Wednesday, 13 August 2008

13th August 2008

Gah. Bored and very impatient to get home. Travel today is a bit long and could go wrong as after this bullet train to Tokyo I've got to find the N'EX to Narita Airport, then somehow ring my hotel, communicate where I am and find some abstract pick up point for someone to get me. I also fail to have the brain cognitive power to red today, or anything else productive. Maybe I just lack caffeine. The kid next to me appears to be eating half the junk food on this train. The world is going by fast. I need to eat something other than sushi. And find a cash machine that likes my card. So mainly only 7-11s.

With extreme rushing, a grumpy man sold me a ticket to the 14.03 Narita Express with only 3 min to go, so I had to hotfoot two floors of Tokyo station. Not impressed.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

12th August 2008

Well after a strange bout of insomnia I got out of the hotel a bit late, and began my trek to the start of the Lonely Planet walking tour, while munching on some yummy sushi. Walk was shorted than I thought, which as good as the sun was baking and I was devouring water bottles. Turning up Goko-zaka and then Chawan-zaka (teapot lane) the streets were all lined with quaint Japanese shops and houses, and were really well kept. Next stop was the ancient temple Kiyomizu-dera, originally built in 798 but currently from 1633. A big sprawling temple complex with stunning views out across Kyoto from its huge veranda. The green hilly landscape was impressive as well so I looped around past a waterfall that has therapeutic properties. There was also a lovers shrine where people try to walk 18m between two stones to ensure success in love. There was also a bit where you could write your troubles on a piece of paper, for 200 yen and watch them dissolve away in some water. Unfortunately, I was so sweaty I was dissolving troubles before they could be written! The whole temple seemed to be making money from people trying to either make wishes or improve success somehow, a bit odd.

Next the LP took me through a load of tiny, beautiful streets with traditional buildings and paved floors. Ishibei-koji was particularly amazingly tranquil, lined with "elegant, traditional Japanese Inns and restaurants". I then went in a temple with a huge Buddha and was given a huge incense stick as part of admission, to plant. Next door was Kodai-ji, an amazing temple and extensive beautiful gardens. It also appeared to be sponsored by google....

A short walk via a water dispenser and I entered Marugarna Boen (a park), amidst a few others who were deviously following the LP as well. Finally, visited the immense temple of Chian-in, built on the site where the priest Honen taught and fasted himself to death. The fool. There are apparently 7 wonders of Choin-in, but only 3 are open to the public. On completion I stumbled to the subway station and got back to Kyoto after some out of service conclusion. More sushi was had along with buying tomorrows Shinkansen ticket to Tokyo. Played around the impressive station and on the sky walk and then returned to an evening of battling the washing machine and 'dryness machine', which fails to dry. Olympics are cool to watch though.

Monday, 11 August 2008

11th August 2008

Blam. Today I will be mostly waiting for a train to Kyoto as my check in is very late: 4pm! A cheeky bonus though, was that my hotel gave me a free ticket to Kyoto! Nice. I stayed up last night to watch USA vs China basketball, very good game, and china, with their iconic player, lost. Anyway, I spent till 3pm chilling, writing a few postcards, and sending them. I then grabbed my kit and managed to scramble on a series of express trains to Kyoto station. Hotel was very easy to find and I like the feel of it. Room is Japanese style, with mattress to roll out, sliding door and wooden floor. En suite though and hotter than a blast furnace. Hotel has free net and laundry. Woo!

After a cold shower I investigated the Kyoto tower, which, as well as looking cool, gives a great view as far as Osaka apparently. Got some tasty snaps of orangy sky up there. Had a quick dinner in the big station based malls and then got disillusioned by how much cool clothing is is for women and kids but all menswear is boring. I scowled at many people, made way back, net an ready for early sleep so I Can utilise a full day tomorrow, following the Lonely Planet's Kyoto in a day walking tour.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

10th August 2008

Lose Campesinos: Another surprise, no idea who they were but very energetic, jumpy. Lead guy is crazy, 4 guys and 3 girls. AND I saw them wandering around just after. Then they were jumped on by 7000 Japanese. Awesome.

Kids in Glass Houses: Awful. I ran.

One Republic: Only caught last half but were very good, chillaxing and I recognised 1 or 2 of their songs

The Subways: Great fun, though starting to get all the girl/guy bands mixed up. Rocky and energetic.

Zebrahead: A bit crazy, knew less songs than I thought but they really got the crowd moving with circle pits and sitting down/jumping. Japanese favourite I think, not as good as I hope though.

Death Cab For Cutie: Why I was here. Totally awesome, though had some technical hitches and the crowd were a bit rubbish I think. I had overhyped it. Still amazing.

Lostprophets: Fantastic to see Last Summer as the sun was setting behind us. Great gig as always.

The Verve: Just caught bitter sweet symphony. Awesome!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

9th August 2008

To really journalise the past two days I can really only talk about each band I saw play at this music festival, interrupted between eating far too much, mainly foot long hot dogs ('sonic dogs'), and drinking insane quantities of water as both days were extreme scorchers. So much so that I managed to partially burn my neck on the first day, needless to say the second day I joined the strange yet fashionable cult of draping a towel over the back of my neck. And although it took 4 tube trains just to get to the bus, it was pretty easy and the number of buses laid on at night is astronomical. First night was dropped off at Universal Studios and saw it's cool exterior.

Anyway the bands:
The Wombats: On briefly, caught these, but this British Act seemed pretty good, tho the bands did start to meld together

The Ting Tings: Surprisingly awesome, big in the UK right now but I didn't really know their songs as I haven't been in the UK for half a year. Really got the crowd going, fun and jumpy. Lots of energy.

The Hoosiers: Big attraction for me, they were awesome, did a cover of Eternal Flame and crowd loved them, guy is crazy

Becca: Walking to Biffy Clyro, heard a tiny bit of Becca, sounded good.

Biffy Clyro: Meh, meant to be awesome, probably should of known some of their songs to like/hear them over their own noise. Very Red

The Kooks: Great, though a bit sloppy, funny when they got the whole crowd to sit down and all leap up when song started.

Super Furry Animals: Now it turned out I didn't know any of their songs by the end of the gig, but they were still very good, though not sure I'll 'obtain' their music.

Alicia Keys: After failing to see Hadouken! I was forced to see the pain and agony that is an Alica Keys concert. A bit too gospel and fake for me. Luckily I knew who was next

Coldplay: Mind blowing. Far better than I could have imagined, I knew nearly all the songs (thanks to getting their latest album) and their energy, showmanship and plain Britishness was awesome. Bonus points. Funny as well.

Friday, 8 August 2008

8th August 2008

Woke up with some difficulty this morning as it was nice to have a normal bed and I stayed up a bit late as I used the wrong gadget as a time keep device. After showering and doing the packing thing, I checked out and set up camp in the seating bit as can't check into next hotel until 1pm. So far I've been flitting between coffee and facebook, so now everyone thinks I'm crazy with a vast array of caffeinated comments peppering the facebook. I'm very excited. About Summer Sonic and about going home and seeing peeps and new house. ARgh, man took away the coffee!!! I may check out Osaka-Jo (the castle) and the Osaka Museum of History this afternoon, and then head to Tempozan, as it's meant to be a nice port area, which I like at night. One day, in between the realms of musical euphoria, I want to see the Blade Runner esque Dotombari, which I suspect I should have seen last night. One I may also check out the Umeda Sky building, if I have time, it's meant to be dramatic and you can go up it to gaze across the landscape of ant like folk.

I shall let the caffeine simmer for now.

After successfully navigating the easy to use and distinctly empty Osaka underground service and battling with a man who sent me the wrong way, I found my excellent Keihan Tenmabashi Hotel, was a bit early so dropped off bag and pattered around outside a bit. Come 1pm, I checked into my very nice, though Japanese sized, room and after a shifty shower I burst forth to discover the nearby area. Was feeling very good and buzzing on caffeine. First stop: Osaka History Museum. Very good, quite a bit of English, some extremely intricate models of old style Japanese villages, a hands on archaeology section and a life size mock up of a Victorian Osaka street. Good view of the castle and park as well. Museum was a bit short though and the extra admission for the temporary exhibition wasn't worth it. The building itself is crazy and cool look though.

Next up was a short walk through Osaka-Jo gardens/park and across the moat to see the spectacular, though rebuilt, castle/jo. On scaling the steps to its entrance, past a water spraying device, I entered the castle and looked a bit confused. Mainly as its definitely not a castle on the inside, it's like an armadillo. Inside is a pristine, fully modern, built recently museum about the castle, meaning none of the original layout of the castle has been recreated. Built initially by Toyotomi Hideyoshi after he unified Japan, it took 3 years and was finished by its 100,000 strong workforce in 1583. Its apparently impregnable status was shattered 32 years later when it was destroyed by Tokuawa Ieyasu. Destroyed and rebuilt a few times more before being built out of concrete in 1931 and refurbished in 1997. Anyway, some of the displays concerning a number of mysterious archaeological findings were interesting and there was a great view from the top observation deck.

On leaving, I got slightly lost, met some metal birds and became unlost, so got the tube to the Temporzan bay area, which was NOT as good as Tokyo bay area, but I had my camera charged. I had a very fancy sushi meal with Udon noodles, with was massive. Very yummy as well. Then my brain broke and for some reason I thought I only had 1 hour till the Olympics opening ceremony, when in fact I had 3. So I rushed back, past a so called biggest Ferris wheel in the world, though aren't they all these days? Spent the rest of the evening watching the phenomenally amazing opening ceremony. Those Chinese sure know hot to put on a show. 2012 could be interesting....

Thursday, 7 August 2008

7th August 2008

Happily checked out of capsule hell. Station. Far too early. Long tube ride. Sit on platform. Sexy train. No battery in camera. Fast nice ride. Easy tube system. Found hotel, nice to have room and shower. Went to find a convience store. Food. Random wander. Find zoo. Cool empty and eerie, better condition than Beijing. Evening chill and net and food. Good.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

6th August 2008

Up. Happy. Alive. Better. Went to he 7-11 for food. Tube to Pagoda. Turtles, Tram. Tokyo National Musuem. Hot. Walk around temple and the lake, very pretty lillies. Saw a tram and fountain. Nice musuem. Art and stuff. Cool deserted museum building, like the style, not sure why? Wandered around. Back to station. To Ginza and saw the Sony Building, with an aquarium outside and musical/light up stairs. Hibiya Koen park. Metal guy. Nice food. Tokyo Tower in distance. Imperial Palace, outer garden and Palace. Hot hot hot. Water fountain plaza. Tube to Shimbashi. Tokyo version of DLR, nice ride to Odaibo and Tokyo Bay. Big ferris wheel. Beach. Bridge. Sega Joyopilas. Statue of Liberty?! Camera death. Took DLR all the way to the end of the line, back to Tokyo, bought Shinkansen (bullet train) to Osaka for tomorrow. £70!! but only 2.5 hours for 450km. Not quite maglev speed. Back, found some internet. Blam.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

5th August 2008

Feel Crap. The Pod hotel that I stayed in was incredibly Hot and Sweaty. I think I have dehydration death or something similar, I ventured out, however. Went around some Governmental buildings, and threw up on the way which made me feel much better, expelling china I suspect. Walked around Shinjuhu Chuokoen park, and went into some Tourist info/eco place, that was very confusing and no one seemed too helpful.

Went up a tall tourist tower to see across Tokyo, which was unfortunately a bit grey. Meh. After talking to the very friendly and nice tourist information place, I found the correct ticket selling merchant to buy summer sonic tickets!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Summer Sonic, is an awesome 2 day music festival in Tokyo and Osaka, with some amazing bands, like Coldplay and Death Cab For Cutie. After I had my precious precious slips of paper I went off to somewhere crazy I think, possibly a place called Times Square, followed by an awesome shopping place called Akihabara, which seemed to sell everything imaginable. Got a bit lost around the streets though.

Monday, 4 August 2008

4th August 2008

This is how to do it. Japan wins. Amazingly nice people and survivable without a trust LP. Beginning with the Japanese Lady who shared a taxi with me, after 4 hours of sleep, at 5am AND wrote out some interesting places for me to visit in Japan, in Japanese! Also directed me to my airport check in. Then a plus for the Chinese, Beijing airport is excellent and so is the Japanese airline All Nippon Airways. Checked in mega quick, took easy internal train to my gate area depature lounge. Milled about, used all my final money on a variety of Beijing Olympics merchandise, still unable to find a cool jacket though. Had a coffee and breakfast in a small restaurant and bumped into my Japanese friend again.

Finished off cash in Olympic shop, and wandered to my gate to find the plane boarding, no queue, but about 15 staff memebers. Turns out the plane is mostly empty and I had selected a most excellent window seat with no one next to me or behind me. The plane had a camera on the front which you could watch the entire flight as if u were a plane nose, or like me, you could have selected to watch the fantastic Kung Fu Panda movie. Though I was interupted quite often with piles of food, drink and wet towels. Excellent food.

On landing, used the spotless toilets in the mostly deserted airport, got bag quickly and had an extremely nice and helpful man look through my bag at customs. Everyone is very polite and helpful, so after some initial ATM currency exchange calculation brain ache I went to the tourist information office, who printed me an exact map of where my hotel is and cheapest way to get there!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

3rd August 2008

Said bye to charlotte as she was flying home this morning, then strolled into town with my shoes of Death on my feet. Unfortunately it turned out that all the shops were shut for some unfathomable reason, until 11am. Luckily the PCC opened first so I chilled in there with a coffee until I met up with Lydia. Then participated in a long Jandal saga as my last pay had self combusted earlier, resulting in David having to lend me his. Found a cool north face pair in a 50% off shop.

We took the tube to beijing zoo. Very very hot and it was a long walk from station to the Zoo, though I guess we could have found some other mode of transport. Die. Heart. We got there, and it turned out most of the animals were living in horrendous condition and all the visitors were crazy and evil, not great. Therefore we decided to start a campaign to save all the animals. In other events I bought a loaf of bread from a food stand, then got a Subway for real sustenance before returning to the centre. Had dinner in a nice Japanese fast food place to get me ready for my next tectonic and said bye to Lydia. Returned to the hostel and made friends with a Japanese lady who I will accompany to the airport in the morrow. Blam.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

2nd August 2008

Breakfast at Hotel and then said bye to everyone before taking a Taxi to the City On The Wall hostel hostel, driver was extremely rubbish and went past the place 3 times, quite annoying, still tried to charge us the full wack so I got a bit shouty. Met everyone at the Pacific Coffee Company after another failed attempt at getting books. Lydia lost her bank card somehow so spent a while sorting that out. Then had to say a sad goobye to Liz and Martin before heading off to Silk Street in the evening. Madness! I did some excellent haggling. Then. Death. Back. Had food in a food court, Charlotte said farewell to Lydia then back to our exceptionally nice hostel for sleeps.

Friday, 1 August 2008

1st August 2008

Had some yoghurt for breakfast, I'm not exactly sure why I wrote that down in my notebook, but it must be of vital importance. Went to Tiananmen square today though most of it was off limits due to the Olympics and whatever craziness they need to do, we saw an athletes team, though can't remember where from, possibly Jamaica or south Africa. Very odd security at the actual square where they would look through chinese people's possessions for books and paper that might contain anti-government propoganda and the such like.

Next went to the Forbidden City which is just across the road, and until last year (maybe) had a Starbucks in the middle. Apparently there was an outcry, so they got rid of it. And replaced it with their own generic coffee outlet. City itself was cool, though possibly not quite as impressive as I imagined, though I guess I have seen a lot of similar places by now. It was exceptionally big though and we got a bit tired walking all around it.

Afterwards David took us to a special needs school, in the winding back streets of Beijing, that Intrepid sponsor. We had an explanation of their work and then watched a performance put on by the students there, good fun! From there we walked to the main pedestrian shopping precinct, the long way round, and found a pacific coffee company to chill in.

In the evening we got some wine and had a drink or two in Martin and Liz's room before heading off to have our final dinner, in a traditional Peking Duck place. Very scrummy, and the chef comes out and cuts up the duck in front of you. It also happened to be Liz's Birthday, so we celebrated that with cake and magic. Finished off the day with a few more drinks. Good times.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

31st July 2008

Went to Great Wall today, following the Step-Way of Moun-Ting the Great wall. Weather was unfortunately misty, and cloudy which was a bit of a shame but it did clear up later, and the wall looked mysterious as we walked as far along as we could. Most of it had been fully restored, but after a crazy end step situation we saw some of the original wall, which is much more rubbly than the pristine area we had walked along. Top of the wall is big enough to possibly drive a car down!

Our return to civilisation was by way of a Luge, where you sit on a personal toboggan, and go down a long metal half pipe to the bottom, good fun, exceptionally touristie, though David didn't fancy it and took the chair lift down even though I think he could do it free with his magic tourist guide pass. Went back to the city, and some yummy noodle based food, where Martin and Liz were late buying suitcase as they had horrendous taxi issues. Took public bus to a really good martial arts kung fu show, which was most excellent, unfortunately David looks quite ill. Hope he gets better.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

30th July 2008

CIMG9361 Went to the Yungang Caves before carrying on to Beijing, where some of the earliest Buddhist carvings in China are located. There are huge buddhas, tiny buddhas, and crazy buddhas in the 50 or so grottoes, though most of the impressive carvings are in the first 21. We spent a good time wandering around, taking photos and the such like, I think I may even have purchased some form of carbonated beverage. Afterwards we said our goodbyes to our mini-on-the-side guide Jenny and clambered majestically onto our train to Beijing, which awesomely was a soft sleeper for once, even though the trip was not in fact overnight, though I was a bit miffed as the other 4 were in 1 section and because of our crazy numbers I now was just with David. Ah well. CIMG9405We met some crazy Dutch lady in the carriage and we chatted for a while, though I think there were large periods of mistranslation between her and David, especially as he was trying to explain something guide related to her. Rest of journey we chilled with music and writing in my journal, though apparently in rather sparse detail, unless I was catching up with previous entries.CIMG9409 On our arrival in foggy Beijing, we took 2 taxis to our hotel now that John and Jenny weren’t with us. Hotel was extremely nice, and after I threw my stuff in the twin room I had to myself (much luxury), I went down to the nice little coffee place they had in the foyer, and grabbed a coffee as you can see to your left, extremely strong but yummy. When we met for dinner I hadn’t finished it as it was very hot, so Charlotte polished it off. As Martin and Liz went off for a couple based dinner, Charlotte, David, Liz and Moi went to a cool cheap and phenomenally yummy pancake restaurant round the corner that David knew. The hotel’s surrounding area was very strange, almost west London like, very nice looking. The pancakes weren’t how you are probably imagining them to be, they were in fact indistinguishable to fried noodles, but tasted even more awesome. Then had an early night, where I must have done something productive, as that is indeed my special skill.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

29th July 2008

Woke up moderately early as always, missed breakfast due to a short bout of unconsciousness and woke with only 10 min to spare. Got on bus that was to take us to Datong. Got stuck in traffic jam for ages, caused by some unknown incident. Had a toilet stop or two before arriving at the famous hanging monastery. Weather was great, like a warm British summer day. With cliffs either side of a medium sized river, the hanging monastery is attached to one of the sheer faces, supported by long, spindly stilts. And possibly some modern day bolts into the cliff. Still, it's fun as you clamber through small hatchways and sidle along ledges with small guide rails. The monastry itself has shrines to buddism, taosim and confucism, so it's a right old mix up, but as the LP says, it covers all bases.

We clambered back on our infinite bus and carried on, not getting into datong until 7pmish. In the entire bus journey, I managed to finish Polly Evans' Chopsticks with fried eggs (meg) and Arthur Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles (awesome). Had a break, shower, nice dinner in hotel and then wrote my journal for ages in my awesome room.

Monday, 28 July 2008

28th July 2008

Today we have mostly been visiting the Wang's residence, where all 100 million of the world's Wangs apparently originated. The Wang courtyard house consists of a labyrinth of 123 courtyards split into 2 main sections connected by a bridge. The new section is designed in the Chinese symbol for Wang, obviously much money had been made since their original bean curd business.

In the afternoon we visited on interesting newspaper museum, which showed a variety of local papers during some of the most momentous moments in Chinese History. We then walked to the Confucian Temple, which was a bit dull, checked out the very run down Catholic church and another close by temple before heading back to our cosy hotel and free wifi.

Had a cool dinner of that beef dish and cirspy onion. Yum in the face.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

27th July 2008

Arrived in Pinyao and took a stretched golf cart into the centre of the walled old town. Our guesthouse is really nice and traditional, we ate a scrummy breakfast and gout our rooms. All double bed rooms, which was alright for me as I had the room to myself. We spent the day touring various government houses, the first bank in China, treasury, a cool money place and some residences, intermingled with drinks in a restaurant somewhere. Oh, and the first place was a prison, and we watched a performance that all the Chinese tourists ruined by getting on the stage to take photos and crowd the actors. We left in disgust. We also visited the town wall, though my leg was in quite a bit of pain by then and was glad we had no plans to walk it's circumference. I also bought some crazy spicy and sugary twirly snacks, 10 Yuan for 0.5kg! Also went to:
  • Risengchang Financial House Museum
  • Former Residence of Lei Lutai
  • County Government Offices
By the end of the day we were shattered and my camera was full of many photos of cute animals we encountered on our way. Spent the evening eating awesome beef and potato based local favourite and chatted the night away.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

26th July 2008

Up early to go and see the crazy terracotta warriors, built by the emperor Qin Shi Huang to serve him in the after life, it was only discovered by some farmers digging a crazy well. We initially saw a cheap alternative to Imax movie, which showed a rather good re-enactment of the army being built. While waiting, one of the only two of the remaining farmers came to sign books, and Martin and Lydia bribed him to get a photo with them, rather than get viciously battered away with a fan, as everyone else was. I bought a pepsi max and an ice cream instead.

On to the first pit, which resembles a huge aircraft hanger, and we came face to face with the warriors, all be it from quite a distance, I'm not really sure how to describe the whole experience, it's all very surreal. On the one hand, it's amazing to see the vast expanse of warriors, but then you couldn't see up close to notice each warrior's unique details or take interesting photos. Plus a lot is still uncovered or just earthly trenches, still a great experience though. The other two pits were similar one a small scale, and one had a few warriors in glass cabinets surrounded by flash happy tourists.

In a very dark building there were also 2 half scale chariots that had been pieced together. We didn't see the tomb of Qin Shi Huing as at the moment it isn't excavated mound, but it is thought to contain palaces and rivers of flowing mercury, along with all manner of Indiana Jones style defences against intruders. No such luck to see it though.

Bus back and then all went to the Muslim quarter to participate in a food kafuffle, where the girls got a road side veg pancake and I got a spicy meat metal tasting one. Very hot temperature style. David wanted a restaurant extravaganza though, so the lads followed him through a labyrinth of roads to a restaurant that was shut, so we then followed David blindly for a while, then he got us some bread type rolls, and found a butcher to throw raw cow in them. Needless to say, John was not impressed, I loved it and munched it down, and Martin was a soldier, even though he didn't like the concept, he still ate nearly all of it! I finished his off. Anyway, after that we met up with Liz and Lydia, as Martin had stolen their money, for a sneaky coffee. Martin and I went interneting while the other two got their nails shined or something.

Met later and went to a nice bar for a beer or two, then Charlotte, John and I found a nice little square where we watched some more tribal umbrella dances, checked out a very local night market, photographed Wal-mart and got some epic cheap croissants from Bread Talk. Charlotte and I bid our final farewells to John who was staying on in Xi'an to join a 5 month silk route truck based tour! All met up, met Jenny a trainee guide who would be with us till Da Tong, took bus to train station, plush lounge and then soft sleeper overnight to PinYao - I was abandoned in cabin with guides. Everyone hates me *sob*.

Friday, 25 July 2008

25th July 2008

Up and we all met up to bike the Xi'an city wall, except Lydia who was feeling pretty ill still, stomach hates her. The walls, built in 1370, are one of the few Chinese city walls still standing, though it looks vastly renovated/rebuilt. On commencing cycling however, we soon discovered it wasn't as smooth as we first anticipated, but it was an easy flat ride. A moat and a strip of park-land runs beside the wall, where many musicians, fan dancers, picnickers and badminton enthusiasts frolicked. after many photo stops, we had to rush back, as the morning heat began to rise, and to make it back within our 100 minute time limit, but overall it was still a very enjoyable and relaxing ride.

After a cheeky coffee extravaganza we perused the excellent market in the nearby Muslim quarter and found a restaurant where we were ushered upstairs. Without David, we floundered a bit in our attempts to order, but we all succeeded in ordering vast amounts. I got 10 chicken and shrimp dumplings for just 8 Yuan and, a beef and mushroom hotpot. The rest of the afternoon involved the buying of souvenirs such as a Mao book, postcards, extra strength tiger balm, and some magnets for mum. We also failed to go in a mosque as it cost to go in, looked too Chinese and was mostly cordoned off. Use the fastest and least censored net so far, met at hotel, returned to the Muslim quarter where we browsed until 11am and I got a special bread, toasted with loads of spice and beef kebab put in it. Mega delicious. Sleep

Thursday, 24 July 2008

24th July 2008

Arrived in Xi'an in another predictable blaze of taxi shaped glory. Sorted our lives out then went to a restaurant called Nyu Fong, where we left our run-down back ally, to emerge 5 metres away in a huge modern square, with the bell and drum tower as centre pieces. We crossed the square past various Starbucks, KFCs, shopping centres, and utilised a very useful underground subway to cross a road to find our restaurant. Very nice and incredibly cheap food, and I do believe we got our old favourite Gun Pao chicken, as well as 6 Yuan beer.

After lunch, Liz and Lydia collapsed for sleep, Charlotte went back book hunting, and us lads grabbed a taxi to the Big Goose Pagoda, which was built in memory of the monk Xuan Zan, on which the famous Chinese story "Journey to the West" and indeed the many incarnations of the Monkey TV show (BBC version circa 1970s). Our lazy taxi driver dropped us in the scorching heat and haze the wrong side of a huge square (there are a lot of squares in china), so we trekked up and around to the front pagoda complex, passed a gaggle of crazy lunatic girls who seemed to think I was famous or the new messiah. The pagoda and the surrounding Da Ci'en Temple was average, little explanation was offered, the pagoda itself was off limits due to earthquake damage, most of the temple looked like it was built recently. Still it was interesting even if our photos were a bit hazy. After dithering a bit, we eventually forced ourselves to grab a taxi to the Shaanxii History Museum, that turned out to be free with a sneaky wave of a British Passport (or any passport). Not the best or most captivating of museums, but we were all shattered and it did have some terracotta warriors, though most were copies (as the British Museum and international community has temporarily stolen a few). The English explanations were a bit sparse compared to the far superior shanghai museum. After spending infinite time trying to a get a taxi, we made it back, we found out Lydia and Liz both woke up at 3ish to feel the room shaking, at which Liz hid under her duvet and Lydia unplugged the tele and leaped for a door frame. Later we discovered that there had been another 6.9 quake in Chengdu, and they must have felt it! I must admit my initial reaction was to claim Lydia was a crazed lunatic, though I do that at most opportunities regardless of situation.

Anyway, I spent 45 minutes rushing around, failing to find the net for Lydia, buying the worst headphones known to man, an SD card and a tuna panini, which I had difficulty procuring in a cold state. By this point I was a bit stroppy with the entire world, so initially I kept quiet when I met John and David to go to a cultural performance in case I was short with anyone, which would be hard for me here in Asia, haw haw (height joke)....

Anyway, off we trotted to the performance, where David abandoned us to see his mum (who is very ill with Parkinson's) and we were seated on a table with a French family, in a hall full of well dressed westerners. So we had a romantic dinner of popcorn and beers and watched the excellent dancing and musical performances that lit up the stage. Highlights included, a quirky man playing some kazoo-like invisible instrument, a percussion dialogue and a story told in silhouetted dance. On the walk back we spotted some excellent night time photo opportunities, including the city wall looking amazing and a huge crowd of people dancing randomly to tribal drums with umbrellas and feather fans. Crazy energy in the air, apparently to do with Harvest. Closing in on our hotel, we chatted with a guy about nothing in particular, while shielding our pockets from his son, took some photos of the drum and bell towers and marvelled at the huge telescopes in the square that for 10 Yuan you could apparently see some resemblance of Jupiter. With the naked eye, we couldn't see 1 star in the sky!

Sleep (mmm long entry)

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

23rd July 2008

Woke up early in an intriguing twist, moved bag to day room and then Charlotte and I made the long and rambling walk in the early morning heat to the Humble Administrator's garden. Successfully purchased tickets and spent a nice hour or so wandering around the rockeries, pagodas and water features, that were a bit same same. We only got roped into one photo extravaganza. After some confusion we found the entrance to the garden museum, which was a bit dull, outdated and full of old faded photos of the garden. By a random sequence of interconnected events we somehow found ourselves in a brand spanking new touch screen extravaganza of the same museum, entirely deserted but much better. Once more it turns out the garden was totally destroyed and it was all a remake AND the Dr Sun Yat-Sen garden in Vancouver, that I visited 4.5 months ago, was designed by the same person/team/company.

We meandered back through the back streets towards the city centre to meet Lydia in a random cafe. Did the normal coffee shenanigans, gossiping or whatever we do in caffeine fuelled, jazz environments. Decided on our fave noodle shop, after a quick shop in the slightly posh metromart, where I managed to get all manner of MSG containing foodstuffs. Ordered noodles via lonely planet Chinese character deduction and David texting the characters for the very option. Very nice, though nuclear heated as normal. Then bus->train, 16.44. Quiet boring, split into me David and John, and the others in separate compartment. But then kung fu hustle came on the TV and we watched it in between adverts.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

22nd July 2008

Via nefarious methods we caught the local coach from the 'backdoor' of Zhouzhuong to Suzhou, and felt like we saw a bit of the real china, factories and the such like. Taxi to our very nice hotel, general showing palavers and then grabbed some insanely cheap and insanely yummy noodle-soup-beef-dumpling collaboration (9 Yuan!). David then viciously abandoned us, and we fended for ourselves, noting a costa coffee on the way, wandered to the 'must-see' silk museum. Which was pretty boring, but some parts were alright, we got to see some silkworms happily munching on some mulberry leaves, ignorant in the knowledge that once they get all cosy in a nice cocoon, they'll get boiled to death for the cocoon's silky goodness. We pranced around a bit in the silk shop before struggling through the baking heat to have a quick outside look at the famous pagoda (North Temple Pagoda) and then returned to the city centre to check out the dire Temple of Mysteries, surrounded by loads of shops, coca cola umbrellas and the golden arches. Swipped back to costa for lunch and vast amounts of Caffeine!

I stayed and chilled there, writing my journal and relaxing 'n' maxing until I decided to wander back to the hotel, but spotted David in our favourite noodle party shop. I said "Ni Hao" and got roped into getting an awesome prawn based version of the afformentioned dish. Then hotel to get bus to see the master of nets garden and night time dance/music/performance show. Very good, but hot and crowded. Home, sleep. WHAM.

Monday, 21 July 2008

21st July 2008

Woke up surprisingly refreshed and we waited until the train arrived to get off, as is the natural thing to do. Then participated in a 10min bag laden stroll in furnace-like heat to the local bus station, grabbed the 09:50 Suzhou -> Zhouzhuang bus, I bounced around the back, swimming in Charlotte's tea. At the othe rend we had a long furnace walk, with a break in for David to grab our tickets for the old town. Which gave John a chance for a little heat induced rant. Walked through the very nice and clean old town streets to our world heritage hotel, Liz and Martin got a very nice poster bed. We showered and refridgerated our souls. Had an awesome lunch, pork upper leg and a variety of dishes and mega cheap beer. Bonus points. Met David to explain the city, visited a few residences and gardens and a temple or two. Extremely hot, and at one point David led us down a fish lined street, causing poor Lydia to get into a frightful state, only for us to arrive at a fish garden.

Pretty shattered in the arvo, so Martin found a Majong set from reception, and Lydia, Liz Martin and I played in the semi-outside courtyard, Martin once more failing to win and getting frustrated with Liz's game antics much to everyone's amusement. We also found out some of Liz's shocking teaching shinanigins.

In the evening we returned to the same restuarent as it was awesome and I ate far too much by any standards. John showed off the bone and bamboo Majong set he bought for 150, with a very nice case. Gentle walk back through very quiet streets, canals looked beautiful, like a tiny venice. All the time practicing our greetings:

Zhou shan hao - Good Morning
Shou wu hao - Good Afternoon
wu shan hao - Good Evening
Ni hao - Hello

or something along those lines

Sunday, 20 July 2008

20th July 2008

Up mega early as John and Martin went to crazy (and pants) sunrise. Was awake so went to internet at 7am. Noodles. Met fools. Weather cleared and we began our crazy descent down mountain, vast amounts of steps, guys carrying up furniture, exposed tofu and buildings on their backs. John and David got left behind as we all scampered hardcore style. Bought some Dove chocolate on the way for energy. Finally, hit bottom and collected bags and laundry. Private bus then took us to Tunxi, where guys got oily and salty noodles, hunted for chargers, top ups and vitamins. Got back and showered in our day room (in a purely glass shower), and then chilled in bar downstairs.

Went for a nice emo walk along the river, marvelling at the multicoloured pretty lights that lined the river banks and waterfront buildings. Walked back through town to the screams of Brand New and met the guys in our day room. Then Bus->Train Station->Train->Split up->Rice->Blam, Wham, thank you ma'am.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

19th July 2008

Today, we woke up, and I ate an apple and maybe some noodles. After which, we met the rest of our crazy band of lunatics, and our laundry was't ready, so we safely left our bags in the front entrance. Then we walked to the shuttle station, where, via a series of ludicras multiple ticket shenanigans, we got on our cable car to heaven. Mist central. We then walked over the mist covered peaks of Huang Shan, beautiful but no views, and arrived at our 4 star hotel, perched high up in the clouds. Rested and ate crap for a while, before conquering some more peaks, with better views including the North Sea. Returned and had some noodles, followed by a mini hall party, and watched some very bad indian tele. Early sleep.

Friday, 18 July 2008

18th July 2008

Late get up, then 5ish hour bus ride to Hangshou mountain. On the way our engine overheated, resulting in a fountain of boiling water in the bus. Good Fun! We also weren't allowed in the national park due to a permit issue, so we had to get on a public coach that whipped crazy style round the windy, but brand new, roads. Hotel was very nice but pretty dull. Found 2 beers that weren't frozen/warm, which we had outside the Karaoke bar. After a quick word with a hotel woman about our laundry, she said that a group of chinese guys would pay our Karaoke bar entrance fee and beers if we went in. The night then spiralled out of control as a drunk Chinese man kept forcing us to down glasses of beer, culminating in Lydia claiming she was pregnant to prevent drinking anymore, the guy threatening to bop me on the nose if I didn't drink, all the time seeming not to understand we couldn't speak Chinese. Our final soltuion? To break out into insane techno dancing, which succeeded in confusing him and he was eventually escorted out. So we sidled out and ran to our rooms to call it a night. I drank lots of water and was happy I had survived.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

17th July 2008

Begin the day with an amazingly large buffet breakfast, which I devoured. We met our extremely bubbly and enthusiastic local guide, Amanda, who would turn out to be our best so far. Our first port of call was the west lake itself, where we waited in slight disarray, while loads of Chinese people wanted to talk to me because, according to Amanda, I, or my hair, looked like a "playboy" from Veronica Mars.

The boat ride was nice, shame it was so misty though, Amanda said it's amazing in the spring. Still, we saw the 3 artificial islands, the famous water based pagodas, and a number of other pagodas on the surrounding mountains/hills. Our next destination was the largest Buddhist temple in China, oh and my jandals imploded much to my despair, so I wore David's. We learnt a lot about buddism, the various Buddhas, some cool cave carvings and I confirmed that I was born in the year of the OX, like my star sign, kinda. So apparently I'm stubborn squared. Or something.

We went to a farmers house for lunch, wher we somehow again managed to get a chicken smashed with a hammer. Not amused. Rest of food was nice though. Utilising the power of group decisveness, we went to a tea plantation where we got to try their finest tree for free. The Queen has had it, don't ya know. Unsurprisingly, Liz and Martin were persuaded to buy vast quantities of tea and we ran away stealthy style. Our final destination was the _____ Pagoda, which has been destroyed and rebuilt a total of 16 times. Its main prupose is to supress the dragon in the west lake, which is always a good thing. Unless it is a friendly dragon. With cooking abilities. Anyway, John, Martin and I bust up the pagoda for quite a nice view of the lake and city. Finally, we returned to the Braim Hotel and said our overally sentimental goodbyes to Amanda, who was awesome the whole time, though everyone else though she had a 'thing' for me. Due to some positive hair and teeth comments. In the evenign we went back to our favourite noodle restaurent, raided the supermarket for food supplies for the next 2 days up Hangshou. I spent about 140 yuan but did get two packets of hob nobs and some sardines!

Wandered back to hotel and participated in general kung fu searching on TV.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

16th July 2008

Today I have mostly not been stationary at an early hour. Up at 6 to take a taxi to wait ages at train station for a train to Hangzhou. Not sure if I wrote the right place there, it's wherever the famous west lake is. Spent time on the train utilising the lava water and the very large seatback table to catch up with my journal. Sort of. I also drew a pirate.

Arrived in one piece after buying a wind up style torch, for 10 yuan! Bonus. Obviously Martin bought most of the man's shop, including a musical gyroscope that was expertly demonstratted. Hotel is extreme luxury, so we dumped stuff off, showered and then all met to find a Starbucks or generic alternative. Hot, lond walk ish. Near lake front. Big mocha and quiche. Poured outside. Waited. Still hot, Charlotte, Lydia and I walked around the West Lake front and lotus flowers. Melted. Went to Watsons, and then went on a long walk, via cash machines, to Foreign Languages Bookshop - massive. Amazing cafe at the top. Coffee and beef and mushroom rice. Hote walk back, and got ready. Very nice noodle restaurant, famous for helping a scholar. Very cheap beer (7) and prawn+pork noodles. YUM.

Then went to a night market while busting for the loo, and was tempted by a Hancock DVD. Didn't buy it so we went home and slept.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

15th July 2008

Decided on a late wake up, met at 9 for a costa related coffee explosion. Enough caffiene to wipe out most countries. We decided our best course of action was taking the metro to Lucy Lui Street, where we could find the maglev station. The maglev connects Shanghai to Padong airport via a high speed train that hovers on magnets. Distance of around 30 km is covered in 6-8 minutes, reaching speeds of 431kph(300mph). As our resident trains potter, Martin was exceptionally excited, as was I as I tend to be about most rubbish. Return was only 80, and we zapped there and back insanely quick, with awesome banking at the curves. Inside the trains are quite plush and not overally crowded. Afer a short physics lesson, I convinced everyone that if you jumped the train wouldn't move under you, resulting in you smashing against the back wall. Afterwards Martin, John, Liz and I checked out the cheap (5) and good museum, where I completed some computer game where you have to rebuild a train.

Our next port of call was a long wander through various sky scrapers to the Chinese Sex Museum, which was a glammed up cereamics gallery. Next we took the mysterious Bund sightseeing tunnel, to the other side of the river. It was pretty bad, as you take a slow train module through a fairy light decorated, apparently brain warping, tunnel. After escaping, we fanned out and Charlotte and I got a very nice and healthy lunch in the Mojo cafe before finding the foreign languagtes bookshops and investing in some words of modern day literary genius. We wandered through the blistering heat to Regent's Park and finally to the Shanghai Art Musuem, which only contained European impressionism, which we skilled and fell into the Museum of COntemporary Art instead, rather good really, though had a bit too many art-videos which I find a bit wishy washy. Bring on Brick anyday. After discovering a cafe I could never afford, or be allowed into, we staggered back home nad got ready for the evening.

Via a chance meeting with David in the lift, he helped us to the hugh Jin Mao tower, unfortunately through the sightseeing tunnel again, as we had got return trickets. Tower was very busy but contained spectacular views of the city and was next to a huge tower that looked like a bottle opener. As normal, all the chinese tourist appeared more interested in taking photos of us rather than the view. Rather than torturing our central nervous system anymore, we took the 2 yuan ferry across teh river to admire the Bund at night. David then bundled us into two very confused taxis and we went to Vegetarian Style Life restuarant, via many red lights and death hazards. David even called as he was worried about us. Good food, we just got a big selection, no meat or alcohol, though we suspect the use of chicken stock. Metro back and sleep.

Monday, 14 July 2008

14th July 2008

  • Up early for a costa breakfast (Massive black coffee)
  • Meet up with David, extremely hot walk to shang hai musuem
  • Massive queue, queue jumped behind another pre-booked group
  • Cool museum, very arty. Calligraphy, minority dressed, coin collection.
  • Ice coffee.
  • Very hot, walk down Nanjing East street to the Bund for an amazing view of the skyline and crazy TV tower.
  • Melted, then went to Yuyuan Bazaar, lots of old style, new shops. Largest privated owned Buddhist temple in china.
  • Still mind bendingly hot. Liz and Martin got name stamps.
  • Desweated.
  • Met later, not John though due to minor heat stroke.
  • Took metro to Acrobats
  • Hoop jumping, rope craziness hat lunacy, balance shenanigans, cycling bonanza, candle balancing madness and finished with motorbike wall of death.
  • Martin bought DVD.
  • Home.
  • Went on internet. Blam.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

13th July 2008

  • Up earlyish, Only the 3 lads at brekkie.
  • Off boat. Bust to the 3 gorges Dam
  • Misty. Bit dull. Model. Various sculptures including a huge book.
  • Went closer to Dam
  • Cool celebratory garden, big diggers and tunnel. Scuptures and best view of the dam.
  • Then drove to airport via Yichang for lunch which had basically been smashed with a mallet then drowned in 2000 chillis.
  • Chilled in airport. Quick flight, then bus to very nice shanghai hotel.
  • Walked down the main strip. Pretty. Had a cheeky pizza in pizza hut!
  • Internet was very stupid as you need your passport and many sites like facebook were blocked.
  • Shanghai is awesome though, pretty lights everywhere

Saturday, 12 July 2008

12 July 2008

  • Mega Early Up
  • Fought Chinese for breakfast. Very nice Dumplings
  • Transfer to smaller boat, along a gorge
  • Extremely misty but very pretty gorges
  • Transferred to a tiny boat just for us + Lauren's group, rowed by some dudes, against stream
  • At a rough part they dragged us by rope, but not before passing round firewater and loads of chinese peeps photographing us.
  • After short drag, they turned us around and we zoomed back down stream, our western weight helping us along.
  • Our local guide sung a few traditional songs to us.
  • Back track to big boat. Sleep in the arvo
  • Dinner
  • David taught us Marjong. Me and Lydia on 1 team, and were awesome.
  • Retired to bar area as cooler
  • Watched a performance of dance
  • Beer. David did Karaoke, and a random lady went up halfway through and helped him. He is the ladies man indeed. Awesome.
  • Some weird musical chair game with Jackie Chan (or at least Lauren's group's guide)
  • Bit of beer and dancing. Suddenly all the Chinese vanished.
  • Sleep.

Friday, 11 July 2008

11th July 2008

  • Bus to Yichang and big lunch in a hotel
  • Wandered around. Coffee. Supermarket.
  • Back to hotel, bus to 3 gorges and boat.
  • 244 steps down to a very empty boat. Think were were very early. Very misty.
  • Room was awesome for a boat, private bathroom, and a TV etc.
  • Not sure if we had food, but we had a few beers in Liz and Martin's room. Lauren appeared for a bit.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Thursday 10th July 2008

  • Cookery course
  • Went to the market, which had dogs (blowtorched, some alive in tiny cages, and half of a dog's head on a table), pig tongues and snouts, chicken feet etc. Lots of veg. Our chef lady bought supplies and explained the various foods.
  • Back to restaurant
* Gun Pou Chicken (Peanuts)
* Pork dumplings (I wasn't too great at their presentation)
* Veg and Noodles
  • We got cool chef hats and aprons, and a HUGE knife.
  • Liz and Charlotte cooked a veg selection, including awesome deep friend eggplant.
  • Was surprisingly nice and I ate far too mcuh.
  • Short break, coffee + cafe. Hot.
  • Calligraphy lesson
  • Learnt numbers 1-10. Progression of characters Wood>Tree>Forest.
  • Wrote my name, which translated to Basic, Success, Kind.
  • Everyone else's was way better
Liz: White Beautiful Lady Nice
Martin: Success, Clever
Lydia: Wealth, Wisdom
Charlotte: Summer, Water, Knowledge
  • Took a private bus to station and then the overnight train to somewhere near the 3 gorges and the Yangzi river. Nice again. Good sleep.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Wednesday 9th July 2008

  • No surprises that we were up early again.
  • This was mainly for our Tai chi lesson, that was pretty good, and taught us the correct way to hold watermelons.
  • Hired bikes and a local guide to cycle to moonhill.
  • Very scenic, paddy fields and mini-mountains.
  • I had an awesome red and yellow mountain bike, lydia and charlotte had crazy pink girlie bikes.
  • Big River.
  • Reached moon hill then had insane climb to the top
  • 'step to the moon'
  • Loads of wet, slippery steps. Was shattering. Old women followed us all the way up trying to sell things.
  • Finally got to top without death. Very sweaty. Lauren and group were at the top. Big natural rock arch, looks like a crescent moon from below. We rested a while.
  • Headed back down. I went down chattering inanely to an old chinese woman, as I was worried I would "jandal-slip" to death. She offered to hold my hand all the way down, and thought Charlotte was my wife. Nope impressed when we didn't buy anything from her at the end!
  • Ate awesome meal cooked by farmer's family, big shovvling of food situation. Then it poured with torrential rain.
  • Double ponchoed up. Charlote got a flat tire. Cute dog and ducks at fixing place, probably for eating.
  • May have eaten Beer Fish. Slight situation with Lydia being petrified of fish.
  • In evening saw amazing light show designed by same guy as the Beijing Olympic ceremony. Better than Disney.
  • EPIC.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Tuesday 8th July

  • Arrived in Yangshuo
  • Sort life and soul out
  • Walked around town and grabbed lunch
  • Bus down to river for river cruise on smallish boat
  • As we got on, HUGE thunderstorm erupted, the very fabric of this ethereal world shook around us!
  • Front window of the boat swung shut and smashed over David!
  • Hard to see much, but there was nice scenery somewhere
  • Various boat leaks
  • Went ashore, old village/hamlet. Temple
  • Short hike to 3 coloured pools. Only saw one because of rain, it was of the infamous colour "murky".
  • Cobbled streets and classic chinese architecture provided a very slippery environment. Lydia's flip flops broke and David came to the rescue.
  • Nice views from top. Very long boat trip back
  • In the evening went to see the fisherman fish with cormorants.
  • Tie off their necks, so they can't swallow the big fish, and so they swim close to the boat and dive under to grab fish. They seemed happy enough as they were eating just about all the fish anyway, or had indeed learned to just go for the small fish.
  • Dude let one sit on my arm. Only got 2 fish between 8 birds, mainly because of their hungry hungry tummies.
  • Ate a nice dinner at the Movie Cafe Blues
  • They sold dog and bamboo rat but was insanely expensive in relation to everything else. Very nice local beer though and our beds were comfy.

Monday, 7 July 2008

7th July 2008

  • Lydia, Charlotte, John and I woke up earlish and made our way to the Avenue of Stars
  • Fell into the Pacific Coffee Company. Mocha, ham/cheese croissant, coffee.
  • General chatting and free internet use.
  • Picked up laundry from Chumpking mansions.
  • Sorted my toiletry situation, though shop had nothing that men could use to clean themselves. VO5 shampoo it is.
  • Back to hotel. Lauran's group there. They crammed 9 in 2 taxis, but we put 6 in 3! Lunacy.
  • MRT to border. Bust through border control, though Charlotte was held at passport control for ages.
  • Waited a while in train station, then we were in China!!
  • On train. Very nice. Frilly. 6 bed. Chat to guy who let David have the bed near us.
  • Lights out at 10! Had surprisingly nice pot noodle alternative. All got caught out by lights off time.
  • Kids crazy. I had the middle bed and could stretch legs out partially into the aisle. Very comfy duvet.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Sunday 6th July 2008

  • Ellen & Harriot said goodbye.
  • Bust out and bumped into Lauren outside lift.
  • Both starving so we hit up Irish pub
  • Underground, uber nice. Guinness and steak pie!!!
  • Got my local payment. Max out bank.
  • Taxis avec Charlotte and Lauren to new hotel @ 12.
  • Very swanky. TV, Sofa, Awesome. Roommate not there yet.
  • Walked in rain quite a distance down Nathan street to find Toilet cafe.
  • Awesome.
  • Seats are toilets, urinals on walls a decoration, food came in toilets, yummy and cheap.
  • Humourous poo lights and souvenirs. Great find, courtesy of Charlotte's cafe 6th sense.
  • Afterwards I found crazy hairdresser, not much English, had hair washed and not too crazy cut, with layers apparently. Only 90 HKD.
  • Tried to meet Charlotte in Temple Street, drowned. Very wet, Hotel. Watched American Dragon. Met John. Safe.
  • Met group, cool, meeting, David is our guide and seems good
  • Went for dinner. Yummy Udon noodles again.
  • Wandered streets a bit, stock up on food, slept.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

5th July 2008

  • Faffed loads in the morning.
  • Took metro to Admiral, got lost.
  • Went in the posh Palace Shopping Mall, where there was a tuxed out guy on the piano
  • Walked to and through the very nice Hong Kong park, which had many a water feature.
  • Got to peak tram station, skipped the huge line with my octupus card.
  • After the insanely steep train ride, got to the top, scampered up loads of escalators.
  • Amazing views of Hong Kong and surrounding area. Very hot.
  • Generally wandered around Central and the IPC.
  • Went back after food and failing to see a film at the cinema, so admired my blonde hair, which is crazy and slept.

Friday, 4 July 2008

4th July 2008

  • Up. Internet. Food.
  • Wander to dock
  • Offered drugs as normal.
  • Nice dock.
  • Walked along the Avenue of Stars, enjoying the skyline of Hong Kong Island.
  • Went in the art museum, a bit empty, but was a cool exhibition on modern digital art and I scammed the woman into giving me a student admission.
  • Carried on along Avenue of Stars, cool statues related to film and Bruce Lee.
  • Lots of famous Chinese and Hong Kong movie stars, and cement hand imprints. Jet Li, Jackie Chan, John Woo, Chow Yung Fat.
  • Pacific Coffee Company!
  • Mongkok. Wander around. Got a bit lost.
  • Crappy computer shopping centre
  • Buy cool dual sim phone. K-Touch D770
  • Meet girlies, and went to a Cat Cafe. Took forver to get cookie and hot chocolate, not great and expensive. But there were cats all over the place, scratching up the leather furniture.
  • Went to get visa. Woo! Got it. So did Charlotte.
  • Met others for a beer on Avenue of Stars. Sunset.
  • Wedges. Light show to music. Okay, and little band playing on the front.
  • Went to crappy restaurant.
  • Soho for a drink or two.
  • Slept.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

3rd July 2008

In an unsure state of mind (slightly panicing), I got up early and found the internet again, possibly booked a flight and my accommodation, though visa website scared me with no same day visas. Checked out and then tried to find some way to get to the ferry terminal. The hotel guy was my saviour once more, and after failing to get a taxi he took me to where the casinos have free shuttles to their locations, so I hopped into the Sands bus. After a medium boiling walk to the terminal past a number of amazing casinos, some in the shape of volancos and castle, I grabbed some sarnies and bought tickets to Kowloon. Waited in the “departure” lounge after being allowed through passport control. The ferry was quite fast to Hong Kong and I was on the top deck, mostly to myself, though they food people wouldn't take Macau money.

Arrived, with slight confusion, and took a taxi to Chumpking mansions. Urgh. Apparently I didn't have a reservation, and was giving some form of converted janitors cupboard in Tom's Guesthouse not much wider than my armspan. Stormed out, eventually found a net cafe to print out all my Chinese details, including a possible forgery of my departing flight confirmation. In the Visa agent I had to pay £156 to get my visa ready in time, though I did help her with her LG viewty, so I think she thought I was alright after initial reservations. Grabbed the awesome tube system to central, and ate Pret a Manger. mmmm. Met Holly and Lauren, had drinkies and got to finally relax after a large amount of stress and anxiety. Said bye bye, went to a big shopping centre called IPF or IPC. Shops, food and Pacific Coffee Company. Faffed, I regret I had Maccy D's, went back home to sleep and die a little bit.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

2nd July 2008

Possibly the most tiring, hectic and crazy airport tomfoolery to date, after spending the night on a night train from Sapa, which felt like the equivalent of trying to sleep in the Antarctic during a 9.0 rated earthquake, Steph and I arrived in Hanoi. After saying our goodbyes, I got in a taxi, only to discover you need to show your train ticket on exiting the train station. Failing to find Steph who had our tickets, I had to bribe the woman at the gate with 15,000 dong. Trying to relax on the way, I couldn't get any of the seat belts to do up and the meter was going up at an alarming rate. Finally arrived, paid far too much and had no money left, bust out 100,00 from a cash point, then discovered I couldn't check in yet (as it was 5.30am) and nothing was open. Vegetated for a while.

At 6am the “lucky restaurant” opened up, and I got glared at viciously and was seemingly told how I should eat my chicken, pork and noodle soup. Coffee was like tar. Tar of death. Check in appeared to be open, queued and nothing happened for a while, then when I reached the desk, my bag was apparently 2kg over, even though it was the same weight as last time I flew air Asia. She initially tried to convince me to take 2kg out, but I had no idea where I would put it, so I had to pay $5 per kg. Obviously I didn't have enough, so had to use the ATM, which was now broke, so panicking slightly, I went for my emergency $100 bill. But couldn't find my padlock key, this kids, is why you should never lose your combination lock.

After a few minutes of emptying my day bag all over the terminal, I found the key, stormed back to the check in counter and slammed down my passport and money. Sorted it, bust on upstairs to a café that had internet and tried to book my Japan flight with not much luck. Went to security check, where the guy wouldn't believe I was the person in my passport and had to get another guy, who I had to lift up my flowing locks to, to reveal my facial features. Surprisingly, I wasn't frisked and walked into the mostly empty departure lounge, where I remembered I was lacking any North Vietnam magnets, so exchanged some dollar for goods, and asked when flight boarding was, flashing my Xpress boarding ticket.

Sat down smugly while everyone else was forming a massive queue and then had awesome rock star treatment as air hostess invited just me to get on the plane, so I walked past the line with a triumphant smirk. Plane ride was fine, slight nap, then chatted to an American girl while filling in my departure card wrong. More dollar was spent on baguette and P-Max.

Arrived safely and got all baggage easily, then spent the next 6 hours, eating pad thai, drinking starbucks, wandering, being charged for 3kg over the limit, writing my journal, marvelling at the departure side stops and using the very cheap internet booths. I think our plane was delayed, I got the superstar treatment again, used my special power that stops people sitting next to me and ate a surprisingly nice chicken fried rice with P-Max. Landed in Macau, bust on through, got a taxi from a guy who knew no Englsh, but got to hotel alright. Very posh looking hotel. Spent hours trying ti find an internet café via the reception dude's very vague directions of swimming his arm in a 60degree arc and telling me to walk for 2 minutes. Was no use anyway, the places that had internet I thought were just arcades for the first 2 hours. They turned out to be underground dens of 200 computers with loads of teens in their all night.

I spent the time there basically panicking as I couldn't book a flight out of china and all info pointed towards I Was screwed to get my visa in time. I decided to collapse in a bath and ignore my lack of dinner before hitting the sack at 1.30am.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

1st July 2008

  • Woke up not too bad, huge breakfast. Ham and Cheese croissant, and omellette.
  • Debs and I met our dude and driver. Mini Van to ourselves
  • Scenic drive up to Thun Tui pass
  • Stopping everyone now and then for photo ops.
  • At top got out with bikes and began sailing down mountain.
  • Awesome roads. Amazing scenery, very wet.
  • Began to freeze, soaked, got back in van.
  • Turned up in town, looked around market, got a poncho, wet.
  • Dude smoke tobacco out of crazy pipe.
  • Went to a small road and took bike down paddy fields.
  • Manic water buffalo. Meep.
  • Kids laugh at me. "How many 100kgs does he weight?"
  • Cycle across bridge down crazy mud slope and stream.
  • Cycled up a hill for very pretty view.
  • Down to village, saw house.
  • Women hounded debs to buy skirt
  • Cycle back.
  • Lunch on bus back
  • Waterfall
  • Back. Shower. Sad Goodbye
  • Bus. Train. Death.

Monday, 30 June 2008

30th June 2008

  • Arrived in Sapa. Haggled a bus to Sapa itself.
  • Very early, battle for hotel. $9 for 3 peeps!
  • Nap. Internet.
  • Went for wander. Tribes people. Chocolat and Baguette
  • Food and drink.
  • Book bike ride to Thun Tui Pass for Debs and I
  • Wander through town. Debs mobbed by tribes peeps. Funny.
  • Went to lake with old tribes lady still following us. Very beautiful (the view not the lady)
  • No ATMs in Sapa work with Cirrus cards.
  • Resign to a beverage seller. Beer. Debs had Rice wind?!
  • Pool
  • Check out top of a hill while dark, but not see much. Due to the dark.
  • Back to hotel. Get ready.
  • Bust out to a small bar, nice. Local beer.
  • Chatted with the Singaporean manager.
  • Failed to find curry house, turns out manager owns it. Currently a shell.
  • Went to his pizza place. Pizzas forgot to come. Free olives. Free Beer. 10% off.
  • Went to Tu Bar. Debs and I playe darks.
  • Steph talked to Irish dude who said he'd take her to pass on bike.
  • Shot sambuca
  • Sleep.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

29th June 2008

  • Early rise, swim, brekkie, lost kite wood.
  • Got on boat to Cat Bah island. Looked bad.
  • Very busy and touristic.
  • Took bus to a hospital (old) built into a huge cavern.
  • Very cool, guy sung a random Ho Chi Minh song.
  • Waited for bus and got on our cool mountain bikes.
  • Very hot. Great scenery.
  • Huge hill. Made it to top without stopping.
  • Pee in bus. Look up. HUGE spider
  • Break. Drink 27 gallons of water.
  • Steph and 1 or 2 others got on bus. Rest of us battled on.
  • Awesome down hill section to big flat plain
  • Stop for wikked lunch, loads of food. Ate half the world.
  • Bus to port.
  • Comfy speed boat.
  • Long 3 hour bus ride back
  • Debs + Zen + Brand New!
  • Train not booked.
  • Steph lost her card in a cash machine
  • Vegas Travel, $26. Overnight train to Sapa.
  • Tricked into Vege Handspan restaurant.
  • Wolfed down sarnies
  • Late, Taxi, Train
  • 4 bed soft sleeper to ourselves. Nice.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

28th June 2008

  • Early up, swim
  • Others late, eventually got on boat. Just us 3 and Brent and Wendy
  • Apparently, Flip Flops are okay for hiking. Tired and sleepy.
  • Captain made beds for us 3 inside. Slept.
  • On mainland. Walk 6km or so through very nice mountainous surroundings.
  • National Park.
  • Village. Dogs and Ducks and very loud Karaoke?!
  • Lunch. Lyches and ants dumped on table
  • Can't be bothered to hike and wet and only have flip flops
  • Man of family invites us in for drinks.
  • Muh, Ho, Baht, Jew. or 1, 2, 3, Drink
  • Crazy strong rice wine made from suspicious things from the forest.
  • Guy obsessed with drinking
  • Brent bought some
  • Hire motorbike and drive to go back
  • Steph fell off while stationary!
  • Tunnel flooded, took boat back with beer. Apparently m voice is nice and calming?!
  • Debs drove boat, as did drunk Brent
  • Shattered. Dinner on outcast table
  • Doze on loungers. Sleep death.

Friday, 27 June 2008

27th June 2008

After finding the wrong Ocean Tours office, the lovely lady came and got our wandering souls and gave us a yummy cup of tea. Seems very professional, we were given free tea, shown an alternative more active tour we could do (which turned out to be cheaper due to a promo) and Debs and I got some bread from the bakery. All crammed a bit tightly into a mini van, everyone else a bit older than us but they seemed alright. Waited at the port for a bit, tried to see if the old gang were here, but no luck, so we all got aboard our junk, a triple decker wooden boat where some people were going to stay on for the night. Sat with a dutch and german for lunch, though we bumped around the harbour for ages, and another junk ploughed into us with a crunch but no one seemed too concerned. Lunch was a seafood concoction, without much allowance for vegetarians but was yummy. The german (Thomas) and I ate most of the food really. After some chatting, the boat departed towards the bay and island, we finished the bottle of cheap Vietnamese wine we got (Dalat) and sun bathed for a short while on top as we were shattered as normal.

Junk was amazingly quiet and we drifted slowly past looming rocky green islands and amongst other junks onwards. We pulled up amongst some island to do some sea kayaking, everyone had tandem kayaks except me who was solo. We went through limestone caves and tunnels to tranquil sea lagoons, surround on both sides by island hills and watched some colourful and quite large jellyfish scuttle past. Needles to say, Debs and Steph crashed their kayak on a number of occasions, including into the limestone tunnel! After successfully climbing back aboard the junk, only slightly breaking it and spoiling Debs' “You've Bee Framed” photo opportunity, we headed to our resort, which turned out to be on our very own island with only a few bungalows on!
  • Free Tea
  • Nice bungalow, single bed
  • Swim
  • Met with others for dinner
  • Yummy. Yorkshire couple, Brent and Wendy
  • Happy hour, drink wine, vodbull
  • Karoke
  • Manhood and T. T-Hood. 3am.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

26th June 2008

Woke up at stupid o'clock to get our DMZ tour bus at 6am. The 5km wide DMZ each side of the Ben Hai River split Vietnam into the Republic of Vietnam (south) and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. During the American war it became one of the most militarised zones in the world, still with more than 3 million mines and 350,000 to 800,00 tonnes of unexploded ordinance. The day mainly consisted of vast amounts of driving, interspersed by a few sites and food stops:

Highway 9 (part of the Ho Chi Min Trail):
  1. 1.The Rock Pile: exactly what it says on the tin, but used to have a US Marine Corps bas on it
  2. 2.Dakrong Bridge: a pretty suspension bridge, old bridge was part of Ho Chi Minh Trail.
  3. 3.Khe Senh Base: Site of controversial and famous siege. Recreated bunkers, a tank and some US helicopter are there, which I'm sure the US went back. Also a propaganda filled memorial museum as well as a guest book full of controversial opinions.
Highway 1A:
  1. 1.Truong San National Cemetery: or at least it might have been.... up a series of steps is a large statue honouring the women of the wars.
  2. 2.Vinh MOC tunnels: Highlight of the day, larger than the Chu Chi tunnels (width wise) we spent a good 20 min exploring, popping up at the beach and in the forest. Crazy guy who was born in the tunnels was also there and loved having his photo taken a bit too much. In total 7 people were born in the tunnels and are all still alive now. Only once did a bomb score a direct hit, and it failed to explode, so the hole was used as an air vent.
Showed off my bargaining skills much to the amazement of some tourist, basically walked past a whole line of sellers and just let the price keep dropping from 20 until it hit 5. Classic.

We then had a 3 hour bus journey back and I unleashed my Zen to Debs, though mainly the Eels who we all know are excellent. Arrived back around 6.30pm and mainly tried to sort out a Halong Bay tour for tomorrow morning!? Finally got one for $145 from a recommended company: Ocean Tours, but ran out of time for food. Hotel screwed up our taxi to airport and I was a bit terse with them, finally sorted, lept on plane, only 1 hour 20min, got taxi into central Hanoi, got mad at driver for taking us to a hotel opposite side of Hanoi from where we wanted and he finally took us there. Wandered around a bit with an annoying hotel guy pestering us, so went in a random hotel to spite him. Cheap but room was so high we were basically in Zeus's lap. We were all starving but were locked in the hotel and no food was on sale. Resorted to booking Sapa train then crashing out for ANOTHER early start tomorrow.