Thailand Adventure With The Sis

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**Note: There are a lot of photos in this post so I made some of them smaller than normal- click on any of the pictures to see them larger/in higher quality.

After Yellow Mountain we headed back to Shanghai to take our finals. They alright for the most part- definitely not easy but we were not too worried. Before heading back to the US I met my sister in Bangkok Thailand for my week long dream trip. We were only in Bangkok for one night and half a day before we hopped on a flight to Chiang Mai. In Chiang Mai I finally had the chance to touch a tiger!! It was my dream come true!!!  We went to Tiger Kingdom and bought a package to pet all of the tigers-  the baby tigers and small, medium and large sized tigers. The babies were cute but were pretty lethargic. The small ones were pretty cool and we got to get pretty close to them and pet them. The medium ones were also quite amazing and definitely my favorite. I would not consider them “medium sized” though because they were huge!!(As you can see from the pictures below.) We got really close to the medium ones and even were able to lay our head on them which was pretty nuts! I also got to rub their belly and they rolled over just like a puppy would- it was pretty funny.

baby tigers:
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small tigers:
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medium tigers:

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The large ones were definitely more active than all of the rest and were a bit scarier but still awesome. Because they were continuously moving around we were not able to get a lot of pictures with them but it was okay because we still got really close and were able to witness them playing in the water. It was such a crazy experience, here we were in an enclosure just walking around with about 10 huge tigers just strolling right next to us- soo crazy!

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After we hung out with all of the tigers, Jen and I decided to try out the fish spa tank. These fish are famous to Asia and are supposed to nibble/suck off the dead skin on your body. This tank was for your feet, and I had wanted to try this since I had been in Asia but was too nervous/weirded out– everyone said that it was a must try though at some point . Jen and I agreed to try it here. It was sooo weird. I put my feet in first and instantly the little fish flocked to them. It didn’t hurt but tickled soooo much! We both sat tensed, squealing every few seconds as the fish moved around our feet. We lasted for about 5 mins before we finally gave up because it was too weird.

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After the tigers and the fish spa we stopped at the long neck village (total scam don’t go there). Its this villiage of people who wrap their necks with these wire things from a young age and stretch out their necks. Its really weird and creepy- we left pretty quickly haha. Once we got back to Chiang Mai we relaxed in our hotel for a bit before heading out to find a place to eat. We stumbled across this really pretty restaurant and decided to eat there. The food was decent- I had pad thai yummy my favorite! But it was so humid that sitting outside for too long was annoying and made us kind of nauseous.

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After dinner we checked out the bar street and it was pretty crazy looking. It was empty that night because the town was pretty empty seeing as it was the off season, but we could just imagine how nuts it gets during their peak tourist season- it kind of reminded us of the bar street from Hangover II and we decided that it would not be a place for us and headed back to the hotel to sleep because we had a big day ahead of us.

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The next day I had one of the coolest experiences of my life. We headed to Patara Elephant Farm to take care of an elephant for a day. This was so incredibly awesome. We were each given an elephant for the day and were responsible for feeding them, washing them, playing with them and taking care of them. I was given Bujien. The man in charge said that he was the wild and fun elephant and then proceeded to point to me and said that we seemed like we would be a great match. Bujien was huge. He was much much larger than any of the other elephants but I was not scared. Each person was given a poncho that was hand woven from a tribe that lived near by to wear over our clothing. They said that the trainers wear these every day and so the elephants see them and know that we are friends and not enemies and therefore they will trust us. We were also each assigned a local trainer who worked with the elephants daily so my guy and I headed up to meet Bujien and feed him some bananas. Bujien was so unbelievably cool  and we definitely became friends right away.

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After we fed them some bananas and washed them off to keep them cool, they taught each of us how to get on our elephant. Elephants are trained one of two ways usually for helping a person onto them. One way is for the person to step on their foot, after which the elephant slowly brings it up, bending its leg so that you can climb ontop of them. The other way is by standing on their trunk (in no way does this hurt them) and they raise that up so you can scurry up their trunk onto their head. Bujien was trained both ways. The first time I got on him, I stepped on his food and he lifted me up—as you can see from the picture below.

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We then walked around a little learning some of the commands such as stop, right, left and go. After a while we began our trek through the jungle on our elephants. Bujien was a very chill elephant so he let me sit on top of his head while we rode! It was really fun- kind of scary since I was so high off the ground and did not really have much to hold on to, but he kept me safe. This does not hurt the elephant because we are sitting on their heads or right behind their ears. The elephants get hurt when those horrible carts are put on their back- they actually break their back. The farm that we went to was all about the safety and health of the elephants and that was evident in everything they did. All of the employees loved the elephants and the elephants loved them in return.

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We rode for a while, joking with the trainers and enjoying the jungle scenery until we stopped for lunch. This was the best lunch I think I have EVER had. Jen, who is a picky eater even agreed. We had this fried chicken- which is famous to Thailand supposedly (atleast that’s what Jen claims), rice with black beans, sweet/sticky rice, and tons of other little bites and fruit. Everything was so delicious! I could not stop eating. It was nicely presented too! The table was lined with banana leaves and all of the food was wrapped in banana leaves, this is because the elphants love banana leaves- so after we were all finished with our meals, the elephants were allowed to come over and clear off the table. It was pretty funny

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After lunch we continued to ride the elephants until we reached a small pond in which we  bathed and played in the water with our elephants. This was so much fun. They filled their trunks with water and sprayed us and we scrubbed them down while sitting on their backs.

Finally, after about 30 mins of splashing around with the elephants, it was time to say goodbye to them and head out to another part of the farm where the babies were raised. On the way up the hill to the car, Bujien picked me up with his tusks and carried me all the way up the hill. It was pretty awesome. I gave him a big hug goodbye and thanked my trainer for helping me throughout the day. We then piled into the car and headed to see the babies. This was pretty cool. The photographer who was with us all day said that he was in charge of raising the babies and taking care of the mothers when they were pregnant. He showed us one of the babies and its mother and explained that the baby had developed an infatuation with him. He said that when the baby was born he spent the nights with him and the mother taking care of them and watching over them, and so the baby became very fond of him. It was adorable, everywhere this guy went the baby followed, and when the guy sat down, the baby elephant tried to sit in his lap. It was hilarious (you can see him trying to do that in the picture of Jen with the baby elephant–notice the hat and the extra pair of feet)!

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After playing with the baby elephant for a while Jen and I headed back to Chiang Mai. We spent the evening walking around the large outdoor night market checking out all of the cool little gifts we could bring home for people. We bought a few little things for our friends and family at home, and some stuff for us before we decided it was way too hot and humid and headed back to our fancy modern hotel (The D2 hotel) to grab a quick bite and drink at the bar before going to bed.

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The next day we headed to the airport to fly to Krabi to spend the next few days at a resort. Our hotel, The Amari Vogue Hotel in krabi, was absolutely beautiful (nice find mom!). Because this was the off-season it was empty which was great. They had a private beach and the most gorgeous pool I have ever seen—photos below. They also had three different restaurants, a Thai one, an Italian one on the beach, and a casual one by the pool that had sandwiches and a little bit of everything. Jen and I ate at every restaurant throughout our stay. The hotel was very secluded so we only left once to go into the town of Krabi- the hotel offered a free shuttle every day.

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When we went downtown we walked around looking for places that plan day trips. We were looking to either deep water solo (rock climbing without ropes above the water so that when you fall you just fall into the water) or a kayaking trip. The companies explained that because it was the start of the wet season, it was not safe to deep water solo so no companies were going to go out. We settled on a kayak trip through some caves near Krabi.  We still had some time to kill before our shuttle came to take us back to the hotel so we decided to walk down to a beachfront restaurant for some snacks and a drink.

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The next day we went on the kayaking trip. The people who led this trip were very funny and continuously made jokes throughout the day. It was an interesting trip but nothing amazing. The caves were definitely cool and the scenery was beautiful but I wouldn’t have been devastated if we did not do this- but because of the rainy season coming we did not have many options. We did the half day—which was definitely the right choice! I would not recommend doing a full day trip for something like this.

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After kayaking we headed back to the hotel for our last night in Krabi. We sat on the private beach and enjoyed some happy hour cocktails, taking in the beautiful sunset before heading back to the room to take a shower and eat dinner at the Italian restaurant.

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After Krabi we headed back to Bangkok for our last night in Thailand. We went to a very nice restaurant with an amazing view of the city (thanks dad- for the suggestion and for the dinner!). It was a rooftop restaurant, but midway through our meal a storm began moving towards us so the restaurant had everyone move down one floor to their other restaurant that was indoors (still had a great view but it wasn’t open air). The food was good but obviously we were paying for the view. After dinner we walked back to the hotel, taking in some of the city, and went to bed.

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The next day we walked around some of the markets looking for some tank tops for our friends back home and did a tour of the floating markets. Although it was very touristy it was a cool to experience. I would suggest it as something to do if you have an extra day in Bangkok and don’t really have anything planned, but I would not necessarily go out of your way to see them. They are kind of dirty and they have the same things that you can find at any of the other markets in thailand. And as always negotiate with the people because they will always give you a better price than when they first talk to you.

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After this we headed back to the hotel and packed up for our flight back to The States. Stay tuned for the final post about my wonderful adventures throughout Asia!

Yellow Mountain

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Hey there followers. Sorry I abandoned you before finishing the blog. I have been so busy since I have been back in the States and I have not had time to finish documenting my adventures.  Tiger Leaping Gorge was my last big trip in China before I left. We did however take one last smaller trip to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) before our finals. Adam, John Swinford, Bryan, Liz, and I decided last minute that we had do go since it was on our “places we must see” list and we had one free weekend before finals began. Everyone we had talked to had said that Huangshan was the most beautiful mountain of all, and that it was a must see for anyone in or around Shanghai so we were pretty pumped to visit it. Liz was meeting her parents in Beijing that weekend so her plan was to stay with us for one night, hike part of the mountain and then leave and fly out of the Huangshan airport, while the rest of us continued to hike and spend the night on the top of the mountain. So after a 7 hour bus ride to the town of Huangshan, and wandering around the streets looking for our hostel, we finally arrived. This was probably the nicest hostel we have stayed in—it must have been brand new because everything was so clean and nice. Our bathroom was artistically tiled and had one of those modern sink bowls in it which was pretty cool, and the beds had new REAL mattresses for once. They were thick and comfy, unlike the usual hostel mattresses that are like an inch thick and not the most comfortable things ever. So we were all quite excited (after all of the trips we have been on, places we have stayed and complications we have faced it really doesn’t take much to please us). So we all got a pretty good night’s rest which was necessary before we began our hike up Huangshan.

Learning from previous mistakes, we decided not to hike from the bottom of the mountain, and instead take one of the cable cars the majority of the way up. For this mountain in particular most of the trails and hiking areas were at the top anyways. The majority of the hiking part was across the mountain top rather than up it, so it would have been a waste of time to start at the bottom (plus Liz, Bryan and I feared it would be like Emeishan and nobody wanted to do that again!). The cable car ride was beautiful in itself. Everything was so lush and green. The mountains were very odd though, similar to the ones at Huashan (the mountain with the plank walk)- very rock like and jagged looking unlike the mountains at home or at Tiger Leaping Gorge. As we rode up the cable car, we ascended into the clouds. It was quite foggy at the top of the mountain but it was still beautiful. We wandered along the top of the mountain, stopping at various points to take pictures and enjoy the views of the vast mountain range. A few short and light showers occurred while we were walking around, but just as we pulled out our backpack covers and rain jackets it would stop every time. We kept teetering between being too hot and too cold, because it was right at that temperature where it was too warm to wear a jacket but too cool to be without one. Below is a photo of all of us at the top (Of course we couldn’t take pictures without an Asian person asking to be in one with us ) and a photo of the type of terrain at Yellow Mountain.

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After a few hours, we decided to head to “Fairy Walking Bridge,” because we had heard that it was one of the coolest places to visit on the mountain. We had to say goodbye to Liz before we began hiking there because she had to get down the mountain and to the airport. So after wishing her a safe flight and a fun weekend with her parents, we headed off in the direction we believed this bridge was. Like many other trails in China, this mountain was horribly marked. We got lost a few times, but finally we made it to the right trail. On our way down to the bridge, we passed a spot marked as “The best view on Huashan,” so we walked over to the viewing area and looked out. The view was pretty spectacular, as you can see from the photos below. We took a few photos and then continued on our way.

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After hiking, what seemed to be all the way down the mountain, we finally arrived at the bridge. It was pretty cool. The boys said it should be named lord of the rings bridge because it supposedly looked like a bridge in one of the movies—I clearly didn’t remember those movies well enough to notice.

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We hung out by the bridge for a while, took some photos, and made friends with some Chinese hikers who were also there, before attempting to carry on our way down a trail that would eventually loop back to our hotel. Of course, that way was closed though (or so our Chinese friends and the security guard told us) so we ended up having to hike back up the millions of stairs we took to get down to the bridge. We all groaned at this news, but began the trek. It wasn’t nearly as bad as we expected and we made pretty good time back to where we started. We had the option of hiking to a different part of the mountain but we all decided that we were tired and would rather go back to the hotel to shower and eat and hopefully go to sleep early. The reason we planned to stay at this hotel was because it was the closest to the best viewing platforms to watch the sunrise, which was supposed to be spectacular from this mountain. So we obviously were planning on waking up at 5 am to prepare ourselves and find a good spot on the mountain to see the sunrise, which meant we should probably get to bed early. So we headed back to the hotel, took showers and chilled in our rooms for a bit. We finally got up and decided to look for dinner. When we looked outside we realized that it was drizzling and very gloomy. Not good. We checked out our hotels restaurant but decided it was way too expensive, so we went to a different hotel a few mins away. There menu was still expensive but more reasonable than ours, so we decided to stay there. We all ordered noodle bowls and some rice, because the bowls pictured in there menu looked very small. They were definitely not small. My bowl was bigger than my face, but I was hungry so I did not mind. It hit the spot! It was warm and had enough spice to give it good flavor. Definitely not the best noodle bowl I have had, but it got the job done.

By the time we had finished dinner it had begun to pour outside. We all stood at the doorway looking out with hopes that the rain would let up so we could walk back to our hotel. Finally, we decided that the rain was definitely not getting any lighter so we would just sprint back to our hotel. We made it back soaking wet and surprisingly with none of us slipping and falling on our faces. We then looked around for a table to sit at and play cards or something, but the hotel lobby was packed, so we decided to just go back to our rooms and hang out/go to sleep. We made a plan to wake up at around 5 am and see how the weather was. If it looked bad we would go back to sleep, if there seemed to be a chance that it would be clear then we would bundle up and head out to one of the viewing platforms. Well my alarm went off at 5 am, and I begrudgingly rolled out of my warm bed and wandered into the hotel lobby to look out the doors. To no surprise, it was still raining and you could barely see 5 feet in front of the hotel because of the fog. I immediately went back to my bed and texted the boys to tell them there was no way we would see the sunrise and that we should just go back to sleep and meet in the lobby around 8 am. Clearly Bryan and I don’t have the best of luck with mountains and fog (remember the top of Emeishan?). So we all went back to sleep and met up around 8am in the hotel lobby.

It was quickly decided that none of us wanted anything more than to get off the top of the mountain. So this posed the question of what to do for the rest of the day. Luckily we had wifi and iphones to do some research. We stumbled across an advertisement for the Huashan Hot Springs- a relaxing spa with a beautiful view of the mountain. To my surprise, the boys were all about this! So we headed to the nearest cable car and rode down to the base of the mountain where we purchased bus tickets to drive us to the hot springs.

It was misting at the base of the mountain but not raining, luckily for us, so the hot springs would be great. We got to the hot springs around 10 am, but they told us to wait in the lobby for about 30 mins because the springs would not be ready until around 10:30. These are not typical hot springs like ones that pool naturally in rocks; no they just pump the water from the hot springs into individual tiled pools all throughout the grounds of this place like jacuzzis. Each hot spring was infused with a different thing (such as green tea, chrysanthemums, coconut milk, vitamin C, coffee etc) that helped to either detoxify or nourish different parts of your body in different ways.

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This is a view of one of the springs. As you can see the place itself was absolutely beautiful. Below is a picture of one of the springs you could relax in and the description of its health benefits.

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After a few hours relaxing in the hot springs, we showered and got ready to head back to Shanghai. After a very long bus ride due to tons of unexpected traffic and the long metro ride from the bus station we finally made it back to school. Like all of our trips, I would consider this a successful one– interesting and different as always! Although, if you only had enough time to pick a few trips, I would definitely suggest some of the other trips over this one. If you have the time and money to spend on travel, some of the trips discussed previously in this blog were definitely better. That being said, I still enjoyed this trip and it was a relatively easy and cheap sight which is exactly what we wanted for our last weekend trip. It also meant that we were able to check off pretty much every “place to see” on our list. There were only a few missing for me, but there were so many amazing things I did that were not even on my list and should have been (like all of Vietnam for instance) so I don’t feel bad about it. Anyways, stay posted for my final blog post (sad I know). I promise to wrap it up soon so you can have some closure (and so my mother stops bugging me about it haha).

Kunming Rock Forest and Overnight Bus

IMG_0672To our surprise the bus was not nearly as bad as we though. There were 3 rows of bunk beds and luckily we all were next to eachother on the top row. I was near one window, then John was in the middle, and Liz was at the other window. For the first few hours we listened to music, played 20 questions together and talked about our trip. After a while John and I began watching things on our iPads and Liz continued to listen to music and look at the scenery out of the window. We were driving though some gorgeous areas with some amazing views. Traveling by bus is great in that sense, you really get to see some amazing places you would never see unless you were driving through them. The beds were relatively comfortable and they provided us with blankets and pillows. Liz and my beds were slightly angled upwards around the hip area (like a chaise lounge) which was actually quite nice for when I was watching movies or reading books on my iPad. Around 10 pm we stopped at this place where we could eat dinner- Liz and I just ate rice and some vegetables because the rest of the food seemed pretty weird, and bought some water for the bus.

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Around 12am I took a sleep aid after which I slept on and off until around 6:30 am when we finally arrived in Kunming. The ride was way less horrible than expected and would definitely not complain if I had to do it again. The only complaint was that we all felt dirty and wanted to shower after the bus ride, but were unable to since we were only in Kunming for a few hours before heading to the airport to fly back to Shanghai.

We decided to visit the Kunming rock forest, because we had read a lot about it and it was supposed to be pretty cool. We had a few hours to kill anyways so we figured that would be the way to do it. We bought a bus ticket out to the rock park, and the entrance to the rock park was pretty expensive. I was already in some what of a bad mood because I had not gotten a great nights sleep before and it was extremely hot, so having to pay too much money for a rock park just worsened my mood a bit. We all paid anyways and had about an hour or two to walk around the park before we had to head back into the city to catch our flight. We all agreed that this place was a good place to go if you had time to kill but it was definitely not something that was necessary to see. It was cool, but it really wasn’t anything amazing. It was really touristy and it kind of felt like we were at a zoo, which gave off the atmosphere that it wasn’t real, even though it was. Anyways, you can get the idea of what the park was like from my photos below.

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The Gorge and Shangri-la

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We woke up early this morning to get a head start on the hike down to the gorge. We ate some breakfast first, some pancakes (more like crepes) with fresh fruit and sugar, before heading out. It was not a long hike to Tina’s hostel (where the paths down to the gorge began), we definitely overestimated how long it would take. It probably took us around an hour/hour and a half to get there from our hostel. The view was continuously beautiful from the trail. We passed a waterfall that ran right through the trail, and hiked a portion surrounded by beautiful grassy hills, and grazing horses. It was different scenery from the hike the day before, but beautiful nonetheless. When we arrived at Tina’s we asked about our bags and the woman at the desk brought us to the room where they were being stored. We moved around some things in our bags and decided we would only take one persons backpack down to the gorge so we dumped the other 2 backpacks and headed out.

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There were supposedly 3 different paths to get down into the gorge but we took the first one we came across. It was 10 RMB to enter because the trail was maintained by the local people with no government help. The trail itself was a lot of rocky switchbacks that descended pretty quickly. We kept making remarks about how we really did not want to climb back up them after how horrible the switchbacks the day before were. At one point we came across this ginormous ladder that you had to climb down to continue descending to the gorge. It was pretty scary at first. I was the first person to go down it and as I was climbing over the edge I was a bit creeped out. It was the height of about 3-4 large ladders stacked together. After I had gone down almost half way, Liz started climbing down followed by John. We all made it down safely, and were happy the ladder was there because it cut the descent time almost in half. After about an hour of hiking, we made it down to the gorge. We had to pay another 10RMB here to go out on to the famous “Tiger Leaping Rock” but it was worth it because the area was gorgeous, and it was a great spot to take pictures. Before we reached the rock, we had to cross this long wooden plank bridge. It was scary because it was very wobbly and swayed a bunch when you walked on it. It was pretty cool though.

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We hung out on the rock for almost an hour, taking photos and soaking in the sun. The sun was starting to come over the mountains and shine into the gorge, and it was starting to get hot so we decided we should start the daunting hike back up to Tina’s.

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The hike back up from the gorge was not nearly as bad as we expected. There were a lot of covered huts selling water and snacks and they would gladly let you rest there for a few mins even if you were not buying anything. We took a few stops but for the most part hiked up continuously. I don’t think it took more than an hour/hour and a half for us to make it back to Tina’s. It was very hot though and the trail had zero shade, so I was worried the whole time that my shoulders and face were getting sunburned. Once back at Tina’s we were all pretty tired and hungry so we hung out and ordered food because the next bus to Shangri-la was not for almost 3 hours. We ran into the people who had been staying at our Hostel the night before and they ate lunch with us and hung out until the bus came, because they too were trying to get to Shangri-la. Liz and I ended up taking naps on the couches in the lobby area of the hostel after lunch until the bus came.

It was about a 3 hour bus ride from Tina’s to Shangri-la and for some reason Liz and I thought it was the most horrible bus ride we had ever been on. My seat was broken, and it kept falling backwards into the people who were sitting behind me. There was barely any room so they kept getting mad until I explained that there was nothing I could do and that my seat was broken. So every time we hit a bump and my seat would recline, the woman behind me would shove her knees into the back of my chair and push me back upwards. It was extremely obnoxious, this continued for almost the whole ride. Also Liz and I began feeling sick again on this bus ride, which sucked because we really had hoped that since because we had felt good all day, that our sickness had passed. By the time we finally got off the bus in Shangri-la we felt extremely nautious and really just wanted to find our hostel.

After wandering around the old town of Shangri-la for about 30 mins we finally found someone who could tell us how to get to our hostel (Tavern 47). We walked into the hostel and were greeted by the friendliest man I think I have ever met. He told us not to worry about the whole check in procedure yet, and to just relax because he was sure we were tired. He led Liz and I into our room and we were instantly impressed by its charm. It was adorable and so cozy- exactly what we needed to make us feel better. The room had wood floors and wooden paneled walls. There were big comfy beds with fluffy blankets and pillows on them, and he explained that there were heated blankets on the beds as well because it often got cold in Shangri-la at night. There were cute Tibetan decorations on the walls and everything was very homey and nice. We had a private bathroom that was nicely tiled and was very clean. We could not be happier with this hostel; It was definitely the nicest hostel I have ever stayed in and am so glad we chose to stay here.

After we had showered and were comfortable, we headed back out into the lobby to find the owner of the hostel and complete our check in. He once again told us that we could relax and eat before dealing with the hassle of that, so we decided to sit down and look at the dinner menu. He came over and lit the fire place near us and sat down to chat with us. He was from Korea and  10 years ago he left to travel the world. Shangri-la was the 3rd stop on his world adventure. He said he met his wife here and fell madly in love with her and never wanted to leave. They opened up the hostel a few years after they were married and had a daughter and love what they do. He was extremely nice and pretty funny, and went out of his way to make us feel at home.

Shangri-la is famed for having yak meat food items, and this place was written up as a hostel that had the best in the area, so when I saw yak tacos on the menu, I knew I had to try them. Thank God I did!! They were amazing and exactly what I wanted. His wife had sautéed pieces of yak meat with grilled onions and peppers, and served it to me with the most amazing homemade salsa—she would definitely give the Mexican restaurants back home in CA a run for their money. She also gave me some cheese, rice and 2 tortillas on the side. The whole meal was amazing and I scarfed it down in probably 5 mins. That probably was not the best idea I’ve ever had seeing as I did not feel well and all, and I realized that at the time, but I did not care because it was so delicious. Liz and John both ordered the yak burgers because those were recommended and they said they too were good, although Liz definitely regretted eating it later because she got sick (it definitely as not from the burger itself though, she was just still sick from whatever we had in Lijiang). After dinner, we paid and finished the whole check in progress and then Liz and I headed back into our room where we snuggled up in our heated blankets and complained and laughed about how badly our stomachs hurt, but how good the food was. John understood that we did not feel well so he did not push for us to go out and explore the city thankfully. He actually was extremely nice and offered in the morning to let us sleep in while he took our passports and money and went to buy the tickets we needed for the overnight bus from Shangri-la back to Kunming. We kept telling him that was not necessary but he finally just insisted and we handed over our passports and money.

I slept amazingly that night, with the warmth of the blankets and the coziness of the bed, Liz on the other hand did not. She ended up getting throughout the night, but said that in the morning she felt much much better and we kept making jokes and puns about the yak meat she had eaten the night before…if you catch my drift. After John got back from buying the tickets we enjoyed a great breakfast and headed out for the famous Tibetan temple that was in town. It was pretty expensive to see, but I would definitely still recommend it. It was very interesting and unlike the temples we have seen in the rest of China because of the Tibetan influence. Check out the pictures below to get an idea of what it was like.

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After the temple we headed back to the hostel to hang out and grab lunch before getting on the 15 hour sleeper bus that we were all dreading. I actually ordered the yak fajitas one more time because I could not get enough of them and John ordered them too. Liz got Korean BBQ that smelled and looked delicious as well. Around 3:30 we said goodbye to our friend at the hostel and headed to the bus station.

TIger Leaping GORGEous: Day 1

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We woke up around 6:45am to pack up our stuff and head down to the lobby of the hostel to grab a quick breakfast before our bus picked us up to take us to the entrance to Tiger Leaping Gorge. The guy downstairs at the hostel told us that the bus we were getting on would drive any extra bags we had to Tina’s hostel which is a hostel at the end of the 2 day hike. He said Tina’s would store the bags there for us until we got there and picked them up after our hike, which was awesome. We were told to keep our valuables on us though, so that did not allow us to get rid of a bunch of stuff but it was still helpful. We repacked our bags so that only 2 of us had full packs, and we gave John’s pack, with our extra clothes and other random things we would not need for the 2 days we were hiking, to the driver to take to Tina’s.

There were about 10 people including us doing the 2-day hike through the gorge, so we were all dropped off together by the side of the road to start the hike. At first I was not glad that we were all hiking together, because hiking with a big group could get annoying, but I soon was glad we had the company because we had no idea where we were supposed to go or what we were supposed to do. Luckily, a man with a mule for carrying peoples bags followed us for a while (probably hoping one of us would want to use him at some point) and continued to point us in the direction of where to go. The first part of the hike was horribly marked. There were a handful of places where the trail split but there were no signs. If the man was not following us there was no way we would be able to figure out where we were going, which was kind of frustrating. After a while though we got on the main trail and from that point on it was pretty obvious where to go. We were all so thankful that for once we were actually hiking- not china hiking, that we got over the lack of trail markers pretty quickly. There were no stairs, but actual dirt trails for once! It was great. Not to mention the view of the mountains and the gorge was phenomenal. The mountain range was so vast and huge it mesmerized all of us. This was by far the most amazing view I have ever seen. The whole hike we were in awe.

We hiked for about an hour before coming across a place that was perfect for some photos. As we pulled out our cameras, we were approached by an old Chinese woman who owned the hut that sold snacks at this spot. She had a piece of paper that had English writing on it. It said that in order to take photos at this spot you had to either pay her, or buy something at her hut. This was so stupid because obviously she did not own the view, but one of the people with us wanted a banana anyways so we paid her and were allowed to take photos on ONE of our cameras. So stupid, but whatever. The view was amazing and the pictures turned out great.

IMG_4208 IMG_4217 We kept hiking for about another hour before coming to the first hostel. We stopped in here to grab a bite to eat. Liz and I had an order of eggplant and John had some fried rice. We sat at this hostel eating lunch with the rest of the people hiking for about an hour- which was ay too long. Right when we were about to leave, my stomach started feeling pretty weird and I instantly thought I was going to throw up. I walked around for a few mins, catching my breath and trying to calm my stomach down. John gave me some pepto to take and we were on our way. My stomach continued to feel funny the rest of the day, and at some points I felt so sick I would have to stop and squat into a little ball on the trail just to make the pain go away. This definitely was not idea, but I was not going to let getting sick ruin this amazing trip.

The hike itself was not difficult until we hit the “28 bends”. This was 2+ hours of extremely steep switchbacks! It was horrible. It made me realize how completely out of shape I am! Of course it didn’t help that I had 20+lbs of weight on my back, but still it was so hard! This was where most of the group got broken up. The 2 Australians and 2 Germans that were on the hike with us booked it up the switchbacks, while one of the other Australians and 2 girls from Israel dropped back and took their time. John, Liz, and I were moving pretty slowly but were keeping a relatively steady pace. We stopped a lot to catch our breath, and at one point I had to stop to get sick on the side of the trail. I hoped that I would feel better after that, and I did for about 20 mins, but then the sick feelings came back.

After what seemed like FOREVER we finally made it to the top of the switchbacks and were rewarded with the most beautiful view of the gorge down below. It was literally breathtaking! Again we were told that we had to pay this woman who’s hut was up here to take photos. And angrily we coughed up a few RMB so that we could take photos on a camera. Only one of us paid, and we argued that that meant that we could only use one camera, but she wanted any of us who were going to be in a photo to pay. It wasn’t expensive but it was the principle of it all, so we told her no way and that we would only take photos on one camera. We all went down to the photo spot and snapped some photos but when we were about to leave she approached Liz and I and tried to make us pay. Once again we motioned to the camera and tried to explain that we only took photos on one camera so we would not pay. She was not happy and we are pretty sure she put a curse on us because she started shouting in Chinese and then pointing to the mountain and us and making weird movements with her hands. We got a pretty good laugh out of that, and just shrugged and looked at each other and said “well, it looks like we might not make it off this mountain” and continued hiking.

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By around 4pm we were all exhausted and all of our muscles ached. I still felt horrible and just wanted to lie down. At one point I jokingly told Liz and John that they were going to have to leave me on the side of the trail to die because I just could not make it any further. We all laughed and said that it would definitely not be a bad place to die. The whole area was so amazingly beautiful. At one point we came to this huge rock that served as a great photo spot, so we stopped there to take some pictures and rest for a bit. We then pushed forward, not wanting it to get dark before we made it to the hostel that we were going to stay in for the night.

IMG_4241At about 6 we finally made it to the half-way hostel. At this point I was in a lot of pain and my stomach was not happy, so I went to go sit on the wooden swinging bench in the center of the courtyard while Liz and John went to check in. While I was sitting on this bench, about 12 Chinese people came over and one by one sat down next to me and took photos with me. It was ridiculous! I swear they must have taken 100+ pictures of me! I looked and felt horrible and really just wanted them to leave me alone! Finally John and Liz got the key to our room so we headed downstairs to check it out. It was incredible! We had a little patio in front of our room and the room next to us that had the most incredible view of the mountains. People in American would pay hundreds of dollars for a room with a view like this, and we were paying about $10 a night for this place! It was incredible. I laid down on the bench outside and just took in the view. Words can’t even describe how amazing the view was.

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After about an hour of just vegging out, we decided we should eat some dinner. At this point all of the people we started the hike with had also arrived at the hostel, so we decided to all eat together. Liz and John convinced me that I should try to eat something, so I ordered the most neutral thing on the menu. To my surprise they had chicken noodle soup so I ordered that because I figured if there was anything I could keep down, it would be that. Liz and John went in on a whole chicken dish with the three Aussies. When the menu said whole chicken, they were not lying! There were ALL of the parts of the chicken in this dish, including the head, feet and other weird parts. Needless to say, none of them ate those parts. They said that the meal was good, but that they would not want to eat it again. My soup on the other hand was great, although I was not able to keep it all down.  After still feeling sick, I decided to take the antibiotic that I thankfully had brought with me on the trip.

After dinner, Liz and I decided to shower. The showers were outside, somewhat by our room, and they had like zero water pressure. It must have been because a lot of people were showering at that time because the boys said that when they showered it was fine. It was really cold at night here so we were not excited about turning off the hot water and feeling the freezing air against our bare skin while we dried off and changed into our clothes. We both turned the water off at the same time and squealed as we quickly dried off, put our clothes on and scurried back to our room. John laughed as we ran in wet and giggling/squealing about the cold. After we fully dried off and warmed up a bit, we all decided to grab our blankets and wrap ourselves up in them and snuggle up together on the bench outside on the patio to look at the stars. There were so many stars! We have not seen more than maybe 5 stars at night since we have been in china because of all of the pollution and the lights. It was so beautiful and serene. We sat there talking and looking at the stars for about an hour before heading back into the room to go to sleep.

All in all it was a great day—exhausting definitely – but amazing nonetheless. Be sure to check in later for more from Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri-la!

Lijiang and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

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4/17/13
We woke up on the train around 8 am and were expected to arrive in Lijiang around 8:55 am. Upon arrival we were hoping to catch a cab to our hostel but none were in sight but luckily we had some vague directions for how to get there by bus. We hopped on bus 3 and were supposed to get off at the White Dragon stop or something like that, but of course the bus stops are not labeled in English so we had to guess. We knew we were supposed to get on bus 2 after that so the second I saw a sign at a bus stop advertising Bus 2, we hopped off and waited. Bus 2 came along right as we were questioning whether or not we did the right thing. We got on and knew that we were supposed to get off at “the gas station” stop. We knew our hostel was in the Old Town of Lijiang but we drove by the entrances to the old town, and seemingly out of town without passing a stop at a gas station. Again, we were questioning whether or not we had done the right thing, but we decided to stay on anyways. Luckily, John saw a gas station at one of the next stops so we though that it had to be the stop we were supposed to get off at. When we got off there was no obvious entrance to the Old Town, like expected from the directions, so we headed down this street that seemed like it could lead us there. Finally we saw a sign that pointed towards the Panba Hostel (the hostel we were staying at) so we headed that way. After a few mins we arrived at the hostel and were greeted by an extremely helpful guy working the front desk. He arranged everything for us for our trip to Tiger Leaping Gorge for the next day and gave us reccomendations on stuff to do in LIjiang. We wanted to visit Jade Snow Mountain, but he warned us that to do everything there would be extremely expensive- he referred to Jade Snow Mountain as the money printer of Lijiang. Because we still wanted to see it, he suggested just going to Yak Meadow, and not doing the peak. He wrote down on the map of the mountain exactly how much everything should cost and told us how to get there. So after getting our room (an extremely nice room with a private bathroom) we headed into the Old Town to grab some food and check it out before catching a cab to the mountain.

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The Old Town was so cool! There were tons of little streets and allys filled with shops selling jewelry, mountain/Tibetan style clothing with tons of crazy and interesting prints, and other random goods. The majority of things that were being sold were like nothing I have seen in Shanghai or any other town we have visited. I really wanted to shop around here but we did not have that much time if we wanted to make it to the mountain. There were tons of things that I thought would make good gifts but since we were going to be hiking for 2 days I did not want to buy anything because my backpack needed to be as light as possible, so I decided that I could shop around in Shangri-la at the end of the trip if I wanted to. There were some guys dressed in furs and had mules and some crazy birds that you could take photos with in the old town center. They walked towards me with the bird (not sure if it was a hawk or what it was) and tried to put it on me but I freaked out and ran away! At one point we passed a shop that had the most adorable golden retriever lounging around that of course I had to stop and pet and fawn over how adorable it was. It made me miss Riley. John and Liz had to practically pull me away from him to keep walking! Besides shops and an adorable dog, there were also a ton of cute little restaurants and bars with patios overlooking the little rivers that passed through the old town, so we decided that we would have to come back to this area at night for dinner and a drink or two.

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We then headed towads the old water wheel to try to catch a cab. Before getting a cab we took some photos at the water wheel and a little waterfall near by that was pretty. There was a taxi line right outside of the Old Town entrance by the water wheel so we hopped in a taxi-van and explained where we wanted to go. They all do flat rates, which the man at our hostel told us to expect- so we paid 100 RMB for him to take us there (about 40 mins outside of the city center). There are mini-busses you can take, and I would suggest doing that instead because they are only 15 RMB per person- you just have to wait for them to fill up. The drive to the mountain was gorgeous. We had the most beautiful weather—sunny and warm with a light breeze—and the air in LIjiang was so clear! We could see miles away. The terrain and mountains, along with the clean air, reminded me of home. It was comforting.

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The cab driver dropped us of at one of the ticket offices so we could buy a ticket for the cable car up to yak mountain and then was on his way. The only complaint I have about this mountain is that it is NOT easy to figure out where to go or how to do what you want to do. There were ticket offices for each place on the mountain you could go to and they were not next to eachother. They were all in different parts of the park which was annoying. It took us a long time to figure out where the ticket office for the Yak Meadow was and once we figured that out, it took us a long time to determine where we were supposed to pick up a bus to take us to the cable car. We finally just showed our ticket to a bus that drove up near the ticket office and he let us on. He drove us and a few other people a little ways up the mountain and then motioned for us to get off at this other bus stop and hop on another bus. We were extremely confused but followed the other two people who were on the bus with us on to another bus. The only seats left open were the ones in the back so we sat there. It was a ridiculously bumpy ride up the mountain but the views from the window as we drove up were breathtaking . We all just kept looking at eachother in amazement and expressing how unbelievably beautiful it was. After about 30 mins of what rivaled an old wooden roller coaster ride with how bumpy and jerky it was, we got off the bus and went to the cable car. We got a kick out of the cable cars because they were super old and jank. They were 2 people cable cars and you had to enter from either side but as they came around the circle they moved so quickly that once the guys opened the little doors to them we had to practically jump into them. The funny part is that although they came around the circle quickly, once out over the land they moved sooo slowly. When I say slow I mean practically stopped. It took us forever to get up to the top, but we didn’t really mind because the views from the car were amazing.

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Finally it was time to hop off the cable car- and I mean that in the most literal sense;  I actually had to hop off of the car because it sped up at the ciricle at the top- and headed towards the meadow. The views of the mountain were spectacular! Honestly words cannot describe how beautiful this area was. There was a little wooden path winding through the meadow and around to where we could no longer see, so we decided to walk along that for a bit to see if we could find the best place to take pictures. There were yaks grazing in the meadow along the path, so we tried to get close to some of them to take some pictures, but at one point one of them got mad and kind of chased us so we ran back to the path pretty quickly. We didn’t try to get close to them again after that haha!

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All along the path were remarkable views of the snow tipped mountain range and Lijiang. We don’t know how there was still so much snow on the mountain because it was quite warm. After about 30 mins of walking along the path we reached a spot with benches and and an UNBELIEVABLE view. We were all so taken aback and completely speechless. This was a great spot to take pictures so we set the camera on one of the benches and took a few group pics with the self timer. We then just sat on the benches in silence and took in the surroundings. It was impossible to take our eyes off of the mountains. They were mesmerizing. While sitting there, staring at the mountains, I realized how utterly quiet it was.  The only thing you could hear was the faint sound of the yak’s bells ringing as they grazed in their meadow. This was the first time that we had ever been truly alone in 4 months. There was nobody else around us- we were literally the only people on this part of the mountain- and it was so peaceful and serene. I forgot how nice it is to just sit in silence, and how relaxing it is to just take in nature and its beauty. None of us wanted to leave so we sat there for probably 30-45 mins just taking in the fresh air, and enjoying the silence and emptiness of the mountain. We finally decided that we should probably head back, and so we continued along the path- it made a loop back to where we started- and stumbled across an old Tibetian temple. There were Tebetian prayer flags hung  along the temple and a little room in which you could pray. We walked around the little temple for a few mins and then headed back to the cable car.

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There was nobody around at all- which we found to be extremely weird since this was supposed to be a huge tourist area- so we had to practically knock on the cable car operator’s window to get him to help us get on the cable car. There was only one of them- unlike at the bottom- so he made us enter from the same side. Getting on like this was pretty comical because since Liz and I had to get on from the same side before the cable car jetted off the edge, we had to take running starts and jump into the car. I’m pretty sure we actually scraped the bottom of the cable car on the ledge as we jumped in. We landed in our seats and Liz and I just looked at each other and laughed. Only in China would that be allowed!

Once at the bottom of the cable car we saw a bus waiting and headed over to it. When we got on, people started clapping and we realized that they had been waiting for us the whole time. We felt kind of bad at that point but how were we supposed to know that they were waiting? We assumed that like every other place we had been, the busses were just on a loop and would come every 15 or 30 mins or something. It was weird. We thought that maybe we got on some tour bus or something because I don’t think that is normal. Who knows. We apologized and then we were on our way back down to the bottom of the mountain. Right as we got off the bus we were approached by a young Chinese man asking us if we needed a ride back into town so we hopped into his blue minibus and paid 15 RMB. This was definitely the way to go, rather than taking a cab. The guy was super nice and spoke some English and was excited to practice it with us. The mini-busses drop the passengers off by the North Entrance to the old city (near the Water Wheel) so our bus driver pointed us in the direction of the water wheel and said goodbye, but not without throwing compliments in Liz and my direction telling us how pretty we are. We get that a lot from the Chinese, and I can’t say I won’t miss that when I get back home.

We then headed to the hotel to take showers and chill for a bit before heading back into the old town for dinner.

The Old Town is even more exciting and lively at night than during the day. There were herds of people roaming the little alleys and streets, rummaging through the shops and enjoying the lovely night. We stumbled across this extremely cute restaurant on one of the little waterways. It had an outdoor patio with extremely comfy chairs and benchs with pink, white, green and red patterned fabric pillows scattered amongst them. There were Tibetian prayer flags hanging above the patio, and flowers and fake butterflies adorned the walls and tables. The food was pretty expensive, but all of the food was similarly priced in the Old Town. The guy at our hostel warned us about that, but we decided it would be alright because it was a beautiful night and we wanted to enjoy the atmosphere of the Old Town at night. The restaurant next door had live music out on their patio so we enjoyed listening to that as we ate our dinner. After we were finshed we walked around the Old Town for a bit more and found a happening bar street. There was a river running down the center of the street and either side was lined with packed bars. There were little clubs blasting party music and flashing lights as well as smaller more quaint bars with patios looking out on the little river. All of the drinks were pretty expensive so we just walked around and looked at the bars and the shops before heading back to the hostel.

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Once at the hostel, John had a beer at the bar while Liz and I sat down and drank some water before heading up to our room for the night. We had a 7 am wake up call for the next morning to leave for Tiger Leaping Gorge so we pretty much just brushed our teeth (with bottled water because we were warned not to even brush our teeth with the water here), checked our email, and messed around on our computers for a bit, and then went to bed.

This has already been the most amazing trip I have been on, and we have not even seen the main attraction of the trip yet (the gorge). I am so happy that we decided to go on this trip and I’m really glad I saved it for the end because I don’t think anything will be able to top this. Check in later to hear about our 2 day hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge and our stay in the Tibetan boarder town of Shangri-La. I’m sure it will be amazing!

Kunming

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4/16/2013
This was probably the most impromptu trip I have ever taken. We decided to go on this trip because we got a great deal on airfare– it was about $260 round trip (and the other times we had looked into the flights it was more like $400+) which is one of the cheaper flights we have booked, and its definitely the farthest we have traveled. Since this deal pretty much came out of nowhere, Liz and I threw this trip together in about 2 days; Including booking plane tickets, hostels and trains to get us to every destination. I thought it was pretty impressive of us! Originally there were going to be 4 of us- a great travel size group. Liz John and I were to fly out of Shanghai at 1:30 and Nathan was going to follow us and fly out at 2:30 because by the time he tried to book our flight it was sold out. So we headed to the Pudong airporat around 11am and Nathan came with us in order to save costs on a tax and save him the hassle of getting to the airport by himself. Liz John and I checked in using the self check in machines but when Nathan tried to check in, it would not allow him. We thought that it might be because Spring airlines  only lets you check in about an hour or an hour and a half before your flight. We asked the girl standing next to the machines if this was the case and she said yes, so we did not worry about it. We all decided to grab a quick lunch before heading through security. We left Nathan to check in and told him to call one of us if for some reason there were any issues with him checking in. As we were boarding our flight Nathan called John and explained that his flight was actually out of Hongqiao airport, not Pudong, and so he was in a cab rushing to the airport to try to catch his flight. We thought that he had a pretty good chance of making it, but when we landed in Kunming we had a text message waiting for us from him saying otherwise. We encouraged him to take a different flight out the next morning and meet us in Lijiang, because he could still enjoy the trip, but he thought it would be too complicated and decided not to come. And then there were three…

As we were initiating our descent into Kunming, the flight attendants told us to raise our window shades in preparation for landing, and when I did I was surprised to see the landscape below us. It was beautiful mountainous terrain spanning as far as the eye could see, with red sand terraces winding down the mountains and farming areas in the gullies. It was scenery that I would expect to see while flying over somewhere in south America. It was beautiful.

We landed in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. The airport was surrounded by red dirt fields and farmland, and the landing strip was barely a landing strip more like a clay/dirt road. I felt like it was a small airport somewhere in Mexico or something for small prop planes, not large industrial jets. I wish I had my phone on so that I could have snappd a few pictures because I’m not describing it very well.

Once we got off the plane and entered the airport I was surprised by how developed it was. The modern airport felt so out of place in this little, seemingly undeveloped town. We had a few hours before we needed to catch our overnight train to Lijiang so we headed to the airport shuttle area and randomly chose a bus that looked like it took us to the Kunming city center. We paid 25 RMB for a ticket and luckily it took us right smack dab in the middle of the city! We had no plans for once we were in the city, so we looked at a map and saw that we were pretty close to a pedestrian street, so we headed towards that. On the way we stumbled across this park so we walked around that for a while. It was really pretty and serene. There was this little pagoda surrounded by palm trees that was pretty cool, and another pagoda in the center of the lake that had some lily pads floating in it, but we couldn’t get to the pagoda because the lake had overflown and was covering the path out to it. So we left the park and headed towards the pedestrian street to find food.

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To our surprise the pedestrian street was awesome. It was packed with people and had a ton of nice stores and snack places. We passed a frozen yogurt place and got a little too excited over it and decided we had to come back after dinner. We ended up eating dinner at this Italian/Asian fusion type restaurant called Cabana- not sure why since there was no Spanish or Mexican influence to the place whatsoever. It was pretty good and really cheap. They had a wide variety of options for food which is nice. After killing around 2 hours at this place, we headed to get frozen yogurt and then catch a cab to the train station. We boarded the train around 10:20pm, left at 10:55 and pretty much went straight to bed. The train was not as comfortable as the one we took to Beijing but it was fine. We all slept pretty well I think.