Trans-Mongolian and Moscow

Taking off from the train station in Ulaan-Baatar was a strong experience. I met a young girl in my compartment who's father were about to take the train to Moscow and then to Prague. The whole family was on the station to say good-bye (except the mum - she was already in Prague). He would not be back for at least four years and they didn't know if they would be able to visit their parents meanwhile. Rolling out from the station you could see a lot of those life stories passing by - families waving of their fathers and crying, proud parents saying a last goodbye to their son or daughter or the look of hope and dreams in the faces of friends and family of some. There was hardly anyone on the platform or on the train without really strong emotions of some sort showing in their faces.

To then see all the preparations for the border crossing was hilarious. There were two women on the train, going around and distributing large amounts of jeans, pants, shirts, jackets and boots in different compartments. There is also a gorilla walking around as a lookout and making sure noone is causing problems. Then they spend all the way from UB to the border with going around, unpacking all the clothes (they are all bought in Mongolia or even China I guess and for sale in Russia) from the plastic bags and asks people to take them in their bags. They go through a lot of trouble to make sure people pack it together with their normal clothes, stove it under their food bags or hide it in other ways. They remove all tags, turn some of them inside out and make sure there are no signs of the clothes being brand new. As a spectator this smuggling is just hilarious to see.

After crossing the first border crossing, i.e. after leaving Mongolia but before entering Russia, things get even more crazy. Now they start putting on two pairs of jeans each, one pair of the new boots, hiding jeans in the bed, in the trash bin, in bags with food and even some in the roof air condition.

The bureaucracy is amazing - we have met at least six different guards now, collecting passports twice, handing out forms, collecting forms, etc... So far it has been at least seven forms - imigration, emigration, double copies, customs for Mongolia, customs for Russia and so on. Our "room" has been searched three times now and I'm not inside Russia yet. This is like a cirkus - especially with the two Mongolians looking like twin brothers with exactly the same clothes and everything. Once again - hilarious!

The border crossing then gets more and more surreal - at the same time as a blonde and surprisingly young and good-looking Russian female guard in uniform, high-heels and a short skirt is climbing around in the room, looking at all the hidden jeans she finds and saying "souvenir", two Mongolians pop in their heads and start speaking to me in Swedish - the first Swedish I've heard in a long time now. They all turn out to be living in Sweden at the moment, one even works just one block away from where I live with my mum when I'm in Stockholm. I wonder if the horse meat I got from my two "roomies" contained something strange, 'cause I started to believe I was hallucinating... :)

Sitting in the restaurant for breakfast on the first day after the border crossing gives me yet another insight into the size of the smuggling. Since we had by then passed the Russian border they didn't try to hide it at all - which means I just saw cartload after cartload passing me in the aisle, all full of jeans, shirts and so on. There must have been hundreds of jeans at least. The guys in my compartment got 150 rubel (40 SEK?) each for the favor of taking 20-30 jeans or so across the border.

On the second day the train starts resembling a fair more and more. Every compartment in my wagon seems to be selling something - my coupé got a new passenger during the night that sells jeans and jackets, while others sell shirts or shoes or even blankets. The "train lady" responsible for keeping the wagon trim, cleaning everything up and locking the toilet before every stop also cooks food in her compartment that she sells for a lot less than the restaurant. You just go and tell her when you're hungry - you can also buy tea and coffee from her. One compartment brought a portable TV and a video game - you can pay a bit to play for an hour. In the middle of this you find a lot of over-weight Russians walking around with huge shoppings bags - buying clothes from the Mongolian vendors. The few compartments that are not selling clothes or stuff are rather make-shift bars, full with Mongolians who've been drinking for three days. Just now (I was writing this one the train) a guy I haven't seen before came into our compartment, climbed up into the bed of the girl selling jeans and passed out. Iäm not sure I will have my space/bed free when I get back from the restaurant wagon.

At every stop on the stations it's equally crazy - all the vendors jump of from the train before it stops into a market frenzy - the stations are packed with Russians coming there to buy cheap jeans or stuff from the vendors on the train. People are hanging through the windows to sell blankets or shoes, while others set up regular shops (with life-size dolls showing their clothes) in the doorways of the train. On the same time the train gets invaded by some Russian vendors trying to sell canned food, cooked food or beer to the people on the train. The train stops for a set amount of minutes, usually 15-25, and then it just leaves without any warning. When it starts to move all the vendors at the station gets crazy, rips their stuff back from the customers that haven't paid yet and runs for the train - I always think that someone won't make it, but they seem to be used to running along side the train to jump on. Just hilarious!

And then, the last 24 hours on my trip: Moscow. I found Moscow a fascinating place, although I didn't have to see much of it. I was staying in a flat for 20€, just one block away from the Red Square. A real bargain - especially since me and the Mongolian girl Naraa paid for two "economic dorm" beds (which would have been a madrass on the floor of the living room), but got a huge double room instead because the newly started hotel/flat didn't have two madrasses. The double room would normally have been 100€.

Moscow is impressing - it's a mix of Soviet and West, a mix of old and new. They have the fascinating history, they have the architecture to match any city in the world, they have the old-style cafés associated with Eastern Europe cities like Budapest, they have all the Western chains, brands and shops, they have a lively night-club scene, bars, live music and of course a lot of the classical entertainment such as concerts, opera, cirkus and acrobats. To make it all at bit more exciting and adventorous they have the police - possibly the single biggest annoyance in Moscow. If they spot you as a tourist they will invariably hazzle you, check your passport and visa and try to get a bribe from you. The hotel will tell you that there are some thieves in the city, but it's the police that you really have to look out for. Never look at them, never speak to them and even if you've been robbed - don't contact the police, it will only make things worse!

Now that I'm home in Stockholm, Sweden, I've uploaded some pictures from the train and from Moscow. I will probably write some more entries in this blog - making a summary or some kind of reflection of the whole trip, but basically the trip is now over. To all the awesome friends I've met traveling, thanks for helping me make this trip a great time - and please, send me all your photos from our time together and stuff, would be awesome to have!


Mongolia from a different perspective

Wow. I just read Oni's blog entry about the trip we just made together and realized how much I forgot to mention. I think the easiest way is to post her entire entry so you can see her view of the whole trip - there are some fascinating details in there that I really loved with the trip.

And oh, by the way - I've uploaded all the pictures from our trip now, which is a lot of pictures considering there were five people taking photos. Will try to upload some videos as well, but for now I'll just sort them, write some comments and delete duplicates. Probably they won't be in a proper order though - my pictures go first, then Will's pictures and then Ferry's. You'll have to figure out the "real order" by yourselves! :)

Anyway, this is what Oni wrote:

Mission: West, semi Gobi, to the White lake
Duration: 7 days
Crew: well, me and 5 men
Transportation: a retro van, Bill our driver- a legend, can navigate by the winds, sun and moon.
Bonus: not tourist season
I honestly do not know where to start. I just had the trip of a life time!!!! Mongolia is a truly stunning country and I am blessed to have been able to have experienced what I did. Soo gracefully and with so much patience the Nomadic Mongolians showed us their way of life. For the last seven days we have been driving through the desert, along some of the roughest roads I have ever seen. There is a 'proper' road for the first day, however, it is soooo bad that Bill preferred the off road style. So for seven days I spent most of my time air borne, feel like I have inhaled enough dust for a life time, and often after a long day felt like some of my organs may have switched place from so much bouncing around.
The landscape is crazy! Steppes with tussock grass, rolling hills and so so dry (it gets green in summer we are told.) So imagine Bill our hard core driver, a mad Dutch man, a German, a Swede, Will and I hooning through what looked like the most remotest place on earth. Camels, wild horses, yaks and huge birds dot the landscape, whilst the 'villages' are often only a few ger tents large. Mongolians are yellow sect Buddhists, following Tibetan Buddhism, so all along the way we stopped at ovoos (stone piles with blue prayer flags) and walk around three times clock wise for good luck.
Being the off season, we had the amazing experience of staying with nomadic people, and not in tourist gers. It was soo out of this world, a real anthropological experience. In Mongolia, you can almost stay in any ones ger, no matter what time of the night you may turn up. Our fist night we stayed with the most amazing old couple. There was no language in common so we sat there looking at each other for hours, and then there it was, the biggest beaming smile I have ever seen. As soon as we had taken a seat on the floor the old woman set about making us tea ( a welcome gesture). Mongolian tea is black tea, with water, salt, and cow or yak milk, which is ceremoniously handed around and drunk in a very slurping manner. Then the old man continued with the welcoming procedures, handing around his snuff bottle, pipe (that lived in his boot, when not in use) and the trusty Russian influence, vodka, all of which have elaborate ritualistic consumption actions. For example, when you receive the vodka, you don't hold the rim of the cup, you dunk you ring finger in the vodka and flick two times towards the sky and one time towards the earth before consuming the harsh vodka, with a huge happy grin beaming at you from the old man over your bowl as you drink. A bowl of horse meat, the best I am told, was also presented, which our driver Bill ate with gusto. When I asked the old man where to go to the toilet, bless him, there I was in the middle of the desert in Mongolia, with this 65 year old man, with a wrinkled face from the elements and his traditional dress on, leading me by the arm, smoking his pipe....when he stops in the middle of the desert and says 'here toilet.'
Along the trip we slept in a restaurant, and then for two nights with another nomadic family. They at first were alittle hostile, and there was one woman who just stared at me the who 48 hours, with a sneaky look. This family was huge, however we shared a ger with a couple who were 8 months pregnant. Its so crazy, you just walk into their lives and live in their house. The men work outside with the livestock whilst the woman's job is to look after the men and do all the cooking, in fact most Mongolian men cant cook at all. Being the only woman guest, it felt like I got a closer view of how the women live. It is undermining to ask to help a woman in her ger, as she is boss, but the communication that you have without language is so great. Many of the women are younger than me, with a few children, and want to look and touch your hair and look at their face in the mirror and then yours. So we slept on the floor with the newly wed pregnant couple and five goats. Early in the morning, still dazed we were greeted by a goat meters away being a super loud alarm clock, and then various other goats getting dragged in to feed the younger ones. Outside through the open door you can see men racing around on horses organising the animals. Horses are vital and play such a big part in Mongolian life.
The last night was abit different we stayed at a friend of Bills ger, it was flash, had a TV, and fridge. The couple both worked in the national park, where the wild horses are, so could speak some English. Was a lovely night playing cards, listening to the men sing and once again finding a common ground with the women of the ger. Even tho our worlds are so different, there is that bottom line connection, that is so real.
We also stoped at beautiful monasteries along the way, watched monks chant, ate in little towns, played soccer with the village boys with an old botle, and walked up an amazing volcano to see a stunning frozen White lake. I have so so many impressions from the last week, and can only give you a snap shot of what it was like. We will put some photos up when we have time. Was lovely to have my first shower in seven days, and wash off the thick layer of dust I had accumulated. My finger is getting sore typing, we had a near accident coming back into Ulaan Baatar (mad drivers), in which I sprained my finger. Tonight we are going to a Mongolian cafe to hear some more throat singing, I love the way Mongolians sing where ever they are, most of the time.
Tomorrow morning our train leaves for Beijing, apparently the best train trip of the trans Mongolian we saved till last. It goes through the Gobi and along the Great Wall. I feel a bit sad to be leaving Mongolia, and deciding to stay here longer was one of best followed travel instincts yet. Mongolian people are truly beautiful, and I leave with only fantastic memories. Sniff!!!!


Mongolian tour

Wow! What an experience! By fa the strongest and most genuine experience of a country so far. The people, the landscape and ... yeah, just everything! But I'll take it from the beginning I guess.

After being in the Russian embassy for half an hour, applying for my transit visa, I rushed back to the guesthouse of the others in the group. The group consists of five people - it was me, a New Zealand couple that were just wonderful (Will and Oni), a Dutch guy (Ferry) and a German guy (Markus). As soon as I came back to the guesthouse we quickly loaded the last luggage into the jeep and left. The jeep is a big Russian jeep/minivan which turned out to be really comfortable and able to take us through any kind of terrain. It also had more than enough space foe everyone, so we had some room for extra bags, the boxes of food we brought and so on.

When we left Ulaan-Baatar there was a light snowfall and a cool wind from the north, but after only one hour on the road we were in the middle of the Gobi or at least the semi-Gobi with sand, rocks and a blazing sun that quickly heated the van.

Traveling through the Gobi or the semi-Gobi (we're going west from UB, not south where the real Gobi is) is an interesting and different experience. The "main road" is just a joke with any Western or even South-East Asia standards - it's rarely a sealed road and the parts where it's actually sealed the driver usually drives beside the road anyway - the desert or the grassy plains is far less bumpy than the actual road. Most of the time though we are just going on small paths or just straight through the fields and the desert where no visible roads or tracks are to be seen. It's fascinating to see how the driver handles these kinds of "roads" and especially to see how he navigates - he uses the landscape and the horizon to navigate and to know exactly which dirt track to take the next turn on he counts the bumps! He is an awesome driver - the best I've ever seen or traveled with by far!

The landscape is just amazing - immense stretches of desert, sometimes just sand, but most of the time dry grass or a mix of stones, sand and grass. At times the terrain is extremely flat and at times we're surrounded by rolling hills or in the middle of a big canyon. It's easy to understand how the Mongolians can have 39 different words for desert - there are just so many different kinds of deserts here! We've also seen small patches of forest, now dried out and ghostly pale and grey, but in summertime surely a beautiful addition to the green fields. Apart from desert, we've also seen an interesting volcano, the lava fields surrounding it, a great frozen lake, some biggers forests and even more hilly landscapes.

On of the nights of the trip we were staying in a tourist ger inside the old capital, which is like a small camping with gers and we had our own where we could eat, sleep and so on. Another night we slept in a cafe in a small town (20+ houses) together with the family owning the cafe. All the other nights we've been sleeping in gers with local nomadic families that our driver knows or at least knows about. The setup is usually that we pay a small sum of money for the accomodation and an ever smaller sum of money for the food and then we stay together with the family. Usually we pay like US$3 for the accomodation and around $1 for each meal.

The first night we were staying with an old couple in their spare ger - usually used by the young ones in the family. We came there late in the night, around 9 pm, through the desert which was very dark and bouncy and without a single road or dirt track to follow. After a late dinner, and loads of their very special tea (salted and with added milk during the cooking - really good) we went to sleep. Waking up in the morning was an experience and first then I really realized we were in the Mongolian countryside. I was the first one up and stepping outside in the early morning sun into a vast desert, scattered with beautiful rocky hills was a real surprise - we didn't see any of the landscape when we arrived to the ger. Since I was up so early I got to see the family separating the old sheeps going for grassy fields far away from the young ones staying in the safety of the ger and their "farm buildings". It was really interesting to see, perhaps not per se - I've seen sheeps being herded before, but because landscape and the surroundings were astounding and they all had their traditional Mongolians clothes on it was a wonderful sight. In the morning we also had some time to play with the three small girls of the family and also with some of the cutest small lambs and goats I've ever seen. Just wonderful! The breakfast consisted of the tea with milk and salt and rice-porridge mixed with sheep-yoghurt - it was surprisingly good. At first it was kind of sour, but the more you ate the sweeter it became - yummie!

When we arrived to the lake on the third day (second night was in the cafe in the small town), it turned out that the ger camp that we had planned to stay in was still closed - not enough tourists. Instead the driver took us to a family he knew who lived nearby. So for two nights we were staying with this family and that experience was even stronger than staying with the first family, mainly because we were sleeping in their main ger together with the rest of the family. So I found myself playing chess on the floor of a beautifully decorated ger together with one of the locals and after this going to bed on the floor with just a few blankets covering me. The five of us slept on the floor, while the couple (the woman being pregnant - probably sixth month or so) slept in the only bed in the ger. In one corner they had some goats in the ger as well - they were to young to stay outside in the cold. Every now and then the family would bring in three fully grown goats to feed the small ones - a wonderful and somewhat surprising view!

The biggest cultural experience of the tour and probably the whole trip was falling asleep on the floor of this ger, with the sounds of the crackling fire in the stove, Ferry and Markus playing cards with the two brothers of the family and the couple making love in the bed just two meters away from us. I guess you're not very shy about those things when you've been sharing a ger with your family and relatives your whole life. Waking up to the sounds of hungry small goats hearing their mom outside of the ger was equally interesting - I never thought those small creatures could produce noise that loud!

The last days of the trip was spent seeing the surroundings around the lake, we had a full day of just hiking around by foot to the volcano close by and not doing any jeep traveling. That was also awesome, it was interesting to see the lava landscape surrounding the volcano. I kind of felt like Frodo and Sam walking closer to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring - I even got a great Frodo-picture of Will with his unruly hair and big confused eyes! :D

The last day of the tour we stopped in a national park where they had a large number of wild horses. We got to see a introductory video, a museum and of course - the wild horses! This place has supposedly the largest number of wild horses in the world and we got to see some of them at least. We couldn't go really close, but it was an awesome view to see the wild horses running around and just eating grass in the wonderful and vast landscape!

Now I'll go to dinner at a local restaurant or something like that - perhaps we can catch some locals singing their special throat-singing? Tonight or tomorrow I'll try to upload all the pictures from the trip - until then you'll have to do with my descriptions of the wonderful landscape!


Change of plans

As it turns out the Russian embassy were not the most friendly place I've been in. The visa rules are so hard and so strict - to get a Russian tourist visa I would have to pay almost $500 in total for the visa, an invitation from a travel agency and the train tickets to Moscow from here. That amount of money is simply not possible for me, so I decided on the less expensive transit visa. This however means that I'm not allowed to make any stops in Russia, just take the train to Moscow and then I have to leave within 24 hours. So now I've booked all my tickets and the plane home from Moscow. I leave Ulaan-Baatar on Friday, April 13, and arrive in Moscow on the 17th. I fly home on the 18th, landing in Stockholm in the afternoon around three.

This leaves me a lot of time in Mongolia though, so today I'm leaving on a tour of western Mongolia and the Gobi for seven days. I'll be back on Wednesday, so until then - don't expect to hear anything from me. There is bound to be no internet in the places we go, probably no mobile network and probably not even showers. Toilets is not a problem though - the desert is big enough for all of us they say! :)

Uploading the pictures from Mongolia now, check them out! More pictures and comments to the pictures will come when I'm back from the tour on Wednesday!


Start of Trans-Mongolian

The beginning of my trip along the trans-Mongolian railway couldn't be better - it's an adventure waiting at every corner and I love being back on the road. Traveling in China was great, but started feeling predictable, easy-going and sometimes it felt like going between places you already knew - partly because I visited friends along the way. Not in a bad way though, but unpredictable things happen now and I love it.

The hostel in Beijing gave me the name of a long-distance bus station where there would be a bus leaving for the border town Erenhot. They told me to go there early to be sure to get a ticket. The fact that the border town has like four different names, at least, doesn't make it easier though (I've seen Erenhot, Erlian, Erlianhot, Ereen and perhaps something more?). Well at the bus station it turns out that I can't buy the ticket in the ticket office, but have to buy it from the bus driver. They don't know which bus it is or when the driver will be there, so I walk around and ask people (I'm really happy for the note I got from the hostel in Chinese at this time). When I found the bus and one hour later the driver as well, he tells me the bus is full, but he sells me a ticket for another bus that will leave at the same time from the same place. He don't know when it will be on the bus station though, but probably in the afternoon sometime. That means I have to either carry my backpack for the full day (it's around noon when I get the ticket) or wait until the bus gets there, dump my backpack and then go for some food. I chose the last one, deciding to sleep in the warm and nice spring sun for a couple of hours and do some reading about Mongolia. As it turns out the bus is not there until five minutes before departure, leaving me to wait at the bus station for five-six hours. Didn't seem that long though - the spring sun was just lovely!

On the bus I got a upper-middle bunk in the back of the bus which meant that if I turned around in the bed I had a great panoramic view through the rear window. The bus takes about 12 hours, arriving in the border town at 4:30 am. It takes me through vast landscapes of grassy planes, stretching away far in the distance. After passing some mountains and the Great Wall in the sunset, the only features of the landscape might be a building far off on the horizon and the other cars, buses and trucks on the road. Other from that it's just flat, grassy and a perfectly blue and huge sky. After the beautiful sunset, the landscape is still lit by a strong full moon and lots of stars, leaving the world in dusk-like state. When the grassy fields start being frosty or snow-covered, the whole landscape gains an eerie, ghostly look - everything has a pale white color and glows in the dark. It is just beautiful and makes your thoughts wander freely around subjects rarely touched and memories long forgotten.

At half four the bus suddenly stops and we are appearently at our final destination. Now things get hectic and before I understand what's happening (or before I even know whether I'm at the right town) I'm stuffed in a minivan together with two Chinese drivers who just nod when I say Mongolia, Uud-Zadum (which is the border town on the Mongolian side) and they don't seem to understand a single word of English. They end up dropping me at a hotel and tell me to sleep a couple of hours before taking the train to Mongolia at eight or so. The train supposedly leaves from the building just across the street, a building that certainly looks like a train station. I pay 20 yuan for the cab and the hotel and end up sleeping in a waiting room of some sort - luxurious sofas, a huge TV and a bar and by putting to sofas together I get a real nice bed for some hours.

When I wake up in the morning at 7am I first go to the "train station" which turns out to be a big market - no trains or tickets, but loads of shoes and bags. Surprised, confused and a bit lost (still don't know if I'm in the right town) I walk out onto the pavement again. From there things happen too quickly again, I get picked up by a minivan who says he can take me across the border, he drives for one minute, drops me off to another van and I find myself in a minivan with five Mongolians in my age and an older Russian man. The Mongolians turn out to be students returning home from Beijing. Together we all cross the border without any big hassles and two of the Mongolians help me a sleeper ticket for the train to Ulaan-Baatar even though it's "sold out" - the brother of the girl works in this town and has some contacts obviously.

Another 7 hours to kill is ahead before the train leaves, so we end up playing ping-pong, snooker, 8-ball at a snooker table, juggle, play cards, eat and just talk a lot. Talking is the most fun and interesting part of course - especially because we have some troubles communicating. Only two of the Mongolians are confident enough about their English to actually talk to me in English, while the other ones do understand parts of what I say, but won't answer me directly. The Mongolians that speak English have very basic English. The Russian guy speaks Russian and Mongolian, but also German. So he end up interpreting some of their Mongolian to German for me, which I don't speak but understand enough to make sense of what they are saying. The Mongolians all study Italian also, so we do a fair bit of talking in Italian/Spanish which we all understand and speak a very little bit of. Since they study in China they also now some Chinese, so we do some of the conversation in Chinese. The conversations thus end up being a lovely mix of English, Mongolian, Russian, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese and some Swedish which they seem eager to learn some words in. The interesting thing is that it really worked out well!

The Mongolian border town is really a desert town - all flat and sand everywhere (outside town, on the road, in between all the buildings, inside the buildings, in the wind when it blows, inside my cloths and so on..). After boarding the train it takes me straight through the sandy parts of the Gobi (which is actually only about 3% of the desert, the rest is stones, dry grass and steppes and the like). Of course I take photos through the window, but they are not even close to capturing the vastness of the sand dunes that just disappear far behind the horizon.

After traveling through the Gobi for 16 hours, most of the part being just sand, rocks and sometimes dry grass, I get a good feeling for how huge the desert is. We've now come into areas where there are some hills and the ground is occasionally partially snow-covered or frosty. The only signs of life I see throughout the whole trip through the Gobi is the occasional train station (every third hour or so and these are a sight in themselves - a train station in the middle of nothing and not a single person or building as far as the eye can see in all directions, and still people get off here...) and some hoards of wild horses, some groups of domesticated horses with their shepherd and some yaks.

Now I've found my guesthouse in Ulaan-Baatar - a ger (which is the type of tents the nomads use in the desert) set on the top of a building in the outskirts of UB and overlooking the market and the town. I've seen some sights in UB and met a Mongolian girl in a temple who had a day off from work and showed me the town. Now I'm heading out for dinner and perhaps some pool later. Tomorrow I'm looking at a full day at fighting for getting a Russian visa - they are really messy about this. Travel plans, all tickets, visa for next country, health insurance details and payment in US$ just to get a transit-visa. Wish me good luck!


Great Wall

"A man is not a true man if he have not walked the Great Wall" - Mao Zedong

Perhaps one of the few statements of the great chairman that I truly agree with (not that I know many statements from him, but anyway). Seeing, walking on and climbing the Great Wall was a awesome experience! I did a day trip from Beijing to a far-off portion of the wall. We started at Jinshanling which is about 4 hours bus from Beijing. This part of the wall has not been repaired at all, leaving it in a crumbled state with lots of the genuine bricks and watchtowers to see! Some parts have been a bit renovated to allow for passage, but most of it was "the real thing". From there we hiked along the wall to Simatai which is equally impressive but a bit more renovated. Both these places is the steepest parts of the wall, which meant we sometimes had to climb with both feet and hands to get up or down.

The weather was just perfect for seeing the Great Wall. The sky was blue with only one of two clouds sweaping by and the weather was nice, although a wind kept us cool while climbing the steepest parts. It was just awesome and the weather was clear enough for us to see the Great Wall disappear in the distance faaaar off!

The hike from Jinshanling to Simatai was 10 km and it took us close to four hours to complete. It was really nice that I chose to do this hike - it gave me loads of time to see the wall, to take pictures and just saviour the experience! We were in a small tour group of about 16 people, but after 20 minutes we lost them all and it was just me, an Irish girl, a kiwi and two Americans who were walking on the wall more or less. Occasionally we would see someone from the group in the distance or meet some other tourists, but basically we were all by ourselves on the wall! It was just awesome, compared to photos I've seen from parts of the wall closer to Beijing where they stand in line to get photos, the wall is newly renovated and looks like any brick building and they have to get past immense amounts of gawkers, street stalls and vendors. We had two locals following us for a while to sell post cards, water or t-shirts - but they acted more like guides telling us about the towers, the views and everything like that instead of trying to sell stuff.

All in all the trip was just awesome. It really felt like walking a piece of history and the greatness of the wall is just immense. It's hard to imagine how big it is until you actually stand there on the top of the highest watchtower and see the wall disappearing away in the distance, miles and miles away. Just incredible!

Also uploaded pictures from this trip so check out the Great Wall in my pictures! :)

Right now I'm trying to get into Mongolia as soon as possible. It seems that the TransMongolian train only leaves on Saturdays since it's not summer, so that is too long from now (I don't want to spend another week in Beijing and my Chinese visa is running out and I don't want to extend it either). The other options is train to the border and then another local train in Mongolia, but they don't seem to leave right now either. The third option was to catch a daily bus taking me across the border and then onto the local traion - but the guy booking those trips were in Mongolia right now and couldn't arrange that. The fourth option is to try to get a bus to the border town and from there figure out what to do. That is what I will do - today I try to get tickets for the bus (it supposedly leaves at 4 pm and they start selling the tickets at 1:30 - I'm ready for an immense fight with the Chinese and the Mongolians about the tickets). From there I figure I just take a minivan across the border and then I at least don't have to worry about my visa running out. From the border town on the Mongolian side there is trains leaving every day and if I can't get one there you could always hitchhike. Hitchhiking in Mongolian seems to be the way to get around if there aren't any trains - there are no buses and very little public transport in general so most Mongolians hitchhike with trucks to get around in the country. Might be an experience even though I would prefer the train to Ulan-Bataar. I'll keep everyone updated about why whereabouts - hopefully I'll be in Mongolia and Ulan-Bataar the next time I write here.

And oh yeah - yesterday I went to a Chinese nightclub with another Swede I met at the hostel. It was an interesting experience - it's like taken directly from the movies. The music was soo loud - my ears are still ringing. The place was just a big dance floor and the bar - and it was all so modern. Three DJs were playing a good mix of neverending dance beats and the whole wall was a huge TV screen blasting lights and blinking behind them, the other walls were covered with huge TV screens showing different music videos, the bar were juggling with bottles, serving the drinks were they set the whole bar desk on fire and pouring burning alcohol over a pyramid of glasses into the glasses of people buying the drinks, a small firework in the middle of the bar, crazy Chinese people dancing on the bar, on elevated squares along the wall and rich Chinese businessmen sitting in the VIP booths drinking whiskey and champagne. It was just crazy - definetely a new side of China! The drink of choice for most expats and Chinese seems to be to order a bottle of whiskey which comes with free amounts of tea to mix it with - a really nice mix that works well actually! What you do when you're not dancing is to play a interesting dice game - to talk is impossible which means playing is a nice way to make some time pass - all you need to know is the hand signals. I joined some groups and played with them for a while - great fun!


Beijing and pictures!

Now I'm in Beijing. The train took 14 hours which was a bit too much on a hard seat where you could hardly sleep. But it wasn't that bad! So far in Beijing I haven't done much. First day went to finding my way to the guesthouse, finding out that both the Mongolian and Russian embassy were already closed and from there just strolling around town. I found a reaaally nice park. Met a Russian girl in a cafe in the park and we ended up spending the rest of the day together. We didn't do that much though - just went around trying different cafes and later on bars. Played some pool and went to a night club in the evening. Nice place but not that special really.

Today I've fixed my Mongolian visa. I will pick it up att 3 pm, but I'm beginning to realize that these visas will ruin me! Since I'm kind of in a hurry I have to pay a lot for express visas, probably around 1500 SEK/yuan for both the Mongolian and Russian visa. Will get the Russian tomorrow I hope. Then I have the time to actually see Beijing, do some sightseeing, go to the Great Wall and get a train ticket to Ulaan-Bataar. Plan is to don't stay that long in Beijing - I'm curious about Mongolia now!

And yeah - I finally managed to upload all the pictures from Chengdu, Xi'An, Shanghai and Beijing - so now there's probably a few hundred pictures awaiting the interested in a new album! Haven't written comments to all of them yet - will do that ASAP.


Sightseeing in and around Shanghai

Yesterday I had a nice day trip to West Lake (Xihu, Xiwu or something like that - learning a word is easy, remembering it is hard...). I went to the bus station where I successfully got a ticket to Hangzhou, which is a small city outside of Beijing and right next to the lake. It is always interesting to buy tickets by yourself - you have to get through the crowd in front of the office (no, there is no real queue, just a crowd surging in the same direction), pronounce the city name correct or show them the characters and then understand when the bus leaves, from where and how much you're supposed to pay. And of course they don't speak English.

Anyway, after a semi-long bus ride to Hangzhou I firstly went by local bus to the train station, bought a train ticket back (same procedure - use your elbows, try to communicate and then try to pay). After that I got a taxi down to the lake. The weather wasn't that good - it was raining slightly. I didn't mind though. The lake was beautiful and it was still warm enough to walk around in a hoodie. It was easy to see that Hangzhou was a smaller city - not on the buildings (many skysrapers, I would guess the city is only slightly smaller than Stockholm), but on the people were soooo fascinated with me. They couldn't have many "whities" living in that city and most tourists were Chinese (I did see two girls that could have been from Turkey and an old man from Poland or something like that, but that's the only Westerners I saw). The local people would be in groups and when one saw me they would whisper something and then the whole group would "accidently turn around" to see me - very subtle indeed! :) But I guess I was a bit of a sight - apart from being tall and white, I was also only wearing t=shirt and hoodie and looking really happy in the middle of the rain when everyone else was hiding under umbrellas and looking miserable. I like the quote from the book saying that "Physical discomfort is only a problem if you're in a bad mood" and for some reason I was in a really good mood this day.

After a long walk around the lake I saw bits of the city (could have been Shanghai really - skyscrapers, large banks, McDonalds and all the large chains) before taking a cab to the train station to catch the train back. In the evening me and Ashley went to dinner at an Italian pasta-place - not so genuinely Chinese and perhaps not the cheapest place to eat in town, but definetly worth every yuan! Yum! Had a delicious lasagne with spinach and goat cheese and two glasses of really good wine as well! Panna cotta finished of the meal nicely! :)

Today I've done some more "queueing" in Shanghai - to get my train ticket to Beijing. I'm leaving this afternoon, on hard seats for an overnight train that takes 14 hours (give or take a few hours). This one was a real challenge, it took me like half an hour to find the ticket office for a start. They had really nice huge signs showing the way in English - almost all the way. Suddenly the signs just disappear and you're left wandering around the block trying to find a huge crowd of people inside something that could be a ticket office. After finding it I had to stand in line for like one hour, which was actually good since I got the chance to learn how to read the large electronic board showing all departures the next ten days. First I found out how to spell Beijing in Chinese characters (the board is of course only in Chinese), then how to read out which date was actually showing, then doing it at the same time at high speed (the departures - 20 at a time, would only show for five seconds or so), then I found out how to read out hard seat, hard sleeper, soft seat and soft sleeper in Chinese and then how to see whether they were available at a given departure and whether they were sold out or not... Doing all this took me more or less the full hour and from there on I just practiced for myself how to actually order the hard seats for the departure I had choosen. It turned out to work like a charm - she didn't have to use the limited English she actually knew and the tickets were only 175 yuan - much less than bus or hard sleeper would have been.

The rest of the day i've been walking around in shanghai, seeing the Bund again (this time in better weather), seeing the old town and other parts of the town which I guess doesn't really have a name.

Still haven't uploaded pictures - there are loads to come from Xi'An, Shanghai, Hangzhou and so on. In Beijing I'm sure I'll find a great place to upload them - this cafe doesn't really cut it.


Partying in Shanghai and seeing the acrobats

The birthday party for Dan (a friend and colleague of Ashley) o Saturday night turned out to be just perfect. We started off by going to an "all you can eat and drink" Indian restaurant where you pay 80 yuan for an Indian buffet (which was delicious) and free beer. A nice way to start the evening, and after a while more than 25 people turned up. Great to meet the friends of Ashley - they were all so friendly (most of them were English teacher but also the occasional Japanese teacher and one or two locals). From there we went to a bar called Windows Temple or something like that which might have been one of the best bars I've been to. They played good music, there was a dance floor, the music wasn't too loud so you could actually sit down and talk without a problem, there was a (good) pool table where you could play some pool to catch your breath after dancing, the drinks were only 10 yuan each and most importantly - they were showing some snooker games on TV! Got to see the game between Hendry and O'Sullivan and then a game with Hendry and Ding Junhui if I recall it correctly. I was just stunned - didn't realize I missed snooker so much! :)

Sunday was great as well. After a nice brunch me and Dan strolled along the famous Nanjing Road down to the riverside street known as the Bund. Ashley went back to sleep a bit more, so we had a few hours of just walking around town, seeing some great views (view over Renmin Square from a hotel reception on the 38th floor), drinking some coffee at Starbucks, seeing the "old Shanghai" at the Bund and being annoyed with the smog and the fog that made photographing close to impossible.

Had dinner with Ashley at a Chinese pizza place, cheap, good pizzas and they actually had enus in English which helped a bit. Peas on a pizza isn't that bad actually! From there we went to the circus where we saw a show called the Intersection of Time. It was just awesome - two hours of pure astonishment! The acrobats were just amazing, all the tricks, flips and other stuff they did was great and it was all nicely mixed with live music - a mix of modern beats and traditional music, some nice light shows, intereesting use of lights and shadows to empasize on different parts of the show and a neverending stream of great performances. The romantic side of me was mostly impressed with the part were a guy and a girl were swinging about in "silk curtains" - it was just beautiful! The technology side of me was much impressed with eight motobikes inside a small "steel ball" - driving around in crazy speed and patterns in a space so small that only one driver at a time could be "on the bottom" of the baal! Amazing! Other numbers included juggling with ming-wases, doing crazy flips through rings (seemed like great fun), doing triple flips with some twists up to the top of four people on top of each other shoulders and much more that I can't even put words to. Wow! No photos were allowed though - so you will just have to trust me that it was all extremely interesting, amazing, great, beautiful and a handful of other superlatives!

Today I'm plaaning to do a day trip to the West Lake, so I will write more about that later I suppose. Pictures will be uploaded as soon as I get to a real computer (i.e. not a Mac)!



So, my first day of actual sightseeing in Shanghai. Yesterday night we went to a Shanghainese restaurant and had some great food together with Ashley's sister, her boyfriend and some of their friends. It was great, the food was just awesome and the company was good. The only not-so-good part was the baiyou (spelling?) which is rice-wine. Extremely potent and with a taste that would haunt you through the rest of the evening, night and early morning. From there we went to a bar with some of Ashley's friends. It was nice - chillin', talking and playing some dart. All in all a nice and not to extreme night out.

Today we've been to the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum which has a great model of the whole town and we've seen some parts of the town as well. Now we're going to a birthday dinner for one of Boston's friends. Will be writing more tomorrow I reckon.


Xi'An and Shanghai

Having your own personal Chinese guide in Xi'An turned out to be just awesome - especially since she knew sooo much about Chinese history. We had a really good time together in Xi'An - seeing loads of historical things, exploring town a bit and one day on Hua Shan - a great mountain close to Xi'An.

The first day in Xi'An (not including the day we got there) we went on a tour to see the Terracotta warriors, the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, a new museum in Xi'An showing some of the history about Buddhism getting into China and Huaqing Pool. It was a great day - really interesting. The terracotta warriors were so impressing - it's hard to imagine someone building sooo many warriors and so long time ago. And they're still excavating the site - finding moe and more warriors all the time. Impressive! We also got to see the farmer who originally found the first terracotta warriors when he was digging a well - he was at the museum this day. The other places were less impressive, the tomb was huge, but since they hadn't opened it (lots of traps inside, they don't want to hurt anything, etc...) there wasn't really much to see except for a hill, some nice gardens and a hazy view over the landscape. The pool was a bit more interesting, especially since Xiao Hui (Helens Chinese name) knew a lot about the history and told us a great tale about the emperor and his favourite concubine.

The second day we spent going to Hua Shan - a mountain area close to Xi'An. That was just crazy! We came there quite late, so we ended up taking the cable car to the North Peak. From there you walked along the ridge to the next peak, so it was great views, cliffsides with hundreds of meters fall on both sides and small stone buildings that used to be temples up here. Impressive views, it was a shame that we didn't have time to see the whole area. Got some great photos from here which will be uploaded shortly. We also saw a man carrying a freezer on his back to the top. That was a real eye-opener, Xiao Hui talked to him and he had been carrying that 20 kh freezer from early morning and we saw him in the afternoon. Guess what he was payed for carrying 20 kg up the mountain which would take him more than a full day? 20 yuan!!! (Equivalent to 20 SEK or not even US$3). Insane!

The third day we did some more sightseeing in Xi'An (the Big Goose Pagoda), but most importantly we went to Haegen Dazs for some really nice ice-cream! That was just great, I've been missing good coffee and great ice-cream! Then I caught the 20 hour bus to Shanghai, which turned out be not as bad as I thought, only 24 hours long, only one accident (where we avoided coliding into the two buses standing still on the highway because of the dense mist with a few inches and instead just bumped into the side fence - leaving a small scratch on the bus and then standing still for three hours) and a bed that was just slightly too small to be comfortable.

So now I'm in Changhai - staying at Ashley's place. I will write more about Shanghai later when I've been here for a couple of days. Pictures will be uploaded later!


Songpan, Chengdu and Xi'An

Oy. Once again a long time since I wrote anything. And this time I don't really have the time to write that much, so I'll probably just write a short notice of what I'm doing and what happened the last couple of days.

Songpan and horseback riding was great! I started my birthday with a real birthday cake which I bought in the bakery and then it was picked up in the morning by Emma, the owner of Emma's Kitchen which was the restaurant I ate in a few times. She was sooo friendly and spoke great English. They would even sing for me in the morning, that was awesome!

After having the birthday breakfast I was off to do the horseback trekking. The group turned out to be me, two Chinese guys and two Chinese girls and then of course the five Chinese guides. A good chance to practice some Mandarin! :) We all got our horses, they turned out to be kind of small horses which was good. And the saddle wasn't really like a normal saddle - we used normal saddles but on top of them were a lot of blankets and sleeping bags and stuff we would need for the night - so in the end the "seat" was really comfortable. People told me that I would be really sore after two days of riding, but it turned out that the horses was only slightly more bumpy than the local buses and the seats was much more soft! No worries at all!

The riding experience was perhaps not great - we mostly were riding slowly in walking speed because the path would be so steep. That wasn't a problem though - the views were sooo amazing that you really didn't have time to think about the riding. Songpan is a town on approximately 2700 meters altitude and from there we went straight up to 3500 meter. That is a great climb and even sitting on a horse I got tired. When we had to walk for more than an hour to get down the tricky parts where the horses couldn't carry us, I got really tired. Anyway, the mountain views were just fantastic. It can't really be described and all the pictures in the world can't really capture the greatness of being on a mountain top in an area looking like Grand Canyon, looking out over the mountain tops, the city in a valley far below and in the distance huge snow covered mountain peaks - everything under a clear blue sky and a shining sun! Look at the pictures to get a feeling of what I saw and then go there to see it for yourselves - a place like that has to be experienced!

Around lunch time we got to the place where we would spend the night - a small cottage close to an area with beautiful lakes. The name of the area was something like Erdao-something, which meant Two Line Lakes or something. The area was bascially a really nice forest area with beautiful lakes. Unfortunately the lakes were not really filled with much water, but it was still beautiful - especially with all the snow still on the ground and everything. We had a great snowball fight through most of our walk around the area which made us all very tired.

The night we spent on the floor of a small house without heating, but with all the cloth on, a sleeping bag and two blankets it wasn't that cold actually. After sleeping a lot that night and having a great breakfast I felt really good again - the first day was kind of rough with the altitude, the cold and too little sleep the last couple of nights. The second day took us back by horseback to Songpan again. It was a different route so there were loads of new sights, nice villages and more mountains. The weather wasn't as good though - a bit overcast, windy and cold. But it wasn't that bad - all in all it was a nice day as well. In the afternoon the sun came back and we had to take off hats, gloves, jackets and so on.

When we got back to the town it was only 1 pm or so, so we decided to go for another adventure - we hired a car with a driver to take us to a nice mountain one hour away. I'm really happy I followed the Chinese group going there, it was sooo beautiful. The mountain was about 4200 meters above sea level, so here you could really feel the air becoming thin and it being harder to do anything. We stopped on the way to watch the view - it was just amazing. It felt like being on the top of the world - especially with clouds blowing past under you! Look at the photos - hard to capture but truly wonderful experience!

On the mountain we made an 8 km trek - 4 km up to the five-colored pool and some temples, and then back down again. Going up took us like 2-3 hours and we had to stop quite often to catch our breath and then even more often to take photos. There were loads to see - frozen lakes, waterfalls, mountain views, temples etc. Look at the pictures I've uploaded (Songpan has a album of its own btw).

We barely made it down from the mountain to the waiting car before nightfall, it was already starting to get dark when we got down. It was cold, it was snowing and the driver was afraid of driving. He didn't know how to handle snow and his car in that weather so I had to show him some tricks from Sweden (like how to get rid of fog on the windscreen), but he still only kept a speed of 20-30 km/h. It took us more than three hours to get home... :)

Friday I spent on the bus back to Chengdu, then let myself into Eoin and Megans apartment and waited for them to get back from work. From there we went for a nice dinner with Helen and then went back and watched some movies. I got to see Happy Feet again - yey! :) Saturday was St Patricks Day, so it of course had to be celebrated. First we played rugby for a couple of hours with a lot of expats and other Westerners in Chengdu, that was great! Had a really good time and got to meet a lot of interesting people living in Chengdu. After the rugby we went for a good massage and then chilled in their apartment before it was time to go partying at Shamrock Bar, watch some rugby on tv and play some pool. All in all it turned out to be a really nice party evening.

On Sunday me and Helen took the plane to Xi'An (flying was the only option - train tickets were sold out...). Helen had been thinking about going to Xi'An for a while, so we decided to go together. It's great - I have a private guide now that actually speaks the language (and of course great English). So now we're in Xi'An. We found a great youth hostel out of accident. We were looking for another one mentioned in the guidebook, but we stumbled upon this one instead. It's awesome! It's newly built (they haven't officially opened it yet - one week left), it's built in a traditional old style and has like small bonsai trees and everything. And best of all - a free pool table! It's cheap, it's close to all the great sights in central Xi'An and it's just around the corner from the bar street. Awesome! And yes, of course, we thought the double room was a bit expensive so we went for the dormitory instead, but the reception promised us to let us have those four beds for ourselves for three nights. Strange, but very nice of them! :)

Anyways, gotta go now, tomorrow it's terracotta warriors and other sights in Xi'An and from there we'll see what we'll do. The plan is to stay here until Wednesday and then take the bus to Shanghai.


Emei Shan and Songpan

After writing the last blog I spent the day sightseeing in Chengdu as planned. I started by walking around by myself - finding lovely small alleys, a school with children playing and some nice street stalls selling food for less than 1 yuan per piece. After this I went to the Wenshu Temple, a big temple area in the center of the town. That was nice to see and a really nice prequel to Emei Shan the following day.

Wenshu temple has a lot of visitors, so it felt a bit touristy. As always it wasn't that many foreigners though, mostly Chinese tourists. The temple itself wasn't that impressing (see pictures), but the surrounding garden with small pagodas spread out and the great library behind the temple was awesome! The library was three storeys high and looked like a great mansion taken straight out from Chinese history.

After the temple I went back to the guesthouse where I met up with Rachel to go to the opera. Nikki didn't feel like paying 90 yuan for the opera, so it was just me and Rachel. The opera turned out to be a mix of traditional Chinese entertainment on weekends, so we saw a mix of different things. There were some parts with classical Chinese opera, but also acrobatics, juggling with large Ming-vases and a table, shadow puppets show and some theatre with changing masks. The changing masks were great - they would have really nice dresses and a mask covering their face. And the masks changed - when they turned around they would have a new mask showing a new kind of person/thing. Very interesting!

The day after the opera the three of us decided to go separate ways. Or rather - same way but by different means. The girls wanted to hitchhike to Emei Shan and spend the night there, where as I wanted to just go there for a day trip. So after a nice breakfast the "party crew" split up and I went to the bus station to get a ticket for Bauguo Village, which is just on the bottom of Emei Shan (Emei Mountain). Sad to leave them, but also nice to travel by myself for a while. I guess I will meet them later, if nothing else back in England or Holland!

Emei Shan was a great experience. The bus ride there took two hours and it took me through some small and heavily industraialized towns (which was interesting to see) but mostly seemingly endless fields of "raps" (the Swedish word- not sure about the English word for the yellow stuff you use to make vegetable oil from). Bauguo Village turned out to be a quite touristy place - felt like coming to a ski-resort in the summer. Although touristy in China means - lots of tourists but no Westerner. I didn't see a single Westerner during the whole day actually - it seems the vast majority of tourists in China, at least in this season, is Chinese or Japanese.

From the village it was a short walk up to the two temples I'd decided to visit. The first one was Bauguo Si, or literally Declare Nation Monastery. It was a newly renovated temple that still kept its charm, although as I already said - a bit touristy. They even had a price list posted for staying in the monastery. And who the fuck wants a color TV when they're visiting a temple and sleeping there, that's beyond me?! The temple itself was built in several levels and you would walk through one temple just to find stairs leading up to the next one. There were monks walking about in the temple grounds and you could always here some chanting from temples or monks walking around. Very spiritual. The temple was surrounded by gardens that were perfectly taken care of, a nice place to spend an hour relaxing, taking in the views and listen to the silence. The views were fantastic, with Emei Shan rising as the backdrop for temples that looked exactly that you would have thought or hoped that they would!

From Bauguo Si I went towards the next temple - Fuhu Si. This literally means Crouching Tiger Monastery or perhaps Crouching Tiger Nunnery since there were only nuns there. To get there you would walk through large parks with lots of planted trees of more than 300 different species - it was just sooo peaceful and beautiful. From the first entrance to Fuhu Si there was a long way of staircases leading through deep rain forest, across streams on wonderful covered wooden bridges and fantastic pagodas. See the pictures from this walk - that was awesome!

Fuhu Si itself wsas also nice - it wasn't as picture perfect as Bauguo Si perhaps, but it felt much more genuine with nuns walking about in their daily routines, not so many tourists and even more quiet. On the top of the temple area there was a large hall filled with one thousand Buddha statues - each one different from the other. Interesting to see, but unfortunately you couldn't take any pictures in there. I also spent half an hour sitting on a terrace and looking out over the roofs of the temple - I just love those typical Chinese roofs!

After walking back to the village I got a bus back to Chengdu, which took me through all those golden fields again - this time during sunset which was beautiful. Well back in Chengdu I picked up my backpack and took a taxi to the apartment where Eoin and Megan is staying. They had invited me to sleep in their new guestroom for one night, which was totally awesome! They are sooo friendly and nice and the apartment is just wicked. They pay less than I would pay for a student flat with one room in Sweden, and they have something like 120 sq meters on the 15th floor - looking out over Chengdu. The flat is really luxurious, the highligts being the view and the panorama windows, the kitchen, the computerized shower and of course - the original Nintendo and the soccer table! We had a great evening together when we didn't do much, we went for food and chilled out in their apartment. Early night for us all - I left at 6 am to be in my guesthouse 6:20 for the pickup that would take me to the bus station and later Songpan.

So now I'm in Songpan. I am still recovering from the shock of the bus ride - just north of Chengdu started a great landscape that took us through deep valleys. It looks somewhat like Grand Canyon, or perhaps the greatest fjords in Norway, with huge mountains on each side of a beautiful lake and with snow still on the top of some mountains. After eight hours on a bus we arrive in Songpan which is a lovely small town (70k inhabitants or so). I'm not sure about the elevation - but you can feel that the sun is really strong and that the air is thinner than usual. No altitude-sickness though - just a bit harder to breath and move around. Along the way we saw some signs that this is indeed on the border to Tibet - except for the views there are the local dresses (reminding of the ones in Vietnam somewhat), the food along the way and of course the yaks lining the side of the road and roaming around in the stony fields.

Tomorrow I will buy myself a great birthday cake for breakfast and then go on my two-day horseback riding tour. I'm really looking forward to it now! Hope that the blue sky and the warmth stay - I really don't feel like riding in cold and rain! My wishes for my birthday (except for a new iPod filled with great music - I'm starved on music after almost three months of traveling) are to have a really memorable time on the tour and perhaps to see some more yaks! They are soo cute! :)


Guilin, Yangshou and Chengdu

Oh. Now it was a long time since I wrote my blog. Some of you might have gotten an e-mail or two about what I've been doing and if you've been checking my pictures you know a bit as well, but I'll try and retell those days a bit here as well.

Ok, so after writing the last blog entry we went for a nice dinner in a Chinese restaurant. It felt a bit like a upper-class place, but the prices were good so we decided to eat there anyway. It was kinda late, so there weren't very many left in the restaurant. After we've ordered rice porridge - the only vegetarian food they could offer a Singaporian guy starts talking to us and he seems especially interested in talking to Rachel. He buys us some beers and then go back to his table and leaves us alone. After a while he gets back though and explains that he's working in Guilin at the moment and that at the other table is the boss and the big-big-boss for his company. They would like Rachel to come over and talk to them, they were appearantly interested in talking to foreigners (but only Rachel). The whole thing seemed kinda dodgy and wrong, but she couldn't really say no (and he was very clear all the time with the fact that they didn't want anything from her, just talk for a while). So she went to the next table and we kept a close eye on them all the time. When she gets back it turns out the big-big-boss is like really owning more or less the whole town and that he wants to give us stuff, especially pearls to Rachel. He wants to give her one tonight and if we call them tomorrow he'd give her many more. Very dodgy indeed, so we leave the place after a few mishaps. We're not sure what he wanted really - most likely someone that could smuggle pearls into England... No, we didn't call them the day after and no - so far no troubles with the mafia... In hindsight it was a interesting experience though...

After having a really nice night at our somewhat dodgy hotel (see the picture "please pull in case of security when you go to bed") we left to Yangshou. We did plan to take the bus to Yangshou, which would have been 10 yuan, but after haggling down the price for a boat ride from 500 yuan to 80 yuan each we took the boat. The boat was really cold, but there we're some really nice views and it was well worth the extra time it took.

The cold is a problem though. Arriving in Yangshou we realized that it was like 6 degrees and raining, which made us spend the evening in the warmest restaurants drinking hot chocolate and eating really good mexican food. I have bought a warm jacket (North Face - good winter jacket with fleece inside) for 250 yuan (less than 230 SEK) and some mittons - so now the cold isn't that big a problem anymore. They told us that one week ago (before the rain came) they had 27 degrees in Yangshou though, so we're still a bit disappointed that we missed out on the nice summer weather.

Yangshou is supposed to have some really good views and it must be amazing when you get here when it's warm enough to do stuff. All the places in town have bikes for rent so you can bike around by yourself, there are loads of tours to caves, peaks and mudbaths - of we ended up doing nothing. We saw a few of the peaks that are actually in the town, but we never went up to them. It simply was too cold! Instead we spent the days wandering around town, trying out more than a couple of bars and cafes and having a good time. At night time we had our dorm room with five beds all by ourselves. The first night it was soo cold and we wanted to watch a movie (you rent a DVD player and then buy a movie for 10 yuan), so we moved together two beds into one large one and just huddled up to keep warm. That was a great idea - warmest nights ever!

Yangshou was great in many ways. It was really nice to see, the town had some charm even though it was a bit too touristy (I'm glad we were there on off-season - otherwise it would have been mad I reckon). But the cold drove us crazy! The last night we did a cooking course which was really nice, we learned how to do pork dumplings, sweet and sour-chicken and ginger, garlic and chili beef. Really good and the lady showing us the things were very nice.

On the next day we took the bus to Guilin which took us one hour and from there we took the bus leading to Chengdu. We had soft-sleepers, which means you have a small bunk (literally to small in all directions - you can't really sit up, I was too tall and my shoulders are too broad to fit in) where you spend all the time. At night they would have the bus dark and quiet, which was really nice, but as soon as they thought it was someone awake they would play loud Chinese karaoke, play some action movies in Chinese or blast away with semi-Western music and videos with gogo-dancers. Very surreal experience... The bus ride was supposed to be 22 hours long, but turned out to be 24 hours, so we came to Chengdu at around 4 pm.

After succeding to find a cab that knew how to get to our hostel (we had the name in Chinese and a map - none which seemed to help very much) we checked into a small dorm (four beds), booked a panda tour for the following day and went out to see town. I mailed some friends that I met in Vang Vieng, Laos, who lives in Chengdu and said that I was here. One hour later or so, just when we were looking for a bar to go to they called and told us about a good bar to start at. After some troubles with finding the place (same things - name and map doesn't seem to help really) we met up with Eoin (pronounced Owen) and Megan and some of their friends. It was a nice bar, full of westerners and expats gathered to see the rugby game between Ireland and Scotland. He told us some interesting facts about Chengdu, for example that there are only like 600 expats in the whole Chengdu, while the population is close to 11 million now. My guidebook says 4.5 million - but that was 3 years ago and it was probably a bit unupdated already then. The cities here grow with immense speed - they say that Beijing went from 7 million to 14 million in less than five years. I can't believe that speed - it's just... unbelievable how a city can grow that much.

Anyways, we had a good night out. We started at this small bar, drinking a bit of beer, playing pool and eating some reaaaaally good pub food (best one I've ever had I think) and after that we went to the Babi Club which is full of Chinese people dancing and partying and we were more or less the only Westerners (together with two Dutch guys who joined us). We decidsed that this was my birthday party - I will probably be somewhere with the monks or on a horseback on my birthday so this was the last chance to party. It was great! Babi Club sold bottles of whiskey really cheap and then you got tea to blend it with. At first I was skeptical, but tea really hides all the wiskey taste more or less. Interesting and a bit dangerous - it was easy to drink a bit too much. After being in Babi Club for quite a while I followed Eoin and Megan to their home together with a few others and we ended up sitting there playing Nintendo (8 bit - the original!) and table soccer the whole night.

At half six I took the cab back to the guesthouse to get on the panda tour with the girls that started at seven. No sleep tonight, but after 24 hours of sleeping and resting on a bus that doesn't feel like a problem really.

The panda tour was great! We went to a zoo/breeding ground for pandas and saw lots of them. They are really beautiful, like teddybears but with something human in them as well. The way they use their hands, the way they look at you and the way they just sit and eat makes them feel very intelligent and ... humanlike in some way. It was really amazing and I've uploaded loads of pictures from this (and the party night as well).

Anyways, now I'm heading for lunch and some sightseeing in town! My plans are a bit blurry right now, but I'll probably be away for a couple of days doing tours around here, so don't expect any updates on the blog. First I'll probably try to go to Emei Shan which is a mountain area nearby where you can do some trekking and sleep in monastaries with the monks. After this I might go on a horse-riding trek for a couple of days in a place that is on the border to Tibet and that people say is more or less like Tibet (but closer). I don't know if I have the time to do both though, so I'm not sure what I'll end up doing...


Guangzhou and Guilin

After doing some Internet in Guangzhou me and Rachel, the Brittish girl, headed back to the guesthouse to catch the others. We ended sitting in the dorm for quite a while, talking and drinking some beer before going for a really nice dinner at a muslim place along the riverside of Guangzhou together with Nikki, Francois from Canada and of course - Gregory (our local tour guide you could say). That was a really nice dinner, we had shitloads of barbequed lamb (you pay like 3 yuan = 3 SEK per stick and five was more than enough per person) and some other kebab-like things. Very nice!

After the dinner we continued along the riverside until we decided to take a cab to one of the bar areas in Guangzhou. This was a small street with a couple of lounge-looking bars, probably run by the mafia for money laundry (or so Greg said at least). After a beer and some talking we went for a small walk in the really expensive neighbourhoods of Guangzhou - large houses for ridicolous prices (really ugly though) with their own guards outside each building.

The following day me, Rach and Nikki spent walking around town and having a great time. We all were going on the night train at night, so we spent the day just walking around without a goal at all. Guangzhou is a beautiful city in many ways - there are lots of small alleys that are just wonderful. There are Chinese old men sitting along the streets more or less everywhere, playing Chinese checkers, go or mahyong (spelling?). It was interesting to watch them play and they almost everytime wanted me to sit down and play with them.

The train trip to Guilin was a nice one as well. The hard sleepers we had was reaaaalle nice - although I'm like 5 cm to tall for the beds and it was a bit cold when we woke up. But it was a nice trip all in all - took 13 hours and from 1 o'clock we slept really well (at least I did - I don't know about the girls really). The first hours we spent in the restaurant carrier, eating our take-away food from KFC, drinking beer, playing cards and generally just having a really good time. These girls are hilarious, it's so easy just to hang out and have a good time with them!

Today we've been walking around in Guilin. First we got a really nice hotel room with three beds. The guidebook says that there are no cheap places to stay - but that's obviously not true during low-season. We met a guy on the street who showed us his hotel. It was a two-star hotel, really nice and clean enough. The room-rates on the wall said 420 yuan for a three-bed room, but after a bit of haggling we got it for 60 yuan. Yes, 20 yuan each! That's less than I paid for the lunch at KFC (yes, we're a bit lazy sometimes)! After checking in, walking around a bit, seeing some nice temples (the temple of the moon and the sun) and eating lunch to get warm we went for the Solitary Beauty Peak which is a 66 meter high pinnacle with a temple on top in the middle of the town. The peak is surrounded by a temple area with temples and other buildings built hundreds or years ago for one of the princes. The three of us had an English-speaking guide showing us around and it was really interesting and amusing at the same time. The cold made it a bit hard to really enjoy the view though - it's less than 10 degrees here right now.

Anyway, now we're heading out for some dinner I think. Perhaps try some snake soup or wild cat - they are supposed to have really strange food in this town!

Also trying to upload pictures now - I hope it's working, so check them out!


Last night in Hong Kong and Guangzhou

So, I finally succeded in leaving Hong Kong. Today I took the bus from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, where I just arrived. The bus trip was great - probably the best I've had so far. The bus had air con, soft seats and more than enough leg space. Crossing the border was no problem, it took like three minutes in total - very effective.

Yesterday was a great day in Hong Kong as well. I had a slow start - sleeping to 11 or so (which I reckon I really needed) and then I showed Aleks (my new German roomie that I literally picked up from the street :) to the great Internet place before I went to lunch with Carey. We went to a Korean restaurant which was really nice - especially the fact that you did the barbequeing by yourself on a small grill in the middle of the table.

After the lunch me and Carey went around in the Wanchai area and she showed me some of the "old areas" of Hong Kong. Those blocks only had like five-seven floors and they all looked really old compared to the brand new office towers surrounding the area. But it was all about to change. The area was officially closed down, so noone was living there and no shops were open - they were about to tear the whole area down within this year to make room for new office buildings and skyscapers. I'm glad I had the chance to see this before it's too late. We bought a Mandarin phrasebook for me which I reckon I will really need here in China - especially when I get to smaller places where noone speaks English. After this we found a building with 66 floors and a rotating restaurant in the top. We didn't want to go to the restaurant, but we figured we could just go up with the "observation elevator" that was on the outside of the tower. I'm really happy we did - that was a great experience - to see the town just disappear under you while you go from floor 17 to floor 59 in less than half a minute. We ended up going up and down two or three times! :)

After this I met up with Aleks again to show her to the Victoria Peak which I saw just two nights earlier. It was really great - we came there just before sunset and saw a amazing sunset over the outskirts of Hong Kong. After this we ate at Burger King (cheap cheap) and then went for the walk around the peak which shouldn't take more than half an hour. If you stop to look at the view and take lots of photos it takes more like one-two hours we found out. Anyway, after this we did some more shopping and sightseeing on the peak before taking the tram back down. When we got down we slowly walked through the town back to the ferry terminal and went more or less directly to our guesthouse when we came to the other side. The plan was to find a Internet place and then get a drink somewhere, but after failing to find it for 15 minutes we went to bed instead - we were both really tired I think. :)

Today I only went to some lunch, did some Internet and then took the bus. Now I've found a great dorm here in Guangzhou on the Shamien Island and in a short while I will go for some dinner. Tomorrow I'm going to Yangshou with a Brittish girl I just met in the hostel - we're taking the same night train, so I'll have the day tomorrow to actually see anything of Guangzhou.

The headache has been gone for two days now, so there shouldn't be any problems. If it comes back I might go to the doctor - the guidebook has a listing of English speaking hospitals in every city. Thanks for all the worried mails - that tells me you are actuallt reading what I write and that you are concerned as well. No worries, I'm fine now!

Also put up more pictures from Hong Kong, be sure not to miss them!


Still in Hong Kong

So, I'm still in Hong Kong. This seems to be one of those places that I really can't leave - I like it here and I haven't even done anything much special. Anyway, just writing a short entry now to tell you that I'm fine, that I've had some more headache but that it has mostly been due to last nights activites (although I still feel the original headache - it's there but it doesn't hurt much at all).

Uploaded lots of pictures from Bangkok and Hong Kong as well, so be sure to check them out! The night views over Hong Kong from the Victoria Peak are fabulous!!!


A new journey begins...

I feel as if one part of my trip is ending and that a completely different journey lies ahead. It's exciting and actually a little bit scary as well. The new journey begins in a really good way, but also in a really bad way.

The good thing is Hong Kong - arriving in Hong Kong felt a bit like coming home to Sweden at first. The weather (it's winter here) is like Swedish summer - approximately 20 degrees and a bit overcast. This means I'm wearing my new hoodies - this is cold for me, compared to the last days in Bangkok with 40 degrees and a blazing sun. The second feeling after arriving in mid-Hong Kong with the bus from the airport was that I've been dropped in the middle of Manhattan. Hong Kong is a whole city looking like the famous Times Square on Manhattan, NY.

The other really good thing with Hong Kong is the two locals showing me around and giving me ideas for what to do. The first one is Carey (Clacke's girlfriend for you at home who knows Clacke). She has showed me two really nice Dim Sum places (really good food - it's like a collection name for different types of dumplings and springroll-ich things). She also gave me some maps and showed me where I could get my Chinese visa, etc. The other local would be Fifi, a Hong Kong-born kiwi and a friend of Kim (the kiwi I travelled with in Laos and Bangkok). Yesterday she took me to the pub area Lan Kwai Fong and a small place called Le Jardin, where Carey met up with us after a while. We had some wine (the first good wine I've had in two months - aaah) and ate some Indian food as well. After Le Jardin me and Fifi continued on to the next party area, Wan Chai (perhaps the correct spelling?), where we started by going to an aussie bar selling Long Island Ice Tea in huge bowls for only HK$100 (roughly 100 SEK). After realizing we couldn't finish it by ourselves we went to "the place to be" - Mes Amis, which was crowded, played good music and we ended up dancing the night away there.

The bad start of the new journey is a terrible headache that I got in Bangkok. It's located just above my right eye, so I suspect there's something wrong with my sinuses or so. The first time I felt it in Bangkok it wasn't that bad and it went away after some hours. Since then it has appeared every day to stay for a couple of hours and then to go away again. When it's there nothing seems to help. I've tried all the stuff you should - drinking loads of water, taking a hot shower, blowing my nose, rinsing the sinuses, eating, sleeping, resting, massage, drinking (not water) and taking painkillers/paracetamol. Today I woke up and the headache was there (no, I was not hungover, we didn't drink that much) and it was terrible! I could barely get out of bed, but I knew I needed water, food and perhaps a pharmacy. I've never felt a strong headache like that - tears just kept running due to the pain and my whole body was slightly trembling. I don't mind the pain that much - I can always block it out, but when it makes me cry and shake it's still hard to do stuff. After buying some painkillers and sitting down on McD for breakfast an old couple asked me if they could help me - I could hardly open the box of painkillers and I must have looked like I was in great pain (which I was). An hour after a double dose of painkillers I realized that they didn't help much, except that my whole body felt a bit numb and that I could actually fall asleep after 30 mins more (despite the still horrible pain). When I woke up the pain was more or less gone, but I reckon should go to the hospital if it returns tonight or tomorrow. Let's just hope it doesn't - that was a horrible experience, especially since I was all by myself and couldn't really get any help from anybody.

Anyway. Except for the headache everything is great and I'm really looking forward to seeing China now. First stop will probably be Guangzhou (spelling probably way wrong), the town formerly known as Canton. I don't know when I'll be going there, but probably tomorrow or the day after.


Bangkok - Hong Kong

Ok, I know - I haven't written that much lately and I don't really have a reason for it, it's not as if they're not hundreds of internet places in Bangkok. Anyway, here we go. The last night with Fra and Kim was really funny. We went back to our hotel room and looked through what we had bought. It was a lot. Shitloads of cloths. I ended up sending home 9 kilosof stuff, which was more or less only cloths. To be a bit more specific I bought 20 t-shirts, 3 hoodies and 2 jeans. And some perfumes. And some other stuff. I love shopping in Bangkok and MBK, I spent less than $150 in total I think, which is good value I must say.

Anyways, back in the hotel room we showed each other everything we bought and then we decided (read: Kim decided) that we all needed face masks and that we should dye my hair. Dark brown it was supposed tobe, but as it turns out I'm really black-haired nowadays. Goodbye sun bleached blonde hair. Noone thinks I'm Swedish anymore though, which is good.

After they left (buhu - no more kiwis...) I thought Iwould be by myself in Bangkok for a couple of nights, but after just one night I met Tina from Germany who I had met in Nha Trang, Vietnam - so we ended up spending the rest of the time in Bangkok together. It was very nice to meet her again, although I was a bit surprised at first to meet her in Bangkok. But then again, the last night I also met the three Israeli girls from Halong Bay and Sapa, so I guess you can never spend a long time in Bangkok without meeting people you know... :)

Bangkok really made a mess of my English. There are so many Swedes there that you here Swedish all the time - no half of my thoughts are in semi-Swedish and thinking in neither Swedish nor English feels natural anymore. When trying to find my way from the map today I found myself thinking "One two tre fyra blocks kvar to go" - confusing.

So. After a nice time in Bangkok with lots of shopping and lots of Indian food, I'm know in Hong Kong. The airline was a bit worried that they wouldn't let me in because I didn't have permission to stay in Hong Kong and I had no exit ticket,but it was no problems at all. Arriving in Hong Kong at night was a great experience, it feels as if someone just dropped me in downtown Manhattan - the city is immense, colorful, modern, loud, bustling and extremely international. I reckon I will have some nice days here - if my budget allows it. I found a nice room for $130 (hongkong dollar - approxiamtely one HK$ on one SEK) - it's expensive but I don't think you can find much cheaper in HK. But the room is great - two beds, aircon, TV, hot shower - I feel liked a spoiled kid at Christmas after all those rat holes in Bangkok and other places. Very nice!

I'll write more tomorrow perhaps, now I have to go to bed. And yeah, also, thanks to Carey for showing me the great Dim Sum place where we had dinner and for giving me lots of great ideas for what to do in HK. See ya tomorrow as well! :)


On my way to China

Okey, now I am on my way to China. More or less at least. From Vang Vieng I decided that I should go to China as soon as possible and to go to China you could either take the plane or the bus from Vientiane. So I went to Vientiane together with Fra and Kim (the two kiwis). Then I really don't know what happend, but I ended up in Bangkok.

To fly from Vientiane to China was possible, but it would mean I had to stay a couple of days in Vientiane which I didn't feel like. And that would only take me to Kunming, which I didn't feel like at the moment. Taking the bus was possible, but it was expensive, would take me to Kunming as well and would take 2-3 days depending on who you asked. Not a good option. So instead I got on the night train to Bangkok from Vientiane together with the two kiwis and now we've spent two days of shopping in Bangkok. I will have to send home a lot of stuff, I've bought t-shirts for at least a year to come and now it's time for some jeans and some hoodies.

New plan is to fly to Hong Kong on Tuesday, which is a bit too late in my opinion but still very good. The price was a bit too high, but still cheaper than going from Vientiane to Kunming.

I'll write more in a day or two and I'll try to upload some pictures from our days in Bangkok. Tonight the kiwis are leaving (going back to New Zealand), so I'm by myself in Bangkok soon. I'll probably do some more shopping and some sightseeing.


Tubing in Vang Vieng

Now I've had two days of tubing in Vang Vieng. The first day when Allison left I had a great breakfast at the Organic Farm Cafe. After that I was by myself and had some plans to go tubing. It took me like two minutes of walking through the town before I met James (the Canadian guy that I stayed with in Luang Prabang) and he was going tubing as well. Turned out to be a big group of people, consisting of me, James (from Canada), the Swiss girl Carol and the Dutch guy Chris (I met both in Luang Prabang as well), Matthew, Luke, Danny and Alan from England and Kim and Fra (aka Kiwi) from New Zeeland. Really nice group of people and we had a great day together.

To go tubing you first get into line at the tubing office. You pay your $3 for the tube (and the tuk-tuk ride upstreams), fill in some forms abou8t security and stuff and then you're off. You get on a tuk-tuk which takes you to the starting point and from there you just get into your tube (a tractor wheel filled with air) and start to float down the river. Floating down the river is not what you do for the whole day though - it's just a way to get from one bar/place to the next. We never made it that far down the river really - we kinda got stuck at the first four bars.

All the bars sell beer Laos (best beer I've ever had I think), serve free lao-lao (Lao whiskey) or sell buckets with lao-lao and mixers. Some bars are just bars where you sit down, chill, drink, enjoy the sun and the music and just meet new people. Most bars have swings where you can swing into the water, courts for playing beach volley, a bonfire or other entertainment. We had a really great time both days - just chilling, playing volleyboll, drinking a bit and meeting loads of new people. The first day we got a new member in the group as well - Ashley, who quickly got the nickname Boston Wu-tang (long story short, she's from Boston and her last name is Wu).

You start early in the day with tubing - around noon for us. It should take like 2 hours just to go down the whole river to the end, and you have to be back at six. We never made it to the end - I think we stopped in the middle at 6 pm both days - taking a tuk-tuk back since it's too cold in the water and you have to return the tube. It was really good fun though!

The nights have been spent in the company of the group as well, having a really great time with loads of fun. It's a bit of a shame though that all bars close before midnight and that there's a curphew for people which means you can't have alcohol in the streets after 11 pm, you can't make any noise or just being outside in the night (going home from the bars is okay - if you do it quietly). The punishment for breaking the curphew is a warning the first time and then you may face up to a couple of years in jail. Not a good idea to push it... :)

My plans for the future is a bit unclear. I'm starting to think that I will spend a couple of days more in Vang Vieng and then try to get to China as fast as possible - probably by taking the plane from Viantiene. I'll see how it turns out.

Also uploaded some more pictures from Luang Prabang and the tubing in Vang Vieng. Enjoy!


Vang Vieng

So now I'm in Vang Vieng - a small town filled with backpackers. Some people compare this town to Khao San Road i Bangkok, which is not a good thing I would guess. Khao San Road is the backpackers area, which is overdeveloped, filled with bars and backpackers and a great way to spend a couple of days in Bangkok without ever seeing anything of Thailand or the Thai culture. I can see why they compare Vang Vieng to this, but I don't agree. Sure there are lots of backpackers. Sure the town is filled with bars showing Friends at large TV's, lots of guesthouses and bungalows offering rooms for $3 and upwards, restaurants letting you choose between Lao, Thai, Indian, Israeli or Western (burgers, pizza (yes, of course they have the happy version as well)) food and internet cafes with brand new computers. But still there's a certain charm to it. It is a relaxed feeling and a feeling of genuine welcoming from the locals. The locals are friendly, helpful, don't try to rip you off and in comparison to Bangkok the surroundings are absolutely breathtaking. I love Vang Vieng so far - and I haven't even done the tubing yet.

Sooo... Vang Vieng is a small town. A really small town. As you now know it's filled with bars, restaurants and guesthouses. The town itself is located in a large valley or perhaps on a plain, but it is surrounded by limestone cliffs - making it look quite a bit like Halong Bay actually. It is soooo beautiful. There is a small river or stream runnning through the city - giving opportunities for kayaking, rafting and ... tubing! The surrounding mountains contain lots of caves which gives the place lots of trekking and hiking possibilites.

The first day me and Allison went to the Blue Lagoon which was a small lagoon outside a cave - 6 km from the town. We spent a couple of hours there just swimming in the lagoon, playing with the swings and just relaxing in one of the huts by the small river. Indian food for dinner and then some drinks in a lovely bar with great music (especially when the open mic got used - there were two great guitar players there that night) and a bonfire to sit by.

Today, which I hope is the second day (which I just realized it can't be since I've had two nights here, so the first day was probably just arriving and going to a bar), I've been doing a hike to the Losi Cave. The plan was to go tubing, but first we wanted to go to the cave. The cave turned out to take a longer time than expected, so I decided to wait with the tubing until tomorrow. So we went to the cave me, Allison and a very nice German girl (whose name I think is Patricia but I wouldn't swear on it). To enter the cave you have to pay a guide to follow you, which is very sensible. The cave was huge. I don't know how deep it was, but we spent more than two hours in there. The cave leads inwards and inwards until you reach a lagoon inside the cave. Me and the German girl went for a swim with the guide while the others (Allison and a German couple) waited a bit away - they were a bit scared and having a bit of troubles with some claustrophobia. It was a great experience to walk around in the cave and also to swim around in it. Especially when the light of the guides flashlight went out while we were swimming - and this was the only light we had at the moment. It was sooooo dark - you couldn't know whether you had your eyes open or not.

Now I'm getting ready for dinner after having relaxed in the sun for a couple of hours. This has been a lovely relaxed, chilled out day - which seems to be the only kind of days you can have in Laos. Tomorrow I'll tell you about the tubing - I don't want you to worry before I've actually done it! :)