Tuesday, January 21, 2014


After Thailand, Dawna and I flew to Kunming, the capital of China's Yunnan province. We only spent two days there. It was enough, unless there are other cheap KTVs that need to get dominated, in addition to the one we did tear up. In this city of about six million folks, we stayed in the most well-equipped hostel I have ever set foot in and operated out of the city's center, which was quite convenient.

The two main attractions we routed were Dian Lake and the Western Hills, and the Stone Forest. I will write about those and then be done.

1. Dian Lake/Western Hills

After being unable to find a bus out to this massive lake to the east of the city, we resorted to a taxi - which only cost 30 RMB - and arrived. We were soon armed with shockingly expensive tickets to a chair lift and to the Western Hills complex itself: a series of trails on which could be seen various pagodas, carvings, children whose grandfathers made them give us oranges, statues, stairs, gates, and sick views of the lake and the city. Describing our route in any further detail would not be interesting for me or for you, and there seemed to be little historical significance there (other than, of course, the fact that Henry Kissinger visited once), so I will let the pictures we took show where we went, what we did, and what we saw.

Here we are on the chairlift, hundreds of RMB lighter, staring straight in the sun, not really awake, not really warm. Probably this was the worst part of the day.

Here we are at the top. Below is Kunming. Probably this was the best part of our day.

Dian Lake - see her glisten beneath the noonday sun!

The Western Hills - see them glisten beneath the noonday sun!

Why we do not have these in Iowa, I do not know. But they look good from below and are perfect for recuperating from an uphill run at the top.

We truly and honestly thought that Yunnan would be warm and sunny, but it wasn't particularly balmy. Every single morning and night we were there was freezing, but, once the sun got going and our blood was pumping from climbing five hundred stairs, all was well.

Enter the matrix. Also in the Western Hills were trails with random interesting splashes of ancient Chinese architecture.

The Mount Rushmore of Kunming.

The Dragon's Gate. Hear the roar.

I call this "The Great Leap." It was in a downward direction, and it was as we were leaving.

2. Stone Forest

The second day was more of an adventure, but it all went well also. We rose at the butt crack of dawn to try to reach this Stone Forest seventy-five miles from Kunming. Basically this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a huge area covered by spikes of limestone jutting violently up out of the earth. The stones resemble trees, hence the title "Stone Forest." Cool stuff geologically. Also cool visually.

The day, again, started off absolutely frigidly. We went to the bus station and sat for one hour on a very icy bus waiting to leave before the slowest bus driver in both the modern and developing worlds finally took us to the Stone Forest. When we arrived, both Dawner and I were considerably baffled by the cost and complexity of entering the forest, but when we finally accomplished this task, we were rewarded.

There were two main parts that we checked out: the Greater Stone Forest and the Lesser Stone Forest. Both were encircled by a main road on which shuttles took tourists 'round, and both had foot paths that led deep, deep into the rocky woods. As soon as we could, we sped into the depths of the rock and away from the other smoking, yelling visitors.

And it was awesome. It was a dark day, quiet, and we explored the Greater Forest for an hour or two. The highlight was some lookout point in the middle of the peaks.

The Lesser Stone Forest yielded less overall but had an even higher vantage point from which the entire Stone Forest could be seen. I almost fell and died climbing up for the last picture.

A faster driver took us back to Kunming, and we prepared to finally return to Beijing after two weeks on the road by eating ice cream, shopping for scarves, and looking at sandwiches we'd purchased:

I don't know if I have ever been on a more awesome trip. I can only think of one activity in which we partook during the trip that was a dud. Usually when I return from a trip or experience of any kind, I need a lot of people to ask me how it was and of what value it was, and then, after many, many conversations, I will maybe reach some sort of conclusion after weighing all the pros and cons. But even before coming home, I thought, "There was very little to process here, about this excursion, except that it was nearly flawless and quite great." And that is what I have told people. Boom.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year, Thailand

From Vietnam...

So we flew ourselves to Thailand, telling Heidi, "Hey, good-bye, man!"
having not consulted any guides or sites or friends or things.
"What should we do here?" I asked her, "Unplanned trips can spell disaster!
Dawna, please! You travel master! Tell me what tomorrow brings!"
Had to seize the day because in Thailand, tourists spread their wings
and head to where the spirit sings.

Quietly, she whispered, "Tiger!" Quickly I spun 'round and eyed her,
Shocked but also interested I had to admit to be.
"Well? Why wait?" I said, reluctant. Hit the road, grabbed a tuk-tuk, and
prayed upon ourselves good luck and, Tiger Kingdom-ward were we
"I do hope it's safe!" I muttered, "I do hope it's cheap!" said she,
So began our cat journey.

Cages full of tigers waiting. Tourists who were hesitating,
Hesitating entering the home of nature's orangest cat.
After 'bout an hour of waitin', me and Dawna, we plunged straight in!
Far too many cats to take in adequately, but we sat
And pulled some tails and petted fur and winked straight at
the tigers, and they smiled at that.

A tour took us jungle hiking. Found it quite to our dang liking!
Bamboo shafts, some knocked-down trees, a soft clear waterfall.
It is true: we saw a monkey, and a tour guide oh-so-funky.
Without care, a trekking junkie I would love myself to call.
Quiet peace with Mother Nature; step by step, by a green wall.
Sweet place to roam, and that is all.

Then we leaped into a river! A bit cold; I felt a shiver
in my core as our big raft splashed through the water white
It was fun, although some Chinese dude who wanted me to die/freeze
pulled me from our kayak! Guy, please! Dawna's face lit up so bright.
Physical activity in nature makes a trip alright.
Jungle river: our delight.

Later on we safely mounted elephants in herds uncounted.
Skin quite gray and back so rounded; he went by the name Mamo.
So relaxed, Mamo went walking; on his topside, laughing, talking,
we took pictures, and were chalking up a victory, fo' sho!
"This is great!" we yelled quite loudly. Our great steed agreed also.
And that was that, and nothing mo'.

Missin' family, chattin' through tears, we realized that it was New Year's,
To the streets we took to see what Chiang Mai had on holiday.
Saw the sky fill up with lanterns (some we saw just get caught and burn)
Caused our heads to twist and then turn at the night light exposé.
I tried to light my own lantern and watched it calmly float away. 
Thus we welcomed New Year's Day.

Last stop was, of course, a temple: Wat Suthep, the best example
on a hill above the lovely city of Chiang Mai.
Buddhist, gold, and full of Thai folk, sky so blue, and with incense smoke
in my nostrils just to evoke thoughts of calmness, peace, and...sigh.
Snooped around, observed the dazzle. Realized, and could not lie:
It was time to say good-bye.

If speaking in terms of baseball, Chiang Mai was a home run! Great call!
(Can't remember whose idea it actually had been)
Food was sweet, and hostel sweeter! Atmosphere? You could not beat 'er!
Stuff we did couldn't have been neater...unless Heidi'd been therein.
Roti with banana and Nutella had replaced our friend.
For sure: Chiang Mai was a win.