Friday, January 29, 2016

Photo Friday: Bangkok Temple

Bangkok, Thailand
December 21, 2015

Friday, January 22, 2016

Photo Friday: Shanghai At Night

Shanghai, China
October 2014

Friday, January 15, 2016

Photo Friday: Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
June 28, 2015

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Sanya, Hainan Island

Ever hear of Sanya, Hainan Island? I know I hadn't before I moved to China just over a year ago. Since, I've heard it referred to as the Hawaii of China. After hearing great things about it, I decided to make use of my Chinese visa and check it out for myself. Frankly, now that I've seen it, I don't think people who call it the "Hawaii of China" have any idea what Hawaii is really like (nor do I, but I can imagine).

As I'm currently traveling for two months and I'm on a budget, I elected to stay at a moderately priced hotel on Sanya Bay rather than the resort area of Yalong Bay.  This is a view from my fourteenth floor hotel room.
Sanya Bay
City View
I truly enjoy living in China, and I was really excited to be back for a few days in between my other Southeast Asia travels.  After spending the past few weeks island hopping in Thailand, I was really looking forward to a few days back in China. Unfortunately, Sanya wasn't exactly what I was expecting. The beach on Sanya Bay is okay, but not great. They water is dirty and the sand has too many shells to really be soft. While I walked along the water's edge many times, I never went any deeper in the water except to splash my feet.

I love walking and exploring a city on foot. So my first full day on Hainan Island, I walked along the beach, then headed into the city center. I started seeing signs for DaDongHai Beach, which I knew was about 3 km away from my hotel, so I walked in that direction. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the sand on this beach, so much that I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging there. 

DaDongHai Beach

DaDongHai Beach
 Being an island, there's plenty of seafood to eat. However, most of the restaurants are not what you'd expect. There is a lot of Bar-B-Que, Chinese food and Western/Chinese food. Western/Chinese food is not western food by the way. It resembles western food, but the taste and quality isn't quite there, and it's really expensive for what you're getting. Living in China, I actually really like Chinese food. Although, I had a hard time finding food in Sanya that I really enjoyed. It was okay, but nothing that left me wanting to come back for more. As sad as it is to say, I ended up eating mostly at American fast food restaurants. Not quite satisfying, especially for five days straight. There are plenty of Chinese restaurants everywhere, but most of them had limited pictures and menus in Chinese characters only. I speak some Chinese and can order food, but China still has a long way to go before they are western tourist friendly.  

On my way home from town late one afternoon, I elected to walk along the beach to my hotel. It was just after 4pm when I arrived at the beach, and I was stunned to see this long trail of garbage lining the water's edge. I know that stuff washes up on the beach from time to time, and it's really not pretty. Sometimes it's dead fish, other times it's garbage from careless boaters. The sight I had was utterly disgusting, worse than anything I'd seen before. And it went all the way along the beach. So many dead fish; that can't be a good sign. 

Is that from a bed?!?!

Beach Clean Up Crew
There was one woman working her way down the beach, raking most of the garbage into her pail. If you can see in the distance, there are still people swimming. 

After that experience, I stuck to the hotel pool. Clean, fun, relaxing.  

Poolside at Shengyi Holiday Villa Hotel

Elevator Selfie
One thing that pleasantly surprised me was the beach scene at night. After dark, most beaches I've visited are deserted. Not here. The local population gathers on the beach at night to relax in the sand, children dig holes and build sandcastles, men fish, and couples stroll along the water. On the sidewalk at the edge of the beach, groups will listen to music and dance. It really is quite special to be a part of.   

Sanya Bay Beach
I had plans to take a taxi over to YaLong Bay my last full day, but as luck would have it, it rained all day. So I spent my time at Starbucks instead. From what I've read, YaLong Bay is supposed to be the nicest resort area. So you might have better luck over there. 

At the end of the day though, Sanya is still in China. Most of the local population doesn't speak English, and those who do have limited skills. So be prepared for that. This goes for taxi drivers, restaurants, shops, hotels, etc. I have (limited) Chinese skills, the option to phone a friend to translate, and experience navigating this country not knowing anything. I feel at home and the language barrier doesn't bother me, but I've met many western tourists that are really put off by that and don't fully enjoy their stay because of it. I'm not saying don't visit, just know what you're getting so you can manage your expectations. The weather I had in January wasn't fantastic. If this week was the only vacation I'd planned for the year, I would be seriously disappointed by the weather. 

I'm an optimist, so while the beach vacation I planned didn't turn out exactly as I expected, I still had a relaxing week in Sanya. And isn't that the most important thing while on vacation? If you have any vacation stories of experiences that didn't turn out quite like you'd hoped, I'd love to hear them!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Pingyao, China

A friend of mine was leaving China for the foreseeable future and wanted to visit as many places as possible before her time here is up. So she proposed a weekend trip to the ancient city of Pingyao. I love history and exploring new places so I was eager for the excuse to discover something new. Pingyao was the old banking center during the Ming and Qing dynasties, but when the Qing dynasty fell and the financial center moved to Shanghai and Hong Kong, Pingyao was abandoned. This ancient city inside the old walls maintains much of its architectural charm as it did centuries ago. Now it is mainly a town for tourists with shops set up all along the main road, including a variety of restaurants and massage outlets. 

Inside the city walls, vehicles are not allowed so everyone travels by foot. The city is very small and you can easily see much of it in one weekend. In October, we paid 130 yuan (about $20 US) for a ticket that includes entrance to all of the temples, museums and access to the city wall, for three days.

Don't miss the torture museum. There are many ancient torture devices on display and pictures to share how they were used. Even without clear English subtitles, you can gain a clear understanding. 

Another favorite stop was the banking center and underground vaults. I was particularly surprised with the high ceilings that were built in the underground rooms. 

In several of the museums, there were small models depicting daily activities so you can gain an understanding of the lifestyle when the English explanations were lacking.

During our stay, we had terrible weather. It was rainy and cold, which is unusual for this time of year. We probably didn't see as much of the town as we would have if the weather was nicer, but we put a pretty good dent in our itinerary. Due to the weather, we made several stops for hot tea/coffee and who can pass up cheap massages?   

If you're looking for gifts, this is a good place to bargain for inexpensive traditional Chinese style things. I purchased a few Chinese paper cuts for gifts and a cotton handwoven scarf for myself. I found the prices for paper cuts to be significantly cheaper than you can bargain for in Beijing and the scarves are handwoven just outside the shops, which is unique to Pingyao. For map lovers, another of my favorite gifts are the hand drawn (mass produced) maps that you can find in nearly every city in China. They are generally 10 yuan each ($1.50 US).  

We took the fast train from Beijing West Station to Pingyao. It took about four hours and cost approximately 200 yuan ($32.00 US) each way. I recommend staying inside the city walls. There are several hostels and inexpensive hotels that are very cheap. They are standard Chinese style hotels, but being within walking distance to all of the sites is convenient. The bed at the hotel we stayed had the traditional style heating system that heats the bed from below. In ancient times, there would be hot ashes shoveled underneath the bed in the evenings so the heat would rise and warm the bed while you sleep. They no longer heat the bed that way, but the owners installed an electric heater that serves the same purpose. Crawling into bed at night after wandering through the wet, cold streets felt particularly good with the heat rising from below.  

If you have a chance and want to explore an ancient city, give Pingyao a try. Which ancient cities have you visited in the past?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Travel Plans

Happy 2016!
Working at a university in China has its perks. Living in Asia means that I can fly almost anywhere in South East Asia pretty inexpensively. I've made the choice to travel as much of it as possible while I am living here to get the most out of the experience. Due to my university teaching schedule, I have long breaks over the winter and summer holidays and I travel as much as possible during that time. This year I was fortunate to finish the semester before Christmas, and I'm not due back until after the Chinese New Year in February. 

For my break this year, I selected a few new countries to explore. I spent the first three weeks in Thailand, I'm currently vacationing on an island in China, and soon I will be traveling to Vietnam. Depending on how the rest of my trip pans out, I may be making a few other stops along the way. You can follow my travels daily on Instagram (follow me here) and I'll make more detailed posts on the blog. I look forward to the new adventures! If you have any tips, I'd love to hear them.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Photo Friday: Bali Rice Fields

Bali, Indonesia
July 2015