A Travellerspoint blog

Yunnan province

china

sunny

Nihao! Off to yunnan province we go.

We arrived in Kunming airport late at night and were pleased to see the stars for the first time, It was not as humid and smoggy. We got a bus into town and then a taxi. Our standard procedure now is to show the hotel name in Chinese to the taxi driver but for some reason no one wanted to take us this time. Eventually one guy dropped us off at a food delivery port at 12.30 at night, we were slightly worried but
we eventually figured out we were staying in one of the residential
apartment blocks around the corner. It was the cheapest place, for 14 euros
we got a clean room in a apartment and a very helpful guy who could speak
english and who helped us with bus tickets the next day.

The next morning before we set off on our bus journey we went on a mission
to buy a camel back but no such luck. Kumning centre had loads of shops and
restaurants so Starbucks breakfast was a must. The Chinese are not big on
breakfast, they eat noodles and beef in the morning so starbucks is a treat
when you can!
After a morning looking around the shops we headed for the bus stop to
catch our 7hr bus to Lijiang. We were expecting a big bus but we got a
little 8 seater which is better because it doesn't stop as much and is
quicker! Obviously we were the only tourists on the bus again so everyone
just stares at us. There was a little girl on the bus who could say a few
words in English who was fascinated with us. She stared at me for 7hrs. We
gave her a SA key ring, she was so happy.
I thought she was very cute until
she started spitting on the floor of the bus and then vomited. The most
interesting part of the trip was when we stopped at a road side restaurant
and we all sat together and had a meal. We have now realised this happens
of every long bus trip, you get a free meal.

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Arriving in Lijiang at 11pm and trying to find our hotel was not easy.
About 5 cabs that we stopped would not take us so we eventually found a guy
who could barely speak English to phone the hotel and then he explained to
the cab where to go.
We got dropped off at the gate of the old town and our man Kong (who managed
the hotel) met us and directed us up the narrow busy streets in the old town.

The place we stayed was awesome. For 20 euros a night we got a lovely
little wooden cabin with a bathroom and a view of snow mountain and free laundry!
Lijiang old town is the biggest old town in china, its narrow pedestrian
streets are filled with shops and markets that have all sorts of food. We
spent ages taking photos of the local people, the strange food, the pretty
canals with lantern lit streets.

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We got lucky to catch the end of the torch festival. We are still not sure
of the significance but the people light big fires in the streets and then dance round them.
Once again there were millions of Chinese tourists in this town, you had to
be careful and dodge the spitting in the streets. I did think I was going
to be flemmed on many times.

One of the main tourist attractions is Tiger leaping gorge. It is named
this because legend has it a tiger jumped over the gorge!!!! The hike is
about 6 to 7 hrs long. The first 2hrs are very steep and then the rest is
quite flat. Some people do the hike in one day but most decide to split it
over 2 days and stay at one of the guesthouses along the way. We decided to
do it in one day but it wasn't as easy as we thought......
The 1st bus only left at 8am and we were told it was 2 hrs to get there but
our bus only left at 9 and it took 4 hrs so we only started the walk t 1pm
in the midday scorching heat! We were also told it was free and when we got
there we had to pay rmb 70 each. This would not have been a problem if we
had Lots of cash on us but we had been having problems with finding ATMs
that take our cards and we realised if we had to sleep over we would not
have enough money for accommodation, food and a bus back( often the return is double)
Anyway, we set off and hoped we could make it before dark. We basically
overtook everyone we saw along the way and did the hike in brilliant time.
We got to the end at 6.30 pm and managed to wave down a taxi who took us
all the way back to Lijiang.
The scenery along he walk is absolutely beautiful, very sheer cliffs, snow
capped mountains with the yellow coloured river below, great day!!
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Posted by karenandbyron 02:14 Archived in China Comments (6)

Shaanxi province

China

semi-overcast 35 °C

After a 4 am start we flew from Beijing to Xian. At 10am it was 30 degrees with the worst humidity I have ever felt so carrying my backpack about 4km from the train station to our hotel brought on a little melt down but after a quick shower (one of 4 showers that day) at our hotel I was back on track and ready to explore!
Xian is very smoggy and polluted and there is so much construction going on. it has a contrast of very modern big shopping centres to small little run down streets.
On one street we counted 5 massive shopping centres where we browsed through just to cool down. It's a pity there is no space in the backpacks, great shopping!

In the middle of the city is a beautiful bell tower and drum tower surrounded by lots of shops and restaurants and the city is surrounded by the original 14sq kilometre wall that stands 12 meters high.

The best party of the city is the Muslim quarter. We learnt a interesting fact from a local... In china there is a law that each couple can only have 1 child but if you are Muslim you can have 2. If both husband and wife have jobs and the government catch you having more kids, you both get fired and heavily fined.
The Muslim quarter was bustling and very fascinating. It is full of all sorts of sights,sounds, smells and people everywhere. You could buy everything under the sun in the little streets but it is famous for the street food. The sight and smell of the open air butchers with things like tripe and cows liver lying out covered in flies is unbelievable. There are open fires everywhere you look with hairdryers to get the burning coals going.
For dinner we decided to try out the street food. A bit apprehensive after seeing such dodge things we went for what we think was port dumplings, very spicy noodles out of plastic bag and watermelon. It was great and our stomachs were OK! Apparently 10% of the oil that is used for cooking in china is caked out of the sewers and reused. We decided that the poo smell you get everywhere is the oil. Gross.

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eating noodles out of a packet
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On the second day we took a bus about 2 hrs out of town to climb up the 5 peak Hua Shan mountain. On the Internet it says it's the most dangerous hike in china and this time they were not exaggerating. The highest peak is 2136 meters and it's a sheer vertical cliff with just a chain to hang on to. it was very nerve racking at times but we decided to take the cable car up instead of do the full climb. There were so many Chinese tourists ( we saw 2 other western tourists the whole day) that the que to get onto the cable car was 1.5 hrs. Luckily the que was in the shade. Unfortunately the weather was not the best that day, it was very overcast so the view from the top wasn't the best but it's still a really cool climb and again we seemed to be the main attraction to the Chinese.

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On the 3rd day we took Another random bus an hour out of town to see the famous army of terracotta warriors. In 1974 a peasant who was digging discovered this 2000 year old amazing find. It is believed that a whole army of horses and men where built for the emperor's tomb. It apparently took 38 years to build and all the soldiers and horses are life size and each one is unique. They are still excavating the site.

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amazing nail art
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Posted by karenandbyron 21:01 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beijing

China

semi-overcast 33 °C

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After loosing one wallet and a couple of frustrating calls to banks in the uk and the Netherlands, we have arrived in china and are lucky to be able to get onto our blog
site! So many websites including facebook and twitter are blocked here
so we are lucky to be able to use a censored version of google, gmail and skype! no facebook
for 3 weeks, not sure how ill survive, ha ha! trying to upload photos
and typing on a Chinese computer has proved to be a rather challenging task
but we got there in the end!

Arriving at Beijing airport at 12am we were hit with  sudden heat and
overwhelming humidity.
We took a cab from the very impessive beijing airport to our hotel and
noticed a massive change in prices. it was only Y78 (about 7 pounds)
for a half an hour cab ride which is the cheapest airport journey we
have had so far! An Aussie couple we met in mongolia suggested a place
to stay and we have been so happy we took their advice. we stayed in a
lovely little hotel in the hutongs (narrow alleyways) near Gouloudajie
subway station. It was the cheapest place on our travels so far
and one if the best so we are hoping it stays like this and no more grotty overpriced hostels!

We were warned that as it is high season we should book train/air tickets in advance so we set out trying to book our journey to the next stop Xian. The lonely planet wasn't joking about this,  the over night trains were fully booked for the next 10days and we could only get a hard sleeper ( chair ) on a train for 14 hrs so we opted for the flight. If you book online on an English website it is double the price and most Chinese websites don't take foreign cards so we walked around for half a day looking for a ticket agent and when we found one they said come back tomorrow the system is down. The next morning we rushed back there and managed to book a flight. Byron's name on the ticket was 'British citizen', luckily we noticed and got it changed! You can imagine how hard it is for a Chinese person who speaks no English to match up each letter in the passport to the ones on the key board and find the correct  page amongst our many visas!

With some admin out of the way, we went exploring....... Over the 3 days we were in the city we saw as much as we possibly could. although in a big city you always feel you didn't see enough. Beijing municipality is the size of Belgium and apparently has the population of Australia.
We walked around the gardens at the summer palace and rented a pedal boat on the lake, it was very pretty but we were totally beat by the heat and exhausted afterwards!
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We visited the Forbidden city along with about 15 000 other Chinese tourists. There are so many people and local tourist in this city, it's crazy. Although we seemed to be the attraction, we had quite a few people take photos of us as if we were the main attraction!
The north gate of the forbidden city was closed so we had to go to the south gate. It was quite a far walk in the heat so we opted for a rickshaw ride. The 'drivers' told us we had to take 2 rickshaws and it as Y3 each. We believed this as things are very cheap but when we were dropped in the middle of nowhere and told to pay Y300 for each rickshaw (30 euro, more than 1 night accomodation.) we realised we had been totally ripped off. We tried to argue with these two guys in a Little ally but ended up paying 300 in total, talk about being taken for a ride!
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We also went to see Tiananmen square which is the worlds largest public square. Altough its " public" it remains in the hands of the government and is monitered by security bag sceening, cctv and they have plain clothes police that can move fast if anyone strips Down to a free tibet shirt. 
We also spent some time looking around the shopping centres. They are amazing, you can get everything including the kitchen sinks and every electronic rip off plus they are air conditioned so that's a bonus.
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On the 3rd day we organised a tour to the great wall. Apparently at the closet point to the city Badaling, you can't even take a photo of the wall as all you see is Chinese tourists so we decided to go further out to Jinshanling Where it's a lot quieter and it hasn't all been restored so the beauty is more refined. We had to meet the bus 6.20am and we were back at our hotel by 6.30pm. The drive took 3 hrs to get there and We unfortunalely had the horrible little "half" seats without back rests which made it very difficult to sleep. We got to the wall and decided to take the cable car up which was a smart move as it was so hot and the very hilly 4 hr hike we did along the wall was intense. 
The great wall is unbelievable and impressive. You hear all these facts about how big is and how hard it was to build but it's only when you up there standing on the wall do you realise how amazing it really is. 
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At night we explored the little lanes and red lantern streets.We ate at some interesting local spots. On one of the menus they had English translation and I kind of wish they hadn't. There were things like tripe, shark, bullfrog, dried blood and things like "mixed delicacies" which you definitively stay away from. It was noodles for me which I still couldn't eat because they were so spicy! Overall we had some good tasty cheap food and luckily both of us never got sick! 
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Most of the time we travelled around the city on the subway. It is the best subway that I have ever been on. It's airconed, clean, very cheap ( Y2 = 20 pence per person for 1 way) and so efficient and it even has tv where they were showing the Olympics. Very impressive! 
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The Chinese culture is just so different from any western culture that is a lot to take in and absorb. There are so many different smells and everywhere you look there is action and bright lights!
These are just A few little things we noted about the Chinese in Beijing.......
- they do not use any type of nappies for their kids. Their babies are either naked or have a special hole in the pants that doesn't cover their privates. When they want to go to the toilet the parents just put them in the street where they do their business.
- the " lobbing" as we named it is REVOLTING. This is when they flem, snort and spit. I really don't understand it but everyone does it anywhere and anytime.
- because of the heat the men all walk around with their shirts rolled up above their nipples. Not sure why they bother with shirts at all.
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- except for the airport and our hotel we did not find one other western toilet in the city. I had to overcome my fear of discusting long drops and even use public toilets with no doors or separations!

what a great start to China,  we loved Beijing. Off to xian to see the terracotta warriors! 
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Posted by karenandbyron 06:39 Archived in China Comments (4)

Mongolia Part 2

Gobi Desert

sunny 30 °C

After arriving back in UB we spent the day organising our Gobi tour and booking flights. We were finally satisfied that we found the cheapest tour possible and were very excited to head off early the next morning.
That day in UB it was pouring solidly with rain so we checked out the Mongolian museum, got a barber to trim Byron's beard and watched some tv in the hostel!
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Tour Day 1:
At 6am we headed to the Chinggis khaan airport to fly to Dalanzadgad. At the airport we met 2 other south Africans who we chatted to. John who worked for a mining company based in the desert was wearing a good old two tone shirt that was so obviously south African he even said to us " people always know I am south African because of my shirts" ha ha, so true!
We met our driver at the airport who is also the owner of the Gobi mirage camp, He looked exactly like the Chinese guy from the hang over and drove the coolest car. We were the most styling tourists in the gobi, Everyone else was in Russian vans with no windows or air con and our man drove us around in a fancy chev Tahoe.
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From the airport we headed straight to Yolym Am to see the famous canyons with sheets of ice that are there all through the summer. The ice only starts to melt in about June but because the Gobi has had more rain than usual this year there was not as much ice left however it was still amazing to see some ice in the middle of the desert.
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After heading back to our base camp Gobi mirage for a nice lunch we visited a local nomad family nearby. The old man with no teeth opened his bottle of chinggis vodka and proceeded to finish 3/4 of the bottle in 15 minutes. We each had to have about 2 shots each as well as more dried goats milk, some dried milk, fresh horse milk and goats milk curd. In the ger they were also drying mutton ( Mongolian biltong) which they eat in the winter. The Mongolians live only on protein, all they eat is mutton and dairy. I think i am becoming a vegetarian for the next few weeks!
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That evening black clouds were rolling in over the mountains. Byron decided to set off on a run, he said he would be no longer than an hour! After about half an hour the whole sky turned black and the most unbelievable desert storm started. The wind was blowing a gale at about 30kms per hour and then the hail started. I was so worried, after standing outside looking at the horizon getting drenched Byron appeared, I was so relieved. He said it was the most epic run of his life and he had the marks on his body from the hail pelting him to prove it!
The aftermath of the storm was incredible. There was a double rainbow and the sky turned every colour imaginable.It was The most spectacular scene and a great start to the gobi!
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Day 2:
After breakfast we started out on our 160km drive to khongoryn els to see the singing sand dunes. On the way we stopped off for a picnic lunch of mutton and rice surrounded by beautiful scenery.
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The sand dunes are the largest in Mongolia, they are up to 300m high, 12km wide and about 100km long. The green grass,golden sand dunes and mountains behind creates a stunning sight!
Byron climbed to the top of the dunes which in the mid day heat was rather exhausting but worth it for the view.
After the climb we went on a camel ride. Camels are amazing animals that have brilliant functionality but they are also very smelly dirty animals. I am not really a fan and I don't think I will be rushing to ride another camel anytime soon.
That night we stayed at a different ger camp in Khongoryn Els where we had dinner and chatted to some nice people from SA and Russia that we met previously at the airport. Its a Very small world, Jan even lived in the same road as us in Amsterdam a few years ago when we worked for Heineken.

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Day 3:
After another fried egg (standard breakfast) we drove back to the Gobi mirage camp where we spent the day chilling out. Time to go for another great run and catch up on reading our books!

Day 4:
Yet another friend egg and off we went to see the flaming cliffs in Bayanzag ( which means rich in sexual shrubs) . The 'flaming cliffs' were named by the archaeologist Roy Chapman Andrews when we went there in 1922 and found dinosaur eggs and bones (On our first night we watched a video on this expedition at the camp which was very interesting). We walked through the 'red' cliffs but not for long as the desert heat was too strong. After more mutton and a lovely lunch at another ger camp we headed back to gobi mirage where we went on another run and chilled.
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Today our driver took us back to dalanzadgad to draw 1.5 million tugriks and fly back to UB. I am writing this on the aeroplane. We are going to spend the day in UB and fly out to Beijing at 10.30pm tonight. Our day in UB is going to be spent phoning banks as I have lost my wallet. I only realised 3 days after leaving UB that it was gone so hopefully no money has been taken out of my accounts!!! hopefully we can also catch the super 15 final at one of the local pubs!!!
Overall our Gobi desert experience was awesome!! The scenery and the colours are way better and more diverse than expected and it has inspired us to hopefully get to the Kalahari in Namibia one day!

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Posted by karenandbyron 04:31 Archived in Mongolia Comments (1)

Mongolia

UB and Tuul river

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After the lake we got back to ulan ude and were hoping to catch a bus to ulanbataar which is the capital of Mongolia. We tried so many times to book bus tickets on line which was impossible and a woman at our hotel told us before we headed off for lake Baikal that we could buy tickets on the bus BUT that was not the case. We called 3 tour agents in ulan ude and they all said the bus was fully booked for the next 3 days and the problem was that our Russian visas were expiring the next day so we had to get out. Russia isn't a place you want to overstay your welcome.
So after being told that we had to take a local bus/taxi to the Russian boarder than hitch a lift over the boarder because you can't cross on foot then take a local Mongolian bus the rest of the way we had very little sleep that night worrying about it.
When we got up the next morning we thought we should head to the opera house where the ulanbataar bus leaves and try our luck.
Well we were in luck, 2 people had not showed and we got a seat!!!! We were the happiest people ever that morning.
Besides for a girl from Slovenia, we were the only tourists on the bus but even though we could only communicate through sign language everyone was very friendly to us.
We paid 1000 Roubles each and we're told it was a 12 hr journey. there is no bathroom on board but there are long drops that we had to use along the way. All my wet wipes were definitively coming into use and I got good at blocking my nose at the same time as squatting, the stench and flies we're quite something!
We had only had about 3 hrs sleep the night before and we weren't worried because we had so much time to sleep on the bus but that was not the case, it was incredibly bumpy that we nearly broke our necks by sleeping. Even with a neck pillow it wasn't possible, the roads and potholes are terrible but the driver seemed to know his bus and the roads so well that it was OK.
The Russian boarder town of kyaktha is Only 235kms from ulan ude and ulanbataar is only 273km from there but it took us 14hrs in total to do the 508kms. Besides for the millions of pit/toilet/smoke stops it was the border crossing that took 4 hrs. The bus got priority so who knows how long it takes by car! It is the most inefficient most overboard crossing ever and makes crossing over from SA to Swaziland a piece of cake. Every passenger has to offload their luggage on the Russian side and then go through security checks and customs and then put the bags back in the bus drive over and do it all over again on the Mongolian side. Ridiculous! However the train is approx 32hrs...

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ATM at border
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Finally we arrived at Ulanbataar and after walking around In the dark for ages and grabbing some dinner we got to our hostel at 12am exhausted. we only payed 30usd for a double room in the hostel which was a great improvement and very reasonable compared to Russia.
After a good nights rest we headed out into the town to sort out our next couple of days in Mongolia and explore the city. Ulanbataar (UB) is Mongolia's capital and the largest city in Mongolia. The population of Mongolia is only about 3million and it feels like everyone lives in this one city. The roads are SHOCKING and it's a but run down in some aspects but on the other hand it has big modern sky scrapers so you its a bit of everything.
There are quite a few "western" places to go and loads of expats living in the city. Lots of Aussies living here because Rio Tinto the mining company has a huge office here. We hung out at the chinggis khan Irish pub with all the aussie expats on the Thursday night.
Byron is obsessed with chinggis khan (he says that's will be our son's name one day) hence the fascination to visit Mongolia so it was a Very exciting moment to see the large chinggis khan statue in the parliament building in sukhbaatar square.
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Every time you walk anywhere in UB you risk your life, the traffic is hectic and the cars do not wait for any pedestrian to cross the road so I'm not sure why they have zebra crossing because no one stops.
Nothing can be done on line here, you have to go to travel agents and tour companies to book anything so with our trusted lonelyplanet we headed off to see about 5 different companies and an "airmart" for flights. After getting a few quotes for Gobi dessert tours we were completely shocked. Most companies quotes around 1000 used per person for about 4 to 5 nights and that is not including your transport to the dessert,Four days driving or a flight. this was not in our budget so we decided to head out of UB for a few days to decide what to do.
off we went to a Ger Camp on the Tuul river about 70kms from UB. the tuul River is a river in central and northern Mongolia considered sacred by the Mongols. It is 704 km long and.is generally called the Khatan Tuul or Queen Tuul.

A Driver fetched us from our hostel and we headed out on the awful "tarred" roads until we hit dirt road, then we switched over and got into the biggest coolest truck We've ever seen.
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all of a sudden we were out of the city and in the middle of beautiful rolling hills. the Ger camp was set on a hill with a lovely view of the river and mountains.
We Spent 2 nights in this lovely ger camp where we did archery, road mountain bikes, went for lovely walks and went on an incredible horse ride over the mountains. I am petrified of horses but since Mongolians are supposed to be the best horsemen in the world so I figured this was the place to try. the horseman, Batar, was amazing and led me the whole way so my white horse wouldn't go off and gallop too fast. Byron on the other hand was fearless and went galloping off.
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On the horse ride we stopped off at the horseman's home and he gave us traditional Mongolian yak tea and we tasted a local snack which was dried milk. after one bite I put it in my jacket pocket and pretended it was Delicious!
There were a few other English speaking tourists staying at the camp so we had some great meals and chatted to the first English travellers we have come into contact with. All round a great introduction to Mongolia!
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On our way back to UB, the driver took us through the river which went up to the truck's windows and was flowing really fast. We got dropped off at another hotel where we swam in the lake and had some lunch. The hotel told us we could take a local bus back to UB but while waiting on the side of the road with our backpacks and car pulled up with 4 people in it already and offered us a lift. We figured it was only about 20kms so we squashed in and hitched a local cheap ride back to UB to try sort out the dessert tour!

more photos in Gallery

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Posted by karenandbyron 06:27 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

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