Friday, April 29, 2011

DAY 2 : SHANGRILA (The Old City)

Monday 11 Apr 2011

It was an early morning checkout out from Kunming hotel and checking-in at the airport bound for Shangrila. It was roughly an hours flight, too short for a full meal on board. Only mineral water was distributed to the passengers. 

The moment we stepped out of the airport in Shangrila, the air swept us cold. We were at 3,200 metres above sea level, a gain of 2,000 metres from that of Kunming. Walking out of the airplane, we could see mountains in the background. The whitish peak meant they were snow-capped and that translates to what I termed as "staying in the freezer". 

The airport facade bore the familiar Tibetan style architecture. Built 5 years ago, it is a relatively small airport. It was not at all busy. This was not Tibet but it was obvious that the populace identified themselves as Tibetans. This became more obvious when we arrived in the city. 

Jackson, our tour guide, a young man in his early 20s welcomed us. He spoke English and French. He spoke pretty good English but I have no standing to comment on his French. Said he went to India to learn the language. I can understand learning English in India, but French?? Mind you, he did not speak English in the familiar Indian accent though.

The journey to the city centre was a short one, under 15mins. Our program for the day would be the visit to the ancient and the new city.

We would have 3 days here in Shangrila, pronounced "Shangga rila" by the Tibetans. We were brought to a hotel in the old city. Only motorbikes and bicycles were allowed into the old city. Just as well since the cobbled roads were too narrow. 

We walked about 200 metres to the hotel. The facade of traditional Chinese design greeted us. I was wondering whether our beds would be solid wood and heating would be wood-fired. I dared not think of the toilet. We were after all in the old city!

Hotel Facade
But the trappings of modern living instead greeted us. We had heating from the air-conditioning unit and an electric mat underneath the bedspread, and hot water in the bath. We were very thankful for these modern trappings. Without them, I would be cold salmon, rigid and tasteless !!

We were still fresh and early, i.e. too early for lunch. Jackson would take us on a tour of the old city. We would walk and by now we were in the thickest of our clothing. We were glad we had prepared for the cold, to a certain degree. Indeed, to a certain degree we were. But as the "degrees" kept dropping in the days ahead, I wished I had brought my long johns and wind-breaker pants.

The old city certainly held its charm and was a pleasant change from the bricks and mortars of the modern cities. Kudos to the Chinese government for retaining the charms of old, while utilising the modern convenience such as electricity and piped water.

The old city obviously had the tourists in mind. Within the confines of the classic shops, all kinds of items were on display.

There were shops selling souvenir items and dresses. 

Two Malaysian ladies eyeing from a distance
This "Lucky Dressing" shop though was not so lucky with my wife. But it would not have cost us an arm and a leg. Perhaps it was the variety, the color, the style, the material that just did not jive with the prospective customer. So, a pose in front of the shop and free advertising for Lucky Dressing.

There were many shops catering for those seeking warm adventure gears of renowned brands, at ridiculously good bargain. On the third and final day, I offered myself an excuse to purchase 2 travel pants and 1 jacket, all for only RM200.00 equivalent. Back home, I would be paying in excess of RM500 for the same product and brand. I felt good postponing these purchases from a shopping mall back home! 

An interesting observation I made was the market square. It was a market by day and a dancing square by night. Just like markets anywhere, there were stalls selling food, vegetable, souvenir, hardware and whatever one could imagine in a typical market.

These two ladies captured my attention. They were selling ornaments that ladies love to wrap around their wrists. I believed my wife bought two, very harmless in respect of cost.

At night, these two ladies plus many others, including bystanders, me included, joined in the swaying to the rhythm of the music. This is a daily routine lasting an hour, ending at 9pm. The dancing, in a circle, is a very harmless activity. Anyone and everyone could join in. Most of us would try to follow the footworks of these two as they tapped and turned in perfect harmony, something "poco-poco" like. Practise makes perfect. They were also there on the subsequent nights, so was I and my small entourage.

Tourists joining in the dancing
I also captured this lady in a rather unique square hat with a bamboo pipe in her mouth. The square hat reminded me of the hat one wears at a graduation - and I suppose the bigger the hat, the higher the degree!! She looked rather happy and contented, and that's because she knew how to keep her head cool. We fast-paced creatures should learn a thing or two from this lady. Ha..ha..

Life in the old city was slow and quiet. Even the motorcycles were electric. Most people walked or idled their time with friends and the loved ones.

I waved, so baby waved
Oblivious to onlookers, the two carried on with their Chinese chess
I have also noted the authority's recycling efforts. At strategic locations, recycling bins were strategically placed and I must add that the ancient city was clean, and there were no rubbish strewn all over.

As in any cold countries, daily baths are not the norm but hygiene would still be maintained. Brushing ones teeth in the street is not unusual

and washing your laundry in the open is also a norm. This young man was literally washing dirty linen in public. I wished our Malaysian politicians will also just washed the dirty linens in public the way this young man does!

The young man seemed curious why I should take his picture . Hot water was available through the public pipe stand, hence they took advantage of the facility.

We were brought to visit a monastery up on a hill with a pretty good number of steps to climb. I did not count the number of steps but it was enough to give us a good leg and heart exercise.

Do not be fooled by this couple in the traditional wears. Like us, they were also tourists and they rented the costume for a photoshoot. Hj Khailani and his wife decided to "tumpang sekaki" and why not.

When It was time for lunch, we were assured that Halal food is available. I was confident that there would be, based on my first visit to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. So, there it was, a Muslim restaurant with the familiar jawi scripture on the signboard.

Entering the small restaurant, we were greeted with dried Yak meet hanging by the ceiling. There was no foul smell though the meat had been hanged for months. No flies either. It was really a cheap way to preserve meat, no expensive refrigeration needed.

Could we have the appetite to eat the Yak meat? Just look at the smile on our faces.

After lunch, we would tour the modern part of the city.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


10th April 2011

Kunming sits at 1,870 metres above sea level. While average temperature in April is 27 degrees C, it is pleasant and dry. Subang Jaya where I lived, sits at 70 metres above sea level. Same temperature,  different altitude, different feeling.

The 3 odd hours MAS flight to Kunming landed at 3:15pm and Kunming shares the same time zone as Malaysia. The flight was almost full, majority being Chinese Malaysians visiting their ancestors' origins. A Chinese gentleman from Kajang struck a conversation with me while alighting. His group will be visiting Li Jiang and Kunming. I told him we will be doing Shangri La as well, apart from Li Jiang and of course Kunming. He was quick to point out that Shangri La is already spoiled, giving rather vague reasons. How did he know? The standard answer : "People say!"

For certain, he was not going to spoil my holidays. The "people say" phrase have been overly misused and I have to sympathize with those who succumbed to this standard phrase. 

It would only be an overnight stop at Kunming as we would catch our early flight to Shangri La the following day. Immigration clearance was quite fast, and we had a young tour guide, Jackson waiting for us at the arrival hall. Jackson was the same guide when Hj Khailani and his wife visited Kunming in 2010. Hj Khailani quipped that Jackson still sport the same needle-like hair style. 

We first checked in to the hotel, had a brief rest and Jackson brought us for a quick visit of a tourist spot (what else) before the sun sets. The place is called TRUMP COFFEE and we were supposed to visit some flower shops. I don't suppose it belongs to Donal Trump! Judging from the several tourist buses in the car park, it was obviously a must-visit location for tourists. 

As we entered, the coffee aroma was indeed strong. Momentarily, you forgot about the flowers. Everything coffee was on sale - coffee of different brands and packing, coffee biscuits, coffee sweets, etc etc. To move forward, one must pass through ALL the stalls selling all the coffee merchandises. The narrow pathway was cleverly arranged. Manpower or rather womanpower were not an issue in China. So, the salesgirls were at every nook and corner, pampering us to sample the product and buy them. 

Having survived the coffee, we came to the flower section. Ah, finally. Again, everything flower was there. If you are planning a wedding, this is certainly the place to get flowers - yang hidup atau yang mati. But, please don't forget to add the cost of the flight to Kunming.

Mushroom so big and hard, in abundance
I can't help but questioned the abundance of huge black mushrooms for sale. If I speak a splatter of Mandarin, I could perhaps ask the ever smiling salesgirls. But my "Ni how ma" cannot get me very far. So, I hoped these are not "manufactured" mushrooms, just like the manufactured eggs sold in Penang recently!

Did we buy anything? Yes, coffee crackers and some tiny winy souvenirs. You know, ladies can't leave a shop empty-handed! Anyway, my wife is usually a very careful spender...hint...hint..

Back at the hotel, we were greeted by a wedding reception at the hotel entrance. This is something different. Both the bride and bridegroom were there, together with the parents greeting their guests. So, how about our "Raja Sehari" doing the same act?

Beautiful couple aren't they?
We took photos with them and they were very happy to oblige these foreigners to share their happy occasion. There were also kacangs, cigarettes, kuachi and other tid-bits offered for guests.

Hours later, after the wedding, I am sure they will be scooted off in this stretched limousine for their honeymoon. They could actually honeymoon in the stretched limo!

We wished the couple a "Happy Wedding until children and grandchildren"

The stretched limousine 
We had nothing else to do and look forward to a sumptuous dinner. Meantime, before stepping in the lobby, Hj Khailani has to pose with this bus - Kunming welcomes Cyclists. And here we are!

Tomorrow, we leave for Shangri La.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Everybody knows it is so huge. One could not possibly visit the whole of China within one's adult life, probably even within one's life. How many "Malaysia" can fit into China? You make a guess.

Years before, when digital cameras were still non-existent, a friend and I visited Kunming and Chengdu - two cities within the Yunan Province. A Chinese Muslim accompanied us on this trip. Through this Chinese friend, we flew to Lhasa the capital of Tibet. In my possession are hundreds of slides I took. We visited the Muslim communities of Kunming, Chengdu and Lhasa. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised in the heartland of Lhasa, in the heart of this Buddhist capital, there are Muslims and we visited a mosque there.

For those who miserably failed their Geography in school, please see map below to orientate yourself with China.

Yunan is a province in China, with common international borders with Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Bhutan. Due to its proximity with South East Asia, Yunan is therefore the most convenient entry point for overland adventurers to visit China. There had been, therefore, numerous overland trips by 4-wheelers, superbikers and "not so superbikers" (I mean bicyclists) by Malaysians seeking to join the ranks of the modern Ibn Battuttas. Sadly, I am not one of them.......yet!

Quite recently, a friend Hj Khailani (a rather ethusiastic traveller) tempted me to re-visit Kunming. Having felt rather guilty turning him down on a promised cycling trip to Lexiago last year, I was more than ready to atone my guilt.

It will not be just Kunming. We planned to visit Shangri-la up north of Yunan and see what it has to offer. We will stay in Shangri-la for 3 nights. Then we will journey by road down to the Tiger Leaping Gorge before overnighting in Lijiang and visit it's renowned ancient city. From Lijiang, we will fly down to Kunming and drive straight to Dongchuan, a twisting 160kms to see the famous landscape of Lexiago.

To further atone my guilt, my wife will accompany me on this trip. Some say this is a "bodek" trip for future "visas" to continue my cycling tours!! Hj Khailani will also bring his wife - two men and their wives minus their bicycles.

So, once again to those readers where geography is not their favorite subject, please locate Shangrila, Lijiang, Kunming and Dongchuan from the map below. Dongchuan is slightly off north of Kunming. I hope your compass bearing is OK even if you have failed your Geography !!!

We left KLIA on Sunday 10th April and returned on Sunday 17th April. In the upcoming blogs, I shall record our experience of the places we have visited. Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A TOUR OF SOUTH VIETNAM - Two half-days in Nha Trang

DAY 5 - After Lunch

Fully rested and showered after our noon arrival in Nha Trang, we had the full afternoon to sight-see what Nha Trang has to offer. For a start, it has to be it's splendid beach, facing the open sea. It proved popular both for tourists and locals. Nha Trang is reputed to have the best beach in Vietnam. Having traversed close to 500 kms, most times hugging the sea, I would say Nha Trang has the best developed beach in South Vietnam. By virtue of that, Nha Trang is also a very developed town. Next to the hotel we stayed, there were several high-rise projects taking advantage of the sea-front.

Nha Trang beach from our hotel

After lunch, I joined Wan Sabri, Dzul and Kamad for a quick look at the other parts of the town. The first stop was a Cham ruin. It was not really a big complex but was quite well patronised. Situated on a small hillock, there were prayer activities going on when we took the flights of steps to the top.

It was a group of lady-devotees chanting some prayers. One appeared curious of the visitors.

With the vantage point on the hillock, we captured several shots of the town.

Fishing remains one of the town's major activity

And as I made my way down, I could not resist capturing this cute baby walking down the flights of steps, secure in the grip of the father.

And Dzul captured this "young man", happily posing on a motorbike while his mom darted into a shop for a quick purchase. I do not suppose child-napping is a threat here.

Wan Sabri the Viet veteran was very comfortable taking some orders for some local delicacies and coaxing Kamad to give a shot at what was offered. I too could not resist. Don't ask me what the kueh is is called!

Next, a tour of the market.