Well, I’m back! I had no intention of taking this long a hiatus from my blog, but life is sometimes best spent living. Although I went to bed every night wishing I’d had the time to write, I knew that I had good reason not to. For most of our 2015 vacation, Dave and I were up at the crack of dawn and on the move until the early hours of the morning on a daily basis. Our adventures spanned a wide range of interests, from speedboats to spas and from palaces to pachyderms, and the result was probably the most interesting 3 weeks of my life! There’s far too much for me to describe in one day or even in one week, but I need to start somewhere, so here it is: an overview of our 3 week holiday. For now, I’m going to stick with a summary of each city where we spent time; a bit of a pros and cons list for each. From there, I’ll start writing about specific experiences we had during our Spring Festival vacation.
1st Stop: Kunming, Yunnan Province
As some of you may already know, we had a bonus week added to our holiday at the last minute. The winter classes that my school had planned to offer ended up not panning out, so we were given the option to take a week of unpaid holiday (in addition to the 2 weeks we WERE being paid for). The alternative was to spend that week at the school, doing next to nothing, so Dave and I jumped on the opportunity and decided to visit Kunming during our bonus holiday. Our flight to Thailand was departing from Kunming so it made sense for us logistically, and we’ve both always been very interested in living in Kunming, so there was really no reason to go anywhere else!
The Best of Kunming
Kunming is not only beautiful, but also clean and sunny. The temperature doesn’t dip as low as it does in Guiyang, which was a welcomed change after our last weeks before the holiday (we’d both begun to feel like we would never feel warm again). We spent as much time outdoors as possible, taking in the vitamin D and enjoying Kunming’s beautiful parks and clean streets.
One of the other perks of being in Yunnan, is that there are more Lao Wai than in Guizhou, and where there are foreigners, there are foreign comforts! We managed to find several wonderful things from back home, including western-style bread (bread in China is sweet) and avocado. I even saw root beer on a menu at Salvador’s Restaurant (but they were sold out :(). More than just the food though, the people are more western. There is so much less spitting, honking and smoking in Kunming and we were both grateful for the break.
Of course, that’s not to say that Kunming was all sunshine and roses…After all, we are still in China!!!
The Worst of Kunming
The reduced honking, spitting and pollution was a wonderful change, but not all of the things that annoy me where I live are solely ‘Guiyangian’. I was nearly peed on by a little boy who had decided that the middle of the sidewalk was a good place to take a pee, and Dave actually pointed out the washrooms to a couple who had decided that the garbage can just outside the bathrooms were an appropriate place to have their 3 year old relieve herself. The funny thing about the second story, is that this happened in a mall that has a Rolex store. China can be such a mixed bag!! Kunming is so much cleaner than Guiyang in so many ways, but still, I saw the most terrifying toilets of my life while in the West Hills:
Of course, this is just what it’s like living in China. You get used to this sort of stuff surprisingly quickly. This particular bathroom was all the way up a hill, in the middle of nowhere. It’s the Chinese version of an outhouse…and I’ve seen some pretty nasty outhouses in my time too! And believe me…the woman who was using the washroom when I walked in did not look very impressed with the situation either…and she was Chinese! So please don’t get the idea that all of Kunming was this gross, because it definitely was not!!!
One other exception to the ‘I LOVE KUNMING’ statement I made above, was the hostel where we stayed while we were visiting Spring City.
The Hump looked like it had it all: good prices, great location, private rooms with double beds…I booked without much hesitation, because most of our hostel experiences in China have been good ones. Of course, our experiences at The Hump have now made me a little more nervous about booking hostels, as the experience was a far cry from what I’d seen in Xiamen and Guilin.
To anyone reading this blog for travel advice: I’d avoid this hostel. There are plenty of other options in Kunming that are much better, where you will get the room you paid for, where the staff will be willing to help you without first giving you a dirty look, and where, when the menu says ‘bacon’, you will be served bacon!!! (more on that in my Kunming post!!)
So that sums up Kunming! It was a great trip and I would highly recommend Yunnan Province to anyone who is interested in traveling China. Visiting Spring City just made both Dave and I even more determined to find a job there next year.
The Best of Patong Beach
Our first stop in Thailand was on the island of Phuket. More specifically, we stayed at Sea Pearl Villas resort in Patong Beach. The weather here was beautiful: warm and sunny our entire stay! The food in Patong was probably a highlight for both of us (other than one tour which I will be dedicating an entire post to….stay tuned). Not only was there fantastic Thai food to enjoy, but because Phuket is such a popular destination for European tourists, there are many western food options available as well! While there, we enjoyed sushi, shwarma, samosas, burgers, curries, falafels and pasta! I LOVE Chinese food, don’t get me wrong! But I didn’t realize how much I missed variety in my diet until we got to Patong beach and discovered how many options there were!
Our hotel was also a highlight for our stay on Patong Beach. I’ve mentioned in past posts that comfort isn’t really a ‘thing’ in China, but in Thailand, we experienced a comfortable bed for the first time since we were in Xiamen (and that had only been for 1 night!). Our king size pillow top was a thing of beauty and I truly felt sad when we said goodbye to it when our stay in Phuket was done.
The resort in general was very comfortable. Resorts in Thailand get a lot of flack because they aren’t all inclusive, like the ones in the Caribbean. While this is true, it also wouldn’t make much sense for resorts in Phuket to offer all inclusive packages, because people wouldn’t want to stay in the resort when there’s a chaotic little town to discover just down the hill! Still, Sea Pearl Villas was a fantastic place to relax after dealing with the mayhem in Patong Town, and we enjoyed the jacuzzi on our balcony on a daily basis, as a way to unwind and admire the city below.
Although the comforts and relaxing qualities of our resort were among one of our favorite parts of being in Phuket, it is not to say that Patong Town was a quiet, quaint place. Outside of the resort, Patong Town is the craziest place I have ever been. I won’t go into much detail now, because if I did this post would double in length, but the nights we had on Bangla Road and at the markets were anything but relaxing! I think it’s honestly the contrast between the two (the relaxation at the resort and the excitement of Patong Town) that made our stay in Phuket such a cool experience.
This was another street performer we met at the end of Bangla Road. He was pretty amusing. When he was done with the YMCA, he moved on to Gangnam Style.
The Worst of Patong Beach
There are two sides to every coin though, and although Phuket is somewhere I can’t regret visiting, it’s also somewhere I don’t know that I’ll visit again.
I worked in sales for a good chunk of my 20s, selling everything from natural cosmetics to cell phones to environmentally friendly cleaning products, but I can honestly say I’ve never seen sales like it’s done in Patong town. Everywhere you go, people are trying to sell you clothes, watches, DVDs, swimsuits, luggage and souvenirs. The worst of the worst are the Tuk Tuk drivers (who are trying to sell tours), the taylors (you want a custom suit? Very cheap!) and the massage parlors (You want a massssaaaa?????). Everywhere you go you are being sized up by hundreds of people who all want your money.
The prices were the other thing that really ground my gears in Phuket. This was our first stop in Thailand, so we didn’t know what the prices were like elsewhere, but even so…we knew they were high. Tuk Tuks charged 300 bhat ($11 Canadian) to take us on a 10 minute ride up the hill to our resort. That may not seem like a lot, but we had to pay it every night. And when you compare it to Bangkok, where we got all the way across town (about a 30-40 minute ride) for 200 bhat…
Even our resort, which was for the most part fantastic, found the need to overcharge us for services that are a norm elsewhere. We asked about getting to the airport on our last night there, and we were told that it would be an insane 1200bhat to get there (we’d only paid 380bhat to get from the airport to the resort)!!! We found out later that most taxi drivers will charge 800bhat (still high, but quite a bit lower) and that the hotels pocket the difference for bringing the taxis the business. I was pretty fed up with this behavior by this point, so Dave and I found our own way to the airport…it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped…
We did have several Thai people apologize to us for the behavior we saw in Phuket. The tuk tuk drivers are especially looked down upon by Thai people and I read several websites that were regretful that so many farang (people of European descent) leave Thailand with a bad taste in their mouth due to this gouging. Most Thais want you to feel welcomed and want you to enjoy your experience in their country and I’m very glad I experienced other areas of Thailand and that Patong Beach wasn’t my only view into Thai culture.
As usual, I have run out of time before I am done writing, so I will be posting part 2 tomorrow! Stay tuned to hear about Bangkok, Ancient Ruins and Thailand’s second largest city, Chiang Mai!