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20051226_P_0203
Bamboo temple outside Kunming
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Lunch at the bamboo temple

Today we had breakfast in the hotel, Chinese buffet, before heading out to go and get our visas for Vietnam. We grabbed a cab to the hotel where the Vietnamese Consulate was meant to be but could see no sign of it. The building was part hotel and part shopping centre. The shopping centre was being refurbished and there was a huge hole in the middle of the floor, left open so that all and sundry could walk by. Not what we are used to back home!

Not finding the consulate we went to the hotel reception desk who told us it had moved a few months ago to another hotel. They wrote down for us where we needed to go, about a ten minute walk further away from the centre of town. This second hotel did have a consulate but it was for trade only. Their reception was much more helpful and they called to check where we needed to be. Surprise surprise we were in the right building the first time round, we simply needed to have walked through the door to the right of the building work, we went through the one on the left.

The process was easy enough. Fill out a form, attach a photo and hand over cash. We paid more for the express service so that we could pick our visas up today rather than waiting for three days. Vietnam looks set to potentially give us similar communication problems as China. They have their own script and whilst Stef said he had seen information in roman script in the Consulate I did not.

With the most of the day still ahead of us we decided to head out of town to go and see the Bamboo Temple. The doormen from the hotel told us how much to expect to pay, helpful as the cabbies first quote for using his services for a few hours was a 100% mark up. We finally agreed a price and the taxi set off to take us out of town. After a few minutes we hit the tail end of a traffic jam. Cars were trying to inch around a bend but traffic was coming from all sides and as the road narrowed down from several lanes into two it just could not cope.

The way out of town took us through an industrial area. You could not see signs of industry but you could smell it. There was a very strong chemical smell, almost like a strong smell of paint, which followed us for quite a while. It was pretty vile and I felt sorry for the people who had to live in this part of town. As with the old central part of town the demolition teams were in full sway here. The right hand side of the road is lined with block upon block of apartment buildings. They do not look that old but for probably about a mile or two they are all in the process of being knocked down.

We finally left the mass of the city behind us and started to climb up hill. The road switched back on itself and with the tropical vegetation on either side it was difficult to make out where we had come from. After a while we reached the Bamboo Temple. It looked very quiet and for most of the time we were there we saw no other visitors. We were glad that we had not followed Lonely Planets suggestion of going by bus from town as we saw no evidence of any buses at all.

The temple was perched on a hill and was the base of a whole community. It had the usual three buildings all leading through one another. A little old lady kept following us around making sure that Stef did not take any photos inside the buildings. The temple is famous for its luohan (arhats or noble ones). They are life sized clay figures commissioned by the temple’s abbot when it was restored in the late eighteen hundreds. The figures are quite amusing but also caused a stir due to their close resemblance of the sculptors contemporaries. The walls of the main temple are lined with freezes made from these statues and show people following normal everyday activities. Rooms elsewhere in the temple housed more statues and I wondered if they swap them around every couple of months to give the monks a bit of variety.

Around the main buildings are living quarters and at the back of the site is an open space with tables and chairs (all made out of concrete) dotted around presumably to give the monks space to socialise. We ambled around the complex, stopping to buy some CD’s before heading to the temple’s restaurant for a spot of lunch. Here a small corgi like dog was wrapped up in a blanket on a bench inside watching the world go by.

There was not really a menu here, you were simply invited into the kitchen to point at the vegetables you fancied and then the cooks turned them into dishes. The only other people in the restaurant were an American couple, who have lived in China for about six months, and a Chinese man who was with them and I think was their guide. They had an interesting array of bits and pieces on their table and Stef indicated that we also wanted some of those. The result was enough food for about four people including tasty fried tofu, lotus tree roots, mushrooms, noodles and lots more. Most of it was pretty tasty but there was far too much for us to eat.

The taxi driver had been very patient with us as a one hour wait turned into two but he finally stuck his head round the corner clearly indicating that it was time to head back to town. We headed back to the Vietnamese consulate to pick up our visas and were pleased to see that we had been given sixty day visas at no extra cost. It had been quiet in the Consulate so I don’t think that many people go to Vietnam at this time of year.

We both felt like having a quiet night in in front of the telly so room service dinner was ordered. The Thunderbirds and The Calcium Kid provided us with our film entertainment for Boxing Day. It made a change from James Bond or the Sound of Music but I do not think I would rush to see either of them again!