A Travellerspoint blog

Bangkok 1

Our first attempt...

sunny

Leaving HK the ground staff once again wave goodbye – this is a nice touch that I assume BA has tried to implement but abandoned on the threat of strike action.

At the airport we realise that we have booked the wrong hostel, its near some nice hotels so we are not that worried – the fact the taxi driver seemed to have no idea where it was located was more worrying – we later worked out that whilst he could speak English he couldn’t read it so the map wasn’t that much use to him. Fortunately my first experience of staying in a hostel was a good one. Certainly nicer than some hotels I have stayed in and at a fraction of the cost but then we are going for the private rooms with en-suite. I’m tempted to do a night or two in the dorms, just for the experience but Niamh, having already done this, is less keen.

It’s official – Bangkok is nasty – at least that is what Niamh, I and nearly everyone else we meet has decided. It’s a sad fact that the Thai people who are so friendly and welcoming have their image ruined by unscrupulous conmen and tuk-tuk drivers. When someone offers help you have no idea whether they are genuinely trying to assist you, sell you something or just rip you off. The tuk-tuk drivers won’t take you anywhere without stopping off at their “sponsor” ie a market for which they get a commission. Even the taxi driver to the station on our last day handed me his mobile phone so that his friend could try to sell us train tickets. Still everyone has to make a living and it’s all part of the rich tapestry of travel.

When we did venture out we took the river express boat for our first attempt at the Grand Palace (naturally the women selling tickets for the boat ripped us off not giving us any change) as Niamh was inappropriately attired we abandoned the palace and instead we went in search of our train tickets - wandering through a part of the city which sold gear box parts – a whole street of workshops, each one piled to the ceiling with cogs of various different sizes and wear and tear. I’m sure they have every conceivable part for every conceivable vehicle – how they would find it is something of a mystery.

The following day we tried the Grand Palace again – the river boat ticket women tried to scam us again but this time Niamh was ready and was having none of it, thus saving us the equivalent of 20 pence.

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After the palace we headed to Siam to check out the shopping and kill some time until our evening train. The Siam area was having a lot of building work done, the shops smelt very new and there were some burnt out areas of rubble. All of which we attributed to the political troubles earlier in the year where the protesters set fire to parts of the area – on the whole though you could completely miss that there had been any trouble at all as the recovery work seems to have been completed with remarkable speed.

Having been on some overnight trains in China we were a little nervous as we entered the train station. We sat down in the waiting area and as I was making some uncharitable suggestions about the career choice of a group of girls loitering near the entrance the music started and the girls started dancing – you don’t get this with South West trains. Suddenly most of the people around us got up and joined in the formation dancing in what was clearly a premeditated publicity event. We think it was a promotion for washing powder but as it was all in Thai we couldn’t really be sure.

On the train we had a two berth cabin which was a relief after the China trains - clean, comfortable and best of all took us out of Bangkok.

Unofficial tally update:

- Victim of scam update: 3 (net cost to Sniamh = 1.2 of your English pounds)
- Digestive issue update: 4

Posted by steve1000 06:38 Archived in Thailand Tagged nasty tuk scam Comments (1)

Hong Kong

Sniamh head out on their own

With packs on backs, for about the first time, Niamh and I head for the Maglev train. In anticipation of this and with a realisation that we have too much stuff we had taken an hour or so in Shanghai to implement the 25% reduction plan. Everything was laid out on the bed and 25% was culled to be sent back home (I reduced by 25%, Niamh sent back a fleece and a pair of knickers.)

Our route to the airport is the Maglev train. A modern marvel taking about 8 minutes from the centre of Shanghai to the airport travelling at 430km/h – clean, efficient and apparently losing money hand over fist.

Having spent the last of our Chinese money on mentos we board our China East plane and with an enthusiastic wave from the ground staff our plane lifts off in search of Hong Kong.

After weeks of “charter bus” with varying degrees of leg room, aircon & suspension we were delighted to find our Hong Kong transfer was a Mercedes S class and our hotel room whilst having a glass cube for a bathroom did come with Champagne and Chocolates – really the first time the honeymoon thing has had any effect.

Technically Hong Kong is part of China but as a Special Administrative Area it escapes many of the Chinese government restrictions – eg you can access facebook in HK but not China.

HK is immediately likeable and fascinating – the first sight we had was of the skyscrapers towering over the water with the mountains in the background. You can take Hong Kong out of Britain but I think it will take a whole lot longer to take the British out of Hong Kong. The whole place is a hybrid of England and China – road names and signs that could have come straight out of Oxfordshire are scattered around streets straight out of Xi’an. A 7-11 on every corner, marks and spencers, it’s just like home mate.

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As part of our honeymoon package we had a disastrous city tour that wasted the best part of a day so next we headed out on our own – taking the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island. One of the National Geographic “top 50 things to do in the world” – I can only assume that the good people at National Geographic don’t get out as much as they used to but it did afford some lovely views of the island and skyscrapers.

On HK island we rode the midlevel escalators, a network of escalators and travelators which run about 800m across the island rising (or falling) 135m in height to the main business areas, after morning rush hour they change direction and run up the hill. Niamh managed to fall on her backside when paying too much attention to a man hanging off a building and not enough to when the travelator comes to an end - but no serious harm done. Having reached the end we walked back and we took a similar tram journey riding to the end of the line then jumping on the tram in the opposite direction to return to where we started.

Deciding that we should actually go somewhere rather than bounding backwards and forwards on public transport we boarded a bus to Stanley and had lunch and drinks on the beach front whilst at least 4 brides and grooms turned up to have their pre-wedding photoshoots done – fully decked out in wedding dress accompanied by an entourage of photographers, assistants, hair stylists etc etc.

After just a couple of days it’s off to Thailand and Bangkok.

Reluctant Tourist Tally:

- McDonalds: 4
- Pizza Hut: 2
- Pizza Express: 1
- Subway: 2
- Costa Coffee: 1
- Starbucks: 3
- Pret: 1

Posted by steve1000 06:11 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged ferry star escalator Comments (1)

China final chapter...kind of

Very delayed entry for the end of our trip to China (if you don't include Hong Kong)

We leave Yangshou but not without a spot of Tai Chi in the local park which caused quite a bit of entertainment and amusement for the local Chinese population and drew a bit of a crowd.

Upon arrival in Shanghai we are promptly ushered onto charter bus for a one night stopover in Tongli – a small town of canals and little bridges, an oddly large number of comb shops and an old lady who sings to you whilst beating a wooden block.

We had the opportunity to visit an embroidery factory the third in a series of these visits to local craftsmen (enamelling & silk duvet making being the other two.) These are very thinly disguised shopping trips which the government has made compulsory for tour groups to visit. Each one has been met with my traditional cynicism and sarcasm and each time I have come away having been interested and impressed although we never bought anything.

Shanghai is under siege – it’s the 61st anniversary of the Cultural Revolution and the Chinese people have descended en masse on the city. It’s difficult to know why they are here – there are no events, fireworks, music or the like. The people seem to be milling about on the waterside with nothing to do. Dragon had been telling us that once we got to Shanghai we would support one child policy and for a few moments along Nanjing road we came pretty close.

We loved Shanghai – the skyscrapers over the river which 20 years ago would have been fields of water buffalo. The colonial architecture which might as well have been uprooted from the City of London and dropped in China, the French quarter with its bars and restaurants, it was all good and an excellent place to end our trip to China.

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The Chinese people have been extremely friendly and welcoming – they still have a bizarre curiosity with westerners – hence the regular requests for them to have their photo taken with me. At the same time they will push and shove for everything (apparently a throwback to when food and goods were in short supply, you pushed or went without.) The phlegm collection and spitting we could have done without but we made the best of it, implementing a three tier grading system: volume of collection; velocity of expulsion and overall points for style. On the whole however the Chinese people have been excellent hosts.

It’s now time to say goodbye to our tour group – over three weeks we have come to know each other quite well, those who will complain endlessly, those who will always be in gift shop and those who will always do something stupid whether it is leaving bags in the hotel, restaurant or have their faces gouged by aggressive monkeys. It seems oddly quiet now they are gone and Niamh and I head out on our own to Hong Kong.

Posted by steve1000 05:38 Archived in China Tagged monkey shanghai tongli Comments (1)

China 1

Details of our first couple of weeks in China

sunny 30 °C
View World Tour on steve1000's travel map.

We’ve been in China for 2 weeks now and have, so far, travelled from Beijing to Yangshou on our Exodus tour under the expert guidance of our leader Dragon Long.

Places visited include: Beijing; Xi’an; Chengdu; Leshan; Emei; Chongquing & Yangshou. En route we have been to Tiananmen Square; The Forbidden City; The Great Wall; theTerracotta Warriors; the Three Gorges Dam and ship locks; seen several temples and giant Budhas. We have cycled the city walls of Xi’an, climbed the mountain peak of Emei Shan and visited the Panda reserve at Chengdu.

We have travelled by bus, express train, sleeper train and cruise ship. All of which have been of various quality from excellent to filthy to bone shatteringly bumpy.

China is, as the cliché goes, a country of contrasts. The old coexisting with the new, the Mercedes sharing the roads with tuc-tucs, rickshaws and bicycles. The friendly peaceful people who turn psychopathic the moment they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. The traditional Chinese architecture mixed in with the ugly high rise apartments which have sprung up without so much as a lick of paint or a nod to town planning and aesthetics.

Most things in China seem to be big and impressive – they do have plenty of man power. Some of what we have seen is reminiscent of a tired, old amusement park but others have been truly amazing. The Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, the Three Gorges Dam project are three such examples that span a time frame of thousands of years.

The food has been interesting – Dragon seems keen for us to “eat as locals do”. As such we have been served up frogs legs, snails, chicken feet & innards, pigs intestines, pigs tails. Fortunately this has been served along with slightly more palatable offerings which are surprising in their similarity to decent Chinese food back home. We have even attended cooking school and our own efforts are nearly as good as the real thing. There is no discernable difference between what is served at breakfast, lunch and dinner so we are a little chinesed out and find ourselves sneaking out for a McDonalds or Starbucks when Dragon isn’t watching. For anyone who wonders – we have seen dog hanging in the local market, and even the sign advertising the dog restaurant but we have not yet been offered or knowingly tried the meat and have no intention of doing so.

The unofficial tally so far is as follows:

• Loss of sunglasses x1
• Bouts of man flu x1 (which I have now given to everyone else in the group)
• Victim of scam x1 (net cost to Sniamh = 1 of your English pounds)
• Digestive issues x2
• Posing for photo with unknown Chinese citizens at their request x3
• Run in with Chinese mafia x1
• Making animal noises at waitress to indicate meat choice x 2 (chicken cluck & oink)

Next stop is Shanghai for a couple of days before we head off to Hong Kong.

Posted by steve1000 00:11 Archived in China Tagged food dog china Comments (2)

T-1

Tomorrow - Saturday - we fly to China - Beijing.

Last minute pack and repacking, hiding more of our stuff in yet another unsuspecting loft.

Meeting with a few friends at Heathrow tomorrow before our flight but then if all goes to plan we will be away for 7-8 months.

Will update here with news as we have some and I find the time, motivation and internet connection all in the same place.

Posted by steve1000 14:23 Archived in Ireland Comments (1)

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