the busride was a bit hellish, 5 hours of rough and tumble winding mountain roads. the driver, his safety award flag flapping ironically behind him, picked up every single hitchhiker we saw, so that people and cargo were standing and sitting in the aisle and front of the bus was loaded with illegal passengers. i was unlucky enough to get a seat near the front, and spent part of the time pushing on a standing man's behind so i wouldn't get a faceful of ass.

from the window i could see orchids growing from the side of the mountains. it was like being in a flower shop; i'd never seen tropical orchids growing in the wild before.

bulang shan village

i didn't know what to expect when we finally arrived (around 7pm) but i had pretty low expectations. maybe i thought i'd see a few other foreign faces but i was the only one who didn't belong. i found some lodging for RMB$5 (less than US$1). there were two other beds but since i was the only tourist, they remained empty so i had the room to myself. there was a window but missing a few panes of glass, so mosquitoes from the rice paddies in the backyard could easily wander inside. fortunately the owner gave me some mosquito coils to light. the bed was damp as well as the blanket, which smelled like mildew (or was it urine?). after visiting the bathroom (surrounded by trash, planks suspended above a hole) i lost my appetite and went to bed early, hoping to get started with my hike as soon as the sun came up.

all that stuff i said about not posting until jinghong? you can't stop an internet addict! especially when this particular internet cafe is by far the cleanest and fastest cafe i've come across since traveling in china.

this morning after packing up all my stuff i decided to take a minibus to jingzen (about 19km away) to see the bajiaoting, AKA the octagonal pagoda. this involved flagging down a menghai-mengzhe minivan from the street corner, which i managed to do effortlessly (like a pro). the ride was RMB$5 and i got dropped off only after i reminded the driver, "i want to go see the bajiaoting" (although going to mengzhe wouldn't have been so bad either, i remember seeing a temple there as well).

i got there early, before 9am, with the hope that maybe i can avoid paying the entrance fee, but a woman spotted me right away and told me i had to get a ticket (RMB$10, about a dollar).

octagonal pagoda

bajiaoting is nothing special, anything original was destroyed in the cultural revolution (i think, i'm not sure), and this new one has the utilitarian look of modern day concrete. the only saving grace was it stopped raining finally (it was pouring this morning) and there was a massive flowering plumeria tree filling the air with its fragrance.

a monk waited patiently inside the main temple (not the pagoda, which was closed, guarded by a sleeping cat) as i walked around the building looking over the murals. since i can't read dai script (a cross between burmese and laos) i had fun making up my own stories.

"in our heaven, ladies grow from trees"

"zero percent body fat can be achieved if you worship me"

when i finally did go inside the temple (removing my rubber boots and socks), the monk immediately got up to offer me some incense to burn. from past experience i know the incense isn't free so i told him i didn't want to worship. i just walked around inside, and left after i got a "no" answer when i asked if i could take some photos inside.

i chatted with the woman who runs the temple-pagoda complex. she told me that "laowai" love to visit the place, and just yesterday a large group of them came by in the afternoon (this was the bunch of foreigners i saw at xiding). i was disappointed to hear that i wasn't the first to discover the place, but if you can read about it in lonely planet, chances are so have everyone else traveling in the area. i asked about the mosquitoes, since i didn't really see any, which was fortunate since i didn't bring any repellent on this occasion. "lots of mosquitoes," she said. "leeches?" i asked. "leeches, yes, and ants." somehow ants don't seem like such a threat (compared to some of the bloodsucking creatures), but maybe these are special biting ants or something.

like a pro, i managed to flag down a returning minivan to menghai back out on the open road. i sat next to a bunch of dai women chatting loudly in their native language. i just looked out the window and enjoyed the view.

when we finally made it back to the city (30 minutes later), i bought a pack of cigarettes (my leech removal kit), some tsa-tsai (fermented radish, to go with my mantou bread), and a bubble ice tea (apparently the sway of tapioca balls has reached all the way to xishuangbanna). back at the hotel, with one more hour left before i had to check out (at noon), i quickly took a shower (my last shower in a few days i'd imagine) and ate some lunch. i left the hotel and deposited my large backpack at the bus station, before coming here to this internet cafe to chill out before my bus to bulang shan arrives at 2pm.

i'm excited to be finally able to do some naturing soon, but a little scared about wandering the jungles for so many days. if the weather's nice it'll be pleasant, but if it rains, and the rain brings the ma huang, i will curse xishuangbanna and never come back.