now We've travelled from Hanoi to HaiPhong and now to Tuan Chau Island. The weather is chilly and misty, but the beach (100m away) is empty, sandy and full of shells (if badly littered). JD loves it.
We are here for three days, primarily to see Ha Long Bay- a UNESCO protected site with karst mountains dotted around the coast. We had hoped to take a boat trip there today, but we got a tip that there's a half-price tour tomorrow morning, so we'll aim for that instead. In the meantime, we found a cool (literally) open-topped bus tour which let us see the sights in and around Ha Long city without expensive taxis or car hire.
We spent yesterday wandering around Hanoi's Old Quarter, taking in the traditional French/Vietnam architecture. The highlight was a Water Puppet Show where various characters and animals are operated with underwater poles to perform little acts and dance routines. Very traditional and great fun. ...then noodles to round off the day.
Another in my occasional series of "Flashbacks" looking back at blog entries made before this Weebly version started.
It was supposed to be simple 1½ hour bus trip to Ganden Monastery - the second of the big three Tibetan monasteries - albeit a bus trip starting at 6.30am. Being so far West, but having to use Beijing time, Tibet doesn’t see the sun rise until about 9.30am in the Winter. So when the bus suddenly stopped after an hour it wasn’t immediately obvious why. But once we disembarked we felt thick snow underfoot and the bus driver made it clear that the road got too steep from here onwards. The pilgrims seemed keen to set off on foot but then they would, right? For them it was a religious mission...
I quickly hooked up with two Tibetan teachers (brother and sister) who were able to explain in mutually clunky Mandarin that they’d been here before and it wasn’t too much further by foot, “....just 29 hairpin bends, but we can take shortcuts”! Because of Tibet's altitude I was gasping for air before we started. It was pitch black with slippery, ankle-deep snow. But thanks to the encouragement and helping hands of teachers “Jin” and “Zhuo” we made the two hour climb together in time for a steaming hot breakfast of dumplings in the monastery canteen. What a start to 2009!
We are spending a lovely few days with my friends Krista and Stuart in their picturesque house in Chippenham. They have arranged some great little outings eg JD getting drenched in the water playground and a visit to a set of canal boat locks including a short barge ride.
JD was having trouble grasping how long it is until we visit the UK, so I wrote a countdown on a block of post-its and now, every day, he rips off the top one and we stick it up on the top of the wardrobe.
We are all really looking forward to the trip. Six weeks seemed a lot of time for us to fill, at first, but we appear to be squeezing far too much in once again in order to see everyone and do all the things we want to. And of course, we're still waiting to see if Jiajia gets her visa without a hiccup.
JD and I took the 7½ hour daytime train back to Kunming today. It's been an even more successful trip than I had hoped for with plenty of exercise, adventures, friends and fresh air. JD says his highlight (alongside the boat, the chairlift and the horse riding) was the easy access to various construction vehicles ...each to his own!
JD and I walked to the Three Pagodas this morning (the hotel told us it was 1km. It was at least 3km!) and were able to get in for free with yesterday's boat ticket. Then up a ten-minute chairlift to get to the top of CangShan mountain. JD was keen to visit a couple of caves there (armed with a tiny torch he had bought especially) but, after a 4km walk along the "cloud path" we found they had been closed due to a rockfall. So another 4km back to the chairlift, via a picnic and back to the hotel. Ten kilometres is a lot of short legs, and JD was hardly able to stay awake by the time we got to our room!
JD and I had our first trip out today - a 4 hour boat trip around ErHai Lake. The large boat had a dance show on board and stopped at two pretty islands where we could disembark for a wander. Although the boat was quite full, most of the Chinese passengers preferred to stay indoors, playing cards and avoiding the sun, leaving JD and I lots of quiet opportunities to look for pirates and sharks!
We're back in the Laos capital, Vientiane, after a long but beautiful drive back from Vang Vieng.
We've been to some distinctly average Chinese restaurants whilst here (largely to keep Ma-in-law happy) but the Laos meals we have had have been exceptional, especially the DIY all-u-can-eat barbecues. Laos food is similar to Thai food, but without the mouth-burning chilli dishes or the stomach-turning sour dishes.
We visited the Buddha Sculpture Park in Vientiane yesterday. I was last there was in 2006. It's a bizarre collection of sculptures, religious and fantasy, which JD thoroughly enjoyed climbing on and in! It's hot here (30ºC today) and after meandering through the park we sat by the Mekong Rover and ate ice-creams.
Jiajia and her brother "Li" haven't always seen eye-to-eye in the past, but he and his new wife have been surprisingly hospitable and generous so far. His Laos wife "San" doesn't speak English or Chinese, but has been making every effort to connect with JD. It helps that they have a pet monkey! Li works as a taxi driver, but has been transporting us around instead this week (and obviously missing out on fares).
It's been refreshing to see Jiajia and Li laughing and joking together.
Jiajia, JD, Ma-in-law and I all flew to Laos today. Jiajia's brother lives there with his "girlfriend" (we later discovered they are recently married and expecting a baby). It's a new country for everybody, except me, and Jiajia is keen to escape Kunming's recent cold snap.
Laos is only a 2½ hour flight from Kunming, and a one hour time difference. So, on arrival, Jiajia's brother "Li", whisked us straight off from the airport to 2-3 tourist sights in the Laos capital of Vientiane - "Victory Gate" and a couple of temples - before heading out of town to his house to unpack and have a rest.
Despite only having one bed in the house, Li's insisting all six of us sleep there, using sofas and floor. Frankly we'd prefer a nearby hotel, but he seems very insistent on showing his hospitality!
Our time in Phuket drew to an end yesterday. Before we left, JD was keen to say goodbye to "Vicky" [below] who runs "Pegy Club", the hotel's kids activity club which JD attended a few times. He enjoyed getting face-painted as a tiger and, later, as Spider-Man.
Our plane from Phuket left at 7.20am, which meant waking up at 3am to get a taxi for the hour's drive to the airport. Two flights and another taxi and we finally arrived back home in Kunming by 3pm. Unfortunately, my recent and excessive western food intake has led to a return of the gout which used to plague me for a decade, but from which I haven't suffered for many years. My ankle is badly swollen and I'm hobbling to get around. Hopefully the medicine, some rest and a return to a more healthy diet will see it improve within a few days.
We did an island-hopping trip today. JD loved the powerful speedboat which took us around to three local islands. The promised snorkelling was a bit of a disappointment, but JD was able to see (and try to catch!) a few shoals of brave green fish who swim near the shore to be fed. The weather was good and, apart form some overcrowding on the islands, we enjoyed the half-day adventure.
Our holiday continues to be great fun. The free buffet breakfasts are great and set us up for the day, with the promise of an evening meal out at a restaurant later in the day. We've taken a local bus for 45 minutes into Phuket Old Town for some shopping, found a Tesco superstore for western goodies to bring back to China and seen a passing festival on its way to a temple.
We had seen weather forecasts threatening rain every day, but we have had dry, sometimes pleasantly overcast, days so far. We've been making good use of the swimming pools here and JD's confidence in the water has grown rapidly. He particularly loves swimming underwater and has been on the waterslide dozens of times (occasionally with me!). The warm sea and sandy beach are also within five minutes walk and we've been there a few times too.
Ava, JD and I took two plane hops down to Phuket in Thailand today. I'd been warned that the island was a touristy, nightlife nightmare but our hotel claimed to be quiet and family-friendly, and the flights were cheap, so we decided to take a chance. And it's fantastic. Our huge room has a kitchen and walk-in wardrobe and could sleep five. The balcony opens directly onto one of the four swimming pools. Downside? It's occupied by 95% Russians - "the zombies" as we call them - never smile, never interact with others, never look where they are walking. Such a dour lot. But we are looking forward to our week here.
After our brilliant visit to Disneyland a few days ago, Hong Kong's other big theme park had a lot to live up to. "Ocean Park" opened nearly 30 years before Disney and, to be honest, it showed. We made the best of the day but there were frequent disappointments and long queues for everything. JD found that nearly all the rides required him to be older or taller. We did find one roller coaster which let him on [see bottom left - we are circled in red] but even that entailed queueing for over an hour. The shows were not a patch on Disney's epics either [though I managed to take part in a kung fu demo - see bottom right].
Heavy rain showers and large crowds didn't help the atmosphere. We finished off the trip with a cable car ride and their large aquarium, which turned out to be the highlights.
We have arrived in the UK and are spending the first few days at my parents in Sidcup. They met us at the airport with a huge hand-drawn Welcome sign and pork pies! It's really hot here, so Ava is loving their beautiful garden while JD is loving "helping" by digging up spuds and watering the vegetables. As for me,I'm relishing the prospect of all my favourite "unobtainable" dishes such as casserole, fish-n-chips, toad-in-the-hole and rhubarb crumble ...oh and a large Wetherspoons breakfast which is planned for tomrrow morning. So happy to see my old folks after 1.5 years away and 24 hours of travelling. Let the holidays begin!
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