The Roving Route
The Adventures of The Roving Route #7
We have left the cottage in Lake of the Woods, and after a busy week in Winnipeg, we started our Southeast Asian adventure. The route to our first true destination in Asia takes over a week with 6 flights, 2 multi-day layovers, and 2 quick stopovers. Some might even say it is a very roving route :P but hey, getting there is half the adventure right?
With the amazingly complex and seemingly stupid way that flight pricing is done, our first layover was Las Vegas! Neither of us were too excited but with a cheap flight in premium economy to Asia, and hotel rooms, food, and free slot play provided by an old game we used to play, we figured why not!
For anyone who is even possibly thinking of doing a Las Vegas trip (or anywhere that MGM has hotels), we cannot say enough about how awesome the My Vegas app is. Over the past 4 years on 3 trips, we have been given 7 nights free (excluding resort fees), 4 buffets, $200USD of free slot play, and 2 tickets to Cirque du Soleil. That is all with enough points for another week at the Bellagio. Let us remind you that this is all from simply pressing auto spin in a game before hopping into the shower.
While it was not our preferred starting point, we can't complain about spending Halloween in Las Vegas. We had great rooms, lots of shows, and even better people watching.
With just an hour or so of sleep, we made our way to Shanghai for our second layover. Shanghai is one of the largest cities in the world and is split in two by the Huangpu River. It is also a city of differences. The modern skyscrapers sitting beside hundred-year-old gardens, the ultra-rich just blocks from the poor, and Gucci stores right beside "Guccci" stores!
Our hostel was perfect as it sat beside one of the best food streets we have ever been to. Out of the 5 meals we ate along the 3 blocks, we saw less than 10 nonlocals (almost all being accompanied by a Chinese friend). The food was incredible though we had no clue what we ordered. Was it beef? Maybe. Was it intestines? Possibly. But whatever, it was delicious and super cheap. Our favourite meal was crab soup dumplings from a hole in the wall restaurant filled with locals. Served in a bamboo steaming basket, the dumplings and accompanying ginger vinegar sauce was so good, we are already planning on how to return to Shanghai.
We couldn't get enough of the great translations we found in anything from menus to government signs. They ranged from a sign above a urinal informing the user to "step forward, civilization a big step", to a sign on a temple wall reading "stay clean and take away happiness". While they may not beat the Bulgarian lawn sign reading "no grass passing or stepping" they are great none the less.
While Shanghai is gorgeous in a "how weird of a skyscraper can we build" kind of way, a day trip out to a historic water city or "the Venice of Shanghai" was our highlight. Tea-houses perched on stilts with gondoliers crashing into each other below was a fantastic sight to see. While sections were very touristy, it's hard not to be impressed by the craftsmanship of some of the vendors. From sugar art to hand-carved bamboo tea sets, the dedication is wild. We just wished we had enough room in our bags to take some home.
Often when massive events happen in a city they are both a plus and a negative depending on how you look at it. Our evening adventure out to see the light and music show along the Bund was interrupted by literally thousands of police and military in full garb. A section of downtown Shanghai, probably 15 blocks, was fully enclosed with police standing hand in hand and others directing tourists. After about two hours of watching the police, several fleets of identical black cars followed by a small bus with more black cars came ripping down the closed-off streets. It was the president, Xi Jinping, and his entourage in town for the opening of the China International Import Expo. We couldn't believe the sheer number of police and the area that was closed off for his visit. While this, unfortunately, made us miss the light show the skyline is spectacular even when it is not synchronized with music. We just wonder which car he was in or if they were just decoys!
The final thing that struck us most of Shanghai is the state of advanced mobile banking. Everywhere you went was a small QR code that you could scan and pay without the need for cash or credit cards. We mean everywhere. The little booth in the market to the steamed bun shop that is a total of 20 SQF and even the person trying to sell roses to people on the street had their own unique code. It baffles us that businesses like Square that allow iPads to become credit card scanners are popping up everywhere in North America. This system seems so much easier and way more efficient as the person in the store doesn't have to do a single thing to receive the money.
We leave our second layover to our true destination, the Philippines. We plan to stay here for 2 months with our flight to Bangkok arriving in time for New Years'. But as always who knows we're up for anything.