, I paid $35 for a tourist visa – no one asked for the onward ticket – and then took a taxi ($12) for the short ride to my hostel, Aqua Boutique ($35).
11/09/2014 Sunday – Phnom Penh
I had a simple breakfast at the hostel and then headed out to explore the city. It was less chaotic than what I expected even though it seemed that every resident had a motorbike and was engaged in the tuk-tuk business. I walked around the grounds of a temple near my hostel and then headed to the Royal Palace. I visited the National Museum and had “amok fish ravioli” at ‘Blue Pumpkin’. I walked to the National Monument. On the way to the hostel I bought a coconut; the cold aplenty juice was a delicious refreshment.
After a rest, I walked to the river and took a cruise boat as it was leaving the port. The crowd was very subdued, very different from the Chinese I had seen on the cruise boats in China.
I had a meal at Beirut near the Tourist Boats Deck and then walked back to my hostel on rather quiet streets.
I left my passport with Saloth at hostel’s front desk for Vietnam Visa. He said the charge was $65 and it would be ready the next day.
11/10/2014 Monday – Phnom Penh
I visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a school turned into prison by the Khmer Rouge where about 20,000 people were imprisoned and tortured. As LP had indicated, the site is not for the squeamish. There were vivid pictures and scenes of the torture everywhere.
I then took a tuk tuk to Choeung Ek (Killing Fields), about 15km out of the town, the site of the mass graves of the prisoners of Tuol Sleng. It was an eerie day – the signs of cruelty and savagery were everywhere, from the torture beds and cells, the smashing of skulls with hammers, the cutting of throats with a sharp tree blade, and the pits where the guards would smash the children on trees, before killing their mothers, so that the children would not revenge them one day.
On the way back, as I had not had the tuk tuk driver wait for me, I asked a Japanese visitor if I could share the ride back in town and he agreed. The driver took a more scenic shortcut this time. In some areas the floodwater was so high that we had to lift our feet from the floor of the tuk tuk not to get wet, yet the traffic was heavy.
I asked the driver to stop at Central Market, where I saw a large squid being grilled and I asked for it. It was delicious, with a somewhat sweet sauce. At the end when I asked for the bill, the price of the squid was $9 and I thought I was being overcharged. I asked the price of a large raw squid at a fish stand and it was $7.
At the hostel, Saloth, the attendant told me that my Vietnam Visa was ready. I also booked a $35 speedboat ride to Siem Reap-Angkor Wat for the next day. Per as the brochure, it is a 6-hr ride vs. the 4-hr bus ride.
11/11/2014 Tuesday – Phnom Penh-Siem Reap
I was told the tuk tuk will pick me up at 07:30 but the driver of a van was there at 07:10. There was also a Swiss man taking the same speedboat to Siem Reap. We departed at 07:30 and arrived at Siem Reap at 14:30. The ride was very pleasant. I stayed on the deck for the whole duration of the trip in the pleasant cool wind and overcast sky – therefore the sun did not burn too much. The scenery was varied, with changing width of the river, and as we got closer to the destination, the river got so wide that the shores were not visible. On the narrower parts there were fishermen, floating villages, and farms and temples and mosques on the shores.
At the destination, Cou Cou, the arranged tuk tuk driver picked me up but his vehicle ran out of gas after a few kilometers. Another driver who stopped to help got a gas bottle from a stand a few hundred meters away and we were able to continue the 10km ride to my hostel, The Siem Reap Room ($17.50).
After checking in I went for a walk in the town. It was too touristy and somewhat dusty, with heavy traffic. I headed back to my room early to be ready for the 05:00 pickup by Cou Cou to visit Angkor Wat ($16).
11/12/2014 Wednesday – Siem Reap/Angkor
I woke up at 04:30 and when I went out, I saw a new driver was waiting for me. Possibly Cou Cou had found another customer and had contracted me to this new driver. We headed for the ticket office. There were about eight windows and there was a long line in front of all of them. I purchased a 2-day ticket for $40 and we continued to Angkor Wat. The road was already crowded with many tuk tuks and some bikes. At Angkor Wat, we waited by a pond to view the sunrise over the buildings. I toured the magnificent temple before driving to Ta Phram, another beautiful Wat. Many parts of the temple were covered with the roots of the banyan trees that gave them a more ancient mysterious feel. We then drove to Angkor Thom where I visited Bayon, the temple with many huge faces of Buddha, and Baphuon, a temple built in the form of a ziggurat.
11/13/2014 Thursday – Siem Reap/Angkor
I had breakfast at the hostel courtyard before being picked up by the tuk tuk driver that the hostel had called for me. I visited the following temples:
Roluos : Angkor Bakon, Angkor Preah, Angko Leilo
Mebon, Preah Khan
Terrace of the Elephants, Phimeanakas (Royal Palace) just next to Baphuon, Angkor Thom temple I had visited the day before, Leper King Terrace, Preah Palilay Temple (a small temple across the road from Leper King Terrace)
Phnom Bakheng – Located on a hill with a good view of the surroundings. It rained heavily and I had to shelter inside one of the smaller temples.
Of all the temples, Preah Khan was the largest and the most impressive.
The driver then dropped me off at my hostel. I went out to have a scan of my passport for Myanmar visa, and had a grilled fish dinner at a lively outdoor restaurant..
11/14/2014 Friday – Siem Reap-Day Tour
I was the first passenger to be picked up for the day trip I had booked the day before. We then picked up an Indian couple and a Chinese couple, Li Yi, an articulate person and his soft-mannered wife (LiYial@163.com) from Kunming.
We biked for an hour, visited a village market, and then took the boat to the house of a local person for lunch. The house was built on the river. We had to take off shoes, caps and even sunglasses before entering the house. We then took the boat to another village, visited a small school and rode on the boat again for some time. As the tides were rising we had to make the trip short.
On the way back I asked to be dropped off at the town market where I walked around for some time and then walked back to my hostel.
11/15/2014 Saturday – Siem Reap-Phnom Penh
I woke up at 05:00 for my 06:00 van ride to the boat for Battambang. The riverbanks looked familiar and similar to what I had only seen on the way from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Only after we reached our destination, Phnom Penh, I found out that I had taken the wrong boat. There were two boats at the deck and the driver had dropped me off the wrong boat. When the guard checked my ticket before boarding he did not notice I was boarding the wrong baot. I should have verified the destination.
I asked a tuk tuk driver for a ride to Natural House, a LP recommended hostel. He approved of the place and said if I was planning to stay only one night, Queen Wood Hotel is a better choice. I agreed and at the hotel I asked the receptionist to look at the room that she was going to give me ($35). When the attendant showed it to me and saw the disapproval look on my face he led me to a nicer room with two windows and I took it. I had a decent Amok Fish Curry at Chip and Chat and then walked around the town. When I stopped at the Natural House and asked to look at one of their rooms ($20), I liked it better than the room at Natural House – especially as the teapot was metal and not plastic.
11/16/2014 Sunday – Phnom Penh-Chau Doc, Vietnam
I walked to the boat station and purchased a ticket ($24) for the 12:00-17:00 Phnom Penh-Chau Doc, a Vietnam border town near the border. I then visited the post office and stopped by the park and watched the children enjoying the rides. The was a well-dressed couple with the most adorable two-year old triplets, in cute tops and puffed out shorts with smiling faces. They were having a ball riding the tube slide. I then did some more walking before going back to the hotel, packed up and took a tuk tuk to the boat station.
As we were boarding the boat the sound of the prayer from a mosque across the river, about 2 km away, could be heard. The boat ride was pleasant. There were about 10 people in the boat with a capacity of about 34. We stopped at the Cambodia immigration and Vietnam Immigration for about one hour of formalities. I was going to buy an ice coffee in Vietnam stop but when the female vendor picked up the ice with her hands for the coffee of the man in front of me I changed my mind.
11/16/2014 Sunday – Phnom Penh-Chau Doc, Vietnam
In Chau Doc I got a cyclo ride ($1) to Hai Chau Hotel, about 500 meters away from the deck, but they were full. I asked the driver to take me to Thrung Nguyen, which was on the same block. The very pleasant and soft-spoken receptionist offered me a decent double room ($17) as there were no more single rooms available. I then went out for a walk. I stopped at Bay Bong for a delicious Fish hot pot, with many vegetables and enlivened with the sweetness of pineapple and sourness of tamarind pieces – almost similar to the soups I would get from Saigon Restaurant on second Ave in NYC. The awakening of the taste buds also reminded me of Robin Williams’ ‘Good Morning Vietnam.”
I then walked around the small town center – by the market and the temple. The cyclo drivers were less of a hassle here than in Cambodia. At the
templeI lingered for some time to watch the prayer ceremony in a pleasant breeze. There were three outdoor platforms where people would approach, pay their respect, say a prayer and then kneel down for repeated bowings. I noticed how similar their movements were to the movements of Moslems’ prayers. As if one was adapted from the other one. A beautiful formal hymn was in session at the main prayer hall – with attendants in long robe uniforms.
People in general were friendly. Young kids would occasionally say hello with a smile. I had thought that with the involvement of the French and the Americans in their country there would be some reserved resentment towards foreigners. The standards of living were somewhat better than Siem Reap – a city of equal size, though with much more income with the hordes of foreign tourists to Angkor Wat.
11/17/2014 Monday – Chau Doc,-Saigon
I went out for a walk and tried an ATM at a bank with all the logos affixed to it but the transaction failed. I tried a second back that fortunately worked. I then had breakfast at the hostel, packed, and went to the lobby at 09:30 and asked for a 10:00 AM bus ticket ($8) to Saigon. The male attendant called a number and quickly arranged it. We had a chat. He said he was 30 years old, had been working at the hotel for ten years, his work shift was 09:00 PM-01:00 PM, seven days a week, and his monthly salary was $120. I felt bad for him.
Shortly the pick up van arrived and took me and the other few passengers that were already on board to the bus station about ten minutes away. The bus shortly arrived. It was a sleeping bus, newer and in better shape than the sleeping bus I had taken in Kunming-Shangri la trip. We had to take off the shoes prior to boarding the bus.
The scenery was varied. Throughout the first five hours of a 6-hour trip we were driving through residential areas and continuous towns, no farms or open spaces. The houses and commercial buildings were neat, except for the large and small metal houses that were built at or on the rivers - which happened to come into views every couple of miles. We had to cross a river in a boat at one point. The boat was large enough that it accommodated two large buses parked next to each other. There were no signs of any high-rises until we arrived in Saigon. We drove in an area where the rice paddies were in view for a short while. Most had half dozen square structures – somewhat similar to graves, or stupas. At one bathroom stop, we got off and I went to the bathroom and walked around the market for some time. When I returned the bus was not there. I checked the half dozen buses that were parked around but there was no sign of my bus. I circled the buses again desperately – as I had left my smaller backpack also in the bus with the laptop and everything else. I was wearing slippers. After every worrisome minutes a young girl approached me and told me that she was in my bus and the bus had gone to the parking and will return shortly. I was relieved. Her name was Phuong (TrinhPhuong265@gmail.com ). She was doing her masters in Vietnamese Studies. She also teached.
We waited for a whil, she checked with the information desk and they confirmed the bus would return shortly. Then in the public announcement system it was announced that the bus was being repaired. Finally, the bus showed up after about 40 minutes – I was not going to complain, as things could have been a lot worse.
In Saigon the flow of the motorbikes – while heavy throughout the bus trip - got even heavier. They had taken control of the streets. The cars seemed like an afterthought – only second-class citizens – or maybe just a luxury. It was like the march of an endless army of the civilian riders – though very unorganized. The flow reminded me of the assembly line in the movie, “Modern Times”. One moment of distraction, and a poor passerby would be in big trouble.
At the bus station, I took a taxi to LP’s Madam Cuc 127 Hostel. It was rather a long drive – through the army of the bikes. The old Madam was sitting in the lobby. I asked a couple of guests in the lobby how they were managing with the bikes. One of them said her bag was cutoff from her shoulder with a razor the night before and her phone was gone.
I asked for a restaurant recommendation from the attendant and she recommended Quan an Ngon at 160 Pasture Street. The restaurant was a lovely multi-story spacious building, with a large pool in the main courtyard. The food was just as enjoyable. I made it in one piece walking there and walking back.
11/18/2014 Tuesday – Saigon
I visited the following:
The Town Hall – It was under renovation and I could not get in.
Reunification-Independence Palace (ex presidential Palace)
Notre Dame Cathedral (closed)
Post Office – a beautiful French nouveau building
Museum of Vietnamese History
The Hung Kings Temple- Erected by the French in 1926 as a WWI Memorial
War Remnants Museum – heavy war propaganda exhibition with many pictures of the injured
I had lunch at Hua Tuc, in a converted opium refinery courtyard, warm settings, with wooden posts and metal chandeliers – The food was delicious.
11/19/2014 Wednesday – Saigon
During the breakfast I asked the friendly receptionist at Madam Cuc for a plane ticket to Hue. He checked Vietnam Airlines that had a ticket for the next day for 60,000 VND with only 2 tickets remaining. She asked me to hurry up and purchased it; but I sat for breakfast and by the time I made it back to my room the seats were gone and the next price was 180,000 VND – the breakfast cost me 120,000 VND.
I walked to the Ho-Chi-Minh Museum, a decent collection of city’s historical artifacts and pictures; it was also a venue for wedding pictures – as the admission was free.
I then lunched at nearby Huang Lai Restaurant, staffed by disadvantaged youth. The food and service were both good and the place was a pleasant spot to hang out for a while.
I then walked to Central Mosque - on a block with Starbucks and many Halal food eateries - a simple structure, but it became lively when a busload of Moslem tourists arrived.
I walked to the river and then continued walking towards my hostel. I stopped at a bakery but it was too inside hot and as I was stepping out, another guy – somehow reminding me of Bill Karl at Pfizer, whom I had seen leaving the pharmacy next door with a rather large backpack, looking like a Pharma salesperson, stepped out. We settled for another cooler coffee shop next door. We started talking. He introduced himself as Steven Baker of Boston, an English teacher in Saigon for the past two years. He had studied Chinese in Beijing for a while and had visited a few countries in Far East, though had not visited much of Vietnam in the past two years. He had a good knowledge of the history of the Far East that we talked about for a while. He, like his siblings, born to Christian parents, is an atheist. He commented that religious people think of atheists as immoral. He has many Moslem friends in Saigon and enjoys Halal food.
After a rest in my room I went out to a massage parlor, administrated by the blind, a few doors away from my hostel. The fee was $3.50 for an air-conditioned room and $3.00 for a room with a fan. The receptionist gave a ticket for $3.50. I pointed to a fan and he put a ticket for $3.00 on the table. The massage was done by a woman – a bit more tenderly than the one in KL.
I then had dinner, a rice noodle soup, Pho, and water morning glory at Dinh Y, also steps away from my hostel for $3.50. The bill for the night, for the massage and tip, and a three-course meal, came to $9.50. Life can be good under Communism.
I had a chat with the helpful receptionist at the hostel. She said that she worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week. I did not dare to ask her pay. She took my Hue flight departure info for the next day to call a cab for me.
11/20/2014 Thursday – Da Nang-Hoi An
The private taxi that Tyh, the helpful staff at Madam Cuc had arranged ($10) showed up at 13:30, Thye saw me to the car. The driver and his friend drove the short distance to the airport located within the city limits. It was a tiny airport. At the airport I had a chat with a very delicate, feminine looking 30 year old man who was going to Hanoi for a job interview. He said he liked travelling but due to lack of money had not been able to travel much.
I had two bottles of water with me. One was inside a backpack and the other one in an outside pocket. They passed the x-ray but then a guard noticed the visible one, wrote my name in a book, and had me sign it. My flight was delayed for one hour and my gate was changed from 10 to 2 and back to 10 again. The only announcement that could be heard was about delay of the flights and changing of the gates – which was going on continuously. Luckily I made it to Da Nang, where I took a taxi ($25) to Hoi An and checked in at Thien Nga Hotel ($35), with a room with a good view of the rice paddies.
I walked to Little Menu Restaurant in the rain and had a very nice meal of Sea Bass in Banana Leaf.
11/21/2014 Friday – Hoi An
I visited the Old Town and the five sites that my admission ticket allowed me. I walked the rest of the day in the lovely town. I had a great lunch at Morning Glory Restaurant, which looked like an institution in town. Actually, it is owned by the person who opened Mermaid - the first restaurant in town in 1992. I tried Mermaid for dinner – where the owner had written a good biography of how he started his business.
11/22/201/4 Saturday – Hoi An-Hue
I walked towards Tra Que village and stopped the Japanese trader tomb where there were some water buffalos grazing in the rice fields.
I then took a short walk in the old town and had a good chicken curry with coconut at Indian Ganesh. I went back to my hotel. A man on a bike showed up to lead me and another passenger who was also going to Hue to the bus for our trip. The man offered to carry the trunk of the traveler on his bike. The young man ended up holding tight while following the man a block away – I guess concerned that he would take off with his trunk. The bus showed up on the corner immediately and the concern was resolved. We had a sleeping bus for the 3-hour trip. In Da Nang a Vietnamese man boarded the bus with his family. He is an employee of the Ministry of the Health. We had a long chat on Vietnam culture.
In Hue I stopped at Jade Hotel, a few steps away form the bus station, but they were full. The young girl at the reception called Hue Nino, another LP hotel and they said they would send someone to pick me up. A man on a bike showed up shortly and we rode to his hotel.
I walked to a LP restaurant, but I think the address was wrong as I could not see a restaurant at that address. Later on I was told they were possibly closed on that day. While walking, I stumbles into Jade Hostel and asked the same helpful receptionist for a place to eat. She recommended Serene Restaurant, a few steps away from them. The dinner was very good – with two very friendly waitresses, Sami and Amy. Sami told me that both Jade and Serene are owned by the same person.
11/23/2014 Sunday – Hue
I walked to citadel, the palace of the Nguyen Dynasty, a succession of 13 emperors, who ruled from 1802 to 1945 when the last king abdicated and Ho Chi Minh took over.
The palace was heavily bombed by the French and the Americans. The Purple Forbidden City was for the most part destroyed. Yet there is enough to represent the glamour and elegance of the place. I almost spent 6-hours walking around the many courtyards and buildings, all done tastefully, less pompous then the Beijing’s Forbidden City, but with more charm.
I stopped at a beautiful building inside the citadel, turned into a restaurant, for refreshment. After finishing my drink I got up and went to check upstairs. Suddenly I saw that all the staff was running around the building – two girls who were folding toilet papers into fancy napkins and had fallen asleep after a while and the other two girls who were having their steam rice and I had not wanted to interrupt them to ask for my bill. Soon a young man showed up. He was talking on his radio. I was watching the scene from the terrace of he second floor and soon I figured out they had started a manhunt for me. This went on for a few minutes until one of them saw me and notified the other ones and the search operation was terminated.
I went to the Royal Theater for a Orchestra performance at 02:30 but the saleswoman told me that they needed at least five customers to perform the show and as it was almost past 02:30 and I was the only customer the show was going to be cancelled. I asked a few guys around to join the performance but did not succeed to persuade them. Soon a French Couple sat at front row. I told them the situation and asked the woman if she wanted to share the cost of five tickets among three of us. She said, “Then you will buy two tickets and we will buy three?” I nodded. After a minute three Chinese tourists stopped by. I invited them to the show and they agreed, therefore one ticket per person was OK.
I stopped at LP’s Mandarin restaurant. The owner, Mr. Cue, who is also a photographer, was there and we had a chat. He brought his album for me a watch. It was a beautiful collection. He also brought a book on history of Vietnam and a book on Vietnam War for me to glance at. The food was decent and very inexpensive, but during the couple of hours that I was there only a couple of customers showed up.
11/24/2014 Monday – Hue
I went on a day trip tour to following sites.
· Minh Mang Tomb
· Khai Dinh Tomb
· Martial Art of Kinh Van An
· Tu Duc Tomb
· Conical hat making and incense making village
In the afternoon we visited the following by boat:
· An Hien Garden House – Belonged to a Mandarin
· Thien Mu Pagoda – A 5 story tall pagoda, with some political history – A monk, Thich Quang Duc, drove from here to burn himself to death in 1963 to protest lack of freedom http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thi%C3%AAn_M%E1%BB%A5_Pagoda. The car that drove him was on exhibition.
A Swiss girl from Geneva was sitting next to me. She had quit her marketing job in Geneva and was checking a cooking school in New York throughout the bus trip.
11/25/2014 Tuesday – Hue-Hanoi
I visited the town’s market – a huge space next to the bus station
I stopped at Café Nina that per as Wiki Travel was supposed to be a great restaurant. It was nothing to write home about. They should have had either a great PR or the pretty waitress had done the trick. The Swiss girl showed up and sat at another table so that she could smoke. she hardly looked up from her phone throughout the meal. She also commented that the food was nothing special.
I visited the Ho Chi Minh Museum. I was the only visitor and therefore the lights and the fans were turned on for me. During the couple of hours I was there, no one else showed up.
I was stopped by a student for an impromptu interview while walking by the river to my hostel along the river, A half dozen other students soon joined to practice their English. As I had ½ hour with nothing to do, we talked about our countries and the importance of learning English language.
At the hostel, the driver showed up at 18:00. We had a short delay and landed in Hanoi at 21:00. I took taxi to May Deville Hotel ($25).
11/26/2014 Wednesday – Hanoi
I visited the following:
Memorial House, a Heritage House restored in 2000, with some original furniture and a working kitchen
Jewelry Communal House, restored in 2009 aftre removing 25 households with 83 members
Hoan Kiem Lake
Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake
Compound of Diocese of Hanoi
St. Joseph Cathedral
Maison Central-Hoa Lo Prison Museum, French prison of Vietnamese Resistance 1896-1954
Temple of Literature-Dedicated to Confucius in 1070
I then had a lovely meal at Koto Restaurant. The Green Mango Salad and it was delicious.
11/27/2014 Thursday – Hanoi
I did book tours to Sapa ($145), Cat Ba ($250), and Laos’ Luang Prahbang flight ($138 vs. Laos Air Website of $168). The knowledgeable and helpful travel agency clerk, Mrs. Lien (01639711799 – at Hotel du Center Ville) gave me her number to contact her in case of problems.
I stopped at LP Pho Thin to try their Pho Bo (Beef noodle soup). It was OK. A young man showed up and tried to sell me the folding cards as I was walking around the lake. When I told him I did not need them, he offered me a tour of the city on the back of his bike. He asked for 300,000 VND per hour and we settled for 500,000 for a 3-hour tour. He was an intelligent 31-year old man. We visited the French Quarter, and the Fruit market where we had some tea and also a good Ban Cha at another stop.
Some of his comments were:
There is freedom of religion in Vietnam, as the church provides some free schooling. His sister converted to Christianity a few years ago and his Buddhist family was OK with that.
The government has given the church some freedom but does have some informers there.
The government should be working with Mafia in distribution of heroin.
The government provided some soldiers to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war in lieu of the payments for the oil purchases.
His rent is $150/mo plus $30 in utilities, including internet.
One-half of the Vietnamese have stomach problem, possibly due to the water or lack of hygiene.
I ate at pleasant New Day Restaurant where I had a chat with a German, who has been to Vietnam a few times.
As I was walking around the lake, I met Mai and Sinh. We had a chat about our countries and life. They are Journalism and Law students who have part time jobs to pay for their expenses and $150 annual tuition.
11/28/2014 Friday – Hanoi-Sapa
I was picked up at my hotel at 6:45 and we drove to the bus terminal for Sapa. It was a sitting bus, as I had asked for, though, very comfortable. The road, with vey light traffic, had been just opened two months ago, cutting travel time from 11 hours to 5 ½ hours..
In Sapa, all passengers dispersed. The conductor led me the to lobby of a hotel and in a few minutes a guy on motorbike showed up and took me to hotel Summit. I got a decent room with a beautiful view of the town and the mountains.
After a lunch of fried fish, I walked about 10KM to Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall) and took a van back to the lively town square where the native women and children with beautiful costumes were the main attraction for the tourists.
11/29/2014 Saturday – Hanoi
I waited in the lobby of the hotel for the badly organized tour operators for our trek to Y Lin Ho Village (The Black H’mong Tribe) and Lao Chai Village, Ta Van Village inhabited by Dzay minorities exhibiting a strong Chinese culture. Finally, we departed in a team of eight visitors and twelve native women. The scenery through the terraced rice fields splendid. The natives accompanied us until after lunch. Each found a sponsor – in my case, Ye, a 9-year old girl.She kept walking within two steps ahead or behind me throughout. At times when I sped up she could keep ahead of me without even running. When the going got rough, she would turn back to keep an eye on me. She was a great companion. She reminded me of the behavior of Pavlov, the dog who kept my company in Sitra, Portugal.
She knew how to say, “What is your name?” and “What country are your from?”, but otherwise she did not know any thing else in English.
When we stopped for lunch, they natives took out their wares and each sold something to the person they had kept under watch. I pulled Ye aside and bought from her a bag. Somehow, others found out I had given her some money and they all rushed to me. I had to excuse myself from any more shopping. They finally left me alone except for one who kept persisting. She said she had left her two kids for the day and had not sold anything for the day. I finally had to give her some money to leave me alone.
11/30/2014 Sunday – Sapa-Hanoi
In the morning, we trekked to Cat Cat, Sin Chai Village where we saw the people of the Black H’mong Tribe weaving and embroidering their clothes. The scenery was pretty. We passed by a waterfall, and stopped for a short time for a dance & music performance. The group was a small one, with only six people. The native saleswomen left us alone after a short while following us.
On the way back I saw a native woman walking with a young girl. She stepped back and bent her knees slightly and relieved herself on the raod. This was in contrast with another native selling artifact by the hotel. She crossed the street to spit in the bushes around a field – more consideration here from what was usual in China.
Back at the hotel I showered, had lunch, read the book that Feri had given me, “The road with no return”, by Hossein Shahid Zadeh, a memoire starting from 1912, when the aurthur was in the third grade.
We headed for the sleeping bus to depart for Hanoi at about 17:00. For about an hour the bus was riding on very windy road until finally it got on the highway. We arrived in Hanoi at about 23:00. I shared a cab with Cindy of Brazil who was in Hanoi for an audit job. When I was boarding the driver put my luggage on the front seat covering the meter. When Cindy was getting off, she asked to see the meter. It showed 200,000 VND, which seemed to be a fast meter. We protested and the driver cut the fare to 100,000 VND. Then I agreed to another 100,000 VND for my destination that was only a short distance away.
12/01/2014 Monday – Hanoi
I went to the lobby of the hotel to wait for my pickup for Halang Bay- Cat Ba trip. The receptionist said due to the typhoon all trips were cancelled. I went to the tour company around the corner and that was the case. I was told the tour would be postponed to the following day.
I then headed for the Ho Shi Minh Mausoleum, though I knew it would be closed on Mondays. After some walking I asked a hotel receptionist for the direction and she recommended to take Phan Dinh Phung Street as it was a beautiful street. She was correct – indeed it was a pretty street. I stopped for a coffee at a small plaza which was a great spot for people watching – with locals joining friends at the outside tables, the customers parking the bikes on the curb and the waiter parking them across the street, the shoeshine man offering his services, and all sort of vendors selling their wares. After the break, I continued walking one the beautiful street that by now consisted only of governmental building – all from French era. I then stopped to watch the mausoleum and visited Ho Chi Minh Museum.
I had lunch at beautiful Quan An Ngon Restaurant on Phan Dinh Phung Street. The mango salad with shrimps was great and the fried tofu in tomato sauce was the best.
I tried to withdraw some cash in Old Quarter but according to the ATM my card was expired – that was indeed the case. I called my bank for help.
12/02/2014 Tuesday – Hanoi-Halang Bay
I was picked up by the “Imperial Cruise” in the morning for my tour to Halang Bay-Cat Ba. There was a 4 ½ hrs bus ride to Halang Bay, including a 30-minute shopping stop at a huge complex of artifacts. At Halang Bay we took a small boat to the larger “Imperial Cruise Boat”. The ride was a pleasant one with a large number of huge karsts projected out of the water all around us.
Once on board, one of the staff members made a speech on the fact the boat was just refurbished ad every thing on it was brand new. At lunch table, I met Malcolm McDonald (Education Advisor, Leap Ed Services Sdn Bhd Malcolm.McDonald@LeapEdServices.com ) , a tall Australian middle age man, whose huge luggage on the bus I had noticed, and his short but muscular Filipino boy-friend, Brian. Also at our table was a Mexican, from ex-hippie parent where all the family members were vegetarians. He was doing his graduate studies in International Studies in Seoul.
We visited Sung Sot Cave later in the day, and then did some kayaking.
There was a Karaoke session after the dinner.
There were no blankets in the cabin. I ended up sleeping with only a sheet, and after the cool wind and the drizzle on the deck and blasting A/C in the van earlier in the day I ended up with a cold and congested throat.
12/03/2014 Wednesday – Halang Bay
In the morning, we took a small boat to ride to Cat Ba Island for the overnight stay in the cabins. We stopped at an Oyster farm where they produced pearls. The rain had started and the cool wind was making my cold a bit more serious.
In Cat Ba, after lunch, I idled and read for a while.
12/04/2014 Thursday – Cat Ba-Hanoi
We took a boat from the cabins in Cat Ba Island for the one-hour ride to the Imperial Cruise Boat. While riding to the Halang Bay we had a cooking session where one of the staff members demonstrated how to make spring rolls and every one tried to participate in the trial. We had lunch and after arrival in Halang bay waited for about 10 minutes for our bus to Hanoi. We arrived in Hanoi at 17:00. At hotel I was handed over my emergency card but when I tried it at the ATM machine it did not work. I called the Visa hotline and after entering the card number, the automated voice response system announced that my card had been activated. I went back to the ATM machine, and on second unsuccessful try, the machine retained my card. I contacted VISA but they said there was nothing they could do and added that I had to work with the the Allianze Bank.
I then took out some cash with my other card and walked to the Opera House where I met Malcolm and Brian who had just arrived there. I purchased a ticket for 200,000 VND and the sales clerk agreed to give us three adjacent seats.
The Concert was better than I had expected, with a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade and the Opera House, built in 1910, was beautiful.
12/05/2014 Friday – Hanoi-Luang Prahbang, Laos
I went to the ANZ bank branch at 08:30 to request the return of my card. The receptionist called the Customer Service Department and the woman who took the call promised to help to return the card prior to my 09:30 departure to Laos. By the time I returned to the hotel they had left a message for me. When I called back the person who answered the call knew about my situation and said someone will be dispatched shortly. I remained in the lobby and at 09:30 the receptionist of Essence Hotel where the ATM was located stopped by to inform me that the ANZ representative had retrieved my card. I went to his hotel, paid the $10 fee for early retrieval and got back my card. I then went to the travel agency where I had purchased my flight ticket to Laos. The taxi arrived at 09:50 and Mrs. Lin, the agent, saw me to the taxi and said goodbye. I arrived at the airport at 10:40. The plane took off at 12:00 and we arrived in Luang Prahbang at 13:20. I was granted a 30-day visa on arrival for $35. I then purchased a cab voucher for 50,000 KIPs and took a taxi to Nora Singh Guesthouse. After checking in I noticed that I was the wrong place, as the sign on the front door read “Sita - Nora Sing” at Chao Sisouphahn Rd, Ban Aham www.SitaNoraSingh.com. I decided to stay there. I then went for a walk in the beautiful streets of the town. The buildings were all charming, but every single one, beside the temples, was converted to a store, satisfying the tourists’ needs. I walked for a few hours. On the way back to hotel I could not find it and it seemed no one knew the place. After a long search I went to the original ‘Nora Singh” where the lady who seemed to be the owner knew the address of my hostel. She contacted my hostel and told them know I was lost. She then gave me the directions and the phone number of the place and this time I was able to locate the place.
I could hardly speak today with a congested throat.
‘14/12/05 Laos – Luang Prabang, Vientiane
12/06/2014 Saturday – Luang Prahbang
I walked around the town and enjoyed the beautiful scenes and architecture of the Wats and buildings with a French influenced designs and much wood. It is amazing how much warmth and character wood can give to any design. I am surprised that it not more widely utilized in modern settings.
I walked on Bamboo Bridge on Nam Khan River to the other side of the town where I had a leisurely pot of Lao tea at expansive Dyen Sabai Restaurant. I then returned to the town on the Old Bridge.
I visited Wat Visounnarth and the beautiful Wat Xienthong, where the young monks were playing an inspiring music inside a cage-like room. I entered the ground of Khoum Xieng Thong Guesthouse www.khoumxiengthong.com/ and I liked the calm and beautiful place with a lovely small fishpond. I took a room there for the next day. I walked for a few hours around the peaceful and chic area at this end of the town, where Nam Khan is branched out of Mekong River.
Today I had a good breakfast of French Baguette and homemade jam, though with packaged butter, and a pot of coffee at Cafe Bat Van Sene. I later noticed it was a LP recommended café. I also had a good lunch of pumpkin soup and Mekong River fish, both with much flavors, including lemongrass and coconut milk, at LP Café Toui. I saw the young Korean girl, whom I had taken for a native and had asked for the location of the restaurant. She had approached me earlier in the day to ask if I lad found the place - that is what happens in a small town.
For dinner I had a tasty barbecued fish (25,000 Kips - $1=8,050 kip), again with lemongrass at one of the sidewalk cafes off the main drag.
12/07/2014 Sunday – Luang Prabang
I had a good breakfast of French bread and a rich coffee. I then went back to my room, checked out and took a tuk tuk to my new room.
I sat outside to read. Immediately the sound of construction from a villa to my left and the banging from the Wat to right started. I used my headphone and it worked. Then the stubborn flies – I had read about them - started hovering about. I got rid of a few of them. By the late afternoon, the mosquitoes appeared also. I got up, walked to the Old Quarter, and did some walking there. When I returned to my room by 19:00, I could hear music and loud conversation from the Wat.
12/08/2014 Monday – Luang Prabang
Today was another lazy relaxing day. I walked around the town and visited a few small temples before visiting Phou Si/Chomsy Hill, which covers most of the old quarter.
I chatted with Sith, a 14-year curious student monk. He spoke decent English after studying it for 2 years. He has been living at temple for four years. Before that, in his village, where they speak only their tribal language, he did not even speak Lao language. His parents were not happy with his decision to join the temple since they had to pay for his robe and his almsgiving basket. He asked me many questions on many subjects.
I called Bahram in the evening to send me my ATM card he had received in the mail. The connection was bad and he could hardly hear me.
12/09/2014 Tuesday – Luang Prabang
I checked my email first thing in the morning. I had asked Bahram to drop me a note to confirm he had received my email when I emailed him my address last night. There was no email from him. I had to call his shop a half dozen times since he could not hear me. Finally, I managed a good connection and he confirmed that he had shipped my card. That was an unpleasant process.
I had a lazy day, aging just walking around the town. I had a good breakfast at French Le Banneton, and a very good lunch at Tamarind. I took a chance and had the stalls food at the night market. I hope I will be OK since I picked up mostly the cooked stuff.
It was another pleasant day to enjoy the charm, peace, and novelty of the city.
12/10/2014 Wednesday – Luang Prabang
Another day, another breakfast at Le Banneton, another lunch at Tamarind – a delicious stuffed lemongrass - and a dinner of Duck with OJ sauce at Café Tuie and a few rounds around the town and the temples. This routine is almost becoming an addiction.
I also had a very good massage at L'Hibiscus Spa for 60,000 Kips.
12/11/2014 Thursday – Luang Prabang
I finally tried the noodle soup at Xieng Thong Noodle Shop around the corner; it was OK. I then visited the National Museum. It had an elaborate main reception room, but most of other room were not too extravagant – possibly sign of a humble monarchy.
I ate again at Tamarind. By now, the staff was getting warmer. The Pakistani-Canadian female manager treated me with some dry bamboo shoots as snack and the headwaiter treated me with a free dessert.
I walked to the other side of the Nam Khan Bridge. When I asked for the direction for Wat vipssanaram form a biker, he turned a familiar face whom I could not remember – either from a travel agency or a restaurant. He offered me a ride and took me to Wat Paphonphao Vacnaram. I then found Wat Vipssana nearby. I took a walk back to town center to the night market.
I bought a grilled fish and sat to eat. A solo female traveler sat at my table. She was a geologist from Berkeley, CA. She had sneaked away from her Hindu group to eat some chicken. We talked about organic food. Then a Parisian man joined us. He had left home after retirement as he did not care much for Paris and had settled in Ko Samui, Thailand for the past four years. He was also a geologist who has been working in Iran one week a month for the past year. He was very impressed with the hospitality and friendliness of the Iranians. Then another young woman joined us. I asked whether she was American or Chinese. She said she was from Seattle of Thai background. She could speak some Thai with the French. It was interesting how the connections were made like the dots of a circle.
12/12/2014Friday – Luang Prabang
I had another enjoyable breakfast at Le Banneton and lunched at Coconut dinner at Tamarind. Otherwise, I did nothing, but just walking along the two rivers, and having a chat with a couple of monks at a wat. It is amazing how little can make a day.
I booked a flight to Vientiane for tomorrow (740,000 kip).
12/13/2014 Saturday – Luang Prabang-Vientiane
I woke up early and walked to Wat Sop next door to view the almsgiving ceremony of the people. There was a long row of seats and blankets with baskets of foods consisting of sticky rice, packages of cookies, candies and other stuff. The almsgivers were sitting politely and soon as the monks started marching in front of them with extended jars, the almsgivers would place the pieces in their jars while kneeling. There were many kids lined up on the curb with bags that initially I could not figure out what they were for. I then saw that the monks would pass on whatever food that they did not need to the kids. The givers were all Asians. It was an interesting spectacle.
I then stopped by at Le Banneton for my last breakfast. I young French man joined me at my table. We talked about the charm of Luang Prabang and the snobbishness of the French – we both agreed on that point. He recommended visiting Corsica and the Pyrenees in low season around March and April for their beauty and peacefulness.
Back at the hotel I paid my bill, took a tuk tuk (50k>30k kips) to airport. Upon boarding my plane at 13:05, I could not see row F where my seat was supposed to be. When I asked the flight attendant I found out I had boarded the Bangkok plane and at the gate they had let me in the plane without noticing the error. They had only checked that my name on the ticket matched the name in the passport. To get off, the passengers behind me had to get off as the aisle was too narrow for me to get out with them on my way. I then had to wait for the ½ delay for the ½ hr flight.
I checked in at Siry 1 in Vientiane, located in a quiet area, while close to everything. I then checked a few other hotels and they were all full. The friendly hyperactive attendant at a juice store told me that December is the high season in Vientiane.
I had a decent lunch at Café Lao, though service was awful. All four wait staff were hiding behind a counter busy with their phones.
12/14/2014 Sunday – Vientiane
I had breakfast at popular Western restaurant Joma who also had a few stores in Luang Prabang. I then took a walk in the park overlooking Mekong River, passed by the humongous unfitting – for a poor communist country - presidential palace where I had a chat with a native who lived in Australia. He said he hoped that someday soon there would be free elections in his country.
I then visited Hor Phra Keo Museum, in an elegant former temple and Putaxi. I had a long walk around the town and lunched at Istanbul where I had a chat with Egyptian Sharif Omar and a few of his friends. Sharif said he worked in Far East Asia for a few Iranian investors in UAE. He added the Iranian were the best businesspersons. I also had a chat with the owner and told him he would be better off cutting down his prices as prospective customers looked at the menu and walked away. He did not get my point of making money on the volume.
Later I had some wine at Makphet and a dinner at Japanese owned Yulala where a guest at Syri joined me for a long chat. She had horror stories l of her very long trip in China to Kashghar and Tibet – of price gouging and unhelpfulness of everyone she had encountered. Some of her stories seemed familiar. She is writing a book on Buddhism, criticizing it for the lack of progress for nuns. Buddha was weary of elevating women in the ranks - comparing them to plight of the plants. She said the Dali Lama is into Shaman dances and mentioned the existence of the caste and class within the temple and the sexual abuse by insertion between the thighs of the young monks by the elder monks.
She had managed the Mandela elections as the principal commissioner and had somehow made up 8 million votes from the unreported districts under the guidance from UN and the election committee.
12/15/2014 Monday – Vientiane
I had breakfast at Le Banneton – though I liked the one in Luang Prabang more. I then purchased a ticket to Yangon for the next day for $230 via Bangkok, on Bangkok Air. A couple of other quotes I obtained were around $320 on Thai Air.
I had a decent curry fish at Lao Kitchen, a few shakes at Fruit heaven where the lively attendant greeted me warmly – after I had left her a small tip a couple of days earlier.
I visited the city’s museum; it had beautiful grounds and inside there was a large collection of everything from fossils to arms, pottery, handcrafts and much propaganda materials on French colonial forces and the aggressor USA.
I had a long walk to Wat Luang – the most important in Lao. The perimeter walls were impressive but otherwise I liked Lunag Prabang’s temple more for their elegance.
There was a large night market next to the temple with many food vendors.
Back at the hostel, at the front desk a young man was swearing that he had paid for one night but he did not have a receipt to prove it.
The city was peaceful; due to lack of buses and trucks, the noise level was low. It was relatively clean, organized and with decent traffic.
‘14/12/16 Myanmar – Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay
12/16/2014 Tuesday – Vientiane, Laos-Yangon
I walked to Scandinavian Bakery for breakfast as I had seen a few branches of it in this city and in Lunang Prabang. Le Banneton was of higher quality – the coffee, the bread and the ambiance. This one was out of napkins.
I then walked back to my room, packed, and paid my bill (130,000 Kips/day).
I took a tuk tuk to the airport (40,000 kips) and got my boarding passes for both flights to Bangkok and Yangon. The attendant asked for my onward ticket from Yangon but I told here that I had been told I did not need one.
We took off on time, at 11:40, for the one-hour flight to Bangkok. A decent meal and drinks, including wine, were served. In Bangkok, I sat in a lounge area to wait for my 17:50 connecting flight to Yangon. Across from me, a Thai girl kept taking many selfies, and asked me to help with a couple. After she left, an African family, two women and three kids took the seats across from me. They were an active group. Once they all left and only a 10-year old girl was left behind who after a while walked away with half dozen bags but after a few minutes they all returned. Then the mother and two kids left and the youngest kid and the other woman were left behind. The kid asked for her mom but she got repeated beatings and throwings. She kept crying for ten minutes. I left the place and took the escalator downstairs to my gate but I still could hear the crying of the child.
We had a short delay, but had a pleasant one-hour flight to Yangon, again, with a decent meal.
Upon arrival in Yangon I was surprised seeing the relatively decent airport.
At immigration, there were half dozen desks, all staffed by women, and as the plane was only half-full, the lines were manageable – though I was the first person on line. The officer was courteous and returned to me two pictures that I thought they needed.
I took a taxi outside, though I could not bargain the 8,000 Kyats fare that I was also quoted inside the airport. The taxis were mostly new and the road was fine, with three lanes for most of the 40-minutes trip. We passed by an elegant BMW showroom. There were a good number of parks, and some illuminations – for the Holidays.
I checked in at my Hostel, Agga, ($27/day - $1=1,033 Kyats) and then went for a walk around the lively neighborhood. Many streets were occupied by the sidewalk cafes – most were busy with diners - though unlike Kuala Lumpur, the sidewalks were wider and more navigable.
12/17/2014 Tuesday – Yangon
I had an uninspiring breakfast in the hotel and walked on Pyay Road towards Shwedagon Paya Temple. I passed by the embassy row, with some charming embassies and pleasant quiet side roads.
At well-manicured People’s Park, both elegant entrances were shut. I could get in via the entrance of a large Chinese restaurant - the only one open on the grounds of the park; the donation to the park commissioner should have been generous.
I visited Shwedagon Paya Temple, one of the most sacred Buddhist sites. It was very lively, with many pilgrims and monks. It felt like holy grounds.
I then looked for Aung Thunk restaurant but I gave up finding it as the streets had no signs so I took a taxi to it. As LP had mentioned it was like eating at a family gathering. I had a few dishes and the bill came to $3.50.
I then walked to the Kandawgyi Lake or Royal Lake, a huge park with a beautiful large lake with wooden bridges throughout.
I sat for a beer at a lake view restaurant at the end of the park. Two young men, one with a guitar, were sitting next to me. They invited me to their table. The one with the guitar, Constantine, said he did not play guitar and was waiting for his brother who is a professional player. He was a 21- year man who had dropped out of college after one year of studying English. To live with his school sweetheart he had to marry her. He starts his day with a joint. He spends most of his days drinking. He is unemployed – so is his wife. He had to sell a piece a gold necklace to buy the $35 Johnny Walker Black Label that he was drinking. They know him at the restaurant therefore he does not pay service charge. He said he enjoys the rainy season as much as other times as he can sleep a lot.
He got up to go to toilet at one point but as there was none on the grounds of the restaurant he needed to walk to another site. He returned to the table, picked up an empty large bottle of water, walked to a corner chair, relieved himself, returned to the table and threw the bottle in the lake.
12/18/2014 Wednesday – Yangon
I bought an airline ticket to Mandalay for the next day from the travel agency around the corner for $56.
I visited the following sites:
· The General Hospital – A grand colonial building, and very busy as it seems to be the largest medical establishment in town
· The Scott Market, a large indoor market with all kinds of vendors, including clothes and precious stones. I met a man who said his Turkish grandparents had immigrated here during WWII. He took me to the shop of his son, Joshua who He sells rubies and jades. He is working with a Japanese company to open a booth in Tehran.
· Sule Pagoda – a popular pilgrimage site
· A charming postal distribution center
· The Armenian Church – it had a very interesting history. The original Armenian influx was from New Jolfa, Tehran in early 1700’s. They established a great trade network along the Silk Road that Shah Abbas and the British Tea Company tried to take over. While I was walking around, the caretaker, Ashoud, approached me and introduced himself. He lives in Singapore. He took over the church from an Indian crook and he has been cleaning up the grounds for the past few months – to his credit, the church looked beautiful. The young guards were very attentive. A few women were weaving the worn-out benches. He was a very dedicated man. I also met Eileen of Niece. Ashoud invited us both to lunch at Shangri-La where we had a very good lunch.
· I spent much time at the jetty by Botataung Pagoda, where people of all ages, kids, teenagers, adults and the elderly stopped by to feed the seagulls. I hung around until the beautiful sunset.
12/19/2014 Thursday – Yangon
Ashoud had invited me to breakfast at his hotel at 09:00. When I arrived there, he was not there and after waiting for ten minutes, I entered the restaurant. As soon as I sat down, he arrived and apologized for being late. He had lost track of the time at the gym. He talked about his faith and the fact that before 1991, the possession of the bible in Armenia was a crime with a 20-year jail sentence or even worse – and the fact that practically he was an atheist before that date. When I told him I was single, he brought up the suitability of a missionary position for a single man – though later when we were driving in his car to his church and I told him that I lived in USA, he did not seem too happy about it. I assumed that they have enough missionaries in States.
After some walking around I went back to my hotel, packed and took a taxi to the airport. The city looked beautiful in daytime – as I had observed on the way from the airport to the city upon my arrival at night. There were lots of green spaces, many decent areas and buildings and good roads. This should be the one of the most beautiful cities in a third world dictatorship.
By the time I got to the airport, I was a bit late and I could not board my 13:25 plane to Mandalay. I returned to the city and checked in at Three Season Hotel – in a more quiet area near 52nd street. I called the hotel in Mandalay that I had called earlier to make a reservation to tell them to cancel my reservation. I then went for a long walk around the new neighborhood.
I passed by a moneychanger who had posted the buy and sell prices of USD at 1032 and 1033 Kyats. This was even less than the 2 kyats margin I had seen earlier at another moneychanger. Now, here was a moneychanger that even Jesus would have been proud of.
12/20/2014 Saturday – Yangon-Bagan
I walked to an agency in nearby street a ticket to Bagan. The friendly and lively female attendant, after taking a look at his monitor and promptly giving up using it, got on the phone and talked to the party on the other side for 15 minutes. She then asked for my passport and $120. I left my passport there and she asked me to return in an hour to pick up my ticket. I went for a walk, had a delicious briyani, picked up my ticket, checked out of the hotel at 12:00 and took a cab to the airport. This time, again, the driver did not know that for local flights he had to stop at domestic terminal.
At the check-in counter, for the first time during this trip, I did not manage to carry on my larger backpack. The clerk said it would not fit, and she was correct. Even though the plane was an average size, the overhead cabins were too small.
We had a ½-hour delay. There was a woman with her mother and a few kids – one of them a very charming and playful 3-year old girl. At one time as she was playing with the boarding passes the mother was holding; suddenly the mother slapped her three times and the girl held back crying. One the fourth beating she cried for a short time, then, sat silently next to her mom. After a few minutes when I looked back, she was asleep in the mother’s arms.
The service on the flight was good. They served an egg sandwich and soft drinks. We had a 15-minute stop in Hohe and arrived in Bagan at 17:00. After checking in at New Hyde Hotel ($35), I went for a walk in the dust-filled streets of the small town.
12/21/2014 Sunday – Bagan
I rented an E-Bike for $7. I visited many temples and pagodas. What have remained were mostly in decent shape. It seemed the builders had mastered the art of brick making and brickworks. The bricks were made in Mandalay, where the soil is more suitable and then they were shipped here.
I had a very decent meal at ‘Do not Kill the Animal, Moon’ for $3.50. It was a very relaxing and inviting atmosphere.
12/22/2014 Monday – Bagan
I rode the same E-bike to the temples and pagodas. I climbed Bulede Pagoda for some great views of the surroundings, then rode around the area and visited many temples and pagodas – I was the only person on site at most of them, though some were crowded with native pilgrims for the festival.
I walked to an LP restaurant, Indian Aroma, with the motto of “No Like, No Pay.” The place was packed, there was a shortage of wait-people and it seemed everybody was waiting. Even the Indian owner could not move fast enough to serve the customers. A Swede couple at next table said they had been waiting for an hour. I was about to pay for my juice and leave but somehow my order arrived before long. The meal was just K.
12/23/2014 Tuesday – Bagan-Mandalay
I was picked up by the Mandalay van at 09:00. The trip was pleasant; a drama was playing on the monitor, a man with two lovers, one evil and the other innocent …one car accident, a fight scene, and finally the evil woman commits suicide and the two lovers have a happy ending. The roads were decent, except at one point where a bridge was under repair and we had to cross a shallow river.
We stopped by lunch at a restaurant; I was hesitant to eat but ended up having a decent five-course meal for 1000 Kyats – about $0.95.
We arrived in Mandalay at 13:30 and the driver dropped me at my hotel, Nylon. I got a quiet windowless room, and then walked towards Mandalay Hill. The fort/moat was a few blocks away from my hostel and the two sides of the large square moat was a ½-hour walk each. I then took a motorbike to the top of the hill to view the hazy sunset. I asked the driver to drop me at LP’s Green Elephant Restaurant where I had a very decent meal – a four course for about $25. The arrival of each party was announced by a drum.
I then took a taxi to “Mustache Brothers” show, a show that has been running off and on since 1992, first on street, and then after a few imprisonments of the performers, at the home of the last surviving member, Par Par Lay, only for the foreigners. His brother passed away a couple of years ago, due to lead poisoning while in jail. Aung Sun Suu Kyi had attended the performance in 2000. The show was a soft satirical. In one instance, he addressed two Thai spectators and told them he went to Thailand for some dental work. The dentists asked him were there no dentists in Burma. He responded that there were dentists, but he could not open his mouth there.
12/24/2014 Wednesday – Mandalay-Kuala Lumpur via Bangkok
I tried to book a flight out of the country, as I needed to access a website for end of the year tax planning but did not succeed and therefore had to go to another country. I finally purchased a Mandalay-Bangkok-Kuala Lumpur ticket for $207. I then visited the Royal Palace – a huge site that took me bout ½ hour to walk each side of it the day before. Only one of the four entrances was open to visitors and therefore I had to take a motorbike to ride to the open entrance. I purchased an overpriced ticket for $10 – it was good for a few other sites – and rented a bike to visit the large number of the reproduced wooden buildings of the palace. I then took a motorbike to Lashio restaurant where I had a tasty meal for $4.50.
I then took another motorbike to Maha Myat Muni Pagoda, where I had to borrow a longi to get in as I was wearing short pants. The temple was very lively and grand with a huge gold statute of Buddha where the pilgrims would purchase gold leaves and rub it on its surface. The women were off the limits and they, including female monks, had to hand over their gold leaves to the male visitors to rub them on the statute.
I then visited the less impressive Shwe Nyaung Pyin Lay next door. I took another motorbike to the beautiful Shwe Bin Monastery – where a few wooden temples covered the peaceful grounds. In one hall, among the teak columns, I sat down for some meditation. I then walked on one of the side streets and entered an area that was filled with monks and monasteries. It was a very lively place with cooking stalls on the sidewalks and loud hymns playing from loudspeakers. I even stumbled into a mosque. When I entered, a young man with very dark hair and eyebrows rushed to me to inquire about my faith. He said there were about 100,000 Muslims living in Mandalay and there were about 100 mosques.
I then walked along 84 St. and 40 St., into some slums where people were preparing their dinners on open fires in front of their shacks. They were all very friendly, welcoming and looked happy – with the biggest smiles on their faces.
I walked for a long time to the Palace, near my hotel. The streets were lively, with many vans filled to the roof with passengers and their drivers still calling for more riders at each intersection.
I took another motorbike to “Do Not Kill the Animals Restaurant” where the female attendant told me they were closed and suggested the Thai Restaurant, Rainforest, across the street. It was a huge antique shop. The seats on the roof were all taken and I took a seat on the first floor where I had a chicken curry. I then walked to my hotel through the dark streets – where there were no traffic lights - like most of the rest of the town that I had walked about within the past couple of nights.
12/25/2014 Thursday – Mandalay-Kuala Lumpur
The cute ever-smiling hostel’s kid helper served my breakfast and offered me extra toast. I boarded the taxi that I had reserved the day before at 10:00 for the one-hour ride to the airport. We stopped at a gas station where half a dozen teenagers greeted and directed us to the isle. The driver purchased a couple of bottles of water, offered me one and wished me a Merry Christmas. Halfway through the trip the decent road to the airport started. There was a beautiful boulevard in the middle filled with plants covered in beautiful red flowers. Yet, there were installing cement dividers – covering the plants. It was hard to figure out if the work was granted to a contractor with connections or just they had too much unused cement on their hands.
We arrived at the airport at 11:00. I checked in quickly and went through immigration. I purchased a $3 coffee at a coffee shop to use the WIFI but it was a bad WIFI day and could not succeed. We took off on time and arrived within 2 ½ hours to the frenzy Bangkok airport where I waited for my 17:45 flight to Kuala Lumpur.
The flight had a short delay but we arrived in KL on time at about 21:00. In the plane’s magazine, I saw an article about the town of Melaka, about 150km away from KL. I looked it up in LP; it was described as a town with a notch stress level over a tropical beach town. I decided to pay a visit.
In KL, I took the express train that was already at the station to KL Central. I purchased a budget taxi ticket for 10RM, vs. the blue taxi costing 25RM, to my hostel, Step Inn, on Jalan Pudu. It was raining hard, and it was muggy – the only time I really felt mugginess in a long while. I shared the taxi with a Brazilian who had just arrived after a very long flight.
12/26/2014 Friday – Kuala Lumpur
I woke up rather late in the morning. I went for lunch at Arabesque , an Arab Restaurant. The Hummus and Motabel (Baba Ghanouch) were OK but the wait was long and the service slow. The place was in Chinatown, hiding behind the street stalls.
The city was noisy and messy – unlike Mandalay where it was easier to wonder around in more quiet areas. I entered Jalan Pudu Lorong, a quite side street with some green on one side, but there was too much garbage all around and it stunk.
I found another quiet road but there was a major construction going on there, with the tallest cranes I had ever seen. Finally, I got to the quiet area around the domed stadium and the Victoria Institute – with a very well kept ground and some colonial buildings, though the couple of classrooms that I got in looked dismal.
I passed a police station. There was a big sign of Allah and Mohammad on one wall – and then a few steps ahead a big diversity post with the pictures of an Indian, a Moslem, and a Malay kid hand in hand. Hopefully, when the non-Moslem kids grow up, they would not mind that only Islam is being displayed at their police station.
I finally came across the mosque with beautiful blue dome that I had observed a few times while riding the tramway. Though the courtyard and interior were not as impressive.
12/27/2014 Saturday – Kuala Lumpur-Melaka
I walked to the building that looked like the transit (tramway) system. I asked a guard for the ATMs. He walked me to them. I then showed him the transit map and asked how to get to Bender Teksim. He walked me to the end of hall and pointed to a bus. He then mentioned that he had not his morning drink yet and asked for a tip. I ignored him. I walked out and then showed the transit map to another guard and asked how to get to my destination and he also pointed to the same waiting bus. I boarded the bus, paid the fare and waited for 15 minutes, during which time only a few people boarded the bus. I asked the driver how much longer before he departed and he responded he would depart in ten minutes. I showed him the transit map and asked if I could take the tram to my destination and he directed me to the path behind the building I had just existed. I took the tram to TBS. there were about twenty people waiting in front of each of the eight windows. I waited for about 15 minutes during which time only a couple of people were served. I ended up using the ticket machines and purchased a ticket for 10RM for the two-hour bus ride to Maleka. In Melaka, I took bus 17 to town center. It took more that 75 minutes to get there. The streets were packed with cars – at traffic lights the streets looked like a parking with the long lines of cars – the traffic was miserable. I had second thoughts about making this trip. I checked in at River View Guesthouse, a quiet place on the river with no shoes inside policy. At night, after the rain ended I went for dinner and then a walk along the river - the crowds had thinned by this time. I talked to one of the attendants at the hotel, a young Nepali who had been working there four seven months. He had immigrated with the help of a Chinese placement agency. He had to pay his travel expenses if he ever wanted to break his contract before three years of work.
I went online and was able to purchase a one-way ticket back to USA on China Eastern Airlines for $680 – though the reviews of the airline did not look promising.
12/28/2014 Saturday – Melaka–New York via Shanghai
I woke up at 06:30 and went to the balcony. The skies looked beautiful. I went back to the bed but got out at 07:00 and went for a walk before the crowds hit the streets. I then went back to the hotel to relax on the balcony. The owner of the hotel, a young Chinese, stopped by and handed me one night of room charge. I had made a reservation for three nights but I was leaving on the second day – though late in the day. He said since I had given more than 24-hour notice he could relist the room on the web. He also said I could buy a bus ticket direct to the airport rather than going to KL first.
I went to Discovery, the shop he had mentioned. My flight was at 02:00 the following day. I tried to get a ticket after 20:00 but the only ticket he could get me was at 18:00. That was too early for me. I went to a few other places to find out if there was another ticket agent without luck. I stopped by at the Tourist office and checked the website of the bus company but they did not accept international credit cards – only domestic ones were displayed within the purchase options. Back at Discovery Shop, I paid RM31 for a ticket and RM20 for a taxi ride at 17:00. I then went for a lunch where I had a chat with an old retired teacher about bad politics in Malaysia and religion. I was picked up at 17:00. It took us 25 minutes to ride a few streets and two traffic lights but after that within a few minutes we arrived at the bus station. The bus departed at 18:00. It was freezing inside. I tried to close the A/C shafts but one of them was broken. I stuffed it with a large tissue but the cold air started blowing from the speaker holes. I tried half a dozen other empty seats and the A/C cover was broken in all of them. I am not sure if people had broken them while they were struggling to open them wider than possible or shutting them completely.
I damned myself for not carrying a second layer of top – after catching a very bad cold in Hanoi-Halong Bay van. We got into a very heavy traffic shortly and the bus was moving at a very slow pace. After 2 ½ hours suddenly the traffic cleared and within ½ hour, at 21:00, we arrived at the airport. I checked at the Shanghai ticket windows. I was told they will open at 23:20, i.e. 2 ½ hours prior to the departure.
The Shanghai flight was on time, in an almost brand new plane with enough legroom – though I had asked for an emergency exit row. we had a five hour lay over in Shanghai. Half way through, I took a nap on the seats and woke up just in time to board China Eastern flight to JFK. This plane also was only three months old with enough legroom and on-time departure. They served two meals and one small breakfast. The bathrooms were clean – the flight attendants would clean them very frequently. At JFK, I took the airtrain to Jamaica station and then the subway to Penn Station. I arrived home about 17:00PM, after being in transit for 36 hours.
‘14/12/25 Ecuador – Otavalo, Cotacachi, Ibarra, Banos, Puyo, Vilcabamba, Cuenca
02/05/2015 Thursday – NJ-Otavalo
I am flying to Quito today. I had purchased my Delta airline ticket on eDreams for about $610 just two days ago.
Terry’s Taxi driver picked me up at 11:45 for a 45 minutes ride to Newark airport. Delta terminal was a very quiet and I was at the gate within 15 minutes for my New York-Atlanta-Quito 14:15-22:55 flight. On the second leg of the flight, I sat next to Byron, a young Ecuadorian who had immigrated to USA with his mother some ten years ago.
At Quito airport, I had to wait for a few minutes before my female driver showed up for the 1 ½ hrs ($60) ride to my hotel, Riveria Sure in Otavalo. I had asked the hotel to arrange the ride. She did not drive faster than 60km on the highway. I took a nap for part of the trip.
02/06/2015 Friday – Otavalo
After a decent breakfast in the charming courtyard of the hotel, I walked to the Central Plaza where the children were marching with their parents for the Foam Spraying Festival. I walked around the town, visited the Plaza de Ponchos, hiked the hills around the town. I visited the fancy only-touristic train station. They had a full day ride to Salinas with a few stops in between for $50. I may try the ride. I lunched at the popular Mi Otavalito and had a decent corvina for dinner, with a long wait, at Quino, a seafood restaurant. I had to try four ATMs before I was able to withdraw some cash with the assistance of a guard.
Overall the city was pleasant to walk around, could get a bit cool, too cool at times, compared to Vilcabamba.
02/07/2015 Saturday – Otavalo
Today was the famous Saturday Market Day. The whole length of the Sucre Street and some of the side streets were filled with vendors selling everything – though most carried weaved crafts. It was somewhat similar to the night market in Luang Prabang. I walked across the bridge to the end of Colon Street to the lively Animal Market. Many animals, cows, pigs, sheep, goats and birds were on sale. The action was very lively.
I then walked to the train station on the other side of the town and took a taxi to El Lechero (the magic tree), on the way to Candor Park. The surrounding views of the mountains and green fields were beautiful. San Miguele Lake was visible. I then had an enjoyable walk down to the city. It felt like the 4km mentioned in LP but somehow the trip in taxi had seemed longer.
At the fruit market next to the church, I filled two shopping bags with fruits for $6 and back at my hotel I made a delicious guacamole.
02/08/2015 Sunday – Cotacachi, Day trip
Faith of Ashville, North Carolina joined me at breakfast. I had met her party at a seafood restaurant two nights ago. She said she could not sleep the night before because of the noise from the street – Saturday night is a major party night in Latin America. She was also down to her last $30 and she had been unable to withdraw cash from the only ATM she had tried. I assured her that was normal and she had to try a few of them before giving up. I loaned her some money until she could use her ATM card. We took a taxi to bus station after breakfast and took a 30-minute bus ride to Cotacachi. The sun had come up by this time and the weather was very pleasant. It was a small town and one could walk around it in 30 minutes. There were a few charming buildings, including a converted seminary turned into a restaurant where we stopped by for a lukewarm coffee. The hills around the town were gorgeous. Faith wanted to return so we took the bus back to Otavalo. I made a guacamole and shared it with Faith and a new guest from Belgium. She had been to Vilcabamba and had had twelve Ayahuasca sessions with Ramon, the shaman. I then went for a walk on the road with cemetery leading to the heels. The rain started by this time and by the time I made it back to the hotel it was pouring. I put on my poncho and went for a walk but the rain was too heavy and I came back to my hotel, did a few emails and went for dinner with Faith. We found a decent pizza shop packed with natives where we had a decent inexpensive pizza.
02/09/2015 Monday – Ibarra, Day trip
I took the bus for a 45-minute ($0.40) ride to Ibarra and then took a $1 taxi ride to Parque Pedro Moncayo where a few beautiful churches and also the City Hall and Clock Tower were located. I walked to Plaza la Merced where a few other beautiful buildings are located and continues around the beautiful town before having a simple lunch at the charming Intretenedores Restaurant ($3.25). I had a couple of ice creams at the landmark Rosalia Suarez Ice Cream Shop, served by the daughter of the founder and then visited the tourist-only train station and the Amazonia Mercado. I took the city bus to the suburbs of the town in the hills and the same bus, after a loop, returned to the city where I took the bus back to Otavalo. I liked the city – it looked like a small scale Cuenca, though I did not see any foreign tourists.
02/10/2015 Tuesday – Otavalo-Banos
I woke up early and walked to ATMs to get some cash. The guard who had helped Faith and me in the past was not there and I tried more than ten times to get past the first step but the machines kept canceling the transaction. I waited for a couple to finish their transaction but they had the same problem as I did.
I met Faith at breakfast table. She said she had tried all the banks in the town in the company of a man from the tourist office to no avail and finally had succeeded to get some cash at Western Union sent by her husband. She paid me back for the loan I had made to her. She was going to Tena today for an Amazon tour.
I made it to Ibarra just one time for the 09:30-15:30 Ibarra-Ambato bus. I went to Ceta ticket office that I had checked out the day before to purchase a ticket but they said I should purchase the ticket on the bus. A man came to lk me to the bus after some waiting and phone calls by the attendant. I deposited a 10-cent coin in the toll machine for the entry fee but the turnstile did not turn and the guard said I needed to deposit a 5-cent coin. I raised my voice in complain and they let me in from another gate. We arrived in Pifo, a town 10 minutes past Quito airport exit at 12:00 where we waited for about ½ hour. Once in Ambato I when to Banos Ticket office where they directed me to another window. They turned out to be selling 25-cent tickets for the entry fee. The $1.50 bus fare was collected in the bus again. After a 1 ½-hour trip we arrived in Banos – just as I was feeling some motion sickness.
The city was lively with many shops catering to the tourists.
02/11/2015 Wednesday – Banos
At breakfast table, as I was looking at a table with a two Asian couples trying to figure out their nationality, I crossed eyes of man sitting an another table. He stared back at me. A second time, while I was smiling at the waitress, I had an eye contact with him. By this time I was sure he though I was gay. The third time I looked at his direction I saw his male companion spoon-feeding him.
I went for hike to Bellavista and continued on the road to La Casa De Arbol. The views of the mountains and the patches of clouds were exhilarating. I hitchhiked a car driven by a town employee who did not accept my fare.
I stopped at Il Pappagallo Restaurant run by Patricio. It was empty again, as it was last night – when I had walked away after the chef came to the door, but today the waitress was too fast for me to walk away from her. The food was OK.
I took a cab to El Salido Hot Springs, located a bit past the other end of Martinez St. I purchased a ticket for $3.50 and they asked me to get a shower cap. I bought one for $1.50 rather than renting one for $0.30. It was an organized place. I put my belongings in a soft drink box and they stored it for me and gave me a number to be worn on wrist. There were four hot spring pools of varying temperatures and two cold-water pools. I used the hottest pool for most of the time. I met a few visitors, Mark and Irina, a Polish couple living in Canada. Mark was concerned about NASA messing with the air of Ecuador and Canada by infusing Aluminum Oxide into it for some experimentation. He was not too convincing when I asked him how Canadian government would allow that. He asked me to check out http://www.geoengineeringwatch.org/ and spread the word.
I also met Steve Harrington, a very friendly man, a Yul Brynner look-alike, from Montana, and another woman, a physician who said he had just been to Riyadh for training at a hospital complex, five of them for men and one for the female. She had to be escorted by a male companion inside the complex and could not go to the streets.
02/12/2015 Thursday – Puyo, Day trip
I went to the cafeteria to get something from the fridge. The gay man whom I had locked eyes with was there with his partner and couple of times that I looked at him he was staring at me.
I stopped by at the reception to extend my stay for couple of more days but the receptionist, the pretty daughter of the owner, said she had the room available only for one day.
I went to LP Good Restaurant for breakfast. They had a sign listing “Ground Coffee” but as the guy was preparing the coffee I asked him if it was Nescafe to which he answered positive.
I stopped at charming “Le petit Restaurant/Hostal” that I had stopped by the day before and the owner with a paralyzed boy had shown me a beautiful room for $20. Today the female attendant told me that there were all sold out for the festival. I stopped by another hostal were the attendant told me all hotels would be full for the national carnival.
I then stopped by LP’s Posada Del Arte where the owner who was cooking in the kitchen, told me she had a room only for the next day. I paid for it. As I was leaving, I met the female physician I had met at the hot spring the day before. She and her partner, Mark, were staying there and liked the place.
Back at my room, I checked my email. Bernie of CMV in Vilcabamba had responded to my previous night inquiry and notified me he had room #3 available from the 14th.
I then asked someone for the directions to the bus terminal for Puyo and he said it was too far and I should take a cab; on the way back I walked the same distance within ten minutes.
The 1 ½ hrs, $2.50, bus ride to Puyo was pleasant. We drove on the Amazonia Road, along the Negro River, running on a cliff, at times narrow and very deep and at other spots, the width could be a few miles. Halfway through the ride, the rain started and my closed windows started leaking.
When I got off in Puyu it was raining very hard. I had a chat with a young guy from Buenos Aires who was making bicycles with wires and putting them on his cloth spread before him for sale. He said he had biked all the way from home but he had hurt his knee and was staying in Puyo for sometime. He said he had visited the ‘passeo turistico” which he had liked very much. I took a taxi and asked him to go to ‘passeo”. He drove for a short distance and stopped at a place where the buses for Banos and Riobamba on the opposite direction were passing. I told him that was not the place that I wanted to go to. Only then he said that I should have asked for “passeo turistico”. He then drove there. There was a very well maintained path along the “Puyo Rio” with many plants and flowers all around. I walked to the end of the path where University Estalal is located and then returned. On the way to the bus terminal I saw a “for sale” sign for a 50H-$100K lot at a hostal. I asked the hotel owner who called his brother, Victor, to come to meet me. Victor showed up quickly and we drove to the lot. It was a vey steep terrain and muddy and therefore we were unable to walk around.
I then took a bus back to Banos. I checked the direct Banos-Riobamba bus. It would be a 6-hr bus ride. That plus the 7-hr Cuenca bus ride, 3hr Loja and 1-hr Vilcabamba would have been too much for a one-day trip. I tried to find a travel agency for a flight from Latacunga (2 hrs away) to Cuenca. The agency was closed. When I checked online, there were no tickets available for the 14th. I therefore possibly have to stay overnight in Riobamba.
I stopped at LP Posada Del Arte for dinner but the young man there told me that they only served breakfast and recommended ‘Quilobamba” when I told him they had a lock on their door the other night, he said he had seen the owner the same day. I walked there and they were open. The waitress/owner told me that there were closed on Mondays & Tuesdays – hence the lock door I had seen a couple of nights ago. The tapas –sweetened zucchini and peppers on crackers were delicious, as was the house wine. The grilled meat was also plentiful and satisfying.
A band of Andes musicians walked in and performed a few songs. The only female player/singer had a long hair, reaching below her knees. When I asked if they were Peruvians, she responded that she was Ecuadorian and a few members from Los Angeles.
Later on a very beautiful white and yellow dog came to the entrance and sat down waiting for handouts. I called on him to come closer so that I could give him the bones on my plates but the waitress stopped me and took away my plate. The dog sat there with the most begging look, drooping sad eyes and crossed front legs. No one gave him anything. At this time a woman came up the stairs of the restaurant and disappeared to one side; the dog followed her. I took my wine glass and went out to find out where they went. There were some steps leading to the top floor that I took. When I got there the dog barked and chased me away. I walked back to the balcony of the restaurant to finish my wine and enjoy the garden. I saw a sign posted on the restaurant entrance, reading ‘Entry of Israelis who do not believe in coexistence with the Palestinians is forbidden.” Now that was a real “Freedom of Speech.”
I paid my bill ($20) and walked to the waitress to thank her for the meal. She pointed the chef to me. I greeted him and praised him for his belief.
02/13/2015 Friday – Banos
I tried my ATM at a bank that failed and the guard directed me to Austro bank. The ATM was also temporarily out of service. I tried again successfully later on. As Chimenea hostel had no rooms available for the Carnival weekend I paid my bill and moved to my new place, Hostal the Arte which I had reserved prior day. I then went for a very pleasant 12:30-14:40 hike to Case De Arbol, lunched there and bused it back to town. At my hostal, I met the group I had met at the hot spa, Mark, a Polish Canadian and Irina, his very friendly wife, Steve Harrington of Montana, and John of British Colombia, both part-time residents of Mexico.
02/14/2015 Saturday – Banos-Riobamba-Cuenca-Loja-Vilcabamba
Lui, the owner at Hostel the Arte gave us a ride to the bus station where we took the 08:55-09:55 bus to Riobamba. The 10:00 Cuenca bus was full. We purchased tickets for the 11:30 bus. The bus arrived from Quito at 12:00 due to the Carnival traffic. I had seat number one. By the time I put my backpack in the storage and boarded the bus Steve was seating in my window seat, seat #1. He asked me if I had seat #1 and added that that he had seat #2.
We arrived in Cuenca at 18:30. I took bus 19:10-23:40 bus to Loja and a 40-minute taxi ($18) to Vilcabamba. CMV’s door was locked. I did not have Bernie’s phone number at CMV; I therefore called FIntan of Britain whom I had met last time I was in town to get Bernie’s phone number but he was not home to get to his laptop. I took a taxi, and the driver, Olivo, tried all the hostels in town until I could find a room at Mandango, behind the bus station. I had an email from Bernie saying that he would leave the keys on door of room #5.
02/15/2015 Sunday – Vilcabamba
I left Mandango hostel for CMV before going to the Sunday Market to do my shopping for the week. I then attended the meditation session run by a monk, a direct descendant from Buddha, with some unacceptable statements about the possibility of long periods of hunger and all that.
I then walked to the plaza. The Carnival was in full swing – with a band, dances, water splashing and foam spraying, and beer drinking.
02/17/2015 Tuesday – Vilcabamba
With Connie Geffen, Maria and Ted walked to Connie’s property (1 acre - $55k). It was on a steep slope with much work to be done for preparation of the plot. Someone had given her an estimate of $1000 for the backhoe work. They normally charge $250-300/day. I thought the estimate was too low, but Connie should know better as an architect. She is also budgeting $75k for a large house with many features as she showed us in the blueprint.
Ted of Vermont was kind to sacrifice and jump in front of all the buckets of water being splashed at us on this last day of Carnival before the Ash Wednesday.
02/18/2015 Wednesday – Vilcabamba
At breakfast table, Maria, a medical assistance, and Connie, a Phd RE financier/architect both claimed that they would rather die rather than using new medical care. Robert, another guest visitor, joined our table and he talked about supernatural energies all around us.
I had a chat with Christine, the new guest from Sweden, with the bluest eyes I have ever seen. She is a shaman healer practicing in Peru for six months. Bernie noticed that her shiny blue eyes were the result of too many Ayahuasca sessions.
I attended morning meditation session led by Bernie, and the evening session led by the monk. In the evening, after the second phone went off I left the session. I walked to the new Ahura Mazda that William, a gringo, had told me about the day before. I met Daniel Alvarez of Loja https://www.facebook.com/daniel.alvarez.77377692?fref=ufi 593 7-264-0080, a 37-year old Ecuadorian. He had spent about a year in Iran and had fallen in love with the country. Cyrus was his new prophet that he would pray to. We sat in his beautiful backyard and chatted. I invited him to dinner at Yoghurt Factory. He said he did not have any money and was greatly appreciative.
02/19/2015 Thursday – Vilcabamba
I stopped at the tourist office to pick up a map for direction to cascada. I walked from 08:20-12:20 to get there. I took the trail at the end of the road, staying to the left of the river. The views were beautiful but, this time similar to last time, I did not have my camera with me. Initially I passed the two almost continuous waterfalls while staying on a hill across from them. I met a young man coming down from his finca who directed me back to the waterfall, but again I could not locate them. I walked to the river, had lunched, ad then walked back to the town. On the way I stopped by Luis Amable Narvaez OCamp’s cabins (09 5982 2035 - Yamburara Alto, by the Iglasia Pequeno, 30 min. walk to plaza) where I met Caroline DOn, one of the tenants ($200 rent), and Ron, a Richard Gere look-alike and Susan of California who were visiting Caroline. I arrived at CMV at 17:30.
02/20/2015 Friday – Vilcabamba- Luis Narvaes’ cabin
I went to Luis’ cabins. He was there and I told him I wanted to try his place for two days before making a commitment. I offered him $15/day and he said $10 would do. I sat on the porch to view he beautiful views of the hills and Mandango before going back to CMV to get some of my stuff and return.
02/21/2015 Saturday – Vilcabamba
I had a delicious omelet in the porch while watching a hummingbird, a couple of birds similar to canaries and the bees jumping from one flower to another. I studied Spanish for a while and then walked to the town. A truck driver stopped for me and I jumped in his cargo section. A few teenagers were lying down on mattresses and the parents were sitting there. I got off in Yamburara and after some walking ended up at Yasu’s restaurant. I stopped at Ahura Mazda for lunch, as I had asked Daniel to reserve a seat for me. A young man, Quandriz of Buenos Aires, was seeing off his wife and child. He told me they would be open for dinner only and then showed me around the garden. He is a sound technician, living at the place. I did some small shopping and returned to the cabin.
In the backyard, as I was trying to cut off a banana from a branch, its stem broke off broke off and its syrup splashed on my eyeglass lenses. It took me a while to clean the lenses.
For most of the day, I tried to get rid of the tiny ants marching on the wall, carrying the bodies of a few small spiders.
The tap water often sprouted intermittently with a loud sound. In the sample I poured into a glass I could see a layer of mud after it had settled down.
The disco music became loud in the evening and I could hear it even with my music headphones on.
02/22/2015 Sunday – Vilcabamba
I went to CMV for my last breakfast there. I told Bernie I was checking out. He charged me for one week ($120) even though I had the room for eight days and had missed my first day reservation. I then went to Sunday Market to shop and took a taxi back to my cabin.
I tried Ahura Mazda in the evening again but it was quiet and a loud music was playing. I decided to pass.
I met Colleen, Bill and Cal, a German American, at Charlito. Colleen told me of her English teacher, Serena (about ¾ of a mile before brick factory on Yamburara Alto) who runs a Wednesday class, 10-12 PM, for $5.
02/24/2015 Tuesday – Vilcabamba
I woke up early and went to continue cleaning the Yamburara road from where I had left last evening. I then walked to the city to get internet service from Vilcanet. I happened to meet Luis Navares,my landlord. He said he would go with me to Vilcanet’s office. We drove there and I got 4M service ($50/mo – technical Help: Luis Sanabria 09 9483 7315 or 3105 5746) and paid $100, (incl. $25 installation fee) for 1 ½ months of service. I then did some shopping, bought some rye and barley bread at French bakery, a cutting board and a few other kitchen items, and then as soon as I arrived home, the technician, Edward, 09 9310 7777, called me and showed up shortly to install my service.
I then had a chat with Luis about my interest in planting some seeds on his raised bed. He drove me to a nursery where I bough some soil and he gave me some seeds to plant. I will start the plot tomorrow. My neighbor, Caroline Don, also gave me some basil seeds.
02/26/2015 Thursday – Vilcabamba
The internet connection was down for a while. I called two technicians who did not answer. I walked to the laundry store and picked up my wash that I had dropped off the day before.
I used a cage of chicken wire to sift some compost and to mix with the soil, along with the soil I had picked up from the nursery. I then planted the half dozen seeds I had. The task took the entire day.
02/27/2015 Friday – Vilcabamba
I chatted with Caroline, my neighbor. She claimed that Obama is gay and there is no record of his Colombia U. graduation, his wife is a transvestite, and that their kids do not belong to them. She also talked of the planned hippie movement, and the CIA hands in every other event. She had cried over Gadafy’s death. The red blood intends to eliminate 99 percent of the world population.
02/28/2015 Saturday – Vilcabamba
I walked to the city to try the new Middle Eastern restaurant, United Falafel Org. (UFO). The coffee was OK, but by the time I wanted to order my lunch, 03:00, they were out of 150 meals they had prepared. I met Fran of Boston, Ann of Toronto and Mohan, an engineer from Washington. Fran said she had just returned from visiting “John of God.” When she was leaving the site, she had heard a whisper in her ears. Ann had just ordered a device from Russia to absorb the chem trails. Mohan said that after four years in Vilcabamba they had run out of the money and for the past year his wife, Nina, after taking a few courses, had become a healer and Mohan did her marketing in USA. She did the healing over Skype. The callers contact her with their issues, she then goes to her room, and heals them remotely. Mohan also talked a long time about Nassim Haramein, a physicist. When I checked out his credentials, I read that his page was withdrawn from Wiki due to unsubstantiated claims. He also believed that the pyramids were more then ten thousand years old and were not built by the slaves.
03/01/2015 Sunday – Vilcabamba
I took the bus to Malacatos to check out the lively Sunday Market. I only bought some sea bass and then went back to Vilcabamba’s Sunday Market for shopping.
03/03/2015 Tuesday – Vilcabamba
I attended the first intermediate Spanish class given by Serena of Italy. The previous week’s Wednesday beginners glass was a bit too easy.
03/04/2015 Wednesday – Vilcabamba
A Polish couple with a brother and a kid moved to the empty cabin behind me. The place suddenly lost its peace. I walked to the town at night to take a break from the noise.
03/05/2015 Thursday – Malacatos
I took the bus to Malacatos for some walk. I could not find the road to Sr. Luis Curimilma.
03/06/2015 Friday – Vilcabamba
I went to see a house advertised by Paulette, a Hollywood set painter 0988779563. She has been here for four years. She is building her own house in San Jose, but has had a very bad experience with two contractors, and has ran out of money.
The charming house (between the last two bridges in Yamburar Alto - $600/mo.) was built 15 years ago by San Francisco, a Brazilian, for Captain Earl who passed away four years ago, from overdrinking per as Caroline. His son, Joe, wants to sell it for $250k. It had a beautiful garden with an Italian style pond and fountaine, though the views were rather limited.
03/26/2015 Thursday – Vilcabamba
I walked to the town and boarded the Zumba-Loja bus at the intersection. It made it to Loja within 40 minutes. I then walked to the office of Dr. Luis Carpio, DDS for a frontal filling ($40) on Av. Orillas del Zamora near Olmedo & Imbabura LuisCarpio@hotmail.com 09 9271 7174-09 9564 0728. I asked him for a restaurant recommendation and he suggested Riscomar @ Rocafuerte & 24 De Mayo that I tried later in the evening. The food, specially the ceviche was very good. I stopped at Casa Sol, a cute restaurant with a balcony with great view, for refreshment. I walked to the Mercado @ 18 De Noviembre & Rocafuerte. The fish section is open daily until 18:00. I took a taxi to the Vilca taxi station at 21:00 but it was closed and the driver dropped me at the bus station by Primax gas station where I waited for about 20 minutes for the Vilcabamba bus to arrive.
03/30/2015 Monday – Vilcabamba
Caroline stopped by to tell me the masseur who had molested a few of his female clients had skipped the town – after the story had made it to the community facebook page.
It was a quiet day – with a beautiful sunset. I changed the spot of the Oregano that I had planted the week before next to the rosemary and moved it next to the geranium that I had planted yesterday. It would receive more sunshine there.
I walked to the town for a dinner. Two men were working on the construction of a shack by the road from the house where a loud music is usually heard from. The shack was almost completed where as yesterday morning when I was walking to town for the Sunday Market there was nothing there.
I passed by Paella and they happened to be open. I entered and sat inside – they had a charming decor inside. I asked for a paella and the female chef told me the regular size is for two people and offered me a small portion. It was a filling and delicious meal. A French couple with two young kids took a nearby table. The daughter started a card game with the mother and the son a chess game with the dad. Their cute dog just sneaked under the table and stayed there until I enticed him out with some shrimp skin. I also met Max Love, of Poland, who had been coming every year for the past few years and has been extending his stays every time until this time when he has been here for the past nine months.
I had a very pleasant walk back home – in a very pleasant breeze with a light drizzle – no new landslides on the road. There was one a Loja a few days ago where a home was washed away and six people had died in their sleep.
03/31/2015 Tuesday – Vilcabamba
I made it to Luis Carpio, DDS, office at 9:24 for my 9:30 appointment with the hygienist for a cleaning. The elevator which was working the other day was out of service. The office door was closed. I waited for a few minutes and then walked back down and waited on street. A car pulled up at 09:36 and the hygienist stepped out and we walked back to the office. Dr. Carpio showed up after a few minutes and I had a 40 minute ($60) deep cleaning. Dr. Carpio worked as assistance to the hygienist.
I then walked around the town, had a filling and delicious seafood at LP 200 Millas restaurant at Pena and 10 de Agosto. The bowl that the limes were placed was very dirty. When I pointed that out to the woman behaving the register she just replaced it - no apology needed!
I then stopped by for coffee at a coffee shop. When I told two other customers sitting at another table that I was Iranian they said there were many other Iranians in Loja, and one of them, Frutan, has a restaurant named “Topoli”. I had passed by that restaurant a few times and had wondered if the name was Persian for “chubby”
I then stopped at the mecardo and purchase some corvine and tuna, $3.50 a pound each, took a taxi to the Collectivo taxi stand on Manuel Jose Aguirre, at Mercadillo St and Av. Iberoamerica, for a ride to Vilcabamba.
04/02/2015 Thursday – Vilcabamba
I walked to the town today, it is a pleasant 30 minutes walk, dropped off my laundry, had a haircut, and sat at a table at a newly opened restaurant next to the church on the plaza for a cup of tea while watching the kids who had just left school play. They were having so much fun I thought I should join them.
I found a store that had some goat milk. I needed it to try to make goat cheese but the seller said that it was not suitable for cheese making and asked me to return on Saturday.
I then went to the bakery to buy some bread – they have the best bread in town that I could find so far. They were out of it and I had to wait at the plaza for 20 minutes to get some hot bread. They smelled so good.
I had a chat with a neighbor who used to live in the cabin behind me but had left for a while to try to live near the jungle a few hours from here but they have returned saying that it was too humid there and too many mosquitoes.
I also had a chat with an older lady at the restaurant. The last time I met here at the same restaurant, she said she had just returned from Brazil. She had travelled there to meet a healer, named “John of God.” I had never heard of the guy until this trip to here when someone else mentioned his name. I looked him up on the internet and found out he is a very popular guy with people who believe in his healing power – including a very famous motivational speaker, Wayne Dyer. Dyer claims that he was cured of his cancer by a remote (mental) surgery by John of God.
04/03/2015 Friday – Vilcabamba
In the afternoon Caroline and I went to Shasta restaurant. I had invited her to dinner for her April 1st, birthday. I had a trout that was the best I have ever had in Ecuador. We then went to the church to listen to the sermon on the occasion of Good Friday. The church was packed with the crowds overflowing into the plaza. We then had a coffee and joined the crowd in a procession to another church across from the Izhcayluma. There was a sermon, a hymn and a visitation of the bloody body of Christ. We walked back to town and as there were no taxis, walked home in the bright moonshine. Caroline told me of her past life and experiences.
04/04/2015 Saturday – Vilcabamba
I woke p rather late and after a delicious brunch of seared tuna walked to the end of San Jose. I then walked back to town and had a chat with Luigi of Quito who had just opened a new restaurant, Infusion.
04/05/2015 Saturday – Vilcabamba-Cuenca
I woke up at 6:30 and after breakfast, packed, said goodbye to Caroline Conway Don and Marcin Page, and walked for a short while of the road before a taxi stopped for me. I took the 0930-1045 Loja-Cuenca bus. At the bus terminal I purchased the 1130-16:30 bus http://www.viajerosinternacional.com ($7.50 02h00, 06h00, 07h00, 04h00, 07h00, 09h00, 10h00, 11h30, 12h30,14h30, 15h30, 17h15, 22h30 -12 frecuencias ). The scenery was pretty, though there was much fog and windows were fogged out. In Cuenca I took a cab to Hostal Macando ($2) and then for a pleasant walk around the town. Most stores were closed.
04/06/2015 Monday – Cuenca
I had a nice breakfast at the hostal and then talked to Yue in the morning. I then went to explore the town. I visited the market on Mariscal Lamar and the lovely Convent of Immaculate Conception (1599) where I spent much time to enjoy the design of the landscape and the smells of the flowers. I then had lunch at a restaurant on Calle Larga where I Met Eduardo **, a wrestler. He remembered seeing me at a meditation session at CMV. He is a senior in Computer Science. He said that President Correa made the colleges free for all a few years ago, but before that a rich student had to pay even up to $4000/yr. He did not know how many students attend his university; neither did he know many how many classes he had. He said he had a hard time to obtain visa from Guatemala a few years back. In case of Mexico, if an Ecuadorian has a US visa, then does not require a Mexico visa. He recommended the restaurant at Mansion Al Cazar at Bolivar & Tarqui, which I visited and enjoyed a coffee in the beautiful setting.
He also recommended Japanese restaurant Noe (Padre Julio Matovelle 2-25 y Federico Proaño, esquina. Junto al Parque de Las Candelas). No one, including two policemen knew the park when I tried to locate the place later.
I then walked around more. I happened to meet a middle age woman and a teenage girl, Janet **, a few times. On the third time, we had a chat, the woman invited me to visit Macas, in the Orient. She said it is a beautiful and tranquil place.
04/07/2015 Tuesday – Cuenca
I crossed the bridge into …along the red College of Law. The temperature was a cool 16 C. I stopped at Winery and talked to Sebastian. He was not too happy with new 45% tax increase. He had to increase the price of his wines from $12 to $24. I thought were that in France they might have ahad a serious situation on hand here. He recommended an organic version of Cono Sur. Cono Sur had received top awards in a recent event in Europe. I then walked to Muse Banco Central. The exhibitions were mostly modern arts. The Archeological digs made a nice scenic place for a stroll. I then walked back to center where I met George, an ex New Yorker parking attendant for 20 years and for the past 7 years in Cuenca Police Force. He thought of Correa as a crazy man but liked Obama. He earns about $500 a month and pays $50 in monthly rent. I then walked to Saliva Restaurant at Roberto Crespo Toral 3-56, top entry on TripAdvisor, but they are closed on Tuesdays. I met Rich, who was entering the restaurant; he knew the residents there. Rich, of NYC and Oregon, moved here five years ago with his Polish wife. He is concerned currency would be d-dollarised shortly. As his house is major asset he is planning to sell and move to Argentina. He bought the house for $150k, plus 50k in additions and hoping to get $250k for it. He was carrying the suitcase of Yasu, the chef in Vilcabamba. It seems Yasu has fallen in love with an Ecuadorian and plans to live in Cuenca. Rich recommended Danable Crespo of Ecuadorable Real Estate, http://www.ecuadorablehomes.com, as a good source. I then walked back in town and tried Nectar, a Wikitravel recommendation, but Ken said they only take orders on Tuesdays for Friday pickup. Other days may be tried by email but it depends how much the children leave free time for the chef. He told me of a new Persian Restaurant, Ali Baba, on Remigio Tamariz Crespo, near subway.
The other Wiki restaurant on Tarqui was also closed. I ended up having an avocado back at the hostel.
I then headed back out and walked to Mercado El Arenal, on Av Remigrio Crespo Toral. It was huge and somewhat similar to the Mercado in Siem Reap, a huge interior market with exterior filled with mostly fruits, vegetables, meat, and some fish stands. It was winding down. Prices were possibly lowered, for example pack of 9 avocadoes was selling for a dollar. I then walked back on the same street and stopped at Persian Restaurant Alibaba that Ken of Nectar had told me about earlier in the day – also the Tripadvisor review was a 5. The lentil soup, one of the two on the menu, was finished; so was the Persian tea. The Mast Jear was delicious and the kebob was OK, but with very small amount of rice and only one small tomato. At the end of the meal Reza, the owner, joined me and we talked for a while. He opened the place four months ago and as he last his helper, he is doing everything himself; in the morning when he wakes up he really feels tired. He had applied for his residency on his own and had obtained it within eight weeks. He offered a job to one of the Australian girls who was having a beer with a friend for $2.5/hr. She is currently making $2.25 at a coffee shop. While we were talking a regular customer, a college professor from Louisiana walked in with a huge dog bite on his leg. Reza walked him to a clinic across the street but they were closed. The poor man had to wait for a Spanish speaking friend to arrive to accompany him to another clinic.