A Travellerspoint blog

Chengdu

Panda land

semi-overcast 30 °C

19 hours train journey (16+3 hr delay) and the five of us were in Chengdu; Nadav, Susanne, Jochem, Nick and Sonia. We had booked a room together with Jochem and Susanne at the Mix and requested a pick-up which did not show up due to the delay, so instead we went to the Dragontown, the sister hostel of the Loft. Whereas the Loft's the coolest hostel, with a great cafeteria, common areas, and super neat rooms, the Dragontown was more simple but still in a nice location, so we stayed in a dorm there, even if we decided to hang around the Loft most of the time!

Chengdu's the reference point from where you can go visit many important sights in Sichuan, but the city itself doesn't have that much to offer. The first day we didn't do much other than settling down and having an idea of what to do during our stay. We went to pick up Nadav at the Loft in the evening and had dinner together at a Chinese restaurant near the hostel, as always, the food was yummy! We went to Chengdu principally to visit Leshan's Buddha, which is the biggest in the world, so we told our Xi An buddies to come along as we thought it was pretty worth it. They were convinced about it and the following morning we got picked up by a van that took us to Leshan in 3 hours. The Buddha is right by the water, where the rivers Min and Dadu meet, and was built to calm the river's waters. To reach the sight we had to go inside a park, the Grand Buddha Scenic Area, so we walked a little until we reached the point where the Buddha's sitting...and it's definitely massive; 71 m tall, with ears 7 m long...that wasn't a joke at all, we were all really impressed by its size. After seeing so many Buddhas in Thailand, Myanmar, and now China, we think we're done, we got our dose :-)

A lunch and a ride after and we were back in Chengdu. It was getting close to dinner time and Nadav took us to a dumplings place where the five of us ate for 37 yuan i.e. 3,70 Eur!!! So having spent so little in dinner meant we could allow ourselves a little treat; we went to a place near the Loft called "John's Massage". Susanne and Nick had a chinese body massage whereas the rest went for a foot massage. We knew this place from the previous night and the foot massage had been awesome, however this time was different. Jochem got a girl who was very good, and Nadav and I got a man each...well, mine in particular had a bleeding nose so he had cotton inside it to stop it running, however this kept distracting him and I never managed to relax during the whole 60 minutes! So Nadav, who couldn't relax either as he had a man doing his feet, started to talk with them and we ended up chatting about music and Michael Jackson; they requested us to sing "Heal the World" so the three of us went on singing Michael for a while until it was time to go home.

The next day we already had our flight to Shanghai, it was a pity to spend such a short time in Sichuan as we would have wanted to visit the Bamboo Forest and other National Parks, but we got a huge deal on the ticket so we had to leave. As our flight was in the afternoon, we went with our Xi An buddies to see the Panda Breeding Centre. Chinese people consider the Panda a sort of national hero and are doing everything they can to ensure they don't extinguish. We originally thought that Pandas are extinguishing because we human beings are destroying the bamboo forests where they live and eat...however we found out that the Panda is a lazy animal, that should be carnivore but prefers bamboo, then bamboo forests die naturally every 25 years and they're not able to migrate somewhere else, so they starve to death unless a farmer rescues them! Furthermore, they're too lazy to reproduce so it's actually not our fault that these creatures are disappearing...still, they're very cute! The park was really well made, as it's set in the middle of a forest and there's enough space for all the Pandas...we got to see adults, babies and young 1-year old that were playing all the time. The centre allows you to hold a panda for a couple minutes and take pictures for the price of 1000 yuan i.e. 100 euro, which is supposed to be a help in the research and investigation for the survival of these animals, but still it's 2 minutes! Either way, Nadav, who loves these buddies, decided to go for it and cut back his budget on other things to hold a panda...the pictures were great and he looked so happy to hold the cute animal that we were all touched. We also saw the red panda, which has nothing to do with the giant black and white, but looks more like a racoon...poor babes, everyone prefered the giant pandas...to hold it you only had to pay 100 yuan, in other words...he was the loser panda for those who don't want to give out money for the Giant!

Around midday we were back at the hostel, had some quick lunch and said good bye to Jochem, Susanne and Nadav. It was great to meet them and be able to hang out with them for a good 5 days, so we hope to see them again soon! Thanks guys for sharing some good laughs; Nadav, we want the videos!

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Posted by sonianick 08:59 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Xi'An

Fun fun fun

semi-overcast 28 °C

We arrived early on August 30th at Xian railway station, and got picked up by our hostel, Shuyuan International Youth Hostel. On the way to the hostel we met a Dutch couple, Susanne and Jochem, who are also travelling around the world (and we are starting to wonder who doesn´t). The hostel is by far one of the best we have stayed at; an old Chinese-style house, with free internet 24hrs, a restaurant, a bar, and a great atmosphere to meet other travellers. We dropped our bags, had a shower to wake up, some breakfast and off we went to visit a bit of the city. As we had planned to visit the famous Terracotta Warriors next day, we concentrated on the city centre. We ended up walking through the Muslim Quarter, its market and food stalls, where for the first time we saw Muslim Chinese women, which was quite amusing. Within the Muslim Quarter you can find the Great Mosque, one of the biggest in China, which however looks more Chinese from the architecture than Islamic; still it was a neat place to visit. Back to the hostel, we just wanted to relax a little so we took advantage of the free drinks offered by the hostel and enjoyed the cozy atmosphere to meet other travellers. As a matter of fact we met an Austrian guy named Falk who was also doing the Round The World trip. After a couple of drinks Jochem and Susanne came along and we spent the night chatting about our adventures.

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The second morning we left early to go and visit the popular Terracotta Warriors. Jochem and Susanne came with us and in the bus we got the chance to meet a group of very interesting people. Our tour guide was the funniest Chinese girl we have ever met; first thing she said was "I´m 25 and I´m single" (OK so we all got that you would like to go on a date soon!). She was joking all the time and she had each of us to introduce ourselves to the rest of the group. This actually turned out to be great. Our group consisted of one American guy Nadav, two English guys Sandro and Rob, 1 New Zealand guy Nigel, 2 Chilean guys Fernando and Gerónimo, a Swiss girl Sonia, Susanne and Jochem and of course us. Once we got to the archeological site, we were told by our guide that there were 3 pits with warriors inside. We decided that the best choice was to start from the smallest pit to the largest one, which is actually very recommended because if you do the other way around you might get a little disappointed. It's unbelievable to see how Chinese people work constantly on these pits to find those warriors and art works that are still hidden beneath the ground. The big pit was impressive as you can see the numerous terracotta warriors lined up like a real army. On the other hand, the other 2 pits are quite poor. Overall the trip was good but we thought that it was a little under our expectations. Sometimes this happens when you visit these major sites that you see in all the books and when you actually get to visit them, you are not as stunned as supposed to. On the way back, we decided to stop by the Goose Pagoda and Nigel came with us. The area around it was nice and after a little walk we got back to the hotel by bus. We eventually met up again with the group and played ping pong and had a chat with a couple of beers. One of the gusy told us a very funny story about his "happy ending" in Shanghai and how the masseuse was exclaming "beautiful" while getting the job done... that was hilarious!!! The vibe we had with these people was so good that we all decided to go for dinner together, so we ended up in a popular Chinese restaurant where all tables have a "spinning centre". Once we got in, there were a table full of drunk Chinese people that were celebrating, singing and playing some drinking games; they greeted us and we also made a toast with them sharing some good laughters..that was actually the first time we got to taste the famous rice wine (only for strong people). After filling up our stomachs, we wanted to continue the "fiesta" and went to of of the major streets to find a place to sit down and have a drink or two... or three or who knows how many. After four or five drinking games we were ready to hit the bed for the night...well at least the majority, Falk, the Austrian guy, was up for partying and made us all feel a little boring...!

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The next day we had to take a train to Chengdu in the evening, so we had a full day to do nothing. We hooked up with Jochem and Susanne and ended up going to the City Wall. It was really cool as we rented two tandems and did the whole Wall (14km) while enjoying the views of the cities. Xian's City Wall is worth a visit but is definitely better to cycle it as walking the whole perimeter can get a bit tiring with the heat...still it was fun to hang around with the Dutch guys ;-)

Jochem, Susanne, Nadav and us had to go on the same train to Chengdu, so we slowly made our way to the station to soon discover another Chinese city...

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Posted by sonianick 09:50 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Beijing

Ni Hao China

overcast 28 °C

The 10 days in Vietnam flew by and without even noticing we were already in Beijing, the great capital of China. Our hostel, the Candy Inn turned out to be great as it possessed the travellers' atmosphere that we urged to find. The location was great, in one of Beijing's hutongs (alleyways), just a few minutes walking-distance from the Lama Temple, the lounge area was very welcoming and people at the reception were kind and helpful. We spent the first day relaxing a little and walking around one of the major commercial streets, Wangfujing. The street reminded us of Times Square in New York, full of neon lights, shops, shopping malls and food stalls. Since it was practically dinner time we decided to have a look at the night food stalls and try to get some cheap food.... we ended up visiting Wangfujing Snack Street and Donghuamen Night Market. Well, once we were there we found out soon that the major thing to eat were scorpions, grasshoppers, larvae and some other unknown bugs which looked quite disgusting. At first we wanted to try something kinky but after seeing how they prepare it, we decided to leave that for another day. In fact, we saw how the bartenders took scorpions alive and paled them on a wood stick like a sort of spanish "pincho"; then they displayed the sticks with the alive and moving bugs on the stalls so that people would choose the ones who better suit their taste. Once the choice was made, the sticks were put on a grill where the bugs were cooked and in a few minutes ready to eat... we think that yummy is not the proper word to say but cannot really judge since we haven't tried anything like that yet... we will let you know later on if this is the case.
Finally, we ended up in a small restaurant where we had a delicious plate of noodles and filled up our stomachs.

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The next day we started our tour to discover Beijing and went to the Forbidden City. The metro system in Beijing is easy and it is the best transport option to get around (and cheap!). We stopped in the popular Tiananmen Square and we were quite stunned by its immensity, and the massive security checks there are at every entrance. Furthermore, the security seems to be a big issue in the city as there are constant baggage checks on train and underground stations. The square was packed and we enjoyed walking around a little and took some shots of the big picture of Mao Zedong. From Tiananmen Square we eventually entered the Forbidden City. As the name suggested, this city was off limits for 500 years and it is the largest and best-preserved cluster of ancient building in China. The day was pretty cloudy and foggy and as soon as we entered we were lost between the masses and the buildings, that look very similar. All travellers get the same feeling when they visit the Forbidden City; yes, it's one of the most important historic sights in Beijing and therefore a must, but once you have seen it, you wouldn't go back...

Another walk around Wangfujing and it was time to visit the famous Silk Street Market. Back home you see people that try to sell imitations of all sorts, but you never believe that an empire as big as what you see in China can exist; well, proof of this is the Silk Market. Five floors of fakes; bags, clothes, watches, sunglasses, jewellery, iphones, toys...anything you can ever imagine. Haggling is obviously allowed and extremely aggressive, so you must feel no pity for the sellers as they start with prices which are 5 times the item's value. We ended up buying a couple of "Abercrombie" t-shirts and left before temptation would overtake us.

Another area we got to see from Beijing was the Olympic Site. We took the underground in the morning of our second touring day, got off at the last stop to walk back and see the whole site. The area has actually turned out to be another park for locals, and we spotted a lot of them walking around with their kids, eating around the food stalls, having photoshoots taken or simply hanging around. It's amazing to see how many people do not seem to actually work in the city...as anywhere you go is stacked. The olympic site is actually beautiful, but the pollution does not let enough light through to appreciate the scenery. We got stopped several times as they wanted to take pictures of us, which we found kind of funny, and posed happily for them. That same night we went for dinner with Mo, one of Nick's high school friends. Our only request was Beijing Duck, and so Mo took us to China Lounge, a new restaurant near Workers' Stadium that prepares fantastic upscale meals. We enjoyed Mo's company and the food was incredible, actually, the Chinese food you eat in China is very different to what we consider to be their gastronomy; no spring rolls and no prawn crisps, but lots of noodles, rice and exquisite dumplings. After dinner Mo showed us around Beijing and dropped us off at lake Houhai, where we took in a lot of the Chinese living style. The lake is full of restaurants, bars with live music, and Chinese people stay up until late, walk around the area, do some dancing lessons...life happens outside the homes in Beijing.

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Our idea was to stay in Beijing for 3 days and then head to Xian by train, however our plans had to be readjusted as the first available seat was on the 29th. So we were stuck in the city for 5 days, which in the end didn't turn out to be bad at all as we got the chance to explore beautiful Beijing. On our third day we went to the Great Wall and did the 10km trekking from Jinshaling to Simatai. Although it got pretty damn hard at times, especially where the Wall hasn't been restored yet, there were no people around so we had enough space and time to take pictures and enjoy its beauty without souvenir sellers. Following the 4 hour walk, we got on a zip line that took us directly to the restaurant where we had lunch and saved us another half hour walk. We've heard people say that the Great Wall wasn't that great, but I guess that's because they were lazy enough to head to Badaling, instead of exploring the good areas...

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On our day trip to the Great Wall we met an Italian couple, Vincenzo and Chiara, with whom we got on so well that we went for dinner together. We ended up in a restaurant around Houhai where you can eat one of Beijing's local specialities, the Hot Pot. It's a sort of fondue with vegetables and the star meat is lamb...no other gets more Beijing than lamb ;-) We really enjoyed their company and hope that we'll be able to catch up with them at some other place...maybe Argentina guys?

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The hike during that day ensured a good sleep until late but we woke up on time to see the Temple of Heaven, located south of the centre, where the Emperors used to presence prayers for good harvests along the years. It's supposed to represent the point where Heaven and Earth meet, as the shape of the temple is round but its base is squared, although it's something impossible to appreciate from Earth. After strolling around the park for a while, it was time for the Pearl Market, quite similar to the Silk Market...and Nick got his wish of buying a new phone; 40 minutes of haggling and discussion with the sellers, and we left with two phones, a memory card, a cover, and a watch; it was exhausting! The evening was reserved again to have dinner with Mo and this time his girlfriend Connie came along. We went to a restaurant famous for its dumplings and we ended up eating a selection of Chinese tapas that were amazing. We don´t remember the name of the place as the business card is in Chinese, but if you ever get the chance to visit Beijing, here we leave you a photo of the card! Connie and Mo were great hosts and they even took us to a spa to have a foot massage and a facial...thanks guys, we had an amazing time with you and expect you soon in Europe!

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The last morning before getting on the train to Xian, we passed by the Lama Temple, which is right next to the hostel, and Nanloguxiang, one of the most popular hutongs in Beijing, as it´s full of fancy shops and stylish cafés. We saw a churros stall and felt a bit nostalgic about our food, so we didn´t resist the temptation of having a pack for dessert. Actually, they were really yummy! Our train for Xian departed from Beijing West Station, which from the outside looks bigger than an airport...we then realised how massive is the population here!!
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Posted by sonianick 23:36 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Free Spirit

2 months On The Road

During our first weeks since we left on June 30th for India, our minds were travelling as any person who would be on holidays for a defined period; 1, 2, or 3 weeks at the most. Go here, do this, visit that, and come back with energy to face the reality of your job and daily homework. Now we have been on the road for over 2 months, and we have finally settled into our new way of life...this is not a holiday anymore...and it is our job to explore, discover, enjoy, and learn.

No routines, no waking up at 7 am to go to work, no regular bills, no make up, no pretty clothes, no judgements. You realise that all the material things that surround you in your life, are not necessary anymore. You live out of a 12kg backpack, and that's it, the basics to live and be happy...a couple of t-shirts and trousers, some toiletries, a book, a good camera and a netbook to communicate with your friends and family. And then you realise that you are 100% free, in every aspect of your life, finally. Anyone who loves travelling in such a way that feels moved everytime a new landscape hits your eyes or a local teaches you a bit of his culture, should do this...nothing gets better than this.

We are a little behind on our blog entries, we know that, since Myanmar it has been hard to keep up...but we are making efforts to update you as soon as possible. We have posted a couple of links that have helped us through our first two months, and will continue to be vital during our future journeys.

We miss you, but we are having a hell of a time.

More news to come soon xxx

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Posted by sonianick 00:05 Tagged round_the_world Comments (7)

Hue

Former capital of Vietnam

sunny 40 °C

We went back from Sapa to Hanoi with an overnight train, and we were travelling overnight to Hue with a bus, which meant that we had a day to hang around Hanoi. We had a huge western breakfast, we bought a couple of presents, went to the post office to send a parcel back home, and walked around until it was time to be picked up by the bus.

The bus that took us to Hue was an actual "sleeper bus", which we thought would be great as you have individual beds, you can lie down and therefore it's easier to sleep. Well, we were too optimistic. The beds are for Asian sized people, which means, small and slim. The ride was a bit bumpy at times, so sleeping was hard....the toilet did not work, and the driver hardly stopped for any breaks, so you felt your bladder would explode any minute!! And there was no stop to have dinner, so we were forced into a spontaneous diet. Anyway, 14 hours later, we made it to our hotel for the night, Sports 2, which looked like an actual hotel...it even had an elevator (wow). We got our mandatory shower and left to find a place where to have a decent brunch.

Hue itself was ok, but nothing thrilling...actually we wouldn't recommend people to go there, but to search for a better spot in the country. We visited The Citadel and the ruins inside, the main sight of the city. 80% of the ruins are hiding under the grass so you're stepping on them and you don't even realise, there is little information about the sight and restoration works were going on, so we didn't actually enjoy it that much. The walls around it and the canals are very nice, but that's it, not more to see...We didn't have time to visit the tombs around the city, and even if we got offered going on a tour we didn't feel like it, so we just stayed around Hue doing nothing but relaxing from our trekking days in Sapa. Our most enjoyable experience was having lunch in a random food stall located in an alley near our hotel, where we both ate for less than 1USD and had a great time with a group of Vietnamese kids. We ended up giving them our sweets from Myanmar, and they were all about it!

The next day, we grabbed a bus to Da Nang, from where we had to fly the following morning back to Hanoi. We booked our flight through JetStar, the low-cost airline from Qantas, and it was great!

Our flight back to Hanoi concluded 10 days in Vietnam. We would have wanted to stay longer, but we couldn't change our flight to Beijing...so we guess another trip will involve going south to cruise the Mekong, and going to Cambodia...yeap, we are getting lots of ideas for future trips!

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Posted by sonianick 23:49 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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