China and Cambodia: Part 10

The following day we took a day trip to Kulen Mountain. Our driver had mentioned it the night he picked us up from the airport. So we decided it might be a really neat thing to try. But we had a bit of a time frame to do it. We had to get to the mountain before noon.

We started off early to try to squeeze in a ride on the hot balloon near Angkor Wat. I really wanted to ride a hot balloon and see Angkor Wat from the air. However, both times we tried to go, it was not operational. Boo urns. We were the only people there so I suspect they didn’t want to do it with so few customers.

We headed off to Kulen mountain. It was a lovely drive through the outskirts of Siem Reap. We saw dragon fruit farms, houses of all shapes and sizes on stilts, spirit houses outside all of them and more. After a half hour drive, we were at Kulen Mountain. Our driver told us that the reason we had to get there by noon was that there was only one road up the mountain. So traffic could only go up in the morning and go down in the afternoon! It was a bumpy route to the top of the mountain since the road wasn’t paved but there are amazing views.

Our first stop was the sandstone Reclining Buddha. We found ourselves in a little town around the temple with the Reclining Buddha. We wandered up this incredible staircase with nagas flanking the balustrade. The Buddha at the top of a giant sandstone structure. It was carved into the rock with a structure built around it. To access it, you had to ascend a flight of stairs to find the Buddha taking up the entire room. It was astonishingly beautiful. There were little Buddha statues flanking the larger Buddha. Very impressive that someone was able to carve it up here!

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After we descended the stairs, we got a tasty drink, the name I don’t recall. It had these chartreuse colored fat noodles, rice flour?, that was in a coconut drink. Very refreshing.

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Our next stop was the RIver of 1000 Lingas. For those of you who are unaware a linga is an abstract representation of a phallus while a yoani is a representation of a vagina in Hinduism. This river had lingas carved into the river bed with a few yoanis around. This was an astonishing thing to see. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of something like before. It was really neat to see it.

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Our final stop was a swimming hole with a waterfall. It was the real reason for the trip. It wasn’t something I would normally think of doing but since my friend was keen to try it, I was open to trying something very new. And boy, it was worth it. We parked the car and walked downhill through a village, catering to folks who go to the waterfall. We weren’t alone by the smallest stretch of the imagination.

When we got to the base of the waterfall, it was astonishing. Beautiful scenic area. There was the waterfall before us, roaring and sending off a light spray. We changed in a tiny corrugated tin hut without a light source and put our belongings into a cabinet. To get to the water, you had to climb over some large rocks to get in (no easy beaches here like at Lake Michigan). Once in the water, it was the right amount of cool. There were tiny fish in the water that would nibble if you didn’t move enough or wiggled your fingers in the water. It was a strange feeling to get nibbled on. It didn’t hurt at all but it was a weird feeling. I eventually crawled onto a rock and took it all in. I felt like this was a thing I’d read about in travel books or see photos but never do myself. I felt relaxed.

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After we got our swimming and relaxing time in, we decided to head home. We tried to stop at a dragonfruit farm on the way back but the farmers said they had already sold all the good dragonfruit. Oh well.

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Where dragonfruit come from. The ones on this succulent look sad.

When we got back to the hotel, I decided to use our free massage from the hotel. It was one of many perks. We had also gotten lunch and snacks made up in boxes for our journey to the mountain. We made the mistake of doing both at once since it was so much food! The massage was great save one small detail. It wasn’t until the end of the massage that I realized that I had gotten a pretty good sunburn on my back! Whoops!

Afterwards, we decided to head to the circus in Siem Reap. It’s a socially conscious circus that has themes in its shows. They train young impoverished kids to give them skills and a way to learn a living. We took a tuktuk to their space, which was a tent. THis was my first time on a tuktuk. Now, the carriages are hooked to motorcycle or scooters. It was a novel experience. Soon it would be normal to travel that way in Cambodia. THere’s something special about a tented circus even to  this day. The title of the show was “Influence.” It was a wonderful show. I saw some of the best tumbling I’ve ever seen. They had live music too, which is always a bonus. All the materials and costumes were made from everyday items: brooms, rice bags, and more. It was magical using these everyday things in such creative ways.

After the show, we headed back to Pub Street to find some more food. I saw a vendor selling fried crickets that I wanted to try. I then made a mistake. I wanted a chaser to have after the crickets just in case. Instead, we found a place and had a full delicious meal. After dinner, I had lost my appetite to try the crickets. Very disappointing! Next time I’ll have to try it again. Also, no durian vendors that night. Boo urns.
All in all, a great day despite my cowardice about fried crickets!

That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 9

After our wanderings through Angkor Wat, we moved on to another archaeological site in the Angkor Wat area known as Angkor Thom. There’s a series of several temples and the Elephant terrace. We spent several hours wandering around the area. It’s really impressive. I have to saw that i liked even better than Angkor Wat. But let’s get to that in a minute.

Bapoun was our first stop. This temple has an interesting history. Archaeologists were trying to restore it through a method of taking the entire temple apart and putting it back together. They kept plans of the pieces but the plans were destroyed when the Khmer Rouge came to power. OUr guidebook calls it the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the world as archaeologists are trying to piece it back together. We climbed the steep stairways to get a magnificent view of the surrounding area.

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Our next stop was Phimean Akas, another tall temple surrounded by a moat. We couldn’t wander around this one like we had Bapoun. It was kinda like a series of increasingly smaller squares stacked on top of each other. One source says that “According to legend there was a gold tower (Phimeanakas ) inside the royal palace of Angkor the Great where a serpent-spirit with nine heads lived. The spirit appeared to the Khmer king disguised as a woman and the king had to sleep with her every night in the tower before he joined his wives and concubines in another part of the palace. If the king missed even one night it was believed he would die. In this way the royal lineage of the Khmer was perpetuated.” (http://www.tourismcambodia.com/attractions/angkor/phimean-akas.htm)

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Then we got a bit lost looking for the next temples. We ended up on the Elephant Terrace with amazing carvings of elephants (my favorite). We also stumbled into the Terrace of the Leper King as well.

We eventually figured out where we were and found Preah Palilay, a temple that the jungle has taken over. It has trees and other plants growing out of the temple. There were fewer people around so it felt more peaceful to see how nature was taking over.

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Then we made it back to the biggest temple in the area: Bayon. The guidebook described this as one of the most curious buildings in the area. It’s my favorite. There’s a series of hallways and courtyards at the base where you can really just get lost in. We got turned around. There’s amazing carvings and lingas found all over. Throughout Bayon, there are these carved smiling faces, as you get higher they get bigger. Some estimates put the number over 2000 with 54 towers. Like Angkor Wat, there are active shrines within the temple complex so be respectful. You can visit if you take off your shoes and hat.

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I think Bayon matched my mind’s idea of what Angkor Wat would be like. The large faces are really astonishing. I also loved getting lost below. It honestly felt otherworldly.

One thing I will say about Angkor Thom: it is hot and humid in July. We were definitely keen to get back to the car after our wanderings and enjoyed the air conditioning and the wonder of cold water that our driver gave us. You can go to Angkor Wat area in a lot of different ways: tuk tuk, car, bus, even walking. But hiring a car for the day was a great idea.

We decided to take a lunch break to recoup and enjoy a little air conditioning. We had our first encounter with Cambodian cuisine. We ordered some curry dishes and it was heaven. The food is made from very fresh materials with simple but incredibly good sauces. It was the perfect pick me up after our wanderings in the heat.

Then it was Ta Prohm. It’s a temple complex in the jungle. It’s best known as the Tomb Raider temple but it deserves more than that. This was where the jungle has fought back. All over the area, giant trees grow out of temple buildings. It’s really astonishing. It felt a little like this is what an explorer would have found encountering for the first time (yes, I know it would have been a lot harder to walk around safely and easily if it had really been found recently. Clearly, they’ve removed stones, supported roofs and whatnot to make it safe for tourists). It was another temple where you can easily get lost at, wandering hallways and courtyards.  And like other temples, it is still in use. We met a man who lived in the temple area. I’m sorry we didn’t find out more about him.

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After Ta Prohm, we decided to head back to the hotel. THere are more sites in the area but we were content with the three major sites we had seen. At the hotel, I saw by the pool and read while we had our evening rain shower. I had a cool drink and enjoyed the cold towelettes that the hotel gave me.

Then it was time to explore Siem Reap. We walked to the touristy section of the city. Our hotel was well situated to the Night Market and Pub Street. There aren’t a lot of sidewalks so you have to be cautious about traffic but it was generally slow. The Night Market was a tourist market where vendors sell t-shirts, scarves, wooden objects, and more. It reminded me a little bit of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. You could also get a foot rub, back rub, or have small fish nibble the skin of our feet as a “fish massage.” It was fun wandering around the area.

After some shopping, we decided to find some dinner and headed towards Pub Street. On the way, we saw more vendors including folks selling fried insects (I wanted to try) and durian. One of the few regrets of this trip was not stopping to get durian. I love durian but I had never tried it in a place that actually grew it. I’ve only had it in the States. Boo urns.

We eventually found a little place off the main drag with lots of people. We once again were delighted by the freshness of the food. I ordered a fried fish that wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. But my friend’s dish was phenomenal. We did have these egg rolls as an appetizer that were out of this world. I had wintermoon soda; it was a little smoky for my taste.

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Before heading back to the hotel, we wandered through Pub Street, where there are lots of bars, restaurants, and clubs. It reminded me a little of Bourbon Street but less raunchy and less obnoxious.

That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 8

We woke up in Cambodia. What a wonderful feeling! Granted it was about 4 am since we had elected to see the sunrise over Siem Reap. We groggily got ready and met our driver at the appointed time. We still couldn’t see a tremendous amount of Siem Reap since it was dark. We first had to buy our tickets at a ticket area that was not near the Angkor Wat temple complex. It reminded me of Machu Picchu where you had to buy the tickets at the bottom of the mountain; you couldn’t buy them at the entrance to the park. We along with lots of other tourists waited in lines, got our photos taken for our tickets, and then trundled back into our modes of transportation.

Now, the light was beginning to rise; we could see a little bit more of buildings and trees. What a difference from Shanghai! No skyscrapers dotting the sky. The buildings were shorter and there was more vegetation. Then we approached the Angkor Wat complex. A large river or moat surrounded the temple complex.I learned that Angkor Wat refers both to the specific temple complex and the entire archaeological site. There are several temple complexes to explore in addition to the famous one.

Our driver parked us near the gates and we crossed the river, transfixed by the balustrades showing impressive nagas. We hurried to get to a good viewing spot for the sun to rise. We weren’t along; lots of tourists were also there to watch the event. We did some preliminary exploration but I was keen to find the right viewing place. We eventually found a section of the lawns in front to watch as the sun slowly rose up. I was actually not as blown away as I had been when I had seen the sunrise over Machu Picchu. It was only after the fact that I realized we were on the wrong side of the temple to see it light up.

Angkor Wat was impressive. It’s a series of temples that began to be built in the 12th century. They are still in use; we actually passed by several religious ceremonies. So it’s important to be respectful and dressed properly while you wander around. We were told that women should bring sweaters if they had bear arms; shawls were not sufficient. There are carvings all over the complex, showing gods and goddesses from Hindu and Buddhist traditions. There were lots of Apsaras, dancing female spirits. We headed towards the highest tower, where if you are dressed properly, you can climb to the top and get a great view of the entire area. It’s a steep climb up but well worth it.

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At one point, we were looking out and I remarked, “Oh look. There are a bunch of cats wandering on the roofs.” To which my friend explained, “Those aren’t cats. Those are monkeys.” And she was right. There were monkey. I had been noticing the smell of what I thought was cat urine but it was actually monkey urine. These monkeys were actually a little frightening. We saw a few up close. One climbed up steps and growled at another person, making it very clear that there were boundaries. Later, a monkey crawled on a woman and stole an egg from her. It’s very apparent; don’t have food out around these animals. They will get very aggressive.

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Monkey climbing a monkey

After wandering the endless halls, we decided to take a short walk on the far side of Angkor Wat to see what lay in the area. We found a little temple there, also still in use as evidenced by the offerings. It was time for a mid-morning snack. I had gotten these little fig cookies where we bought our tickets. We did a monkey survey to ensure I wouldn’t have an issue. It was really lovely, sitting on the steps of the temple, staring back at Angkor Wat through the woods. It’s these moments that resonate forever.

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That’s all for now. Next time I’ll talk about our adventures at Angkor Thom and Ta Prohn!

China and Cambodia: Part 7

And then it was our last day in Shanghai. We had a early evening flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. So we had to make the best of our last day there: more art!

We dragged our suitcases through town to go to the Rockbund Museum, another contemporary art space. They were kind enough to keep our bags behind the front counter as we explored. They had an exhibition of 11 artists from all over Asia called “Tell Me a Story: Locality and Narrative.” I really liked a few of the pieces. One was a video installation of ancient artifacts being lit up by firecrackers. It was wonderfully spooky and surreal. The piece was “Fireworks” by Apicahtpong Weerasethakul. Another piece by Au Sow-Yee was about a fictional movie studio in the jungle with an archive of ephemera including advertisements to go along with it. The artifacts even had index cards that you could flip through. It was called “The Kris Project I:  The Never-ending Tale of Maria, Tin Mines, Spices and Harimau.”

On the very top of the museum, there was a little deck with a partial view of the river. We could see parts of the skyline peeking over the buildings in front. We also could see a building that was in the process of being torn down save for the facade. We enjoyed eating our Chinese candy that we had gotten at a store in the Oriental Pearl while watching boats pass. I always need to remember how nice it is to slow down and observe the world around me.

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Before we went off to the airport, we stopped by Yu Gardens area again to walk down Old Street. I wanted to do a little bit more shopping before we went. Old Street is so much  more pleasant than the area closer to Yu Gardens! But Qibao was best of all for shopping for souvenirs. So much less bustle!

Before we stepped on the train to get to the airport, we got passport photos for our visas for Cambodia. We did one of those photobooths in the station. Boy, was my heart slick back from the sweat!

It was a jaunt of the subway, involving a change even though we were on the right line. At the airport, it was pretty painless. We had a spot of dinner of an Udon soup that was pretty good.

And then we were off to Cambodia. It was a longer flight than we had originally expected. Over 5.5 hours. There was some prank show on the tvs overhead which was sort of hormusifying.

When we landed in Cambodia, we were astonished by the beautiful airport. Wooden roof with giant statues of Buddha everywhere. Crickets jumped all around us. Getting our visa was easy; we just bought it before going through customs. The hotel we were staying at had a driver waiting (with bottles of water).

We decided to stay at the Golden Temple Hotel. It was the best choice. When we got there, we were greeted with cold towels, refreshing drinks, warm sticky rice wrapped in leaves, and sugared peanuts. They also handed us a local phone if we needed it. We got coupons for a free 60 minute massage, snacks, and one free meal. We felt like queens.

 

We arranged to get a very early start so we could see the sun rise over Angkor Wat. 4:30 wake up!


That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 6

And then it was our very last full day in Shanghai. So we decided to do what had worked so well for us before: art and food.

We started off our day at the Minsheng Art Museum in the west side of Shanghai. It’s an an interesting area with lots of galleries/exhibition places. It was like an even more exclusive version of M50. There were public art pieces everywhere.

The museum, funded by a bank, shows contemporary artists. They had two shows on. One of them was one of the best shows I’ve seen all year. Puppets and video installation! The work was by Zhou Xiaohu. He built these life size puppets from found items (pre-made masks) and had them act out Buddhist fables. We spent 20 minutes watching the video installation of these creatures dancing and talking about these fables. It was surreal and poignant. This was a show that resonated with the crazy in my head. We also saw the actual puppets themselves. He also had these amazing pieces where he used objects like feathers, bones, and tools, that he arranged in such a way that the shadows reflected onto a wall made it look like handwritten calligraphy. Incredible.

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After our visit to the museum was done, we took a break at a cafe nearby. It was nice to people watch at this arts area. We also found a copy of TimeOut Shanghai that had amazing illustrations.

Then it was time to head to the Shanghai History Museum. It’s located in the base of the famous Oriental Pearl building in Pudong, the land of the crazy skyscrapers. I had never actually set foot in the area; I’d only seen it from across the river at the Bund. So it was kinda exciting being amongst the skyscrapers (and yes, I grew up in Chicago. Shh). At the train station, we went to a bakery and I got a Portuguese egg tart and a mango custard danish. Holy cow the mango custard was amazing.

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When we got to the Oriental Pearl, we were amazed to find this huge line stretching around and around, all to go up the tower. It was interesting how the ticket sellers and guards were surprised when we said that we had no interest in the tower, just the museum.

The museum was a fine collage of different exhibits. It starts off with a history of transportation. We started with sedan chairs, carriages to cars and buses. As we walked up through the museum, there were lots of dioramas, showcasing life in Shanghai at various points in history. Some dioramas were life sized recreations while others were tiny tabletop models. It was neat walking through their recreation of 19th century Shanghai with all the model shops, etc. There wasn’t the most clear narrative of the history but we enjoyed spending time there.

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel for one last meal with family. We had a little time to kill before our appointed time so we hung out in a public park near the train. Part of it was hilly and labyrinthine, which was cool. There was a flute player amidst the trees which was a nice touch. We found a little bamboo forest too. As we walked to meet my family, we also found a street with some nice street art. Aside from the day at M50, I hadn’t really seen much.

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We ended up a hot pot place. It was a bit challenging meal. We had split the pot in two: one side was mild while the other was spicy. Very spicy. I didn’t want to dunk the meat in the mild side since my companion was a vegetarian. (She was fine with it but I was committed!) So any meat got cooked in the spicy side. HOly cow, was it spicy! I eventually had to stop and drink my juice to calm the war on my tongue. Alas!

After dinner, we had a little misadventure. When we had the reservation made at the hotel for us, we received a receipt that was mostly in Chinese with only the date legible. I saw that it was a date earlier than we needed but I asked and was told it was fine. However, when we checked in around midnight, we had to explain that no we were staying 7 nights, not 6. Unfortunately, the lady who checked us in did not have great English so it was a bit difficult. But we got to a place that made sense. She showed us a price that made sense to add to the price we were paying. We made sure that we understood what was going on. We weren’t go to just agree.

So when we got back to our room on the 6th day, we found that our key cards didn’t work. We went downstairs, knowing what had happened. Then the fun began. It was the same woman but the story changed. She said we had to pay more for the extra night. We tried to explain that we had already paid and had a receipt to show for it. We ended up with a friend on the phone who was a native speaker. The lady kept changing her story. First it was only 400 RMB for the extra night (about $60) and then it changed to 500 Rmb (about $75). It wasn’t a lot of money but it was the principle of the thing. We didn’t know if our bags were still in the room. It was incredibly frustrating. I wanted to leave but my rational side prevailed. If we got our stuff and left, we would still pay more at another hotel. It was Friday night after 9pm. Eventually we paid the 500 RMB and found that the room was exactly as we left it. Thank goodness.

As soon as we verified that nothing had been taken or even moved, we got in a cab and went to the Bund. We were going to have a fancy drink in the fanciest part of town. We wandered a bit trying to find a place with a view. We ended up in the Peace Hotel, which had a beautiful art deco feel. But no room with a view. Eventually, we ended up in the Waldorf Astoria. It was beautiful. No view but it felt right. We got a table in this wood paneled gem. I ordered $30 glass of champagne. I enjoyed every single drop. There was a singer, beautiful and tiny, with a pink shirt and black pants. She wore amazing tassel earrings. It was what was needed after our frustrations at the hotel.

That glass of champagne was worth it.

That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 5

That morning, I was determined to have more red bean paste. We stopped at the bakery where we had the egg bean paste thing. This time I chose poorly. One of the things was filled with dried chicken (I thought it tasted like dry lotus paste – awkward) and another with pork. Sad panda.

We decided to go on a little journey on the far side of town to Qibao. It’s supposed to look like what a river village would. So we took a few train changes to get there (saw some amazing surreal vegetable and fruit advertisements). I tried what I think was a red bean and chocolate bubble tea from a kiosk in the train station. It was pretty good.

Qibao was amazing. The bridge was beautiful. You saw boats hanging out in the water. Old buildings surrounded it. It was worth the side trip. It also had great tourist shopping; it was less chaotic than Yu gardens area. We had fun looking at the vendors, bought some canvas shoes. And there was a food area! There were lots of meat on skewers but the heat of the day made me want for something refreshing. We bought pickles from a vendor sold them from vats. I also got this tasty gooey red bean paste thing. We hung out in a tiny cafe next to the water to cool down from the heat. I watched amazing ice cream concoctions being made but I wanted to wait for the real prize that afternoon.

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Skewers

After we felt sufficiently cooled down, we decided to wander a little bit more in the area to see the little museums. We found the Shadow Puppet museum that we had to go to. Sadly, we were not there on a day with a show. It was tiny but we saw the intricate shadow puppets. Not a lot to read but it was a cute little pit stop.

Then we decided to head back to the French Concession for one last hurrah. My goal: ridiculous ice cream. Before we explored the warrens of the Tianzifang, we found a little market that sold fruits, veggies and meat. We got several fruits including: dragon fruit, clementines, and these lychee like fruits. I tried eating one of the lychee like fruits and it exploded over me.🙂

Then it was time to find my crazy ice cream. It was ice cream with cotton candy and fruit pebbles. It has to be one of the most insane things I’ve had. I’ll admit the sight of it was better than the actual taste (the ice cream was akin to soft serve but not quite). But it was worth the experience. We wandered around a bit more, taking in the other ridiculous things to eat.

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Panda egg tarts

Then it was time to head to the train to meet my family for dinner at their apartment. We ended up in the food court of a mall where the train station had an entrance. Again, we saw amazing food experiences but we had to pass them up since we were going to dinner.

That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 4

The following day was our day trip to Hangzhou. It’s a city about an hour by train from Shanghai. The attraction there is West Lake, considered one of the most beautiful sights in China. Naturally, we had to go.

To get there, we had to get to the Hongqiao train station on the other side of Shanghai. It was about a forty minute train ride. I love riding the public transit of cities; I feel that I get a better sense of the city that way. I love seeing the people; I love the advertisements you see in the stations.

Once we got to the train station, we had to figure out how to buy tickets. Unfortunately, since we were not Chinese citizens, we could not buy tickets from a kiosk. We waited in a long line and eventually got tickets to take us to the Hangzhou East Train station. It’s further away but it had more frequent trains. Soon we boarded our train and were zooming through China to our destination.

It was pretty cool to see the area outside of Shanghai. I had never been anywhere else in China. I saw people working in the fields, I saw large towns with amazing architecture. It was rather lovely. The train was pretty awesome too. Somewhere there was a hot water spigot for tea or soup preparation. That’s amazing. I wish we had something like that in more common areas in Chicago or the US at large.

Once we got to the station and waited in the cab line, we debated where to go. The guidebook was surprisingly vague about where to go in West Lake. We ended up choosing something randomly that we thought we could ask the driver to take us to.  It may have been the farthest point on West Lake from Hangzhou but that’s okay. It was neat to see tiny glimpses of the area as we drove to it. Mountains surround it on three sides.

And then we were finally at our destination. We understood why it was so popular with the Chinese. The combination of the lake, the mountains, pagodas in the distance. This was a marvelous place. We bought some popcorn with the intention of feeding it to creatures we saw. However, we would soon learn that none of the fish or birds were interested in the popcorn. Very strange. But we saw this amazing pond with 100s of koi, swimming in bulk. We walked along the causeway taking in all of the nature. Lotus blossoms, trees, occasional astonishing birds. We watched the boats go out on the water and saw the amazing party boats shaped like dragons and other mythical creatures.

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We decided to hire a boat to take us out on the water. We climbed into a wooden boat where we tried to talk to our boatsman/captain. He paddled us out and around. We got an even better view of the area including a pagoda that is apparently on the RMB bills. Very neat! I’m not entirely sure if we were ripped off. The ride was only a half hour instead of the expected hour. But the language barrier made it hard to figure out what was going on. Then again, it was a small amount of money. It was still worth the brief excursion on the water.

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We continued to wander around the lake. I saw lots of people eating fresh watermelon so I naturally desired it. For about a dollar, I got a container of fresh watermelon with toothpicks. It was absolutely refreshing.

On our journey, we came across the Tianfeng Pagoda on the water. We decided to check it out since we were there. It was a very tall pagoda. There were several flights of stairs just to get to the base of it! There were seven more floors to get to the top. But it was worth it. (Every tower must be climbed!) The view was astonishing. You could see the mountains, the lake, and the actual city of Hangzhou! What a glorious place!

As the day continued, we realized how hungry and hot we were. We hadn’t really seen places to sit for food. We did have some walking lunches but we sometimes elected for sit down meals because of the heat and humidity. We studied the insufficient map to figure out where we were. We had planned to walk to the nearer train station to go home since it was about .5 mile from Hangzhou (supposedly). We learned that the lake is really really big. But we eventually figured out where to go and found a little place offering coconuts. And air conditioning. We went in and had the most refreshing coconut of our lives. It wasn’t coconut water; it was a jellied coconut served in the shell. It was what was needed after hours of walking. And we had WiFi.

That’s when I got messages about the impending super typhoon that was on its way to Shanghai. Not something you necessarily expect on a trip. We had been alerted to it a few days before by my mother but hadn’t gotten a lot of information. All I could determine was that it was going to hit Taiwan first and make landfall on mainland China at some point. Shanghai would get the last wave of the storm. I was a bit worried that we might have some issues leaving for Cambodia but that was the extent. Still it was strange to get messages about the typhoon from concerned family members while in a coconut shop in Hangzhou.

After our stay at the oasis, it was time to get to the train station. I was concerned about getting tickets on a train back since it seemed to be filling up per the website. We tried walking but the map got very difficult and ended up taking a cab.

The experience in the train station was something out of Monty Python. A sign told us that the foreign friendly line at teh station was aisle X so we dutifully stood in line. Just as we got to the front of the queue, the woman at the front put up a sign in Chinese and waved us away. Apparently, it was closed. Very frustrating. We waited there for about 5 minutes hoping she (or her replacement) would help us but to no avail. So we waited in another line. THen it closed. Another line. Same thing. Eventually we got in a fourth line. This time as we stood at the front, a Iranian adult son and father asked if they could cut in front of us to get a ticket thing figured out. We obliged (common bond of travelers in foreign lands). The ticket lady helped them reprint tickets. THen it was our turn. She took one look at us and said, “No, you have to go to the FOreigner’s line.” (At this point, it had reopened). We were spitting mad. So my friend pointedly said, “You helped the Iranians. You can help us.” The woman didn’t respond but took our passports and eventually gave us tickets. However, we had 15 minutes to get to our train. We had to get through security, find our gate, and get on the train. And we did. The train was once again a smooth breeze, easy, air conditioned and hassle free.

Once we got back to the hotel, I decided to venture on alone for some dinner. I was hungry and keen to find some good eating. It was tricky since a lot of the places around the hotel were open during the day. They were not many sit down places. I found one but it served American style food that was not for me. I was in China and I was going to each Chinese food.  After a little walk, I found a place with a crab on the logo. It was sit down place. It was perfect. The menu was a placemat where there were pictures of animals. You chose the type of animal you wanted. The waitress tried to help me through it. Through miming, we decided the size (small). She even creatively asked me how spicy I wanted it. Thanks to the guidebook, I indicated a small amount of spice.

And then I received the most magnificent plate of crabs, chicken feet, and tofu. It was amazing. More food than I had hoped for but totally worth it. I wasn’t sure how to eat the small crabs so I watched people around me. After a few minutes, I realized I was gnawing on the distinctly wrong part of the crab. But it was still delicious. The sauce was amazing. The crabs (once I figured them out) were succulent. The chicken feet were a nice complement and the tofu was delicious. I did accidently ate a pepper that made my face go completely red. One of the waiters rushed over with cold tea that helped a bit. That’s when I used the phrases in the guidebook to order white rice! It was honestly the best meal of the trip despite or even because of my misadventures.🙂

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That’s all for now!