First, I would like to underline that I am not a professional writer, nor am I into any kind of travel business or industry. The reason why I am writing the stories and tales I've been experiencing during my previous trips, is simply because I would like to share some funny, hilarious, sometimes scary moments I've been facing along the way and besides that, I like to memorize it for myself. Please excuse me for any written faults as I've never been studying for English in school but just by myself. This text will be accompanied with some images, however for full picture-reports please refer to the different slide shows from Asia or other countries.
If you have any comment about the stories or the homepage content in general, please feel free to mail me.
I hope you will enjoy reading the travel reports as much I enjoyed them by writing them !
After the obligated 4-night stopover in Bangkok, what I can easily call as my second home after dozens of previous visits, Finally I put feet on Chinese ground again.
What impressed me immediately upon arrival, was the discipline of policemen and other official airport authorities. However, other people does’nt show much respect to a foreigner as I could experience the first day already.
When I went to the bank to change some dollars for local currency, the people who came after me, simply passed me by to be the first at the counter. Until I start speaking some non-understandable bla bla in Flemish, nobody knew what happened, but at least they made way for me.
Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province is not the kind of city which you should put as top-priority on your list, but it is the environment, the surrounding area which has attracted me to come to visit this part of China.
The 5 star Horizon Hotel (see picture) where I will spend the night is a strong example of high-tech expression and neon-illuminated signs with huge Chinese characters that decorated the facades of the hotel.
As the tonight's diner is included, I made it to the rooftop revolving restaurant where a single table was waiting for me right next to the "bottom to top" glass wall.
The table offered me a splendid view over Kunming by night. The place was crowded by local earth creatures and one single white-faced foreigner.
No wonder, I felt a bit uncomfortable as all those yellow faces where looking in one direction only.
Normally when I arrive in a city for the first time, I usually want to check out what is going on at night. Tonight it was no difference, so I asked the Hotel concierge for "the place to be" of Kunming. He lifted his shoulders as he was trying to let me understand that there's nothing going on this part of the planet.
Ok, I went out the hotel and was trying to figure out where to go on my own. I usually ask Taxi drivers where to go... If they don't know, nobody knows... ! The friendly Chinese driver dropped me in front of a place called TOP ONE. I made my way inside and yes, it looks like this is the kind of place to my taste.
At this time, about 10.30pm the place was about as empty. There were tables and chairs available throughout this club but I was friendly advised to take a seat at the bar.
Promo girls representing Heineken and Sol are doing their best to offer me "their" beer. Because it has been a while since I had a Mexican beer, I ordered myself a "Sol". This to great enjoyment of the tiny clad promo-lady. ( picture this: A European guy drinking Mexican beer in China ).
As I was demanded to do so, I took a chair at the bar, from where I had a half-obstructed view to the dance floor so I thought it is ok.
As people started entering this sophisticated dance club, it was clear why I had to take place at the bar. Groups and parties of 3 or more could have a table while singles were friendly asked to sit down on the bar.
The place was already very crowded when two gorgeous Chinese chicks found their way next to my chair. They order one bottle of famous American beer and by the end of the night, they still shared that same bottle.
Anyway, one of them was really trying to get my eye catches on her and I have to admit that she succeeded in her target.
I started with a simple "hi, how are you?" but the answer was Chinese nonsense. There was no way of a conversation possible since she did'nt spoke a single word of English, neither did her friend. Myself I only knew "xién xién", which means thank you in Chinese.
A few bottles of "Sol" later, we managed it to the dance floor and danced our asses off till the wee hours. It was remarkable to see how the Chinese are converting to westernised lifestyles on the dance floor.
Somewhat later when I tried to explain them that I had to catch a plane tomorrow, they were both making signs that they want to follow me to my hotel. The sweet ladies were inviting me for some "after dance pleasure". I told them how much I appreciated their invitation and called a taxi.
One of them gripped my hand, took a pen and wrote her mobile number in my hand palm....
I replied: "xién, xién". Welcome to China !!!
A short flight delivered me at the amazing town of Guilin in the neighbouring province. Flying into the karsts landscape of Guilin is one of the most breathtaking approaches in China. The town is home to some 400.000 inhabitants. It is a town as thirteen in a dozen. However it is again the area around of the town that brought me here. There are numerous bizarre shaped hills and caves in this area. Nearby the centre of town, the world-renowned Reed Flute Cave attracts thousands of visitors from around the world daily. The cave goes some 240 metres into the mountain's tummy. The highlight of the cave is undoubtedly the Crystal Palace of the Dragon King and a subterranean water landscape, which resembles perfectly the landscape around Guilin and the Li River.
Autumn, my private guide who was waiting me at the airport upon arrival, did her very best to show me all her birthplace has to offer. At night she advised me to go either to visit a cultural performance or to the Chinese Circus. I asked her if she ever saw the Chinese Theatre ? Just to get to know which show would be best value for money. She nodded no. Considering the fact that I have been seeing a bunch of cultural shows of all sorts plus the fact that I perhaps would be able to see local minorities in their own living hood, I placed a bet for the Chinese Theatre. Asking Autumn if she would be able to join me inside, she answered that no tour guide could go inside free of charge. That was perhaps the reason why she was never able to see the show. To show off my good heart, I paid her the entrance ticket for the performance and inside we went.
What I saw here tonight has kept a very strong memory in my mind forever. Acrobats and artists of all ages brought such a spectacular performance that it was hard to believe that this is real. I have never watched such a magnificent show with stunts and acrobat that goes beyond your imagination.
If you ever have a change to watch a real Chinese Circus ( don’t misunderstand things – a Chinese Circus does not include animal acts, but world famous acrobats ) just go to see it ! It will be printed inside your memory forever, I can tell.
I was tired tonight, but I’m not a type of a guy who wants to spend his hard earned dollars by watching CNN in the hotel room, so after the show, I planned to have a drink in the hotel bar where I met a Taiwanese lady. We have been sharing travel stories for a few hours, exchanged email addresses and we closed the place around 2.30am as the bar-tender has to kick us out.
The boat trip on the River Li, or the Li Jiang, as my Chinese guide called the stream, which I have been programmed today will leads me to the cosy little town of Yangshou – an international meeting point for world travellers. The cruise between the ever changing landscape is truly a must on every China itinerary. The Li River has undergone an incredible development through tourism. The peaceful river goes winding and twisting past by the bizarre mountains that are scattered along the river banks. The river and the surrounding landscapes has inspired many Chinese painters and artists. The area has something mystique. Autumn, my local guide explains me about the region... The amazing karsts formations were forced up from the limestone seabed more than 300 million years ago. It reminds me on South Thailand and Halong Bay in Vietnam but this area is different from the others because its possibility to cruise the river which is like "a green silk belt, with the hills are like turquoise jade hairpins" ( by Chinese poem Han Yu °768-834 ).
Earlier as planned because of the strong current today, the boat arrives in Yangshou where the tourist invasion already took place. Before I even step one foot on land, I was overwhelmed by kids acting as professional vendors, "Hello sil, postcalds ? Souvenil ?" After some elbow work, I could breath freely again.
West Street has indeed not stolen its name. It is the main street of the little town where one small eatery stands next to another cosy restaurant, all serving western goodies. Here no noodles or rice but pizzas, burgers and hot dogs available on every corner. I even noticed a Dutch menu signboard!
The hotel lobby of the Yangshou Paradise Hotel is fully decorated with large framed pictures of prominent guests who spend the night here. Richard Nixon, George Bush sr., Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and a number of prime ministers from every corner of the globe. I offered the front-desk manager my picture to be framed on the wall too but they refused it for some unknown reason.
Just to get the most of my short time here in Yangshou, I ordered a motorcycle with sidespan which is the most popular way of people-transportation in Yangshou to show us around.
The landscape around Yangshou is breathtakingly beautiful with quiet farms and small huts where people are living under worse circumstances but according to their ever smiling faces, always happy.
You need to be in good health and condition to climb up to the Moon Hill where you can enjoy a magnificent panoramic view of Yangshou and its surroundings.
That night I went out with Autumn as she wants to show me around West Street. We had diner together in a small cosy restaurant and for the first time since my stay in China, I could finally eat some westernised stuff again. Yet later, in another hang-out, I ordered a bottle of wine for the two of us which we emptied together next to to open fire of the bar. It was this night that my main upper button jumped off from my trouser. My tour guide who's eyes became even more tinier after the wine, claimed to me to get that button stitched back on my trouser. I refused it but she already ran to the bar front to request a needle and wire. 30 minutes later I would'nt have to worry of my trouser. Thank you Autumn !
It was raining old wives when I arrived back in Guilin but a visit to the Deer Flute Cave (see picture) compensates everything. I've seen caves before in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Barbados plus the world famous Grottoes of Han in Belgium and thought that I had enough caves fro the next few years but this really is worth your visit. Inside the cave is illuminated with colourful spotlights and the music makes the whole thing even more mysterious.
Later that afternoon I had to say goodbye to Autumn, because I will return back to the City of eternal Spring - Kunming, I promise her to be back here one day. Usually I keep my promises - so check this website again later.
Celina, my private tour guide in Kunming is perfectly on schedule for me at the airport waiting again.
Sunday morning 6.15am, I woke up to participate in the daily Chinese exercise program outside. Tai Chi is widely practised by young and old throughout the country. People of all social ranges are gathering together at one or another square. There's always a noisy speaker planted in the middle of the square, producing something which they call music in China. I noticed an older woman, practice Tai Chi by making movements with a large sword. About an hour later, the square is emptied, so everyone can start the day at the office or factory at a relaxed (?) way.
The reason why I participated to Tai Chi is because we had quite a long drive to go today. Our destination: Shilin.
It has not been included in my program, but Celina recommends me to make a stop ( at an extra cost of course ) in the "just opened" Jiu Xiang National Park. Honestly spoken, it is worthwhile to stop. The park includes deep natural gorges where you're able to take a rowboat and sail smoothly over the silent water until you reach a large dam. Just across the dam, the water falls deep down into the entrance of a cave.
When standing outside, it is hard to believe that the Quas mountain is almost entirely hollow. Although you might get tired of seeing caves, do go to visit this one too.
Waterfalls, remarkable rock formations and other natural phenomena are changing at every corner. There's even an underground theatre and souvenir shops in the mountain's stomache.
On our way to Shilin, we make short stop at a typical village where the friendly Chinese rewards my visit with warm hospitality. Don't ask me the name of this small village but all I can tell is that there was not a single tourist in this place except me, and according to the people's interest, I guess there's seldom a white face in here who comes to visit them.
The first human I met when entering the village was an old woman who lived with her dog in a typical limestone house. She wants me absolutely inside her home and wants to serve me tea. I tried to make her understand that I am on my way to Shilin, that I am limited with time, but there's no possible way of skipping her invitation. I can't refuse her invitation and sat down for a while. As I got our photo taken and showed her the result on the display of my digital camera, she get's very excited and wants the picture to be printed to hang in her home.
I promised her to send a copy.
Further in the village, I had a bunch of children following me at every step I took. Because it is Sunday the local school is'nt open, but the local director rushed home to get the key to be able to show me around.
Whenever I have a change during my travels, I like to visit the local hospital. It is always an interesting place to see, with often interesting stories too. I've been visiting several remote villages in the world but the hospital here is one of the smallest I ever witnessed.
There's one single wooden berth in the sand, one small cabin which contains some bottles and a small chair, same style as farmers were using 30 years ago in the westernised world, to milk their cows.
While I was walking under the sun inside the narrow alleys of the village, I realized where we westerners are living, in a welfare that can't seldom be compared to other nations although we are continuously complaining about peanuts, while the people here are living in peace and walking to the circle of life probably in a happier then we are doing back home.
The Stone Forest of Shilin, located some 120kms south of Kunming in the Autonomous District of Lunan of the Yi consists of narrow, bizarre shaped rock needles which are up to 30 metres in height. The Stone Forest goes back some 200 years in time, according my guide, when the earth crust rose and the waters from a lake receded. Some people can't get enough from the different rocks, while others finds it a waist of time.
To be honest, I had expected more from the park, but since it was on the way to my next destination - Vietnam - it was worth to stop but I would never include it as a prime destination. By the way, you'll find the last comfortable hotel here before you reach Sapa in North Vietnam, which is another full day by car to go.
Although the hotel seems to accommodate few guests, and there was'nt a hotel bar, the receptionists informed me that there are massage and sauna facilities on service for hotel guests.
Curious, and because there's not much going on in this place, I decided to check it out. The old elevator door slided open at the 4th floor. A traditionally dressed middle-aged woman, was waiting to guide me around the floor, to explain me about the hotel's possibilities. The first door she opened seemed to be a Karaoke place, without anybody inside. Of course not, because these are private rooms I figured out later. Next door, was the entrance to the massage table and sauna. Behind yet another door, my eyes opened widely as there were about twelve to fifteen teenaged Chinese girls, all wearing kimono's, and probably nothing more than that. They sat all together around a small table, playing cards. My host explained me that I can choose any girl which I would prefer to spend the night with. Although I was kinda boring this night, I friendly appreciated the offer, thank her for the guidance and I went back to my room... (alone).
Today, it is going to be my last day in China, so I'll get up early at 6.20am again.
Tonight I will cross the border to Vietnam. It is going to be a day which I will spend most of the time inside the car.
On my left side, I see the sunrise above a foggy landscape. On my right side I witness the sun colouring the mountain range into a perfect painting. The trip continues between rice fields, sugarcane plantings and valleys.
A little later I want to make a sanitary stop at a gasoline station. The people need to bend down above a hole in the ground to deliver their remains. Not that I saw this situation for the first time, but here there are three daggered holes next to one another in line, without any door or anything between them.
This way, up to three people are able to chat or gossip while they are doing their business. Inventive guys, those Chinese.
We forward our trip passing through villages where colourful clad ladies with their baby on their back, are working on the rice fields. Because of the communist regime, Chinese families are allowed to give birth to just one child, unless you're a minority. Who force the law will be punished.
Luckily for the men not the same way as in some African countries where they cut your hand by theft. High fines are the result when giving birth to a second baby. The formula is easy to understand. People with money can bare more children. Poor people are'nt able to extend their family.
As we are proceeding, sights are becoming more spectacular. Deep valleys, high mountain ranges dotted with small villages can be seen everywhere. Still further, we are driving directly into the centre of a small Miao minority village. Today it is market day. Vegetables, fruits, chickens and even live typical small horses are changing owner. People who usually lives up in the mountains, are coming down here once a week. Others who lives too far away can join-in on a truckload of people. On my way, I noticed a truck which back load was so crowdedly filled up with a bunch of coulorful people that there where even humans hanging on the outside of the truckload.
It is about another hour to go to the checkpoint of the Chinese - Vietnamese border with the company of Celina, my private guide and Joe the driver. I can give them English names because it is hopeless to pronounce their real names.
Finally, after hours of never boring kilometres, we seems to get closer with Hekou, the last Chinese town before crossing the border. However, before we could arrive in town, there's a small border checkpoint some 10 kilometres in advance. The border control, existing of a fat Chinese woman and a lazy guy who did'nt wants to lift his ass up from a convenient seat, is claiming my passport. After some 20 minutes waiting in the car, the woman returned with my documents and saluted me...
The border closes for crossing at 5.30pm. It is about 4.45pm when I arrived in the centre of Hekou. In a hurry, I said goodbye to my guide and driver and entered the concrete construction.
No problem to leave China. Another stamp is placed in my passport, the barrier is lifted and I can cross the river. It is a strange feeling walking in the afternoon sun with my suitcase over the bridge, I turn back my head and realize behind me is China, ahead of me on the other side of the river Vietnam is waiting for me.
Two men who perhaps can't put a smile on their face, are sitting at the Vietnamese border of Lao Cai, the town where also the train from Hanoi arrives. The first guy is checking my passport and gives it to his colleague. This guy disappeared with my passport into a small office. After another 20 minutes of waiting, the man finally appears on the scene again, returns my passport to his colleague who seems to put his last blessing on it. -- Welcome to Vietnam !!!
I try to find my way to the chaotic world of people with conic straw hats, a mixture of smells which immediately reminds me on my last previous visit to the melting pot of Saigon.
My Vietnamese private guide for Sapa and the Tonkinese Alps, as the area is often called, is too late to pick me up from the border but I don't mind. I am on vacation. Minutes later, a minivan arrives on the intersection where I was sitting on top of my suitcase, as a way of protection. "Hello Mr. Eddy ?" - "Yes, that's me" - "Nice to meet you, my name is Huong" - "Nice to meet you too Huong" ( where did I heard that name before ? ). It is another 90 minutes to drive through fantastic natural scenery with high mountains and deep valleys. The road to Sapa is under construction. They are improving it because the expectation for tourism in this area is high. I immediately understand why.
On arrival in Sapa, I had a good feeling with the place. A small low-traffic town, easy to walk around, impossible to get lost and eateries for western tastes all over. Although, Vietnamese cuisine is very tasty and delicious. Sapa, at over 1000 meter height and a former French hill station has a special charm. Bustling with montagnards and set against breathtaking mountains, Sa Pa was a small Hmong tribal village until 1918 when a group of Jesuits established a now defunct order. Travel permits, for years the bane of tourists in Vietnam, were abolished in April 1993. Sa Pa has only been accessible to foreigners since and is all the fresher for it. inevitably, this will change as incomes have already quadrupled with the advent of tourism. Meanwhile, the Hmong do at least keep their sense of humour. The articles they sell at the Sunday market will be their own. Try and spot the difference between what they wear on Saturday night and what is offered at the market the following morning.
The Victoria Resort is a hotel to my taste. Its location against a mountain range offers a splendid view over the town, even it has just three floors. As always, I like to check out the hotel's bar. It is a cosy establishment with an open fire. (Note: this season it is about 3-7 °C degrees at night) I take a comfortable stuffed seat in an discrete corner of the bar and order an Irish Coffee.
The lady behind the bar does'nt understood why I do not take a seat next to the open fire. I think by myself, yeah why not and I followed her advice. (picture)
When I took my camera to view some pictures on the display, the lady returns to me and request her picture taken with the Christmas tree. Again I followed her advice, took a few of her pictures and promised her to send the copies.