Ayutthaya – Bang Ian Night Market & the Wat Mahathat

Ayuthaya, Friday, the 3rd of October 2017


In Ayuthaya one of the most famous sights is a single severed buddha head that looks out from under the tangled roots of an ancient bodhi tree. It’s hard to imagine how it got there since the body of the statue is long gone, but there might have been a shrine in front of the tree once that held an image of buddha. On the day we arrived in Ayuthaya light rainshowers kept coming down, convincing us to postphone the sightseeing to the next day. We did take a long walk around town though and found the Bang Ian night market around nightfall.



The next day, the first thing we went to see was the Mat Mahathat, the temple that holds the bodhi tree with the buddha head. It opens early in the morning at 8am and we were almost the first to buy a multi temple pass for the day. The temple ground was muddy and wet from the rain the day before and it didn’t take us long to ruin our shoes. But even with all the dirt and the bad weather it soon became quite clear that we were at a place that used to be of great importance once. Before Bangkok became the capital of Thailand, Ayuthaya was the center of Siamese power. And the city still is peppered with ancient Khmer ruins, making it an ideal gateway city to the history-ladden other cities in Central Thailand.


Panorama Langkawi – SkyBridge, SkyCab and the 3D museum

Day 3 – Monday, the 25th of September 2017



A lot of time and effort went into the planning of this year’s October holiday. As with almost any destination, the LP is a good first source of information and inspiration. One of the things highlighted was a cable car ride up Langkawi’s Machincang mountain, on top of which a suspended sky bridge gives a 360 degree view over the bays and small islands of Langkawi.  It is also said to be longest free span and curved bridge in the world and is suspended on a single pylon 82m above virgin jungle. The SkyCab going up to the top also holds an entry in the Malaysia Book of Records as the country’s longest free span mono-cable car, and will carry you over a distance of 1700m past two pretty waterfalls and above the tropical canopies of the thick jungle vegetation below.

The incredibly long monday morning queues waiting to enter the SkyCab.

I was temped to buy the advertised express way tickets online to avoid long queues at the SkyCab, but Jelte convinced me to try our luck and purchase tickets at the counter on site. As it turned out this was money well saved, since upon our arrival at the entrance late on a monday morning only some 10 other people were waiting to buy tickets. There are different types of tickets available, with one offering a ride in a glas bottom gondula. This type is three times the price of a regular ride, the latter of which didn’t seem half bad considering the magnificient view we expected. Unfortunately, the windows of our gondula (and probably of every cable car) were pretty badly scratched up, so the look outside was always partly obscured by a thousand or so hairline cracks. But even with the air-condition broken and with no opening in the windows to let in some fresh air, the 10 minute ride up to the top of the mountain was quite cool. Haha.


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Included in the entrance ticket to the SkyCab came the entrance to Panorama Langkawi’s 3D museum. Leaving your shoes at the entrance, you walk through a variety of themed rooms that let you be part of the wall drawings.


Since this was our last day staying in a luxury resort with infinity pool access, we only spend a couple of hours at the Panorama Langkawi, before getting back into a cab and taking the 45 minute ride to the other side of the island.

Dataran Lang – The 12m tall statue of an eagle poised to take flight.

The hotel is located on the south east end of the island, with the road going right past Langkawi’s signature Eagle Square, so we took the opportunity to pay it a quick visit before heading back. The harbour was as good as deserted due to the intense midday heat, and so the only other people there were a group of 10 boys visiting from China ( – go figure!), who offered to take a picture for us.

We would already leave for Penang on the first ferry the next morning at 10am, the tickets for which we purchased right there next to the Eagle Square at a small row of counters next to KFC (only one of the booths sells ferry tickets to Penang). And with that we ended our half-day trip and walked straight back up the road to our resort, spending the rest of the day lounging in the pool drinking coconut cocktails by the Andaman sea.

 

The Pride of Lions guarding Beijing’s Marco Polo Bridge

Saturday, the 29th of April 2017


One more of Beijing’s sights is down from our tourist bucket list. Last weekend we took a bus all the way out to the suburbs of Beijing and visited the Marco Polo Bridge, a historically significant place in the south-west of town. There is not much else out there, but the bridge in itself is definitly worth the trip. Along the railing over the river some 500 different lions from different eras of Chinese history guard the bridge, and myth has it that no two persons will count the same number of lions there. One of the reasons why is that each individual lion is oftentimes joined by many more small baby lions hiding all around the stone sculpture. Below is a small selection of the creatures that can be seen there.

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Backpacking Northern Vietnam Part I – Crossing the border from Hekou to Lao Cai

January the 28th, 2017


Not too long ago we had this idea of traveling from China to Vietnam, crossing the border from Hekou (Yunan, South China) to Lao Cai (North Vietnam) on foot. The easiest and most straight forward preperation we did was to buy a Lonely Planet of the destination country and do some googleing to research the feasibility of this endeavour. Turns out it is much easier than anticipated. Since we live in Beijing we booked a flight to Kunming, which took around 3 hours to bring us from the eastern capital to the southern edge of China. Since our flight touched down late that night, we took a cab from the Kunming airport to the Jinjiang hotel close to the train station. That way we gained some extra hours of sleep the next morning and only had a 10 minute walk up the road to reach the train station.

In order to save time and to avoid the masses queueing up at the ticket counter at the train station, find one of these ticket offices and collect yours well before starting the trip. It's 5 RMB service fee per ticket.

In order to save time and to avoid the masses queueing up at the ticket counter at the train station, find one of these ticket offices and collect yours well before starting the trip. It’s 5 RMB service fee per ticket.


Tipp: Claim your train ticket before heading to the station. We bought the train ticket on CTrip some days before the journey and only needed to present our original passports at the small local ticket booth to be able to receive it ahead of time.


Boarding the train at Kunming’s main station the route all the way down to Hekou Bei (North) took around five hours. The landscape was unexpectedly unremarkable: 70 percent of the time we passed through tunnels, while the remaining 30 percent were equally divided between highly unsustainable coal factories and small valleys. Since one of the main objectives of the journey was to cross the Chinese-Vietnamese border on foot, we were bound to take the train, but just for the joy of riding a train through “rural” China I would not recommend this particular route. There is no direct flight from China’s capital to Hekou – the bordering city to Vietnam – and as far as we know Hekou does not have an airport anyways. Arriving in Hekou North in the early afternoon, we walked out of the train station and expected to be pointed into the right direction by a billboard or an information counter. There is none, only a long line of small buses headed for the city center of Hekou. Board any of these buses for 2 RMB and get driven to the river that divides the two countries.

Once you cleared customs and decended the escalator, you are allowed to pass through to the other side.

Once you cleared customs and decended the escalator, you are allowed to pass through to the other side.

It’s another 30 minutes walk from where the bus drops you off to the actual border control. Keep on walking down the same road along the river until you see the massive triangular gate to the border bridge. The access to it is blocked by a high fence, so you will have to continue down the road to the left, then take the first street right. On the day that we crossed over to Vietnam there were not particularly many tourists there, but enough people were entering the inspection center to guide us into the right direction. Don’t expect helpful signs to guide your way, just follow the other travelers and take the elevator on the far left side of the government bureau up to Chinese customs. Much like the country exit on the airport, you are asked to fill out the small yellow departure card when leaving China and queue up to have your passport reviewed by a border control officer.


Tipp: On the small yellow departure card, simply put in “Walking” in the field “Flight No./Ship’s Name/Train No.” as a means of exit.


Once you handed your passport and departure card to the border officer, smiled into the digital camera to take the picture for the data base and passed the usual checkings at the border, you will receive the Chinese exit stamp into your passport. Now you are free to decend the escalator on the other side of the building and cross the bridge over to Vietnam.

Lao Cai International Border Gate Administration Center

The next building to come into view is the Lao Cai International Border Gate Administration Center, where you must first pass the usual “quarantine control”, which mainly consists of a woman checking your passport and a heat camera measuring your temperature, before going through the Vietnamese border controll and receiving your entrance stamp into your passport. Interesting side note: As a German citizen you don’t need a VISA for Vietnam unless you plan to spend more than 15 days in the country. Congratulation – you made it over the South China border and into Vietnam!

Winterly Temple of Heaven in Beijing

It’s our first week back after the Christmas holidays and I have to say the weather treated us very nicely. Over newyears our friends who didn’t return home as well as the German media repeatedly reported the devastating smog situation in Beijing, and I already expected the worst. Fortunately, we brought the clean air back with us and the last few days have seen brighter and brighter skies. Exploiting the opportunity to be outside without wearing a mask, we paid a visit to the Temple of Heaven, one of the few sights that I haven’t been to in the 16 month that we have been living here. It’s quite an amazing monument and is conveniently located at it’s own subway station (Tiantan Dongmen, Exit A). As it so happens the Pearl Market is directly across the street, so you could also get some (souvenir) shopping done since you’re already in the far south of the city. Tiantan one of the less expensive tourist attractions of Beijing and a regular “through ticket”, which grants you access to the main temple and some other importants parts of the area, costs 28 RMB (student price is 14 Kuai less). I recommend to buy the through ticket immediately and pay the extra 18 Kuai on top of a regular ticket, otherwise you can only get access to the front plaza and won’t be let through to the main temple. You’d have to buy a seperate ticket for 20 RMB if you haven’t gotten the through ticket right at the entrance.


Walking towards the main temple, you will see groups of elderly people playing cards and mahjongg. I’m always inspired by this routine, prefering to spend the sunny hours of the afternoon with old friends outside, rather than sitting isolated in your living room and counting the hours.

Many parents also took advantage of the clear and sunny day and visited the temple grounds today. A mother with her two kids positioned themselves in front of the main structure and captured the trip with their cell phone camera. She tried to convince her daughter to let her sister give her a smooch on the cheek, but as you can imagine she wasn’t too fond of the idea.

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