A Travellerspoint blog

Bangkok to Singapore and two weeks at sea‏

overcast 29 °C
View L & S Finland to Australia overland trip on LS overland's travel map.

Ahoy there everyone!

Guess what...Lachlan and I are in Sydney, Australia! Our cruise ship, the 'Voyager of the Seas' docked at Circular Quay sometime before we woke up this morning, wedging itself between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, providing us with spectacular and unique breakfast-time views from the Windjammer Cafe on Deck 11 and perhaps a bit of a shock for the early morning Sydney-siders heading to work. We hopped off the boat at around 8 am and made our way up George Street to the bus stop, totally enjoying the smell of Australia (a sort of damp dewy bush/gum leaf scent), the mild sunshine (much milder than in the tropics!), and the fact that not a single person wanted to try and sell us anything (e.g. breakfast, tuk-tuk or taxi rides, tours, suits or souvenirs....no-one hardly even looked at us despite the backpacks). Now we are installed at the YHA in Glebe for a couple of nights, before heading to Adelaide via Melbourne at the start of next week, arriving in to Adelaide Tuesday evening by train.

Ship in Sydney - view from Deck 12

Ship in Sydney - view from Deck 12


Ship in Sydney - view from deck 14

Ship in Sydney - view from deck 14



When I last wrote, we were still on our way to catching our boat in Singapore. To get there from Bangkok we took the train (narrow gauge, and consequently wobbly & rattly) south, heading down the long skinny bit of land shared by Burma and Thailand, which terminates in the Malay peninsula where the island of Singapore is nestled at the tip. The whole way the scenery was very beautiful, and there were a hundred shades of green. In the Thai part, bright lime green rice paddies surrounded the odd karst limestone hill clothed with bottle green forest, set against a backdrop of distant blue-green hills in the west. The landscape was predominantly flat and appeared flooded, with houses standing in water in some parts. High, dry ground seemed at a premium, both for living and farming, and ponds of water were packed with edible things including sprawling, bi-pinnate water mimosa flecked with small yellow pom-pom flowers, vines of trailing water spinach ('kang-kong'), and taro - conspicuous by its clusters of upright lily-shaped leaves growing out of the water, patterned prettily with pink. In the evening we caught glimpses of small monkeys (the size of brush-tailed possums) perched in the power lines along the train tracks.

IMG_4692

IMG_4692


Lachlan on the Sleeper train to Malaysia

The Bangkok train took us to Butterworth in the north of Malaysia. Here we swapped to bus travel, having already missed the one daily train to Singapore by the time we arrived at Butterworth's station. At this stage we had about 24 hours until we were due to board the boat in Singapore, so we opted for a bus to Kuala Lumpur (5 hours) where we then spent the night, followed by a further 5 hours by bus the next day to get to Singapore, leaving on the earliest bus - scheduled for 7.30 am. I had read about busses not always leaving when the ticket says, so I was not overly surprised when it didn't leave until 8.15am and then headed off to a different bus station in the city to pick up passengers before finally getting on the road at 9am. However, the main surprise was at the other end, when the bus didn't take us to Singapore precisely but to a bus station on the Malay side of the border, where it terminated in the bus station entrance, in the presence of immigration officials. Everyone had to get off and show their passport. Ours were glanced at and dismissed with the most dis-interest of any officials we had encountered all trip, but the officials then went on to detain and handcuff no less than four of our bus's remaining passengers. While we stood by wondering what to do next a taxi driver wandered over and told us that every day people are caught for travelling illegally. Certainly the people had passports in their hands...maybe they were fake? Anyway, we decided we should move on so we went in to the bus station and took a sort of local bus for the last bit of the journey...it went through the Malay-Singapore border in a series of hop-on, hop-off, hop-on, hop-off, hop-on stages, but it worked out fine and we made it to the dock in Singapore with half an hour to go until our boat's check-in closed.

Our home for 14 nights on the cruise ship

Our home for 14 nights on the cruise ship


promenade mall inside the Voyager of the Seas

promenade mall inside the Voyager of the Seas

I had been apprehensive about spending two weeks on a cruise ship, trying to dress fashionably, act posh and use the correct cutlery at dinner. However, we quickly worked out that while some people get all tizzed up and wear loads of flash jewellery, others get about in shorts and thongs...this second group just skip eating at the formal dining sittings and instead use the upstairs buffets for every meal. We did a bit of both. Luckily our cruise dinner seating was at a table for six where the two other couples were down to earth, and we all found enough to say to one another that many evenings we were the last table to leave the room. Lachlan and I spent our leisure time sorting trip photos, attending seminars in the conference room (topics included the monsoon in South-east Asia, dung beetles in Australia, and the philosophies of Confucius) and shows in the main theatre (various, including comedian acts, singers, a hypnotist, and an illusionist who actually made a lady disappear from the stage - she turned up in the audience), participating in a progressive trivia quiz (our team ended up in the top five after we won 25 points for being the only team to guess that 1935 was the year when Persia became Iran), going to the gym to use the treadmills (or exercise bikes if the sea was too rough to cut a straight path on the treadmill belt), splashing about in the swimming pools on the top deck, watching movies in the mini cinema on board or tv in our room, and going to the library to read or do jigsaw puzzles. There was also mini golf, rock climbing, and in-line skating on offer, and even real ice-skating at certain times of the day.

Fishing boats in Pulau Ketam

Fishing boats in Pulau Ketam


Pulau Ketam

Pulau Ketam


Grumpy mud skipper in Pulau Ketam

Grumpy mud skipper in Pulau Ketam

Because the 'Voyager of the Seas' was on a 'relocation' cruise, most of our time was spent motoring along at sea. After leaving Singapore the boat spent one day stopped at Port Klang in Malaysia (most people took a day-tour in to Kuala Lumpur; instead we caught a local death-trap style ferry to a nearby island to visit a Chinese fishing village where all the dwellings and footpaths were set on stilts in a mud flat surrounded by mangroves), one day at Darwin (where Zoe kindly collected us from the wharf, and allowed us the use of her car for the day so that we could have breakfast with Darwin people and visit work/friends/the storage shed/our tenants and get back to the boat with just enough time to call home while we still had phone reception), and one day in Brisbane (where we visited the mall to use the free Wifi, gate-crashed a horse auction and Melbourne Cup lunch at the CSIRO Ecosciences complex in order to catch up with friends working there, and ducked in to the Brisbane museum where we browsed an assortment of exhibits including a display of the various things that people collect (eg. number plates, neon signs, old tractors, rocking horses, matchboxes, padlocks, eggbeaters), arriving back at the boat with just enough time for a couple more phone calls to family.

Rounding Cape York - view from deck 11

Rounding Cape York - view from deck 11


In Brisbane with the cruise ship

In Brisbane with the cruise ship

For most of the cruise we were properly at sea , surrounded by water from one horizon to the other. Sometimes we saw other boats or cargo ships, but in general there was a lot of nothing but water. We did get a quick look at the tip of Cape York, passing between islands with low bluffs and sailing within sight of sand dunes and scrub on the main land for a couple of hours, but quickly we were heading away from the coast again in order to track down beyond the outside of the Great Barrier Reef. According to the captain, it is faster to sail on the outside of the reef because the water is deeper there, as well as the outer route being slightly shorter in distance. In addition, the ship only has about a day's grey water storage capacity, which is not enough to get it through the stretch of reef without having to discharge waste water. Despite all that emptiness of endless ocean around us, the weather was calm in general and it was easy to forget about being on a boat. However, the very last stretch of the trip, from Brisbane south to Sydney, was the roughest of the two weeks. On board it was hard to walk straight; going up the stairs was bizarre as one moment your body felt all heavy and dense and then the next step would be so light that you felt you might float away. Lachlan and I went outside to stand at the bow and look at the water. The sea seemed swollen and uncomfortable, like it had a belly ache. We watched chubby chocolate brown coloured (mutton?) birds winging their way over the water, somehow flying in tune with the rising and dropping swell without it ever wetting them. Our big treat was half a dozen dolphins, travelling together on a cross-trajectory with our path, just visible speeding through the water under the surface, and then arcing out of it for a second through the air, with perfectly smooth shiny dark wet bodies cutting an amazing contrast against the rough texture of the water.

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4 m swells outside the ship causing 0.5 m swells in one of the ship's pools

Well now, I guess that is about it. We are back in Australia, having completed the overland travel from Helsinki in exactly fifteen weeks to get to Darwin and sixteen weeks to get to Sydney. It has been a whole heap of fun! And thanks to all of you who have kept in touch while we were away, it was always nice to get news from home. And extra big thanks for collecting our mail Zoe, and to Emily and Duncan for being travel buddies for part of the way (and for sorting out our car rego on your return:)).
xxx
Susanne
 
 
The End

Posted by LS overland 12:50 Archived in Singapore Tagged singapore thailand malaysia Comments (0)

Leaving Laos on the Mekong slow boat, and visiting Bangkok‏

Laos, Thailand

semi-overcast 33 °C
View L & S Finland to Australia overland trip on LS overland's travel map.

Dear all.

Lachlan and I have spent the last five days in Bangkok, Thailand, after crossing the Laos-Thai border at Houay Xai, in the north of Thailand. At Houay Xai the Mekong River forms the border between the two countries for some kilometres (as it also does along another section of border, in the south) and to get to the border, we travelled upstream from Luang Prabang (in Laos) for two days on one of the Mekong River 'slow boats'.

Slow boat up the Mekong

Slow boat up the Mekong


sunset at Pak Beng

sunset at Pak Beng

The Mekong is a wide, watery, muddy-brown alley of life, curling its way south from the Tibetan plateau in south-western China to the Mekong delta in the southern tip of Vietnam. The section of river that we were on, in northern Laos, is 3000 km from the Mekong delta, putting us further upstream than if we were in the most uppermost parts of the Murray River (Australia's longest river). Where we were on the Mekong, in Laos, the river is between 300 and 500 metres wide, and about half-way along its route to the sea. The water is a muddy cocoa brown, in some places rushing along and forming humps and ridges where obstacles are under the surface of the water, but also flowing gently enough for children to play in at the edges where there are low sand banks undergoing constant deposition and erosion.

speedboat on Mekong

speedboat on Mekong

People use the river in many different ways, and boats are a neccessity. Small narrow boats are used to move people short distances, to reach flat sand bars in order to prepare them for sowing crops once the wet season flood waters have receded, for transporting sacks of corn, harvested from small clearings on the flattest parts of the steeply sloping forested hillsides that drop in to the river, and for putting out and pulling in fish nets. Bamboo fish traps are also used, their presence detectable by two vertical bamboo uprights poking up out of the water, with part of the trap door lid showing just above the water level. Beneath the water, the trap itself is a conical basket on its side, with the wide opening facing upstream so that the water flows straight through the basket, trapping the fish that come in with the flow because they are unable to swim out against the flow. Along the river bank, there are goats chewing on bushes, and buffalo, (both black, and pale pink, skin-coloured ones) grazing or sunk in to the water cooling off, with just horns and the top half of the head showing.

Boarding the slow boatup the Mekong

Boarding the slow boatup the Mekong

Inside view of the slow boat up the Mekong River

Inside view of the slow boat up the Mekong River

The slow boats are driver-owned long narrow wooden boats painted bright blue, with open sides but covered roofs, and seating for around 70 passengers. The very back end of the boat contains rooms where the boat owner's family live, then there is an engine 'room' (really a quite open area), then a toilet, and then a small kiosk where you can buy a drink or instant noodles. There are oodles of these boats chugging about the river, picking up and dropping off locals at the bottoms of small river bank landings and transporting tourists between the bigger towns. We travelled for about 9 hours and only covered about 150 km each day, but it was a very relaxing way to see the river (speed boats are also on offer, but too fast to see a thing, including dangerous obstacles in the water), relax and do some reading, and spend time reflecting on our trip.

As of today, we have been travelling overland from Helsinki for exactly 14 weeks (since Lachlan arrived in Finland) and we are nearly at the last leg of our journey. Today we take the train south to Butterworth in Malaysia, and then we have just ten more hours by bus to get to Singapore. The last leg of our trip involves taking a boat from Singapore on October 25th. Ok, I guess we should confess, it is actually a cruise ship, but you only live once and as much as we wanted to take a cargo ship there were none to be had at the right time of the year! We spend a week at sea on the boat (called 'Voyager of the Seas', it is relocating from northern to southern hemisphere, in time with the peak cruise seasons), arriving in Darwin temporarily on October 31st (we have ten hours there, in which time we plan to visit our tennants, check out our house, unload some of our un-useful gear from our bags and replace it with more cruise-useful items from the lock-up) and then spending another week at sea, sailing east around Cape York and then south along the east coast of Australia, until arriving in Sydney on November 7th.

Our trip has really been good, and without too many tense moments. That said, the last week did not go entirely to plan, because we had planned to take the train down to Bangkok from Chiang Mai, in the north of the country. However, when we got to Chiang Mai we learned that the train line is closed for repairs, and so we needed to take the bus to Bangkok instead. So we caught an overnight bus to Bangkok, which was actually very comfortable, but when we arrived in Bangkok it was raining a ton and was not overly conducive to walking about and sightseeing. We experienced very electrical storms for two days, and I think if I hadn't been conditioned by living in Darwin, I might have been hiding under the bed! There were many very close flashes and bangs at various points. The soonest we could get a train south towards Singapore was today, so we have spent our time shopping for cruise boat attire, catching busses (some have wooden flooors and are very quaint), and riding the ferry and visiting markets, including one floating one where we ate lunch on a pontoon.

Soggy view after another tropical downpour in Bangkok

Soggy view after another tropical downpour in Bangkok

On the river in Bangkok

On the river in Bangkok

ok, it's time to go to the train station:).

All the best,
Susanne

Waste Management in Bangkok

Waste Management in Bangkok

Posted by LS overland 12:39 Archived in Laos Tagged thailand laos Comments (0)

Stone Forest of Shilin

sunny 30 °C
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Here are some photos from the day we spent at the stone forest. It was a bit of a hike to get there, taking 3 to 4 hours each way from central Kumning, and involving two city busses to get to the East bus station and then a local bus from there to get to Shilin. The entry
fee (about $30 each) was also more than we paid for any other tourist attraction in China, but we had read up about it and were prepared for it. Yes, it was mega touristy, and that seems a bit crazy, all just to look at a bunch of rocks...but they were pretty special looking rocks, and there were also heaps of nice big butterflies, so we were both happy.

stone forest of Shilin

stone forest of Shilin

We found some out of the way paths through the persimmon groves and macadamia orchard and also had fun exploring some of the old paths that are now supposed to be cordonned off (if you approach from the wrong end they are not:)) We actually could have spent more time playing around on the rocks - but didn't want to miss the rush back to Kumning on the last busses for the day.

persimmon orchards at the stone forest

persimmon orchards at the stone forest

insane path on top of the rocks at stone forest

insane path on top of the rocks at stone forest

Posted by LS overland 00:47 Archived in China Tagged shilin Comments (0)

Northern Laos - wriggly roads, big jars and the Secret war‏

sunny 30 °C
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Hello again:).

Lachlan and I have been having a wonderful time in Laos. Laos is a relatively long and skinny country of South-east Asia, orientated roughly north-south and land-locked by China to the north, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west. Laos also shares a tiny corner of border with Myanmar (Burma) in the north-west.

Mmm, yum! Sticky rice growing at 'Plain of Jars' site 3

Mmm, yum! Sticky rice growing at 'Plain of Jars' site 3

We have spent all of our time in the north of Laos, within a few hundred kilometers of the Chinese border. Up here it is hilly, bordering on mountainous. The few roads that have been built are situated on the undulating high ground, rather than along the valleys, and straight and/or flat sections of road are extremely rare. Instead, the road spends 90% of the time climbing up and down steep hills clothed in forest bordering on jungle, winding in and out of lush bamboo or banana-clad slopes and around the noses of inconveniently orientated spurs, doubling or tripling the 'as-the-crow-flies' distance. Where the forest gives way to clearings, villages of huts with grass-thatched roofs and woven bamboo walls pop in to view. The dwellings are often spaced out along the roadside for several hundred metres, as they are built on the flattest land available - which is mostly the narrow alley of the road verge itself.

Morning view above Nong Khiaw

Morning view above Nong Khiaw

The villages are fascinating. There are chickens of all sizes running after hens, roosters strutting and yodelling, black pigs snoozing prostrate in the shade, small children running about in various states of undress, and women washing at the pump or sitting in the hut doorway while sewing or preparing food. Everything is delightfully neat and tidy...and in some villages (the smallest ones), there is scarcely a plastic item to be seen in the yard except for perhaps a fuel container or a large washing up basin. Instead, bamboo is used in a hundred different ways, to fill the role of plastic-fantastic, and also of metals to some degree. An upturned domed bamboo 'basket' keeps a rooster or a huddle of chicks contained. Bamboo pipes direct water from trickles in the roadside bank into a spout from where it can be collected. Vegetable patches are fenced with bamboo. There are bamboo ladders, bamboo mats and bamboo baskets of all shapes, sizes and uses. Two bamboo baskets can be carried across the shoulders on a bamboo yoke, or the load can be carried on one's back, in a funnel shaped bamboo basket with shoulder straps, like a backpack. There are also bottle shaped bamboo fish traps and eel traps, and bamboo 'cocoons' for transporting poultry to market.

Mekong River sunset, Luang Prabang

Mekong River sunset, Luang Prabang

We have been getting about by bus: either 'long bus' of 40+ seats, 12-seater mini-van (reaching speeds of over 60 kph this is the fastest transport on offer and preferred by tourists) or in-between bus of around 19 seats. A loaded bus is a sight to behold, with bags, boxes, sacks, suitcases and backpacks stacked up on top of the roof and lashed down under tarpaulins to keep the dust off. If there is any storage space under the bus it will also be full (Lachlan opened one of those hatches once to look for our bags and was faced with a dozen day old chickens running around - he shut the door fast before any escaped) as will be the aisle of the bus on the inside. The space between the seats is full with the things that didn't fit or were too heavy or too incovenient to go on the roof (eg. things that are getting off enroute) so you have to leap and climb your way through to your seat. Luckily on these busses the windows open fully (free air conditioning:)) which makes life easier for the luggage 'runner' (kind of like a conductor, performing duties like collecting ticket money, handing out sick bags and getting people and gear off at the right places) as he can load and unload items by poking them in or out through the window (timber came in, to be laid on the floor) and can climb in and out himself, as a shortcut to the roof.

Secret War legacy, Phonsavan.

Secret War legacy, Phonsavan.

In our ten days here we have travelled clockwise in a kind of loop, stopping in the towns of Oudomxay (the first major town after the border crossing, and a transport hub), Nong Khiaw (a sleepy backpacker town on the Ou River which is a tributary of the Mekong), Sam Neua (virtually on the Vietnamese border and a jumping off point for logged timber and travellers), Vieng Xai (where the communistic Pat-laos leaders holed up in caves in the beautiful karst limestone hills, for nine long years throughout the time of the Vietnam war, and from where they conducted their own military operations to fight the US-backed southern Laos neutralists/royalists) Phonsavan (in slightly less hilly country, about a quarter of the way along the country heading south, and where ground fighting between the Pat-laos and the southern-Laos, Thai-supplemented, US-backed army took place on the 'Plain of Jars' - an amazing landscape littered with huge stone funeral jars of up to two metres high and weighing up to five tonnes, transported on to the plains from nearby quarries by elephant) and Luang Prabang (Laos' s second biggest city, and UNESCO heritage listed for it's beautiful temples, royal history and French Indochine influences).

2000 year old jars at the 'Plain of jars' Site 1

2000 year old jars at the 'Plain of jars' Site 1

Broken jar at 'Plain of Jars' site 1...60% o jars have been damaged by bombing.

Broken jar at 'Plain of Jars' site 1...60% of jars have been damaged by bombing.

There has been a lot to digest, in this travel. Although people in Laos are ridiculously poor by Western standards (a third of the population earn less than $1.30/day) there are a lot smiles and friendly greetings everywhere, both Laos-Laos and Laos-Westerner. This is despite the awful time that the country endured during the Vietnam war years, when people had to live in caves or in the jungle to escape the US bombs that rained continuously for nearly a decade, and do their farming by the light of the stars and moon at night. When the war was over, it was safe to live out in the open again, but to this day the farmers are limited in the area of land that they can farm, because so much of the landscape is littered with unexploded bombs that can go off when struck by a plough or hit with a grass slashing knife.

What to do with all that scrap bomb metal...?

What to do with all that scrap bomb metal...?

...melt it down, pour it in to molds...

...melt it down, pour it in to molds...

...and turn it into soup spoons! That's what one village does<img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />.

...and turn it into soup spoons! That's what one village does:).

There is heaps more I could say but it is getting late! Tomorrow we head towards Thailand, leaving Luang Prabang via slow boat up the Mekong River.

Much love to you all,
Susanne

butterflies and cosmos, Tad Thong waterfall, Luang Prabang

butterflies and cosmos, Tad Thong waterfall, Luang Prabang

Posted by LS overland 00:40 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Southern China - Nanjing, Chengdu, and Yunnan province

Chinese tourists, leaping tiger gorge and pandas

semi-overcast
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Dear all,

It's time for another update. Lachlan and I are in the south-west of China, in Yunnan province, which is south of Tibet. The country of Myanmar (Burma) is directly to the west from here and Laos and Vietnam are not far to the south. Today we are in Yunnan's capital city of Kunming (a city of around 4 million, so not all that big ;)) and tomorrow we will visit the nearby Stone Forest of Shilin. We have just a few days left until we reach the 30 day limit of our Chinese visas, so we will be heading south to Laos on Tueday.

Here in Yunnan we are back in the lands of Chinese minority ethnic groups, which translates to a wider variety of food on the street and more wrinkled faced people wearing colourful clothing and hats. Traditional dwellings are of rendered mudbrick, painted white, with roofs of small grey halfpipe ceramic tiles laid in overlapping rows down the pitch (every second row is curved down in a gutter and every other row sits like a cap over the edges of two gutter rows) and with a roof top ridgeline that is slightly upturned at the ends, making the roof look somehow similar to the prow of a viking boat. Tops of walls, driveway entrances, porches and roof ridgelines and eaves are all tiled with the same grey ceramic tiles with decorative upturned protrusions at their prows.

We spent nearly a week in the north-west of Yunnan province, visiting the towns of Dali (a peaceful 'Bai' town with a lovely relaxed vibe, sandwiched between mountains and an ear-shaped lake where you can see cormorant fishing) and Lijiang, a town where the 'Naxi' people lived, and where the old town is a Unesco World Heritage site because of its stream system of stone channels, which were built in order to supply the town's intricate alley network of dwellings with fresh running water. 

Receiving around five million visitors annually, Lijiang must be one of the most popular tourist attractions in China. To us, it seemed rather like one giant Hahndorf (a 'historical' tourist town with German heritage in the Adelaide hills), pretty enough and tidy but not exactly authentic.  The old town streets were decorated with pots of flowering chrysanthemums and packed with shops and stalls selling trinkets, silver, cashmere scarves, art work and leather crafts, and dotted with guest houses, inns, restaurants and music 'bars', in which the same mellow tunes (with thin and wavery female vocals) were playing incessantly, often accompanied by live rythmic drum beats provided by the stall attendant. There were well-dressed Chinese tourists crowding the winding streets in droves but it was a bit confusing for us to pick what the actual attraction is - there was little information offered about the Naxi people. Perhaps the attraction is simply the lack of litter and the fact that the old town is closed to cars so you can wander the alleys freely with your bulging bags of souveniers without being honked at every few seconds:)

Lijiang old town waterway

Lijiang old town waterway

Lijiang food stall

Lijiang food stall

yet another slighty confusing sign in English

yet another slighty confusing sign in English

Nearby to Lijiang is 'Tiger Leaping Gorge', which is a deep and narrow valley that the Yangtze River squeezes through as it flows east (heading out to sea at Shanghai) from its headwaters in Tibet. We took the bus to the top end of the gorge and did the compulsary two day hike (maximum alitude 2680m, from starting at river level at around 1600 m) across the mountain side on the north side of the valley, spending the night in the Tea Horse guesthouse partway along the route. The hike is particularly known for providing spectacular views of the deep gorge and breath-taking climbs up slope-hugging sections of the trail, and it did not disappoint.

Lachlan and Susanne above Yangtze River

Lachlan and Susanne above Yangtze River

However, for us the real highlight was finding ourselves amongst a bunch of other western travellers with whom we were able to swap travel stories and exchange information about the different places we had been. By evening time at the 'Tea Horse', we had chatted with a dozen or more hikers, including a widely travelled and very fit retired Canadian couple from Vancouver, two Canadian students who had just begun a semester of study in Hong Kong, having loaded all their subjects onto Wednesdays so that they could spend the other six days of the week travelling, two girls from Australia working for a year at a school campus in Nanjing which has an exchange program with Caulfield College in Melbourne, and a Jehovas witness couple from Belgium who work for just four hours a day in a call centre in order to have time each day to spend on other aspects of life. It was refreshing to meet so many friendly people and we revelled in being part of a like-minded group of travellers. It was very relaxing walking along in good company, admiring the mountains with blue sky above (not polluted and hazy for a change - there were even stars at night) and the rushing river (muddy and brown) up to 1000 metres below. The conversation topics were diverse, entertaining and thought provoking, ranging in content from the benefits of various training techniques to discussions about families, jobs, lifestyles, baffling aspects of Chinese culture, and experiences of travel in other countries.

path along aquaduct above tiger leaping gorge

path along aquaduct above tiger leaping gorge

Lachlan and co leaving the tea horse next morning

Lachlan and co leaving the tea horse next morning

Tourists amd the Yangtze at the bottom of the gorge

Tourists amd the Yangtze at the bottom of the gorge

That about covers our last week's activities in Yunnan province. Other places that we have visited since I last wrote (when we were in central China, in the city of Tianshui, where we visited the haystack mountain) include Nanjing, where we visited the sobering Nanjing Massacre Museum (Japan vs China in 1937 - how on earth did the surviving Chinese pick up their lives afterwards without becoming bitter people?) and Ming's tomb up in the park on the hill, where the 'Spirit Walk' is lined with pairs of stone animals, including some imaginary ones. After Nanjing we had a quick overnight stop in Chengdu, where we wandered the Peoples Park and watched the locals boating, dancing, advertising their sons as prospective husbands (height, age, accomplishments and the like are listed on an A4 page, sometimes with photo included, and posted on a display along one of the park's paths) and feeding the enormous goldfish in the goldfish pond with milk bottles of liquid fish food (complete with a teat for the fish to suck on).

Nanjing_sunset

Nanjing_sunset

paddling boats with toothpick oars

paddling boats with toothpick oars

Nanjing_sacred_walk

Nanjing_sacred_walk

All this was interesting but for me the best thing of all was that we visited the panda research institute. The research institute is home to about 50 of the globe's 333 pandas that live in captivity (we saw 33 of them, including a dozen new borns of 1-2 months old) and the success of its panda breeding program has largely contributed to the doubling of the number of pandas living in captivity globally (an increase from 168 in 2004 to 333 at present). 

one kilogram at one month old

one kilogram at one month old

panda cot

panda cot

I enjoyed the pandas hugely. Their enclosures were large and leafy and it was great fun watching the animals feeding, shovelling bamboo shoots one after the other non-stop into the mouth, with the panda reaching for the next piece with one paw while still chewing on the last piece held in the other paw. Tree climbing behaviour was also entertaining. A given enclosure seemed to have a favourite tree, which all the pandas liked best. It probably had the most comfortable fork. Anyway, all the pandas (which were about the size of St Bernard dogs) would try to get into the same fork of the tree. Needless to say, they wouldn't fit, and the panda in prime position was never keen to relinquish its seat. Disputes on the seating arrangements were resolved by shoving, grabbing of other pandas' feet with paws and trying to bite them, pulling of other pandas' body parts and contortion of one's own body in order to try to obtain a position that granted better advantages in the struggle. I didn't know it before, but the panda is actually a megafauna from the Pleistocene, with a carnivorous evolutionary background and hence a digestive tract that is poorly suited to a vegetarian diet such as bamboo. The panda therefore needs to eat bamboo virtually non-stop in order to get the energy it needs.

young pandas having breakfast

young pandas having breakfast

how many pandas fit in a tree

how many pandas fit in a tree

just like a koala

just like a koala

Now we are down to our last couple of days in China. From here in Kunming we will take a bus to Jinghong, and then another bus to Luang Prabang in Laos. Then we have about three weeks to get to Singapore, where we will get on our boat to Australia. We are both excited about seeing Australia again! Several times during our recent hike I just had to pick some gum tree leaves (yes, there are gum trees growing everywhere in this part of China - maybe for soil stabilization?) and crush them in my hands, to get that awesome Eucalyptus smell...ahhhh:).

Big hugs to everyone and good luck to everyone going to the orienteering Nationals.To see photos from our last three weeks of travel, visit our blog:

lsoverland.travellerspoint.com

xxxSusanne

Posted by LS overland 01:47 Archived in China Comments (0)

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