China & Tibet

2005 Tuesday 25th October to Thursday 17th November By Linda and Richard Vidler


Tuesday 25th October 2005
We leave for Hong Kong today! We got up early and finished packing and sorting out the camera. The new camera should be great. Richard from the flats has kindly offered to drive us to Heathrow and look after the fish. We arrived and checked in and took off with no problems. Our trip begins! Wednesday 26th October 2005
The flight was fine. I slept a little, but Rich couldn't sleep much at all, despite the best efforts of Mr. Penguin (our trusty travel pillow)! The airport in Hong Kong is the nicest airport I've been to so far. There were members of staff at each information board. When we looked at the board and were confused, the lady came up to us and offered to help. She radioed someone and got our gate number for us when it wasn't on the board. All the staff were friendly and helpful. We tried a fantastic candy called Dragon's Beard Candy. It was great! The inside was peanut and sesame, wrapped in spun sugar stands. Our flight to Beijing was fine. We watched Fantastic Four, which was a good way to pass the time without being fully awake. Beijing airport immigration was fine. Very quick. Our guide, Theresa, met us right outside the arrival gate. She's nice and speaks very good English. The hotel is nice. Rich likes the master control panel next to the bed which controls all the lights. We went for a walk around the shops near the hotel, partly to try out the camera and partly to see what Beijing is like. The shops were still open at 9:30 PM and there were plenty of people walking around so we felt safe trying out the camera. We went into one of the market shops and discovered what "high pressure" sales techniques are. There was a ridiculous number of staff on hand - each very keen to show you a random item. Once back in the hotel, Rich decided that whoever designed the shower must have been Chinese, and therefore a bit heightist. (Rich was looking down at the shower head as he decided this.) I personally don't see the problem - the height was fine!

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Thursday 27th October 2005
A good night's sleep is a wonderful thing. The beds were comfy, but a bit short for Rich. We both slept well. Breakfast was really good. They had the usual eggs, bacon, etc. as well as the Chinese choices. I tried congee - which is rice porridge. It was really good. We also tried the egg and vegetable pancake (omelette really) and that was good too. We decided to risk the fruit juice - it tastes like it was made from concentrate - so we may regret that choice in a few days. It's hard to be paranoid about these things. Rich tried the dumpling. I didn't like it, but he thought it was OK. Rich noticed an odd custom at breakfast. A lady put her coat on the back of her chair - then the staff put a cover over it. All of the chairs had a cover on the back which could cover people's coats. Someone's bag on the floor also had a cover over it. Interesting idea. We decided to try the hotel room safe. The battery light blinked, but we thought we'd try it anyway. My stuff is in the safe, Rich's is hidden in the ugly blue bag. We were in the hotel lobby at 9 AM on the dot, since we read that the Chinese are very keen on punctuality. Don't believe everything you read. Theresa was there about 10 minutes late. First we went to Tiananmen Square, which is huge! Then we crossed the street to the Gate of Heavenly Peace and entered under the oil painting portrait of Chairman Mao to enter the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is very beautiful. The buildings have a fantastic level of detail. The colours are vibrant. We took lots of pictures. After the Forbidden City, we went to a silk factory and market. We wanted to get a few metres of silk for Annetta to make a sleeping bag liner. The place was surreal! We were the only customers there. As we walked in, the guy who greeted us gave us a lengthy but very enthusiastic explanation of where silk comes from and how it is made. The demo was complete with specimens of the silk worms in all stages of life, etc. We then proceeded to the "factory floor", which was buzzing with activity and we were given another lengthy demonstration on silk duvets and covers. I think I would like one, but they were too expensive. Maybe if we find a reasonably priced one in Hong Kong. When we said we didn't want a silk duvet, we were invited to the clothing level upstairs. This is when it became apparent that the whole activity of the place centred wholly around us. It was bizarre. We went up the stairs with a procession of at least 10 staff. All spinning and duvet making duties forgotten, it was sales time. The lights went on as we ascended the stairs and the staff arranged themselves in prime selling locations. The clothing was beautiful, but beyond our price range. I think we will be able to find virtually the same stuff in Hong Kong. We found some nice silk for Annetta for about £35. It's beautiful blue silk - if she doesn't want it, I'll keep it. We saw some nice silk purses and the "discount" was 50% off - equalling 65p per bag. We bought 11 (as a deal) and will give them away as cute souvenirs. They threw in a very pink silk scarf as a freebie, which was nice of them - even though it's scary looking. Before dinner, we stopped at a pearl shop where we were shown a video about where pearls come from. Then we were asked to choose a hapless oyster to be used for demonstration purposes. Our oyster had about 30 pearls in him. We walked around the shop, chased by the first lady who served us and we bought a black pearl pendant. Next came our Peking Duck dinner at a famous local restaurant. They had pictures of famous people who'd eaten there, such as Don King and Holifield the boxer. The food was nice. Friendly Villa in Redhill does a better crispy duck, but it was a good meal. After dinner we went for a walk up the main shopping street again. We bought 2 silk shirts (one each) and a random candied "fruit on a stick". It was really good, provided you didn't get one with a thousand (5) pips in it. We decided it was a cross between a strawberry and an apple and called them strapples from then on. Really good! With our courage boosted, we stopped by the street vendors. It was amazing! There was such a variety of strange things - on a stick! There was snake, which we tried and hated, lamb balls, squid, beetles, scorpion, silk worm cocoon, and other unidentifiable items. The sweets looked nice, so we tried something that looked like a cinnamon roll and some things that looked like spun sugar. The "cinnamon roll" was a tasteless mushy dough ball which we couldn't determine if we hated it or not. The "spun sugar" things were a trap! One bite and your mouth was instantly glued together with an incredible desiccant. I think it was flour disguised as sugar. My stomach still hurts from laughing!

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Friday 28th October 2005
We went to see the Great Wall at the Mutianyu section today. The weather was beautiful. The wall is a fantastic sight! It's so big and stretches over the peaks as far as the eye can see! We walked up to the highest point that we could, to the un-restored section. It was quite a hike along an amazing construction. Then we went back to the car park to see Theresa, who was annoyed with us for not buying much at the vase shop. The vase shop was nice - they showed us how the vases are made. They start with a copper vase, then solder raised metal strips to the vase, then fill in the spaces with mineral colours. Then they bake it and sand it smooth. I never liked the vase style until I saw how they are made. Now I respect them for their craftsmanship. We saw a blue dragon urn in the shop that wasn't too ridiculously priced, so we got it. We would buy so much more at these places if their prices weren't insulting. We saw the same items in Hong Kong airport for 1/10th the price. After the Great Wall, Theresa took us to a tea shop where they explained the types of tea and let us try each one. We didn't get anything since it's the same as the tea we ca get in London. Theresa didn't speak to us again for the rest of the car ride back to the hotel. She must get a good commission from these shops! Tonight we went to an acrobatic show! It was great! We took lots of pictures. The new camera is great at indoor and moving pictures. The snacks at the snack bar were interesting. They had many bags of microwave popcorn done ready for people. I got one of these and a strange purple and chocolate ice cream on a stick for Rich. The ice cream didn't have much flavour, but it wasn't bad. We walked around the shopping street and had dinner at the street stalls. We had a meat sandwich (probably beef) in a little bun and a coconut with a hole for the straw, fried wantons and fried "bdana" (banana) fritters and candied "tsoberrys" (strawberries) on a stick! All of these were very good! On the way back to the hotel, these 2 girls asked us if they could practice their English with us. This was fine until they tried to sell us paintings done by their school. Their professor pressured them into the sales pitch. It started out as a conversation on the street, then they invited us into their school to write our names in Chinese for us. Then came the sales pitch. We didn't buy anything, but got our names in Chinese as a freebie. Now to bed for the 8 AM flight!

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Saturday 29th October 2005
The alarms worked and Theresa and the driver were waiting in the lobby at 5:50 AM. The flight to Chengdu was fine. We were the only westerners on the plane. Helen met us at the airport - no problems. We got lots of curious looks from many people as we were the only westerners in sight. We went to the irrigation project at Dujiangyan. It was beautiful! There were temples with beautiful detailing. The project was started hundreds of years ago by Li Ping. This kept the river from flooding the Chengdu plain. The temples and gardens are Daoist. The temples are very ornate, with amazing corner details. I like these more than the ones in Beijing. The whole area is very peaceful and serene. The restaurant for dinner was great! We liked every dish we tried. Desert as a wonderful banana fritter with fruit covered in an orange sauce. The berries tasted like oranges. Before dinner we walked around a beautiful new pedestrianised street with lots of great little shops and fantastic authentic food. We saw someone making blown sugar shapes on a stick. After dinner, we used the hotel computers to make a CD's of our photos so far.

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Sunday 30th October 2005
We got up early and had breakfast in the "superfine" hotel restaurant. They had an official plaque declaring them a "superfine" restaurant. Then we went to the Chengdu Panda Research and Breeding Base. The pandas were happy to pose for us. There were 2 young pandas sitting like they were watching TV and eating lots of bamboo. Then we saw a young panda running around and trying to climb a tree in the most clumsy way possible. Then we saw a mother and baby panda and took a few pictures. Later we saw red pandas, which are related to the giant pandas. They look a bit like big, cuddly racoons. Rich took a picture of me holding one of them. Then we went to the airport for our flight to Lhasa. We spoke to a teacher of a group of American students who had studied in Beijing for a year and were now on their end of term trip to Tibet for 2 weeks.

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Still Sunday 30th October 2005
We met our guide in Lhasa - no problem. His mane is Mr Tsewang. He's great, but really nervous! He gave a tour to Sally, the director of Travel Indochina in China 2 weeks ago. We are the first group he is taking for them. He's been a tour guide for about 10 years and he's great! He took us to our hotel, which is right in the centre of the Tibetan half of Lhasa. He advised that we had a leisurely afternoon and didn't try to walk too much. We didn't nee the warning - we can hardly do anything except walk slowly! We took a stroll to the Jokhang Square, in front of the Jokhang Temple. It's amazing! For the first time, I felt I was somewhere truly foreign. There were many people in traditional Tibetan dress walking around the square. They would come up to us and grin, offering to let us take a picture of them for some money. We took a picture of a monk, an older lady and an older guy with handheld prayer wheels. We showed them the pictures on the camera and they loved it! We gave them each 1 yuan, which is about 6p. The exchange rate is about 1:15. We took pictures of people in the crowds and the temple and walked around the market. Then I felt really dizzy and nauseous and had to sit down. I really thought I would pass out. Rich said my lips were greyish white. As I sat on the ground propped up against the railing, several people caught my eye and nodded in the international "you OK?" sign. I gave them a weak smile and was comforted that I was surrounded by friendly strangers. Rich kept me company and helped me back to the room, where I was sick several times, including in the hotel restaurant. I was so embarrassed! Rich apologised profusely and had some dinner since we hadn't eaten for over 8 hours. He brought me some rice and soup in case I felt better. Rich doesn't feel great, but he's doing a lot better than me. Now to try to get some sleep. Rich took fantastic care of me!

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Monday 31st October 2005
It's morning and I feel a lot better. Rich feels worse. I had congee for breakfast, which is great on an upset stomach. Rich couldn't eat much at all. We met our guide, Mr Tsewang, and went to the Jokhang Temple. It's breathtaking! People walk from 1000 km away to worship here. The inside is indescribable. The statues are huge and very detailed. The tapestries are very old, detailed and colourful. The yak butter candles fill the space with a pungent aroma, mixed with the incense. The structure of the building is very ornate and colourful. It's an incredible place! The most stunning part was the way the pilgrims lined up and squashed into the temple. They were very devout and loved to be there. They didn't have to pay to get in, but they had to wait in line. Foreigners had to pay, but didn't have to line up. A good deal all around, really. The pilgrims were very keen to get to each statue in the temple. They weren't rude, but were so focussed that they would push gently to get past if we were between them and the next statue. We surprised Tsewang by meeting someone we knew in the Temple! The same older lady we took a picture of yesterday was there. She smiled and greeted us and we took her picture again in the Temple. It turned out to be a fantastic picture! My favourite! After the temple, we walked the Barkor Circuit and saw the stalls of amazing items for sale. We'll walk around a bit before we buy anything. We went back to the hotel and we both felt ill, especially me, as I took a nap while Rich sorted the camera. We had a muffin each for lunch as we both felt ill. At 3 PM, we met Tsewang again and went to the Pawang Ka monastery. It's beautiful and remote, halfway up the mountainside. I slept in the car while Rich walked around with Tsewang. He loved it. It's remote and doesn't get many visitors. The monks were amused to see Rich and there were smiles all around. I was amazing how people couldn't keep their eyes off of us. Many were pilgrims who were in Lhasa for pilgrimage and hadn't seen foreigners before. As we were driving around, we saw people tilling the fields with a single blade plough attached to 2 yaks. Others had motorised ploughs etc. There's quite a range of prosperity. Many people walked to the fields with hand tools. We had a nice dinner tonight. I had yak noodle soup and Rich had yak and potato stew. It was really nice!

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Tuesday 1st November 2005
Today's purchases:

ItemCost in Yuan
Metal bowl with resonance stick110
Metal prayer wheel95
Yak horn prayer wheel95
Coral and silver ear rings80
Mask (wooden)40
4 bracelets (for being ripped off foreigners)gratis
Lock with key60
Total 480£34

I felt so much better today! I still feel like I tumbled down the stairs, but it's better than yesterday. Rich feels worse, but he's not letting it stop him. We visited the Potala Palace this morning! We walked up the steep road to the palace and them around its many wonderful rooms dedicated to different lamas and Buddhas. The atmosphere was devout when the worshippers were around, like the Jokhang Temple they were very single minded about their worship. But when the Chinese tourists were around, the atmosphere was suddenly sour and pushy. The pilgrims were all very nice. After the Potala Palace, we went across the street to Chagpo Ri, which is a hill that gives a great view of the palace. Then we tried to make the most confusing and convoluted purchase ever. We only wanted to buy 2 No. 1 MB memory cards for the camera. So we went into a shop and bargained the price and asked for 2 of them. The lady then phoned someone and motioned for us to follow her. She took us to another shop where they had a second card. They then tried to get us into a taxi. At this point, we said no thank you. It turned out that although they said credit cards were OK, they meant they would take us to a cash machine to get the cash. So we said no thank you and got cash and went elsewhere for the cards to a place that was slightly cheaper. We then visited the Tibet museum. It presents a very official and 1 sided view of events, but has some really nice things on Tibetan life. Then we had a late lunch at the Lhasa Kitchen. I had Tibetan yak noodle soup and Rich had yak meatballs and yak momo soup. (definitely a trend with the yak!) It's nice though. After lunch we walked 'round the Barkor circuit and bought souvenirs as listed at the beginning of today. We had a nice walk and we both feel much better, but have no appetite. Great for losing weight! We got back to the hotel and the power went out. I asked for some candles and we had romantic lighting for the evening. We had chicken tikka for diner which counts as a local dish! We will try the laundry service tomorrow as we will run out of clean underwear soon.

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Wednesday 2nd November 2005
We finally got a good night's sleep! We went to the Drepung Monastery this morning. It is very big and beautiful. It's remote, about half ay up the mountain, but with a good road to it. The monastery used to house 7000 monks before the "Cultural Revolution". Now there are 500 monks in residence. They have restored the large prayer hall, which is the largest prayer hall in any monastery in Tibet, possibly in the world. There used to be 6 colleges for the monks and lots of buildings across the stream. Now there are beggars living in these semi destroyed buildings. 40% of the monastery was destroyed, but the monks are rebuilding it. We were allowed into the 4th Dali Lama's bedroom. Tsewang was very impressed, he's never seen that room open before. The statues were half height Buddhas instead of whole figures, they were from the shoulders up. Then we went to Tsewang's house. It's beautiful! He has a Chinese living room and a Tibetan living room. He invited us into his Tibetan living room, which is the comfortable, less formal room with pictures of his family, etc. We had some yak butter tea. It was OK, but much too strong a flavour. The butter is much too strong. We walked around the market again and got a prayer bowl for Rich's Mum and my Mom. I hope they like them. We walked around Lhasa this afternoon and took more photos of the Potala Place and saw a Chinese department store. It was much the same as anywhere else.

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Thursday 3rd November 2005
We were up early and started driving to Gyantse. We went over 3 mountain passes. They were all beautiful! At the top of the first pass, Kamba-la, we saw Yamdrok-Tso lake. It's very beautiful. We both had our photo taken on a yak in full traditional (yaky) costume (saddle, etc.). We stopped in the town of Nangartse for lunch and a break from the car. We saw 2 more mountain passes and took photos of the glacier at the top of the second pass where Rich bought 2 local crystals (which cleaned up nicely) and I was overcharged for taking a photo of yaks surrounding a dodgy loo/rock. One of the passes is at 5100 metres, which is only 100 metres short of the Mt. Everest base camp. The third pass didn't involve any cash-extracting opportunities (whew!). We climbed to the top of a small summit and took photos of the lake. Rich found a fossil of a squid! When we got to Gyantse, we checked into our hotel. The place was freezing! We needed assistance in making the wall mounted heat pump work - mainly because it doesn't. We visited the Gyantse Kumbum and monastery. The Kumbum is a round building with lots of chapels (77 to be precise). It was built in the 1400's and is now being restored. The paintings are beautiful, as well as the statues, so we paid the 10 yuan to take our camera. Tsewang was very happy to use the small torch and helped us take pictures by lighting them with me with the other torch. It was very beautiful. Dinner was OK. Rich had the yak curry set, I had chicken fried rice. It was good. The hotel was really quite awful. Apart from being cold, the bathroom smelled bad. One entertaining feature of this naff hotel was the lightning sheets! As we went to bed, my hand ran across the bed cover and there were many lightning sparks! I woke Rich up and showed him and we tried to take a picture of the effect. Tsewang and the driver had to share their room with another drover. He's Chinese. They're making him sleep on the floor. I think they're hoping to step on him by accident!

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Friday 4th November 2005
Today we drove to Shigatse. We had lunch at a restaurant run by (Dowea's?) the driver's family. We ordered the medium buffet and received huge quantities of great food! We also got to watch the driver giving a hard time to the waitresses and them giving him a hard time. The driver is a tall, broad shouldered man who was very quiet up to this point. Now it was fun to watch as he was silly with his relatives. After lunch, Tsewang and the driver (who speaks no English), sat in the sun with the driver's relatives and Rich and I walked around the market. It was OK, not as nice as the Barkor Circuit. Lots of people passed us and called out "Hello, thank you, bye bye!" to get a reaction from us. I usually said "hello" and they giggled like kids. Oh well, they're happy. Then we went to Tashilunpo Monastery. The monastery was supposed to open at 3 PM, but didn't. As we waited for it to open, we watched Tsewang try to politely refuse the amorous advances of a random goat that appeared. It seemed to think we were all there to amuse it, so it did the rounds of the crowd. Once the monastery opened, the goat did the pilgrimage with the crowds, paying special attention to the stairs and anyone attempting to climb them. We walked along a really long room with lots of statues in it. We saw a 26 metre high statue of Matriah (?) Buddha (the future Buddha). The monks at all the other monasteries were fairly friendly, but at this one, they weren't. They were mostly quite young and seemed annoyed that we were there. The high lamma, the Penza lamma, was at the monastery in meditation, which may have been why the monks wanted to close up fast. For dinner, we went back to the restaurant run by the driver's relatives. There were 3 monks at a table when we got there. They left shortly after we arrived and the driver grabbed the heater for our table. Dinner was really nice. We had beef noodle soup and stir fried vegetable. Really good! Especially considering it cost 30 yuan = £2! After dinner, we walked around the hotel shop, wrote out postcards, and watched a popular Chinese/Japanese soap opera on TV. We could actually work out most of what was going on. The room was wonderfully warm! We slept really well!

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Saturday 5th November 2005
Today we drove from Shigatse to Tsetang. We will stay here tonight and tomorrow night. We stopped for lunch at a nice Chinese restaurant in a tiny town along the road. We've driven about 400 km. The whole drive has been along the river. We've been following the river down and losing altitude all day. We've gone from about 3900 m to 3100 m. We walked along the high street this afternoon and it's a normal town. Dinner was very nice. We walked to a restaurant Tsewang recommended and the Driver and his girlfriend joined us. They were being rather cute so Rich made a comment to embarrass them along the lines of "where are his hands?" as his hands were under the table at the time (just in his lap). They both turned a spectacular shade of red and couldn't stop laughing! It was a fun dinner. We came back to the room and watched another episode of our favourite Japanese soap.

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Sunday 6th November 2005
We got to the ferry to go to the Samye Monastery. The ferry is a large wooden open boat, about 12 feet across and 30 feet long. The engine was the same large lawnmower type engine that powers the small 3 wheel motorcycle type vehicles with the flat bed backs. The steering control consisted of a bar with visible welds along its length. The seating was a board running along the outside edge of the boat, about 6 inches lower than the edge. The queue for the ferry consisted of about 15 locals, including 5 or 6 kids, several large bags of wool(?) and other random agricultural things. The boat seemed reasonably loaded until we saw the other ferry come in from the other direction. There must have been about 100 people on the other ferry! Mostly kids in identical school jackets. Before our ferry left, we acquired about 10 more locals, lots more wool, and 2 more westerners. They are from Gloucestershire, UK and have been travelling for 3 and a half years and will be home for Christmas. We finally left the shore and were travelling up river for a while when we saw another ferry, grounded in the middle of the river. This ferry was even more packed than the other one, with people, firewood, and lots of other random agricultural items. After a bit of confusion, our ferry discharged everyone onto a sandbar. It then collected a third of the people and things from the other ferry and headed off back the way we had come. It went for quite a long way down the river and we were beginning to worry that it was going all the way beck to the port. Fortunately not, it dropped them off on another sandbar and came back for more and then they were on their way. Our sandbar was very big, stretching for about half a mile in both directions. It was quite cold and windy. Rich and I were OK. Tsewang was freezing. The other couple were a bit cold, but OK. The boat finally came back after about an hour and we all got back on and continued our journey. When we got to the shore, we had a choice of travel by bus, tractor or land rover. The bus was pretty full, so we chose the land rover. It was the funniest journey we've had in ages! Tsewang pulled the guy next to me out of the jeep and put him in the front of the jeep. Tsewang then sat next to me and Rich. The guy in the front was very nervous and clung to the handle in the front of his seat as though his life depended on it. We were driving though a landscape of sand dunes, with a very well worn track carved into it. The driver had a wicked grin on his face and proceeded to hit every puddle and bump possible to make the other guy yell. Then we drove through a pack of goats crossing the path. There were many goats running along either side of the track, when one goat suddenly veered in front of the jeep. The passenger guy screamed! The driver swerved up the side of the track, and all was well. The whole rid was an experience of being thrown around. It was hysterical! Samye monastery was very nice. Access was though a ditch, but there was construction work going on, so it may improve. There was a restaurant serving nice, simple food and a hostel with nasty loos. The monastery had a central building with 3 levels, a Tibetan room, a Chinese room, and an Indian room. After the monastery, we drove up a mountain pass which gave us a great view of the river valley. We then drove to the first palace of Tibet, the Yumbulagang palace. It's a very nice 3 room monastery on top of a rock outcrop overlooking nearby fields. It was beautiful. Rich walked to the top of the rock outcropping, among the prayer flags to take a photo of the palace, with the sun beside it and fields below. Very beautiful. For dinner, we went to a local Tibetan restaurant. It was very local - more like a bar really, with loud music and dodgy looks towards us. The food was fine and we went back to our room to pack for the upcoming marathon of flights.

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Monday 7th November 2005
We were up early today to go to the airport in Lhasa to start our Yunnan part of the trip. We got to see a beautiful sunrise over the valley. It was totally dark when we left the hotel. The sky gradually got lighter. We watched the line of night and day gradually approach the mountains on either side of us and then pass down over the mountains, creating and then destroying the dramatic shadows. The sun shine reached the distant snow covered mountains significantly later than it reached the low hills beside us, thus showing the curvature of the earth. We're now on our 6th of the 10 flights. Uneventful so far. We met our guide, Tony, at the airport, no problem. Our hotel is in the centre of Kunming. We went to the Brothers Jiang for the local specialty, across-the-bridge noodles. It was a bit complicated to get a seat and get started, but it was well worth the effort! Dinner consisted of a large bowl of very hot chicken broth, with a bowl of rice noodles to add as you wished, along with lots of little plates of other random things to add. You are meant to add the raw items as soon as the broth arrives so that it all cooks together and keeps warm for ages. It was fantastic! I will try this at home! After dinner, we walked around and witnessed a large garden shed-type structure being moved by flat bed bicycle. Even the traffic police were amused! We took a picture of the spectacle. Then we found a market that sold all sorts of stuff. We found a shop that sold very cheap CD's and DVD's. We bought about 6 things for about £6. Hopefully most of them will work.

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Tuesday 8th November 2005
We met Tony and flew to Dali. We checked into the hotel, then went to the 3 Pagodas. The Pagodas were filled in at the bases and the surrounding "old" buildings were completely new and not very well constructed. They looked new and cheap to build. Other than that, the Pagodas were very nice. Then we went up a chair lift (in the rain) to the top of the mountain to the small monastery. The view was great, even in the misty rain. After that, we went back to the hotel, then took the free hotel shuttle into town and found 4 beautiful carved wooden pictures (a set) of the 4 seasons. Rich is still working out how we will get them home unscathed. They should look fantastic in our room on the double height area! We had dinner in the Bamboo Café. It was a tiny restaurant, only about 3 times the width of the front door! There were 4 tables, which were all full. The very enthusiastic owner invited us in anyway. The walls and ceiling were covered in bamboo mats (hence the name). The lights were red and there were candles on the tables. It was a fantastic atmosphere. The menu had everything on earth to offer. Rich had the meatball stew, which was fantastic! I had a pizza, which was also really good. The chocolate/banana smoothies were amazing!

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Wednesday 9th November 2005
We went to a market and saw spices, meat, vegetables, and everything else known to man (but not necessarily to us). It was a nice, busy outdoor market. Then we went to a historic house. It was depressing. It had belonged to Yan, who was a tea magnate in the area in the 1700's. The house was once very beautiful, but has fallen into ruin. There were very nice paintings that had been painted over and are now being badly restored. We then went to a Batik dying house where we saw how they make the patterns in the cloth. Then we drove for 3 hours to Lijiang. I slept most of the way. Rich listened to the single CD the driver was playing the whole way. Lijiang is great! We walked around the old town all afternoon. It's very tidy, with individual shops selling beautiful handicrafts. Most of the items are made in the shops. The canals running along the walkways are beautiful. There's nice little fish in the canals. We went to the Sakura Café for lunch and then again for dinner. The food was good, but we had to ask what happened to one dish we ordered as it didn't arrive until after we asked about it. After dinner we walked around with the tripod and took more pictures. The ones of the waterwheels are my favourite for Lijiang.

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Thursday 10th November 2005
We visited the house of Joseph Rock. He was originally from Austria and moved to New York, then Hawaii. He got a job with the Hawaii Botanical Institute which later became Hawaii State University. They sent him to Yunnan Province, China to collect rare seeds used in a cure for leprosy. He taught himself many languages and enough botany to give lessons and travel to collect samples. He had no formal advanced schooling. The house was a nice museum to the local hero. He went back to Hawaii when the Cultural Revolution started. We walked around a Baisha village with a very unfriendly atmosphere. Then we went to the Liuli Diam Temple of eclectic faiths. The murals were hundreds of years old, but the lower parts had been damaged by animals. After that, we visited Dr. Ho. As visited by Michael Palin in his Himalaya TV Series. Dr. Ho's son showed us a barrage of letters and articles. It was an experience. We were given health tea that made me cough. We were invited into his medicine room and offered treatment. However, we decided that we were OK, so we were only given some more health tea. We signed their visitor book which contained many friendly but sceptical entries. Then we had the afternoon to walk around by ourselves. We had lunch at Sakura again, then went to the Pagoda on the hill called Lion Hill Park. We climbed to the top and took pictures, then sat in the park and watched and tried to photograph the birds. We found and photographed a scarily hairy caterpillar. We went to a show about minority group dress and customs in the evening. It was well choreographed and was nice to see the different traditional dress. For dinner, we went to Le Petit Paris café. It was very busy with a ski chalet atmosphere. The food was great!

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Friday 11th November 2005
We had breakfast with nice, non-sweet bread! The cereal had normal milk for a change! Very nice! Then we drove to the first bend of the Yangtze River. It was nice to see the beautiful gorge valley. The river was quite wide at this point. Then we went to Tiger Leaping Gorge. It's like a horizontal Niagara Falls! The river is forced through a narrow rock area, very powerful even in the dry season! It was very impressive. Lunch was nice, in a small restaurant off the main track. We became a minor tourist attraction while eating our lunch. Then we went to our hotel in Zhongdian, otherwise known as Shangri-La. We walked around the old town. The style is a mix of the very old and the very new. About half the shops were open and half the "shops" were building sites. I think they're closed for the winter and getting ready for next year. The drive to Shangri-La was nice. The scenery was amazing, with the sheer scale of the valleys. We passed many dams under construction. One of them will be very big and cover the current road. We thought the health and safety on the site was truly appalling! I'm glad I don't work here! We had a very nice dinner at the Tibet Café as recommended by our guide and the Lonely Planet book. I may have damaged the room's kettle by using it as a humidifier, but it was worth it, I can breathe! We picked up a couple bottles of wine-beer at the local shop. It's 4.5% and tastes like a mix of wine and beer, basically a very sweet wine. The pack of Chips-a-hoy has expanded impressively and could explode at any second. They must have been packaged at sea level. Rich is considering opening them and getting us stranded here in snow! (No small feat considering its clear skies all around!)

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Saturday 12th November 2005
We took a walk with Tony around the "Old Town" this morning. It's being very heavily restored. The old buildings are a work of art with their intricately carved woodwork near the eaves and around the windows. About a third of the buildings are being renovated in the old style. We saw some amusing protruding gutter arrangements. They aim for passers-by. Although these buildings were very nice, I'm glad we saw Tibet for real. Shangri-la looks Tibetan, but has the atmosphere of China. At least they're building new buildings in the Tibetan style. Then we went to see a monastery in the old town. It has Daoist and Buddhist temples and one of the largest prayer wheels in China. The temples were a slightly different style to the Tibetan ones, and built in a cheaper and simpler style. The large prayer wheel and the temples were relatively new. The pilgrims turning the prayer wheel were friendly and smiled at us as they went past. They wore traditional Tibetan dress. One lady topped praying to answer her mobile phone. I think we surprised Tony slightly when we were climbing up the many stairs to the monastery. We climbed them quite fast with no trouble at all since we had spent time at a much higher altitude in Tibet the week before. Tony seemed a bit winded when we got to the top. We went to a high scenic spot to photograph the Zhongdian, or Shangri-la area. It's a wide, flat river valley. While we were there, we noticed that there was a quarry across the street from us and there were recesses in the rock face. Along the road we had a look into several of the recesses. None of them went very far. Photos were taken. Then we went to Songzanlin Monastery on the hill. It's a big place, housing about 600 monks. It's modelled after the Potala Palace, kind of a miniature version. It was largely destroyed during the "Cultural Revolution", with only 1 hall remaining from the original. It was a beautiful place, but not as well done as the Tibetan monasteries and it needs more work before it would be fully restored. Then we went to lunch at the Tibet Café. Rich had a heaping plate of meatballs and I had fried rice. We talked to a strange British woman. She was nice, but very "full on" as she grilled us on several topics. After lunch we visited a Tibetan village, being careful to avoid the dogs. The houses were fairly big, with courtyards to the south of each house. One house was under construction, with formwork on the walls to support the earthen render. The atmosphere was calm, friendly and quiet. We (Tony) spoke to some people taking the dried barley off of the wooden raised drying racks and tying it up to store it. They smiled at us and let us take pictures of them working. Another person was fixing the roof and smiled and said "Nihou" (hello). There were a lot of pigs walking around the village. The village was quite big, with about 30 houses / farms. After the village, we went to the hot springs nearby. We wanted to see if we could do any caving while we were in China. Tony was embarrassed to be there, since it was a really naff resort. He was right. It was really naff, but we weren't there to see the resort, just the cave. We asked the ladies at the desk if we could go through the gate and see the cave. They seemed amused, but let us in. The river went under the hill and past their hot spring pool. We took pictures of the river emerging and then went to the top of the hill and saw an underground shrine. There were little conical offerings in the shrine. It was a shallow cave. Then we went to the other side of the hill, down the animal track to the river and took pictures of the river going under the hill. The track down was amusingly rough. When we got to the top, after being passed by a few cows, a lady in Tibetan dress seemed very shocked to see us coming up to the top of the path. She watched us get into the car and drive away. Tony was very good about waiting for us to have a look around. We had a nice quiet night in the hotel.

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Sunday 13th November 2005
Our flight today was fine. It was very cold outside. We went to a museum, it was terrible. It was the Yunnan Museum of Minority Nationalities. There were no dates on anything. No explanations, no context for any of the items. The items were simply titled "a Naxi dress", "a clay pot", etc. It was very boring and it was a real shame. They seemed to have made the museum to pretend they were interested in the Minorities, but they really seemed to want to make it the Disney version, not real. Some of the items would have been really interesting if we had any idea how they were used, what they were, etc. Then we went to the Kunming Flower and Bird Market. It's in an old part of the town. The old buildings are being torn down and replaced with new concrete monstrosities. The old buildings are really nice too. They have detailed wooden facades and should be kept. The market was nice. There were lots of turtles and fish, but only a few birds and no flowers. Then we went to the Green Lake Park. It was nice, but really crowded. We had a couple beef kebabs, a couple of potato kebabs, a couple of ice cream cones, and some sweet fresh popcorn for lunch. We walked around the park and then walked around the market near the hotel. It was a very nice and relaxing afternoon. For dinner, we went to the Brothers Jiang again and had the cross bridge noodles. I want to make this at home! It's great! Then we went to a local tea shop and tried lots of kinds of tea and lots of sweets that traditionally go with the tea. We bought loads of tea and sweets to bring back home to share.

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Monday 14th November 2005
The flight to Hong Kong was fine. Rich noticed that the countryside was covered in thousands of plastic poly-tunnels, acting as greenhouses. We took a picture of the plastic covered countryside. For the first time, we arrived somewhere with no one to look after us! After a bit of fumbling, we decided that the train was the best deal. We bought a 3 day pass for the metro, including 2 airport to city express train journeys. We made it to a station near the hotel and got a cab, which cost 40 HK$, which is about £3. We got to the hotel about 3pm. We then got the hotel shuttle bus to the Star Ferry. We got a fantastic view of the skyline from the ferry. We walked around for a bit and then got the tram funicular up the hill to Victoria Peak. We watched the lights come on for the buildings all over the city. Lots of photos were taken. We had dinner in a noodle shop at the mall at the peak. We took the ferry back to Kowloon and then the hotel shuttle back to the Metropole Hotel. One strange thing about the hotel is that the room smells musty. There is an instruction on the door telling us not to turn the air conditioning off, otherwise the humidity will set off the fire alarm. I noticed it was humid, but I guess tropical areas have these issues.

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Tuesday 15th November 2005
Finally a really good night's sleep! The beds are really comfy! We slept through breakfast, so we went to a nearby diner (sort of) and got steak and eggs for breakfast. The toast was wonderful! It's amazing how much you miss toast! The hash browns were nice too. We took the hotel shuttle to the waterfront again and walked up Nathan Road on Kowloon and looked at the many shops. When we got to the hotel again and took the shuttle back to the waterfront and took the ferry back to Hong Kong. We walked around the Soho area shops and saw the markets and camera shops. The prices were really good. We saw the escalator that goes up the hill, so we took it up to the top. Unfortunately it ended in a nondescript residential area, so we looked in the Lonely Planet guide for a good place to have dinner. It recommended a Thai restaurant on the other side of town called Tan Ta Wan. Unfortunately, when we got there, it wasn't open. The tram journey to get there was worth the trip! It was really crowded. We were on the top level of the 2 storey tram. The ceiling was very low, with a hand hold bar across the ceiling. I could reach it easily! I have really enjoyed being average height! I walk up to a crowd of people, and I can see what's going on! We walk up to people and they're at eye level to me! It's been great! I'm going to miss this! Rich won't. His life has been hazardous here. The signs over the sidewalk are only inches above his head. He can use his head to hold on to the ceiling of the tram. The umbrellas over market stalls have tried to take him out a few times. He won't miss this at all! Since the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed, we wandered the area in search of a nice place to eat. We found a shopping mall and walked 'round it. The food court looked nice so we had Thai there. It was OK, pretty good for a food court. After dinner, we took the underground back to the stop near our hotel, Yau Ma Tei. We then walked around the Temple Street night market. It had a wide variety of interesting things, plus a lot of scary tat. They also had tables full of the hard core "Anne Summers" items. Scary. We bought 2 elegant wall hangings with Chinese calligraphy. We wrote the translations on the hangings. A nice Chinese lady stopped to tell us the translation of one of the hangings, since the direct translation didn't make a lot of sense. The direct translation was "the rook (eagle) can fly great distances". She told us that this really translates as "the future will be better than the present". The other one translates as "prosperity and health to your family". We will hang them in the stairwell, on the blank sides of the stairs. They should look really nice! We also bought a few souvenirs for people back home. We got placemat sets with chopsticks and holders. Kathy should love it! We spent the last of our cash on the placemats, so we then walked around and planned what to get tomorrow night.

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Wednesday 16th November 2005
We made it to breakfast this morning! Toast is a wonderful thing. Rich is a happy man. We planned to go to the space museum, so we took the underground to the stop at the waterfront, called Tsim Sha Tsui. Once we got there and realised how beautiful and sunny the day was, we changed our minds and went on the Star Ferry to Hong Kong. We went straight up Victoria Peak and walked around the circuit. It's about a 2 mile walk and we found a great photo spot. The first photo stop had a very irritating shrub in the way. The second spot was fantastic! No obstructive plantlife. We took photos in the clear perfect sun! The rest of the walk was very peaceful. There were other people, but everyone was relaxed. The path was enclosed in trees, with beautiful views through the vegetation. The area surrounding Hong Kong isn't nearly so built up. There is a large shipyard to the west, but the rest of the surrounding area is very green and lush. After our nice walk, we went to the Hagen Daas at Victoria Peak. I had a fantastic chocolate and strawberry ice cream and Rich had an (apparently fantastic) rum raisin milkshake. We sat in the sun and had our treats. Very nice! We took the tram back down and went to the Soho area and got a good deal on camera stuff. We got a cable shutter release, a new battery and a hood for the regular lens. Then we went to a bar and had some nice beer and pretzels. We took the travelator up and walked to one of the intermediate stations of the Peak Tram and walked to our chosen photo spot. It felt quite save as there were lots of people around and even when there wasn't, the people who appeared looked quite safe. The cable release proved very helpful and we took lots of pictures. We are really looking forward to seeing the pictures. So far we have only seen the pictures we took with this new camera on the computer screen in Chengdu when we made the first backup to CD's. We're a bit nervous about it and really hope they come out nice! After taking pictures, we went to the really nice Thai restaurant at Victoria Peak. The food was great! While we were waiting for our food, we saw lots of exciting looking dishes going past. Our starters were spring rolls (mmmm!) and meat cooked in some kind of leaf. It was fun unwrapping the starter and it was delicious! The main courses were fantastic! We had smoothies with our starters and the were great! The main courses were great too! After dinner, we went to the night market in Kowloon. I bought a tea gadget in the form of a mug with a lid and a strainer. We also got wine bottle covers in the shape of little Chinese dresses and placemats with chopsticks and holders. After that, we went back to the hotel and got a good night's sleep!

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Thursday 17th November 2005
Time to go home! We've had such a wonderful time here! I'm looking forward to getting home, but I'll miss all the fun of travelling and seeing new things! We had a nice breakfast and finished packing. We got a cab to the Kowloon station of the airport express train line. They had a check in service at the station. It was fantastic to check in and get rid of our bags! We got good seats as well! We got on the train much lighter and went to the airport. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any tea wheels at the airport. They only had vastly overpriced tea. We found a nice café to sit in and read our books. We had Popeye's fried chicken for lunch because it smelled good. Didn't feel so great afterwards... We found the Dragon Beard candy shop and got 2 boxes (12 packets of 3 pieces) of the candy for people at home (and us!). We got on the plane and found that Rich's TV was useless, really hard to see any detail as the colour was separated in a strange way. Also, the March of the Penguins movie we wanted to see was, bizarrely, playing in French. The flight was 13.5 hours long. It was the longest flight without a stopover that either of us has ever had. We flew all night, arriving in the UK at about 5am to us, but it was only 9pm local time. Richard picked us up and took us home. (He's such a nice man!) He filled us in on the latest gossip on the way home. It's nice to be back! I'm looking forward to sleeping in our own bed again! And seeing everyone again too!

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