Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How not to start a holiday...

Yesterday I mentioned that we were flying out today for a short 5 day holiday in the Hunan Province, what I don't think I mentioned was just how early our flight was.

Apparently there is a lot to see here and there is a few flights a day to Changsha, and the only morning flight leaves at 07:00. That would get us into town around 08:30 and then right into the car for a 4 hour ride up to our first spot of sightseeing.

Seven is early, but we prepare ahead somewhat, so last night around 22:00 I'm finishing up packing. Our alarm is set for the ungodly early time of 04:30.

This morning Tina nudges me quickly and loudly, the clock in the bedroom is reading 06:04. What? No alarm? Was I so tired that I shut it off? I go to take a shower and Tina stops me saying that we've got to go now if we want to even have a chance.

Some swearing and, for me, 5 very confused minutes later we are downstairs hopping into a taxi and telling him that we need to get to the airport as quickly as possible. A six thirty we were at the airport and at the ticket counter, signs for the flight tell us that it is boarding, there is still a line of people for this flight getting tickets - that's a good sign. Twenty minutes later we are through security and sitting on the airplane.

Not bad, 45 minutes from climbing out of bed to being able to close your eyes on the plane.

Of course in our rush Tina's phone and watch got left behind, and with my late night packing I forgot to pack our sandals, a jacket for me, and my hat. But we made the flight, and for me that's all that matters.

And yes, I did sleep for almost all of the 4 hour car ride.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Weekend in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong was the final stop out our trip out of China during their National Holiday, and here we just spent a short weekend so that we could make some quick purchases at their local electronics stores. We find that we trust them slightly more then the electronics that we could buy here in China, but who knows if it really is any better...

We fly in late on Thursday night, getting into the hotel around midnight and were up and enjoying a pleasant long weekend early the next day.
A trip from Kowloon to Hong Kong and back were a must, along with a nice lunch of fish & chips. The Star Ferry is always begging for photos, so we were happy to oblige. We went back to the upper floor of the Sheraton for the 20:00 view of the light show. We have a video from one of our new cameras, but these shoot video in HD and I haven't figured out yet how to convert it to something watchable...

Saturday we got up and headed back over to Hong Kong and then hopped on a bus to head across the island to Stanley, and the Stanley market.
The market is no longer the great deals that it apparently was back in the 80's, now it's just the same old tourist junk that you can purchase almost anywhere. But there are a lot of bars here along the waterfront so we enjoyed a relaxing lunch just watching all of the other people out snapping photos and taking in the perfect weather.
At one point we wandered over by the water and Tina decided that it would be fun to drop her 1-day old camera about 20 feet down onto the rocks. It was just out of the water and we thought that it was finished, but I scrambled down just ahead of the tide and managed to get it for her.

Heading down as part of the camera rescue team.
Checking to make sure it didn't suffer any permanent damage.

As the sun was setting on Stanley we hopped in a taxi back to the other side of the island to grab another great English style dinner before retiring back to the hotel with a nice bottle of wine.Sunday we had a few hours to wander and then we were off to the airport and finally back to Xiamen. It was a great trip, seeing far more then we ever really expected - but then the whole first leg consisting of the trip to Malaysia is not something that we had planned for at all.

Tomorrow we hop on another airplane, this time for a short 5 day tour of the Hunan Province. Once again we may go through a period of blogger silence...

Monday, October 26, 2009

We did what?

We had a full day just relaxing in Luang Prabang before we headed out on the next leg of our holiday so instead of sleeping in and lazily enjoying the town we signed up for a cooking class and got up early so that we could be there at the early morning time of 08:00.

First they took us to the local market so that we could learn bits about how to select the proper ingredients.

Learning more than I need to know about rice.

From the market it was back to the restaurant so we could do all the prep work for our meals and then into the kitchen for the good stuff.
Cooking lemongrass chicken.
Tasting the beef soup.

We finished up and served ourselves lunch around 11:30, and I must say that it was right tasty. A fun way to spent the morning, they gave us a cookbook with Laos recipes, a certificate saying that we paid them to be in their kitchen, and we got to eat three great meals for lunch. After that we were free to take that nice leisurely stroll around the town.
The next day we were whisked to the airport and off to three nights in Hong Kong.

Friday, October 23, 2009

From Phonsavan to Luang Prabang...

Ok, we're back again and hopefully now our VPN issues have been corrected and we can return to a somewhat more regular schedule of postings. After our day traipsing around the stone jars we hopped back in the van for the long ride back to Luang Prabang, and we told our driver that we would want to make some stops at picturesque little villages that line the road and cling to the upper ridges of the mountainous terrain. Enjoy the photos.

This girl was 3 and carrying around her 8 month old brother.
Returning home from gathering firewood.
They almost knocked Tina over when she tried to show them the photos she had taken.
They told us to come back again the next day when they had school.
We pulled back into Luang Prabang around 17:00, and on our walk over to the Goodwill - where we donated some of our old clothes - we found this van that had been converted into a bar. So we stopped for a quick drink...
Then a nice dinner with a good bottle of wine, what a great way to end the day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Finally... stories about jars.

Alright, after days of fighting to try and get our VPN service to allow us to connect to Blogger we are finally able to post. It was more the VPN then China, and we are still having some slight issues that make posting more difficult then it should be, but you guys are worth it... Don't be surprised if it takes us another 3 days to post again, as loading photos has been quite a fight lately. Our posts need to feature photos since we know that most of you don't actually bother to read fully - just a quick skim and then look at the pretty pictures.

Anyway - last time we wrote, prior to our guests last weekend, we had just taken a 6 hour ride into the eastern section of northern Laos to Phonsavan. Our first day there we were able to sleep in a little prior to heading out for the sights that we came all this way to see. When I say 'we' in this case I mean 'I', Tina liked the idea but felt that there may have been other sights to see in China or nearby Asia prior to heading home. She gave in on this one in exchange for her being able to dictate where the rest of our, here I mean 'my', vacation time was spent. I gladly agreed.

Phonsavan is a fairly new city, the original city of Xieng Khouang being completely destroyed during the war, and people mainly come here so that they can head out and see the jars. Plains of jars actually, but because of unexploded ordinance in the area there are only a few sites that can be safely visited. So, without further talking may I present to you the plain of jars....

First stop has a large sign about the unexploded ordinance (UXO's) in the area, actually all sites have this, and warns you to stay within marked areas. The group MAG does a lot of work around the world to help clear mined and bombed land, and since Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world they are quite busy here. Go back up and click their link and donate them some money, it's worth it for all of the work they are doing.

Right, back to the jars. They are carved out of stone and quite large, and just lying about across a section of the country. Nobody really knows what they were originally for, or even when they were made. Just big stone jars...
Those are all from the first site that we went to, it had the most jars along with an old trench line from the war and several large bomb craters. Several of the jars were damaged and there was only one that still had a stone lid on it.

From there we went to site 2 which was up on a hilltop, actually two different hilltops.

Just the amount of work to move these stone jars up to the top of a hill is mindboggling. Although fewer jars then the first site it was almost more impressive due to the location.
Rice paddy path to site 3

Site 3 was a bit of a hike through some rice paddies and then across some farmers fields. It is by far the best of the three sites just because of the location and the surrounding fields and mountains.
Lots of jars...
...and even more jars
Mark in a short squat jar*
Tina in a tall thin jar*

From there we to the old center of the capitol city and looked at an old temple that had been bombed but the Buddha has survived, and took a look at some old Stupas on top of the nearby hills.
Buddha survived the bombing
Old stupa on the hilltop

After a long day of looking at ancient carved rocks we headed back into town, where we wandered the market for a while before enjoying a great local dinner.
Water buffalo near the market
Full moon after dinner

* - we didn't actually climb into the jars, there are signs telling you not to, these were jars that had been damaged and had a hole in the back side of them.