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The week of December 6th: Traveling and Touring

Sunday morning we left the mountain with Christy. She is heading to India to teach accounting to street children that have been taken in by this couple that runs an educational orphanage of sorts. It is good to have her with us.

We spent the day in Shiyan eating. It was so good to have protein. We are not steak people, but today we were! We also did a fair bit of shopping. We found this great shop where you pick your jade pendant and you pick your braided necklace and they make them into one. Kailin made wonderful one with a Quan Yin pendant (Chinese goddess). We also watched people doing water calligraphy at the town square. Really beautiful and a wonderful way they connect the generations, as the old people teach the young. Then after near constant snacking and our steak lunch we had Hot Pot for dinner.

Hot Pot is traditional in this area. You order whatever meat and vegetables you would like. Next they bring you a pot of broth (you choose the flavor) and set it to boiling over a sterno candle on the table. Once everything arrives you proceed to cook your own meal in the broth and then dip it in a whole variety of sauces you have also picked. It is glorious and yummy!

At the end of the day we said goodbye to Christy a boarded our train to Chengdu. We had a lovely soft sleeper compartment that slept 4, but there were only 3 of us. The young man that was our bunk mate only slept with us, then spent his time next door with his friends. We slept fine, considering how noisy a train traveling over tracks is. We awoke to being only an hour from Chengdu. Once there we went to our hotel…LOVE the Jin Jiang hotel chain! Next we had to resolve our last big food craving, so we went to a great Italian place and had pizza…who knew we would miss pizza? Then we took a cab to the Panda Research Center.

What an amazing place. Imagine a zoo dedicated to Pandas, both giant and arboreal red pandas. There are only 2 places like this in the world. This one and one that is at the edge of the bamboo forests where the pandas live wild. They have a breeding program here that stretches around the world to all the zoos where pandas live. They care for injured/sick animals, they manage the wild panda population in a variety of ways including releasing captive breed panda’s into the wild, and this facility creates the panda’s natural habitat almost exactly. Plus the whole park is beautiful, including a lake with all kinds of local water birds. People come to see the pandas but also to picnic, exercise, have family celebrations, even weddings, etc. It is a wonderful place. The nicest, best maintained facility I have seen in China.

Chengdu is a nice city and has a beautiful central square, Tainfu, with amazing fountains. We did a bit of shopping, mainly looking for a good bookstore, but alas Chengdu is truly Chinese, not catering over much to foreigners. We went for dinner at a restaurant famous for its homestyle tofu. We had the spiciest tofu ever! There was so much sichuan pepper in it our mouths went numb. Thankfully they also made great homemade soy milk, which helped revive our taste buds. The next day we flew to Kuala Lumpar in Indonesia.

Our arrival was quite late and marred by a hotel that did not live up to Expedia’s advertising (and this is me being nice in my description). This meant we spent till the wee hours looking for a better hotel. Eventually, we did manage to land in a nice hotel, but it cost us. We had to go here first as we needed a 3 month visas for Thailand, which can only be applied for outside of the country.

We got up the next morning all ready to go apply for our visas only to find out that Indonesia was coming off a 3 day holiday which meant the Thai embassy was running on reduced hours. We could do nothing the first day and had to beg the second day for expedited service in order to make out flight to Phukett. After many hours waiting in lines over 2 days we did eventual succeed. We really need a different worldwide system for travel. Between the airlines raising prices, while lowering service, and increasing security and countries requiring all kinds of additional paperwork if you wish to stay more than a couple of weeks, traveling is becoming more challenging all the time. Soon they will want us to travel naked with no luggage and our passport numbers tattooed on our bums! All this aside, we did have a good time in Kuala Lumpar.

Our first day we went on our own walking tour. We went past the oldest mosque in this part of the world and through the historic district, then to the Bird Sanctuary. This is the largest covered, free-flying aviary in the world. It was pretty amazing, but we only got half way through when it decided to rain. When I say rain, I mean tropical rain. It always shocks me that it can rain that hard….It is like the Greek God’s children are playing by turning all the water taps on full blast at once. We thought it might pass in a bit so we ran for a gift shop, but 30 minutes later, no luck and the sales lady said it was likely to last the rest of the day…so we bought rain pull-overs (glorified garbage bags) and ran for the exit. We got into the cab through a foot of water rushing down the street. Once back at our hotel we spent the rest of the day sleeping and drinking hot chocolate (imagine…really great hot chocolate in KL).

The next day after gracing the Thai embassy with our presence we went to eat at a new restaurant that had opened in the DoubleTree Hotel, called Makan Kitchen. It specializes in all the local cuisines for Indonesia. Indonesia has been a meeting place of many cultures for a long time, so the food is diverse. This place had a buffet for each of the 3 main cultures represented: One for Malaise, one for Indian, and one for China. Plus everything was prepared by top chef in front of you as you went to each buffet. We went at lunch (cheaper) and ate for the whole day. We managed to have one bit of almost everything. The food was spectacular. I have had Indian food all over the world, and this was the best ever! Plus the service was phenomenal. After China this was like a taste extravaganza! When we were almost done we ran into this American couple and their son at the dessert bar. Turns out she was an industrial film maker, there to make promotional videos for the DoubleTree. She needed background “white” adults for a scene, so I was an extra in that before we left. Funny what crosses ones path.

We spent the remainder of our time shopping (they give all new meaning to computer/tech stores) and eating street food. The fruit was wonderful and we became friends with a new fruit called the rose apple, plus we began our quest to have the juice of one coconut per day the entire time we are in this part of the world! Friday we continued our journey to Phukett, Thailand.