Hello friends, I just said goodbye to my twin sista this morning. She is a very exceptional individual who is apart of an organization called The Fulbright. Pretty much, it means she’s very smart and dedicated to do research in China for 1.5 years. She (and all the other China Fulbrights) were invited to a conference in Taipei, Taiwan. So, she is off with her friends to hear about all the great things other people have accomplished while doing their Fulbright research. I’ll miss her a lot, but I’ll be seeing her in October. I’m still in China for another 2 days and luckily I’ve made friends of my own. I’ll actually be playing Battlestar Galactica the Board Game tonight with some buddies.

Now to the next part of Colleen and I’s travels:

Tiger Leaping Gorge – A 2-3 day hiking trail found within the Himalayas. 

The last thing you heard from me was that Colleen and I had just caught a bus to Lijiang. At the bus station, we luckily got the last 2 spots on the bus to Qiaotou (the town nearest to the start of the trail) the next morning. Well, we spent the night at a quaint hostel and we made friends with 2 French guys who were also going to Qiaotou the following morning. We decided to travel together and we became fast friends.

We woke up very early to catch our 8:30am bus with our new French friends. The ride to Qiaotou was very beautiful. There were many bends and turns because we were going up into the Himalayas, but the views were spectacular. Something cool about the Chinese bus system is that they stop often, so people can use the restroom and get food. Sometimes it gets annoying stopping almost every hour, but it is nice to hop out of the bus and see what the locals are making on the barbecue. I also have a tendency to buy a Sprite at least once (and a chocolate bar for Colleen… our guilty pleasures….).

After 3 hours of driving and 30 minutes of walking on the side of a road, we made it to the Tiger Leaping Gorge Trailhead!

Colleen and I were already stunned by the views of the mountains 30 minutes into the hike, but we only knew it would get even better. The only hard part was that the first day of hiking was almost all uphill. So, we just chugged along, keeping positive.  

Here’s a shot of Colleen early on our hike. Our French friends were still with us at this point. Also, you might notice that the distance is very smoky. That is not pollution, it is smoke from a fire. It has been very hot and dry in this area for the last couple months and fires have been an issue.IMG_6237Here’s another shot about 2 hours in. There are villages throughout the hike that we walked through. In the villages, the kids love to come up and practice their English, so we took some short breaks, got water, and talked with the kids.

So, we’re still walking. It had been about 4 hours of constant up hill, with the occasional downhill. We were still staying strong, but then we kept seeing signs written on rocks and trees warning us about the 28 Bends. The signs would say, “The 28 Bends is coming,” “Be prepared for the 28 Bends,” and “Rest here before you go any further.” They were a bit disconcerting.  We turned a corner and then we could see what people were talking about. In the distance there were a lot of switchbacks going straight up the mountainside. I’m sure if I counted them all there would be 28. So, Colleen and I took the advice from the strange signs and rested a bit before we tackled The 28 Bends. While we were resting, a friendly Dutchman passed through named Martin. Like usual, we made fast friends and he joined us on our endeavor up the mountain.

Okay, I won’t go into detail about how rough those 28 bends were, but I think I lost some of my sanity while climbing up it.

At Bend 26 there was a viewing platform (A rock sticking out of the cliff, it was pretty scary), but the view was phenomenal! You could see the raging river below and the snowy peaks in the distance.

Colleen and I chilled on that rock sticking out of the cliff for awhile. We deserved the rest. By this time Martin had kept going. He wanted to reach the guesthouse early, so to get a good room.

The last 2 bends were a piece a cake and then it was smooth sailing. The last 2 hours of our hike was downhill, towards the village that we were planning on staying in.
Here’s the last shot I took that day. We were pretty close to the guesthouse by then. The sunset made the mountains turn yellowish-orange. We got to watch it from our window in our room. What a great way to end a 6-hour hike.

We bumped into Martin again and had dinner at the Tea Horse GuestHouse. We learned that we both were super cool and played MMO’s when we were younger. Just before he quit his job, he actually worked on the latest Hitman (friends you can thank him for such a great game). I can’t remember exactly what he did for the game, but he said he was done with corporate life. That is when he decided to quit his job and escape to Asia. So, now he bikes around SE Asia and China and blogs about it. He is the epitome of badass nerd.

We shared some great stories. My favorite was sharing with him that Colleen and I played Dark Ages of Camelot as 12 year old girls (we shared a character named Zimi. She was a minstrel). The best part was that we would lead massive raids. If you didn’t know, raids are when hundreds of people come together to defeat a high-leveled monster or attack enemy territory. The normal stereotype for MMO players is that they are 40-50 year old men. So we all cried laughing, just imagining 12 year old girls leading hundreds of 40-50 year old men into battle (all of them having no idea). Man, what a good night.

Well, I’ll make a separate blog post for Days 2 and 3, since this one got pretty long. To the next post!

Love, Molly

P.S. I’ll be writing these rather quickly, so please don’t mind the mistypes.

Hello all! Colleen and I were without internet for 2 weeks, which is why you have not heard from me. We travelled all around Northeastern Yunnan (and even a bit of Sichuan). We went to Dali, Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Sangrila, Lugu Lake, and Le Jasuwae (a small Mosuo minority village).

I have decided I will dedicate a blog post to each place I visited (except Lijiang because we only spent 1/4 a day there).

So, to the title of this post!

Dali – A town nestled between tall mountains and Lake Erhai

Colleen and I started our adventure by overnight train from Kunming to Dali. For the people who haven’t traveled by Chinese train, well here’s some info for you. There are 4 types of tickets: soft sleepers (4 beds per room and the beds I have been told are very comfortable), hard sleepers (6 beds per room, each bed having less and less head space the higher you go up. The beds are hard, kinda like camping on a thin foam sheet), hard seats (wooden seats, no recline), and lastly standing only. We had the hard sleepers and we were at the highest bunk. It was a bit sketchy climbing up the ladder to our bunk at first, but if you’re sure-footed, you’re fine. A benefit of having the highest bed is that no one can reach you, we’re at least 6-7 feet up. So, our bags are much safer up there.

ImageColleen and I had a bit of fun up in our train canopy.

I love this shot. Just showing how high up we are and how 6 people can live in such a confined space.

Now back to my story. Colleen and I slept through the 10 hour train ride and woke up to the sound of Chinese traditional Erhu music on the intercom. This was the warning signal that we will be reaching our destination soon. I could see that we were definitely out of the city because the scenery outside the window was all farmland and rice terraces.

When we reached our stop, we hopped off our train and caught a bus that would take us to the ancient town of Dali. We entered Dali and putsed around looking for a good hostel to stay in. Then out of nowhere, we bumped into a friend of Colleens. Her name is Erin and she brought us to the hostel she was staying at. What a small world.

Colleen and I went off to explore Dali. Colleen had been here once before, so we went to other parts of the city that she had no seen yet. We explored the market and saw lots of cool things, like tapestries, bowls, paintings, fresh cooked goat cheese on a stick, purses, and other fineries. There were some talented workers out on the street as well.

Since people were still celebrating the new year, this man would make zodiac animals for children out of caramel syrup. In this picture he was making a snake for a little girl.

I’ll share some cool facts with you about this ancient city. Dali is the Bai minority capital of the Yunnan Province. The Bai people are proud people who wear white clothing. Dali is particularly renowned for it’s white marble (in Chinese, marble is named after Dali, “dali shi”). Even their architecture has lots of white incorporated in the design and marble, if the family is rich enough. My favorite part of their architecture is that each building has murals and paintings all around the edges. Kinda like this… 

The building on the left has a bit of the patterns, but in this area of the city lots of the buildings are very old, so the art has faded over time. Nonetheless, the city was full of this Bai architecture!

We met up with some buddies we made in Kunming and ate some lunch. I can’t get over how delicious the goat cheese is here. Yunnan province in known for it’s diverse cultures and foods, but goat cheese just seems to be everywhere. Yum!

Colleen and I found this public space with a large library and an outdoor courtyard full of mahjong and chinese chess tables. We spent some time there watching old men play. I hope to learn sometime soon. We were even invited to join in, which tempted us. But when they said we had to gamble, we chickened out.

The early evening of our day was the highlight of the whole Dali trip. We had found a Catholic church hidden away in an alley, while we were walking back to the hostel we heard loud drums, clangs of symbols, and singing. When we exited the alley, we found ourselves smack-dab in the middle of a New Years parade! There were 2 dragons, each with 30-40 people in them. There was one man who was in a dragon suit, dancing all around the parade. Then there were dancers and a large band. It was pretty epic. 

Here’s a link to the video I took of the parade!

The next morning Colleen and I bought tickets to Lijiang, so we could get to Tiger Leaping Gorge. The bus didn’t leave until the late afternoon, so we decided to go on a bike ride to Lake Erhai. It was a gorgeous day for a bike ride. I hadn’t ridden a bike since the Fall, so it felt nice to work my leg muscles again. We biked for at least 4 hours and raced back to the city to catch our bus. Here are some shots I took.

The lake

The mountains and nearby farmland.

We then caught our bus to go North to Lijiang.


My First Chinese New Year

Hey everyone, Happy Chinese New Year (or Spring festival!).

It has been very fun walking all around Kunming and seeing the red lanterns hanging in the trees, banners wishing good luck, and signs sprawled over every store wishing you fortune. Also, it warms my heart walking around and being wished a Happy New Year from restaurant workers, street vendors, and even random strangers.

We spent our New Years day hiking to Dianxi Lake. We hiked for at least 4 hours and got lost in the best kind of way. We were heading West, using the She Shan (West Mountains) as our indicator.

walking on the tracksWe eventually found this stream (and as you know, streams lead to larger bodies of water) with a quaint brick/earth trail beside it.We decided why not, let’s follow it. I’m so glad we did. We at first were covered by trees, then by flowers, and then finally old fishing boats lined the canal. The boats were covered with fabrics of all different colors.

boats in the canalNot so long after the boats, we made it to Dianxi Lake. The path we took lead us to the water’s edge and we continued following it until we found a nice place to sit and appreciate the scenery. Have I mentioned how awesome the weather is here? Well, just so you know, it is flippin’ amazing. There is a never-ending Spring breeze that goes through Kunming, so having the wind blow through my hair while sitting on the water’s edge felt pretty damn good.

wind in my hairWe were getting pretty hungry by this point, so we decided to find our way back to the main road. We followed this dirt trail that lead to an alleyway. While walking through, we witnessed the true Chinese New Year; children lighting firecrackers, parents decorating their doors, smelling the spicy smells of Chinese cooking, watching dumplings sizzle in pots, and hearing the laughter of families spending time with one another. It was a beautiful sight. It would have been fun to share New Years with a Chinese family, but Colleen is a pretty good second choice. :)

Biking near KunmingWe found a road and thank goodness there was a taxi, we were BEAT!

We got back to the apartment (by this time it was sunset) and cleaned ourselves up for our dinner plans with other U.S. Fulbrighters. We were getting pretty used to the sound of firecrackers, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the sounds of Tommy guns going off, but while we were getting ready we heard some massive booms that shook the building. We looked out the window and *BAM* a huge firework right outside our window (Okay, maybe not right outside, but it was pretty darn close). There was another and another, and then we could see all the other fireworks shows happening in Kunming. It was an incredible sight.

Fireworks out of the apartmentThe rest of the night went very well. We ate some dumplings, hung out at a foreigner bar, drank some TsingTao beer, and set off some very dangerous, but fun Chinese fireworks. The firecrackers were the scariest! Oh, what fun. Hah, nerd moment here. The last thing Colleen and I did to celebrate the New Year was watching the finale of season 2 of Battlestar Galactica. It was epic! I’ve seen the whole series, but Colleen hasn’t. I am getting such a kick watching her reactions to the show. SO MANY EMOTIONS!

Other than that. Colleen and I set up an ultimate game on Sunday. It felt so good playing frisbee again! We’ve spent lots of time with her Fulbright friends eating and drinking and I’ve been able to practice some of my Mandarin with Colleen’s Kunming buddies. Tonight we are celebrating Mardi Gras! There will be lots of people coming together for a Potluck. I’m looking forward to seeing the assortment of food.

Well, I must be off. My tummy is rumbling and Colleen and I must prepare for the potluck. She’s making a pumpkin pie and I’ll be making my sweet potato casserole.


P.S. We’re leaving Kunming for Dali tomorrow. We’ll be traveling till the end of the month.

Whew, after 30 hours of flights, delays, layovers, and running to terminals, I made it to Kunming, The Spring City.
I can’t forget that I made some friends along the way. I had a 4 hour delay in Chicago, which meant I would completely miss my flight in Shanghai. Luckily, there were some determined American Airline workers who helped me out. At first it seemed futile to find a new flight. No one answered the numbers I called and the flights looked full on the China Eastern website, so I just sulked away with my food voucher and ate some chips with guacamole. At the restaurant, I made a friend named Mike who was on route to his sister’s elopement in Hawaii. We made small talk and luckily he heard my name being called over the airport intercom, “Molly O’Connor, please return to terminal 3, Gate K14. You left a belonging at the gate.” I bid him farewell and while I was walking back to the gate with both my bags, I was wondering what I could’ve forgotten. Well, the two female workers who helped me before had huge smiles on their faces. I went up to the counter and they told me that “I had forgotten my ticket at the counter.” I pulled my ticket out of my pocket and then looked at the ticket they gave me. I realized then that everything was identical, except for my new flight number to Kunming. I was so relieved. I gave them both really tight hugs and asked how they did it, but all they said was “we just had to pull a few strings.” On that note, I took my 14 hour flight to Shanghai.

I mostly read Game of Thrones during the flight. I also, watched Argo (which was very good by the way, you guys should see it). Lastly, I sat next to a Chinese man who helped me with some vocab and he also let me use his phone to call my sis from Shanghai. He’s a keeper.

Landed in Shanghai and got through customs very quickly. Got my flight changed easily enough (thanks to the nice ladies in Chicago and thanks to my sister’s mandarin advice). Met an Australian named Peter. Nice guy, he also let me use his international phone to call my sis at the gate, just to let her know there were no delays.

My last friend I made during my flight was named Kenny. He is a chainsaw artist. Right before entering the plane I saw him on the platform. Sadly, he seemed worse for wear because he barely slept on his earlier flight. I let him borrow my neck pillow and he let me know after that he slept like a baby. He also had no RMB on him AND knew no Chinese, so we gave him some cash and Colleen told the taxi where to take him. I’m planning on meeting up with him in Kunming to see his art studio and to get be reimbursed.

Well, since the flight, I have spent a whole day in Kunming. Colleen gave me a short tour. She brought me to the Bird and Flower District.


Lot’s of things to see. Especially all the Spring Festival garb and decoration!

ImageJust a small part of the flower market. It smelled amazing!

After walking around the market we played with some puppies that were being sold down the street, we sat and listened to the birds at the bird market (people also brought their own pet birds to socialize), and then we chilled at a cafe. Colleen drew and I read some more of my book. At around 6:30pm, Colleen introduced me to her friend James and they brought me to a Dai minority restaurant. It was very tasty, especially the grilled pork and sour mashed potatoes (oh and the fried bananas, yuuuum).

I pretty much passed out on Colleen’s bed after that.

What an exciting 48 hours. ;)



Well, here I am writing my last post in the U.S. Yep, that’s right. On Sunday morning (tomorrow) I’ll be flying to Chicago, then to Shanghai, and then to Kunming! At my final destination, Colleen will welcome me with open arms at the airport. We chatted last night and I am already excited for our first adventure to Tiger Leaping Gorge (Hutiao Gorge)!

I’ve been preparing for the last 5 months and now I think I am as ready as I’ll ever be. This last week has been full of spending time with friends, picking up last minute supplies, and organizing everything. Here’s a list of all the things I’m bringing!

What Molly is bringing on her trip:


60L Granite Gear Pack, REI 18L Flash Pack , 2 Granite gear packing separators (one for summer/winter clothes, one for meds(first aid kit)/sunscreen/bug stuff), waterproof bag for electronics (adaptors, memory cards, batteries), and a mesh bag for laundry.

Med KitThis is what is in my medicine bag. I took an REI first aid kit and added bunches more stuff inside it (hopefully I won’t need to use it too much)

My packs


A lite-down Patagonia jacket, 1 Mountain Hardwear thermal pants, 1 tech long sleeve shirt, 3 socks (1 thick wool, 1 thin wool, 1 synthetic sock), 2 sports bras, 6 pairs of underwear, 1 tech tank, 2 pants (1 hiking pant, 1 cargo/short zip off pant), 1 gym short, 4 t-shirts (2 tech, 1 nice, 1 in between nice and tech), Keen hiking/walking shoes, sandals, a bandana, and 1 skirt.

my clothes

Electronics and other:

A frisbee, Handycam video camera, Canon powershoot, Gorilla tripod, quick dry towel, my iPhone, Chinese phrasebook, and a Kindle.

I also have presents for my twin sista in there! But, that will be kept a secret. ;)

I weighed my Granite Gear pack and it’s about 16.5 pounds (Probably more around 15 pounds without Colleen’s presents) and my goal in filling it up only halfway is a success! Overall, I’m pleased with my final product. I did have to sacrifice nice things, like a computer, cute clothes, and other fun things, but I know it’ll be worth it in the end.

Well, I should probably get off my computer and spend the rest of the evening with my family. Maybe I’ll make my brothers play Settler’s of Catan with me or I’ll watch a movie with my Mom and Dad (or both!?).

Either way, thanks for reading and I’ll update my China adventures in the near future.




Me with my pack and ready to go on my trip around the world :)

Preparation: 6 days till China

Hey Everyone, Molly here. This will be where you’ll find my stories, photos, and videos of my trip!

I’m sure some of you don’t know where or what I am doing, so here is a quick run down.

I’ll be flying to China this Sunday morning to spend 1 month with my twin sister, Colleen, in the Yunnan Province. She is on break for the Spring Festival, so we’re going on a 10 day excursion somewhere (Guilin? Shibaoshan Mountain?!). Then I’ll be traveling around Yunnan and spending time in Kunming for the rest of the month. I’m hoping to see the Stone Forest, hike parts of the Himalayas,  meet interesting people, and experience China in a whole different way. I’ll be taking some footage in China, but not as much as I will be later on in my travels. 

Then in early March, I’ll fly to Japan. Since I don’t need a visa for 90 days, I’ll take some time to sight see and visit friends who are living in Japan! I’ll probably travel for 1 to 1.5 months and then I’m hoping to do some research in Southern Japan. There are lots of scientists in the rainforest found on Ogasawara Islands and the Nansei Shoto Archipelago. This is where I’ll do lots of my filming, maybe I can even document some of the scientists work?

After Japan, I’ll be flying to Mongolia. Ever since I read about the Mongols for a research paper in middle school, It has been a dream of mine to visit this country. Every part of Mongolia fascinates me. The Gobi Desert to the south with its migrating camels, Mongolia’s world renowned horses, the volcanoes and sand dunes to the East, pristine lakes in the mountains to the West, and the famous herders and nomads that live all throughout. I still don’t know exactly where I’ll be, but I’m planning on visiting a friend who is doing Peace Corps. And as you can tell, I’ll have fun wherever I go. I’m planning on doing a lot of filming in Mongolia.

After Mongolia, I will either take the Trans-Siberian Railway to Moscow (I really want to do this) or fly to Europe. I have a flight out of Dublin on August 12th. So, by the time I make it to Europe, I’ll putz around for a month and slowly but surely make it to Ireland. I have friends in Amsterdam, France, England, and possibly Germany. So, I’ll probably stop by those countries to say hello and sight see.

Well, that’s my plan. I think it sounds fantastic. I can’t wait to see and experience these new places. All I’ll have is a 60 liter Granite Gear pack and my REI Flash bag. I’ll post what I’m putting into my bag later this week. First I’ve gotta figure out what I’m actually going to pack!

Thanks for reading.


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