14.06.2012 - 06.07.2012 37 °C
Ni hao everyone!
I've nearly finished my trip. All together now, ahhhhhhhh!
Well, what an incredible journey it's been. A crazy 6 months that I'll never forget.
I've spent the last four weeks travelling through China and it's been a fantastic
way to end this odyssey. And I've made some great friends.
As you know I arrived in Hong Kong with a nasty cold, which did unfortunately put
a bit of a damper on my five day stay there. I had a bit of a burn out after travelling
so long, and probably a bit too quickly. I was exhausted and felt under the weather
so I spent much of that time in the hostel. Also the weather wasn't great, raining
or foggy most days.
I stayed on Hong Kong Island, one of the 263 islands that make up Hong Kong, along
with the mainland Kowloon Peninsula. I spent a day in the main throng on the
island which I didn't really like. It was a cluttered mish mash of huge dull skyscrapers,
shopping plazas and very ugly 'sculpture/art', crammed together into a very small space.
I took the little tram up to Victoria Peak, which I was disheartened to discover had yet
another shopping mall at the top. Horribly touristy, and a sadly semi-obliterated view
hiding behind the smog.
I also visited a 200 year old temple and got a free tour from one of the young students
who attends it. Then I walked back along Hollywood Road where there were supposedly
some interesting antique shops, but most of them were closed. Hong Kong is a mad
place, built into the hillside and therefore quite steep in places. To help people get around
there is an enormous escalator running through part of the city!
On another day I had a better experience as the weather temporarily perked up.
I headed over to Lantau Island to visit an enormous bronze Buddha erected ten
years ago near an old temple. It's also very geared towards tourists, but the cable car ride
from the train is fab with amazing views over green countryside.
On my last day in HK I headed over to Kowloon where the joining hotel for the tour I had
booked was located. I checked in and found a spotless twin room with a gorgeous en-suite,
which was heaven after the crappy hostels I'd been staying in. I then took a train to a
place called Sha Tin. I had heard about the 10,000 Buddha's. Basically, you walk up a steep
path lined with fibreglass, erm I mean 'golden' Buddhas to a temple where there are
loads more Buddhas! It was an ok way to spend an hour or so but nothing special. Prior to
that I needed some food, and unaware that there was a restaurant at the temple, the only
place I could find was another shopping mall, this time dedicated to homeware. I ashamedly
enjoyed Swedish meatballs in Ikea! A bizarre experience in the middle of Hong Kong!
It had rained almost continually that day and a grade 1 cyclone warning had been put out.
I was slightly worried until I found out that number one is the lowest severity, and by the end
of the day it had passed without hitting HK. Phew.
That evening I met my room mate Ellen, and the rest of the ten-strong group. They were mostly
English with one Swiss girl and a Canadian couple. Our group leader was Niko, a young
Chinese woman who turned out to be brilliant fun and a great guide. We had dinner together
in a noodle cafe and then started our trip to the China border the following day. Although HK
had been handed back to China from the British in 1997, it is still like a separate country which
is a bit strange.
Our first night train over with, we arrived by bus in Yangshuo, a great little town nestling
right in the mountains. Here we spent three days and I can't believe how much we managed to
cram in. A raft cruise down the Li River, a bike ride through the countryside, caving in swimsuits
and exiting the cave over stunning rice paddies (after a soak in an underground hot spring and
a full-on mud fight!), a breath-taking outdoor theatre performance with light show, tai chi,
calligraphy, and cookery classes, watching birds being used to catch fish (just like on that DVD,
Marcus!) and loads of Chinese meals!
Only three days in and China had already blown me away.
After another night train, this time to Chongqing, we had traditional hotpot for lunch. This was
revolting and the worst meal I've had here. You cook your own food in a communal pot of boiling
grease, loaded with Szechuan pepper. However, I did eat eel for the first time, which was nice.
We then boarded a cruise boat and stayed on this for two nights whilst we floated down the
Yangtse River through the Three Gorges. Stunning scenery, a(nother) dreadful massage, an
hilarious cheesy tourist show where I laughed til I cried at Chinese people doing karaoke and
some nice chill out time. We also learned to play Mahjong, a traditional Chinese game using
special tiles, to which I am now addicted (I can play with you now Helen!). Fun was had by all.
After alighting the boat we took a trip to the Three Gorges Dam which is absolutely enormous
and fascinating. There is only one other bigger reservoir in the world, in Egypt, but this is the
winner on electricity production. They had to relocate 1.1 million people to make it!
In Yichang we had delicious clay pot rice dishes for lunch and then boarded our next night train
to Xi'An. I loved this city. It's very Chinese, with a huge boundary wall which we walked along
on the second day. We also ate a fantastic dumpling banquet, shopped in the Muslim Quarter,
looked around the traditional old Bell and Drum towers, and of course, visited the Terracotta
Warriors. Wow! A definite highlight. Thousands of life-sized clay men (all different) and horses
made to protect the Emperor Qin's tomb 2000 years ago, uncovered in 1974.
Our penultimate night train was to Shanghai. Now this is a big city. Apparently there are almost
as many people here as in the whole of Australia - 23 million - just in Shanghai!). There are huge
skyscrapers which you might think I would be currently typing moans and groans about. However,
I did like it. It's much more spread out than HK and the architecture is really interesting which
makes for great sky lines where ever you look. We took a trip up the Jin Mao tower which was
great, even with a hazy view. We walked along The Bund, which is basically the waterfront
designed by Germans, alongside old European-looking buildings. We were were all completely
done in by the heat and humidity. It was horribly oppressive and even Niko said she hadn't known
it that bad before.
After a yummy meal we went to watch an Acrobatics show which was eye-poppingly brilliant.
And I ate sweetcorn ice-cream which was a food highlight. Mmm mmm!
The next day I went round the fab Shanghai Museum with Ellen, and we all went to the Yu Garden
for lunch and shopping.
We were all glad that the next night train was to be our last. They are really good fun and I
personally liked them all except this one. I don't know if you know this but the Chinese have
to be the noisiest race on the planet. They shout at all times, whether they need to or not,
and most of the time they sound like they're having huge rows when actually they're probably
just 'chatting' about where they're going on holiday this year.
Well, that morning we were woken by a three-generation Chinese family who decided to
get going with their family banter at 5am (we weren't arriving at our destination until 10am)!
Even ear plugs couldn't compete with that, so I gave up on sleep and read my book until we
burst into our final destination, Beijing!
And that's where I am now. We had three days here at the end of the tour which finished on
the 5th and I have four more days until my flight home next Wednesday.
Up to now I've seen the Forbidden City (an ancient Emperor's palace built for him and his 2000
concubines), the Temple of Heaven set in a lovely park where retired people go to dance and
play games (a lovely atmosphere), Tian 'anmen Square and a jaw-dropping Kung Fu show.
I also tried toad in one of our dinners which was good, and obviously we had to have traditional
Peking duck (duck pancakes), too! Last night we went to a street where they were
selling wierd animals to eat including scorpions (sadly skewered on sticks and put on show
before they were killed - nice). I tried snake, well, I thought I was trying snake until I ate it and
realised it was a complete con. We all agreed it tasted and felt destinctly like chicken!
But the best bit of China for me was our trip to the Great Wall on the second to last day of the
tour. It really is unbelievably good. We got a cable car up and then walked for a couple of hours
along the wall. For the first time in the whole of the China tour we had beautiful sunny weather
and blue skies. It was cripplingly hot but the views were magnificent. It was a wonderful day.
And we got to toboggan back down from the wall which was great fun!
Most people have flown home now but there are still four of us clinging on to the last few
days of our trips. We're chilling out and gonna do a bit more sightseeing before we leave, and
it seems everyone is counting down the days til we see our friends and families. One couple
have been travelling for a whole year.
Due to technical complications I have to wait til I get home to put up pics, so sorry about that.
I'll do it as soon as I arrive (well, after a long sleep!). I'll let you know in a final post when I have.
Well, looking forward to seeing you all, some of you in less than a week!!! Yay!
By for now.
Lots of love,