Posts Tagged ‘China’

Yangshuo and Shanghai

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Yangshuo ended up being a day trip from Guilin instead of a couple of nights as originally envisaged. I liked where I was staying in Guilin and couldn’t be bothered to move! The trip started with a short coach ride to Yangdi on the Li river. Then a couple of hours on a fake bamboo raft watching the amazing karst landscape slide by. The rafts take four passengers. Two coaches arrived at the pier at the same time so lots of rafts set off within a few minutes of each other. Our driver was something of a Michael Schumacher, slicing his way through the pack of rafts. The river is not very deep. In places the bottom, or the water weeds growing there were clearly visible. These were the calm undisturbed waters between the boats and the banks before the wakes from the flotilla churned up the surface, destroyed the reflected limestone stacks and turned the crystal clear water an impenetrable steely blue-grey colour. At Xingping we switched back to another bus for the short ride to Yangshuo.

The guidebooks are right; the landscape around Yangshuo is even more amazing than it is around Guilin. They were also right about the town being much more touristy. In some ways maybe not a bad thing – for the first time in China there were laundries everywhere, and internet cafes which have also been in short supply. Over lunch I met a, nay, the globetrotting mama. Heather and her family are on a westerly round the world trip. They had arrived in Beijing on the same day as me and have been to many of the countries I will be visiting. We traded advice on South America and South East Asia. I’m more determined now that Ecuador and the Galapagos will feature in next year’s travels.

The cheapest flight I could find from Guilin to Shanghai was 840 yuan, a soft sleeper train was 620 yuan and the sleeper bus only 480 yuan. They assured me the bus took 16 hours, the same as the train. They lied. It was more like 24 hours and it wasn’t as comfortable as the sleeper buses in Laos and Vietnam. Everything is relative though. The discomforts pale into insignificance compared to the privations endured by Ernest Shackleton’s unsuccessful 1914-1916 expedition to cross Antarctica. I read most of the account of the expedition on my Kindle while cursing the midget who thought that 5’8″(1.72m)  is plenty long enough for a sleeper bunk and 2’6″ (76cm) is plenty of headroom. I would have read more were it not for the usual too noisy crappy movies they insist on playing on buses in Asia and the (also standard) lack of working reading lights.

With half a day less in Shanghai than I had expected the best thing to do seemed to be take an open top bus city tour. Having paid my 100 yuan I discovered there was a second city tour bus company with more buses and tickets only a third of the price. Hopefully they only covered a third of the sights too. With frequent hopping off and back on I only covered two thirds of the route shown on the map. By the time I’d had enough it had been dark for a couple of hours. Shanghai is one of the largest cities in the world so I didn’t even scratch the surface. It is also the largest port in the world and fully a third of all the sea cargo in the world goes through it. Compared to the other cities I’ve visited in China it felt much more modern. There are some ancient bits but the bits I saw were colonial or contemporary. The sense of hustle and bustle was much more urgent than anywhere else on my journey. I have to commend it highly to any photographers. Go at night. Take a tripod.

There are some photos from the Yangshuo day trip and Shanghai at Flickr.

And so the Chinese and Asian parts of my journey are complete. Next stop Melbourne, next continent Oceania.

Some China gotchas

Friday, September 16th, 2011

The Chinese net nannies do a much better job of blocking Facebook than do their Vietnamese counterparts. In Vietnam a simple proxy or even just a change of name server is enough to get you back on Facebook. Here the only thing that’s likely to work is a subscription VPN. And even they get blocked in the game of catch up played between the dodgers and the censors. I don’t use a VPN so there has been no Facebook for me since I got here. It’s frustrating because it’s the only way I have of keeping in touch with some people. I’ll have some catching up to do when I get to Australia. The authorities aren’t too keen on Google either. Search works, but slowly. Reader works but blogger doesn’t. I was able to keep up with the blogger hosted tango (and other) blogs I like to read through RSS feeds but couldn’t comment on any of them.

Where are all the bicycles? An enduring image I have of Beijing since seeing it on TV about 30 years ago is a city full of bicycles. Maybe I was in the wrong places at the wrong times but I saw very few bikes in use. Google puts the number of bicycles in Beijing as about 9-10 million as recently as 2009. I assume they’re mostly gathering dust in stairwells since they’re not out on the roads. I’ve seen more in Xi’an and Chengdu. I’ve probably seen more electric bicycles in Beijing than good old fashioned pedal ones.

The night I arrived in Guilin I was almost run over at least twice. Not by cars or buses but by electric scooters. These contraptions are totally silent in operation. They rush up behind you noiselessly like ghosts. At night the drivers often ride around with no lights on so you don’t see them coming either. At the last possible second the driver alerts you to their presence with a blast of their horn or by shouting at you. Like conventional petrol scooters they are much more massive than a bicycle or electric bicycle and getting run over is likely to result in damage.

The Chinese people are generally very shouty. Even more so when they’re “talking” on mobile phones. Dom Joly could have had them in mind when he created his shouty mobile phone user. Individually there are exceptions but collectively they’re rude, inconsiderate and unhelpful to my Western eyes. Maybe that’s a consequence of there being 1.3 billion of them. If they don’t shout, push and shove then they’ll lose out to the rest of the crowd. I guess the “rudeness” is a cultural thing but stop shouting please!

In probably every other country I’ve ever been in, if you’re out and about and find yourself in need of a toilet, McDonalds is a good place to find one. They’re always clean and functional and it’s easy to nip in, use the toilet and out again without having to buy anything. Not so in China. It’s hardly an exhaustive survey, but of the three McDonalds I visited not one of them had customer toilets. Actually finding a McDonalds is hard work in most places. There are very few of them in China. KFC however is just about everywhere. The couple I checked also didn’t have customer toilets.

Long term readers may remember that the price of a McNuggets meal was one of my inflation benchmarks in Buenos Aires last year. Well just so you know, they don’t have a McNuggets meal on the menu here, but 10 nuggets, large fries and large coke cost 34 yuan (about £3.40) compared with 28 pesos (one year ago and about £4.30).

Call the police! The fashion police that is. One of the ways the population here seem to express their new found individuality is through their wardrobe. I’m no fashion victim and probably have a few citations of my own, but the fashion police would have a field day here. Some of the clothes combinations are almost indescribably bad. Luckily I have a short attention span and poor memory so I won’t be permanently scarred by some of the wardrobe abominations I’ve seen. Women are the majority and worst offenders. Guys seem to specialise in bad hair styles.

Beijing is rubbish for electronics/phone/camera shopping. At least the big shopping mall areas are rubbish for techie stuff. I needed to buy a new phone, a battery charger and eyecup for my camera while here in China. I struggled to find them in Beijing. Xian and Chengdu offered many more possibilities. Especially in relative terms since they’re both much smaller places than Beijing. The charger is not a Canon one so it’s likely to cook my batteries eventually, and the eyecup is not exactly the right one but it does the job.

Here’s the plan

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Lots of people are asking me what the itinerary for my imminent round-the-world trip is. I launch into an enthusiastic spiel and one of two things happens:

  • their eyes glaze over and they stop listening about half way through.
  • they get excited and ask more questions and after a while I reach the point of shrugging my shoulders and saying “… and then I’ll see.”

Hopefully you’re in the second group.

I have an itinerary because I booked a OneWorld Explorer ticket and I had to name airports and dates. I have an itinerary because I had a rough idea of the places I wanted to go and approximately how long I might want to spend in each place. The itinerary is flexible and likely to change once the travelling starts. The ticket is good for upto one year. There are very few details filled in yet between the flights. There are some highlights and must-see/must-do things and lots of vague arm-waving inbetween.

Date changes are freebies, changing my mind on the routing will cost me money – about £100 per change. Sadly there is no reciprocity between the airlines and me in this respect. They have changed two of my flights already and did not pay me £200.

So the plan at the moment is:

  • London-Delhi, Delhi-Kathmandu for a two week Everest base camp trek. This is organised by Above the Himalayas Trekking and I booked directly with them, cutting out a UK agent and saving some money in the process.
  • Kathmandu-Delhi, Delhi-Bangkok for a ten week tour around SE Asia with my friend, Hannah, who will be blogging about the trip from her perspective at travelpod. We have an approximate route worked out for this, based on information we found at travelfish. Briefly it’s a week in Bangkok including a Thai massage course at Wat Po, a few days in Koh Chang for Thai New Year, north through Thailand, south through Laos and Cambodia, north through Vietnam, topped off with 2 weeks lazing on a beach somewhere in Southern Thailand.
  • Two more weeks in Thailand by myself. I have various ideas for how to fill this time. We’ll see…
  • Bangkok-Beijing for three weeks in China. I have a very rough idea of how to get from Beijing to Shanghai involving Qi’An, Chengdu and half a dozen other cities. Probably this will be a challenge. A friend who knows much more about China than me says this will be hard outside of Beijing and Shanghai because of the language. It will probably involve lots of train journeys. We’ll see…
  • Shanghai-Melbourne for a couple of nights in Australia. Why only a couple of nights? Because I’ve been before and didn’t plan to stop in Oz at all on this trip. However, I couldn’t get from China to New Zealand in one day and will have to spend at least one night in Australia. So I’ve routed via Melbourne and will have a couple of nights there. Hopefully this will give me a chance to catch up with a tanguera friend I met last year in Buenos Aires, and maybe get to a milonga or two.
  • Melbourne-Queenstown for three weeks in New Zealand. How I get from Queenstown to Auckland is completely unknown right now. I’ll work it out much nearer the time. I have another tanguera friend to visit in Auckland and again, hopefully get to at least one milonga.
  • Auckland-Santiago de Chile. Not looking forward to this one; it is a LONG flight. I’ve got a few nights in Santiago and then double back westwards to Easter Island for a five night stay. Then it’s back to Santiago for another night. This extra night is courtesy of one of those airline imposed changes; they changed one of the flight times making it impossible to get from Easter Island to Lima in a single day.  Well, it would have still been possible but only by reducing my stay on Easter Island to two days, or by extending it to nine days.
  • Santiago de Chile-Lima for 3 weeks in Peru. I’ll go to Cusco and then Machu Picchu of course, but whether by train/bus or by trekking the Inca Trail is still to be determined. Yes, I’ll have to decide very soon – if it’s not already too late – because I’ll have to book the Inca Trail. That would pin me down to specific dates. I’m already tied down pretty tight with Easter Island so it could be argued that fixing another date for the Inca Trail would be no extra hardship. But that is approximately five months into the future and I don’t really want to be that constrained.
  • Then there’s a bit more uncertainty; I may go to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands or I may not. Money will be a big factor in that decision. All the flights up to this point except Delhi-Kathmandu-Delhi are on the round-the-world ticket. Getting from Lima to the Galapagos would be a separate trip. I had thought I’d book a LAN airpass for the intra-South America flights, but found I couldn’t because I didn’t book it at the same time as the RTW ticket. Opinion on the web is divided about whether or not this should be possible. Anyway, if I’m under budget by enough when I’ve done what I want in Peru then I might manage a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
  • Finally sometime around the middle to end of September I’ll return to Buenos Aires. Ah, proper tango, at last! A couple of months of milogas and much more learning/improving my Spanish than last time. After that travel all around Argentina until about the middle of February and then return to Buenos Aires for another month. The travelling will include Ushuaia and if I’m really really lucky an Antarctic cruise. I’ll decide in that “final” month whether to use the final Buenos Aires-London sector of my RTW ticket to come home. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Perhaps I’ll stay in Buenos Aires or perhaps by then I’ll have decided there’s somewhere else that would suit me better. We’ll see…

Great, you were in the second group!

That’s the plan so far. I have just a few more days in the UK and then the tenants move into my house and I hop on a plane to Delhi. My transit visa for India arrived today, the Nepal visa is already stuck in my passport, I’ve had jabs against just about everything and I’ve sold or otherwise gotten rid of most of my stuff. Just another dozen or so boxes to go :-)

I’ve got three more nights of tango to look forward to, one of jive and maybe one of West Coast Swing. And then several months of probably no dancing of any sort that I’m used to. Withdrawal symptoms here I come.

Have you done a trip like this or been to any of these countries? Are there any must-see places or must-do things you would recommend in the countries I’m visiting?