A Travellerspoint blog

November 2011

Hong Kong

After a mammoth journey on the train to a city outside Hong Kong called Shenzhen we had to go through customs, which seems a little bizarre as Hong Kong is now part of China, but we followed procedures. Once that was sorted we had to travel across Hong Kong to Hong Kong Island, this turned out to be relatively pain free, apart from having to make a couple of changes with out heavy bags. I don't plan to go into the ins and outs of the hostel, but we felt a bit fobbed off as we were moved to the sister hostel across the road which was immensely basic. The conciliation was the location.

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The first full day we had we decided to engage in possibly the most cultural experience any traveller can have... DisneyLand! I don't want to pass the buck, but it certainly would be on my list of things to do anywhere in the world, but a member of the travelling party was massively excited about going, and like watching a child at Christmas this enthusiasm rubbed off on me and I got into the spirit of thing and stopped being a grump. As it turned out it wasn't as bad as I had expected it to be, but my goodness it's false, cringeworthy and desperatly American, which is even more surreal in an Asia country.

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After all that excitement I wasn't sure how we could top it. So the following day we headed off to Aberdeen, which seems like a mighty detour, but it only took about 15 mins from Central to get there. Aberdeen is still a working fishing town in Hong Kong and although we had to keep the umbrellas up, the Marina is a cool place to look around. There are Asian men in junkboats calling to you walking along the quayside to take a ride around the harbour with them. As the weather was poor we gave it a miss. Something that I was excited about in the harbour was the fact that gracefully circling and swooping were Sea Eagles. I can remember years ago watching a natural world program about their plight in Hong Kong due to it's massive and ongoing urbanisation and how they were introducing protection for them, so it was nice to see them, even if, just like us humans they have appeared to become lazy. Picking out what appeared to be scraps from the fishing boats, that's urbanisation. As far as I know they nest of the top of skyscrapers too! The fish Market at Aberdeen, ignoring the puzzled looks of the Hong Kong fishermen was interesting to peruse. I don't think many westerners go in there, I took some pictures risking being gutted and boned and laid on a bed of ice like my subjects.

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That evening we went to Happy Vally Racecourse to have a flutter on the GG's. Wednesday is night racing, and although a bit of a surreal setting of skyscrapers and flat blocks hanging over the lush green grass the atmosphere was amazing. I picked a couple of winners, but overall was a few quid down. Smith waited until the last race to break even for the evening with a good win. It was a good job really, he was getting frustrated with me an Kailey waving our winning slips in his face. I thought he was going to jump the fence and jockey a horse himself, but it was all good natured and washed down with a few beers!

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Stanley Bay is arguably the resort end of Hong Kong Island and it has a good clothes Market. We headed there on the bus enjoying the scenic trip along the coastline. Once the we got to work devising new outfits for our next leg of the journey in the much warmer conditions of south east asia. I managed to pick up a few summery items which would replace the thermals and trousers I was still hauling in my bag from the colder leg of the journey. Once back at our hostel we shed these warmer clothes from our backpacks in what felt an almost symbolic end to another leg of our journey!

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Posted by Christian25 20:37 Comments (0)

Shanghai

The mega city!

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The last hour of our 17 hour train ride from Xi'an to Shanghai I vacated my top bunk bed, in which I had slept quite well, apart from the air-conditioning giving me a sore throat, and sat down to view out of the window. It's difficult as a new person to Shanghai to say where exactly it starts, but for that hour high rise, new looking buildings, some finished and painted White or just metal and glass reflecting back the landscape was a continuous sight across the vista and their proximity to each other increased as we drew closer!

We had been informed by other travellers in china that Shanghai wasn't worth spending much time with. The place is very new and they are developing it at a blistering rate, throwing up skyscrapers over night. Much of that old china which we were able to experience in Beijing and Xi'an has gone, and if it hasn't yet I'm sure it's only a matter of time. Many if the poor living in the slums were moved out to make way. Maybe Shanghai is a microcosm of China itself, offering a view of what's to come in a nation that's developing quicker than it's feet can carry it, living for 'the now'! That aside we wanted to make our own assumptions and after all, for a vast amount of the trip already the aim of the game has been to explore the culture and amazing sights the various countries have had to offer, I was quite looking forward to this modern look China and one of the mega-cities of the modern world.

Our first day was used for relaxing after the long journey, just venturing out of the hostel to grab some noodles. The following day we woke up to heavy rain, however Shanghai is much hotter than the other cities we have been to already, so while trekking out to sort out our ticket to take us to Hong Kong we bought ourselves an Umbrella, looking for something plain wasn't really an option as they were all pretty colourful. So we all went for a different tartan number, I ran straight outside to do my singing in the rain impression drawing a few looks. That evening we went for a few drinks at the bar of the Hostel and played a bit of pool. After a while we struck up convocation with a guy who was from the U.K. who seemed ok. We had all exchanged the usual pleasantries, and after another beer or two we discover he wasn't a fellow traveller in the same sense, but in Shanghai for business. After a little more probing (if he reads this it'll appeal to his sense of humour) he disclosed that he was in Youth Advertising and wrote books on Street Culture. A lengthy convocation and a flick through one of his books which looked fascinating (he didn't pay me to say that) seemed to seal the deal and we all seemed to hit it off. 

Adam a.k.a King Adz, although he was kind enough not to insist on being addressed as King, or The King had been giving some recommended rearurants by someone who he was meeting in Shanghai for the work he's doing on his next book, as suggested we joined him. During the day the three of us headed out to see The Jing'an Temple, which bizarrely emerged as we rounded the corner like a dandy lion amongst the fence posts. Huge skyscrapers hung over it, but bizarrely these modern glass buildings which refelcted it made for a truely unique view. The temple was very much under regeneration, but it was interesting to look around and view the cities skyline that encroaches the temple from it's courtyard. We had a quick look around the shopping area which was a tad out of our league and headed for the people's square by this time sheltered under our tartan investments. 

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We met up with Adam and grabbed a beer in the bar before taking the instructions he was given and heading out to locate this restaurant, jumpin on the metro and heading to The Bund. The Bund has been home to foreign traders and major banks for many years, and is one of the fancier places in shanghai, many of the buildings have a western look to them. The restaurant was in a fancy hotel called The Hyatt and we instantly knew that it was out of our price range, Adam was maintaining though that it was the second best restaurant in china for Peking Duck, the other being in Beijing, the home of the dish, in it's sister Resturant. We ordered a whole duck to share, being warned it would take an hour to prepare, we also ordered a beef dish, some special noodles and some vegetables. The beef, unlike the other Chinese beef we had eaten tasted like diced steak and was tender and the vegetables which Adam said were cooked in liqueur tasted like spinish but was cooked to perfection and had a delicious crunch. The Duck arrived early, landing on out table after about 40 minutes. After watching it being carved in font of us with precision. We were advised to dip the skin which although oily, was crisp, in some brown sugar and pop it in your mouth, once doing so the saying 'melt in your mouth' adopted a whole new meaning! Adam, being well travelled himself via leisure, business and lifestyle, he appreciated that it wasn't somewhere we would have gone on our budget and very kindly picked up a vast amount of the bill which we were massively grateful for!

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The following day we decided to go to Shanghai Science Museum, as it was highly recommended on online reviews, it takes a few stops to get there, but it was very direct in the metro, just taking one line. There is far more there than to see in one day in all honesty. Again, in typical Chinese style some areas were under redevelopment so not open. We had arranged to meet Adam again in the evening to get some food, but somewhere a little more modest. We headed out to the bar street, where we planned to get some food and have a few beers. Not being spoilt for choice with the selection of resturants we chose luckily a very good one. We all ordered a dish, as well as some rice and noodles and shared it amongst us. The highlight of the meal for me was Adams choice of a spicy fish soup. The fish was delicious and the liquid contained nice vegetables like pok-choi, pea shoots, bamboo shoots, chillis and at the bottom of the bowl were Vermicelli noodles, I'm salivating writing about it! We went for a drink in the bar street then headed back to the Hostel bar.

Adam was doing some work with Converse and after talking to Smith had obviously realised his enthusiasm for skateboarding. He kindly got us tickets to go to a skate compotition being held at one of the largest outdoor parks in the world called SMP were we met Sebastian, a Swede who had been given the task of looking after Adam. He had been living in china on and off the the last three years. After the skate comp which was good, although very wet, we went to get some food at a restaurant out of town, which again was very nice.

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(King Adz)

The following day we said our goodbyes to Adam and Shanghai, and embarked on our 19 hour train ride to head to Hong Kong!

Posted by Christian25 01:59 Archived in China Tagged china_shanghai_travel_asia Comments (0)

Xi'an and the Terracotta Army.

(more pictures have been put up on the last Beijing blog)

The reason for including Xi'an in our travel plans was so we could include what the Chinese refer to as the 8th Wonder of the World, The Terracotta Army.

We left Beijing almost reluctantly, it's not a place I could see myself living, but we spent the longest period of time there out of anywhere so far. I think we had become settled after the travel so far and we allowed ourselves a few days to relax. We took a taxi to the train station, luckily leaving enough time as the roads in typical Beijing fashion were gridlocked. Once arriving at the station we located our platform and walked to our train, through the windows we could see all the sleeper compartments which looked quite alright, but we did not pay for a sleeper. We eventually got to our carriage, it was packed! There were people already sitting in our seats, but luckily they did move. There was also so much luggage initially that we couldn't keep ours anywhere but the walkway and had to keep lugging it onto our laps when people needed to get by! Great we have 13 hours of this!

Gradually people started to leave the carriage picking up deals on the sleeper cabins which were empty or not full, allowing us to put our bags in the storage areas and get a little more leg room. I can't say it was the most pleasant trip I have encountered, and I only managed about 30 minutes sleep, but I expect it could have been worse, luckily the people around us were ok and kept themselves to themselves.

Arriving at Xi'an we were accosted by people trying to offer us lifts, but we went straight to the bus stop to head to the hostel. With minor difficulty we found our hostel and decided to get a private room to get some good sleep without snoring and the luxury of a private toilet and shower. 

The following day we headed off to explore the city and in particular the Bell Tower and the Drum tower. Both were interesting, they are two separate towers that are located close to one another emerging from the smartly built up areas of Xi'an. So they say the Bells were rang at dawn to see in the new day, an the drums were struck at dusk to exit the passing day, now they are only used during special occasions.

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(the bell tower)

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(the drum tower)

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Xi'an is a walled city, or at least its epicentre is. The city sprawls much further that the ancient wall but most of the interest to a visitor is inside. The wall surrounding the inner city  center is 8.5km long so we decided to go up and take a look. Once up there we found that you could hire bikes to ride about the wall for only the equivalent of a couple of pound. So with our new modes of transport we set off to ride the wall. There are areas which are very smooth and some were a bit more of a challenge, but apart from stopping for photos and photos that Chinese people wanted of us, we conquered the wall, riding the whole thing and descended from it with tired legs. 

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(taken with smiths camera with his little tripod he bought in Beijing)

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(taken using the tripod)

You cant come to Xi'an and not visit the Terracotta Army, so we did just that. Paying for a guided tour at our hostel, the following day we were picked up for the tour by our crazy Chinese tour guide Jaja, or as she called herself Lady Jaja! Unfortunately for me I was sitting right by her, an after initially struggling to pick up some of the things she said in her broken English, so she decided to test to see if I had been listening in front of the coach! A great source of amusement for everyone, and I tried to shift the blame to some of the other tourists, who I could tell were as clueless as me! This set the tone for the style of the tour, were I was regularly pulled out to help with questions and even a demonstration, which sounds more bizarre that it was. The Terracotta Army is located in three sites, all enclosed by their individual museum buildings. Some are still being excavated, and are not as impressive as the last colossal airplane hanger of a building which houses the ones that are produce those world famous pictures of those regimented terracotta warriors.  The collection of terracotta sculptures are depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China which he ordered the construction as he believed after his death he would rule one way or another back on earth and wanted to make sure he had a army to protect him. They date from the 3rd century BC. It's an incredibly impressive collection of individually sculpted figures, and naively due to the scale of them I had always beloved them to be small, but they are not, the Emperor had asked them to be constructed larger than his own Army so they would be even stronger. 

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(the kneeling lucky archer)

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An interesting fact about the army is that the first one found has been nicknamed 'the lucky archer'. This is mainly due to the fact that he was the most intact warrior they have ever found, and he still has some of his original colour, as they were all once upon a time painted. During the tour, we even met the farmer who discovered the army in 1974, he was nonchalantly smoking a cigarette as he signed books for tourists. Lady Jaja pulled me forward and made me shake his hand. A little while later there was another gift shop with a man claiming to be the farmer who found the army too. I'm not sure who to believe! During the tour Lady Jaja gave Kailey a little Terracotta warrior as a present, and on the coach she gave me a 'the lucky archer' for my help during her tour. A few days later she knocked on our hostel room door and gave Smith a Terracotta horse so he didn't feel left out which was very kind.

One of the days we went along to the Small Goose Pagoda, and had a look round the gardens that surround it, and in the evening headed out to the Big Goose Pagoda to watch the water fountain and light show which they hold every evening. It turned out to be very good, and it was bustling with people. Everything was lit up, and it made for some good photo opportunities!

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(small goose pagoda)

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We had a good night out during our time in Xi'an with a British guy and two Americans all teaching english as a foreign language. They taught us a Chinese dice game that people play at the bars, as well as getting some street food with them, arguably having the best Chinese  dumplings I have ever had.

For those of you who have been reading my blog, you may recall the section during the Great Wall tour explaining about the Silk Factory in Beijing, and their Poopoo pillow. We were treated to one of these in our private room in Xi'an. If you were thinking of investing, don't, they are quite literally crap!

 Next stop Shanghai!!!

Posted by Christian25 23:47 Archived in China Tagged asia_china_travel_xi'an Comments (0)

Beijing and beyond (the third and last installment)

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(Now with all the photos!!!)

The Beijing Zoo is somewhere I have always wanted to visit, due to the fact that I have never seen a Panda before, and I have always been a fan of bears. Beijing zoo is huge, I wouldn't say it was the nicest zoo I have ever visited, there appears to be new investment, so some animals have modern and well designed habitats, while others seem to be rather cramped by U.K. standards. Arguably it was another black and White animal that was the most entertaining at the zoo. The Penguins put on a great impromptu display, playfully swimming around and seemed very content, which I enjoyed. In the aquarium, the highlight, apart from catching the end of an impressive dolphin display was the Beluga whales. These huge white mammals are very playful, maybe three times bigger than a dolphin, and looking like a cross between that and a whale. They appear to have a constant smile on their face which adds to their charm and character, and one carried on playing with it's foam toys most of the time we watched it!

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One of the most important of the zoo inhabitants we saved for last. The Panda. They were very cute, and although not the most active, fascinating to watch wrestling with their bamboo, particularly the youngsters!

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The next day we went to Lama temple (Yonghe Temple) which is situated at the end of our road and was just about visible over the high wall closing it off. The temple is primarily used by Tibetan Buddhists, and is considered one of their most important religious sites. We had been recommended that it was well worth a visit, as it's home to the largest standing Budda in the world made out of a solid piece sandalwood. The temple is very much a working temple with Buddhists praying and lighting incense sticks, which gave the place a very sensory experience. 

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The Temple of Heaven was another Ming Dynasty creation, there is an important balance in Chinese culture between opposites, this is reflected in the Feng Shui culture and the famous chinese YingYang (or Ying & Yang). The Temple of Heaven, was a place to pray for good harvests. It was built in a way that echoed the idea in ancient and still modern Chinese culture, that the square represents Earth, and the Circle represents Heaven. The temple is unique from the others we have seen in Beijing as it's circular, set in a large walled square. To represent the Chinese beliefs. In the grounds of the Temple of Heaven Chinese people played cards, bat and ball games, played instruments and a group of people wrote Chinese characters with massive sponge calligraphy brushes in water on the black paving slabs that take you up to the temple which was great to watch.

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The last few days were spent relaxing and we only ventured out to see the Summer Palace in the north of the city. We actually didn't make it, turning up at the old summer palace which is now a ruin, after the English and France destroyed it during the Second Opium War in 1860 in revenge for the torture and deaths of some British envoys, a Times journalist and their group of British and Indian Troopers by the Royal Prince. When it was ordered to be destroyed the troops looted the palace, and these actions are still criticised today!

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The next stop on the trip is to Xi'an which is home to the Terracotta Army, which should be interesting! However, the 13 hour train ride without a bed doesn't fill me with as much enthusiasm!    

Posted by Christian25 23:01 Archived in China Tagged travel_china_beijing_travelling Comments (0)

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