Thursday, February 25, 2010

Snack Attack South Thailand

After our initial plunge into the ocean, we started enjoying island life. Everyone else staying at our resort was from Germany, and we made friends with a solo traveller named Marion. We watched sunrise and then decided to switch over to the little Yao island (Koh Yao Noi), which ironically has WAY more people. The pier was about 5 km away from our bungalow as the crow flies, and we were told about a shortcut. So we got on our packs, sunscreen and doorags to keep the sun off our necks and heads, and we started walking along the beach toward the pier. The staff tried to stop us, telling us we were crazy and that it was too far, but we just took off anyway. We saw what we thought was the shortcut, so we took it and made it through underbrush and through dried riverbeds, not really sure where we were going. finally, the dried riverbed started becoming wetter and wetter, until it was too wet and deep to cross. We basically got detoured back on to the beach we had just left, making our "shortcut" officially a "longcut." We eventually ended up at the pier and paid like $3USD to take a longboat over to Koh Yao Noi.

The people on Yao Noi were really friendly (except for one lady who refused to sell us food). We hitched a ride up to the bicycle rental shop where we got 2 basic bicycles. Our bungalow was right on the beach again, and there was a huge spider on Snack's bed. We were biking around the island the next morning when my chain fell off (and wouldn't go back on). I made my way back to the bicycle shop by coasting and doing this half-running, half-coasting thing. I'm sure it looked really awkward, but it was effective.

We took the ferry over to Krabi where we bumped into my friend Karl and his pregnant wife Mikkin. It was wonderful to see them and to eat delicious, cheap Thai food with them (Pad Thai, Pad Se Yu, banana shakes, nutella rotees). We met a bunch of their friends who were also vacationing there, and we played cards every night at the Starbucks. Don't judge; it had AC.

We took a Thai cooking class with a Swedish guy named Martin where we made 7 courses each. Each course had 3 options, so we made (and ate) one of everything. We were very full at the end, but we got to keep a cookbook. I hope to try to duplicate them once I get home.

Our big beach day was spent kayaking out to Poda Island, where we did some snorkeling and rock climbing. From the kayak we could reach a knotted rope that led up to a very jagged rock face that was perfect for bouldering, and if one fell, they fell into water. Just a gorgeous day!

On our last day in Krabi, we rented a motorcycle to explore the area. We climbed 1237 steps to get to a temple on top of a mountain (where there were loads of monkeys), and we saw some nice waterfalls and rapids (where Snack stubbed his already-injured toe pretty badly).

I didn't want to leave, but we had a flight to catch. We grabbed the overnight bus to Bangkok, saw a great market where we got interesting food, and made our way to the airport like the locals do on a public bus, which cost like $1USD. Take that, overpriced taxi drivers!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Snack Attack Shenzhen and its Parks

It was nice to be in Shenzhen, staying at my friend Todd's place. 3rd floor balcony, overlooking Shekou bay. We explored the parks, where we saw lots of great wildlife and sculptures and whatnot. But we also saw lots of circles of men (usually older men) playing cards. We went to investigate, and I got asked to sit super close and learn the game. I had no idea what they were saying to me, but it felt like a very genuine Chinese experience. I was offered a drink, a smoke, and a chance to play (which I of course denied, since they were playing for money), but it was a game (I learned) very similar to up and down the river.

One day, Todd used me and my percussion skills as the guest clinician in his band and orchestra classes. It was quite fun but quite exhausting. We had lots of great street food, great company, and we ended our stay there with a 70-minute foot massage that cost around $4USD, in which our female masseuses could not stop giggling about an assortment of things really.

We cabbed to the airport to catch our 11:30pm flight to Bangkok, where we saw 7 or so workers cleaning the windows of the airport. Quite a whirlwind tour of China!

Snack Attack Shanghai and its Art

I was surprised in Shanghai by the amount of art I saw, even art that was subversive and critical of the Chinese government. There was also some art that was modernizing ironically vintage Chinese art. There was also just some plain bizarre things, like 17 different statues of Mao in a fish tank at Kommune, the restaurant where we ate our first breakfast in the French Concession - a French Quarter-esque place in the heart of Shanghai.

There were lots of places where the ancient and the modern were practically touching each other. The city was getting ready to host the World Expo 2010, so there was LOADS of construction. Sidewalks being torn up; art museums closed; and the Bund (the main usually gorgeous riverfront walk in front of Shanghai's important and historic buildings) was completely being overhauled. We experienced lots of great street food, and we took the bus that locals take to the airport. We were quite proud of ourselves for finding it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Snack Attack Beijing

I know it's a little late, but now that I'm in Thailand, and I can blog about our experiences in Beijing. Our hostel was around $6USD, and we grabbed cheap, delicious food just down the street. That night at 11pm, we booked our trip to the Great Wall for the next morning at 6am. We were the first people there (they were just then opening the gate), and we were followed at first by some ladies who wanted to hawk Great Wall merchandise. We told them right away that we had no money (our driver didn't stop at an ATM, so I literally had to borrow 10Y from him just to pay for my admission over the bridge. The hike from Jinshanling to Simatai along the Great Wall takes about 3 hours, but we asked our driver for 4 1/2. There were two checkpoints along this stretch of wall, where there are men who take your admission ticket. It was really cold, but we didn't even notice. Between the hiking and the beautiful sights, it was hard to notice. Since we went in January, there were not many tourists there at all. I think we encountered a total of 15 tourists. It's hard to put the experience into words (but I'm trying), but it was a very dwarfing experience. It's sort of hard to feel like a big deal when you're next to the Great Wall. It was just very quiet and cold and epic.

There was a part of the wall where there was like a 9-foot gap. It was just begging to be jumped. Granted, it was a little scary since it would've been about a 10-foot drop. But I did it, and Snack got a great photo.

We ended up getting to Simatai almost an hour early (which was our plan), so we started climbing up the very steep portion of the wall just east of Simatai. We got to the highest part of our trip and looked back at our path from the day, and it only constituted about 1/3 of the wall that was visible from where we stood at the end. Again...epic.

When we got down and looked at the map, we realized that we were only supposed to go as high as Tower 12, but we made it all the way to Tower 14. Oops! :)

We could tell our driver wanted to get back as soon as possible, so we decided against trying to communicate that we wanted to get food (we hadn't eaten anything since our banana and muffin thing around 6:30, except for some chocolate). As you can imagine, we got food immediately upon returning to our hostel. We found a restaurant that was completely empty and ate for almost 90 minutes. Orange juice-soaked lotus root, dumplings, corn bisque, 2 main courses (pumpkin and lily pearls?) and fried rice, and then we went for the deep-fried crispy apples for dessert. We ordered in segments, so by the third segment and especially dessert, we got funny looks from the waitstaff. "Really, more food?" "Yes!"
Our meal cost us $12USD each. Amazing!

The next day, we saw Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. My legs and lower back were more sore than I had expected, so my attention span was low, but I enjoyed it. Some really cool sculptures and buildings. There was a vendor selling cooked sweet potato. We bought one. Then, we bought another. Just delicious.

Then, we explored closer to our hostel at a restaurant whose sign said, "Roast duck big dumplings Nice Food Nice Price"

The next day, we just kind of wander/explored (which I've learned is our basic MO). We happened upon this tiny shop that had food cooking in some very spicy sauce. We were invited to eat it there at a table, sitting on a TINY stool. Don't worry; I got a picture.

We were hoping to get to the airport about 2 hours early, but we were super late. We basically got there, ran around trying to find check-in, and checked-in with 9 minutes to spare. Just in time! :)