Winter in Finland & Estonia

Jun and I decided to visit Finland during the Chinese New Year at the end of January. We both wanted to see the northern lights and read that Finland would be a good place to see them. So, after looking around a bit we found a direct flight on Finnair from Hong Kong to Helsinki that was quite reasonable.


Day 1

The start of our trip started really early as we left our apartment in the morning to reach the Shekou ferry terminal in Shenzhen. We decided to bypass Hong Kong immigration and just go straight to the airport. Everything went smoothly and we were soon waiting for our flight at the Hong Kong airport. When we boarded we left on time and sat back and waited to arrive in Helsinki. While most people watched TV, read, or slept, I was working on my class readings and taking notes for my reading journal. It was a productive period. It also made the time go by quickly.

When we arrived in Helsinki we quickly went through immigration and cleared customs. We were officially in Finland! It was around 3:00 in the afternoon when we arrived and it already looked like it was close to night. We quickly bought sim cards and found where the train into central Helsinki was and was soon on our way to our hotel. By the time we got to central Helsinki, it was already dark outside. It was also beautiful with the lights around the central area lit up. We both admired it as we waited for the tram that would take us to our hotel—Scandic Hotel Grand Marina—on the Katajanokan peninsula.


Check-in at the hotel went seamlessly, and the front desk attendant was lovely and gave suggestions on places we should visit in Helsinki. Soon, we were in our room. We were able to shower and feel human again after a long day of travel.

After cleaning up, we decided to walk around the city a bit to start our explorations of Helsinki. Helsinki at night radiates a beauty that I associate with European cities. We enjoyed our walk and soon went to find something to eat for dinner. We ended up at a lovely Italian restaurant near our hotel that served really nice bread and herbal teas.

Afterward, we went back to our hotel to find little Fazer chocolates on our pillows. It was a nice way to end the day.

Day 2

After a night of rest, Jun and I woke up fairly late only to find it was still dark. Being so far north was still playing a bit of a havoc on knowing what time of day it was. After getting ready for the day we went down to have breakfast. It was a really nice breakfast. There were also sorts of Finnish breakfast foods, like different cold fish, berries used in different dishes and drinks, karjalanpiirakka (a pastry with eggs and rice), and Swedish meatballs. It was a fun adventure in breakfast foods.

After breakfast, we went back to our room to get our winter gear and head out to explore Helsinki! We first walked up to Uspenskin Katedraali, which is an Eastern Orthodox cathedral. It has a beautiful sanctuary and an ornate ceiling. It was also interesting to see how the cathedral was built using the topography of the hill. From this hill, you could look across towards Helsinki Cathedral, which was our next destination.

To get there we walked by the Presidential Palace and some interesting stops before we reached Senate Square. Being winter and a weekday, there weren’t a lot of people there, which was a nice change of pace. We were able to explore the area. When we went inside the cathedral there was a distinct difference in the décor of Helsinki Cathedral to Uspenskin Katedraali. It was quite simple in decoration and everything was in shades of white. It has a calm and solemn feel to the place.

Afterward, we decided to walk down Aleksanterinkatu towards the Design District. We did a bit of exploration of the Design District and saw a really neat store with wooden ties and ended up at Observatory Hill before going back down and had a scrumptious lunch at Naughty Brgr, which had a lot of creative burgers to choose from. It was a nice lunch and got us ready for the rest of the afternoon.

From the Design District, we walked northwest towards Temppeliaukio Church, which is a Lutheran church built directly into solid rock. It has a really unique design as a result of being built into the rock. It was also a nice place to sit and think.

When we were ready to leave, we then went towards Kamppi and walked around the area and decided what we wanted to do next. From there, we thought we would spend the rest of the afternoon at the National Museum of Finland. So we figured out the right direction and started our walk towards there.


The National Museum is nicely laid out with a lot of interesting information about Finnish history. I was particularly impressed with the modern history exhibits that highlighted how Finland has grown and developed into the country it is today. The struggles and challenges that the people in this country have faced and have worked to overcome were quite revealing about the strength of Finns and how little I knew about the country.

After the museum, we walked back to our hotel to rest before we went out to dinner. I had to do a bit of studying and participate in an online conversation with members of my university cohort. But at the last minute, we had to reschedule the meeting, which meant we could leave early for dinner. We ended up at Restaurant Savotta, which had really nice Finnish food. I particularly enjoyed the salmon soup and my elk and reindeer sausages. It was a lovely meal.

By then it was late for us so we went back to the hotel and had a relaxing evening before bed.

Day 3

Waking up the next morning, Jun and I got ready for a day of further explorations. After breakfast, we walked to the Kauppatori ferry near our hotel that would take us to Suomenlinna. It’s an inhabited sea fortress built on six islands. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s still in use by the Finnish navy and other inhabitants.


As we left the hotel we were awed that is had snowed overnight and that it had left a thin blanket over the city. It was quite beautiful. It also indicated it was a cold morning. When we got to the ferry we decided to stay inside instead of waiting out on the deck. But as we started to leave the dock, we decided to brave the wind to enjoy the view. The temperature became warmer as the sun rose in the sky.

When we got to the Suomenlinna, we decided to walk around the naval area before we ventured towards the main areas. It was quite a beautiful place. Jun and I enjoyed exploring the different parts of the island. Some places were more residential, others were more of the ruins of the sea fortress. It was quite fun to see different aspects of the islands. By the time we made a circuit around the island, Jun and I were ready to have lunch. We ended up a really nice café where we had one of the best creamy salmon soups I’ve ever had. We also had quiche and pasta for a lovely lunch.

After we had finished lunch, we saw that the ferry was about to leave so we ran to try to catch the ferry. The man at the ferry shouted for us to hurry so the ferry could leave. As soon as we got on the ferry it started to leave.

The ride back to central Helsinki was nice. As we got back to central Helsinki, you could see how beautiful the city really is.


For the rest of the afternoon, we walked a bit around the city and did some shopping. We first went up to Kallio before heading back towards central Helsinki. While we were out we went to the Fazer Café and bought some chocolate. Before going back to the hotel, we stopped at the Moomin Café and had some warm drinks. Breakfast and lunch had been so big that Jun and I ended up just snacking for dinner.

When we got back to the hotel, we did some packing and prepared ourselves for the ferry ride to Estonia the next morning.

Day 4

After we had breakfast we went and finished packing. We quickly checked out and then walked to the Viking Cruise terminal building. We quickly got our tickets and waited to board the Rosella for our trip to Tallinn. When we boarded, Jun and I went to find a place to sit. We ended up on an upper deck that allowed me to do some school work while Jun did some reading and wandered around the ship for a bit. We also got to try some of the chocolate from Fazer that we had bought the day before. The chocolate bar we had was really good!

We soon arrived in Tallinn and walked to our hotel the Three Sisters. Check-in went smoothly and the front desk person was really nice and gave some recommendations of things to do and places to eat. He even upgraded our room to a junior suite. The room was really nice and comfortable. Jun and I regretted that we were only staying for one night. It would have been nice to stay longer.

After we had sorted our things, we went to explore the Old Town. It’s a really neat medieval town with city walls and towers. We started around our hotel and went towards the stairs that led up to the Upper Town. Exploring the city was fun. There were so many alleys and stairways that it was easy to get lost and find yourself again.

By then it was late in the afternoon and we were ready to eat something. We ended up at one of the recommended restaurants and had an amazing meal at Restoran Farm. It had lovely Estonian food. Because we went at a strange time between lunch and dinner we had the restaurant to ourselves. It was quite a wonderful meal.


Afterward, we walked back to the hotel. My rescheduled class meeting was that night and I had to get ready for it. The meeting went well, although with the jet lag I was a bit scattered brain. When it was over Jun and I had a nice stay-in before going to bed.

Day 5

After waking up and getting ready we went and had breakfast downstairs. It was another lovely breakfast with different Estonian dishes that were fun to eat. I found the breakfast sausage particularly delicious.

Then we went out to explore the city a bit more before we head to go to the ferry terminal for the cruise back to Helsinki. Even late in the morning, certain parts of the Old Town were closed off to vehicle traffic. That created a wonderful opportunity to take some nice pictures. As we were walking we ventured around the different streets and did some shopping as well. One of the neat places we visited was the Balti Jaam Market; it had all sorts of different things from Soviet antiques to different sorts of fusion foods. It was a really cool place to walk around. By early afternoon we realized that breakfast had filled us up and that we didn’t want lunch, but that a snack might be nice. We decided to have an early afternoon tea at Café Maiasmokk, the oldest café in Tallinn. It was really nice and a great way to start our afternoon. After our afternoon treat, we went through the Kalev Marzipan Factory Museum to see the different candies and marzipan sold there. We even got to see different marzipan artworks.

From there Jun suggested we walk towards Kadriorg Park. It was quite some distance away, but it did allow us to see the more modern parts of Tallinn. When we got to the park it was nice to walk around it and see the different cultural and natural aspects of it. One of the more beautiful structures there was the Kadriorg Art Museum, which Peter the Great of Russia had built for Catherine I as Kadriorg Palace. It was a beautiful beacon in the drab winter landscape. Jun and I didn’t feel like going into the museum, so we continued to walk around the park.

We soon realized that we needed to walk back to the hotel to get our luggage and then walk down to the ferry terminal. We were lucky with our timing. By the time we got to the ferry terminal, it had started to rain.

We had to wait a bit before we could board the Viking XPRS back to Helsinki. We quickly found a seat and then got some food at one of the restaurants and enjoyed a relaxing ride back to Finland. I took the opportunity to catch up on my studies and Jun went to wander around the ship.

When we arrived in Helsinki we took the tram to the train station and then waited for the train that would take us up north. Because we were a bit late in booking our train tickets, we had to first go to Tempere to catch the overnight train to Kolari.

It went really quick and everyone was really nice in helping us. We soon found ourselves in our sleeper car which was really nice. It had a bathroom with a shower inside and came with full bedding and a bottle of water. Also, since we wouldn’t arrive in Kolari until 10:48 the next day, I could sleep without being concerned that I would oversleep and miss our stop. It also helped that it was the last stop on the journey.

Day 6

After one of the rare nights where I actually slept on a train, I woke up refreshed and thinking it was still early because it was still dark outside. But when I checked the time it was already mid-morning and it was still dark! Being so far north in winter was a bit surreal for me. For the rest of the morning, I did some school work and got ready for when we arrived in Kolari.

By the time the train arrived the sun was rising and we were treated to a winter wonderland. Snow covered everything. With the forests and rolling hills, it was like watching a nature documentary. I sat mesmerized by the beauty of it all.


Soon we arrived at the Kolari train station and found the bus that would take us directly to our hotel in Levi.

The ride went smoothly and Jun and I soon found ourselves in our room at the Hotel Hullu Poro. Our room was nice with a kitchenette and a sauna inside it. We decided we would try it later that evening.

But first, we were hungry and went searching for something to eat. We ended up at an Italian restaurant called Renna with oven-fired pizza. We ordered a reindeer sausage pizza and an Arctic shrimp pasta. Both were huge and quite delicious. We were so full that we didn’t think we would want to get dinner later that day.

After lunch, we went for a walk around the village. It was a cute little place and we went around the shops and enjoyed being in the snow. As we walked we found a grocery store and decided to stock up on some snacks for our room. It was nice to see the different Finnish products. We ended buying some drinks, fruit, nuts, and other dishes that we could snack on when we didn’t want to go out.

By the time we were done with our shopping, the sun was already starting to set. It was only 3 in the afternoon! The temperature started to go down and we decided we would go back to our room. There, I did more studying and Jun did some reading of his own. We ended up not being hungry and just snacked on the items we had bought earlier.


Before going to bed we did use the sauna. It was a nice experience and left us ready for bed.

Day 7

After waking up and getting ready, we went to have breakfast and enjoyed the sunset late in the morning. When it was light out, we decided to go out and explore the village more.

We first went to the tourist office to see if there were any interesting activities or events in the area. We ended up booking a dog sled excursion for the next day and a trip to a snow hotel at night that same day. The person at the tourist office also gave us suggestions for what we could do that day. One of her suggestions was to go for a snow hike around the area.

We decided we would go on a hike around Lake Kivijärv. It was near the tourist office, but we first had to find the right trail. There was the walking trail, which we wanted, but there was also the skiing trail and the snowmobile trail. Finding the right one took us a bit of time. When we had found it, however, the hike was really nice. It was really beautiful and pristine in areas with the heavy snowfall. We found a little shelter in the woods for hikers that had a wood fire. It was nice to sit by it and enjoy the view from the window.

As we continued on our hike we ended up walking across the frozen lake and enjoyed the sun overhead. By early afternoon it was already starting to go down. By the time we got back to the village to find a place for a late lunch, it was starting to get dark.

For lunch, we went to KingCrab House which had really nice seafood. It was a wonderful lunch in a really nicely decorated restaurant.


After lunch we decided to take the cable car up to the summit of the ski slope to have afternoon tea at Café Spiella. We were one of the few people there so we were able to get a seat near the window to look down over the village. It was a nice and relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

When we finished we went back down. We went back to the grocery store and then headed back to the hotel to call it a day.

Day 8

When we were done with breakfast we went down to the tourist office to get ready for our dog sled excursion. As we were leaving we discovered that it was -27 degrees Celsius. It was so cold that day! It was so cold that our transport to where the dog sledding was to happen couldn’t start. We had to reschedule for later that afternoon. As a result, we decided to get some tea and coffee at the aptly named Coffee House. We then did a bit of shopping before going back to the tourist office.

From there we had a quick drive out to where the dog sledding was. We were given an introduction to what to expect and changed into some warmer clothes. Then we were dog sledding. It was fun and a bit different. But it was so cold! After we were done they took us into a warm cabin where we were given hot drinks and biscuits to help warm our insides as we sat by the fire to warm our outsides.

After we were warm again we were driven back to the village.  When we arrived back we decided to have a late lunch/early dinner at Nili-Poro. It was another nice meal. I ended up have reindeer sausage again in a berry sauce. It was quite good.

We went back to the hotel to get ready for our next excursion to the snow hotel. Since it was going to be at night I changed into even warmer clothing.

Soon we were on our way to the Snow Village in Lainio. It was actually a really neat place. All the rooms had a unique design that went with the theme for the year Illusions. We even went down an ice slide. That was fun! After we had gone around the hotel, we went to the café and had hot berry juice and gingerbread cookies. It was a nice way to end our excursion.

Soon we were back at our hotel to relax and enjoy the evening.

One thing we had wanted to see but was proving problematic was to see the aurora borealis. The previous two nights we hadn’t been able to see it, so we were hoping we would get a chance on our last night. We walked down to the lake, which was the closest darkest area and waited a bit to see if we could see it. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see the aurora and went back to the hotel. We decided that we would one day see it together, but we knew we had time and that one day we would.

Day 9

Our last day in Levi had us go for a hike around the woods and mountains. It was nice to be surrounded by the winter beauty of nature. It would be a while till the next time we would see so much snow. After we had circled back on our hike we went and had lunch at a different pizza restaurant at Kotipizza.

Once done with lunch, we went back to the hotel to check out and wait for our bus to the train station in Kolari.

The bus ride went smoothly and we were soon in our train cabin. When the train attendant came to check our tickets, she informed us that our toilet was out of service but the shower was still working. Because of the inconvenience, they were providing us with a coupon that we could use in the restaurant car. It ended up being okay since we got money for food and the public restroom wasn’t too inconvenient to use. The fact that we could still use the shower was fine with me.

After doing some school work and watching TV, Jun and I went to bed.

Day 10

Our last day in Finland had us start early. After our train arrived with the transfers, we soon arrived at the airport to drop our luggage off and to have breakfast. We still had a few hours before our flight departed, so Jun and I decided to go back to central Helsinki for a few hours.

When we got there we first took the tram so we could see the Sibelius Monument. I remember playing some of his compositions in high school, so it was nice to see a monument pay homage to him. And nearby was the cute Café Regatta that had an eclectic esthetic. It was a nice treat on our last day.

From there we went back to the city center and walked around a bit to do something shopping. We ended up buying a lot more Fazer chocolate. And then we had lunch at Kappeli. The restaurant is in a beautiful building and our server was sweet and lovely. I think it made our food taste even a little bit better. It was a nice meal to end our time in Finland.

After lunch, we had to go back to the airport to get ready for our flight. When we got there we went through security and immigration. We also did some last-minute souvenir shopping and bought the face masks we needed for the trip back to China.

We were both a bit nervous about what to expect when we arrived in China. With all the news about the COVID-19 virus, we had debated about returning. In the end, there were a lot of precautions that the different levels of government had put in place. Being sensible and not panicking has left for a calm period of staying inside most of the time and being probably generally cleaner and healthier.


We were fortunate that we were able to spend a wonderful time in Finland and Estonia. It was a wonderful trip and something happy to remember from 2020.

Spring Festival with Family

Lunar New Year arrived at the beginning of February. After discussing possibilities, Jun voiced his desire to return to Dexing to spend the holiday with his dad and stepmom. Since it had been awhile since we visited, we thought it was a great time to go there.

By the time we had come to that decision, the options to getting to Dexing during the holiday became limited and expensive. It ended up that to get there we would have to fly from the airport in the city next to Shenzhen and then take a shared car to Jun’s hometown.

Day 1

The start of our holiday began on a Friday when we had to take the bus from Shenzhen to Huizhou. Since we had an early flight the next morning, we decided to go the day before and spend the night there. Once we settled into our hotel, it was time for dinner. Jun and I ended up going to a nice Cantonese restaurant that overlooked Huizhou’s West Lake. After dinner we decided to take a stroll around the lake. As it was the holiday we discovered that there was a free lantern festival going on around the lake. We decided to see what it was like. It was quite impressive. And the abundance of people who were there with us thought so too.

Once we had walked around the lantern festival, we headed back to the hotel and called it an early night so we could wake up early for our flight.

Day 2

We woke up early the next morning and took a taxi to the airport. We got there just as the check-in counters for our flight opened and we were soon in the waiting area for our flight. The airport was tiny and everything went quickly. We were soon in the air to Shangrao in Jiangxi Province. We actually got there almost an hour early. Jun’s stepmom had found a shared car for us to take to Dexing, but it wasn’t supposed to leave for another hour. Jun and I ended up spending that hour in the airport. Once the car arrived we were soon on our way to Dexing.


Once we arrived we met with Jun’s stepmom who made us lunch; we then went and took a nap. Later that day we walked around the city a bit before having dinner with Jun’s family. After dinner we went for a walk around the city and then called it an early night.

Day 3

The time spent in Dexing was mainly a time to relax and for Jun to spend time with his family. I took the time to relax and catch up on my reading. We would go for walks around the city and try different foods there. As I was reading Leah Franqui’s America For Beginners, I began to crave Indian food. Jun “kindly” told me that I was out of luck in Dexing and would have to wait until we got back to Shenzhen.

On this day we took a trip to Phoenix Lake. It was a nice walk around the area and a great place to enjoy the warm weather. After spending a few hours there we went back to have dinner—typical Jiangxi cuisine—and a relaxing evening.

Day 4

New Year’s Eve! Today was spent mainly in preparation for the holiday. Jun and I put up the Chun Lian in front of the door to express the family’s good wishes for the new year. Afterwards we just ate and relaxed for the day.


In the evening we had a wonderful meal and spent a nice time enjoying being together.

Day 5

A rainy day in Dexing, as well as our last one. Jun and I just spent the day inside. After dinner Jun, his dad, stepmom, a friend of Jun’s dad, and I went up to Juyuan Tower. After the rain it was magically foggy. The area around the tower felt separated from the rest of the world and it was fun to be there.

After going around the tower and enjoying the views from there we went back and called it a night.

Day 6

It was our last day in Dexing. Jun and I had decided to spend the second part of the holiday in southeastern Anhui to explore some villages there and to go up Huangshan. We first had to take a bus from the city to the Dexing train station, which wasn’t actually in the city itself. It really wasn’t even on the outskirts of the city either. It felt as if it was in the middle of nowhere. When we go there we arrived in time to take the high-speed train to Huangshan city. From there we had to take a bus to get to Hongcun.

When we got there we quickly got our tickets to get into the village and then went straight to our hotel.


Hongcun is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s considered to be a fine example of village architecture from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The village is arranged in the shape of an ox if you look at it from an aerial view. The village was even used in scenes from the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

We spent the day going around the village and enjoying the environment. Late in the afternoon we took a walk towards another village—Lucun—that was smaller than Hongcun but equally interesting. There were some beautiful areas of this village.

Once we had returned to Hongcun, Jun and I went in search of dinner and had some noodles at a small restaurant next to Moon Pond.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and went to bed.

Day 7

On this day we went to another UNESCO village: Xidi. Xidi is smaller than Hongcun. Established in the Song Dynasty, Xidi as a site is managed by the village itself. As such it is much less commercialized than Hongcun, which we were told was managed by a Beijing company. Jun and I agreed that while Hongcun was nice, Xidi felt more authentic. When we got there we first went to a wonderful family owned restaurant that had some really nice food. Once we were full we went and journeyed around the village.

There were different houses and temples to explore, as well as farm fields to enjoy. In the late afternoon we found a nice café to have some hot chocolate and waffle cakes and relaxed.

Soon our time in Xidi came to an end and we went back to Hongcun for the night. The next day Jun and I had to get up early for our trip to Huangshan. Before calling it a day we went to this nice restaurant—Guanlaotai—where I finally got to try stinky tofu. I ended up enjoying it a lot.

Day 8

The day we went up to Huangshan. It started at 4:00 in the morning so we could get to the entrance gate of the mountain at 6:00 when it opened. It was an early start; we did avoid having to wait in standstill lines. We still had to wait in lines, but they were constantly moving so it didn’t feel as if we weren’t getting anywhere.

Huangshan is another UNESCO site. Huangshan—Yellow Mountains—are well known in China. They are famous throughout the country for their natural beauty. Many renowned Chinese paintings and texts have been inspired from these mountains.


Unfortunately, when we arrived it was a terribly foggy day. Our ability to enjoy the natural beauty was limited by the visibility afforded to us through the fog. Still, the fog added an ethereal feel to the place and we were able to experience parts of the different areas of Huangshan to ourselves. There were occasional moments when we got to see some beautiful sights as the clouds moved around the mountain peaks.

By early afternoon Jun and I were ready to go back to Hongcun and just relax for the remainder of the day. We spent a wonderful time at Zenlotus; we had some nice green tea and an amazing chocolate waffle with cream for afternoon tea.

The rest of the day we went around and did some shopping and just enjoyed being together.

Day 9

The last day of the trip. Our flight to Shenzhen didn’t leave until 11:00 in the evening, so we had an entire day to get to the airport in Huangshan city.

Since we had an early morning the previous day, we decided to have a late morning on this day. When we finally were ready to start the day it was near noon. We first went for a hike around Leigang Mountain at the northernmost part of the village before having lunch at a really nice restaurant near Chengzhi Hall.

After lunch we went for a long, winding walk back to the hotel to collect our luggage before heading to catch the bus to Huangshan city.

The bus ride was uneventful and we were soon in the Tunxi District of Huangshan. We decided that we would go to see Laojie before heading to the airport. The old street itself was quite interesting with different types of stores that sold different snack foods, handicrafts, and jewelry. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

By early evening we had dinner at a dumpling restaurant. Then we took a taxi to the airport. We had to wait a few hours to check-in for our flight. And even when we did our flight was delayed a bit. We finally arrived back at our apartment in Shenzhen at 3:00 in the morning. And a few, short hours later I went back to work exhausted and ready for another vacation!


Overall, it was a great time getting to spend time with Jun’s family in Dexing and to explore a new part of China that I hadn’t been to before. It was a rather successful holiday! And I did end up having Indian food the following Saturday.

Lovely Laos

Chinese New Year was finally upon us, and Jun and I were more than ready to get away from work and go on vacation. Since our last trip to Europe took us a long distance away from Asia, we decided to stick close to home and decided to go to Laos.

Because of the way our schedules worked this year, I ended up having a few extra days than Jun. I decided to take it easy in Guangzhou before we left for our trip. It was nice to just spend a few days in Guangzhou relaxing and going around to see some of the Spring Festival festivities in the city. I was also able to catch up on things that I had been putting aside since I hadn’t had time to do them.

Day 1

Finally, Jun was done with work and we were both ready for our trip! We left mid-afternoon for Vientiane from Guangzhou and had no problems getting to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The first thing we had to do when we got there was to get our visa on arrival. The process was quite quick and efficient, they combine getting the visa and immigration process in one area so that we wouldn’t have to go to two counters. That was really nice and quick! Afterwards we collected our bag and went out to see a man holding a sign with my name on it. Our hotel had a complimentary airport shuttle and took us straight to the hotel. It was one of the quickest entries I’ve ever experienced.

When we got to the hotel we quickly checked-in and then went up to our room. We cleaned up a bit and rested as we decided what we wanted to do for dinner. Eventually we just decided to go explore and find a place that we liked. After walking for a bit we ended up at an Italian restaurant. The food was good, but the service needed work.

After dinner we went towards the Mekong River to see the night market there. This market was more for locals than for tourists. It was nice to walk around the market. Jun and I spotted some street food and ended up buying a spicy sausage that was quite good. By that time it was getting late and we decided to go back to the hotel to call it a night.

Day 2

Our first full day in Vientiane; we woke up from a nice rest and had breakfast at the hotel. We then decided just to explore the city and see what there was to see in Vientiane. Even though it’s the capital of Laos, it’s not known as a tourist destination. We discovered that morning in the city can be quite quiet. We first walked towards the river to see what it looked like during the day. To our surprise, the area near where we thought the river was is actually surrounded my marshes. It was a very pastoral scene to be so close to the city. Across the river we could see Thailand.

Jun and I walked along the river until we reached the presidential palace. We weren’t able to go inside, but we got a glimpse. The building was in colonial French architecture and seemed like a nice building. We walked a bit in a park around the palace before going on to Haw Phra Kaew.

Haw Phra Kaew used to be a Buddhist temple, but now it’s a small museum of religious art. It was interesting to see some examples of how the Lao people historically portrayed aspects of Buddhism. The building has been maintained quite nicely and was a nice visit for us.

Across the street is Wat Si Saket, while it was built only in 1818 it is considered to be the oldest temple still standing in Vientiane. The wat is really fascinating, as inside the main compound is a cloister with 2,000 clay and silver Buddha images. The main building has some really exquisite murals on the interior walls that are delicate and intricate. Jun and I really enjoyed walking around this wat.

By then it was nearing lunch, but because we had eaten a big breakfast we weren’t really that hungry. We ended up just having a strawberry cheesecake ice cream concoction at a nearby desert parlor. Jun and I were actually happy we had it since it was really good. It was just nice having something sweet for lunch since we were on vacation.

We then decided to walk around the central area and go to some stores and some of the other wats in the area. Each wat was unique in its own way. They were similar to other wats we had seen in the region, but they were also quite unique in their own way.

Finally we ended up at Patuxai, a war monument dedicated to those that fought for independence from France in the mid-twentieth century. It was an interesting mix of local and European styles of architecture. Jun and I went up to the top and got to see the surrounding area. It was a nice change to see short buildings instead of the skyscrapers of China.

From there we then went to a shopping center to see if Black Panther was playing at the local movie theater. We found that it was and that we could see it in English later that night. We bought tickets and then took a slow walk to the hotel to rest up a bit.

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Later that day we went to a local Laotian restaurant for dinner called Lao Kitchen that was delicious. The food was uniquely Laotian, but you could see how it fit in the greater cuisines of Southeast Asia. It was definitely a nice dinner. Afterwards we went to the movie theater and enjoyed the film. When the move was finished we then went back to the hotel and ended our day.

Day 3

The next day Jun and I decided to venture out to the Buddha Park outside the city. We had talked about how we wanted to get there and was deciding between taking a bus or a tuk tuk. We chose the bus and we were glad we made that decision. After leaving Vientiane we noticed that the park was actually quite far out of the city, and that the closer we got to the park the worse the road became. Near the park it was just a dirt road. And it being the dry season it was just dusty. Buildings and plants next to the road were covered in a thick layer of dust. A good decision on our part indeed.

When we got to the park it was much smaller than we anticipated. But the size wasn’t an issue as the park itself is quite interesting. Built in 1958 the park has over 200 Hindu and Buddhist statues. While the statues look like their centuries old, they’re actually quite recent. Many simply are made out of concrete. But those statues are ornate, and in many cases quite strange. It was a nice and easy side trip to see something different.

Later we took a bus and went back to Vientiane where we walked to Pha That Luang. The Buddhist stupa is considered to have been built in the third century AD, and is a national symbol for the country. As such it is considered the most important national monument.

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It was much larger than we thought it was going to be. And when we got there it was relatively quiet, only a few other people visiting. By the time we were about to leave, however, a tour group came and the energy of the site went from calm to animated. Afterwards Jun and I decided to head back for the hotel to relax. On our way we stopped by a Swensen’s for a desert lunch. It was a nice treat in the midst of the hot afternoon sun.

That evening we ended up having an early dinner and then walking along the river and stopping and trying different street food. I ended up getting another of the spicy sausage.

Day 4

Our last morning in Vientiane had us wake up and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before we checked out and took the hotel’s airport shuttle to the airport. Since we only had a domestic flight, check-in took five minutes and going through security was also a simple affair. The domestic terminal in currently being rebuilt, so we waited in a temporary building that looked like a government office with people waiting for the next available clerk.

Fortunately we didn’t have long to wait, and we were soon on the plane and on our way to Luang Prabang. The flight took less than an hour and we were there in no time. At the airport we caught a shuttle to our hotel in the heart of the old town.

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Our hotel actually used to be part of the royal complex, so the grounds and surrounding area of the Royal Peacock was beautiful. As we were having our welcome drinks the manager of the hotel explained the city and places we could go and visit. After everything was settled he took us to our room and showed us around. It was a really nice room with a lot of nice perks, including daily fresh fruit.

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After resting for a while Jun and I decided to go out and find a place for lunch. We ended up at a place called Bouang that had some really nice Asian/Western fusion food. Jun and I were quite happy with our meal and were energized to go explore that afternoon. The first place we went to was the Haw Kham Royal Palace Museum. It used to be the home of the royal family of Luang Prabang before the overthrow in 1975. The interior has been well maintained and it gives a glimpse of what life would have been like for the royal family. Also on the grounds of the museum is Haw Pha Bang, a more recent temple that is built in traditional architectural style. It was a beautiful building.

From the Royal Palace we started to walk around the side streets of the old town and saw some traditional and colonial buildings, went through a number of wats, and walked along the river. We finally ended up at Wat Xieng Thong. It’s one of the most important monasteries in the city and is beautifully maintained. Near here in the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. We were able to walk a bit around here and saw a bamboo bridge. Our visit to Luang Prabang was during the dry season, so it was possible to see the bamboo bridges and to walk down here. But in the rainy season it would be too dangerous to venture down there. So it was nice we got to experience it.

As it was nearing sunset, Jun and I walked back through town to go up to Mount Phou Si to see the sun set over the region. It was a bit of a climb, but it was nice to see the sunset and the changing colors of twilight. From there we went to dinner and went back to the hotel to call it a night.

Day 5

On our first full day in Luang Prabang, we decided we would just take it easy and leisurely wander around the town. The first thing we did was have breakfast, which was an interesting affair since it was a three course meal that was more aligned with lunch than breakfast. There was salad, fruit, bread, and a sandwich. It was different, but the food was quite good. Jun though it a bit strange, I thought it was a nice change from typical breakfast food.

Afterwards we walked through the morning market next to our hotel towards going to a wat that was also next to our hotel. Both were nice glimpses into what life is like for the locals in the town. It’s so similar to other places in the world, yet with its own uniqueness that makes Luang Prabang special.

From the wat we started walking to the UXO office. On the way we stopped at the Traditional Art and Ethnology Center. It’s a neat place that highlights the different ethnic groups in this part of Laos, as well as the traditional arts and crafts of these groups. There was a nice hands-on exhibit on learning how to tell the difference between natural materials that these ethnic groups use in their arts and crafts and those that are made from synthetic materials. Jun and I had a difficult time differentiating between the two, and we found it fascinating how the natural objects are incredibly sturdy. At the adjoining store we were mesmerized at the beauty of the intricate art and crafts on display. As we were leaving we saw another area set up for kids. I ended up exploring that area and trying on a fun little hat. If I thought they would have fit, I would definitely had played dress up with some of the clothes they had there. Alas, the hat was the only thing that I could try.

As we were going down the road to head onto the UXO office, we stopped to get some fresh coconuts. After a nice walk in another part of town we found the UXO office.  UXO stands for unexploded ordinance. They are the ordinances that were not detonated during the Vietnam War, but that remained and pose a threat to the people of the country. The UXO organization is working towards clearing them from the country, but because of the staggering number of them it will take more time and funds than they currently have available. While they still continue to clear them from the country, they also do a lot of public education and outreach activities to teach people, especially children, how to be careful and what to do in different scenarios. As part of that education and outreach, they have set up an information center in Luang Prabang. It was really edifying and brought to attention that even if a war ends the effects of it can be felt for many decades afterwards.

On that note Jun and I left and walked back to the main area of Luang Prabang. On the way we went to the oldest wat in Luang Prabang: Wat Visoun. It had a large stupa in a nicely maintained complex. From there we continued to walk on the south side of Mount Phou Si and saw that there was another bamboo bridge. At that point Jun and I were hungry and agreed that we would go on this bridge later that afternoon.

We ended up eating at a small restaurant of on a side street. The food and drinks there were amazing. Feeling refreshed we walked around a bit and then went back to the bamboo bridge. It was neat to walk along the bridge and to see what was on the other side. There was a store selling handmade jewelry and a treehouse café.

After walking back across the bridge we did some shopping and went for walk around another part of the town. We end up finding a visitor center for the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden. The guy at the front informed us that if we bought tickets we could take a boat and go to the botanical gardens on the other side of the river. Jun and I decided that since we didn’t have any plans for the rest of the afternoon that we should go. So we bought the tickets and went down to the boat. We got there just in time as the boat was about to leave. There was only one other guy on the boat; we essentially had the boat to ourselves. As we sailed up the Mekong we got to see the surrounding landscape. It was beautiful and peaceful. After about 20 minutes we arrived at the botanical gardens. We walked up from the pier and was greeted by a staff member. He explained all that we could see and made suggestions of what we should do. One of the things he recommended was to visit this cave along a trail along the coast. That sounded fun. Jun and I decided we would do it. First we saw the ethnic garden that showed different vegetation used by the different ethnic groups in Laos. That was really interesting to see the different plant varieties. From there we then went on the trail to the cave. That was a really scary trail as it was steep and slippery at places. It was also a lot of fun. It was beautiful to walk along the river and to venture to the cave. The cave was a good size and had a Buddhist shrine inside. Jun and I were happy we went, but were quite relieved that we didn’t fall and hurt ourselves. After the cave we walked around the different parts of the botanical garden. There was even a demonstration vegetable garden there. There was some vegetables that Jun and I were curious about but had no clue what they were. By the time we had gotten to the vegetable garden it was about the time we had to head back to the pier to get the last boat back to Luang Prabang. Again we essentially had the boat to ourselves and we got to see the start of the sun setting as we went back on the Mekong.

By then it was early evening and we were ready to go to see where we would have dinner. We first thought we might have dinner by the river, but then we saw that there were a lot of mosquitoes and we didn’t want to deal with that. We ended up at a really nice restaurant that had a set menu where we could try a number of local delicacies. The restaurant was quite nice. We ended up quite satisfied with the experience. After that we walked back to the hotel and called it a night.

Day 6

Waterfalls, caves, and story time: that is what Jun and I experienced on our sixth day. Jun and I the previous day decided to get out of the city and see some of the surrounding area. We had some difficulty making this plan. We had asked our hotel about prices and options. We were a bit confused about what they suggested at first. After we had looked at what other places were offering we thought about it and made some inferences about what we thought the hotel staff was trying to tell us. We then went back to confirm and to get some clarification. Once that was all clear we had booked a van for the day at a nice price.

The first place we would go to on this day was Kuang Si Waterfall. It was a bit of drive out there, but it was nice to drive through the mountains on our way to the waterfall. When we got there we first went through a wild bear sanctuary. It was heartening to see the rescued bears thriving in the preserve. Some of the bears were hunted and some had lived in cages. A lot of the bears had been physically harmed as well. Many were recuperating and thriving here.

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From the bears we went up to the first area of the waterfalls. It was gorgeous! As we continued to go up to the different levels of the falls they got more beautiful and intricate. We finally ended up seeing the main falls. While there Jun and I decided to go up to the top of the falls. We again chose a difficult path up, but with the support of each other we made it to the top. It was neat to see the area up there. There was a beautiful lush area where locals were doing some aqua-agricultural farming. That was interesting to see. And the trail up there was serene. To get back down we chose another path, which was much easier to traverse. When we got back down we went through the park again and then got some food to eat before taking the van to Pak Ou Caves.

The journey to Pak Ou Caves took a long time. So Jun and I just kind of rested most of the way there. But as we were nearing the caves, we went off the main road onto a side road that was being rebuilt. At the moment it’s a dirt road that at times was quite scary to drive on. There was a part that was quite narrow along a cliff next to the river. Fortunately we arrived at the caves soon and we could take a break from the driving.

When we got there we had to buy boat tickets to cross the river to get to the caves. The man at the ticket counter kind of told us where we had to go. So we went along and found the general area where we needed to go. But we weren’t sure where we needed to get the boats. So as we were nearing the river a guy came to us and took our tickets and ushered us onto a shallow bottom boat and took us on the river. All of this was done without any verbal communication. Talk about blind trust on our part. We ended up where we needed to be though and we went up to the first cave. The cave is a Buddhist shrine and there are hundreds of Buddha statues placed throughout the cave. It was interesting. Even more interesting was a group of women that came into the cave as we were leaving who were there to pray. They were dressed in traditional dress and began to kneel on the carpets placed on the ground and started their prayers. It was a peaceful scene.

Jun and I then went up to the upper cave. When we got there we donated some Kip to get an offering to place inside the sanctuary. This cave was not lighted and we had to be careful as we went around it. Jun and I placed our offerings on one of the alters in the cave and then lit our candles. We each said a prayer and then walked around the cave. We were the only ones there and it was tranquil to just experience the surroundings by ourselves.

By then the group of women from earlier were coming up as Jun and I went down to the boats. We found the same guy and he told us to get in the boat and he started to leave. As we were slowly leaving the shore, he saw that another guy was leaving as well. He talked to the guy and asked though hand and head gestures if it was okay that we would go in the other boat. It was okay with us so we transferred boats and then crossed the river.

On the other side we walked through the small village back to the van. And then we got in the van and took the long drive back to Luang Prabang. That dirt road was just as scary as the first time. But we did get to see elephants on the way!

When we got back to Luang Prabang we went back to our hotel room to clean-up and rest. Then we went out to dinner. We went to this restaurant we saw the previous night that looked good. And while the food was indeed good, Jun chose a dish that had raw fish in it. That dish would cause us some trouble later. But at this time all was good.

After dinner Jun and I went to a small theater to hear some traditional Laotian folktales. The Garavek Traditional Storytelling was a fun experience. The theater is quite small and is lit with candles. There are only two seats at the front. Sitting above it is a painting of scenes from different tales. There were two people who performed. One was an older musician who played the accompanying music, and the other was the storyteller. He told a number of tales about the area that were interesting. Jun and I sometimes had a hard time following the winding turns in the tales. But they were told in a captivating way that the way it was being told was just as important as the story itself. Afterwards Jun and I were glad that we had went. After the show we went back to the hotel. So ended this day.

Day 7

This day started early. Jun woke up in the middle of night with an upset stomach. After going to the bathroom he was able to go back to sleep. That was the first warning.

We had to wake up early this morning. Jun had wanted to go see the morning alms giving. To see it we got up early and walked up the main street and waited. Near sunrise we started to see the monks walk along the street to receive alms. It was interesting to see them follow this tradition. It was a bit disconcerting to see some of those witnessing the event get so close to them to take photos. It is sometimes difficult to see people forget that while they may find things they see in another culture interesting because it is different from what they are used to, that for those participating in the event this custom is their way of life. To have a camera placed so close to you and then be blinded by flash in a way dehumanizes what should be a simple act of faith. I am glad that I was able to see this beautiful sight, but it was thought provoking of my own role in the experience.

Afterwards Jun and I went back to the hotel to rest. When we woke up Jun felt really uncomfortable and we decided to just rest for the remainder of the morning. Jun didn’t feel he needed to get medicine. Eventually he felt better and we decided to go for a walk to see the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre. It was a bit of walk there, but Jun seemed to be getting better. When we got there we arrived just in time for the free tour to go over the different parts of the center to see how the different crafts were made. It was really neat to see the local women create the different crafts. In Laos women are the only ones who are traditionally allowed to create these crafts. And the women at this center are trained to make them and to receive a fair share of the profit for their labor. The goal is to both empower women and to ensure that the traditional culture of the different ethnic groups survive. It was a beautiful place.

Unfortunately, as Jun was getting better I started to feel bad. We decided that we would go back to the hotel to rest. Spending most of the afternoon in the hotel napping was how this day went. In the end I felt better by the early evening, but still didn’t have much of an appetite. Jun went out to get something to eat. He brought back some pumpkin soup for me. But because we didn’t have any bowls, he ended up putting it in a glass. I then drank the soup. It was a good soup and I felt a bit better afterwards. For the rest of the night we just stayed in and watched TV. Sufficed to say, we went to bed early!

Day 8

Our last day in Luang Prabang and Laos had us walk around the town one last time and do some last minute shopping. After finishing packing, we checked out and took a tuk tuk to the airport. Again everything was fine and we were soon on our way to Vientiane to catch out flight back to Guangzhou.

Vientiane is where things went a bit off kilter. First we had a bit of layover and decided to get an early dinner in the city center. We took a taxi there, but he took us at the far edge of the center and we ended up having to walk to the restaurant. Dinner was great. We then took another tuk tuk to the airport. The tuk tuk was much better than the taxi driver.

At the airport we checked in and got ice cream at Dairy Queen. And then we went through immigration and security. At that point we waited for our flight. Then we discovered that our flight would be delayed for hours. After a long time of doing nothing, we were finally able to board and take-off. When we got back to Guangzhou we had to deal with a taxi line without any taxis. At that point a bus came to take people away. Some people decided to take the bus instead of waiting for a taxi. One family was about to get on the bus when the taxis started coming again, and then instead of taking the bus they got into the taxi. That’s annoying in of itself but could be just chucked up to just a situational incident. But then the teenage son started making obscene gestures to the rest of the line taunting people. That was obnoxious. The worst part was the dad didn’t reprimand his son, but instead started joining in with his son in taunting the rest of the line. Jun, while normally able to let things slide, got so mad at them that I had to be the one to cool him down. There were a lot of irritated people in that line at that family. Fortunately the taxi attendant was able to usher us to the next available car and Jun and I were on our way back to the Guangzhou apartment.

When we got to the apartment, we quickly took our showers and went to bed. It was so nice to sleep and not have to get up until much later that morning since by the time we went to bed it was nearly four in the morning!

So it was fortunate the worst part of the trip happened at the end, and the rest of it was great. Overall, Laos was amazing. We would definitely go back.

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Spring Festival Impressions

The Spring Festival arrived! Having completed the first week of my new job and finally having started to settle into living in Shenzhen, Jun and I wanted to have a quiet and relaxing holiday. I first had to go to Hong Kong to do paperwork for my new job on the first day of the holiday. With the holiday coming up I had to expedite the process to ensure that everything was completed in time.

Day 1

The actual vacation started by crossing the border into Hong Kong at the Futian checkpoint. This border control station was much easier than the other ones I have gone through in Shenzhen. It was fairly efficient and we were in Hong Kong without undue waiting. Once we were in Hong Kong we headed straight to the hotel.

We were ready for the hotel staff to let us check-in but then have to wait for our room to be available in the afternoon. The staff, however, told us that they had a room free and that they were more than happy to let us go up to the room early. That was a nice start to the trip. Jun and I went to the room and dropped our belongings. Then we went towards the office in Kowloon to do the paperwork. That’s where a snag came up. The agents felt unsure if I had all the paperwork I needed, I felt that I did since the document they wanted was one that I had to surrender back to the Chinese government and no longer had. I still felt it was fine and they said they would try—but made no promises. That left a bit of a bitter taste for us: the nagging worry that something could go wrong.

Jun and I tried our best to put it out of our minds. We had made plans to have lunch with one of his friends in Central. So we went straight there and had lunch at an Italian restaurant. The food was good. After lunch, Jun and I said bye to his friend and went exploring around the area. We started by walking around Soho. We stumbled onto the Dr. San Yat-sen Museum, and went in to see what there was to see. Jun was interested in the exhibitions, but I was more interested in the building itself. It’s an Edwardian building that has been beautifully restored. It was a nice example of British colonial architecture.

From there we went down and found a temple: Man Mo. It was a small temple, but it had a unique way of placing its incense burners and prayer lanterns. It was the first temple I’ve seen that did it. It was quite calming to be there.

Afterwards we walked back towards the waterfront. Near Admiralty there’s a park called Tamar that is really neat. There are places to sit on the grass and stare into the water. And dotted throughout the park are some interesting pieces of art. One of the pieces we saw was a sculpture, Soundscape, by Steven Ho Chun Wang, Alvin Kung Yick Ho, and Edmond Wong Chak Yuen. The sculpture is inspired by the design of a xylophone, and the design of the instrument is actually tuned to be able to make the notes of a song.

Afterwards we took the MTR back to our hotel in North Point. We had dinner at a noodle pace before we went back to the room. We rested for a bit before we went to bed.

Day 2

The next day we decided to go to Stanley. Jun hadn’t been there before and Stanley tends to be much quieter than many other parts of Hong Kong. We took a minibus down south. We took the eastern route and passed a reservoir and a park. The reservoir was also an intriguing piece of architecture. It was built out of blocks and not by poured concrete. It was clearly a historic reservoir as it was also not designed for two lanes of traffic. We had to wait for the direction of traffic to shift before we were able to continue to Stanley.


When we got there we spent the rest of the morning and the afternoon walking around the community. We first went through the market and saw the different stalls there. From there we walked along the promenade and enjoyed the beautiful day. We saw Murray House and Blake Pier and went into the park to see a Pak Tai Temple.

Afterwards we went to visit the Correctional Museum. It was an intriguing place. They had exhibits on the history of cells, corporal punishment (e.g., a replica of how they would hang criminals), and examples of prison created tools, such as homemade tattoo machines and weapons. That latter was interesting after having seen them in movies. From there we walked along the beach and decided to go and get some lunch. When we were done we went for a walk and got some gelato. By then we had to head northward to Kowloon to see if my documents had been processed. We took the bus and got off and took the MTR to Kowloon.

We went to the office and I was relieved to found out that that everything went okay and the documents were processed. So that was one thing that I could cross off my list of things that I needed to do. Once that was done we decided to see a movie. We chose La La Land. We both enjoyed how the intermixing of music with the story worked well and enhanced it. After having an enjoyable time at the movies we wanted to have dinner. That unfortunately ended up being a chore. We had a difficult time finding a place to eat. The placed we wanted to go to didn’t have a free table and a long wait. We ended up eating in a food court with subpar food. Fortunately to make up for that we found a hole-in-the-wall dessert place and had an enjoyable treat there.

That was it for the day and we ended up back in the room.

Day 3

The next day was New Year’s Eve. It was, however, a day of travel for us. We first traveled back to Shenzhen to repack our bags. And then we went straight to the train station to get the overnight train to Shangrao to visit Jun’s family for the holiday in his hometown—Dexing. The only available train Jun could find was the 12 hour overnight train. It’s been quite some time since I last went on such a train and was not looking forward towards it. But we had brought snacks and downloaded several shows to see.


The train ride wasn’t too bad. They sold a simple meal that we both had. And near Longchuan in Guangdong there were firework that we saw from the train. I was excited about that, Jun was more interested in sleeping and just brushed the fireworks off to the side.

Day 4

We arrived in Shangrao—the largest city near Jun’s hometown—at 5:00 in the morning. His dad met us at the train station and both were happy to see each other. It had been almost two years since they last saw each other. From Shangrao we had about another hour and half car ride to Dexing. On the ride we experienced heavy fog that came and went quickly due to the strong wind. It was surreal and scary since we were traveling through mountain roads.

We finally arrived in Dexing where his stepmom and stepbrother met us. His stepmom made us homemade dumplings and insisted that we go take our showers as she got them ready. Once we were clean and our appetites satiated, Jun took his stepbrother and me on a walk around the river near his dad’s apartment.

Dexing is historically a mining community, as a result this small city is fairly well off when compared to other places in the interior of China.  You can see it in the new government buildings and apartment blocks being built. On the walk we saw old and new bridges, the high school Jun went to, and the main commercial area of the city. It was nice to see where Jun spent a significant amount of his youth.


We finished our walk and went back to have lunch with his family. Instead of having lunch in the apartment, Jun’s family had their meals in a separate ground floor alcove where they cooked and had their meals. They cooked and ate here so the apartment wouldn’t get dirty. It was cool and fun. We had a nice homemade lunch and drank tea afterwards. Jun and I went back to the apartment to take a nap before we went out to meet one of his friends.

When we did go out Jun was able to take his dad’s scooter. That was fun! We went to the central area and met his friend. We had tea and then went to get our hair cut. That was a relief to have my hair short again. By the time we were done it was almost time to go back for dinner. Before we went back Jun and I drove around for a bit and saw other parts of Dexing.

For dinner Jun’s aunt came over to eat with us. We were going to stay with her since she had an extra room. After dinner we followed her to her apartment and got ready for bed.

Day 5

This day was largely a relaxing day. We woke up late and just piddled around a bit before we went to see Jun’s family for lunch. We had another wonderful meal. Jun’s stepmom then suggested that we go to see Juyuanlou, which is a pagoda at the foothills to the mountains surrounding Dexing. The pagoda was beautiful and had amazing views of the city and the mountains.

From there we then went to the Jiangxi Mining Museum. This museum is housed in traditional-style buildings and tells the story of mining in Jiangxi province. It was interesting to walk around the museum and to see the history of mining in the province.

From there we then went back to see Jun’s family. After having tea, we went for a walk around the river before dinner. And then after dinner we again went around the government area of the city. For a small community they had a significant number of government buildings. Jun was skeptical that there was enough employees and positions to justify all the office space in these new buildings. The buildings did, however, look impressive at night.

When we got back to the apartment we had some more tea before we went back to his aunt’s apartment for the night. This day was very relaxing.

Day 6

On this day we ventured to go to San Qing Mountain National Park. To get there we woke up early and went to pick up Jun’s stepbrother. Then we took a bus to get us most of the way there. We had to stop in a village—Nanshou—near the national park. We had to wait for about an hour for the next bus. I decided to walk around and see the village. A villager stopped me as I was taking a picture and asked me who I was and what I wanted. I had to explain to him in my horrible Chinese that I was a foreigner and didn’t know too much Chinese. He laughed and said, “Hello!” in English. I then met up with Jun and we went around the river near the bridge and saw a bamboo grove. After our walk we went back to the general store where the bus was going to pick us up. After a bit it came and we went to the eastern entrance of the national park.

When we got there we tried to get tickets to go into the park. Due to it being the New Year holiday, however, there were too many people at the park. The staff decided to stop admitting new guests for two hours to control the number of people entering. That’s a good thing to ensure the park is not stressed; for us, however, it frustrated us. As we were walking and thinking about what we could do we were approached by a driver who said he would drive us to the southern entrance where there was less people. After negotiating the price we decided to hire him and go south.

When we got there the car had to stop at the entrance to the road up to the park. We were able to take the free bus up to the entrance. There were indeed hardly anyone at the southern entrance and we were able to buy tickets and go up on the cable car without having to wait in line. As we were going up in the cable car we noticed that we were going up into a cloud.


It seems that the change in weather overnight had brought a heavy fog that blanketed the park. For the first 30 minutes at the park we were walking in fog and could hardly see anything. What we did see was nice, but our perspective was limited. It actually seemed that we were at ground level and that we hadn’t gone up a mountain. As we were walking on the western path the fog began to clear and we were able to see more of the mountain. As that was happening we were also able to see how high up we were. That knowledge jarred us a bit. It was so high up! The views, though, were amazing.

We continue towards San Qing Temple, which was an old, small temple that was nestled next to one of the mountain peaks.

From there we went along the middle path. There the fog really cleared and we were able to see the sky with the fog below the peaks. The view we had was stunning.

By then we had to head back to the cable car to get back down to the entrance. As we were going down the fog came back and the temperature started to drop. Fortunately we made it to the cable car and went back down. We were hoping that the busses were still running, but by the time we got down there they had stopped. We then decided to find a room for the night and go back in the morning. So after having dinner we went and found a room. It wasn’t the most amazing of places, but it was warm place for the night.

Day 7

The next morning we checked out, had breakfast, and caught the bus to Shangrao. At Shangrao we bought bus tickets to Dexing, but we had to wait an hour before we could leave. We decided to go find a café to get something to drink and wait for the bus. After walking a bit we found a place where we could get tea and waffles. It was bit pricy, but it was at least warm.

Finally we were able to get on the bus and go back to Dexing. When we got there we went and cleaned up at Jun’s aunt’s apartment. Jun had plans to meet up with some of his high school friends. I stayed with his stepmom and stepbrother and did some work.

When he got back we went to meet his family for dinner. This dinner had more people, his uncle, cousins, and a close family friend were there. We had a big and scrumptious dinner! Afterwards Jun and I went for a walk by the river. As we were walking we passed by a cute café where we got some drinks.


We then went back to his dad’s place before we went away for the night.

Day 8

Our last morning in Dexing was a whirlwind of saying goodbyes and picking up a care package Jun’s stepmom made. They had helped us arrange a shared car to take us to the train station in Shangrao. So we were able to get to the train station with plenty of time to pick up our tickets and leave.

Our holiday was coming to an end. I enjoyed meeting Jun’s family and seeing his hometown. And I know he was thrilled to be able to see his dad. It was a wonderful Spring Festival and a great experience for both of us!

Beautiful Bali

Our first day in Bali had us exploring Kuta Beach. After all the moving we did in Yogyakarta, we decided to just have a relaxing day enjoying our time in Kuta. After checking in the hotel we went to the beach and walked around the town. While we were walking we saw long poles everywhere. Apparently on the day we arrived, the Balinese were celebrating Galungan, a holiday commemorating the legendary battle of good versus evil, or the triumph of the spread of Hinduism in Bali. All throughout the island they had erected curved bamboo poles with offerings placed on them. It was really a spectacular site to see.

The next day we decided to hire a car to explore the island. The first day we ventured around the Bukit Peninsula south of Kuta. We first went to Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park, which is a work in progress. While there we saw some Balinese dancing, which was amazing.

Afterwards we went to Uluwatu, a Balinese sea temple, known for the monkeys that live there. The views of the sea from here were amazing. We were able to get close to the cliff face to look down to see the waves crashing against the cliff. We also got to see a lot of monkeys. Many were friendly, but some of them were quite aggressive. After the wonderful experience at Uluwatu, we went to a couple of beaches.

The first beach we went to was Padang Padang Beach. It’s a small beach surrounded by cliffs, and you have to go through the rocks to get down to the beach. We spent some time on the beach and had a wonderful late lunch there too. After lunch we went to see Tegalwangi Beach. This beach is gorgeous and not a lot of people come here, so we were able to enjoy it in peace. The views from this beach to the island of Java were also great! By this time we were exhausted and were ready to head back to Kuta for dinner and bed.

The next day had us going to Ubud for some culture and nature. We first went to Ubud Palace; we then went to see Pura Taman Saraswati. It was one of the most beautiful temples I’ve ever visited. There is a lotus pond in front of the temple that adds an ethereal quality to the temple. It was simple sublime.

We then walked down to the river near Parahyangan Jagat Payogan Agung Gunung Lebah so we could go walk along the Campuhan Ridge. Walking just a few feet and you venture out of the town into a natural oasis. It was a gorgeous and peaceful walk. At the end were some rice fields that we enjoyed seeing.

When we came back to Ubud we had a late lunch and got ready to go see Mount Batur and Batur Lake. We drove to Penelokan village for the view. It was quite spectacular! On our way back to Kuta we stopped to enjoy the Tegalalang Rice Terrace. This day was one of the best of the trip.

 Our third day had us going to Tanah Lot temple. This temple is another sea temple. During high tide it is surrounded by water, but at low tide you can walk to the temple. It was beautiful. There were, however, a lot of people there.

After Tanah Lot, we went to Pura Ulun Danu Bratan temple up in the mountains. This temple is famous throughout Indonesia because it’s on the 50,000 rupiah note. The temple is next to an alpine lake and is gorgeous. I really enjoyed this temple.

The last temple we saw that day was Pura Taman Ayun. This temple was unique in that there wasn’t a lot of people there. In fact we could walk around the temple without anyone bothering us. It was a nice end to our last full day in Bali.

On our last day we just relaxed at Kuta Beach since our flight left early that evening. We enjoyed walking along the beach and doing some shopping. The last thing we got to do was experience the sun setting on the beach. It was a wonderful way to end out time in Indonesia.


Yogyakarta Joy

The Spring Festival finally came! Over two weeks of vacation to do as we wanted. To take a break from winter, we decided to travel to Indonesia for the break. We decided first to go to Yogyakarta on the island of Java. The area has a lot of historic sites in and around it.

We arrived late at night and decided to take a rest from traveling and have an early dinner. We went to this small restaurant called Warung Heru. It’s a family owned place and they were friendly and helpful. The food was incredible!

Our first full day was a busy one. We got up early and decided we would walk to the central area of the city. The first place we went to was the Kraton district, which is where the royal palace is located. As we tried to get our bearings, a man approached us and asked us if we needed help. I was a bit wary about a random person coming up to me, but he was insistent that he just wanted to help us. He told us that he lived in the Kraton and wanted to practice his English. I was still dubious. He then emphatically stated he didn’t want any money and that he would guide us around the area. He said he didn’t have anything to do at that moment; later he would be playing at a wedding as one of the musicians. At that point he started giving us a history of the area. He took us to see some nice things in the Kraton. When it was time for him to go to the wedding, he thanked us and pointed us to the palace. It was a pleasant surprise that he was genuinely curious about us and wanted to practice his English.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon we explored the palace and Malioboro Street. The palace was a beautiful place, and we were able to see some dancers and musicians practice there. It was soothing to watch them move with careful precision.

Molioboro street was cramped with food stalls, stores, and motorbikes. There were so many motorbikes, and yet traffic seemed to move at an orderly and steady pace.

After the hectic nature of that area, we decided to take the bus to see Prambanan Temple. It’s a 9th-century Hindu temple compound dedicated to the Trimurti, the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva). We took one of the TransJogja buses to get there. As we were traveling to the temple it started to rain. We were a bit concerned that we might not be able to fully enjoy seeing the temple. When we got to the temple it was still raining. We decided to see if we could wait it out. After about 20 minutes the rain stopped and we went to the temple. It was quite amazing. The temple was much larger than we had expected. As walked around Prambanan we were struck at how detailed the architectural features were. We enjoyed our visit to the temple and were thrilled that we got to see the sunset there. Afterwards we went back to the hotel.

On our second day we went to Borobudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist Temple, to the north of Yogyakarta. It took about  two hours to get there by public transportation, but it was nice to relax after the previous day. Borobudur was a grand temple and it was nice walking around the structure and grounds. There were times when there was no one else around and we got to enjoy the little spot we found to ourselves. The view from the top of Borobudur was amazing, you could see the surrounding countryside for miles. After we had seen all we could, we stopped for a quick bite and headed back to Yogyakarta. By the time we got back it was already early evening. We had dinner and relaxed the rest of the evening.

On our last full day in Yogyakarta, we decided to go the Water Castle Tamansari. It used to be the private swimming pool of the sultan of Yogyakarta. There were a number of pools there, and it’s easy to imagine the royal family and their guests enjoying spending a hot summer afternoon at the pool. Near the Water Castle is Sumur Gumuling, a semi-underground structure that is not really used anymore except for people to come and explore the area. It was kind of like a maze to walk around the place. It was a fun experience.

Afterwards we had lunch and then walked to Kotagede. It’s a small community that is historically known for its various silver workshops and historic, traditional buildings. The area was super cool. We had fun going through the tiny alleys and to see the different types of workshops.

I particularly enjoyed visiting the Monggo Chocolate factory. The chili chocolate was amazing. I wish I could have brought more chocolate bars back with me. While walking around the neighborhood we saw this cart going from house to house. We saw the cart stop at a house and a woman came to the window and asked the man for a bottle of milk. This man was the milkman! We went up to him and browsed what he had to offer. We decided to buy some chocolate milk; it was creamy and delicious! Kotagede was one of the neatest places I’ve visited and it was a nice way to finish our trip in Yogyakarta.

The next morning we had an early flight and we flew off to Bali for the next part of our vacation.