Monday, June 27, 2005

Into Mongolia

Well, after a long 2 days of travel we have finally arrived in Ulaan Baatar. To get out of Beijing we had to take an overnight sleeper bus (13-15hrs) to the border town Erlian. And what fun it was. All the trains to Mongolia were booked for the next couple of weeks (this is the busiest season for Mongolia and there aren't many connections) so we decided to wing it and try to catch a bus by showing up at the station a few hours early and buying a ticket for that day. We got tickets, there happened to be 2 buses at the same time but the catch was that we would have to split up 2 and 2 and sleep on the floor in the front where the spare drivers normally sleep. What the hell right? Bre and I got lucky because we managed to get beds somehow in our bus but mom and Savannah had to "sleep" on the floor with 2 other people as well. And despite leaving only 10 minutes apart Bre and I arrived almost 2 hrs later than them. Mom was starting to worry.
We managed to meet some very nice Mongolians on the bus who then helped us get across the border and get train tickets from there to Ulaan Baatar (UB), another 16 1/2 hrs on the train. At least we all had beds that night!!! Just got into UB and must say things are so different here than in China. Don't know what it is exactly yet because it still looks like chaos but seems nicer somehow. The landscape looks like the middle of nowhere and after hours and hours of looking at it you are sure that that's where you are. I thought I'd seen middle of nowhere before and there are a lot of contenders out there but I think this takes the cake. There is nothing. Flat but no life, not desert but just nothing except the odd clump of horses (like seeing cows out the car window at home) or a few camels running around. But the sunrise was amazing. UB has about 1 million people so is small by Chinese standards and has a totally different look. Definately a noticeable Russian influence here, more so than a Chinese one (we have yet to meet a Mongolian that likes the Chinese). There is more litter here but at least the sky is blue and we can breathe again. Food and shops are Russian style and everything is written in cyrillic. Basic stuff still really cheap but the tours aren't. Mom has finally become a millionaire after a visit to the bank. Unfortunately I don't think a million Togrogs will get us very far. The rate is about 1000T to the $.
We have just developed a wild and crazy itinerary so you guys won't hear from us again for a while (but the stories should be good when we get back) as we are leaving tomorrow morning in a Russian jeep for a 12 day tour to the north and central regions of Mongolia. Then we will get back here to UB for a few days to watch the Naadam festival before heading out once again for a week to the Gobi desert. Then we will head to Russia. Should be fun but now we need to go shopping for our trip.


Wow! Mongolia!! It took a long time to get here. An over night bus and train. I've been on enough of those. I'm not saying i don't like them, I'd much rather ride a bus or train instead of walking forever. The people are nice and the weather is still hot but not as bad as BEIJING.
I WANT TO RIDE A CAMEL!!! I've seen alot in the last few hours. Well I'm going to go so that I can take a shower and get on with the next crazy event. Hope your all having fun doing the "same old same old "
love you all xox

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Datong, Beijing

Yep, time for another....
From Xi'an we took an overnight train north-east to Datong. Yet another dinky town in China that nobody has ever heard of and yet is bigger than Vancouver!! It is nothing more than an industrial town (coal mines everywhere) but we had to stop and see the Cloud Ridge Caves. These are a series of "caves" dug into the side of a 1km long section of a cliff 1500 years ago, full of carved Buddha statues and the like. The largest statue is 17m tall and the detail on the multilayered pagodas in the middle (carved entirely out of the cliff) is absolutely amazing. There are apparently 45 caves and over 51,000 statues though they come in all shapes and sizes. After a few hours taking a look at the caves we caught a 5 hour bus east to Beijing.
Hmm.. Beijing. I don't know what to say. It's huge and it's busy (lots of cars for a change and traffic lights) but it actually doesn't feel like it right in the center where we are. They have huge streets here and then beside the street another 2 car lanes wide for bikes and then huge wide sidewalks. Trees line the streets and it all is quite nice. Of course there is also a lot of pollution and the sky is hazy all the time. Quite frustrating, especially when you are hiking along the great wall and can't see it stretch off into the distance very far. We are staying in a nice hostel in the center of a hutong. Hutongs are the little traditional neighborhoods of narrow streets and China chaos. They are all being torn down and replaced with ultra-modern cityness now so it is good to walk around in one before they're all gone. There is tons of construction everywhere with the Olympics coming in 2008 and many of the tourist sites are also covered with scaffolding too.
It has been brutally hot out here too. High 30's, even at night it is roasting. Apart from the Great Wall (Wow is all I can really say. Would loved to have been able to walk even farther.) we have been to the Forbidden city (this is where the emperors lived and for 500 years nobody else was allowed inside. It is a huge complex which we melted through as it was 38C that day), Tiananmen square (Had a little viewing of Mao. I've now seen all 3 of the great Communist leaders.), the Temple of Heaven (where the emperors would sacrifice and do their thing. Yet another huge park.), an acrobatics show (these people are nuts!), and been getting visas for the next section. We have our Mongolian visa now and will get one for Kazakhstan tomorrow before leaving to Mongolia this weekend. We've been here almost a week now and it is too expensive compared to the rest of China. Our feet are all dead because we've been doing too much walking around. We are averaging about 9 miles a day but in this heat it feels like 100! Mom and I have pedometers which is a lot of fun and gives us a great idea of how much work it is being a tourist.
Can't believe it's been 7 weeks already! Definately ready for another country though.
Don't know how much internet access we'll have in Mongolia (probably none outside the capital) so it might be a while for the next one. We put up some more pictures of China (at the end of the China album) for you to enjoy in the meantime.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Great Wall

Great Wall of China, that's right and I'm taking a piece of it home with me!! WOW! I can't believe I was on THE wall. I mean, it just can't get any bigger than that beast! It is absolutely huge! About 3,000 km long and we walked five hours on it and only got 10km! We thought we were tired! Hah! That was until the Irishman came to our attention when we noticed he was carrying his entire bag up and down, over and across the mountain! Crazy Irish is all I can say! Some spots were tough to fight. Steep stairs, decrepit and narrow walk ways, wind gusts and the fact that there was no shade! After the long walk we decided to take a short cut the rest of the way ;) heheh! To top off the day we took a zipline over the glistening river and through the mountains then a dinky boat to the bus! It was sweet! So I guess that counts as our second world wonder so far. I'd say we're doing pretty well! Got our Mongolian visa's in and we're heading out at the end of the week.
I'm in China!! :O
Savannah, over and out
P.s. mom says "half the pictures are mine so don't give that little bum all the credit!"

Saturday, June 18, 2005

More Truth

Ammon, as smart as he is, hasn't quite figured out that this shopping issue is just a plot against him, in revenge of his long legs and fast walking! We walk an average of 8 miles a day in the scorching heat usually at his fast pace. This means two steps to one of his. So we came up with a way to get back at him. While we are "shopping" he is sitting outside on the steps in the heat while we're cooling off in the air conditioning! What better shops to choose than the lingerie!! Heheh! He won't step foot in one of those which just ensures that he will boil outside!! Now that we shared our little secret don't pass it on to him!
We have just arrived in Beijing and we are planning to see the Great Wall tomorrow and walk along it for about 10km. It should be amazing!
As you probably know I have been quite fascinated by the thought of the Terra Cotta Warriors ever since I heard of them 25 or so years ago! It was a dream come true to see them in person. The history behind them is insane and to see them right there so close was unreal.
After leaving the warriors in Xi'an we hopped an overnight train for 18 hours. We arrived in Datong early morning and set off to see the Cloud Ridge Caves. These are 1500+ year old caves with about 51,000 Buddha carved from the rocks inside!! It's quite amazing! We left Datong early afternoon and arrived in Beijing by bus 6 hours later. We are set up in a great international hostel. Super clean and new, which is kind of exciting :D. We have lots to do in Beijing. Mongolian visa, Kazekstan visa, shots, Great Wall and acrobats etc. We should be here at least five days. We'll keep you posted.
Miss you tons. Love to all,

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

3 Gorges, Xi'an

We've covered quite a bit of ground since we left Chengdu where we last posted. We also seem to have hit the Disneyland circuit of China. In Chengdu we booked a tour through the 3 Gorges on the Yangxi river to simplify things as it is a major gong show normally.
Off we went by bus 5 hours south-east to Chongqing where we got a brief city tour (we got to see prisons from the kuomintang/communist battle days) and then got on our boat/home for the next 2 days.
I am vowing right now never to take another tour in China from a travel agency. Nobody can give you a straight answer because they just toss you around between 5 different companies all of which are doing their own thing. I am also sick of all the domestic tourists here. They are so annoying and from the perspective of the backpackers like us, just take up space. Everything is in Chinese all the time. The farther the tour agencies pass you along the worse the english gets until you actually get to the tour on the street where there is absolutely none and nobody can even tell you what time to meet back to move on. Much better to do it yourself.
Anyway, we were on a river cruise ship through the 3 gorges. The boat takes 2 days to get down to Yichang, several hundred km further down the river and after the 3 gorge dam. This dam is the largest in the world and is still being built. When it is finished the river will be raised a total of 175m. Right now it has already risen 135m so the gorges aren't as tall or narrow as they used to be. The boat stops at various temples and little towns (like the ghost city, a town with temples with ghoulish statues and creepy names but in reality little more than a huge haunted house) along the way which you have the option of going out and seeing for a little while. At one point we got out of our big boat and into little ones to go through the little gorges. All in all it was the least interesting thing I've done in China (as if you couldn't tell) but this is probably a factor of having seen the fjords in Norway last year (which are much better) and being sick of dealing with Chinese tours and their style (meaning herding people all wearing the same color hats around as fast as possible so they can make extra stops at souvenir stands and sell you jade). I don't know why the tourists haven't revolted yet.
There were a few interesting things however, like the signs on the side of the river indicating how high the level will rise, particularly interesting when it is in the middle of a little village (they must relocate over 1.5 million people as a result of this dam) or going through the 5 locks to bypass the dam and lower us the 135m to the rest of the river. We went through at night so the scale seemed even more impressive but these things were huge! Didn't see the dam though. The best part though was a completely crazy French guy staying in our room with us. He was excited about everything and after a while we just started to follow him around to see what he would do next. We had to wake up at 5am everyday, including the day we arrived in Yichang and had to leave. We then caught a bus to Wuhan, 5 hours farther east so we could catch an overnight train to Xi'an. Wuhan was brutally hot and we ended up sitting in the train station for 5 1/2 hrs waiting for the train because the station was not very close to town. The train to Xi'an took 15 hrs and was the nicest ride we've been on in the 6 weeks we've been out here now.
We arrived here (in Xi'an) on the morning of Savannah's birthday and after checking in to our hostel took the bus out to see the Terracotta Warriors. Very impressive. It is the buried army in the tomb of an emperor that lived over 2ooo years ago. Huge tourist attraction and truly one of the wonders of the world. They are still working on it as it covers an area of 56 square km. Maybe the weirdest part was seeing tons of western tour groups. First time in 6 weeks we've seen more than half a dozen at once. And wow are they big (fat) compared to the Chinese! We've seen a few chubby Chinese guys but it was quite embarrassing to see almost all the westerners easily 2 or 3 times their size.
The pollution here is something else too. The sky is just totally that smoggy grey so you really can't see very far. All the big cities seem to be this way but Xi'an seems to be particularly bad though it only has 7 million people like all the rest of them. It was at least 36 degrees yesterday too.
We will be in Xi'an for another day before making our way up to Beijing via Datong. I am definitely getting to the point where I am ready to leave China and get on to the next leg of this trip.

I know a lot of you guys are wondering what it's like traveling with 3 females so I will try to give you an idea of what this is like for me.
First, I have a rule (rule #1) when I travel that if at all possible, walk everywhere and avoid taxis and buses except in extreme circumstances. I am tempted to completely abandon this rule as every time we try to walk across town to see something I feel like I am entering the 8th level of hell. These 3 have to stop every few feet to shop. Bras and tanktops that's what it is all about for them. Even though we've been in a million shops selling these things and I know some stuff has been bought they are always looking for more. They are also obsessed with animals. They only thing that will delay them longer than a bra shop is someone walking their dog or selling puppies on a street corner. If we go into a temple to take a look they get totally distracted by the turtles in the pond or a frog that they caught instead of the site. How is it possible for girls that don't have any clothes to spend so much time figuring out what to wear? There are no options, there is no choice so why all the time wasted? Oh, and the best part. We have been getting up really early (~6am) all the time, catching buses, getting off trains, starting tours (or trying to get ahead of them. Well, with only a little exaggeration I can say that these 3 girls haven't seen the morning side of noon in years so you can imagine the morning moods. Scary.
Don't know how I am surviving........

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


We have been hanging out, doing laundry, playing cards and getting ready for the next section of the trip. We walked around town yesterday for around 10 miles. We three girls bought new pants for an amazing price. Walking around here is quite a challenge especially crossing the streets. Many streets are 7 lanes wide, so you can imagine that intersections are about a block wide. At least they have count down timers for the cars and people. But holy hell crossing the ones without timers is definately an art.
Just so you worry warts out there stop freaking out, Breanna and the rest of us are drinking gallons of HERBAL tea! It the best way to stay hydrated and it is free almost everywhere.
We are truly happy on our trip and this was absolutely the right decision for us. Can't wait for the next stretch of our journey!
love to all Maggie


Well, these guys didn't leave me much to say....

I loved the horse trek!! It was so awsome. Being in the outback with your horse, a beautiful view, good food, a deck of cards and a bunch of fun people really makes the trip worth it. I had lots of fun.

Cowboys are so cool because they can whip the horses into shape, have total control, run the camp, climb trees to cut down branches for our beding and the whole cowboy hat thing completes the look.

When getting a massage it' s hard not to laugh when Savannah is staring at me. You should see her face. We usually end up laughing, with our heads stuffed in a pillow.
Hope you like the pictures we took!

Journey Away

Well guys,
I'm alive and still going! The horse trek in Songpan was great fun but killer on the back. That doesn't matter though. There's always a solution to everything. Tired + soar+ stiff = good ol' fashion massage ($4.00/h).
It all started that early morning when all the horses and guides were gathered outside the hostel. At that point we were thrilled to be going on horses for the next four days. I assure you that by the end all we wanted was to give our butts a rest (or at least Ammon sure did, lol)! The excitment outdoors will give you can only be discovered through venturing and experiencing! There is so much to see. The people, animals and mood were quite nice. There were random pigs running around with their babies. Children waving in excitement etc...
The horses all had different personalities, especially Ammon's! All I wanted was for that crazy beast to stay away from me lol. Poor Ammon was on a total basket case horse! I'm sure the scenery was nice but I was too busy watching the horses and the trail. There were a lot of rivers and lots of mud on the wetter days. When you're crossing a river on your horse and the flow of water is so rapid that your feet are dipping in it, that's when it starts to get interesting! Also when the thick of the mud is so deep that the horses belly is nearly skimming it, that's when you start to worry! Especially when you've seen the movie "Never Ending Story". "Artex, nooo! You can't give up now, you can't!" Lol I'm such a geek. The guides were all really cool and funny. We gave them each a nick name. For example Pinocio, sideways hat funny guy (bulgy eyes), Chipmunk, Fish, Saruman, Carter, Cross eyes and Savannah's dude. They were definately the crowd to be with.
Anyways, we're all relaxing and eating yogurt over here in Chengdu. Or atleast I am :D
We've got the pictures up and ready now at so take a look it should be good! 'Till next time


They are finally here! We had over 600 pics to choose from and it took us 2 days to get them up but we now have a sampling for you guys.
Go to to see them.
Thanks everyone for all the interest in what we are doing.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Songpan Horse Trek

How is it that every time I go horseback riding I end up on the stupidest beast alive? I swear I am never getting on one again (but I do this every time too). Actually, it was a pretty good trip. Bre was in heaven, horses and cowboys, what more do you need?
Okay, so we headed up to Songpan, some 8 hours north of Chengdu on a stretch of road very much resembling heading up the fraser canyon but with a lot more road chaos, where we got on a 4 day trek into the mountains. We had a very hard time remembering that we were in China as the scenery inspired us to name the area BC2 and the people don't look Chinese. Again they are tribal people of Tibetan(?) descent and wear very colorful traditional costumes about town.
So off we went, 1 guide for each tourist (our group totalling 16), up into the still freezing mountains. We actually had a few snowflakes fall on the first day and in true Canadian I was dressed in only a fleece pretending not to be cold while turning into a lump of frozen flesh on top of a horse. The girls brought their warm clothes from Chengdu and were faring much better than I. The other days turned out to be cold and wet as it rained quite a bit. Fortunately the guides were prepared with yak coats and rain ponchos so we were not too uncomfortable.
Picture mountains covered in mist and cloud, green like home, (trees not as tall), numerous rivers and streams, fields of white, yellow, violet and pink flowers, little villages, wet ground, and us on horses. Camp was pretty basic. Tarps overhead. Pine branches for padding on the ground and lots of blankets. Water from the river for tea and cooking. We'd arrive at camp and the guides would disappear into the bush to go chop down trees for tent supports, firewood and bedding. I think they lost the horses twice a day and would have to wander off to find them. This could actually take quite a while at times. We rode anywhere from 2 to 5 hours each day. We would ride up the mountains and then walk down the other side because it would be too steep to ride down.
And the guides. Ha, oh the guides. Bunch of weirdos that didn't speak much english if any at all but they were really nice. What kind of cowboy wears converse shoes, a cowboy hat and a suit? But they knew their stuff.
On the third day we got to the Ice mountain view point at 4300m. Wow was that cold. We could definately feel the altitude up there and also while we were walking around camp though it was only just over 3000m as far as anyone could tell. As with Emei Shan, by the time we got to the view point we were in the clouds and could not see any of the mountain. Chinese mountains are very shy I guess.
We were all looking forward to getting back to Songpan on the last day after riding for 5 hours in the rain. Massages for the girls ($4/hr), and the decision to come back to Chengdu today and forget about Juizhaigou because the weather is so bad and it all looks like BC up there anyway.
So why are we here then?
It's for the little things that you don't think about before you come and forget to write about. The things you can't take pictures of but last as memories just as long. It's the traditional dress of the people walking down the streets, the old toothless ladies working on the side of the highway trying to fix the stretch of ditch outside their homes, or when they chase you down the street (or attack you in Savannah's case) trying to sell you their food. The look of wonder in the eyes of a child that can barely walk as it stumbles toward you to say "hello" then babble on in Chinese, riding a bus at 7am and seeing all the kids walking along the highway to get to the next town and go to school, 20 men lifting a piece of temple roofing and walking it up a mountain path to the construction site. Monks walking down the streets, the gasps of astonishment from people as I stand up to leave a restaurant as everyone realizes just how tall I am and taking a picture at a famous tourist site just to have a Chinese tourist take a picture of you moments later. There's just something about it all that you just have to be out here to feel....