The Honeymoon-Diaries, Part 1: There is always a beginning

This is the first installment of our honeymoon diaries, simply because the experiences we had were far too many to pack into one single blogpost.

Sitting at the beach, sunbathing while sipping a mai tai, watching the waves roll in. Being served fresh seafood whenever you want to and having a hotel room you never want to leave, because of a kingsize bed and a rainforest shower that you could never afford at home. That’s what a honeymoon should look like, technically.

But being extraordinary in every way possible, deciding on where we want to go for our honeymoon was a task that we were not quipped for. A’s vacation-ideal means good food and good wine while sitting in a shaded place watching people pass by. My vacation-ideal is learning about nature, watching big and small animals in their natural habitat without disturbing them and without destroying the environment. We were, however, both keen on visiting a place in South East Asia, as we were already in Hong Kong and would travel to Beijing at the beginning of the New Year.

Of course, we looked at all these gorgeous paradises, little islands in South East Asia with wonderful resorts, but both A and I are aware of what these resorts mean for the locals and the environment and that’s why we didn’t want to go to any place that would jeopardize a place’s sustainability. That’s the downside of reading too much, you become hyper aware of every move you make and what implications it has for the place your visiting.

So when I suggested a jungle safari, sleeping under stars A looked at me horrified, because if there is one other thing he doesn’t want to do during his honeymoon, it’s being eaten alive by predators. Of course there are places like Italy, Spain, Greece. Places, where you are guaranteed a full belly and cultural excitement. But then it dawned on us, wouldn’t it be great to go on our honeymoon somewhere rural in China, a place we otherwise would never visit? NATURALLY, we chose a UNESCO world heritage site in the middle of nowhere in China, called Lijiang. And this is why:

UNESCO world heritage site, Lijiang

Now, both A and I do have romantic tendencies thinking about the hotel and we imagined a nice little bed and breakfast with a fireplace, having horses canter by our front door. We dreamed about being able to experience this place the way it was build some odd thousands and thousands of years ago. Well, we got the last thing right. Everything looks almost exactly as we imagined it some odd thousands of years ago… but let me start this at the beginning.

We got up early on a Friday morning, leaving our wonderful hotel in Beijing (because I wasn’t going to leave China without seeing the Great Wall). The hotel was to die for, I mean seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if people have died building it. It was gorgeous and spacious and overall a very pleasant experience, and having had such a great time at the hotel in Beijing (I will tell you another time about all the horrors of Beijing) we were looking forward to an even greater time in Lijiang.

So we left early, made it to the airport alright, got checked in and were waiting at the gate to get on to the airplane. (Side note: at this point, I was still snobbish enough not to use any bathrooms, that require you to squat over a whole in the ground. Oh boy, was I in for a treat…). We got on an airplane and with us about 70.000 Chinese people who enjoyed their very first flight in the history of ever.

We sat down in our seats (clearly marked on our tickets) and then the confusion started, because people figured they could sit wherever and arguments broke out about who got to sit next to the window and who couldn’t. After 15 grueling minutes of that, the flight attendants managed to calm everyone down and placed a somewhat confused man in his early 30s next to me. He obviously never flew before, so in my broken Chinese I tried to explain that he couldn’t have the tray down and that he should be buckled up for takeoff. He then started taping the flight attendant’s instructions while they were performing the safety instructions which they weren’t too pleased about. Both of the women huddled up around him and made him delete anything he just filmed and took pictures of. They literally stood next to him and watched him delete everything.

Eventually we took off, the flight was supposed to last 3.5 hours which somehow (without any information from the pilot) got stretched into an almost 5 hour flight. At some point the attendants started doing face tai chi (I kid you not, they performed some kind of facial tai chi and EVERYONE, I mean EVERYONE around us, followed the instructions). But then again, there was no on-board entertainment, so why not do face tai chi? Seems as good as anything. After that we got a brief 45 minute presentation of all the articles that you could buy on board, again, I kid you not, flight attendants showed us the articles and explained every little feature about each article, she must love her own voice, as it was booming on the speakers in Chinese (it would be silly to do that in English, given that we were the only Western people on the plane).

We figured, that was just a somewhat hilarious start to our vacation, we then landed at a beautiful and new airport in Lijiang surrounded by mountains, making us almost giddy for what was yet to come. We collected our bags and the first order of business was to find an ATM so we could get out enough cash to get to our hotel. In retrospect, we should have tried to find an ATM in Beijing but even that was more difficult than it sounds (we even tried at the Beijing airport, but failed, so we figured since we heard from so many people how touristy Lijiang was, we were going to get lucky at the airport). Well, wrong.

The two ATMs that did exist did not accept our cards, which meant we were stranded with 43 renminbi at the Lijiang airport. At this point both A and I were starving and had barely any caffeine in us and it slowly dawned on us, that we were not mentally prepared for our honeymoon. Not that that was ever something I thought I’d say about my honeymoon.

We found a bus that cost 20CYN per person to take us to the city, which thankfully was exactly what we had left in our pockets. The real relief, however, only kicked in, when we found an ATM in the city that would take our cards. So after that almost impossible hurdle we then tried to hail a cab, which proofed to be an impossible task. In our desperation to get to our hotel, we basically highjacked someone else’s cab without thinking that the cabdriver might not understand English. And that he didn’t. Somehow he understood though, that we at least had the address (in English, again our mistake, probably should have had it in Chinese, but then again, people kept telling us, Lijiang was uber touristy…). Our real savior was the hotel’s phone number, so the cabdriver called up the place and started driving to our little getaway. Both A and I started to relax a little bit.

At this point A and I figured, it wouldn’t get worse than this. We laughed off the stranded airport incident and were super excited about our vacation. BTW between us finding the bus and us landing about 2 hours passed (also because the bus only runs once an hour) so the blood sugar was running low and both A and I are not pleasant when hungry. After 45 minutes the cabdriver dropped us off, without so much as a grunt and there we were in Shuhe oldtown, in the middle of nowhere, and no hotel in sight.

What got lost in translation, was that because of the world heritage, after certain hours driving cars in the city was not allowed, so the cabdriver had to drop us off at the main entrance gate to the city, rather than at the hotel. So, we were sitting at the entrance to the city, with no idea where the hotel was or how we would get there. For all we knew it could have been right behind us, we wouldn’t have been able to find it. And there we were, stranded Westerners that looked lost, hungry, thirsty and tired. We decided it would be best for me to wait at the corner with the luggage, while A would try to find someone, somewhere that spoke enough English to help us out. And he did, although that somehow that lead to a tea-invitation and we sat there in the middle of a small tea ceremony in a small courtyard drinking tea out of tiny cups and being surrounded by people smoking cigarettes and blowing smoke in our faces.

A few minutes later we were picked up by a three wheeler with a flatbed and we were ordered to haul our luggage on top and then sit in the back while he was driving without speed limit on cobblestone. Kind of defeats the car-driving issue if you ask me, but while A and I were holding on to dear life on the flatbed, leaning into every curve for fear of toppling over, we yelled at each other over the roaring sound of the engine, “if that’s as bad as it gets, I’m okay with it”.

Eventually we stopped in front of our hotel and if it wouldn’t have been for the driver’s stop, we would have not found this hotel in a million years. The name that we had of the hotel and the actual name of the hotel didn’t match. There were no street addresses or anything else that could even indicate that this in fact was a hotel. But we were still somewhat positive after the adrenaline rush and checked in.

We were brought to a very spacious hotel room that looked exactly like on the picture, the only difference was that the holes in the wall were not portrayed on the picture. This also meant that the cool crisp winter air (about freezing and at night even lower) was able to come and go as it pleased, only that it didn’t leave. The small heater was barely enough to warm our blue finger tips and the bathroom? Well, on the plus side there was a rainforest shower, but on the downside there was no warm water for 6 days. On our last day, that’s when the hot water kicked in (I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I imagined the bathroom on my honeymoon), but I’m getting ahead of myself.

But we were still somewhat positive, we found a nice little restaurant that provided us with good warm food (but not heat, as there was only a tiny fireplace that couldn’t possibly warm the entire restaurant) and we were somewhat happy. Exhausted, but happy. The first night was a bit interesting. I must have eaten something that was not sitting well with me, as I was sick almost all night and being sick and cold is definitely not a good combo.

After a freezing night in our room, we were looking forward to a wonderful big breakfast buffet. As I opened the door of our room I saw little fluffy white stuff everywhere and if there was one thing about our honeymoon that A and I agreed on, it was that we didn’t want any snow, since we had enough of that in Oslo. And before you think to yourself, well it’s winter what do you expect: we checked out the average temperatures and climate in Lijiang before we traveled and it called for sunny warm weather in the 60s!

But still good spirits, we were on our way to the breakfast buffet. Little did we know, that the breakfast buffet room wouldn’t have any heating either, nor would any restaurant in the entire city, because there was no heating in the 1200s, so why would there be now? We were freezing while eating our also frozen breakfast (if it was hot at one point, it certainly was not hot the second it hit the freezing cold plates). Oh, also, in case you are imagining an all American breakfast (at this point I don’t know why you would imagine that, but in case you did…), it was not. It was cold Chinese food (no, real Chinese food, which they probably just call food) with rice porridge (basically rice in water) and  instant coffee.

During our breakfast, halfway into my second cup of frozen instant coffee the electricity went out. A and I looked at each other horrified, the waitress didn’t think much of it and just smiled at us, in the now dark breakfast room. As we exited the restaurant, we realized, the entire hotel was out of electricity. Nay, the entire city.

At this point I lost it, my fingers were frozen, I haven’t felt my toes in over 12 hours, my stomach was in excruciating pain, there now was no water because the electricity fueled the water pump, it was still snowing (apparently for the first time in over a decade or so, I might be making this up, but definitely the first snow of the season) and on top of all of that, the receptionist (or any of the hotel workers) were not able to communicate with us.

But thank you Android and Samsung for having a translation program that works without internet (because of the Chinese firewall we weren’t able to use our phones and beloved google as well as social media platforms). So A typed vigorously on his phone and hit the translation button while the receptionist looked at us rather bored, because of course, to her, this is normal. When we asked her, when the electricity would come back on, she shrugged her shoulders, because she genuinely didn’t know.

A and I then had a crucial decision to make: do we stay or do we go? And quite honestly, isn’t that the one question you always ask yourself on your honeymoon?

Do I stay or do I go?
Do I stay or do I go?

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