Goodbye China, Hello Thailand

Well I made it toBangkokfromBeijing... And I'm now sitting in a dodgy guesthouse (Wally's guesthouse no less) on Koh San road typing up this entry... it's so stinking hot, that I'm actually wearing shorts and jandals, the later for the first time in my life.

At any rate, before I talk about what I've been up to over the last few days... I'll cover the week before then, which has been phenomenal, and brought my trip throughChinato an end.

Goodbye Beijing

So... right, Friday last week was our groups big trip to the wall.. We went to the Simatai region, which is quite a drive (3 hours) fromBeijing... but wow, the view was amazing.. and the wall 70 degrees or steeper in places... it's hard to comprehend the amount of man effort in this ancient structure, considering I first saw it when leaving Xi'an (and that was a long way away) - the only really problem is that when taking pictures, your camera only captures about a third of what you can encompass - really quite humbling.

After that we wall went our forBeijingduck.. as per usual we ended up with too much food, but it was all good.. After that Tony Chen our guide took the younger team (Charlotte, Ed, Scarlet, Myself and Jarrad) out for drinks at the Poachers Inn... much like other bars we've been in, the place starts out sleep and ends up pumping after midnight... I did drink a fair bit, and I did end up dancing on tables with random Chinese girls (and guys, but thats hard to avoid.. well dodgy) .. really fun though, the good thing inChinais that if you stick to beer, it's rarely above 3.5%, and so you have to work pretty hard to get over-shickered.  Geoff (another Intrepid guide, who's been along on our trip doing a annual safety review and Stacey, regional manager for Intrepid in Northern and Central China also popped in.

The day after that I was a little hangover... so we had a late start.. eventually hooked up with Jarrad & Charlotte and headed to the Summer palace (which is far far away... like a 60 Yuan taxi ride... which is a lot inBeijing) .. The summer palace is where the Emperor would holiday in summer to get away from the Forbidden city for a bit - absolutely stunning, the long corridor (look it up on google if you dont know what I'm talking about) is really cool, it just keeps going and going.. and every rafter has a different scene painted on it, which, if your mandarin and chinese history is good, or your reading a guide, tells a story.

After wandering around for a bit.. eating some fried chicken (Fried chicken is staple temple snack... as is pop corn, awful tasting sausages on sticks, very dusty dirty cans of coke and skewers of fresh fruit coated in caramalised sugar) we foolishly decided to get a paddle boat and go around the rather large lake that sits in the middle of the summer palace.  Absoloutely magic for the first half hour... paddled out (which is hard work, as it's built for short chinese... your knees ache with only a few minutes effort) .. ate an orange, watched all the chinese couples out for a romantic time... read the China Daily (which is a little depressing, lots of coverage on the Chlorine truck crash on the shanghai/Beijingexpressway).

At which point Charlotte suggested paddling round the island and heading back (most Chinese man made lakes feature an island in the middle with large marble bridges joining it to the shore).. all good in theory, accept that after a few minutes it rained, then got really windy... suddenly the hard top roof of the paddle boat turned into a sail.. pulling us sideways.. with the chop coming hard on one corner... no amount of paddling could stop us :) ... thankfully the weather died down a bit and normal service was resumed, but most of the Chinese couples had resorted to flagging down a fizz boat which dragged them to shore.

That night we had a wee dinner to say goodbye to everyone.. quite nice, though as it turns out this wasn't the last time I would see Tony.  Popped to a net cafe briefly, and on our way out we met a British couple forLondon... who.. *ahem* though Chairman Mao was still alive... but wait, that’s not all... they thought his Mausoleum was where you went to visit him... it really does defy all belief - and they've never traveled before, dont know any Mandarin, and are going to attempt to make there way south to Xi'an, the 3 gorges and Yangshou... they're so screwed :)

The day after that, on the 3rd, only a few of us stragglers were left (and the tour was over) - so myself, Jarred and Colin (the 3 NZ'rs) decided to visit one last temple, The Lama Temple, after shifting Jarred to his new hotel (he's off on the Tran Mongolian)... At this point I was pretty templed out, but wow... well worth the effort to see just one Buddha... In fact the biggest wooden Buddha in the world, at 55 foot high, and made from just 1 Sandalwood tree - bloody impressive - but we were prohibited from taking pictures (though I'm sure there are some good ones on the net).

We planned that night to do dinner with the left over people at 6:30, however there was a small (and fantastic!) change of plans when Tony turned up at 5 and invited myself, Colin, Ed and Scarlet out to dinner with his friend (Hugo, Derek, Lorna, and some other girl I forget the name of... adopted western names of course) .. so we hopped a local bus (something that must be seen to be believed, as the attendant struggles to pull the doors shut around the smiling faces of Chinese people squished in everywhere) out to aBeijingsuburb, and had hotpot.... The best hotpot I've had inChina(which isn't saying much, it was my first time in this "style").  Basically it's a big coal boiler they sit on the table, filled with water in a donut shape around the centre chimney... they then dump a bunch of random things into the water to create a stock (crab legs, herbs, spices and vegetables) and let it go.  After this you get piles of thinly sliced rolled beef stuck on a plate, which you pick up and drop in the water briefly... pull it out, then dunk the just cooked meat into a bowl of sesame paste, leak juice, fresh coriander and onion... so good, wash it down with some Beijing finest (Yanjing beer), some raw chinese radish and some cabbage leaves (which you also boil) and you get a fantastic and very social meal.

After the meal was over we went for a short wander to the Black Sun Inn, a cool little pub with free pool and Foosball and cheap beer... all very nice, and it really was the best way to say goodbye to Tony and it was really local (at least for now, as he's heading to New Zealand to study tourism in Christchurch for 6 months in July).

The day after that I flew out (the 4th) – I decided to keep my jacket (which has served me well since I got in Hong Kong, so I think it’ll go well in NZ) – but to ditch my sheets and jersey, so I dumped them in a bag and went wandering the Huantong (not sure if I spelt that right, but basically the narrow alleyways and streets of the original Beijing) for a worth candidate, found a lady sleeping in rags under a piece of Iron down one street and just left it at her feet.

I haven’t talked much about the social climate in China in my entries, but basically it’s a bit of everything – there is absolute dire poverty (just before I left there was an article on the news about some factory workers only being paid 50 to 60 Yuan a month, basically less then $20 NZ dollars) and great wealth (heaps and heaps of flash cars, big apartments and wealthy businessman) – I may be wrong, but from what I’ve heard unemployment here is at about 18%... that’s a lot when your talking more then a billion total population.

Before flying out I stocked up on Buffrin (basically night & day medicine) and Golden Throat (cough lozenges, pretty good) as Pharmacys are dead cheap inChina(though they don’t stock Malaria medication, so if your visiting the south, bring your own).

I grabbed a taxi to the airport, which was a great way to see… smog, which I’m pretty used to now.  The smog inChinais quite different to what I’ve found inBangkok, as it’s very white (which I assume is a mix of all the industrial and chemical processing and coal they burn) –Bangkokseems to mostly be from combustion motors, and is distinctly yellow.  They’ve got some work to do if they want to offer a good impression to travelers arriving in 2008 for the Olympics.

While waiting in theBeijingairport I got a call from Mark, which was cool (though it’s hard hearing anything when you’re in theBeijingairport because Mandarin speaking people are really loud).

Hello Bangkok

After my flight, I got into Bangkok and grabbed the A2 airport bus to the Asia hotel, where I had booked my first night.  The bus trip was interesting, I had a talk to a Sweedish guy who’s just spent 2 weeks in southern china and is finish up with a week in Bangkok before going home.  Another guy, a bit younger, from Vancouver (Canada) who was a primary school teacher and had just been down to Phi Phi (and said that it was still pretty rooted, post Tsunami). And lastly a New Zealander from Queenstown (well a Pom.. on in NZ for the last 5 years) who’s going to move permanently to Phu ket. Finally got into bed around 1am. 

Which brings me to this’mornin – I got up about 9, took advantage of my free breakfast (loads of fresh fruit, such a change from China where you end up being quite paranoid about eating certain things) and then checked out.. The Asia hotel is pretty good, I managed to get a ride to the TAT (Thailand authorized travel, associated with STA) and book a train ride to Chiang Mai on the 8th, a Hill tribe trek for a few days after that (I wasn’t that interested in this, but it’s the only way to get accommodation so close to the water festival – which I’m looking forward too, happening from the 13th to the 15th) and then went to Kho San road where I met Ed & Scarlet (who have been on the China trip with me) and we went guest house hunting – end result was a 120 baht/night room for myself at Wallys Inn – I think that’s about 4 or 5 dollars a night NZ, they grabbed a double bed down stairs with own bathroom (I’ve got shared facilities)… it’s dodgy, but it’s cheap and I’ve got a pretty good sense of humor after some of the accommodation in China – one of my bed legs has fallen off at some point and they’ve replaced it with a folded up Tin Can.. I’ll have to be careful of that, thank god for my Tetanus shot!  I spose the fun thing is that I know I can afford somewhere nicer, but it’s really unnecessary, I doubt I could ever sleep in this heat without some alcohol! 

Lunch consisted of a Thai green curry, sticky rice and a beer… they frost the glasses here, so good when your dying in the heat.  After that we all jumped in a Tuk Tuk, for a race to the Canal ferry… climbed up the golden mount (but didn’t bother going in, my interest in temples being completely depleted) and then took the Canal ferry down the river – this is good fun, and cheap (15 baht return.. don’t throw your ticket away, nowhere does it actually say “return”) – and eases the brain a little, as you actually see quite a bit of green (the pink and red Boganvillias are in full force at the moment, it’s really quite beautiful – you would love it Mum, baring the pollution and annoying sales people). After that we got another Tuk Tuk back to Koh San road, this guy had a gruntier machine, cornering in busy traffic was brilliant – I daren’t think what happens if you crash, it cost 50 baht for the ride.. not sure if that’s good or bad.

After that it gets a bit boring, I bought a couple of T-shirts (140 baht each, greedy beggars!), a pair of Jandals (70 baht) and some anti-perspirant (109 baht!), had a cold shower (no hot water here... but who needs it?) ... and kitted myself out for the weather.

Tonight is some more food and beer.

I’m really looking forward to Chiang Mai… and taking the train there should be fun. It’s been compared to the Guilin/Yangshou area of China in the south, which I adored - so it should be all good – though I’m still having trouble shaking off my “China” mindset… I really loved China, especially the North…I must go back at some point for a further explore.

Take care one and all, and I’ll keep you posted.

 - Alex

Written on April 5, 2005