All by myself... do dooo dooooo

Well I'm all by Myself now.. lets see what I've been up to since my last post.

  • Met up with Ed & Scarlets friends, Lorna & Tim, who have been travelling through India for the last 2 months by themselves - pretty keen for a couple of 19 year old people, but they seemed to do really well.
  • Sweating.. this 38 degrees in the shade business is complete bollix, and to make matters worse the beer is double the strength of China (Chang beer is 6.3%, Leo is undrinkable rubbish, Thai Beer is 6.4% and Tiger is too expensive quite often - most beer in China is between and 3 & 3.5%) - so you have to keep your wits about you, unless in the company of people I trust I can't see myself drinking a great deal as you just feel dazed and confused, not a particularly wise idea in the middle of Bangkok.
  • Visited the Emerald Buddah, which is in fact made of Jade, and rather small.. (but on a huge gold pedestal) .. Thai temples and architecture is quite a departure from Chinese Budhism with it's Taoist and ancestor worship ties.  The Thai have a lot of Demons and Serpents, everything is "spangly" and pretty Garish.  Best viewed from afar :) The temple surrounding the Emerald Buddah is amazing - truely huge, and in immaculate condition - the endless murals that flow continuously around hall ways and walls are amazing to look at.  Getting used to no pointing your feet in temples is another interesting challenge, though there is no "wrong" or "right" leg to cross into a temple on (In china I think it was left leg first for males, right leg first for females).
  • Went for a few rides on a river Taxi, had some nice pork & ginger - also had my first green coconut to drink (what a noob) - had some durian (?) fruit, basically yellow mushy stuff that comes from the centre of the spikey big fruit.  Quite a mild taste, and no detectable odur.  The river taxi is confusing, as it doesn't give or expect exact change... you give here 20 baht, it'll cost 20 baht.. give them 8, it costs 8.  Your screwed without small change :)
  • Had some drinks and good food to Celebrate Scarlets 19th birthday.. all these young whiper schnappers I dont know.  I'm impressed by their confidence at times, at 19 I was pretty different to any of them - interesting times.
  • Upgraded to a double bed and own bathroom for 240 (or was it 280? I forget) baht a day.. small comforts.

Tonight I'm off to Qualompong (sp?) Train station to head up to Chiang Mai.. Should be good, second class sleepers sound a little classier then what I was used to in China, but I forgot to insist on AirCon so I may end up with Fan - guess we'll see, I cant imagine I'll sleep a great deal at any rate.  My room in Chiang Mai for the first week is a little extra because it has AirCon.. luxuary :)

In the mean time I have to check out in half an hour, find a locker to stash my backpack and then go and get some brunch.

I'll be so greatful to be shot of Khao San road and the surrounding area... I dont care about it being a dive, but it's just dripping with Trendy weirdos - I'd far rather watch locals, then tourists spending silly money on crap - and even worse the vendors in and around Khao San road dont actully Barter.. so you ask how much, they tell you the price.. knowing full well what the end price will be, and it's only ever 20% less... The "walk away" tactic so useful in China & India doesn't wash in this little pocket of Madness.. hopefully the rest of Thailand is a little better in that respect - one store was charging 450 baht for a crappy little pair of battery amplified computer speakers.. $16 NZ, which is insane, you'd pay 5 or 10 Yuan in China (like $1 to $2).. a Train ticket costs about 500 baht!... but the problem is there's always another silly tourist who'll pay the price, hell I'm one of them half the time because you just dont know any better at the start.

Nobody seems too concerned about the Hat Yai bombing last week here either, which is interesting - I guess it's so far south as to only be a mild concern for people doing a Malaysian border run, the TAT office was desperate to try and sell me some Southern Thailand packages as their is such a downturn in visitors (I guess a mass grave 15 minutes walk away from your hotel can be off putting?) and bombing and continuing Insurgence problems can't be helping either, even if the hot spot is far away from Phuket and surrounding Islands.

Till next time...

 - Alex

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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

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Xi'an... dont fall off the wall

Hi Guys,

Well I'm in Xi'an, at a "Redwoods Network" internet cafe - which
isn't far from the hotel, it's actually pretty good (not too
smokey, which is a miracle).

Last night through to this morning I was travelling on the hard
sleeper train (basically groups of 6 bunks (3 high per side)
facing each other, and no real seats or doors.  It's not a
bad way to travel, you generally just end up drinking a little..
playing some cards and doing bugger all else (once it's dark you
don't see alot, and the trips are generally always at night).

However this'morning there was some fantastic sites as we
headed into the city, cooling towers, coal burners, chemical
plants... All with classic chinese-soviet chiq... ignoring the
rather "the worlds going to shit" aspect, it's truely imposing to
see the rolling expanse of never ending factories and power lines
scoring the landscape with the odd local farmers terraced plot in

Xi'an is a pretty amazing place, smoggy and thrumbing (like every
city we've visited) but with it's own character - it has the most
impressive city wall that I've seen in China, the thing is huge
and in good condition... we hired bikes and travelleed on top of
it today, about 14 kilometres (apparently) - it's amazing how
wide it is....

Tonight me and a few of the other people in the group are going
to head out to the Muslim quarter to explore the markets (the
Muslim quarter is quite confined, with a number of big mosques
and ...somehow they squeeze 25,000 people into it).  It
should be a good opportunity to find some spicy lamb and do some
haggling for crappy tat.

Tomorrow we're off to see the Terracotta warriors and then that
evening we're on another train and heading off again...

I'm feeling pretty good now, just a bit of a cough/sore throat..
but otherwise not so bad, still haven't got my appetite back -
but then that's not necessarily a tragedy ;o)

It's hard to believe that my trip through China is almost at an
end - other then a couple of days in Datong and Pingyao, we're
going to hit Beijing and that's pretty much it... A month is no
where near long enough!

...but at the same time I dont think I would want more at this
point - not without a break at least, China can be quite
challenging, especially if you're not used to smoggy frenetic
cities... it's well deserving of a culture shock rating :) as a
country goes.

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The week from hell

The week from hell.

Hi guys, well I'm in Suzhou today - arrived about 5 hours ago,
since my last update I've been up to a few things.. however it's
all been tainted by sickness :(

So lets see... first of all I visited Putuoshan island, which is
very small ... picturesque, and though renowned for it's seafood
I didn't really enjoy it much (expensive, tasteless).. I've had
better luck with the farmed fish from further inland.

On Putuoshan I got really sick - had a temperature, which turned
into a fever - didn't break till my last day on the island. At
this point I started counting how many days I'd gone without
sleep (2).

Putuoshan Island did provide some priceless moments, such as
monks with cellphones... angry monks getting anoyed with our
copious luggage, old lady tourists pushing monks out of the
way... the insanity of people pushing and shoving to get to their
allocated seats.

After the island we headed to Shanghai - sickness and lack of
sleep still reigning supreme... I felt exhausted all the time -
getting sick when your on the move far far away from home really
is the pits - and going into a chinese dispensary just makes it
worse... buying unknown drugs with sign language *cough cough -
points at throat, screw up eyes*

That night, despite my sickness I managed to get enough beers
into me for a "second win" (a very bad idea in retrospect ;o) and
went out to bar/club called "windows" that's a bit of a student
hangout, partly to see desmond (my roomy) off - as he's leaving
us in shanghai to stay with his sister for a couple of weeks.

With the cheapest drinks in all of shanghai I suspect (50 Yuan
cover charge, then 5 yuan beers/10 yuan spirits) - most beers in
Shanghai top out at around 25 to 35 yuan, all a bit painfull on
the travellers wallet... we didn't leave till around 1:30am, then
got a taxi back to the hotel (we'd taken the MTR there, but the
trains shut down around midnight) - we stopped in at a bbq kebab
place and had a bit of a nibble before crashing.

Desmond got up way to early the next day, and I still hadn't
managed to get any sleep (3 days) so I was feeling like absoloute
death... wandered round Shanghai with a couple of my fellow
travellers, but was pretty much just a sheep - my throat started
to get really sore that day (and still hasn't got any better).

Today we also met the 3 new additions to our intrepid group for
the rest of the trip, and older couple from Aussie (Ian &
Judith) and a old'ish lady (Also from aussie) called
Daniella.  Ian is a doctor, which is a good thing :)

That night I went and saw a movie, in an effort to not expend
much energy... the only english movie on though was "National
Treasure" ... it wasn't good, but it was mindless.  I got a
mountain dew at the theatre only to discover that in China it
tastes a lot like green tea.

(Incidentally, almost every bottled drink in China is sickly
sweet, it's fairly rare to actually find a natural juice drink
that hasn't got half a tonne of added sugar).

That night I also got no sleep... the day after that we visited
The shanghai museum and some rock gardens, which wasn't too bad -
though I was pretty much a zombie for the entire experience.

I sat in a bath for an hour and finally managed to get about 6
hours sleep when I went to bed... I still felt exhausted, but at
least my constant headache is subsiding...

Then we left Shanghai, and travelled by Bus to Zhouzhang - quite
a quaint little village, where we stayed in a traditional chinese
guesthouse... which was awesome, my room had an adjoining study
full of 100+ year old furniture, which was pretty funky - though
the old buildings are fairly cold, without the air conditioning
cranked right up the room just ends up like a giant fridge.

And that leads us to today... where we took an hours ride on a
boat from Zhouzhang to Tong Li, and from there we drove to
Suzhou.. I've almst lost my voice, however I'm now armed with a
fresh supply of drugs including some anti biotics that Ian helped
me pick out - drugs are cheap and handed out without prescription
in China, I think it cost me 9 Yuan for a course of 24
amoxycillin pills.  Ian is unsure it'll help me (what I have
is probably viral) but he recons it can't hurt to try, in case I
have some kind of secondary infection to clear up.

At any rate, I'm feeling a bit better now then I was a week ago -
but it hasn't been particularly fun, which is a real shame -
there was a lot I could've seen and done in shanghai if I'd had
the energy.

Tomorrow night we're doing another overnight train trip, ending
up in Xi'an, the furthest west I'll end up travelling in China,
which should be interesting.  The train trips are always a
bit of fun, if a little chaotic to get on/off.


 - Alex

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