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What You Need to Know Before Visiting Ecuador

With its diverse landscape and rich culture, Ecuador is definitely a hidden gem in South America that you don’t want to miss. Ecuador boasts amazing terrains, including the Amazon jungle, Andean highlands and the wildlife-rich Galapagos Islands. Following, are some traveling tips that might be useful for your trip, if you do decide to check it out.

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Language
English is rarely spoken in Ecuador, except at very popular and touristy places, such as the Galapagos Islands. It is best to have a translation tool handy or learn a bit of Spanish ahead. In fact, many travelers take Spanish lessons in Quito before heading out. As Spanish schools in Quito often offer very flexible programs and many of them provide traveling-while-learning options; the experience can be really fun.

Food
Other than in the Galapagos islands, food is very cheap and delicious in Ecuador. Even an upscale meal won’t cost you more than 20 dollars in general.  As Ecuadorians don’t use hormones to farm animals other than chickens, all your non-chicken meals are going to be organic at a very affordable price. What’s more, the variety and taste of fruits in Ecuador are also unbelievably amazing. There is no doubt that you should take the opportunity and eat your way throughout the country. You won’t regret it.

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Lodging
Lodging in Ecuador is very affordable. For 20-50 dollars, you can get a decent place to stay.

Currency
Eucador uses U.S dollars and ATMs are everywhere; it’s very convenient. However, credit cards are not widely accepted. Even if a business accepts your credit card, a high convenience fee will be charged.

Safety
In Quito, it is not wise to go out at night. However, it is safe to go out during the daytime. With some common sense, you should be fine. At touristy places, especially the Galapagos islands and Baños, safety is not really a concern, and you can just relax and enjoy.

If you take a bus to other cities, it is best to exercise caution and keep your luggage close to yourself.

The Health System
Although Ecuador is not a particularly rich country, its health service is pretty good and available to everyone, including travelers, at no cost.

Toilet
For whatever reason, toilets in Ecuador can be easily clogged. Avoid throwing anything in them, including toilet paper.

Booking A Galapagos Cruise
1. Exploring the Galapagos Islands by cruise is a very rewarding experience, though it is quite expensive. There are normally last-minute deals if you are a hardcore deal seeker.
2. Since for most of the day you will be either on islands, swimming, or on a boat , it is not necessary to spend a lot on an “upscale” cabin just for the night. Of course, if you don’t care about spending more money, a more expensive cabin does offer a bigger space then basic ones.
3. Due to government regulations, huge cruises are not allowed in the region. So, an average Galapagos cruise is small, can normally hold only 20-30 people in total, and is occasionally very bumpy. It is a good idea to pack some seasick pills for the trip. Plus, the pills can help you get a good night’s sleep, which is essential for the next day’s activities.
4. When you choose the cruise line, make sure to check their route first. Since a cruise needs to renew its licence every year,  their permission to certain areas can be alternated during the renew process, so the reputation of a cruise should go second after the itinerary.

For more ideas of what to do in Ecuador, download the LeafCanoe app to check out Daijie’s leaf and explore other leafs.

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How Accommodations in Tibet Look Like

In the travel diary of my Tibet trip, I mentioned quite a few very basic accommodations. I hope that you didn’t get the wrong impression that you have no other option while traveling in Tibet. So, let me talk a little more about the accommodation options in the remote areas of Tibet.

In general, once you are away from Lhasa, there are no lodge options on the road or in villages, except the one at the Guge kingdom ruins. However, bigger towns do have accommodations that are generally acceptable in terms of cleanliness and facilities. The bigger the town, the more options it can offer. If your budget is over 300 RMB per night, which is about 50 USD, you can have pretty decent options. Since my group had a tight budget,  our choices were normally from the low to the medium levels. You can definitely have a more luxurious option if you would like to spend a little more.

I have marked down the places we went in the map below and summarized the accommodation options for each accordingly.

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Tibet: this is a pretty modern city and has plenty of low, medium, and high-end lodge options. I highly recommend the Danjielin guesthouse, which is within walking distance to the Jokhang Temple, the ShoAkirat, and the Potala Palace. It is the perfect destination for a tourist. The guesthouse is nothing close to luxurious, however, it is well designed in the local style, and is quite tidy. Most importantly, the host is very friendly and willing to help whenever possible. The rate was around 200 RMB/night when we were there.

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Coqen: there were about four hotels in the town, and about two of them were in decent condition. We picked the cheaper one between the two, which cost about 260 RMB/night.

Xigaze: it is a pretty large and relatively modern city, which offers many lodge options, similar to Lhasa. However, we were not very lucky when we got there, as all the rooms were sold out because of the Panchen Lama’s visit. Having no other choices, we stayed in a bath center which provides beds for over night guests. Although all men and women were put in one huge lodge, which made me feel very uneasy at first, it was pretty clean and quiet. You can consider this option when lodges are not available. However, they may take advantage as they did to us, and overcharge you. In my case, I paid 180 RMB/night for a bed, a bit of a rip off.

Tingri: since we arrived there pretty late and left very early the next morning, we didn’t get a chance to get know about the town. However, the lodge we randomly picked was in pretty decent condition. Its standard room, which was about 230 RMB/night, had a private bathroom and running water, which is less common in more remote areas at a similar price.

Zhongba: the town was not big and had limited lodge options. We chose a 200 RMB/night one, which was actually a bad decision. The lodge did have a private bathroom, but no running water, and the bathroom was pretty dirty. There was one decent hotel in town you may consider, which cost 360 RMB/night and the facility was close to the western standard.

Darchen: since it is a popular travel destination, there are quite a few lodge options, though the town is quite small. We stayed in the Savored Mountain and Lake Hotel, which cost about 250 RMB/night. The lodge was in decent condition, very clean room and comfortable beds.

Guge: under the ruins, there is a small village, where there are many locals offering accommodations to tourists. In generally, the local house is very tidy, though really rustic. It is a great way to interact with locals and get to know about Tibetans. The one we stayed in cost about 60 RMB/bed/night. There ware about 5 beds in the room.

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Paryang: try to avoid this town if you can. It has very limited lodge options. The local home we stayed in was in very bad condition. The room had no locks and no private bathrooms and even the window was broken. We heard they were building a 4 star hotel there. Hopefully, it is completed now. Otherwise, you better go to a nearby, bigger town for the stay.

Nyima: it is a big town. You can find many good options for sure there.

Bangor: it is a big town as well, with many options for lodging, ranging from the low end inns to the medium level hotels. The one we chose was an inn, which cost about 160 RMB/night, with public bathrooms.

Namtso: it is a very popular national park. However, the lodging there is very uncomfortable. Due to the government regulations, the whole site had only public bathrooms which could be very far from your room. The room there was very basic, even though it would cost you more than 200 RMB/night. The service was also very basic as well. Hopefully, the condition can be improved soon.

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If you are a nature lover, you can’t miss Alaska

A few days ago, my friend asked me:” Between Alaska and Tibet, which one is better?” Honestly, it was a challenging question. Although Alaska doesn’t have much of history, culture, or local food,  compared to Tibet,  its stunning sceneries and amazing adventurous opportunities are simply hard to resist.
If you would like to see glaciers, you should visit Alaska, because it has around 100,000 glaciers in the state. It is true that Tibet has the world famous Everest glacier, but taking a closer look is nothing easy. However, for Alaska, you can walk on a glacier, kayak around a glacier, or even land on a glacier right from a helicopter.   There are so many ways to explore and experience.
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If you are a fishing enthusiast, you should visit Alaska, because you will for sure catch something from a stream,  a lake,  or the sea .  While in Tibet, it is quite the opposite, because fishing is a taboo there. Athough it has the most unbelievable stunning lakes with plenty of fish, you will be empty handed.
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If you would like to escape a few days from the modern world,  you should visit Alaska, because you can drive a motor home and stop whenever and wherever you feel like to. You can walk in the valley aimlessly, lose the sense of time, do some berry picking, go fishing and cook what you get. The life there can be so simple . While in Tibet, you are more likely to be an observer instead of a participant, because the tough conditions would deter you from the very beginning.

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If you want to see the northern lights, you should visit Alaska, because you can easily drive to a hill top, settle down, relax, and enjoy the amazing wondrousness dancing in the sky while you are only a step away from your comfy motor home.
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If you like Tibet but worried about things getting out of control, you should visit Alaska, because all the adventures are actually well managed excursions, which could be strenuous but nothing near dangerous.
This is Alaska, a place that you don’t want to resist.

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Travel in Tibet (4): Fighting the Altitude Sickness

The Fourth Day

In the morning, Xiaoyu’s sister in law walked in our room, worried. Xiaoyu got a fever last night and it seemed that a hospital visit would be necessary. Wucong suggested a couple of places where Xiaoyu could go for the treatment in Lhasa. I started to feel sorry for her. Our road trip to Ali region was about to debut and we would reach 5000m very soon, what a pity if Xiaoyu couldn’t make it.  It was  her who organized the trip after all. She deserved a chance.

In the noon time, our drivers picked us up. The two SUVs were fully loaded by the luggage and we squeezed in to save the space for others. It was really tight indeed.  In China, there is an old saying: three women can play a show… Since we had eight ladies, I snickered:” we are going to play a great show together …”  Finally, we departed. At the Yarlung Tsangpo river, Xiaoyu joined others in photo taking just as usual. It seemed that she was fine then.  The car continued to climb up to the 5000 meters above the sea level, where we got to the Yamdrok lake. Just as how it was praised,  the lake was breathtakingly stunning. A minute ago, we were whining about getting hungry, but then, the only feeling we had was the amazement.  Pictures and words just couldn’t show the beauty of the lake.

Walking at such a high altitude place is strenuous, especially for a person who is not in her perfect health condition. Xiaoyu got sick, seriously, this time. We decided to have lunch nearby to give her sometime to recover.

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Unfortunately, even with the oxygen and anti-high altitude medications, Xiaoyu was getting worse. She had to terminate her trip,  right away.  Luckily, a driver heading for Lhasa offered to take Xiaoyu back, as his minivan still had one seat left. Everyone felt relieved, except Xiaoyu’s sister in law. Panic and worried, she couldn’t feel right to let Xiaoyu go alone.  She tried to persuade others to let them take one of our two hired cars back to Lhasa. She didn’t succeed, as others were already upset by  the fact that only Xiaoyu needed to go.  What’s more, the team agreement was to share all the expenses on the road. With both of them departing, the share of the car hire would increase significantly for others.  Girls started to whisper, and, Dengfenglai couldn’t hold herself anymore and blurted out: if they both leave, only Caiyu and I are going to share one car’s expense… That couldn’t happen!”  “Don’t worry, we share the two car expense evenly” Wucong and I consoled her right away, which calmed her down a little bit, though not completely.

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Knowing that taking one of our two cars back was a tough sell, Xiaoyu’s sister in law started to make calls and finally  arranged a car to get them back to Lhasa, we left, relieved, though it meant that our budget would go high with their departure. But, it made sense, anyway.  Wucong, Caiyu, and Deingfenglai sat in one car, Chujiand, Yujian, and I got in another car, we departed for Xigaze. It was already 5pm. The drivers called a few lodges in Xigaza then realized that all hotels were already sold out because of Panchen Lama’s visit! Where to stay, we worried. Last time, when I was in Quito, my trip didn’t get in trouble because of Papa Francisco’s visit. But, this time it seemed that I didn’t have that kind of luck any more.

Already 10pm at night, we were still not in Xigaze. Chujian started to look for hotels on the road, using the Baidu map. I found it pretty funny that many people give too much trust in today’s technologies, such as Baidu or Google. Actually, these internet things are just tools that have many flaws. For instance, Baidu did show numerous hotels, even hotel chains, along the road we were driving, where it was completely dark at night. To me, this must be a bug, I shrugged it off. But to Chujian, she would rather trust Baidu than what we saw with our own eyes. She kept complaining the car ahead of us not even stopping to check out the lodging options while trying her luck with the Baidu map persistently.

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When we got to Xigaze, all hotels were sold out with no surprise. We walked in a bath center. The owner simply indicated that we could either pay, 185 RMB per bed, or walk away. With no other options, we took the offer and walked inside. Lots of beds were placed in a huge lunge and there were male and female guests. I got to say that the feeling was quite awkward. Good thing was that the beds were pretty clean and guests were very quite. What else could I ask for at the middle of night?

Going through so many things in a day, I started to feel headache and struggled most of the night to fall asleep. This was exhausting indeed.

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Travel in Tibet 3: Getting Ready for the Road Trip

In the early morning, it started to rain, heavily. Not really feeling myself,  I decided to stay in bed and let my mind and body fully recover from the  high altitude sickness.  ‘Did Xiayu go to the Potala place as planned?’ I was wondering, half-awake. She was already not feeling well last night, visiting the place in the rain would be really daunting…

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Around noon time, my energy finally boosted up. I decided to visit a well known local restaurant, Xueyu Café. By the time I sat down at the table and took a look at WeChat, my feed was already flooded with Xiaoyu’s pictures of the Potala Palace. I was surprised she went.   Hopefully, she was feeling ok. I messaged the whole group and invited them all to have a lunch here. In no time, Xiaoyu’s party, her sister in law and her best friend Caiyun, replied my message. They were joining me.  However, the moment they walked in the resteraunt, Xiaoyu started to feel nauseous. They went back to the guest house right away. Eating alone was boring, so I decided to wait a little longer. Happily,  Wucong and Dengfenglai joined me. We had the Tibetan yogurt cake, the barley cake, and the yolk meat. Honestly, the yak meat was bland, and a little disappointing, but the yogurt and barley  cakes were really good. After lunch, we went to Wucong’s buddy’s studio. Dengfenglai picked a pretty Tibetan costume and dressed up the way she had dreamed of doing.  In the full costume, Dengfenglai walked with me around the Sera Monastery, a well known place to watch lama debate.

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It seemed that Xiaoyu was down, so her sister in law stepped up and messaged the whole group to meet our drivers.  At the first sight of the middle man, I started to worry. He didn’t look like he could be trusted to me… the way he kept smiling at all of us was unnerving, but his eyes was not sending the same message…  I couldn’t help questioning his credibility. Anyway, I  just wanted to  follow the leader, make friends and relax.  I blocked my uneasy thoughts and started to chat with the newly arrived team mates: Chujian and Yujian. Chujian and Yujian were close friends who grew up together . Although they shared no blood relations, they looked like sisters, even twins.  Chujian had a boyish type of character, while Yujian was a very lady-like girl. These two seemed very likeable to me.

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The Fourth Day

Xiaoyu was out of the game.

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Travel in Tibet 2: Experience Lhasa

Our guest house was very close to the Jokhang temple, a very popular touristy place in Lhasa. We threaded through the crowds and gathered in a well known local restaurant to check out the Tibetan breakfast. If you are a food adventurer, this is a must-try,though I was shocked at the first sight: people crowed all rooms and it was even a challenge to look around for an empty table without crashing into someone. This place led my mind to the story line of “The Tea House”, a well known novel by Lao She in the early 19th centurary. Actually, even the Tea House would be more modern than this one, I thought.

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Finally, we got a corner of a table in the furtherst room. The Tibetan family sitting next to us was quite friendly,  they budged a little bit and spared us a little more space. Disgusted by the untidiness, Wucong furrowed her eyebrows and decided to only drink some milk tea. Caiyu and I were the opposite. We rushed to the counter and waited for our first Tibetan meal: the Tibetan noodles and the milk tea. Unlike fancy Chinese food in other regions, they were simple but with lots of  fiber and high energy, which were said to be very good for tourists who had to adapt to the high altitude region quickly.

I settled down all the dishes then turned around in the tiny space to get on my seat, not even realizing my cloth already knocked over a senior Tibetan’s tea cup and poured the milk tea all over the table. The old man muttered a little bit, almost unnoticeable  under a burst of apologies from me, cleaned the table , poured himself another cup of tea  then resumed his enjoyment like never being bothered.   This was Lhasa, a relaxing and peaceful place that I didn’t expect at all.

Xiaoyu was proved to be well connected again. Her third or even fourth level connection brought  a backpacker to our breakfast and offered to guide us around Lhasa. While I was puzzled about why the young man’s mismatched appearance, all other girls already started to complement his handsomeness and laughed out his identity: he was actually a solider.  Soilders like him were required to dress like travelers when going out. In Tibet, there are many soldiers not dressed in uniforms, they were everywhere. In other words, Tibet was one of the safest place for travelers, which made me quite relieved.

After breakfast, we followed the “backpacker” to the street. He was talkative and willing to share whatever he knew about Tibet, including the “secret” that there was no such thing called “Tibetan red flowers”  sought after by all travelers. It was kind of harsh to say that so many people were paying a high price for the plants that actually grew somewhere else.

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It was about lunch time, the “backpacker” insisted to treat us a big lunch in the modern shopping center. If I didn’t have a little headache, I would’ve forgotten we were in Tibet.  Stuffed with a good meal, we strolled around the square facing the potala place. It was indeed magnificent. Everyone was cheering up and figuring the best postures for a good picture with the potala palace backdrop. I sat down at the bench, watching the Tibetan women braiding Dengfenglai and Xiaoyu’s hair, and,  let my mind drift away. This was so relaxing.

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Yao Wang mountain is the place to shoot the perfect picture of the potala palace. It is also on the 50 yuan currency. You’d be surprise at the number of people crowded at the spot and fought for every inch of the territory for a good picture. Exhausted by navigating around the small area and finishing the photography task, we went to another dinner treat hosted by one of Xiaoyu’s connections. The host was very efficient, he invited guests from three different parties to this dinner, which felt quite awkward at first. However, no one would complain about a free dinner. In no time, we chatted like old friends and toasted for everyone’s luck, health, and wealth. Actually, no one really cared, rather than for a good meal and a great drink. It was said that drinking some wine would help the altitude sickness, I happily joined the drinking group and went back to the guest house,  heavy-headed.  A good sleep was necessary, I told myself and figured that burning myself down before the real journey was really unwise.

That day, I also learned a sad fact: booking a ticket to the  potala palace was not easy. You either had to pay a premium to buy tickets from the dealers, hire a guy to book the tickets for you in a line at midnight, or join a tourist group that had mandatory shopping requirements. The latter option was the last thing I wanted to do.  Xiaoyu’s connection managed to get there tickets for Xiaoyu, her best friend, and her sister in law. How about us,…, I went to bed and decided to worry these things latter, at least, when my headach went away.

Wucong and I started to chat about the hot Chinese news. Soon, she fell in sleep, while I was still struggling with my headache.  Her breath was not even, actually pretty heavy occasionally during the night, I started to realize  why she was not that enthusiastic about the planned stay at the Everest base camp.

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Travel in Tibet 1: Arriving in Lhasa

The First Day

To my surprise, Xiaoyur was a very well connected person. When we flew in Lhasa, there were people already waiting at the airport. The girl was very welcoming. While asking about our trip, she and the driver took the luggage and led us the way . Walking at such a high altitude is indeed consuming the energy. Although we took our time and shuffled to the car, my head started feeling a little heavy already. Considering that I had been on the road for weeks and got a little bit exhausted already, I actually thought the symptom was not bad at all. Espcially, it was nothing near what I had in Cusco, where I felt my head was going to explode.

Xiaoyur was not in her best health condition either at the moment. Too excited in meeting old friends in the college re-union party right before the Tibet trip, she got sick and had a low fever last night. Although she claimed OK this morning, I thought, she would take all the efforts to rest and get used to the high altitude as soon as possible. However, she didn’t have the chance. A very social and nice person who had a hard time to say no, she was kept busy in chatting with the friendly girl about Lhasa in the car, and, soon, she felt sick. It looked like that even the supplement she had taken for two weeks, which claimed to prevent the altitude sickness, didn’t help.

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The guest house was located in the center of Lhasa, where vehicles were prohibited. After waving bye to the nice girl and the driver, we strolled along the busiest touristy street and trudged in the guesthouse, exhausted. Quickly, 6 girls of the travel group arrived in the guest house. Except wucong, all other five girls had never done a group travel with strangers who only met on the internet. This was new and exciting.  As the group leader, though still not feeling well, Xiaoyur joined us at the dinner and greated all gals. The dishes were delicious. If you are still thinking that Lhasa is underdeveloped… , think twice.

Stuffed, we went out and wandered around the little shops nearby. Out of no where, my heartbeat went crazy suddenly, though only for a few seconds, it scared me. Would I be able to do the hiking at 5000 meters above the sea level? Xiaoyu’s itinerary seemed too ambitious. I was afraid that she was not in the great condition for the challenge at the Gangrenboqi mountain as well.

The Second Day (to be continued)

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18 Days in Tibet

“18 Days in Tibet” is the travel story of eight internet connected gals went on a trip to Tibet. While revealing the beautiful Tibet, the story talks about their happiness, miseries, and friendship happening on the road.

If you want to learn more about traveling in Tibet through their fascinating story, stay tuned. The video is only a start.

 

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