30 September 2011

Dragons Gate [Kunming, China]

From Nanning I once again subjected myself to 14 hours on a hard train seat. Sleeper carridges are for the weak! But if you are wondering - no, it doesn't get any easier. I think I managed a solid 2 hours shut-eye during the entire journey.

Kunming is the largest city, and 'hub' of Yunnan provence. Ask any backpacker the highlight of their travels in China and they will no doubt mention somewhere in Yunnan. Even though I was heading in the wrong direction, travelling further from home, I had to check it out.

21 September 2011

Fried Slugs [Yangshuo, China]

Yangshuo is near the top of most peoples hit list when visiting China. But none of the guide books I have read can accurately describe how unbelievable this place is. And if they can't, what makes me think I can?

If I thought Guilin was unique, Yangshou is a more extreme version. Smaller town, bigger, more dramatic mountains. But there is also the not so good bit; it is extremely touristy. One street in particular - West Street - is now overrun with souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. And worst of all, with tourists come the touts. And they are the ruthless, never give up type. It kind of kills it really.

18 September 2011

I can only describe it as a Freak Show [Guilin, China]

Picture a normal city; roads, buildings, people, cars etc... Then throw in some insane mountains right in the middle. But not normal mountains, these are more dramatic. With a small diameter, they rise steeply from the ground, randomly rocketing skyward from the flat ground. Stir well and what have you got? Guilin...

These mountains are littered throughout the city. The reaction I had when I first laid eyes on Guilin was similar to visiting Cappadocia. Am I on another planet? I had never seen anything like it before.

Guilin is one of the more developed in Guanxi provence. And by developed I mean lots of traffic, beeping horns, big buildings etc. I arrived early after the best train journey I have taken to date in China. I had purchased a sleeper ticket and did not realise until I actually got on the train. There was no way I would have bought a sleeper normally, I am way too cheap. But having already paid for it I just laid back and relaxed. I met up with my host that morning - Lucy, a seriously awesome girl. She took a lot of time to show me around and we even hung out together for a weekend in Yangshou, but we will get to that...

Vegas of the East [Macau, China]

A Portuguese colony? In China? That is just like Vegas? I know what you are thinking... Bullshit! But it is true, I promise. Macau, like Hong Kong, is a special administrative region of China. It is most famous as the Vegas of Asia, as gambling is legal here. Jennifer (who I met in Shenzhen) was heading there too, so we decided to go together. From Hong Kong it is a quick one hour ferry to Macau.

Macau lives up to its reputation; it definitely had a Vegas feel to it. The casinos and hotels are huge and there is no expense spared on decoration. I visited the Galaxy, Grand Lisboa, Wynn and Venitian. All had very plush and expensive interiors, often with huge center pieces in the lobbies. The Venetian was my favourite - the theme strictly followed inside and out, even a canal running through the middle of the building. Like Vegas, some have free 'shows'. I caught the one at Wynn, where the floor completely opened up and a massive dragon came out. Then the roof opened showing a massive fireball. Pretty crazy stuff. One good thing about being a casino town is that all the hotels/casinos run free shuttles to and from the ferry port, as well as other areas around town. They also have free luggage storage. So even though I was not staying at any of the hotels, I made sure to take advantage.

17 September 2011

Beware of The Shaft [Hong Kong, China]

I seem to be progressively testing my body. Taking things to the next level. What sort of torturous situation can I put myself in next? How about 20 hours on a hard train seat from Shanghai to Shenzhen? By the end of it ass was beyond sore, I could no longer feel anything below my waist. But hey, it is all in the name of my budget. I was lucky enough to be sitting across from a nice Chinese girl called Winky that could speak English. So She and her family kept me entertained.

I arrived into Shenzhen at about 8am, and was already blown away by the heat and humidity. I thought it was bad in the north of China, but it seems to be getting progressively worse as I travel south. Shenzhen is not huge on 'attractions' other than theme parks. I think the fact that it was a tiny fishing village until 30 years ago might have something to do with it. Combine that with the fact that I still wasn't feeling too hot (flu), I decided to take the day at a relaxed pace. A large majority of it was spent in nice air conditioned malls, Starbucks, or lying on the grass in the park.

15 September 2011

One Big Fat Buddha [Shanghai, China]

It is the little things, like having a seat on a train, that you come to appreciate while travelling in China. But even with a seat things can get a little uncomfortable. On the train to Shanghai, in true Chinese style, the train was packed full of people standing. It is actually crazy how many people they get on a train. I have heard people say it is because there are just so many people in China, so naturally a huge number of people need to travel... So run more trains? I don't believe the infrastructure is not up to it, they are building new lines all the time. Even some crazy high-speed lines where the trains travel at 400km/h. Anyway, I'm getting off track. It was packed, but at least I had a seat, there were no peeing babies, and I managed a little sleep.

Only the most dangerous mountain walk in the world... [Xian, China]

After my experience on the train from Beijing, the very first thing I did when I got into Xian was to buy my onward train ticket to Shanghai. The only place available was a hard seat (no sleepers) for the day after I wanted. All I could say was "BOOK IT! BOOK IT!".

I didn't have time to look for a host in Xi'an so I ended up staying at the Seven Sages Hostel - a very cool hostel near the train station. Again I was surprised by the number of Chinese people! While there were some foreigners, we were heavily outnumbered.

7 September 2011

When tourists become the attraction [Beijing, China]

As soon as I crossed that border in to China everything changed. The difference between Mongolia is like night and day. Coming from crammed jeeps and vans with no room, driving over deserts with no roads... I jumped on an air-conditioned sleeper bus, with a lay-down bed, driving over roads that felt as smooth as silk. While Mongolia was a lot of fun, I think I was ready for the change.

I arrived into Beijing at 4am, much too early for the metro system. So I found a random hotel and spent a few hours chilling out in the lobby. When they kicked me out at around 5:30am, I found a rickshaw to take me to the nearest Metro station. After he tried to rip me off, I made my way to my CouchSurfing hosts place. As I was walking down the road everyone seemed to be staring at me. I mean EVERYONE. And not just a glace, full on staring. I was wondering what was wrong... Did I have something hanging out of my nose? I later found out that a large number of the people in Beijing are Chinese tourists who come from tiny villages, and have probably never seen a white person in their entire life. Still, no need to be rude.

2 September 2011

Paper Mache Monsters and Breast Pumps [Mongolia]

After a harrowing journey, I arrived back in UB. Yes, you counted right, the third time on this trip. I was determined to get out of the capital as soon as possible, but I ended up spending a couple of days as I was waiting to hear about a Gobi tour (which unfortunately never eventuated). But it was nice to spend two days with comforts like power, flushing toilets, running water and a shower. Of course I was staying with Danny, and of course there was a lot of partying going on. I also managed to meet up with Anna again (Austrian girl I met in Kharkhorin) which was cool. We made a plan to meet up again in China.
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