Smiling Buddha Travel Blog

SMILING BUDDHA

TRAVEL BLOG

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hello everyone!

I am starting a travel blog! I figure why not!? Since I have pretty much dedicated my life to seeing new and exciting places ! I’ll keep you posted on some of my great and not so great experiences; about the cities, their food, restaurants, bars, music, culture, traditions, rules ect….

In this blog I will visit; China, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Morocco, Portugal, Italy, France, Denmark, Boston, California and multiple places in Canada.

First let’s start with Chengdu China…..

I was sent to Chengdu to sing for the bar Mooneys at the Shangri La Hotel, Chengdu. I was fast asleep one morning when I received an slew of notifications from Facebook. They were from an agent asking me to contact her immediately! It was to tell me that in just 2 weeks I’d be flying to China to start a band with a bunch of musicians who I did not know from Latin America ! I said Hey! Why not!?

So I got out of bed did my happy dance called my mom and dad and started rehearsing my material, packing my bags and researching Chengdu!

While I researched I wasn’t so happy to discover that Chengdu was smack dab in the middle of China… nowhere near any ocean unlike Hong Kong or other asian cities, and it was not a crazy party city like Shanghai … or so I thought! Chengdu is a hidden gem.. which few lucky foreigners get to discover.

Alcohol in China

In general Asia knows how to party, every night of the week and every hour of the day! Their drink of choice is either Beer; “Pijiu” which is a nice light beer with a great taste. Depending on what region you’re in brands such as Tsingtao, Tiger, and Harbin line the club tables. You’ll get to a club….yes club (because there are not many pubs and bars)…and you have two options  either beer or SHOTS which they do surprisingly well… but no wine unless you’re buying the whole bottle and its not cheep or very good wine either. The beer comes in options of 1 or 24, they are so light that 24 beers goes down pretty fast between the table.

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So thats the beer situation in clubs and then you have the crazy colourful shots that scream HANGOVER!! .. and leave you in the washroom for quite some time the next morning…😦

 

Oh and before I forget! Seeing huge buckets filled with champagne bottles is also very common… I always wanted to go over and make friends with these people but you need to be careful not to catch one of the high rollers eyes because then he might try and “buy you”… I have had some crazy propositions in china… I’d get off stage and a herd of young girls would run over to me and say “hey hey my friend would like to buy you”… and I’d reply “ok I’ll take white wine please”… “no no he want you in his room.. for 300RMB ” I replied “300 rmb only!” ahah thats like $58 dollars Canadian! anyways back to the champagne … yes please !

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To conclude my topic of alcohol in China I need to tell you about “Bajiu” a chinese rice wine… it’s mixed aroma and taste of rubbing alcohol, vomit and vodka… sorry I don’t mean to come off rude because a lot of locals love this drink.. but it’s just not really my style. You can find Baijiu at any depanneur sorry thats the Quebec in me, I mean convenience store, grocery store, and or stores dedicated to selling solely Bajui and cigarets.

chinese rice wine bajiu

 

What to pack

Ok so I prepared my suitcase with totally the wrong things….

Guys and girls summer in China is hot hot hot!!! Oh but Chengdu is also pretty fancy for the most part! You’ll see girls dressed to the nines any day and or hour of the week! So I’d suggest nice breezy dresses for summer and fall clothes for the Winter. Oh and bring deodorant.. they don’t sell very good deodorant and its kind of expensive. While we’re on the subject of what to pack… here is a mini list ;

  • Deodorant
  • Tampons
  • Vitamins
  • Cold medication (or you’ll be eating Chinese herbs.. they gave me a rash )
  • Razors
  • Advil
  • Prescriptions of antibiotics from your doctor for common health issues
  • Anything gluten free or dairy free because that does not really exist there
  • Peanut butter ( I didn’t realize how North American peanut butter was until I moved over seas)

 

I was packed, prepped and ready to start my adventure in China…

Blackjack

But first we needed to assemble a band photo. Since we had never met and were scattered all over the place we needed to fake a band photo. Therefore we each took a photo in front of a white backdrop and thats how Blackjack was born…

 

I landed in China 35hrs later at 9:30pm and was greeted by a private driver from the Shangri La… he was so sweet, had a cold facecloth and portable wifi all in his van taxi! This was just the beginning, as I pulled up to my new home I was greeted by the sweetest doormen and welcomed into what seemed like a castle aka my new home for the next 9 months !!

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I got to my beautiful room opened up the wine that I had bought in the Korea airport..

Fyi I always suggest buying wine at duty free and carrying it on. This way it won’t break in your bag, not to mention you don’t know if you’ll have energy to go to a bar once you get to your hotel and or if your hotel has wine or room service is still going. A few glasses of wine, some unpacking and a few tears of joy later  I was invited to join the band for a beer at one of their apartments. As tired as I was I figured why not I need to get to know my new family.. so I taxied over to a big concrete building and was warmly greeted in Spanish by my new Venezuelan family .. plus the drummer from Mexico😉 We shared a few beers and then Paco the mexican drummer walked me home.. during that walk I really got a feel for China. It was hot, it smelled, men had their shirts rolled up over their huge bellies to cool off , and the streets were lined with food carts selling the best street food I’ve had to date (stay tuned because next week I’m going to Mexico)!

Street Food

The Street food was so good that I have to dedicate a whole section just to this..

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You have two options for street food; a fried rice and noodle cart “Chaofan” or barbecue “Shao kao”! Shaokao is da bomb this is barbecue on steroids.. if you go to Chengdu you need to order as much damn tofu as possible. They are known to have the best tofu in China. How it works is you grab a small basket and load it with anything you see lying on the cart; potato, tofu, cucumber, onions, quail eggs, chicken wings and see you tomorrows .. this is a white long mushroom that is incredible but you do see it again the next day .. sorry i’m getting a little graphic.

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They grill your assortment of food while dousing it with spices, salt and msg… really they have a bottle of msg that they sprinkle on throughout the process. As good as it tasted the extra msg would make me sick so I’d ask for no msg and not spicy; “Meiyou weijing” and “puoa La” ( I don’t think I spelled that properly but I know that “La” is spicy. )

Here’s some of my wonderful street food experiences

KTV

A KTV is a staple in the Chinese culture. If you’re not at a club you’re at a KTV which is a karaoke lounge. You buy your private room for the night and order what ever you’d like to eat or drink. You then proceed in singing the night away to the cheesiest music you could imagine. For some this sounds like a nightmare and for some it is heaven. I think this pretty much sums up your China experience you either love it or hate it. I loved it.. yes it has its downfalls like any country and culture but in general I fell in love with China.

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When I wasn’t eating, drinking and karaoke’ing I was singing nightly at Mooneys with Blackjack. I fell in love with this band. I wasn’t sure what to expect being the only one that didn’t speak Spanish but they made me feel like one of them. What I’ve learned about the Latin culture is that they have some of the nicest, warmest and welcoming people you’ll ever meet. They live for family, and food. The bassist Vicky would make arepas from scratch in her hotel room. These are some of my favourite things to eat. An arepa is a corn floor pocket filled with… well anything you want. I would have mine stuffed with tuna fish and goat cheese. It would come off the grill steaming and I’d lather it with margarine and then stuff it.

Arepa

In the latin culture cooking is done with love.. it’s a long process that starts early on in the day, it’s a way to bring the family together to share. Blackjack was invited by our friend Lois to join him his aunt and grandmother on one of our days off to make hallacas. Wow was this an experience; we sat around a big table and everyone had their job, mine was stuffing the hallaca dough with olives and peppers😉 Once the hallacas are stuffed they are wrapped in a plantain leaf, tied up with a string and steam cooked.

hallacas happy in kitchen Making hallacas

See I started talking about singing at Mooneys and again I’m brought back to food… wow I am such a foodie!

So back to the performing part! China helped me find my voice, stage presence and helped me develop the thick skin that one needs in the music industry. It was one of the best experiences of my life and my career, and I can’t wait to see where my next gig and adventure will be.

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Heres a link to my Youtube where you can see some live footage …  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLHmq4fKS4YByqHHdswgpDg

Hair

I don’t know if any one actually noticed but in the span of a few months my hair went from super short to super long…. if you’re traveling to China as a woman you should think about buying hair its incredibly cheap in China and they have a great way of tying it in so you don’t even know its there.

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Now onto…

Chengdu sights;

Here is a list of must sees if you’re traveling to Chengdu

The Pandas;

For the pandas go nice and early in the morning I’d say 8am, it takes about 45 minutes to get out to the base. They come out when it’s nice and cool. Its 60rmb which is $11 Canadian. Its a must see while in Chengdu.

 

Jinli Ancient Street

Jinli is a walking street that houses bars, restaurants, boutiques, and some special Chinese relics. You can visit Jinli at any time of the day but turns into something completely different at night; you’ll see the difference in my photos. Makes sure to : 1)taste some of Chengdu’s traditional food at ones the many street carts, 2) throw a coin into a koi pound and 3) buy a little wishing pouch that you tie onto a tree branch and your wish is kept there forever in Chengdu.

 

Wide and Narrow Street

This is very similar to Jinli but what Jinli doesn’t have is the best hot pot in Chengdu !!

You need to check this place out.

A Hot pot is a restaurant with a huge caldron like thing in the middle of the table, similar to a fondue. You order what you’d like to have cooked in the hot oil and spice and then you slowly drop in your food and wait.

Tips for a hot pot;

It is spicey, and I’ve been all over, and tried some spicy mexican salsas which will come later on in this blog but China spicy is a whole different ball park. It will make you feel high.. and then creep up later that night, the next morning and the day after so…. I’d suggest doing half half; half in the spicy red part of the stew and then the other half in the hot broth. You don’t need to worry about not having enough taste if you only use the non spicy broth because you make your own dipping sauce. You start with a bowl that you fill with an incredibly tasty oil and then add your options; cilantro, green onion, garlic, msg, and salt. I add everything but the MSG… although the MSG is tasty, as a celiac, lactose intolerant and just sensitive stomach person.. I try and steer clear.

 

Giant Leshan buddha

This is also something you need to do earlier on in the day and NOT on a weekend. There is only one singular line to get down the mountain which can take up to about 4 hours if you go on a busy day. It takes 2 hours to get to Leshan from Chengdu. We took the bus which cost much less then a taxi and or hiring a driver. You take the bus to Leshan and then a quick taxi up to the Buddha. The only issue was finding a taxi and bus back…. if I had to do it again I might invest in a private driver. Its a beautiful 30-40 minute walk up the mountain and you can see beautiful caves and sights along the way. Then you hit the gigantic Leshan Buddha that’s been carved into the mountain. You proceed to walk down the mountain by a very narrow staircase that takes you to the base where you buy a candle light it and make a wish.

 

Global Center

The global centre is supposedly the biggest shopping mall in the world. It holds shopping, food, two hotels and a gigantic wave pool and water park. Worth checking out…

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More about Chengdu;

If you’re going down as a performer, you don’t have to worry about music equipment  because you can find anything you need in the music university area of Chengdu and anything you can’t find in the music area you can order on Taobao. Now!! the subject of Toaboa; you can order anything you can imagine on this damn site. Believe me it comes in handy in China because there is a lot you cannot get that you might be used to as a foreigner. Ladies this mostly includes you; feminine products, meds ect…. Apart from the needed essentials Taoboa is great for ordering cheap random presents for family and friends and costumes… I ordered a 24 pack of Guinness beer, and starters hat, and a cell phone case for my boyfriend on christmas… it was well priced and cool!!! You can also get crazy costumes, which are not easy to get in Chengdu. The costume area in hidden and very scarce and expensive. I would suggest ordering all costumes a month before hand on Taobao. IMG_0500IMG_0507

To close up Chengdu. People are welcoming, kind and ready to party. They are more then happy to welcome you into their house and serve you amazing food and drinks.. and you’ll end the night singing karaoke in their basement😉 If you are traveling to China, make sure to check out this hidden gem.

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INDONISEA …

So Blackjack had wrapped up our 9 month contract, and now we were on vacation! My boyfriend and I decided we deserved a nice get away after a gruelling 6 night a week , and 9 month straight gig. We originally wanted to go to Thailand but were disappointed to find out that Mexican citizens needed a visa to enter Thailand and we didn’t have enough time to apply for one. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we ended booking out vacation in Bali, Indonesia !! We used the online flight service Cheapflights.com    and booked a incredibly cheap flight, although we had to land in Kuala Lumpur for a 17 hour layover. On the way there we didn’t mind because energy and the excitement of the trip so we we left airport and went to see the Twin Towers and grab a lunch… on the way back from Bali to Hong Kong our 17 hour layover really seemed a little lengthy. It’s all up to what you are willing to endure to save a few extra bucks..

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Twin Towers Kuala Lumpur

We landed in Kuta, Bali around 9:30pm at night, and proceeded to hit up the duty free for some Malibu rum to spike our coconuts…. only after we bought it and did the conversion we realized we had just spent $200 USD on the bottle … Tip #1 for Indonesia ; Bring your own alcohol!

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We checked in Kuta Angel Hotel ; the rooms were clean, beautiful, and playful. It was smack dab in the middle of the action as well. The only issue is that it didn’t have a very good outdoor pool. If you’re ok with walking 10 minutes to the beach each day and spending your time there then this is a perfect hotel for you.

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We walked around downtown Kuta for a while, grabbed some dinner, and crashed in our hotel room. The next morning we were picked up by a private driver; supplied by the ferry company which took us to Gili Islands. It’s a 3 hour ride to the port where you catch the ferry. They have a cute bar where you can order a juice from while you wait.AEQD9601

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The ferry over to the Gili Islands is about an hour. Caution it gets hot so bring water and breathable clothes. Once you dock on one of the 3 Gili Islands, you flag down one of the many horse drawn buggies. We stayed on Gili Air Island at the Grand Sunset Resort. In my opinion the nicest hotel on the island. It was the most upscale hotel, and most probably the most expensive but the prices of hotels in general in Indonesia are so cheap that it was worth the money. We spent under $100 USD on our hotel for a week. We arrived at our hotel early in the morning; we were greeted with a complimentary drink and escorted to the hotels restaurant for breakfast while we waited for our room to be ready. Breakfast was included everyday, and it was incredibly fresh, and was a large portion.

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Activities on Gili Air Island :

  • Bike Ridding on beach
  • Snorkelling with the turtles
  • Walking around the Island
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Eating at the numerous beach side bars

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After about a week on Gili Air we took the ferry back to Kuta where we spent another 3 days. The islands are to relax and Kuta is for partying. We checkout out some great restaurants and bars at night and laid by our pool, and at Kuta beach during the day.

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While in Kuta we also took a day trip to visit the monkey forest. Rent a driver for the day, and ask him to stop off at the

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Coffee factory. This is the infamous “POOP Coffee”

This is a great stop to make on your way to see the Monkey Forest. It’s about 30 minutes and you get a free tour, and free coffee and tea tastings. The coffees and teas are some of the best that I’ve ever tasted. It’s well worth the stop, and the price of the coffee bags you buy in the gift shop.

Monkey Forest 

This is an incredible experience. It’s pretty self explanatory but here are a few tips for your monkey adventure;

  • Leave all valuables inside your closed backpack
  • Hide your bananas
  • Don’t offer bananas to the large scary ones, for sick of them jumping on you… and they are heavy
  • No eye contact with the moneys
  • Get your tents shots before hand

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OK I’m taking a break… I’ll be back later with Hong Kong!!

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a beautiful city… unfortunately it was raining the entire time we were there but we still managed to see all of the important neighbourhoods and landmarks. Something you need to know going in is that Hong Kong is expensive !!! We managed to book a safe, affordable and perfectly located mini boutique hotel called the “Mini Hotel” …. your room is the size of a closet but that’s what too expect in Hong Kong, it was actually really cosy😉

 

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Make sure to go to the pier at 8pm any night for the amazing light show!! IMG_4560 (1)