Wednesday, August 31, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 110

Day 110: (31 August 2011):
- Since not leaving for Fuji, stay in Osaka even longer.
- Lots of organizing place to stay in SF.
- Leg worse, quite painful & swollen.
- Meet Ben & co for lunch again. To a set meal place, the 3rd place Ben mentioned for places to eat around work.
- Ume chicken. Nice, nothing too extreme.
- Head back, feel like a snack. Sashimi, vegetable drink & azuki ice cream sandwich from tamade.
- Long day of relaxing (so good to relax a bit), trying to fix computer (need Ben’s password for create Haiku USB boot), & CS / SF messages. Laundary(?).
- Meet Ben for dinner @ office. Got info & decided on a nearby fugu place during lunch.
- Bought an expensive Y5xxx set meal to share & a fugu dish we were curious about. Pretty empty. No one notice us enter, apologize.
- For all single serving dishes, gave us two! So nice of them, we felt a bit bad about it.
- Raw is definitely the right way to eat fugu. Wonderful texture. No tingly toxin though.
- Strange disk / wax paper boiling bowl to make rice thing.
- Ben chat as he make. He from Nagoya. Translate a bit for me & about my travels.
- After dinner, bow, show us outside. Give Ben Y1000 coupon.
- Walk to Umeda, some kind of CS meetup.
- Check Blarney Stone first. Gaijin hangout. The elevator: Jap. saying “there is a lot of gaijin here, I see one already,” then Ben burst out laughing, guy bow & apologize.
- At HUB, slightly expensive, gaijin sports bar.
- Chat a bit. Have some beers.
- 2 girls walked in, straight to a French guy & gave him their number.
- OK, but some didn’t speak English that well, some OK conversations, but nothing too good.
- Head home after long day. Try Haiku boot. Not work.
- Prev. attempt with Ubuntu disk: start booting, then say file system not found, & no longer work after.
- Life supermarket. Plan for weekend.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 109

Day 109: (30 August 2011):
- Woke up at decent time after Ben went to work.
- Got lucky & caught most express train to Kobe.
- Fast & smooth. Pass many stations non-stop.
- Section where there is only one track. Wonder where other direction is.
- The train took me to centre of Kyoto.
- Walk to N-S line. Again, familiar outside. Cross the bridge with Kanagawa hangout, Chinese restaurant.
- Notice this train line goes to a station in Osaka too!
- Since did a more Southern loop last time, doing a more Northern loop this time, with Ben rec. go to Silver Pagoda.
- Look for gyu-don. Can’t find! Walk by some random temples, not that interesting. Van selling bento boxes by school. Tempted to take bus, but can’t figure out details. Hot.
- Commercial/store area in front of Ginkakuji.
- Decide go in even though want gyu-don.
- Nice & peaceful. Raked sand patterns. Small trail with forest section & mini waterfall. Not mind blowing but calm & pretty. Nice-ish view of city. Sign point out a tree transplanted from one of the nuclear blast-affected areas.
- Roofs are very pretty & neat.
- No silver panels, construction not as planned (?) (look up history).
- Enjoyed a matcha tea ice cream snack as started on the philosopher’s walk.
- Philosopher’s walk: clear smooth-flowing water. Wavering river weed & some fish.
- Calm tiny path & road beside the channel.
- Walk about ½, but then break to visit shrines up hill.
- Quiet neighbourhood, houses, trees.
- Nice quiet shrine in forest. Raked sand. Moss on thick thached gate roof.
- Fountain with leaf spout.
- Possible monk living quarters, but didn’t go there.
- Continue on philosopher’s walk.
- All temples signposted with history. Most closed to public.
- Walked up a street to find a temple, but just residential area.
- School children in uniforms (returning from lunch?).
- Bump into British (?) couple often.
- Go to the temple with the pagoda with nice view (look up name). Wasn’t going to enter, but then decided why not? Kind of expensive (Y600?).
- Even though I spoke English, attendant gave me a Japanese pamphlet, which I changed for an English one.
- Kind of reminded me of feel of Ginkakuji.
- Grounds divided up into an indoor loop: no shoes, wan wear provided slippers if want.
- Some nice rooms. Covered walkway up to a pagoda.
- Took chance to go to quiet toilet. Toilet slippers.
- Big prayer hall nice.
- Outside loop. Pagoda: nice view of city. Ponds.
- Bridge to mini-island with altar.
- Some construction being done.
- Some autumn colours just beginning to turn.
- Tried to find road to the couple of temples in forest, but after some wandering, come to some stairs & paths after some confusing alleys / roads. Nice though, bridge by pond, a temple. Person ringing large bell by large chord as with a few places) worshipping. Some sitting by table & vending machine.
- Continue to main entrance of (look up name, the big temple complex).
- Decide go up gate.
- Very large wooden gate. Access by an exposed staircase from one of the side houses.
- More nice views. Warm, comforting wood. Statues inside (?) (Don’t fully remember. Check up).
- Continue to inner section.
- Beautiful series of rooms with paintings. (Missed first time).
- The zen garden (tiger crossing river or something like that).
- Didn’t go to the side garden (Not mentioned in LP).
- Went by some cool brick aquaducts. Quite a good flow rate. Many people take photos through arches.
- Follow LP instructions to visit the forest shrines.
- Past a shrine & graveyard.
- Forest trail (paved) (with unpaved branches).
- Washing stations along trail.
- A bit spooky alone.
- An altar that you have to pass through.
- Cave with a small waterfall outside. Statues, graves.
- Janitor closet.
- Pass a western couple on way back. Me: “Hello.” They: “Konnichiwa.”
- Glad to be back due to creepiness.
- Did all the main things I wanted. Walk by more temples, by bank of river with fountains, through town. Intl. center & large torii near wity gov. blds.
- Walk by the largest wooden gate, but already closed (5pm). Sit for a rest & use banks of vending machines. Read LP. Quite a few tourists around. Taxis & buses there.
- Sad is closed. Sounds interesting from LP description.
- Continue, now through the familiar territory of the park, old-style streets, tower, etc. Remember making call/rest last time with Ben. Sick. Abt same time & lighting too!
- Lucky idols scattered around with descriptions.
- Still quite a bit of time left before I’m to meet Ben.
- Walk up the shop-lined road, so familiar. Tasty-looking matcha ice cream.
- To my surprise, Kiomizu still open. Open until 6:30.
- Considered get some food first, but then decide not.
- Side section with the love finder test. Lots of myths/idols. Closed? But still lots people go see. Hear about test stones, didn’t see them. Hear about dark room to feel around, didn’t see.
- Cool worship hall with big gong thing.
- Nice lighting, sun setting.
- Sadly, some construction blocking full view.
- Hills with lots of graves in forest. Map of plots.
- Follow trail down to sacred spring.
- Do washing ceremony. Cups in UV sanitizers. Water supposedly sacred and has healing power?
- Brief chat with American / Jap. gf.
- Following trail up, leads to upper outside. If come this way, no ticket needed?
- Walk back through busy town. Familiar. Stores where we had to go to bathroom last time.
- Sit in park by pond, read LP & wait.
- See the temple we missed last time.
- Help girls take photo. “sugoi!”
- Wander alleyways a bit.
- Overhear some talk abt. seeing a geisha from westeners. Wonder if real or tourist geisha.
- Back of pachinko parlour, see balls exchanged in alleyway.
- Cool AC vent w/hot vent right beside.
- Ben arrive. Meet with him.
- Leg worse than ever, been getting worse over time. Happy did not do Fuji, although possibly do-able, just painful.
- Subway station putters had water from the streams flowing down it. Intentional?
- Wanted the Nagoya style izakaya as did not make it to Nagoya.
- Decide on an izikaya with basashi. Some looking & decide on one on main strip.
- Delicious izikaya meal to end a tiring day. Non-stop walking. Not much eating.
- Nice curtained-off booth.
- Y1000 nomihadai (or discount, choice). Quite a few drinks. Surprisingly good drink service. Good variety of things.
- Very salty tako. Fill in detailed survey.
- Decide food good, but nothing extraordinary. Tako too salty.
- Make sure catch last train back.
- Back & sleep. Getting late. Ben has work next day.

Monday, August 29, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 108

Day 108: (29 August 2011):
- With Ben back to work, slept in a good amount.
- More e-mails for Fuji & SF housing. Directions for Mode-off.
- Bright & hot outside.
- Go to udon place with coworkers. Have cheesu katsu curry udon. Delicious. As Ben said, significantly better than cheap generic curry udon (also tatsy).
- get some final shopping instructions from Ben. Today is Fuji shopping day.
- Go to shinsaibashi / Namba. The bld. with Mode-off closed! Walk around a bit.
- Visit near stores by Dotomburi as there were sporting stores, but then decided wasn’t too interested in the stuff.
- Forgot where I was trying to walk to that day, maybe Ben’s place/Namba(I think) but get somewhat lost.
- Walk & notice maids standing around, and see a maid café. Anime shops. A bit creepy.
- Go one street over: Den-den town. All makes sense now!
- Quick tour of Den-den town.
- Triedly walk to Nmba. (Bld bigger than I expected, approaching from different direction).
- Walk back to Ben’s. More organizational work.
- When Ben comes home, look for food. Choice boiled down to a Korean-ish izakaya & motsunabe place.
- Motsunabe / tepan place. Shoe lockers. Residential bld?
- Sit on floor & eventually, just us in restaurant.
- Nabe. Tepan thing, same as nabe, but in square pan...?
- Chat a bit. I extend stay a bit more than planned.
- Decide go to Kyoto tomorrow, since not leaving Osaka yet.
- Find is very expenlise to Isehara: Shinkansen, no good local way of doing it other than bus to Tokyo.
- Msg. from Frederik. Typhoon. Decide cancel, as Ben & co. say even light rain will make climb bad. Should not attempt. Releived in a way.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 107

Day 107: (28 August 2011):
- Wake up at a descent time again, for Koya San.
- Get to station approx on schedule & catch one of the higher express trains.
- Switch to a local train at a stop. Ad for special sightseeing train. One-sided layout.
- Nice scenery, hills, villages, etc.
- A few stops in middle of forest. Not sure where / why.
- Finally, transfer to a steep cable war for final ascent.
- Ears popping, pretty high. Great view below on way up. See station drop away.
- Turns out need to pay more, fare not enough.
- Take bus: windy bus-only road. To near entrance of main area at far end. See the fare board go up. Strangely, 6 is in kanji while all other stages in arabic numerals.
- Look for food, see lots of tasty stores through town.
- Cheap curry udon. Wait for Alberto to show up.
- While waiting for Alberto, ate vending machine ice cream.
- Bought box (1 of each) of delicious-looking mochi/dessert things.
- Met with Albert at entrance. Photo set-up.
- Lots of graves. This outer portion has a lot of graves set up by companies. Big monuments. Cool statues, (rocket, etc.).
- Debate / discuss if we should take photos. Sign near inner area says appropriate dress / no photos inside, so settle debte.
- Worshipping area. Water on Bhuddah, not sure if ppl. going it right.
- inner area has big temple thing. Pretty cool.
- Downstairs has shelves of small lanterns. Cool.
- The purity test stones. Line too long so didn’t do.
- Wander around outer area.
- Ben overhear a Jap. tourist say is like world of Totoro.
- Huge trees, very cool vibe.
- Old gravestones with Nepalese Bhuddhist symbols.
- Lots of the wood posts with lettering on them.
- Moss. Rock stacking. 1 yen coins in cracks. Very peaceful.
- Some famous / rich / corporate tombs as well.
- Wonder if all the tourists are disturbing their peace.
- Walk outside through town. Info centre. Eat the tasty things.
- Lots of shrines / temples in town, many charging admission.
- Went to the one with a famous Zen garden (2 dragons?).
- Alberto has the book that gets signed & stamped at shrines.
- The cool big red pagoda. A concert (?) was being set up there.
- Road’s “grid problem.”
- Keep walking to main gate. Far. Buy drink from a small supermarket. Shop w/ lots of people, wasn’t sure what. An old wooden gate. Windy road & hill, trail map.
- Find bus station, wait for (last) bus back.
- The dried tofu things in shops.
- Bus stop line.
- Felt we got a pretty good tour. Didn’t warrant an overnight stay (For ~Y10 000).
- Took train back, switch to JR as decide go to Osaka-jo for some kind of light festival. Lament how JR worse than subway.
- Walked through park to castle. Familiar from prev. visit, although this time is at night. Most people heading back now.
- Pics of castle at night.
- Grass & concrete / steps area filled with candle lanterns with writing on them.
- People sitting around. Cool city background.
- Up near castle, some food stalls, hard not to eat, getting very hungry.
- Lanterns placed in patterns, words.
- Long walk to subway. Mildly lost, but used map signs.
- Finally decide eat @ Kurazushi near ben’s.
- After a short wait, really happy to get table. All very hungry!
- Matcha & hot water tap. Sushi on belt, quite a good selection. All Y100.
- Separate orders through screen. Delivered via express cart. Awesome!
- Ate 11 plates, only Y1100, stuffed.
- Plate return slot. Animations with chain mascots, win shinkansen gotchapong.
- More e-mails abt. Fuji. go to sleep very tired.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 106

Day 106: (27 August 2011):
- Wake up @ moderate time in morning (~10am?) to go to Kobe.
- Dog poop. Ruin my view of Japan?
- Considered getting kobe beef, but had slightly blocked nose / slightly sick, so leaning against. Tired still.
- Make our way to Umeda. Try to meet another CanAsian friend of Ben’s, but apparently difficult to arrange things with him.
- Story about a friend who just doesn’t try to learn Japanese. Says English with Japanese accent and hope it works. Even basic food ordering is not done in Japanese.
- Get on one of the better express trains at Umeda.
- Ben tell me of the confusing express system & ranking, with non-descriptive or counterintuitive names.
- Train surprisingly cheap. Only slightly more than the subway ride to station.
- Got in mild AC car, move.
- As per usual in Japan, very on-time, extremely clean & neat.
- Thought the burgundy trains looked very old-fashioned.
- 3-4 trains left at same time. Cool to be part of the “pack” of trains, all leaving ~ same time, same speed across the bridge. (To the place where the pronunciation of the place is strange).
- Train is very smooth & fast. Houses wizz by. Head toward the mountains & hills. Blds on hills & valleys.
- Arrive is busy station. We both struggle in the humid heat. Glad to see it wasn’t just me.
- Walk along a pretty cool & very busy covered arcade.
- Discussions with Canasian friend (Alberto?) continuing.
- 1st stop: Kobe’s famous Chinatown. Hot & sunny.
- Chinatown area has traditional entry gates & blds. Red decorations, lanterns. Strange seeing Chinese greeting & speaking Japanese. Can tell the difference. Almost like they resent repeating so much & getting tired of it.
- Lots of food stores: combo restaurant & snack stand. Fried foods, steamed buns & sheng jian bao seem popular. Pork belly buns & pre-made Peking duck - steamed bread sandwiches. Fake food, as with all restaurants in Japan. Food surprisingly expensive.
- Want to eat at this steamed bun place Ben read about, but very long line in the sun. Decide walk around first. Kobe beef croquette, OK, but I believe Kobe beef should never be ground.
- Finally, decide wait in line. I use umbrella. Statues & pagodas.
- Happy to be inside mildly A/C room, as unbearably hot outside.
- Buns surprisingly cheap. Looks like it’s all they make. Wrapping take-aways in paper together.
- Ordered set of 3 for each. Eat-in. Found a bit of table space. Cup of tea & vineagar.
- Store with panda eating food socks for every Jap. region (almost).
- Surprisingly good, Had that umami taste, in same league as the shen jian bao of Shanghai. Clearly not as good, but remind me of the goodness level of xiao long bao in Shanghai.
- Continue explore the small, but happening & compact area. Useful map signs on streets.
- Suddenly, rain. Duck in a conbini for shelter.
- Ben debating about buying an umbrella: he only believes in the Y100 ones. Then “trade up” as he loses a series of umbrellas at parties, restaurants, etc.
- Seems like some others also hanging out, read magazines.
- Quite enjoyable. Wonder if hanging out in conbinis is acceptable & normal.
- Rain starts, & ends, eventually Ben buys umbrella.
- I’m always jealous of the clear umbrellas in Japan.
- Rain doesn’t continue for that much longer.
- Walk to the water. Cool statues, some cool buildings.
- Hot. Take any chance to go into AC.
- Walk by tower & cruise terminal, then to a cluster of malls. Familiar suburban mall feel, once again, surprisingly busy. These malls are moving the core of Kobe.
- Buy Y1000 shoe inserts to fix “grid problem.” Ben translate for me. Very interesting situation.
- I will climb Mt. Fuji in those shoes? “sugoi!” Seems to be the common reaction I get (Ben’s Jap. friends, co-workers.) Making me very concerned.
- Tired, enjoy sitting on benches under basement escalators by supermarket.
- Cool, “tiered” escalators in mall. Seems inefficient & unnecessary.
- Meet Alberto in mall, he buy a shirt, on sale.
- Decide visit Ijinkan.
- Raining outside again. Looped around through a parking lot accidentally.
- Quite cozy in rain, with low-level hum of people, lights, traffic, trains.
- Left shoe extremely wet. Keep complaining about it. Recurring problem. Even in non-puddle wetness. in SF: investigate, huge gash of poor quality rubber coming apart.
- Increasingly tired, but end up walking entire way.
- Guide arrows / maps on road.
- Getting dark, can’t see much. Didn’t see anything that was obvious colonial foreign houses.
- A bit hilly, small shops. Atmosphere did remind me of SF.
- Walk back in dir. of train station. Decide not hungry enough for cheap all you can eat Kobe yakiniku places.
- Quite a chill but busy environment. Like it very much.
- End up deciding to eat back in Osaka.
- Meet Ben’s friend at Namba. As with all, think I am Japanese & introduce herself in Japanese, ask me, etc.
- 1st place she led us to (in the covered promenade) had long wait but looked very good.
- Settle on okonomiyaki & negiyaki. Spatula tool with “fork” section. Heard from Jap. lady “yakisoba” when Ben translated my Q. Surprised I understood. Ben act as translator again. “Ichiban oishi manjuyaki wa doko desu ka?” meant monjaiyaki. Throughout visit, random phrases, which I have a habit of doing. Best purase” ichiban sugoi ramen wa doko desu ka?
- Negiyaki looked like pile of negi, which magically turned into a pancake.
- Reaction to Fuju plan.
- Drink a bit. Head back after dinner.
- Happy to sleep & rest. Exhausted for some reason.
- Make tentative plans for next day. More Fuji e-mails.
- Getting used to cozy room & bathroom set up.

Friday, August 26, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 105

Day 105: (26 August 2011):
- Arrange to meet Ben at office for lunch.
- Use morning to sleep in & fix computer (try) & find housing in SF & look for Couchsurfers / Fuji information.
- Meet Ben @ office. Tried to check out a bank for exchange, but didn’t have time. Buy Y850 day pass. Ask station attendant help. Turns out “today only” Y650. Great deal, as Y280 to Ben’s office.
- Try ramen place again, but long line again.
- Okonomiyaki place. Took long time to serve. Pork belly kimchi. Should have gotten gyoza for Y100 extra.
- A bit awkward w/ Japanese vs. English, but OK.
- “That’s a very Markli answer.” Female ask, Ben explain. “So can you say Benli?” Best quote of the trip.
- Had a bit of female’s, as she did not finish. Took 5 extra min to eat, very hot. Feel bad they 15 min late back to work.
- Have the tasty salty litchi drink Ben had night before.
- Take subway to Osaka Port for aquarium. Stop Just before big bridge on an outside portion of rail. Nice view of dense suburbs whizzing by.
- Very guided tour path. According to Ben, all museums & such in Japan all have set up tour paths. Not as free form as the West. Nice walk around. Large rainbow ferris wheel. Other attractions & hotel. Walk around water area. Pretty expensive admission.
- Useful pamphlet. Feeding times. Offer me Chinese pamphlet, I take English.
- Entrance on line up, covered queing area with mist. Busy concourse.
- Smelly forest area on top.
- Giant fish in some exhibits.
- Feeders have sea lions do tricks, feed penguin, the animals climbing all over.
- Children zone in front of windows.
- Lower few floors spiral down, visiting same exhibits at different depths. A bit repetitive.
- Giant central aquarium cool. Huge ray doing flips. Hammerheads. Divers. Whale shark with escorts following (fish). But just swim in circles, & fin is injured. Not as big as expected.
- The cute dorsal finless dolphin. “Hi everybody.” Cartoon character quite cute & amusing, doing diff things in exhibits.
- Turtles & king crabs. Tank filled with small fish.
- Escalator with warning of can’t return afterwards.
- Jellyfish exhibit. The angel-like things very popular. Much smaller than I expected.
- On way out: special “Kawaii” exhibit. See ads in subway.
- Tiny fish. Strange cute blobs. “Kawaii!” from girls few times per minute.
- one small eel-like burrowing fish look in direction I suddenly turn to look in.
- Small jellies also in exhibit.
- Small sea urchin with giant eye-like bulbus thing. Ben says no wonder they make the bosses in videogames in Japan. Turns out bulbous thing is an anus.
- Also cool touch tank where you can touch different sharks & rays after washing hands. Signs indicating where is OK to touch, guy with megaphone constantly saying instructions.
- The ray that flared up & turned away right before get to my hand, I go “ehh?” & a female cracks up beside me.
- Walk around busy plaza a bit. One or two street shows attracting attention.
- Some shopping centres. Had matcha float after some confusion ordering: pointing to pictures, signs, etc.
- Felt comfortable in a modern shopping centre for first time in so long. Kind of like a suburban mall. Surprisingly busy, families.
- Didn’t have that much time left, but decided to go for a quick walk around Tsuruhashi.
- Lots of Korean restaurants as Ben stated, make me hungry. Cool alleyways with lights under train tracks, lots of small stores. Line of restaurants & blds under tracks. Small area, outside is just like typical busy Japan neighbourhood.
- Subway back & meet Ben on time.
- Ben not ready yet. Say hi through window then come down. Stay a bit extra due to late return from lunch.
- Walk around Umeda a bit. Busy/cool place beside / under train tracks.
- Back to meet Ben (of course, constant drinks from vending machines).
- Walk to Umeda. Discuss the 3 colour ramen ranking system. Blue, green, gold. Ramen maps.
- Eat at (3-6-3?), a “green” ranked place. Agreed to rank. Pretty solid ramen, cool room, steamy kitchen, acrylic steam barrier.
- Ben had tsukimen, said it was pretty solid. Of course, more instruction sheets on how to eat tsukimen.
- Decide drink in Namba (or Shinsaibashi?). Cool flourescent tube “chandaliers” in station.
- Find a cheap izakaya. Try chu-hi. Skate wing bones as snack.
- Mini toy vending machines. Get race car card.
- Play games with coins.
- Hinted us to leave (ask us any more orders) as we just drink slowly, not much food. Take their Y280(?) drink deal.
- Walk back. Nice, but far-ish walk. Remind me of walking drunk in Tokyo to our hotel last time.
- Decide go to Kobe tomorrow.
- A CSer going to climb Fuji with me. Can stay at his place for a night. Turns out is close to Tokyo, had impression it was half way.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 104

Day 104: (25 August 2011):
- Records starting to get sparse, writing in Early Nov. After starting work in SF.
- Ben was right, very dark in morning. Go back to sleep after Ben leaves for work.
- Arrange to meet Ben at a ramen place he’s been meaning to try at work but always has line.
 -Check Google maps. Walked in wrong dir. from subway, but eventually found. Familiar ticketing system, atmosphere on streets, etc.
- Sit @ park across & Ben & coworkers arrive in a few min. Line too long. (Wait - did Ben’s co-workers show up this day? I don’t think so).
- One female “eingo-ninja.” One male, tiny bit of English. Exchange office. Nervous bowing.
- Go to tantan tsekimen place instead. 1-10 rated spicyness, black & white sesame. White (& any milder versions in Japan) for women. Also a 20 spicy black available from machine.
- Luckily, 3 black was the special (1 special per friday), only Y500.
- Amazingly tasty. Sesame water to accompany.
- Glad whenever indoors, as Osaka is surprisingly hot & humid. Sweating even when standing still.
- Grind your own sesame. Crispy rice soaked delicious.
- Set of rules & steps written on how to eat. Seems there are instructions (often with cartoons) in lots of restaurants.
- Short discussion of what to ho.
- Decide take slow walk/back, take subway if necessary.
- Easy directions from Ben. Show me where his office is. Walk to Umeda. Familiar. Yodobashi.
- Walked around Umeda for a while getting lost. Osaka station: underground surprisingly busy. Hanshin store. Look for bank / exchange. No real good rates.
- Decide may as well visit Sky Bld. Underground walkway with painted progress indicators on walls. Construction.
- Some kind of Science of Doraemon exhibit. Lots of kids & balloons.
- Go in lobby, directed me to outside up escalators. Decide take a look at Showa street underground, as written in Ben’s LP.
- Nothing too exciting. Some places with good atmosphere, but small. Good number of food stalls.
- Up to sky lobby. Cool glass elevator tube / shaft. Futuristic escalator tube with Japanese announcements. Very overhyped in LP, as usual.
- Buy ticket. Up to observation deck.
- Indoor deck has small viewing platforms & cafe. Overrun by kids from Doraemon exhibit.
- Nice views from inside deck, glass pretty clean.
- Outside deck dissappointing. Small circle track on square roof, so roof gets in way of view. Cool seeing down the open ring tough (through glass).
- Futuristic sounding announcements.
- lots of bridges. Lines of multiple trains constantly going in & out of station.
- See the bld with highway on ramp going through it again.
- Building with cathederal on it.
- Stayed a while to enjoy view & try compare view with map.
- Harbour & hills in distance. Dramatic clouds.
- Cool down a bit in Yodobashi. Song. Familiar bright busy store. Gotchapong lanes.
- See a few cool alleyways. Arrive at island park with city hall.
- Nice small park. Bridge joins a small garden section. Water sculpture show is just a big hose.
- Rest, read LP. Concrete shores nice effect against tidy blds.
- Bridge off island. Shinsaibashi to Namba very happening, big busy covered promenades.
- Should have stopped for some mochi & taiyaki, but still getting used to Japan (again).
- Lots of cool alleyways.
- Dotomburi.
- Walk back, pretty tired.
- Ben try to look for a summer festival, may have found one. Didn’t have much time to rest, meet Ben at subway stop.
- Not many snack stalls. Some kind of show. Lots of lanterns. People dressed up in traditional costumes.
- Tako sandwich with no takoyaki (ran out. Discounted price). Forgot to put mayonaise on mine, as expected, friendly, apologise, “will put on a lot!” Ben translate for me.
- Didn’t stay long, as is not the summer festival Ben hoped for.
- Walked to Americamura, familiar concrete triangle park. So strange to be back there with Ben again.
- Real tako sandwich. Delicious.
- Went to a motsunabe place he liked with Kevin (for some reason Kevin is recorded as Ken in a few places in notes). Happy to sit from day of walking.
- 2 nabes. Salty but delicious soup.
- Due to miscommunication, they gave us more salty soup, when we meant to say we were finishing the bit left. Lots of umami flavour. Surprisingly, the cheaper nabe was better than the spicy nabe. Hot gasses blowing in my face. Cool exhaust pipes.
- Quick walk through Nipponbashi / Den-Den Town. Ice cream bar. Mostly closed, but still some open. Smaller version of Akihabara. Cool covered sidewalks.
- Head back full & over salted. Also tired.
- Got a drink or two from supermarket. Fake beer, Autumn beers, chu-hi.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 103

Day 103: (24 August 2011):
- Wake up pretty early. Pack up remaining items left to dry overnight.
- Meet da bo & he take me to taxi & tell driver where to go.
- We find Anding building & he drop me off. Ask, find bus stop.
- Buy ticket from attendant standing there.
- Bus not full, comfortable ride to airport. Lots of taxis.
- Buy bunch of food/snacks for Ben.
- Try find breakfast but nothing I like: all western food.
- Finally time came to board. Gate 50 open close to boarding. I went in wrong line first. Turns out is kind of domestic flight. Strange gate configuration. Short flight to Qingdao. Surprised no meal.
- Collected @ gate, walked in group out & through security & customs to connecting flight.
- Straight to boarding. Surprised they schedualled it so tight.
- Meal on flight. Lots of Japanese, even on connecting flight on Beijing.
- Arrive Osaka just before 4pm. Customs: passport getting dangerously full.
- Excited to see Ben, but at same time, weary of travel already lost the excitement & feel like want to go home to work. Also worried about visa issues, etc.
- Bought phone card, surprisingly expensive. Should have just used coins.
- Ben will probably get home same time as I arrive. Plan will meet there.
- Pretty smooth finding train, etc. Familiar tickets. Knew the drill by now. Later: realized can just put all coins in machine at same time. Forget to take change once. Ben say I fast. Joke I just throw coins at machine & usually enough get in the slot for ticket. Didn’t take buses. Causeway over buses. Info desk & map.
- View of “Lego houses.” Bridge from airport. Not just an airport train, but one of the expresses.
- Mildly air conditioned, bit too warm for comfort.
- Confusing express ratings, start to understand eventually.
- Transfer to Midosuji @ Namba. One station to Daikokucho.
- Used Ben’s directions, but didn’t find obvious place. Turns out house name, “Apple House,” not displayed. Addresses on small green plates.
- Look for payphone, none in station, eventually found at Life supermarket.
- Y100 call. Better deal than card. “Safeway-like” or “crazy Japanese with lots of flashing lights?”
- See Ben as walk out towards station. Happy to see him.
- Very small room with mat on floor, bathroom, unused kitchen area.
- I am getting increasingly tired.
- Went to Don Quixhote (familiar & exotic multi-floor Japanese shop.) to get air mattress. Tell me about all his air mattress capers when others & Kevin was there.
- Walking tour of Shinsakai, previous era associations. “Unsafe” for Japan standards & unkept, but not too bad in my opinion & Ben’s.
- Showed me the outside of the expensive spa complex too. Looks like a mall. Supposedly has waterlsides, etc.
- Ate at famous kushiyaki place (Daruma?). Short chat with some exchange person from Chicago. Ben says similar to the less famous places. Fried stuff & cabbage dipped in the communal sauce. Deliceous. Beef appetizer.
- Some goes with sauce.
- Set up air mattress & sleep. Chair cushion that was not so good for pillow.
- Pretty much no floor space left in Ben’s room.
- Warned me of darkness in morning. Balconey faces concrete wall. Washer drains on balconey: normal. Booties (silicone) on balconey.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 102

Day 102: (23 August 2011):
- Pass through Beijing South again. In time to catch 1st bus.
- Pretty quiet that early in morning. Still dark when we start.
- Get to da bo’s. Soy milk. Breakfast @ fast food chain place. Buy shoes.
- Sat at da bo’s until hotel ready. Washed some clothes.
- Turns out dad had to make a run to a company, so left before noon.
- Day of rest in hotel. Lunch w/ da bo. Some fast restaurant, quite good, lots of his co-workers go.
- Internet. Nap. Bluescreen on wake up. Can no longer boot computer. Very bad timing.
- Try find food for Ben, no real good stuff.
- Dinner at Szechuan restaurant. Expensive, well known. Some less pricy but very tasty dishes. Donkey. Da bo says some inappropriate things: Best donkey skin whipped, erect donkey penis cut off, abt be not finding virgin, etc. More & more lean to have me find a gf from everyone.
- Cousin pay me a visit late @ night. Sleep @ 11-12. Early start for tomorrow too.

Monday, August 22, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 101

Day 101: (22 August 2011):
- Drop bags off @ reception for storage. Storage tickets. Breakfasts have pretty good choice. Remember first day happy compared to North Korea. Random Chinese hotel compared to what is probably NK’s best hotel.
- Take bus to near train station. Over 1hr wait. Others also getting concerned. #8 bus.
- Old bus show up. Extremely bumpy ride after turn off to dirt road.
- Piles of garbage dumped over walls down hill.
- Out to the countryside. Passed a surprisingly large city/town.
- See small dirt structures on hills, signal towers?
- get off @ a town. Thought dad had plan/knew where we are going, but turns out not.
- Nice gates at some villages.
- Ask directions in village. Dusty, empty.
- Small shop accessed through a room with bed, weed stove & traditional “kang.” Two old people chatting.
- Person had heavy accent, could not write, but pointed us in a direction. Dad bought a old-looking bottle of Coke on shelf.
- Since said was only 2-3 li, walk.
- Dad wave down a taxi, we decide take ride, he seems to knew where old Great Wall is.
- Pretty far drive, past a factory. Turns out is the coal washing factory Da Bo described to us (?).
- Drive almost to Fengzhen. Down a side driveway with a tourist sign of old Great Wall area.
- Turns out we get dropped off at #8 bus terminus stop.
- Walk through small quaint village with brick / mud blds. Past cool gate & wall.
- Farming village, see fields around.
- Past village, fields, then big wall. Another cool gate.
- Walk through field & up wall.
- Series of walled-off areas. Maybe for traps? Villages? Now all fields.
- Different crops, sorghum, millet, etc.
- Use umbrella against sun when outside village.
- Climb around walls.
- Cool other small village. View of train tracks, cows, Inner Mongolia just across & up hills. Storage sheds.
- Another walled off area: old bricks & tile pieces. Some with parts of words embossed. Old artefacts or recent rubbish?
- See an old wall with large letters carved. From communist times?
- Walk by rows of garden sheds. Modernish road reminds me of suburbs. Sheep droppings.
- Walk past tall old wall into cool abandoned section of village.
- Short chat with some Czech backpackers who hitchhiked here from Inner Mongolia - how did they do that?
- Walking back through town, didn’t take a great photo op of old man sitting with his donkey. Dad take photos of sheep herder.
- Wait at bus stop for a while, then dad ask ladies across street. Turns out bus not coming for a couple of hours at 4:30pm.
- Walk down road & hail passing bus on highway, by recommendation of ladies. See all forms of vehicles carrying coal, from large trucks to old tractors. Small coal pieces on road, very light & feels almost like charcoal.
- Hard to differentiate between buses & trucks.
- 8 van stopped for us, we took last 2 seats.
- Drove straight back to station in Datong. My fold out seat had no back rest. Took a height-limited route through dusty villages (& rubbish on ground), lots of van buses running this route.
- Took cab back to hotel area.
- Walk to explore new walls. As a taxi driver says, crazy the walls were taken down by the Gang of Four onlf a few decades ago, and now they are being reconstructed.
- Very large construction project. Thick walls. Passes (arches) for roads. Pagodas on walls. Will circle all of city centre. Plan is to replace all blds enclosed by walls with old-style blds. Lucky all high rises were built outside of walls.
- Find Internet (place being renovated) & MaDaHa Hotpot from Wikitravel. Dad constantly busy on phone, e-mail. LP place gone, moved, as is part of new renovated area.
- Buy some melons from vendor in truck just outside walls.
- Find hotpot place, still 1hr from serving time.
- Walk around town plaza a bit to wait.
- go back for hotpot. Still sit & wait a bit before start.
- Nothing that special. Somewhat pricy. Donkey pastry.
- Walk around a bit. Final pics of temple by the public square.
- Pick up stuff @ hotel. Bus to train station.
- 1hr early. Try find place for a tea/soda/etc. Can’t.
- See dao xian mian restaurant with noodle-making robot.
- Sit & write in public square in front of station. Difficult, as most surfaces are quite dirty.
- Most uncomfortable train ride ever. “Overhang” seats. Smelly feet/shoes. Crowded. Some people stand entire night.
- Half sleep/awake. Quiet cities & towns roll by outside, with some action at stations.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 100

Day 100: (21 August 2011):
- Morning: Take bus to one of the bus stations.
- Was worried about ID req’s as sign suggested ID, but never checked.
- Not long until bus leaves, so got on bus. Buses in China are usually surprisingly modern, but sometimes not well maintained.
- Driving out of the city, see wide avenue, new highways, bridges, new decorations/lights on road & lots of construction outside city walls. Old city wall.
- Stopped at an outer bus station just outside walls near shopping plaza. Bus now full.
- Nice long drive. Some traditional houses/villages en route. Offer pay 5RMB each he’ll get us to hanging monastery.
- Suddenly hit hills. Windy road & villages below. Bus stop to pick some one up at edge of road / let ppl off, etc.
- See massive new highway w/ bridges & tunnels under construction.
- Town is kind of out of the way down road.
- Made 2(?) stops, moto-taxis waiting for bus.
- Drop us off a bus stop. Transfer us to a taxi. Dad didn’t realise this is what’s going on.
- Drive up to monastery includes pitch of us to go up mountain for a pretty high price. Tell us we don’t have to go in, best view is outside.
- 150 RMB admission. Toilet stalls w/ plastic bags? Someone cleaning or emptying bucket below.
- Walk around a bit. Pagoda. Photos.
- Large dam & huge tunnel entrance. Under construction?
- From map, mountain does not seem far. Just past dam. Looked at map after coming back.
- Stairs, nice view at bottom, look up.
- go in, follow a path around narrow ways.
- Very crowded, wonder if designed for this load.
- Wonder where the money is going & what happened to monks.
- Narrow ways. Small rooms (statues) & walk over roofs.
- See the wood beam-in-cliff structure holding temple. Wonder why they added the extra thin long supports.
- Mix of Dao, Buddhist, Confucianism items.
- Some rooms have great wood carvings, very complex, painted. Roof patterns, beams, etc.
- Near end, a front passage & pack passage against cliff.
- Gift shop, etc. Stamps w/ hanging temple. Seems stamps are always popular & sold in Chinese gift shops. Lots of tickets also serve as post cards.
- Cool cliff staircase w/ wood stairs above section.
- Overall, cool, but small.
- Bathroom break for both, wait @ pagoda.
- More selling abt. trip to mountain. Agree to take us back for 20.
- We get in car, & he go to pull other people.
- Joined by a couple who will go to mountain. He drive us back first with couple in car. Tell them it won’t take long.
- Not long wait for bus to wooden tower. Leave very soon so get on bus.
- Short drive just out of town then stop, tell us going to the end town to transfer.
- Follow person down dirt track to a minibus parked under bridge in shade. Ahead is sand tarp or inflatable barrier, then water.
- Wait a while, some more people board.
- Perhaps other bus is making room for more pick-ups & this is express? Turns out is prob. Not the case. Mysterious transfers.
- Bus drive to road & tell us to get off again.
- Wait a bit & transfer to yet another bus.
- This time, we actually head off to the town. & make it in OK time.
- See signs to tower in town. Get dropped off relatively central, after making a few stops.
- Also a small nice old-style town centre. Feel is that this tower is the lifeblood of town, drawing visitors.
- Town dirty: garbage on streets, kids pee, dogs poop, etc.
- Find a (chain) restaurant to eat.
- Tower very old. Now can only go to 3rd floor, some renovation above.
- Old dark steep staircase. Statues in centre.
- Nice view of surrounds. Old village atmosphere. New big temple.
- Tower obviously leaning, cracks & small “crunches” in beams.
- Tall statues & paintings on ground floor.
- Turns out tower hit with cannon during some war. See obvious damage outside. Looks like close to collapse.
- Decide go see buddhist relics. Extra 100 RMB / person.
- Small room. Low security. Some photos of relic in detail. Adjascent room with relic. Very unimpressive, but cool there were 2 relics & where they were found. Dad wonder if they are real, seeing the low security measures. Feels is a bit of a rip off.
- Walk around a bit more & decide to head back.
- Took a “super tuk-tuk_ to bus station.
- Waited. pretty dirty. Bit smelly due to bathroom inside. Pear. Ask for extra RMB 1 each for highway, or get off bus.
- Took bus back. Guy talk to me. Me nervous due to imperfect Chinese. Gave directions. But went with dad’s plan, as not really listening to them for some reason. So get off bus a bit early. (One stop or two?)
- See a cool street market. Ate “dou mian” at a chain-like place.
- Walk back, buy more water, as usal & go to sleep.
- In non-deluxe room now. only diff I can see is no computer & fancy shampoo/soap. One floor higher, directly above prev. room.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 99

Day 99: (20 August 2011):
- Wake up a bit before the wake-up call. Pack & get ready.
- Meet dad on platform.
- Bus not running yet, so take taxi, only ~8RMB.
- Can’t check-in yet, so refresh, use bathroom, etc.
- 5 star hotel. Nice lobby area. Store bags at reception.
- Bus for the grottoes. Get off in centre of town to transfer.
- After asking, find small street stall. Soft tofu & you tiao, 4.5 RMB for us both.
- Take bus to grottoes. 1hr wait at bus station near train station (this comment inserted later, prob. should be for great wall trip). Easier than indicated on dad’s online search. No walk needed.
- Still 1.5 hrs before open (8:30am).
- Peaceful river. People playing, qi gong, tai chi, etc. Sit & micronap. Write a bit.
- Walked around a shopping area built in old style.
- When open, get tickets.
- Walk through couryard & bridge to new monastery. Some decorations border on the gaudy.
- Monastery on water is quite nice.
- Up hill & to grottoes.
- More impressive than expected. Very numerous. Many outside carvings eroded.
- Some building-like fascades too. Some in surprising good condition due to mud covering from before.
- Some painted mud & straw coverings still visible. Colours dramatic.
- Old pagodas build up cliffs for entrance to 2 caves. Wonderfully painted inside, many statues in cubbies on walls, large Buddha in middle, a few smaller ones too. Another has large pillar & Buddhas.
- Old dam ruins, river mowed by a general?
- Upper grottoes: large buddha exposed from collapsed cave. Lots of small grottoes.
- Small spring of cool water.
- old carved & painted (freshly?) text on cliffs.
- Tasty ice cream from Urumuqi.
- Exit routes visitors through shopping area. Eat liang fen.
- Missed photo of cool carvings on roof on monastery.
- Quick look @ bookstore for LP. None there. Nice automated bag lockers. See same @ other places too.
- Knife-cut noodles in random place. Added some fatty pork & tofu.
- Back to hotel, check-in. Free upgrade to deluxe room: other rooms full due to tour group. Computer for Internet.
- PBR label on bottled water.
- Walk to 9 dragon well. Small gate for collecting money (10RMB?).
- See some foreigners inside. Just a yard with wall & a few steles. Back side of wall blank. Large & pretty, but just 1 thing.
- Walk around & see drum bld.
- Nice traditional blds. Many (gates) falling apart.
- Walk to the new plaza area. Very pretty. Re-building city walls (torn down during cultural revolution) & tear down all old blds inside & replacing with the neo-old style.
- Make note of famous restaurant.
- Beautiful plaza, long concourse, fountains, pagodas on sky bridges, etc.
- Walk to famous temple beside the square.
- Chanting type music playing. First is a very new section. Behind is the older section.
- Beautiful reflection pool item w/ coins.
- Hall with very old statues. Dust is now embedded in paint.
- Pretty pagoda.
- Asked for & found supermarket.
- Kids peeing in streets. The open pants.
- Street stalls & stinky tofu. Red Flag Square. Mini Oriental Pears as decoration on bld. Antenna.
- Supermarket scale broken, no weighed fruit. Ice block ice cream to try. Too sweet.
- Bought some cool fruits. Take bag in supermarket as no more storage (auto lockers & manned desk).
- very cheap crab apples.
- Still a Mao slogan on a bld.
- Nice sunset & sky in evening.
- Went to the noted restaurant & waited in line. Near closing time.
- Very fancy inside, no photos, told after I take some. Even fancier-looking Cantonese restaurant run by same place beside.
- Very good service. Friendly, nice, tell no photo in nicest way. Food was quite good. Shaomai not as good as ones in Beijing.
- Nice-ish view out window. See blds & mountains (day only). Old blds being demolished. Small portion of new construction project visible.
- Issue with blocked toilet. Poor quality, still, in China.

Friday, August 19, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 98

Day 98: (19 August 2011):
- Woke up ~1hr before train is to arrive in Beijing. Wonder what the NKs on train think. Pass through South station. New ??? (rail? bld? coal?).
- Called dad & parted with Kiwis @ subway. Say bye to ppl in taxi line-up.
- Didn’t see dad @ subway stop, no coin public phones, blew 30RMB on a 20RMB phone card. Shower, rest, talk to mom in hotel.
- Check out on time, with some scanning, etc. time for shipment stuff.
- Drop off stuff @ uncle’s.
- Tour of Qianmen. Very tired. Prob was sick. Well-constructed in old style. Some Beijing youghert & delicious shaomai with chewy flour. Other snacks, etc. Visit some famous old shops.
- Didn’t stop @ bar street.
- Large screens at Tiananmen.
- Skipped dinner. Stopped & talked to uncle.
- Go to west station. Buy dad’s trip to Suzhou.
- Large station, as expected. I go sleeper, dad seat, as can’t buy sleeper. Rule changes for purchases. Worried of difficulty getting tickets. Scalper selling sleeper tickets. Some try to make on train with platform tickets.
- We’re not going as far as most. Train from Tianjin to Inner Mongolia.
- Sleep ASAP after getting on train @ 11pm. Tired & lack of sleep. Upper bunk.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 97

Day 97: (18 August 2011):

DPRK (NORTH KOREA) PORTION NOT PUBLISHED :(

- Half way across river, see Chinese half of bridge & busy observation deck at end of bridge.
- Cars, lights, amazing feeling just coming it to China. Modern & free feel.
- Call dad, wait 1hr. Can walk around without guides now! No longer locked.
- Latch onto Chinese train, Chinese train cars less smelly. Dining car far away.
- Train faster & rails smoother.
- Eat at full dining car. Walk through numerous Chinese cars. Comments about so many foreigners. Then “hush, they might understand you.”
- Help translate for Jasmine for a while.
- Bring er guo tou to share.
- Ask some NK train attendants if they have coins. See them count stack of US$.
- Sleep on train at night. Always later than desired.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 96

Day 96: (17 August 2011):

DPRK (NORTH KOREA) PORTION NOT PUBLISHED :(

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 95

Day 95: (16 August 2011):

DPRK (NORTH KOREA) PORTION NOT PUBLISHED :(

Monday, August 15, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 94

Day 94: (15 August 2011):

DPRK (NORTH KOREA) PORTION NOT PUBLISHED :(

Sunday, August 14, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 93

Day 93: (14 August 2011):

DPRK (NORTH KOREA) PORTION NOT PUBLISHED :(

Saturday, August 13, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 92

Day 92: (13 August 2011):
- Wake up @ 7 (changed to 7:15 on comment from uncle), originally plan on leaving at 8. Pack, talk to uncle, leave at 8:15 or 8:30 or so. Still to office early (almost 1hr). Stores closed, so sit & write. Nice square. Apple store queue before opening. Quite a few people around.
- Head to Koryo @ 10. Driver late. Leave ~10:30. Everyone excited on bus. 2 busses. Start meeting people & finding people in same group. Will get to know group B very well.
- Check in @T2. Slow line. Pictures of check-in counter & sign. Some Koreans with pins. More than expected. Some Fat ones in business class line.
- Wait @ gate. Pics of plane. Buy some gifts for guides. Most buy gifts. Drink suan mei tang from vending machine.
- After last bathroom break, board plane.

DPRK (NORTH KOREA) PORTION NOT PUBLISHED :(

Friday, August 12, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 91

Day 91: (12 August 2011):
- Wake up. Write. Organise / pack. Hotel across from restaurant we ate at last time in Beijing. Prepare.
- Wake up relatively late so decide skip breakfast.
- Lunch at dumpling place. Beer. Dumplings & Beijing foods. Everyone, especially uncle, rude to waiter.
- Show me bus, shopping centre, then he leave. Work at 1pm.
- Bus to tour company early. Long.
- Explore market & run around looking for drawstring sack.
- See Canon store by station, but they say can’t fix lens scratch.
- Tour briefing. Surprising many people. Mainly about how to act in DPRK.
- Buy overpriced bag after give up on draw chord bag. 90->80RMB. Realise other store ask 50 for similar. Note: Jasmine told me they give lower prices to real foreigners, or let them know you are foreign, as they knew Chinese are afraid of losing face & don’t negotiate as hard.
- As with moto taxi driver last time in China, they pretend think I am Chinese & still give foreign prices (?). I’m on to them now.
- Bus back & meet uncle in hotel room.
- Buy umbrella & SD card at local market. SD card a bit slow: real?
- Rush back to meet cousin. Eat at restaurant with lamb. I pay, they biased against taking card.
- Back to hotel & talk a bit. Give stuff (gifts & storage). Set alarm & sleep.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 90

Day 90: (11 August 2011):
- Morning: breakfast then walk to museum. (After museum?) Change 10EUR for spending cash.
- Some effort in museum. Some random dioramas. Communist logo on entry. Dinosaurs, history, models of Vat Phu, Plain of Jars, some monolith site, etc. Charming. A few artefacts. Old schoolhouse-like building. Stairs curve along walls. The Buddha statues in metal cage as have been stolen once before. Caught at border. Can barely see them. Dominoe Buddhas.
- History (communist) of Laos. Painting of French colonialists whipping people & throwing child in wells. Photo of dead people with caption saying people killed by poision gas in American prison camp.
- Always refer to “American imperialist.” Some funny propaganda captions.
- Display for each of the ministries. No photos allowed, but I couldn’t resist.
- Walk around a bit. Hilarious “wanted for public drunkeness” photo spot at a bar. Some bars & stuff around.
- Check out. Didn’t get chance to exchange contacts with Korean.
- Tuktuk ask 60k. “Oh, too expensive.” & walk. Ask how much, I say 30, settle @ 40. Negotiator is not the driver.
- Early. Wait a bit & check in when open. Eat at Japanese restaurant on 2nd floor. Modern but small airport. Check in person has just printed sheet with 14 names on it. I crossed off.
- Waiting area: After Hanoi flight boarded, only Chinese left.
- ~ 15 on plane. Sandwich.
- Arrive Kunming. Only one filling form. Ask in Chinese if I’m Lao. Say Canada passport, ask if is hua qiao. Chinese always curious.
- Not stamp last page as requested. Chinese customs usually nice (surprisingly).
- Modern & busy. Happy back to modern place. Lots of stores.
- A few change is lines. group-> transfer (desk closed?) -> individual. Fly in from “wan xiang.”
- Enter security. No cash machines. Didn’t see cash machines in quick walk in lobby.
- Plane a bit late. A plane going to Shangri-la. Didn’t know was real.
- Meal on flight. Arrive Beijing late.
- Run around to find right ATM & call uncle. Uncle suggest bus, not much slower than taxi.
- Just missed bus. Leave @ 12:15 or so.
- Random road drop-off. Watched to find intersection, but when others get taxi, I wait & get one no problem. Long queue.
- To Minzhuyuan. Didn’t see hotel, so drop across from it.
- “Chinatown” - in Beijing, the capital of China, which was strange.
- Ask guard. Walk & use map, find no problems.
- Uncle on outside.
- Give me some stuff, call dad, he leave. Wasn’t sure if he was staying here. Used one bed, TV, shower, etc. Apparently said we both stay, I am an invited specialist of some kind to get cheaper rate. Have feeling both were eyeing my passport at check-in in curiosity.
- Wash clothes, sink fall out. Full, so can’t change rooms.
- Arranged to meet at 11:30 next day for lunch.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 89

Day 89: (10 August 2011):
- Wake up @5. Dark outside, like night. A few women selling sticky rice, but have been warned not to buy from them.
- Walk down street, sit across a vat. Wait. Feel misinformed about 5am.
- Activity close to 6. See monks come out, sweeping, getting dressed. Monk dorm rooms?
- Chanting & some drum beats (speed up beats).
- People set up in street. A white girl set up with help of a hotel person(?).
- Mat, rice container, scarf.
- Monks start to arrive. Tourists also start to arrive. Stream of monks. Stop at people giving. I thought like trick of treating.
- Lots of tourists. Even a touring bus/car filled with tourists. Some get very close to monks & take photos. We on other side of street.
- Nap.
- At a good time, wake up & breakfast. Walk to museum. Carriage for carrying Pha Bang: where was this?
- Bump into the girl with French guy from Fiji. First not recognise, but she looked at me & said “Mark?... Is that you?” Short chat (reflect my feel that things are no longer that exciting after months of travel), continue.
- Bld contioning (in future) the Pha Bang probably most impressive I’ve seen in Laos. Inside wood carvings on wall. Details a bit rough. Tall weed throne.
- Large statue with CCCP written on it. Theatre, not much going on there.
- Palace. Check bags & camera, etc, shoes. Walk over & see Pha Bang. Nice statue & pose. Rumours it ts fake, etc. Not a very remarkable statue.
- Inside: throne room covered in the mirror murals. Some artefacts. Queen’s & King’s bedrooms quite simple. Terrible portrait of King. Smells musty.
- Felix says like a room from the 70s.
- (Metal) Drums. Hit one, sounds surprisingly reverberating. Steles, etc.
- Overall, a comfortable palace, but not very flashy. Outside is simple & has a nice spire.
- Photography exhibition on 2nd floor of some random living blds? Quick look.
- King’s car collection. A Johnson boat. Jeep/range rover. Some simple cars. Fuel pumps on grounds outside.
- Back & Felix leave. Say bye.
- Mini nap & pack, etc, too.
- Leave relatively early, decide to walk, stop on ways & take tuktuk when needed.
- Rain. Raincoat & rain fly.
- Small souvenier market still functioning during day. 350 for tablecloth, down to 150. Range of prices at night market. Everyone friendly, until you don’t buy, then mean. Various stories, but think actual story is silk from Myanmar, & factory made in Vientiane.
- Main market. Lots of expensive scarves. Didn’t select one I like. Small food stalls closed (mostly).
- Walk towards old bridge. Fair trade store with exhibits. Lao person with pretty good English. Owner Canadian (supposedly). Buy 180k scarf, hand made & natural dyes. No negotiation. Laos patterns. $23.50.
- Omlette, spring rolls, coconut jelly dessert. 17k. Random street stall.
- Old bridge: pedestrian section is wood boards with large seams between on side of bridge. A bit dubious.
- Slippery. Town section. Some food stalls by road selling meat on sticks.
- At fork in road to airport, see the big gold pagoda. Decide go there.
- Cross bridge. Path cut into mountains, mud, difficult to dodge cars. Long. Lose temple. Follow road around, up hill again, see entrance.
- Large complex, arrive at pagoda. Multi levels. Observation balconies. Nice paintings on walls. Small top level with Buddha.
- Tuktuk that was there now gone with some Asian tourists.
- Walk back, risk continuing on road as is in rough direction of bridge.
- Windey road. Longish walk. Kids wave some places. Near radio tower. Ask 3 people for airport (“hua bin”). All say back towards wat. ~2hrs until flight now, so worry. Look/ask for tuktuk. None. Run/walk back. Try hitchhiking once or twice when reach lower entrance of wat faster than expected. Walk through to upper entrance, quick. Then in town by junction, wave down tuktuk. Ask 40k, Pay 30k.
- Airport much closer than if from town. Maybe expensive ride. Drop off just outside airport gates.
- Check in, wait outside. Wring sweat out.
- Poor condition plastic bag. Security sticker on it. Small sterile waiting room.
- Turboprop. OK flight. Views of karst, rivers & rice paddies. Clouds.
- Luggage pick-up: straight conveyor to rollers.
- Decide walk out for taxi. Meet British Dad (living in Vientiane, who lived in Thailand before) & son visiting. Say tuktuk here is 40k. A van taxi drove up before gate & offered 50k/$6 take. Not much cheaper than official rate. I pay 20k. They pay rest + small tip.
- Walk around, eventually find Mixay GH. Dorm room 4th floor. Nice room, share with Can. guy & American & Korean girl.
- Apparently bed added to room. A bit cramped but still nice.
- Korean & I eat dinner at the restaurant. Would have liked to eat at one of the street stalls. Tripe soup quite good. Laap with more vegetables. Learn to eat laap with veges.
- Walk along river. Feel almost a romantic walk. Talk about what we do, career & previous relationships / how to handle them.
- River & park very calm & nice.
- Buy the Lang Xiang beer to try. Ask a Kiwi & Irish (both liking in SE Asia) to open beer. Sit & drink with them. Kiwi over to renew visa in Thailand. Korean seems neglected? The “slow” local person.
- Get ready & sleep when drink enough.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 88

Day 88: (9 August 2011):
- Note: cross-reference with photos. Written from memory in DPRK.
- Ate at place just beside for convenience. Gave us side orders of fried eggs & omlette, even when not on menu. Reasonable prices.
- Walk to the famous vat. Pay admission. See in detail the scenes on walls. LP shot. Meet the couple. Royal garage. Ugly rubber tires under it. Fortune telling stick things, but only in Lao.
- Walk to Phu Si, temple hill. National museum is indeed closed.
- Lots of steps up. Great view of Luang Prabang at top. See airport.
- Nice pagoda / stupa, but nothing too exciting.
- Lunch at Mekong riverside. Big plate of riverweed for 1k. Not as good as last night, but still good. A bit bitter. Garlic slices in it. Wonder how clean the river is.
- Tour office: agree to charter a private boat for 300k to visit caves.
- 8 seater boat, just us two. Burn fuel very fast. Refuel twice. Fuel jug right beside hot engine. Change battery from a friend’s boat. Crowded local boat with produce on it. Cool houseboats.
- Some kind of traps. Kids playing, etc. Kids lying on boat bow.
- ~2hrs. Arrive near large cliffs. Limestone karst appear.
- Duck & go to caves. Bamboo unstable floating platform.
- Lower cave: Lots of small Buddhas. Staircase to nowhere.
- Staircase to upper cave, no need torch & no donate.
- Old gate. Dark inside. Stupa & Buddhas. Statue (1 or 2) carvings on cave wall. Lots of ruined Buddhas. Incense marks on crevasses.
- Rainbow over river. Nice views. Loud music from river across way.
- Stop at laolao village after asking. Felix buy laolao, I buy scarf for cousin. Actually local made or factory?
- Invite for drinks. Sit & drink the strong laolao. Chat. Centipedes in village, ¾ jars of laolao/day, “niuk” = cheers, etc. Roasted buffalo skin & bamboo chaser.
- Boat ride back. Driver pee off back. Sun setting. Sinusoidal hills.
- Drink beer with driver & friend. Poor English. Motion. Felix arrange ride to airport tomorrow. Tell us about disco. Cheaper Beerlao for locals. (8k).
- Food alley at market for dinner. 10k/plate buffet & buy meat on stick separately. Felix chat with Belgians/Dutch/French? Lots of misunderstandings.
- Sleep a bit earlier, as decide to wake up for alms ceremony tomorrow.
- Boat driver’s friend tell us at 5-6am.

Monday, August 8, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 87

Day 87: (8 August 2011):
-  wake up & have (pancake - thick & delicious in SE Asia) breakfast before heading to bus station. Vague info about 9:30 bus in LP so get there 9:15 or so.
- 90k for VIP bus @ 10am (8hrs). look for minivan leaving soon (7hrs). Decide on minivan, although in retrospect, bus may have been more comfortable & better views of landscape.
- Full, slightly cramped van. Fast driver. “At least the risk of armed attack is lower now.” Roads better than I expected, then in mountains, about what I expected.
- Driver take cliff corners without guard rails fast, some screeching at times. Like race between vans. Worried about oncoming traffic & slippage.
- Lots of small landslides: rocks on roads, trees & piles of rock/mud blocking ½ the road, at some blind corners too. Just honk to warn oncoming traffic. Some road collapsing near edges.
- 2 big landslides blocking road. Wait” eat cookie. Try strange red fruit. 1st: park with line of vehicles & wait ~30 min for bulldozers to clear. Stream flow on road after work.
2nd: villagers clear by hand (no shovels) then all (2 dozen?) push vans/trucks across. Collect a toll. Our driver speed up & crash through.
- Beautiful mountains along way. Some sharp, some rolling.
- Small houses/shacks on rolling hills.
- Lunch stop: Eat the muffin. Nice view of hills.
- Share tuktuk to an LP guesthouse in Luang Prabang.
- Intercepted, but nice clean GH for 60k/night.
- Walk along river (not Mekong). River confluence.
- Famous Wat. No one collect entry fee, but will come back next day anyway. Close as w eexplore. Miss the big yellow temple bld. Great murals. Reflective mural on Red chaple. Very violent scenes. Sweeping curved roofs. Looks old in a pretty sense.
- Walk back along main road. Very quaint town. Immediately like. think should have come up sooner. Weather clearing too. Close-by vat. Tourists taking photos of monks chanting, some with flash. Bad. Lots of monks & vats. Chanting from some vats.
- Night market: very big, but all same things. Pre-made shake cups.
- Go to LP rec’ed restaurant. Lost on way, walk too far, to end of penninsula. No bamboo bridge. Shakey boat across, slippery but bright path.
- Beautiful setting by river. Private shacks, see river flowing through bamboo.
- Did not choose recliner due to Felix’s knees.
- Food expensive, but very delicious. Marinated buffalo skin. Seaweed (nutty taste) & others. All surprisingly good.
- Shakey boat back. Quiet, moon, hills. Beautiful.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 86

Day 86: (7 August 2011):
- After breakfast, rent bicycle. Western loop. Drizzle. Prepare for wet day.
- Toll bridge: bomb shall decorations.
- Muddy roads, lots of puddles. One/two very deep ones, pedals dip in water.
- Missed 1st cave we were aiming to visit.
- Found 2nd cave OK with LP directions. Telephone pole numbers.
- Park bike, 10k admission. A girl guide us down dry riverbed with rounded rocks & trail. Very strange to have dry riverbed in rainy season.
- Long walk. Nice view of hills, jungle & mist.
- Cave entrance over some rocks. Slip a bit, stub toe: minor crack in nail. Bag broken.
- Some small chambers. Wooden “ladders”/walkways. Buddha. A corridor with a deep trench beside it. Tiny hole to craw through: small chamber.
- Ask for 50k each, gave 20k each. Walk back: girl stop to collect leaves & herbs. Bags & clothes dirty. Tie bag to rough backpack.
- Continue, find next place. Two shops, school, village.
- Raining. Very slippery mud/moss path. Bamboo gate. Slippery on bike.
- Old woman come collect 10k each. Warn of bull? Make horns with fingers & point in field. Motion for us to close gate when back.
- Long climb up steep & slippery trail. Flipflops bad choice.
- Wood pagoda/shelter, wild garden behing & great view of fields, mountains & mist. Eat a bit. Steep mountains rising from flat fields cool. Wring clothes out.
- Continue through some forest, more uphill.
- Section with sharp pointy rocks. Top of all mountains here look sharp & pointy.
- Shelter perched on rocks. Broken supports. See road below.
- Take video from a rock perch. Difficult to get down. Flipflops & sharp.
- Slow descent. Red centipede-looking things on trail.
- Sun breaks through.
- After putting poles back through fence, continue. Slip & almost fall from bike.
- Pass signs for fake Blue Lagoon. Bike past a small bridge.
- Arrive “Blue Lagoon”: more like a green stream.
- Cave: Explore without guide. Very tall: ~50m or more? Large squarish boulders. Buddha & dramatic opening. Behind: more chambres, explore first one. Not sure how to return: climb down a steep section, get back. Get guano all over bags. Smell a bit. Water dripping/flowing down from cave ceiling.
- Lend headlamps & torch.
- Swim @ stream: cows grazing: cow poop? Rope swings & cold drinks.
- Wait long time for people with torches: they get lost. Eat banana bread (from the European bakery in morning).
- Bike back: road much less slippery & less puddles. Bids poking at crushed cow poop on road. Cows. Deep puddle still there. Have to bike between small gaps in cows.
- Wash up, decide leave bag. Use plastic bag when necessary. Buy in China.
- Dinner @ usual place. Internet, book my ticket to Vang Vieng. Rain.
- Drink at a restaruant that is always popular! Friends section & soccer section.
- Game of Manchester U vs. City. Lao waiter much more excited than guests.
- Return after game: everyone else seems to leave.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 85

Day 85: (6 August 2011):
- Breakfast at what became our regular restaurant. Felix not comfortable sitting on lounges ground & don’t want one of the Family Guy / Friends bars.
- Felix go work on Internet. I write/relax/TV in room. Take an ealy day.
- Felix show me is “path of destruction(?),” which is cleaned up now .Muddy tracks from his door to corner wastebasket where he puked. Had trouble getting in room due to need jigger lock. Broke in with driver’s license, which has some ware from it now. Say spent half the night puking on floor.
- Afternoon, after lunch, decide walk to Tham Jang.
- Walk down to a less tourist-filled area of town. Cows & poop.
- Walk too far, but see nice farmland scenes under karst mountains.
- Walk back & find the resort. Ridiculously muddy road. Walk some barefoot due to jandals getting stuck.
- Nice suspension bridge. Some stalls.
- Memory card full! Wrong one in camera! Erase some photos.
- Nice area with small pools amongst rocks. Spring water. Blue, but looks a bit milky to me.
- Pay for cave, climb stairs. Nice view of Vang Vieng & farms. Mountains around.
- Cave, to nice pagoda on an outside part. Get someone to take photo, turns out is someone telling us cave is closed. Close @ 4pm!
- Rush through caves. A few nice passages, shallow pools, but nothing too exciting.
- Walk back.
- See Winelao, quite funny.
- Dinner @ “French place (as we called it),” where 2 tables of French people are eating. Same place as where I had the noodles on first day. OK dinner. Not too impressed.
- Felix do more work (?).

Friday, August 5, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 84

Day 84: (5 August 2011):
- Walk to bus station by Post Office & get on local bus for Vang Vieng. Old bus, city-bus style seats. Swivel fans on roof. Put bags in back seat, which was eventually buried in produce.
- Walk to bus station by post office & get on local bus for Vang Vieng. Old bus, city-bus style seats. Swivel fans of roof. Put bags in back seat, which was eventually buried in produce.
- 4-5 hrs. Some wind[e]y roads. Cool limestone karst landscape in closish distance.
- Random toilet stop in bush/field. Hope they don’t always stop there, else it would be gross to go there.
- Arrive at random roadside stop in Vang Vieng. Wait out rain.
- Limestone karst mountain backdrop.
- Sun & hot. Cross runway where there is less water, but difficulty reaching street on other side.
- Pretty dirty/mouldy dorm room (they out of 2ppl room). Take a room each at 40k each. Private bathroom (although not very clean).
- Switch rooms as i wanted the TV (poor picture, but kept me company). Very big bed, but dusty & lots of stains (blood / paint?). Stuff on bathroom floor, poop stains on toilet. Sink drains on floor, so i didn’t use sink, as there was a tap on wall. Tall ceilings. Kind of gross, but setelled in. See tip of a mountain from window, not too exciting.
- Tasty 10k noodles for lunch. Shakes here only 5k. Generally cheaper.
- Decide to go tubing. Raining, but will get wet anyway. A bit relieved I’ll get this over with soon.
- I bring minimal stuff. Felix bring camera & passport.
- Rent dry bag & took lifejackets. Not sure what’s in river, mention of rapids in LP. 3hr trip in dry season, now 1hr.
- Everyone in tuktuk excited & mostly chatty.
- Loud music at site. Immediately see 5 bars, full of people in swim gear, drinking & dancing. I was only Asian we saw.
- Boat across. Celebratory 1st large beer can. More ridiculous than imagined. Beautiful limestone cliffs shrouded in cloud, peaceful river & forms around. Pumping music, drunk people jumping in water, beer/liquor pong, etc. Ridiculous. Lao & communist flag. Joke this is what Communism is always like, what did Felix think in the US? Really surreal.
- Float to bar with huge slide. Pretty ghetto. Red nail polish smily face on hand is ticket. Half-filled water bottles thrown to pull us in.
- Have to buy to go on slide, so large beer each, as out of small beer. Sliders retrieved by floating ring. Funny water spray at end of slide. Go only once. Thinking of going again, didn’t for some reason. Should have gone head first as most were doing. Turns out this is the “slide of death.”
- Jump in river backwards, with tube. Impaled on the long metal air refilling pipe. Not too painful. Tip from people: don’t be the last to leave, as will run out of tubes. Tubes just get piled up & just grab one when leaving.
- See “last bar” sign, which was not true as expected, but decided not to take the risk. Play lots of Bob Marley. Funny unfolding of “one bucket one joint” sign out in front. Other bars have people on boards “surfing” river to catch tubers.
- Quiet bar, the other couple from Sav tuktuk there. Random mud pool, which Felix kept slipping in when take pic.
- Disgusting toilet. Couple say a sign say can pee anywhere.
- Decide go for one bucket one joint deal after a beer each. Give a joint for each of us. Felix tried to light the wrong end.
- Felix start to get out of control at this point.
- Bucket surprisingly strong. Felix see 5-6 shots.
- Lots of people arrive: many with body paint. Sad we missed that bar, but in retrospect, this is probably a good thing.
- Play with slingshot just by mud pool: humourously dangerous.
- People hosing each other.
- Big mud wrestling thing start, I only on fringes. Had some role in dragging a girl in? Don’t remember exactly how that happened.
- Felix bought another bucket: more joints. I only had a bit, Felix gave some to others, but he had too much of it.
- Thinking of staying due to condition, but Felix walk & slip to water with some others, and we were off.
- Mud in eye.
- Note: a jumping platform (?) that was closed. Didn’t see the supposed multi-story swing/zip line. Maybe closed in wet season?
- Felix keep lying down in river. I keep talking to Felix to make sure he not passed out. Hear him retching at some point. Hope I don’t get wash from that.
- Ask directions from other tubes. Getting dark. Nice scene with dark cliff silhouettes. One tuber claims we passed Vang Vieng, he’s going to Vientiane. Asked a group who knew exactly where to go. Left at fork, stop at bridge. Heard rumours taking wrong fork leads to rapids & bad things.
- Tuktuk drivers waiting at clearings offering rides. Ignored due to sign saying 2km to end of tubing. Some others took the offer.
- Followed directions with no issue, especially since can still see the party ahead. Completely dark now. Made sure Felix made it.
- Some people held us out then gave flyer advertising a bar.
- Walk back, some people overhear & direct us. “Hey Felix, did you puke back there?” “Yup.” Apparently he says he puked all over his life jacket.
- Realise how out of it Felix was when he asked for my help getting things out of the dry sack. Puddle of muddy water inside. “ooh...” reaction from person (woman) we are returning it to. Everything wet. Felix’s camera broke. My wallet smell bad next few days (and never really recover) & grew mouldy. Money smell bad.
- 1 hr to rest at GH before dinner. Wash clothes. Felix passed out, & not wake with some knocks, but see he turned out his lights between some of my knocks, so think he OK. I go have dinner.
- 10k dragonfruit shake, 15k laap, 10k papaya salad. Delicious. So delicious because of the joint?
- Chill party/hang out places a block down from hostel.
- Sleep. (Finally).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 83

Day 83: (4 August 2011):
- Walk to the old vat. Nice, old. Primitive murals, much damage, restoration work planned. Smell musty & like bats. Small nooks with Buddhas inside. Raised stupa for Buddha.
- Wall around has lots of statues. Small library pagoda. Monk quarters look like they are in-use. Work crews on walls.
- Comment how it is not impressive, especially after Thailand & Cambodia.
- Walk to the Emerald Buddha temple. Current is a not-so-accurate French(?) reconstruction. Larger. Nice statues. Raised platform inside. Some artefacts on display. many placed on statues, some in holes, ane in neck of a Buddha missing head. Mix of currencies. Notes & coins. Metal Buddha statues lining outside, all different, especially faces. Some have pattern symbol at foot. Steles.
- Buy postcard (2000k) & send at post office (12000k!). Rock for umbrella (to hold in open).
- Walk to victory arch. Go up. Bump into ppl. we know. With many tourists, say they bump into same people often, as many take same route.
- Nice carvings on internal windows, can see down inside of arch on landings.
- Rough & unfinished. Nickname of “the runway”: story behind it.
- 2 Floors of souvenier shops.
- Nice view: large boulevard. Spiral staircase to drippy tiny room. Metal Buddha images on bars over window.
- Kids running around & playing.
- Sit for Beerlao under the arch. Talk. 3 bottles, buzzed.
- Walk to the golden pagoda. Stop to examine a white stupa-monument holding a gold star. 3 paths blocked off, one is not. Bas-releif carvings of Laos history. Some industrial motifs for modern times.
- Cafe for Laos coffee & cakes for lunch. Reminice of pastries in Spain.
- Golden stupa. Looks like painted concrete (it is). Rebuilt many times. Paint falling off in parts. Neither one of us impressed. Newer wat & some bld. beside site more impressive, which we checked out later. Reclining Buddha at vat.
- Gallery around stupa has Buddha statues, although most are pile of rocks or a large brick or two. We must be missing something. It feels like we are incessently insulting their monuments.
- Walk back to hotel. I get extremely tired for some reason. Effect of alcohol?
- Vietnamese wat. Tall. Buddha statue at top. Hear chanting.
- Market. Lots of flies. Juices on ground. Mud outside. Some people we met described a market in Vientiane as “too real.” Is this it?
- See vats on way back. Cool construction at city pillar. Can’t see anything else.
- Wandered around another vat. Monks busy burning something.
- Smoothie place suggested by LP. Small stand. Not impressed.
- Felix work on Internet. I nap & write / TV.
- Felix come back @ 7:30 for dinner (a bit late).
- Walk to LP restaurant along riverfront road. Small shop stalls, section with food & lounge tables, etc. Looks & smells good.
- Restaurant: one of the best laos meals. Papaya salad very spicy. Pungent & fishy, tasted like fish gut smell, but then really like it. Sausuages in Laos surprisingly good. Stew also tasty. Not sure what to do with cabbage: prob. for laap. (Later learned that it in indeed for lap, and actually makes it much better when used correctly!)
- Tintin pic. the European guys on Sav. tuktuk were drinking there!
- I get bottle of ABC stout to try, Felix work more in Internet. I write/TV.
- Discover day’s photos at low res. Punishment for making fun! Felix: if any low res, this is the best. I think so too.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 82

Day 82: (3 August 2011):
- Check out (with delays).
- Ttuktuk to bus station, VIP to Vientiane. Apparently night VIP buses can be sleeper buses. Incense on bus grille.
- Actually descent speed, no stops every few hundred metres. “No longer used to moving this fast.” A Japanese movie started then cut off. Then looping of Thai (?) sticom. One episode had people crying & being abused through it.
- Non-descript dusty bus station. Shared tuktuk to town. Pass by some markets & waterpark (simple, few slides, some are built into concrete?). Long circuitous route, drop off some locals. See the gold stupa down road.
- Tuktuk to town, pretty fancy scooter on tuktuk.
- Mixay GH: No 2ppl rooms left. Riverview Hotel: Fancy lobby, 180k offered for 150k. Take. Smal but neat room. Shower curtain! Window to wall.
- Walk along road to visit park. Raw chicken neck fiasco. After trying to avoid unhealthy food. Nice park by river. Big statue of someone, worshipped figure. Thailand across river. No apparent cities/centre across river. Bridge too far to see.
- Found lots of places, especially temples, in Laos have funny names.
- Walked to a small stone/brick stupa. Grass around it soaking. Nice, but not impressive.
- Walked by presedential palace. Felix: President of his school has a house like that.
- Old vat, but closed @4pm. Things close early in Laos.
- The vat that housed the Emerald Buddha. Looks dischevelled, can’t find gate.
- See the victory arch when by palace, so thought would walk up there.
- UN office.
- Nice monument: concrete block with 4 arches. Nice mosaics on ceiling. Plaque referes to it as a concrete monster: did they intentionally say bad things about monument? Closed, can’t go up. Nice fountain.
- Fancy building. Ominous clouds. Waited long time, no rain. Decide just go for it: walk to Pyongyang restaurant.
- See gold stupa. Slightly lost. Found restaurant: same Beerlao sign as others. Decorated with lights on outside.
- Strange quiet instrumental US remixes for music. Bright. Formal-ish. Bathroom has shower: their living quarters? Table of Koreans, one table of Chinese (come after us. They leave a lot of food), a tourist couple come later.
- Order lots of food. Most expensive meal by for. 200-300kk cash (?).
- Very tasty food. Some cool Pyongyang specialties.
- Just when despair so show, waitresses turn on TV, very hopeful.
- 1st number; all 4 waitresses sing a welcome song (Later learned this is Pangapsumnida). Slow waving, rocking. Then take turns singing & waiting. Some Chinese songs too. Moon Represents My Heart.
- Chat & photos with other English-speaking tourist pair.
- Although waitresses did not speak English well, with some motioning, conveyed I was going to N. Korea to cute waitress holding door for us. She very surprised, squeal & say something in Korean.
- Nice street food market across street.
- Tuktuk back, expensive, but Felix in very good mood. He work on Internet while I write with TV on. We come up with remote desktop solution, which is workable with help of his co-student.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 81

Day 81: (2 August 2011):
- Wake up & go straight to bus station across the street.
- Felix ask which is faster / fastest way, told us local bus. Consider taking the truck/bus. Perhaps we should have tried to use ticket from day before, maybe wouldn’t have worked due to date stamp.
- Excruciatingly slow. Take 4-5 hrs. Scooter on bus in aisle.
- Try to walk to centre, but realise is another bus station.
- Tuktuk flagged down. Delivering a backpacker to bus station. then double back & to town centre.
- Guesthouse at centre of town no more 2 bed rooms. Walk ~2km to another LP guesthouse. Large rooms, but leaky shower (big bucket), broken light, terrible English (Problem asking for toilet paper), etc. Lumpy beds. Logan tree. Loud, as bar/kareoke/disco just beside.
- Accept room, they say fix light by 6pm & we can pay later (Felix want make sure light OK).
- Tourist info just beside. Slippery path. Say still have time for Buddha cave. Organise tuktuk for 150k. Say can easily find boat when there. Found Kong Lo caves flooded, bus went & can’t get through. The well-known circuit also impassable.
- I grab some old kind of stale snacks from a beauty salon across street. (Some kind of chewy strips with oily Sechuan pepper taste).
- Drop tourists off @ bus station first. Took opportunity to buy bus ticket.
- Drive towards beautiful karst hills landscape in low clouds.
- At turnoff, water. People fishing, etc. Told water is waist deep.
- Return. Refund 100k. I slip on path & scrape right arm. Looked disgusting with the mud/mold/moss/etc on it.
- Tourist info tell us tuktuk will take us to centre, not to pay him more. I stop @ hotel to wash off, & driver extract 10k from us through Felix.
- Eat, Internet. Centre of town quiet & quaint. Felix say like Texas outpost town. Looked decaying.
- Walk along water edge. A series of (roast duck) restaurants & tables by river. See Thailand across river. Nice blds, big wats, fast cars. Feel urge to go to Thailand since looked so developed.
- Walk to see a vat: quaint, not too impressive, not as well maintained as Thai wats. Pass by a stream outlet with causeway. Lots of rubbish. Fishing.
- Sit by river (somewhere with loss rubbish in water) & drink. Meet the Europeans on tuktuk to Sav.
- Some food stalls in square, small restaurants along street. Ate 10k bowl of foe at random place with small yappy dog. Dark squat toilet with scoop flush (somewhat clean). no dangerous food for Felix -> Take anti-biotics/drugs.
- Sit for drink at the bar on hotel grounds. Poor service even with people sitting on chairs right across. Cool thatched roof huts. Table of white ppl beside.
- Lights are fixed.
- In retrospect, should have stayed more in Si Phan Don to visit waterfall & wat, then go straight to Vientiane.

Monday, August 1, 2011

2011 - NZ To SF - Day 80

Day 80: (1 August 2011):
- Breakfast, internet, wait for departure. Relieved to see boat guy already here.
- Worried when 10:30 departure time come & boat guy in nowhere to be found.
- Boat guy arrive. Slow walk to boat. Stop to talk, buy (red) fuel, etc.
- Drop us off, then leave & brought 2 guests from out guesthouse. Then leave, more people arrive, fill 2 boats then go. Leave a bit after 11am. Hope 11am departure time is from island, not bus.
- See a few boats with tourists on way to dock.
- Wait for bus. Minivans come. Looks like some rough prioritisation system: we are not booked into a specific vehicle.
- A bus arrive & we get on. No rainwipers in pouring rain.
- Excruciatingly slow. Potholes, cows. Stop every once in a while to pick up people, refuel, toilet, shops. Ppl come on bus to sell. Some get off a bit later. Get to Pakse ~3pm.
- Change bus @ Pakse. Rice cake snack. Old grease on it. Agent buy our tickets. Look like wo would have same trip if we just showed up & got tickets.
- Even slower. 1st 2hrs, progress maybe 20km. Ridiculously slow speed. Now 8am seems possible, didn’t even consider it before as is ridiculous. Bus carry vegetables, etc. too.
- When get dark, ask passenger. Still 4hrs. to Savannakhet & 8 to Thakek.
- Along with 2 tourist pairs (one pair was already going to Sav.), we decide get off at Sav.
- Arrive ~10-11pm at Seno, 30km from Sav. Told to get jumbo/shared taxi. 5k each.
- Pouring rain just before get on. Overfull. Felix & I squeeze / hang off back. Dark drive. Rain. Realise should have looked to stay in Seno. Dinosaur sculpture & some light decorations.
- Take us to guesthouse. Open. 60k/room. Ours small like bathroom.
- Bowl of foe at bus station. Closing store. Meat on sticks stored in hanging plastic bags. Pastries: mostly stale. Store looks like small home for family.