Jul 062012

Wow, time really really flies.  I can’t believe we’re home now and our journey has come to an end.  It really was an amazing experience and I think everyone should try to travel for an extended period of time in their lives if they can.  Coming home, I took one look in my closet and felt both disgusted at how many clothes I own and at the same time amazed that I lived off of 4 t-shirts for 4 months.  Ha!  You really appreciate the simple things…like a comfortable bed and a hot water shower.  It’s incredibly fascinating and eye-opening to see how other cultures live.  So here’s the recap:

  • Countries Visited: 6 (China, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan)
  • Favorite Country: China
  • Best Food: Xian, China (paomo, street food, hand pulled noodles)
  • Worst Food: Nepal
  • Favorite Single Dish: Peking Duck at Da Dong in Beijing, China
  • Best Cheap Eats: Mr. Yang’s Fried Dumplings in Shanghai, China
  • Most Beautiful: Huangshan, China
  • Best Diving: Komodo Islands
  • Easiest Transportation: Thailand, runner up: China
  • Most Difficult Transportation: Indonesia
  • Cheapest: Nepal
  • Most Expensive: Indonesia (well, Tokyo too)
  • Best Access to Public Restrooms: China (seriously, every 100 feet)
  • Times Chris Got Sick: 6 (including food poisoning, sinus cold, photoallergy reaction, altitude sickness, etc.)
  • Most Beautiful Island: Gili Trawangan in Indonesia
  • How Much We Were Over Budget: $450 (at a budget of $100/day for the two of us combined)
  • Longest Travel Segment: 27 hours on a cigarette smoke-filled overnight ferry in Indonesia
  • Best Lodging: Bali Hyatt (Mike had hotel points)
  • Worst Lodging: Sairee Cottage on Ko Tao (only because we opted not to have A/C and paid $10/night)

In hindsight…

  • Would have spent more time in China and cut down time on the beach in Thailand.  When you’re traveling for a long time, beach time gets boring really fast but it’s nice for your 1-2 week annual vacation.
  • Would have brought a warmer jacket and better backpack for the Annapurna trek in Nepal.
  • If it’s really really hot, always spend the $10 more to get the A/C!

If you’re planning a trip to any of these spots, let us know and we’ll email you our tips.  Hope you enjoyed following along.  As far as this blog goes, I’ll still be keeping it up with our upcoming adventures.  Mike’s currently looking for work in international development in Africa or Asia, so that will likely be our next place of residence.  In the meantime, we’ll be in LA and Chicago during this transition period.  Being the crazy person that I am, about 12 hours after we landed in LA, I left for a 5 day camping trip in Sequoia with my mom and sister (who was home from DC).  Talk about exhausted!  So, look out for the next posts on Sequoia.  You can subscribe to my blog in the upper right hand corner of the page and it will send you an email any time there’s a new post.  Hope you enjoyed reading!

 July 6, 2012  Posted by at 4:12 am Cambodia, China, Food, Indonesia, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, Trip Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
Apr 032012

Three whirlwind weeks in China!  We had such a good time, and definitely have a list of things we need to go back and see.

  • Total days: 21
  • Cities visited: 6
  • Average $ spent per day (lodging, food, attractions, inter-city travel): $120
  • Cities ranked in order: Huangshan, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Xian, Pingyao (Mike is the same ranking but puts Beijing in front of Shanghai)
  • Incidents of minor stomach problems: Mike -2, Chris – 1
  • Best Food: Expensive – Da Dong in Beijing ($87 for two) Cheap: Mr. Yang’s Fried Dumpling in Shanghai($5 for two)
  • Worst Food: Lunch at tourist trap place in Muslim Quarter, Xian – led astray by a fellow hostel-stayer
  • Best Lodging: Han Tang Hostel in Xian ($23/night)
  • Worst Lodging: Shi Lin Hotel on Huangshan only because of the exorbitant price ($171/night)
  • City we could have lived without: Pingyao
  • City we wished we could have added: Sichuan, or Western China provinces

Favorite photo:

Huangshan White Cloud Creek

Favorite Photo in China

 April 3, 2012  Posted by at 6:50 am China Tagged with: , , ,  1 Response »
Apr 012012

Every city we visit, I post photos that capture the everyday magic of the city.  Here are the picks for Beijing:

Beijing Old and new

The New and the Old, in front of Tiananmen Square

Beijing Summer Palace Blossoms

Spring Time Budding

Beijing Red Lanterns

Glowing Red on Ghost Street

Beijing Laundry Day

Sunny Day = Blanket Laundry Day

Beijing Silk worm Pupae

Dare You to Eat One...Silkworm Pupae

Beijing Great Wall Guard

Security Guard Climbing the Wall

 April 1, 2012  Posted by at 5:01 pm Beijing, China, Everyday Magic Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 012012

After trying the down home version of Peking Duck at Old Beijing Restaurant two nights ago, we had to compare it to the much hyped Da Dong, supposedly the best Peking Duck in the city.  Seems like the contenders for best Peking Duck are Da Dong and Duck de Chine from what we read.  Both are fine dining, and Duck de Chine is more Chinese-French fusion, so we opted to go for Da Dong.

It was really nice and fancy inside, definitely our nicest (and most expensive) meal to date.  Although considering the prices, it probably is along the lines of a moderate dinner in New York.

We ordered the Peking Duck of course, and they even charge you 8 RMB a person for the condiments on the side (plum sauce, scallions, wrappers, etc) but it comes in a fancy dish and they add other non-classic things like seaweed, radish, and garlic paste (which was amazing).

Beijing Dadong Condiments

Clockwise from top right: sugar crystals, plum sauce, scallions, pickled radish, seaweed, cucumber, radish, garlic paste

The duck came out and we had it carved tableside (they do this so you can see you’re getting the whole duck and everything it accounted for).  Even the carving is a system where they carve it so it comes out two nice oval shaped piles of duck and one plate for the drumsticks.

Beijing Da Dong Peking duck carving

Skillful Carving

So, the verdict? AMAZING.  The skin is so crispy and definitely ate many pieces of duck skin just by itself. =)  They have some sugar you can dip the skin in which is nice, but I preferred it on its own.  We ate the whole duck no problem—the portion size was definitely smaller than what we had two nights ago.  The duck was 235 RMB (plus 8 RMB/person for condiments) versus 118 RMB a duck two nights ago.  So, double the price.  Worth it!

Beijing Da Dong Peking Duck

Delicious Crispy Skin...and Duck

We also tried the well known braised eggplant dish which was very nice and for dessert we finished off with candied apples which were just the perfect amount of crispy and melt-in-your-mouth goodness.  Mike claims he could’ve eaten the whole dish of candied apples by himself.  Sugar monster.

Beijing Da Dong Candied Apple

Like Apple Pie Lollipop Goodness

A splurge, but was nice since we’ve heard Nepal doesn’t have great food, and we’ll probably be eating cheap for the next three weeks.





 April 1, 2012  Posted by at 4:27 pm Beijing, China, Food Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 012012

There are a couple of sections where you can walk on the Great Wall: Badaling is the main one where everyone goes, Mutianyu is a little less crowded where you can ride a toboggan down the Wall, and Jinshanling/Simatai are farther out but less crowded.

We decided to go to Jinshanling with a tour organized by our hostel, since this was most recommended to us as off the beaten track, and you can hike the wall for about 6km. The tour was our most expensive attraction at 280 RMB each.  It was a 2.5 hr drive out there on a Saturday, I think it can take up to 3 hrs on a weekday.  When we got there, it was pretty much all Western tourists and only one other large group there.  It was so nice to have the Wall pretty much to yourselves, makes for some great non-tourist-crowded photos.

Beijing Great Wall Jinshanling

Great Wall Snaking Through the Mountains

We were blessed with beautiful weather as well and the sky was a vibrant blue.  The moon was also already out, so the contrast was pretty striking against the bricks.

Beijing Great Wall Moon

Photo Was Not Altered--The Sky Really Was That Blue!

We hiked through 22 watchtowers over 2.5 hrs; the first 9 were restored in the 1980s, but past watchtower 9, it was all original Wall and much of it was crumbling.

Beijing Great Wall Stairs

Unrestored Section

We brought lunch and ate our sandwiches looking over the rolling mountains.  Such a fabulous day and a great way to end our last full day in China!  We highly recommended seeing this section of the Wall over the more touristy sections.

Beijing Great Wall JinShanling View

Enjoying the View





 April 1, 2012  Posted by at 4:21 pm Attractions, Beijing, China Tagged with: , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Mar 302012

Today we went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  We hiked up to the top pavilion in Jingshan Park just north of the Forbidden City to get a spectacular bird’s eye view of the entire complex (also another tip from Tyler).

Beijing Forbidden City

View of Forbidden City from Jinshan Park

We originally planned to enter through the North Gate and exit through the South, but when we got there, a sign had been put up saying everyone was now required to enter through the South and exit through the North.  Foiled!  So we hopped on the bus to get to the other side.

We did our obligatory cursory walk through Tiananmen Square—not much to see there, just a giant plaza.  You can go see Mao’s preserved body on display in the mausoleum, but supposedly it’s very hard to get in and you have to get there extremely early.  Not our cup of tea.

The Forbidden City was built in the early 1400s, so it was in use for about 500 hours before the last emperor was overthrown.  Most of the emperors rarely left the walls of the Forbidden City, and they lived there with the Empress, concubines (some records say there have been up to 10,000 concubines at one time!), and eunuchs—the only other men allowed in the palace to ensure the authenticity of the offspring.

We passed through the ceremonial halls where the emperor would see his subjects and officials, and it’s a series of elaborately carved thrones.  They don’t let you inside, so you are left pushing and shoving against the tour groups in these tiny doorways.  I think my head was going to explode from the crowdedness.

One of the stairways leading up to a hall holds a 17 meter long, 200 ton marble carving that came from a single giant slab of marble.  It was transported to the palace from the west of Beijing; water was thrown on the streets to freeze so they could slide the huge slab all the way to the palace on the ice.

Beijing Forbidden City Marble Carving

Intricate Dragon Carving on Marble

More interesting and less crowded are the side exhibits to the east and west of the main halls.  You can see the living quarters and we went inside the museum where they have imperial treasures on display.  One of which is a jade carving weighing over 5 tons and took 10 years to carve.  Impressive.

Beijing Forbidden City Nine Dragon Wall

Having Some Fun in Front Of Nine Dragon Wall

Overall, it was a tourist zoo in the Forbidden City, but once you got off the tour group circuit and into the side halls, it was much more enjoyable.




 March 30, 2012  Posted by at 2:40 pm Attractions, Beijing, China Tagged with: , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Mar 302012

Beijing is famous for Peking Duck, so of course that was our obligatory first meal.  We went to a restaurant recommended to use by Tyler, our translator friend we met in Pingyao, since he lives close to our hostel in Beijing.  There are a number of more famous places for Peking Duck which we might try, but we wanted to give a local down-home restaurant a shot.

The restaurant is called Old Beijing, and is on the corner of Guozijian hutong and Andingmen Street.  It’s quite unassuming from the outside, but was busy, so we took that for a good sign.  We asked for dish recommendations other than Peking Duck, and our waiter suggested ma dou fu.  This is what came out:


Old Beijing Ma Dou Fu

Ma Dou Fu - Actually Delicious!

I know what you’re thinking!  That looks like a big pile of…something.  But believe me, it was amazing!  He explained it’s made of tofu skins and then blended with spicy oils, and then there are pinenuts or lotus seeds in it.  Such great flavor.  We ate almost the whole thing but had the save room for the Peking Duck.  And here it is:

Old Beijing Peking Duck

Nom nom Peking Duck

We ordered the whole duck, since it was such a better deal than half the duck.  We didn’t quite finish, since we also had a vegetable dish on the side.  The owner also sent us a duck soup, made up of the bones from our duck on the house, so we had an absurd amount of food.  The duck was really good!  There’s two plates in that photo above, but it came with three plates of duck.  The wrappers in China are different too: instead of the fluffy white buns, you use thin wrappers more similar to what you would use in spring rolls or mushu pork.  It’s nice since you don’t fill up on the bun and can eat more of the duck.  We’ll probably try one of the fancier ones in a couple of days (fancier and probably double the price) so we’ll compare!





 March 30, 2012  Posted by at 2:36 pm Beijing, China, Food Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Mar 302012

We have four days in Beijing, so it gives us a good amount of time to do the major attractions here without trying to rush them or combine two into one day.  Yesterday we went to the Summer Palace, which is northwest of the city center and easily accessible by subway.  The Summer Palace was like the ultimate royal garden where they could escape the city during the hot summer months.  It’s been around since the 11th century.  Empress Dowager Cixi is most associated with the gardens, as she rebuilt the palaces in 1888 and then restored them in 1902 after Anglo-Allied troops burned the place down and occupied it for a year.

Beijing Summer Palace

Summer Palace - Tower of Buddhist Incense

Cixi is the infamous Empress Dowager who rose to power from being the Emperor Xianfeng’s favorite concubine.  After her son became emperor, she ruled as regent, and when he died young, she put her nephew as puppet emperor in place so she could continue to rule.  There is a huge marble boat in the lake that she built with the funds that were supposed to go towards strengthening China’s navy (which subsequently suffered major defeats against the Japanese).  Cixi was extravagant, known for having 108-course meals and releasing 10,000 caged birds on her birthday.  Her name kind of reminds me of Cersei (think I’m reading Game of Thrones much?)! Ha.

The gardens are beautiful and it was a nice sunny warm day of strolling around.  Mike and I escaped to the west side and walked along the causeway, away from the tour groups.

Beijing Summer Palace Bridge

Walking Towards the West Causeway

A lot of the pavilions were beautifully restored and the most magnificent are the bright colors of the painted walkways and temples.  The Summer Palace is known for its 900 meter Long Corridor, which is a pleasant covered walkway that has each panel painted with a different scene.

Beijing Summer Palace Stairway

Beautifully Restored Stairway

At the top of the Tower of Buddhist Incense, we enjoyed a gallery that displayed old photos of the Summer Palace from the early 1900s.  Some were even taken by the Allied troops that occupied the Palace.  Any bronze and glazed brick survived the fires of the Allied troops, but everything else was destroyed and had to be rebuilt.

Beautiful gardens and well worth the quick trip out here!





 March 30, 2012  Posted by at 2:29 pm Attractions, Beijing, China Tagged with: , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Mar 272012

Today we went on a tour organized by our hostel to attractions about an hour outside of Pingyao.  We met some nice folks: Tyler, who is an English-Chinese translator from Memphis living in Beijing, and his dad Dick who was visiting, and Sven and Kimberley, who are Bavarian students who are traveling for 5 months in Asia post-graduation before they start work.  You meet the most interesting people traveling!

First, we went to Wang Family Mansion, which is a huge courtyard complex that used to be the home of a wealthy merchant family.  This thing was enormous!  You could get lost for days in the maze of courtyards, alleyways, and gardens.  The nice thing was that it was so big, you could avoid the tour groups pretty easily and have entire courtyards to yourself.  Every stairway, column, and doorway had intricate carvings, showing the vast wealth of the family.

Ornate Carved Chinese Bed

Wang Family Courtyard Complex

After a while though, every courtyard starts looking the same, and Mike and I like to refer to it as courtyard fatigue and we also get temple fatigue as well. =)

Next, we went to Zhangbi Castle, which was build at the beginning of the 7th century.  It’s mostly known for the underground tunnels built over 1000 years ago underneath the castle.  The tunnels were only discovered in 1994, and they haven’t all been found as some of them have caved in and it’s dangerous to explore.  We had a guide luckily, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to find your way around!  There are lots of turns and tunnels going in different directions.  It was used largely during the Sui Dynasty for protection against Tang invasion.  We saw where soldiers would hide and attack (murder holes from Game of Thrones, anyone?) and they also had a drainage system in case the enemy poured water in the entrance to drown them out.  The deepest went about 25m under the surface.  Mike had to crouch pretty much the whole time since he was too tall for the tunnels.  (He’s also had bad luck with bumping his head on short doors lately =()

Zhangbi Tunnels

Too Tall for the Zhangbi Tunnels

All around the area, we saw a lot of openings in the sides of the mountains.  Our driver explained that they were cave dwellings, called yao dong, where people lived and still live.

Pingyao Cave Dwellings

Cave Dwellings in the Mountain

 March 27, 2012  Posted by at 11:27 am Attractions, China, Pingyao Tagged with: , , , , ,  1 Response »