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The Train Ride is How Long? – Kunming, China

This blog ended a little longer than we would have liked – sorry.

Author: Amy

Waiting for our train ride to Kunming

Our planning process has gotten a little late on the draw.  We were a bit nervous of how things would be once we arrived in China.  We definitely didn’t want to be completely lost and risk being taken advantage of.  We worked with a couple of different travel agents while in Thailand trying to get a tour booked. But as we were working with them we found ourselves having to do all the research and checking on what they suggested because we didn’t necessarily want to see all of what a typical tour includes or in the same amount of time.  We found it hard to explain that since we have ample time we like to have a rest day or two and we need activities that will keep the kids interested as well. Well, it ended up that we were too short of notice for the tours and the one we had been working with didn’t take credit card at such a short notice.  We ended up doing the planning ourselves and it all worked out in the end.  After Yangshuo we headed to Kunming where the weather was 70’s and beautiful.  Getting there was another story.  We found our trains online but couldn’t figure out how to book so we decided it would be more efficient to go face to face and buy the tickets to make sure we would get the right train. Long story short; it wasn’t the language barrier that hurt us it was the fact that they ran out of soft bed compartments . . . as we walked away from the ticket counter we realized we would be in an open-berth for 18 hours on the first leg, immediately followed by an open berth on the 12 hour second leg.  Let me just say that after the first leg we never boarded a train in China again.

The open-berth

This is a picture from our moving train - not sure what this area was but this same scene of deliberate beautiful yellow flowers went on for miles.

Author: Steve

It’s funny the longer you are married the more you get to know the more discreet intricacies of your spouse’s mood and behavior.  For example, you’re quicker to notice in the eyes of your wife when she’s simply had enough or she’s about to explode!

We just got off an eye-popping 18 hour night train ride from Yangshuo to Kunming and Amy and Kendal did just about everything in their powers not to have to go to the bathroom over that 18 hour period (Kendal didn’t make it).  The bathrooms were all squatters, I don’t want to give much detail other than when you walk in all you see is a hole in the floor and, well, imagine them not being cleaned over that period of time.  The four-bed private berths were full when we purchased our tickets so we ended up in an open berth for six.  The sights, the smells and the sounds of that open berth for 18 hours was an experience we will never forget.  We have had 98% success rate on nice train rides; this unfortunately wasn’t one of them.  We were all exhausted when we staggered off that train, funny thing is we had planned to take another 12 hour train that same day to Lijang but because of the first leg experience we decided to forgo that trek.  When I saw the look in Amy’s eyes as we walked through the train station I knew we needed to hit our emergency splurge-fund for a nice hotel for a few nights in Kunming.  Luckily we found Kunming to be a great place to visit for a few days . . . partly due to the nice hotel and a bigger part due to the great weather and Green Lake Park.

Kendal meeting a friend in Green Lake Park

Green Lake Park in Kunming was established in the 17th century. Walking around checking out all the different locals performing everything from traditional folk dances to tai-chi to choreographed line dancing was great fun.

Dance group getting ready to perform. Every morning you can literally see hundreds of people out performing tai-chi in unison - very cool.

Here's a little guy making sure his Green Lake Park stays clean

The bird life in the park is alive and well

Every where you look were different groups of men and women enjoying the park in their own way - here are a group of men that found a nice shaded area to play cards.

Domestic air travel is very reasonable here in China and you don’t have to book in advance to get the best deal so we agreed that we’d be doing the rest of our long travel via the air going forward.  But we also all agreed that we needed that experience (or maybe that was just me agreeing with myself); long 18 hour train in China . . . accomplished, check!

Kunming was a great visit for us, the weather was great and Green Lake Park was beautiful

Special Note: It would be wrong not to mention that there was a silver lining that came with this interesting experience, we luckily ended up with 2 mid-twenty girls as our bunkmates.  They were so nice (as we are seeing much of the people in China are) and loved practicing their English on us.  They even went so far as to give up their lower beds so the kids wouldn’t have to climb up to the second or third level (third level was quite high). I found out later that you pay more the closer to the ground you are so they were so generous to give those beds to our kids.  They talked to us about Kunming and tried to help us with hotel names. I can only imagine what that trip would have been like if we would have ended up with a couple of guys that hocked, spit and smoked all night (and yes there were a number of those guys on the train) and not those cute girls as our bunk-mates . . . the stars sure were aligned for us at that point.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2012 in China

 

Kung Fu Class – Yangshuo, China

Author: Amy

In Yangshuo, China heading out one morning to meet our ride for Kung Fu class

 “Do your best!”  That’s what our Kung Fu master said to us each time he showed us a new form or kick.  The week went by amazingly quick.  We were picked up in town at 8:30am and driven to Master Jason’s Dojo out in the countryside each morning, we spent 2 hours working up a sweat; running, stretching, punching and kicking then we would be driven back to town for about a 2-hour rest.  At 1:30 we were picked up again and then driven back to the Dojo for two more hours in the afternoon.  From the first day I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy, ‘lets get to know each other course’ . . . it started with a “good morning” and then an “okay start running”.  On the second morning all of our muscles were aching when we woke up but after our warm up we felt good and went again.  It was a great week of learning how hard we can all be pushed.  It was the four of us, our Master Jason (who is an 8th generation Shaolin Master) and another guy from Holland (so no hiding in the back row).  The mountains and valley that surrounded his Dojo were breathtaking and I must say I would daze off into the scenery as I did some kicks contemplating “how did I get here?”  Kung Fu is a great exercise for flexibility, muscle strength as well as mental capacity as you need to remember the forms and the order they are performed.  We did not do any sparring but Jason would show us how the form would be used as defense or offense in a sparring situation.

This is the street we would meet our ride for Kung Fu class. The mountains of Yangshuo simply engulf this whole city, it's so beautiful.

I was able to get a shot of Master Jason before we entered the dojo while he was waiting for us. To see him perform his art is simply amazing, a true Master.

It was nice with such a small class we all got plenty of one-on-one time with Master Jason to hown in our form to "try your best".

The views outside of the dojo were unbelievable.

Another shot from outside the dojo.

Our "last day of class" picture . . . what an incredible week!

We stayed in the town of Yangshuo, it is a quaint tourist town but since we arrived on the boarder of season is was very quiet and calm – also it was rainy so that kept things low key.  The weather was cool – in the 50’s and rainy.  We had read that it can be a bit of a loud area in the center of town, where we stayed, but we did not have that experience.  It was a pleasure to spend our time in this very pretty town in China.  The people seem quite content and happy to have the tourists.  One thing that seemed odd but then we found true throughout rural China is the energy conservation.  No hallways, lobbies, retail, or even restaurants were heated.  If we came into a restaurant they would either put on a small electric heater or light a little fire and place it near our table.  The people all wear coats, gloves and hats all day long.  By the end of our time here we were pretty cold to our bones and looking for some warmer weather.

That's Kendal outside our the guest house we stayed at in Yangshuo. The employees at the Rosewood were all very nice and eager to help.

Yangshuo, China

Outside of Lucy's, one of our favorite places to eat great Chinese food and do homework

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in China

 

Li River Cruise and Hostels – China

Author: Kendal

We landed and spent the night in Guilin, China…That’s right CHINA!!!! We are officially on the other side of the world! When we got here it was freezing out! So we had to buy some extra layers before we headed to the city of Yangshuo, by boat, the next day.  The hostel we stayed in didn’t have heat, only electric blankets so we had to make sure they were on so we wouldn’t freeze in our sleep…an experience non the less.

This is our hostel in Guilin, China. My Mom and Keegan are in the back of the photo. They had a lot of pride for their hostel.

Before this trip the word hostel had no meaning to me, just an odd place where people stay when they are traveling… But during this trip the word hostel has taken on a whole new meaning. Hostels are not what I made them out to be in my head; crowded tiny places where people can hardly move and nothing is ever clean. They are kind of like dorm rooms in college. It depends on the country and the hostel on whether or not they have shared or private bathrooms, which are always, clean and tidy. There is usually a common area where people can go to hang out, eat, and share their stories of the day with other people and use the WIFI. We have had some great experiences by staying in hostels and met some great new friends.  My parents use Tripadvisor to check out people’s reviews before they book – they figure if they have a large number of good reviews it’s should be okay. The one we stayed at in Guilin, China was only $22 for the night for all 4 of us – and it had a private bathroom (the shower actually faced the toilet, my dad’s the only one to shower that morning). The hostel people are usually always very helpful, in Guilin they helped us set up our Li River Cruise.

Mom and Keegan hanging out at the hostel.

Keegan LOVES the hostels. Here he is in Chengdu, China at our hostel.

We headed out the next day for our boat bright and early, while waiting for everyone to get on the bus we met a nice American family who are stationed in China for about 14 months, the dad is a Marine. They have two kids around 6 and 3yrs old, they were so much fun to hang out with on the 4 hour boat tour. The boat is basically taking you from one town, Guilin to the next town, Yangshuo, via a scenic river cruise. The river is called the Li River and the views were amazing – it looked like a fairy tale scene.  The Chinese 20 yen has a picture of mountains and a river; we got to take the exact same picture on the boat!  It was a beautiful way to start our experience of this new country.

View from the Li River in China.

The view seems endless. The trip was rainy but we enjoyed every minute of it.

The boats really complete the view.

Here we are on deck of the boat as we cruise the Li River.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2012 in China

 

Bangkok and Beautiful Phuket – Thailand

Author: Amy

One of the Long tail boats on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok

We are on our final week in Thailand and we have had a great experience as you have read.  We spent a few nights in Bangkok after Chiang Mai before we journeyed to the beaches of Phuket.  While we were in Bangkok we took a boat cruise through the downtown area on the Chao Phraya River. We were able to see some different temples from the boat as well as some barges and many funky boats.  It was very cool to see the city from this point of view.  We were able to see some homes of some of the locals and some of the huge high-rises. As many of the cities we encounter there are the very rich and the very poor. Bangkok is the largest city in Thailand with approximately 12 million people it is known as Krung Thep meaning “city of angels”.  While Kendal and I kept our eyes open for Ryan Gosling, Steve took advantage of an opportunity to attend Muay Thai fights at Lumpini Stadium and we hit the popular “Chatuchak Weekend Market” which holds an amazing amount of “fakes” of whatever you can imagine.

A little snack on our cruise

One of the funky river boats in Bangkok

Here's Kendal and Keegan with a view from our apartment in Bangkok

Yes we are on a yearlong trip but is it a vacation???  Well our week in Phuket was a real vacation.  Phuket is a small island in Thailand.  It was hit hard by the Tsunami in 2006 but is still luckily a huge tourist destination.  It has been rebuilt and the main part of town is really commercialized.  We chose to stay at a resort north of the main area, which was really quiet.  We lazed away our days pool and beachside.  We completely loved this resort and Phuket in general. The resort had activities which we took part in – yoga, pizza making, scuba diving, Thai boxing, etc.  Other than that we relaxed and did very little.  Our room had a kid area with bunk beds and a PS3 so Keegan was in heaven playing video games whenever he had a chance.  We all joined him from time to time.  The front desk rented movies so we watched some movies as well.  After the relaxing week we are ready to hit China.  Steve has us booked the whole first week for Kung Fu twice a day 2 hours each session.  That will be interesting  .  .  .  .

Here's Keegan teaching Steve some of his skills

Steve and Keegan enjoying the pool

Keegan chillin' in one of the pools at the Holiday Inn Resort Phuket, Mai Khao Beach.

The beach we were on was so beautiful and peaceful

Me and my daughter heading out to dinner on the beach; Phuket, what a beautiful place!

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Thailand

 

Muay Thai – Thailand

Author: Steve 

Here's Kendal being taught a strong elbow throw from a trainer in Chiang Mai

Back some 25 years ago I was lucky enough to get involved in Tae Kwon Do while in college. I did this for about 3 years, 2 of those years quite religiously.  My friend, who was the Sensei, invited me to his Dojo.  My main intention of accepting his invite was simply to learn self-defense but I very quickly came to appreciate the beauty of the martial arts.  And since I was a struggling college student my friend not only gave me a good deal but also gave me private lessons whenever I had a few hours to train. Our goal was to make me a more confident fighter so most of our training was in the ring.

That's Keegan being taught the technique of a strong straight kick

I had been training for a few years when I met Amy. When she met me I constantly had discolored and bruised arms and legs and the occasional black eye or bruised face. One day I took a really good shot to the mouth.  I remember everything happening in slow motion; I was sparring and we were instructed to break, I put my arms down and turned to the middle of the ring when I saw in the distant mirror a high kick coming straight to my mouth from my opponent.  All the other students that were watching said it was like a movie, it was a beautiful kick to my mouth, then my head just snapped back and I went straight to ground. That beautifully placed kick ended up cutting the inside of my top lip open.  When I saw Amy that night, my mouth now twice its normal size, she looked at me for a minute and said in a very calm and concerned voice, “I don’t want you to do this any more”.  That was the last time I fought, which was the right decision.

While we were in Phuket we also took a class from a former Muay Thai pro that really knew how to train beginners

Fast-forward 25 years and here we are in beautiful Thailand where the national sport is Muay Thai or Thai-Boxing.  This sport is bigger than soccer here in Thailand.  Instead of the 2-limb contact of boxing, or the 4-limb contact of many martial arts this is the contact of eight limbs. The eight limbs being; fists, elbows, knee’s and feet.  The kids and I decided to take a few beginner lessons while in Thailand; I had forgotten how incredible this workout can be.  I’m sure I would never want my kids to get in a ring without heavy protective gear but the lessons have definitely made them appreciate the beauty of this art and its intensity.

I will never, ever forget taking Muay Thai in Thailand with my kids - priceless!

Amy, Kendal and Keegan did not want to come with me to see live Thai boxing at Lumpini Stadium while we were in Bangkok. Lumpini is “the place” in Thailand to see Muay Thai!  This stadium is world renown for its Muay Thai fights and I couldn’t imagine not checking it out while I was there.  While we were in Bangkok Ryan Gosling (Amy and Kendal informed me who he was) was there preparing for a movie where he will compete in Thai Boxing.  For a second I thought they would end up coming with me just for the odd chance of seeing this guy but they didn’t, I guess he’s not ALL that.

I’m not sure if you heard the news reports of the terrorist bombings in Bangkok but we headed to Bangkok the day after the bombings so we were even more alert than usual on being smart about where we went and when.  I decided to go to the early bouts at 4pm instead of the later ones to be back to the apartment before 8pm.

Every Muay Thai fight is preceded by a "Wai Khru" where each fighter visits each corner of the ring claiming it as his own. Then they perform a traditional dance called a "Ram Muay" where the intention is to display respect for their opponent and their camp as well as appreciation for their teachers, family and their religion.

It was very interesting; I got second row seats and watched 9 bouts. The bouts are 5 rounds of 3 minutes or until some one gets knocked out. Surprisingly all the weight categories were around 100 pounds give or take 10 pounds. The main event consisted of 130 pounders; which you could really appreciate the skill and power of this fight after the first few minutes. The fighters all seemed to be an average age of about 17 years old. The 9th fight was a couple of really young boys who looked to be about 10-11 years old.  All the fighters fight with a mouth guard, boxing gloves and a cup, no other protection. So to see these young kids going at it for 5 rounds is utterly amazing and at the same time a little unsettling for a dad.  I say unsettling because of all the loud and aggressive gambling that takes place during the entire fight. I did an Internet search before I went so I knew that was to be expected.  The men screaming and betting throughout the fight and giving instruction to the fighters didn’t surprise me but what surprised me was the fighters looking over to the betting crowd for direction on what is needed for the bet.

Fighters wear a "mongkon" (a traditional headband) and a "Prajiad" around their biceps both intended to provide good luck. Live traditional Thai music is played through the entire fight.

Here's a shot of some of the action, notice the sign with a message to the ladies.

I’m not judging, I’m just saying . . . maybe they should be allowed to fight their own fight without this continual barrage of betting involvement.  Nevertheless, the Lumpini Stadium is run by the Royal Thai Army on behalf of the Thai Government (all the judges were government officials) and gambling is allowed.

The whole family took a beginner Kung Fu class in Chiang Mia as well . . . next up, Kung Fu in China!

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in Thailand

 

Cooking Class – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Author: Keegan

Me in the Kitchen!

One of our activities in Chiang Mai was taking a Thai cooking class. The school picked us up from the hotel in an overcrowded pick-up truck but all the people who were taking the class in the truck were really nice.  They first took us to one of their local food markets to teach us about all the ingredients we would be using to make our food. After the market they drove us out to this farm type location in the country to do our cooking class.  While we were in the truck we got a list and we checked off what meals we wanted to make. Kendal and I shared a cooking station and we made Pad Thai, Chicken and Cashew Nuts, Green Curry and Banana in Coconut Milk for dessert.  (I preferred the Chicken and Cashew nuts). Our chef (her nickname was Pineapple) that taught us how to make the food was SUPER nice and funny! A few times Pineapple brought out her telephone and played American music and sang along to it.  She knew all the words and told us she loved to go out dancing.  We got a small tour of the property and saw a lot of the different vegetables and spices that they grow right there. It was really fun to make the Pad Thai because we got to use a special pan and our instructor showed us how to toss the noodles in the air (sometimes some noodles came out of the pan).  That day I felt like a professional chef; chopping, dicing, frying it was a really fun time!  The day we did the class was on Valentine’s Day and Pineapple always found a way to fit “love” in a sentence! We had some other people that did the class with us.  There were 10 cooking stations with our one instructor.  They came from a lot of different places such as England, Ireland, Holland and Russia.  We made so many different meals it was a lot to eat.  My mom brought back her spring rolls that she made so we could have them as a snack for later and MAN were they good! My mom also made mango sticky rice – that was the days favorite dessert.  Well that was our cooking experience in Chang Mai!

At the market learning about the Thai spices - that's our instructor Pineapple.

In their garden - checking out the veggies and herbs.

Dad getting busy in the kitchen - he will be an excellent chef by the time we get home. When Dad was putting in all his red chili peppers, because he likes it spicy, Pineapple said, "spicy good today but tomorrow I can not save you"!

Busy, busy and so much fun!!

We all ate together after we made each dish.

Fun in the kitchen - wish you were here!!

Yep, Kendal and I made that - so yummy!!

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Thailand

 

Countryside Bike Tour – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Author: Kendal

On one of the real hot days that we were in Thailand we went on a bike tour around the countryside of Chiang Mai. Our guide picked us up from our place at around 8:30am. We started at a temple with a huge reclining Buddha.  Everywhere you go in Thailand there are temples and Buddhas.  We learned there are seven positions the Buddha statues are in one for every day of the week. Once we got situated on our bikes we were off, we toured different places of business in the countryside. These were very unique types of handicrafts that people did for a living. First we got to see them making metal designs by hand. The sound was excruciating! It felt like my eardrums were going to fall out! We could tell that they were working hard to make them all perfect; we even got to see some of the awards that they had earned for their craftsmanship so that was pretty cool. After the first stop we headed to our next destination which was a hand made vase area. We got to see how they turned a boring piece of a mango tree into a beautiful masterpiece; it was awesome to see all the transitions of the wood from tree to vase. Then we stopped for a quick snack break to keep up our energy. Our guide brought us fruit and bamboo filled with yummy sticky rice.  Like a Thai granola bar!  After that we continued riding in the country, where we saw all the rice fields. It was just like the movies with the people wearing the big straw hats and water boots picking up the rice. We even saw the random cow/buffalo (not quite sure which it was) being pulled somewhere with its owner leading the way. We stopped at a rice warehouse and our guide showed us the different types of rice there are but to my dismay (and my mom’s) our favorite tends to be the most fattening. In total we biked for 40km. it was a tough but fun ride – too bad for Keegan because his gears didn’t work on his bike so it was difficult on the uphill climbs.  Our final destination was some hot springs.  We had lunch at a restaurant there then we did what you do at hot springs in Thailand – we hard-boiled some eggs.  They sell small baskets of eggs and you place them in the hot water to boil.  Another fun day in Thailand – wish you were here!

As we were watching one of the metal finishers we could hear them pounding the medal on the other end of the workshop, it was so loud!

This is a different stop we made to watch the mango tree vase makers.

Here we are on the bike tour stopping to get an education on the rice fields.

The rice fileds.

Getting an education on rice.

Here we are in front of a Buddha. The Thai culture is based on the younger generations providing for their elders as time goes by; which is why you see all the large sticks supporting this aging tree.

As we road our bikes we saw this brush fire - not really sure if it was set or it was a random burn.

At the hot springs we found out the you need much more than 15 minutes for hardboiled eggs.

There's Keegan boiling our eggs with the hot springs rising in the background.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Thailand

 

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