We’ve moved to Balikpapan, Indonesia …

Sam at Kebun Sayur Market, Balikpapan

Sam at Kebun Sayur Market, Balikpapan

… And you can see where our priorities lie!

It has been a whirlwind since our move from Tianjin, China to here: Balikpapan, a port city on the east coast of Kalimantan (a/k/a “Borneo”) Indonesia. Folks here call it “Kal-Tim,” which is short for Kalimantan Timur (timur means east in Bahasa Indonesia).

First stop?  Pasar Kebun Sayur — a huge market selling batik, Dyak handicrafts, produce, every sort of household good and clothing item a soul can think of and … delicious food, of course!  Balikpapan’s specialty is seafood — lucky us!

So here’s a short photo tour of our first official outing in Balikpapan.  Introducing … Pasar Kebun Sayur!

Fish cooked in banana leaf and coconut curry

Fish cooked in banana leaf and coconut curry

Nothing goes to waste!

Batik clothes and Dyak Costumes

Batik clothes and Dyak Costumes

Shrunken head?  No problem!  We've got just the outfit ...

Shrunken head? No problem! We’ve got just the outfit …

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Budget Travel in Shanghai: What to Do and See

The Bund at Night cont (4)Whenever we used to think of China, more often than not, we’d think of  Shanghai.  And when we thought of Shanghai, images of 1930′s glamour, junk boats, cosmopolitan streets and seedy opium dens straight out of a Clavell novel came to mind.

Turns out, Shanghai isn’t at all like that.  It’s a modern, bustling city crammed with malls and then malls and then … more malls.  If you love to shop, you’re in heaven.  But if you were hoping for that mystical aura the name of Shanghai conjures, you may be disappointed.

That said, there is still plenty to see that does not include chain stores and tour packages.  And even though Shanghai’s known for being pricey, these activities are budget friendly. Continue reading

The [Great] Wall Less Traveled … Hiking the Huangya Pass in Tianjin’s Ji County

Huangya Pass Ji Country (35)

If you happen to be visiting the Beijing area, you probably have The Great Wall of China on your to-do list.

Of course you do.  It’s THE Great Wall!

The trouble is, which wall do you see?  People don’t talk about that so much.

In fact, the first time we planned a jaunt to “The Wall,” we were surprised to discover that it doesn’t actually exist … at least it doesn’t as one continuous structure.

Rather, there are many sections of the wall scattered across 5500 miles of northern China, each engineered under various dynasties over a period of almost 2000 years, beginning in 220 BC and ending around 1644 AD.

The point is, there’s an awful lot of wall to choose from! Continue reading

One Day and Ten Ways to Visit Hong Kong on the Cheap

Hong Kong Opening PictureIf I were a Looney Toons character, I would read the above title and promptly respond with, “Succotash!”

I would leave out the “Sufferin’” because anything containing “Hong Kong” and “On the Cheap” in one phrase is such a ludicrous combination that it wouldn’t deserve the dignity of those extra syllables.

Hong Kong is not cheap, I’d scoff silently instead.  Everybody knows that.  Even make-believe, personified cats.

These presentiments hardly bode well for a budget-traveling couple whose collective salary has been seriously compromised since spawning the bright idea of leaving our grown up jobs and working around the world.  But that’s another story.  This story is how to have a fun, spontaneous and really affordable day in Hong Kong! Continue reading

Cheers from Qingdao … Touring the Tsingtao Brewery!

Vintage Tsingtao PosterHere’s one the first lessons of living in China: Nothing is ever spelled consistently.

For instance, Qingdao, a town on China’s eastern coast, about midway between Beijing and Shanghai, is the very same as the formerly spelled Tsingtao, pronounced “Chingdow” (with the the “d” giving a slight “t” sound).  It is this same venerable town that was settled by the Germans in the late 1800s — hence the brewery — and hosts China’s largest beer festival every August. Continue reading

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Bill Murray, and … His Doppelganger?

Gellert Spa, BudapestOkay, I know this guy’s not Bill Murray.  Or … I’m pretty sure.

But the thing is, this photo was taken almost ten years ago when Sam and I were living in Germany.  We took a road trip to Budapest, Hungary, and while there, I fell completely beguiled by this gorgeous hotel and spa built in the early 1900s that was located on the Buda side of the Danube. Continue reading

Shaxi Friday Market along the Tea Horse Trail

Shaxi Friday Market, Woman in Traditional Dress

Shaxi Friday Market Mix ‘n Match: Woman in eclectic mix of modern and traditional Dress … love the socks!

Shaxi (“Shasee”) is a tiny, quaint town midway between Yunnan Province’s larger cities of Lijiang and Dali.

But it makes up in significance what it may lack in size.

It is here that the most complete, surviving trading center for the famed Tea Horse and Caravan Trail takes place every Friday in the form of Shaxi’s Friday Market.

It is believed that tea was first introduced to the world through this Tea Horse route, starting with tea harvested from China’s Yunnan Province and then packed into bricks and carried (along with salt) on the backs of mules to Tibet, then to Burma and India. Continue reading

Skiing in China

Angel-Modeling-Panshans-Fabulous-Prison-WearWhen our tour bus pulls into the Panshan Ski Resort at 8:30 in the morning, I peer out the frosty windows, unsure of what to expect.

Our “guide” walks down the isle, collects a 300 RMB deposit from each of us — (a surprise because we’ve already paid our admission fee) — then disappears for a few minutes into the resort grounds.  When he returns, he hands us each a blue card and explains that we will use this card to rent our equipment (no extra fee for boots and skis, but jackets, pants, goggles and locker rental will cost extra).  When we return our ski equipment in good condition, our guide explains, we’ll be refunded our money for anything not considered an “extra.” Continue reading

Hello, Dali!

Foreigner Street, Dali

Foreigner Street, Dali

Of all the places we’ve visited in China, Dali probably wins out as our favorite.

Located in China’s southwest Yunnan Province — about a two hour train ride south from Lijiang — Dali was once known as China’s backpacker paradise but is said to have lost some of its granola appeal in the last decade. That may be so, but Dali still oozes charm.

Continue reading