4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the tag “Layover”

A Long Train Ride to Guanxi (by Carmen)

The karsts Guanxi is know for

The karsts Guanxi is know for

A lot can happen in 24 hours. But sometimes, very little does. This was the case on our very long train journey from Kunming to Guanxi province. Why on earth would we take such a long train ride? Well, we had already survived a 27 hour bus journey between Hanoi and Luang Prabang, so we figured that this had to be better. Also, we much prefer train travel over flying. It’s fun to be able to look out the window and see the countryside. And the fact that you can’t do a whole lot forces you to relax. In our case that meant a lot of time to read and work on writing for the blog.

Nathan and his instant noodles

Nathan and his instant noodles

We left bright and early on a Sunday morning. As we boarded the train, we realized that we were seriously low on snack supplies relative to our train mates. Everyone else had large shopping bags full of cookies, fruit and many bowls of instant noodles. We had two bowls ourselves, a few apples and oranges and some sunflower seeds to act as breakfast, lunch and dinner. But hey, we weren’t going to be moving much. How much did we really need to eat? Nathan was pretty excited for his instant noodle bowl. Everyone, and I mean everyone, on the train had brought some for their lunch and dinner. It was definitely richer and tastier than the ubiquitous Cup-o-Noodle in the States. But I still felt a sodium overload as I slurped from my bowl.

Bunks on the train

Bunks on the train

In the end, the ride was over pretty quickly. It was by no means a luxury ride. We slept on the top bunk of a hard sleeper, there was one squattie pottie for our train car and no dining area (only hot water for all those noodles). Our bunkmates were pretty quiet, which we weren’t expecting. The Chinese have a penchant for having loud conversations even when people are sleeping feet away. But overall our experience was pretty good. We rolled into Guilin a little restless but rested enough.

City and nature together in Guilin

City and nature together in Guilin

Red decoration on the top of a karst

Red decoration on the top of a karst

Guilin is the capital of the Guanxi province and provided our first taste of the limestone cliffs the region is known for. This was now our third time seeing these geological formations, having admired them on Koh Phi Phi and Halong Bay. But here in China, they were a little different. For one, the karsts were denser (of course). Also, it was awesome to see the cliffs in an urban setting. Guilin looks like many other Chinese cities but when you round the corner and see a huge wall of rock jutting out of the earth, it just makes you smile. We climbed to the top of one of these cliffs to get a view of the city through the wintery mists. Since it was close to the lunar new year it was festively decorated in red.

20 Yuan Point in Xingping

20 Yuan Point in Xingping

Our true destination in Guanxi was not Guilin, it was the smaller town of Xingping. This is where some of the most beautiful scenery was to be found. So beautiful, in fact, that the area was depicted on the 20 yuan bill! After the viewpoint we walked on along the river, through tiny villages and past karst after karst.

Farm with karst backdrop

Farm with karst backdrop

Grassy meadow along the river

Grassy meadow along the river

The walk was peaceful for the most part except for a handful of experiences. Like so many other parts of China, tourism has made a mark. For example, as we left for the hike we considered taking a bamboo raft to our destination and walking back to Xingping from there. However, we didn’t like the price of the raft so we said no. But the tout followed us for a good half hour trying to negotiate (but never coming close to our counter-offer). It was tiring! Also, we passed a few restaurants on the path geared towards rafts that stop there for lunch. They, too, aggressively tried to get us to eat there. Then one woman followed us for 15 minutes after we passed her restaurant in order to make sure we would take a raft with her friend at the next river crossing. I didn’t like these pushy vendors and the whole situation felt like we were just two big dollar signs. This happens a lot in tourist regions of China and I’m sure we could handle it better if we knew more of the language. But in the end we just gave up with the second raft woman and walked back 2 hours to Xingping. We were tired out anyway and ready to call it a day.

The wide Yulong River

The wide Yulong River

Orange groves

Orange groves

Following the road

Following the road

But not everyone is so rude. We had another river crossing in which the price was set and reasonable. The ferry driver was friendly and said “good bye!” to us. These are the people I like to focus on. They allow us to relax a bit more and just enjoy the natural surroundings we came to see!

20 Yuan Point at sunset

20 Yuan Point at sunset

We approached Xingping just before sunset. Nathan decided to watch it from 20 Yuan Point while I decided to relax on on hostel’s rooftop. They were both good choices – it’s hard to find a bad view in Xingping.

Old street in Xingping

Old street in Xingping

Rustic part of Xingping

Rustic part of Xingping

Guilin noodles

Guilin noodles

We needed something restorative after our long hiking day. On top of that, we were both feeling a little under the weather. In China, comfort is found in a big bowl of noodles. We stopped for some Guilin noodles in the morning. These thick rice noodles were topped with a few bits of meat, a splash of broth, chives, chili and some pickled green beans. All for only $1. A great way to wake up in the morning.

Market frenzy

Market frenzy

Calligraphy

Calligraphy

After our noodles we meandered around the market. There were so many people for such a seemingly small town! On top of that people were gearing up for the new year. The calligraphy stand seemed particularly popular for this reason.

Naan in Yangshuo

Naan in Yangshuo

Next we were on our way back to Guilin to catch the train to Guangzhou. We passed through the tourist town of Yangshuo but didn’t stay long. After our adventures in Yunnan, we knew it would just be full of the same old shops. Instead we picked up some naan bread from a Muslim Chinese stall and kept on moving.

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One Night in Bangkok (by Nathan)

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can’t be too careful with your company
I can feel the Devil walking next to me

Bangkok, Oriental setting
And the city don’t know what the city is getting
The creme de la creme of the chess world
In a show with everything but Yul Brynner

Time flies, doesn’t seem a minute
Since the Tirolean Spa had the chess boys in it
All change, don’t you know that when you
Play at this level, there’s no ordinary venue

One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain’t free
You’ll find a God in every golden cloister
And if you’re lucky then the God’s a she
I can feel an angel sliding up to me

by Murray Head

Bowls and bowls of boat noodles

Bowls and bowls of boat noodles

Yes, almost by circumstance I decided to relive one of my favorite 80’s songs, Murray Heads’s “One Night in Bangkok”. Our chess match involved all the the intricacies and intelligence of maneuvering around the world and the reward was a day to enjoy Thai food. Of all places to have a one-day layover, Bangkok is a delicious place to be stuck with twenty-four hours to burn. The epicenter of Thai food is guaranteed to tantalize with vibrant flavors and leave the mouth panting for more while the stomach pleads for it all to stop. Thus, as expected, we spent our last day in Thailand eating, walking and eating a bit more and fulfilling everything that 4feet2mouths can be.

Roadside golden Buddha

Roadside golden Buddha

The challenge of securing a Chinese visa is that proof-of-entrance and exit is required. Thus, six months ago we took a stab-in-the-dark and booked a flight to Kunming from Bangkok. In hindsight it would have been slightly easier and cheaper to just bus over from Northern Laos, but we would have had to fake a flight at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco. Thus When we finally returned to Thailand, it felt very natural, and it was welcoming and exciting to be in a place that we had explored and enjoyed six weeks ago. Within 10 minutes of our hotel we were graced by a hundred Buddhas that were humbly meditating the streets and awaiting to be purchased and set into future Thai temples.

Green curry and crab soufflé at Krua Apsorn

Green curry and crab soufflé at Krua Apsorn

The deliciously simple miang khanna at Krua Apsorn

The deliciously simple miang khanna at Krua Apsorn

There was really one destination that we had in mind, Thanon Dinson. This two block street is all that you need to know for excellent Thai food. There is everything from noodles, barbecue, soups and rice dishes; and everything is excellent. Our first place was Krua Apsorn. this mid-range restaurant serves mostly central Thai cuisine of very high quality. We ordered a fish ball and baby eggplant green curry and crab soufflé. The star of the restaurant was the extremely simple and fresh appetizer called miang khanna. A platter arrived with lime wedges, ginger, chopped onion, peanuts, pork cracklings, dried shrimp, betel leaves and a tamarind sauce. We rolled up some of everything and took a bite that exploded with textures and flavors. We will definitely be recreating this one at home!

Boat noodle perfection

Boat noodle perfection

Literally across the street and to the right a little bit is a delicious spot for boat noodles. This is the birth place of our “dirty noodles” concept that the best soup shops are fast, cheap, and deserve with people. They pulled a couple bowls off the stack and added the noodle thickness of our choice. It was up to us to make it special with some added chili, vinegar and a dash of sugar.

Tranquil canal on Dipsom Road

Tranquil canal on Dipsom Road

We crossed the street again I and enjoyed the serene canal. It was a really warm, but peaceful day. We could not expect anything better on our last day in Thailand.

Colorful Thai traffic jam

Colorful Thai traffic jam

Riding the canal boat

Riding the canal boat

The Klong San Sap canal boat public transit in Bangkok is wonderful. There is an elevated rail and plently of colorful taxies, but the canal system is the more fun way to get around. We did not get to experience this on our first trip. But this time we conveniently found ourselves making trips from Old town to near the MBK mall. We loaded onto the thirty person boat and it roared down the twenty foot wide canal. At first I wondered why the ticket operator was wearing a helmet, then suddenly the whole roof of the boat collapsed swiftly to clear the bridge ahead. They had actually designed the boat so that the roof was hinged to drop the height three feet and at these brief moments the driver maneuvered the boat peering through the three inches of visible windshield. We gripped our seat for the first few times, but ultimately the experience proved enjoyable and entertaining.

The must-visit Thanon Mahannop fish soup shop.

The must-visit Thanon Mahannop fish soup shop.

Delectable Thai fish soup

Delectable Thai fish soup

Can you imagine the anxiety of eating your last Thai meal? What if you knew you could not have Thai food for eight weeks?  Funny, yes, but we took this very serious. Our final morning in Bangkok was spent roaming the streets for something that might sustain our memory of Thai cuisine.  We scoured the streets to find something that would be sour, spicy, sweet, salty and savory. Our first thought was the fabulous pad thai at Thip Sanai on 313 Thanon Mahachai, but it was closed! Thus, we drifted to our trusty Thanon Dinso. What we discovered was one of the best meals of all Thailand. We peered up a side street called Thanon Mahannop, just west of Thanon Dinso. We found a small crowd of people outside a tiny restaurant on the south side of the street. We snagged a table and pointed for two bowls of what everyone else was having…some sort of stew. The bowls arrived with a red broth packed with lemongrass and chunks of fish. This was the most intensely flavored wonderful dish. Any discussion of it and I watch Carmen lick her lips remembering the flavors. The stew was spicy, the fish tender and the sour lemongrass potent. This was an awesome find for our last Thai meal.

And just as quick as One Night in Bangkok came into existence, our layover was finished. Backpacks were cinched tight and thrown over our shoulders once more.  China, our final frontier, loomed just to the north.

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