A lazy girl’s post: The Incas on Youtube

I’ve been neglecting the blog lately.

We’ve been busy, and all the movement and activity and amazing things to see and take in have been catching up with us – I’ve been TIRED.

I think things culminated yesterday during the train ride from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes – by the time we arrived my stomach was NOT a happy camper and I spent the rest of the day curled up in a ball on the bed, sleeping and futzing around on the internet when actually conscious.

Not the most spectacular start to our Machu Picchu adventure, but I’m excited none the less. 🙂

We’re about a thousand meters below Cuzco, and arid desert plateau climate has given way to lush jungle terrain. It’s been ages since we’ve been anywhere tropical feeling and it’s getting me excited – regardless of how pukey I feel.

When I was awake yesterday, I also got myself going with Inca and Machu Picchu documentaries – who knew there was so much free, quality stuff on Youtube (ok, I realize I am late to the party 😉 ). We’re going to attempt to do a half day visit today – we’ll see how my stomach feels about things – and so in honor of that, here are some documentaries courtesy of the miracle that is the internet, in case you feel like getting juiced up about ancient Incan civilizations along with me. 🙂

This one is a little cheesy, but I enjoyed it because it includes a lot of sites that we’ve already visited, like the AMAZING salinas (used to produce salt since Incan times!) and the Moray terraces.


This one is older, and shows scientists trying to recreate Incan techniques of masonry and bridge building. Nerdy but interesting. 🙂


And this one is a “Cold Case” style documentary, where scientists examine recently discovered Incan bodies to recreate a crucial event in Incan/conquistador history. Well done and interesting.

Breathless in Bolivia

Greetings from La Paz, the seat of Bolivia’s government and, at an elevation of around 3,650 meters/11,975 feet, the world’s highest de facto capital city! Phew!

We’re both literally and figuratively out of breath. We’re having a whirlwind journey through Bolivia. We’re only in the country for a week (if we manage to book the bus ticket that we are hoping to this afternoon, that is. Fingers crossed!).

The trip that took us from the edge of Chile and through the barren, rugged and mind-blowing landscapes of Bolivia’s southwestern corner was, in a word, awesome. Three jam-packed but peaceful days. Time got stretchy. We saw SO much, but also managed to just sit and attempt to absorb the mind-bending vastness and awesomeness of nature.

This map is actually oriented west-east, instead of south-north, but I like it cause it gives you a sense of the altitude. 🙂 Source: http://www.boliviabella.com/geography.html

We’ve been battling colds and dryness and dust and the altitude. Nothing like a few extra thousand meters to make a girl REALLY feel out of shape. 😉 The temperature shifts in the elevated desert have been extreme and I’ve actually had to wear MORE layers than I did when we were down in Patagonia and Tierre del Fuego, relatively close to the South Pole. Roman makes fun of me but if it takes three layers of pants, four pairs of socks and as many shirts as I can while maintaining a degree of mobility to keep warm, that’s what I’m gonna be wearing. Yes, I am a wimp. 🙂

Mostly we’ve been laughing about the insanity of it all, including the truly insane amount of tissues we have been and still are going through a day. Gross. 😉

An overnight bus ride from the dusty town of Uyuni dropped us off at La Paz early yesterday morning. I’m quickly and easily falling for this small, scrappy city, clinging defiantly to the rugged mountain peaks. I’m grateful that we have at least a bit of time here.

Tons to write about (as per usual……), but not today – it’s our only full day in La Paz and we have loads to see and do. If all goes well we will be in Peru by tomorrow night.

But I will take advantage of having internet again to share these few photos from our time in the desert. These are some of my panoramic shots, so click for a larger view. See why I’m in awe? 🙂


Beijing haze

That last post means that I’ve covered all of our stop in the amazing province of Yunnan. After we left Zhongdian (another spectacular bus ride with amazing mountain views!), we returned for a short stay at Bruce’s in Shuhe.

Before we knew it, it was time to head to the airport and catch our next flight, north and east to China’s capital city. As our plane ascended, we were able to look west and see the Himalayan mountains, snow-capped and brilliant in the afternoon sun. SUCH an amazing sight. And a quite a contrast to the place we’d be landing in later that night.

I need to be fair here. I think the odds may have been stacked against Beijing making the best impression on me. I know people who think it’s pretty darn cool and according to what I’ve read about it, there should be loads of interesting stuff to see and do. But it ended up being my least favorite part of our time in China.

So, like I said, to be fair, we didn’t see it at its – or my – best. We were there during some of the worst fog/smog the city that year. The first few days, we could hardly see across the street it was so thick. Our apartment felt like it was floating in a silent, surreal cloud. The weather was cold too, and that chill felt like it seeped into everything, while the fog leached color out of the world. It created an eerie effect for me; the city at times seemed too quiet, too subdued.

Also, I was miserable and sick with a really bad cold for a lot of the time. Even if the sights outside the apartment would have been more enticing, I don’t know how much energy I would have had for exploration.

Not that I didn’t get out. We rented a studio apartment via Airb’n’b in the city’s art district, and it wasn’t long before we had our regular spots in the neighborhood for groceries, coffee (yay, Costa!) and some reliable restaurants. It was a nice change to just live like a normal person instead of a tourist for a few days, to absorb every day happenings around the neighborhood.

Sick or no, there is no way you can go to Beijing and NOT visit the Forbidden City, so that was the one major tourist sight that I visited (Roman went to more while me and my cold flopped in the apartment). Of course we also visited The Great Wall, but I’ll save that for another post.

The Forbidden City

It’s impossible not to be impressed by the Forbidden City. Built in the 1400s, the compound served as the imperial palace to 24 different emperors. It is the largest “ancient palatial structure” in the world, composed of hundreds of buildings and courtyards covering over 170 acres. All of it is surrounded by two security measures – a broad moat and a thick, high wall that is over seven meters high. Every detail, from the placement of the buildings to the color of the roof tiles, was carefully planned and executed with both symbolic and practical consideration. Nearly all the roofs are yellow, the color of the emperor. Massive copper and iron vats line courtyards and in ancient times were filled with water, providing both decoration and a means to put out fires. Lots more information on the symbolism of the architecture and design here if you are interested.

We spent half a day wandering around the complex, leaving as the sun began to set. If I’d been feeling better, I think we could have easily spent even longer – there was so much to see and take in! 🙂 Here are just some glimpses of the place.

Tourists checking out one of those big copper vats

The sun setting over the exterior moat (you may have to search the haze a bit to find it!)

Just in time

It’s my last day in the Philippines today!

The past week and a half here has been both rough and wonderful. The tropical flu that I caught really knocked the stuffing out of me. I haven’t been that deliriously, miserably sick in a while.

Even now I’m still not feeling 100% but I’m so much better and thankfully well enough to travel.

I’m grateful too that I was well enough on our last full day in Dauin to finally go diving at Apo Island – the whole reason we came to Negros in the first place. It happened to be my birthday that day 😉 and so feeling well again, being able to eat and enjoy food and going for three super dives was especially wonderful and I felt especially grateful!

Really I have loved the Philippines but somehow I also feel a bit beat up here.

I fell on the boat that last day at Dauin (again – this is after nearly falling overboard back in Popototan) and really hurt my toe. It’s currently turning all sorts of black and blue but at least I can walk now with not much problem.

I’m in Cebu now and my stomach is still complaining about some really sub-par Thai food we ate two days ago. (Gross.) I’m getting a cold sore on my lip and my skin (probably responding to all the crap food I’ve been eating?) is breaking out like crazy.

On the emotional side, I’ve got a bit of the travel blues. (I may have caught that from Roman.)

I feel like if I have to search for another hotel online any time soon I may start screaming and ripping my hair out. I’m usually really good with long flights and lots of travel, but I have a huge trip coming up tomorrow morning and, having spent most of the last week bored in bed, I am actually rather dreading all those hours of airport/airplane limbo.

The good news is the reward for the two days’ worth of travel is going to be exactly what I need: Home.

I’m traveling to the States to be with my family for Christmas, and at the moment as much as I’m dreading the trip I’m SOOOO excited to see them all so soon. Christmas is my FAVORITE holiday and it’s been years since I’ve been able to spend it with them. It’ll also be my first Christmas with my nephew Martin, so this is really special for me.

And I’ll be getting plenty of things to counteract the effect of the travel blues: My own bed (my same totally comfy and comforting old twin bed from my childhood), my parents’ clean and cozy and familiar home, my mom’s amazingly good cooking and best of all, lots of time with family and friends. My heart is starting to feel better just thinking about it.

On the down side, I’ll be celebrating the holidays without Roman. He doesn’t want to break the travel momentum; I couldn’t convince him to come with me (and there’s no way he could get away with visiting MY family in the States without also visiting HIS family in Switzerland, which would get complicated…).

I had to say goodbye to him today – he’s already flown on to Malaysia – and it was awful. I know with my brain that everything’s fine; the time apart will pass quickly and I’ll be so happy with my family, but as much as my head gets it, my heart couldn’t and I spent today fighting back tears. Saying goodbye just never gets easier.

(I wonder if on some level I’m still traumatized from the time early in our relationship when I got transferred to London for my job, and we spent six months flying back and forth to visit each other. I was pretty miserable and depressed in London, and that period of time involved a lot of tearful airport goodbyes.)

Maybe it was also extra tough because this is a big goodbye in some ways. Roman will travel in Malaysia and Indonesia while I’m home. Our plans beyond that are totally unformed at the moment. I don’t know exactly where he will be when, so I don’t know where I will be meeting him. I’m pretty sure this is my goodbye to Asia as well; likely is that I’ll meet him in Australia or New Zealand next, although I don’t know when precisely that might be. It’s kind of a funny feeling to leave things so vague – “goodbye love, I’ll see you on some continent at some unknown point in the future”. And finishing Asia… Well, I don’t know what the rest of our trip will look like, but this is certainly at least a significant chunk of it done for me now. Which is interesting to say the least.

I wonder too how I’ll feel at the end of my time at home. I can’t imagine those goodbyes will be any easier than today’s… Roman often accuses me of being greedy and I will readily admit that it’s contradictory – I miss home and family even as I love traveling and exploring the world. But I’m ok with that. I’d rather feel this heartache because I love too many things, I’d rather struggle to try to fit conflicting things (life on the road, life with the people I love who are often on different continents than me), than… well, than not have that pain and struggle, I guess.

Anyhow, for now I will focus on the positive, which is that I am soon going to have the magic of Christmas with my family, just in time to sooth my travel blues. And that at some point after the holidays, Roman and I will get to meet up somewhere out there in this big, incredible world. And I will try not to think about the three flights in two days and the fact that I have to get up for the first one in a few hours… 😉

Out and about around Yangshuo

I’m still feeling pretty struck down by this “tropical flu” that I managed to pick up two days ago. Among other things, it seems to have a rather limiting effect on my mental capacities. Sorting pictures is about the extent of what I’m up for, aside from naps, surfing the web, watching Simpsons re-runs and more naps. For a bit of diversion, I’m doing a blog post but by necessity it’s going to be picture-heavy, text-light. 🙂


The town of Yangshuo is nice enough, but what really draws the tourists is the landscape around the area. Peaceful rivers, tranquil farmlands and simple villages, and startling karst mountains that rise dramatically above it all.

The thing to do here is rent a bike in town and then go exploring for yourself. Roman and I did a bit of this after our classes were over and (thankfully) the weather transformed from cold and wet to hot and sunny. Here are some photos from our little expeditions.

The alternate mode of transportation is to hire a bamboo raft to take you down river. These we spotted in a picturesque spot about a half hour outside of town (by bicycle). 

Roof tiles stacked outside a village home

A village classroom

Threshing beans by hand

Inside a village temple



I wonder what the writing on the wall says. Can anyone translate for me? 🙂

Bamboo leaves with Moon Hill in the background

Moon hill up close. It’s not a great picture, but I wanted to show how big the arch is. Click for the enlarged version. You can see people at the bottom of the photo.

View from Moon Hill

Buffalo bridge crossing

Rice harvest drying in front of a rural home (Can you spot the white cat?)

Village home

Walking home

Quick update

Internet in Beijing was not the consistent, fast thing I thought it would be! That plus being a bit under the weather has kept me off the blog and offline in general these past days.

It was great to have some down time in a proper apartment, something a bit more homey than another hotel room (thanks again Airbnb!) where I could make cup after cup of tea and watch the ridiculously thick smog envelop the view outside our window. 🙂

We left the capital city last night, overnight-training it to Pingyao (curious where that might be? Check out Roman’s impressive-looking map on Everlater). Unbelievably, it’s already our last week here in mainland China and there’s a ton we’re trying to fit into our time, but I’ll also try to sneak in some more posts now that we have reliable internet again. 🙂

Quick notes on Hue

I feel like I posted a ton of photos from Hue (including a bit of info about the Citadel), so I will keep this entry brief.

I think Hue may have been our favorite stop in Vietnam. A nice-sized city (the population is around 330,000 according to Lonely Planet), it had a more relaxed atmosphere than crowded and totally urban Saigon and Hanoi. At the same time, its size allowed it to absorb the tourist tide more effectively than places like Hoi An and Dalat – it didn’t feel over-taken by tourism and for me had a nice grounded and “lived in” energy to it, if that makes any sense.

We also stayed at my favorite hotel in Vietnam, the Hue Holiday Hotel. Our room felt brand new, was spotlessly clean, and the staff were super accommodating and genuinely friendly. Excellent value for money too. The hotel was down a narrow alleyway, located in the touristy area of town but with Vietnamese homes just outside the hotel entrance. I loved catching glimpses of the families’ day to day lives as we came and went.

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Our room at the Hue Holiday Hotel – complete with real flowers on the bed

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The delightfully clean bathroom!

Another big positive about Hue for me is that I took the initiative to find a posh hotel about a 10 minute walk from where we were staying that had a small gym and a big pool, so a couple of times during our stay I got a work-out in. (If I remember correctly, this was at the Imperial Hotel. Insanely posh and a bit on the expensive side for the per-gym-visit price but access to the outdoor pool made it worth it) Aside from the obvious physical benefit, working out in some form or another is so good for my head space – it’s something I’m trying to do more often while we are still on the road.

Things I want to remember include:

– How wonderfully, genuinely fun it was to fly a kite!
– How infinitely patiently Roman untangled the kite line when it got into an incredibly huge tangle. Also the very sweet teacher who came to talk to us while he worked on the mess. 🙂
– The peaceful walk through the residential area on the north side of town and the friendly cyclo driver we met there.
– The lively atmosphere at the nightly street market along the riverside.

Less fun to remember is getting food poisoning; we actually had to extend our stay by one day because I was in no shape to travel. I can’t say for certain which restaurant may have made me sick. Most of the places we ate were all right but nothing special. The one restaurant in town I can recommend is Vegetarian Restaurant Bo De. Although Roman was less impressed than I was, I really enjoyed the interesting and tasty 100% vegetarian dishes, and I can guarantee that I didn’t get sick from their food! 🙂

Quick notes on Da Lat

I wrote a little bit about Da Lat back when we were actually there.

It took some doing to get there as our original flight was canceled due to a severe storm in the area. It worked out for the best though as I got sick with some sort of flu and was better off in bed burning off my fever than traveling on the day our flight had been scheduled. If only we knew before we got to the airport that it had been canceled! 😉

The cab drive up the mountain from the airport to the city itself was … exhilarating! Our cab driver had a penchant for speed and passing anyone and everyone on the road. Luckily for us his speedometer was broken and the needle sat reassuringly at 0 km/hour – I don’t think I want to know how fast he was actually driving! 😉

Da Lat is known for its cheesiness and serves as a starting point for regional bike tours of the Central Highlands. From Lonely Planet: “Whether it’s the Eiffel Tower-shaped radio tower, the horse drawn carriages or the zealously colourful heart-shaped cut-outs at the Valley of Love, this is a town that takes romance very seriously – yea, unto the full extent of kitsch.”

We decided to take limited part in Da Lat’s standard offerings, doing a bit of sight seeing but mostly just reveling in the change of scenery from Saigon and from the wonderful mountain atmosphere and cooler weather. We also decided against doing a bike tour – since we’d pretty much only just gotten over being so waterlogged from our bike adventure in Laos and the weather in Vietnam wasn’t any drier! 😉

The town was a gorgeous place to walk around and explore though, with some interesting architecture (from the surreal, over-the-top Crazy House to the slightly forlorn but interesting colonial-era train station).

I was mostly indulging in fantasies about Switzerland though; with a cozy little restaurant where we went for breakfast transforming into a chalet-style Swiss café in the mountains, or the drink we had along the lake bringing me back to times spent by the Zürich See. (Have I mentioned how grateful I am for the wonderful time and life I had in Switzerland?? If not, I am doing so now! 🙂 )

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Entering the Crazy House

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Locomotive at the train station

Accommodation and food notes

We hadn’t booked ahead, knowing that Da Lat is a tourist stop with plenty of hotels and that we weren’t in peak season. However, we were surprised to find that our first choices for hotels were all booked. We had expected things to be more like in Cambodia but throughout Vietnam it seemed that rooms the best hotels (as per Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor) were always being snapped up very quickly.

We ended up staying at Hotel Chau Au – Europa, which had run down but interesting and spacious rooms and a super nice owner (although his wife was less friendly!). We didn’t find any amazing food while were there, but I really enjoyed the ambience and the food was quite all right at Art Café. Our breakfast spot was Chocolate Café – pretty average but the place just had something about it that charmed me. Maybe it was the fake flowers in the window! 🙂

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Fake flowers; oddly comforting

And now for something completely different

After the weeks and months we’d spent traversing Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, we figured we had a decent handle on South East Asia. We knew some of Vietnam’s cultural roots were pointing in a different direction from its westerly neighbors, with heavier influence from China over the centuries, so we arrived anticipating a variation on a theme. What we discovered, however, was a whole new melody all together.

For starters, Vietnam is highly developed in comparison to the countries we’d just come from. Perhaps there are areas of the country that are different, but in our travels, I observed only a handful of wooden houses. This was in village that was not on the typical tourist stop, and even there, most of the homes were made of concrete. There was not a single bamboo hut to be seen, neither in the places we visited or during any of the bus rides we took.

Vietnam has capitalized on its best sights, creating a slick and efficient tourist industry. Of course there have been tourists in all the countries we’ve visited. You expect and tolerate the song and dance and the crowds at places like the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat but then you go to some place less famous and can get some space from all that.

In Vietnam it was difficult not to feel like part of a herd of Westerners that was being shuffled through the country. Most of the places we looked into that were not on the tourist trail sounded dull to somewhat unpleasant. We got off “the trail” for one destination and while it was drop dead gorgeous countryside, still we had some mixed experiences there too.

Like in any village we’d visited we got a lot of attention from the kids living there. They had a new way of greeting us though. Whenever we ran into some children, inevitably they’d start calling out “Hello, money!” Hmm…

Other differences and signs of development: This was the first country we’d been to that didn’t have any tuk tuks! I couldn’t believe it. Discovering each country’s take on this Asian, three-wheel wonder has been one of the little things I’ve really gotten a kick out of as we’ve been traveling (Northern India’s uber-compact green and yellow autorickshaw remains my total favorite!) and it felt like something was missing when Vietnam failed to produce one.

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A small flock of tuk tuks outside a train station in India (I can’t believe I didn’t take more/better photos of them while we were there!)

Although it does have the cyclo – like a backwards tricycle with seating at the front for passengers. It’s a really lovely way to get around a city – if you don’t get scammed or into an argument with the driver about the price.

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A couple of cyclo drivers observing the traffic outside the Reunification Palace in Saigon

We noticed that there were no street dogs anywhere – also a first. I wonder what they do differently from their neighbors to keep the population in check.

The primary mode of transportation, famously, is the motorbike. I was amazed and pleased to see the majority of people where headgear. The helmet comes in all colors and styles in Vietnam. There are even women’s versions that have an opening in the back for pony tails. It also was the first country where I saw any kids in child-sized helmets too, although even in Vietnam the vast majority of children ride without.

One thing that I hadn’t realized and that took getting used to was that Vietnamese is written in the Roman alphabet. Any time I’d seen letters I could recognize in Asia, almost inevitably the words would be in English, so I was used to keeping my eyes open for the alphabet for possible useful information. It took a while to adjust to the fact that seeing Roman letters didn’t equate to me being able to read and understand anything.

While Vietnam, like most of the other countries in mainland Southeast Asia, is primarily Buddhist, it primarily follows the Mahayana form of Buddhism, while in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, Theravadin is the prevalent branch (You can learn a bit more here).

Visiting Buddhist sites in the other countries we’d been to has been one of the highlights of travel in Asia for me. For me, there has been something about just stepping into a temple that has often helped quiet my running mind and something familiar and comforting about the peaceful faces of the statue work that can often be found around or within them.

The temples we visited in Vietnam were fascinating and beautiful but had a completely different vibe to them. I enjoyed seeing but couldn’t connect to them in the way I had in other places. They were dark rooms, decorated with lots of red and dark wood, with altars full of impressive but sometimes gaudy statues. Even the incense burned had a whole new smell from what I knew from other countries.

We hardly saw any monks. The cheery orange I’d come to associate with monks’ robes in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand in Vietnam had been assigned to trash collectors’ jumpsuits. The handful of monks we did see in Vietnam were dressed in somber maroons and greys.

Monks in Cambodia

A trash collector in Saigon at night

Buddhist temple decorations

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A totally different feel in the temples we saw in Vietnam:

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I wonder if this description is tending too strongly towards the negative.  Along with all the other differences, it was the first country in which we actually experienced the “dangers and annoyances” always listed for each location in Lonely Planet, with some flagrant rip offs on the part of taxi drivers and of course my iPhone episode. Throw in catching a flu in Saigon and my bout with food poisoning in Hue and I’d say some days it felt like Vietnam was defying me to like it.

It wasn’t all bad though and for all the less-than-positive experiences we had, there was still something I liked about Vietnam that I’m still trying to put my finger on. Maybe its unapologetic attitude. 🙂 And there are certainly positive points to all the development and tourism like plenty of hotels to choose from with a pretty consistent and decent level of quality, wifi virtually everywhere, etc.

There is a lot of beauty too: From the glorious green rice fields to the impressive karst mountains. From the intriguing red and black temples to the forlornly lovely French-colonial architecture. From the picturesque vendors in conical hats bearing their baskets of wares hanging from poles slung over one shoulder to the blinding rainbow of neon that comes to life in the cities after sundown.

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So if you’re thinking of going to Vietnam, I’d say that you can hope to fall in love with it – just don’t expect it to love you back. 🙂

Current events: Vietnam

Feels like ages since my post about the phone incident. Since then, I’ve been sick – not sick as a dog but sick enough to have “lost” a couple of days to sleeping and a feverish, hazy, dreamy state of mind – and we’ve managed to leave Saigon after some tropical-storm induced travel delays. I have a whole bunch to write and post about our last stop in  Siem Reap and Angkor but I want to quickly check in with where we are and where we’re going.

So far Vietnam has definitely thrown a few curve balls our way, and while we’ve been mostly able to laugh or get philosophical about them, still it’s feeling good to have some movement. We are now in Da Lat, which is a quirky, kitschy mountain city north of Saigon. It’s definitely very Vietnamese, very Asian, but there are little things about it that make us think very distinctly of Switzerland, which had been oddly wonderful and comforting. The elevation and the sometimes blustery, cool weather, some of the architecture, the hilly streets.

Walking around to find a place for breakfast yesterday, the streets were wet from one of the frequent rain showers, the air was cool and fresh and we were bundled up against it – Roman said it almost felt like being on ski holiday. 🙂 It’s also the first place we’ve caught some occasional, wonderful bursts of sunshine – also like being up in the Alps during the winter. The sound of running water (from a roof after the rain or of a fountain in a cafe) keep making me reflexively think of melting snow at the start of spring – a funny feeling since we haven’t come close to seeing snow since I glimpsed some on distant peaks from McLeod Ganj back in September. I’m loving it though, and my heart is warming on residual affection for my dear old Switzerland.

We’ve gotten a sufficient taste of the place and movement is still feeling good for us though, so we’re leaving today for our next stop. Hoi An is a town that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meant to be a tremendous tourist trap, but also a tremendously beautiful tourist trap. We’ll see how it treats us. 🙂 Hopefully the WiFi will be more consistent and I can catch up on Cambodia while we’re there. 🙂