Kyoto To Tokyo

on Monday, 31 May 2010

Today we woke up quite late. After getting in at about 6am. We pack up and check out at 11am. We go to the supermarket and buy some bread, eggs and toast and for the first time actually cook some food ourselves. We then just chill out in the hotel, Tom just sleeps. We then have our train journey to Tokyo, which is a about two and a half hours. We arrive and manage to find our way to the hostel, where we grab some food and chill out in the hostel and have a relatively early night. As we only have a day and a half in Tokyo, we are going to be up early to get things done.

Osaka To Kyoto

on Sunday, 30 May 2010

We have discovered there isn’t really much to do in Osaka, apart from an aquarium, but we decide to go to the one in Tokyo which is supposed to be even better. Therefore we decide to leave Osaka early and get to Kyoto, so we can spend more time there, where we have heard there is more to do. We leave early and go straight to the station where we book the fast train to Kyoto, which takes just 14 minutes. We arrive at Kyoto station and it’s just a short walk to the hostel we have booked. We can’t get in the room, but drop off our bags and decide to have a look around town. We walk a short way up the road and visit a temple, amazingly it is free. A bit further up as we cross the road, Tom spots a skyline at the junction and just a little back I see an R8. We cross to the other side and take some photos as it goes by, the guy opens his window, gives us a wave with his leather racing gloves and roars off down the street.

This isn’t the only nice car we see, we see several 911’s a Ferrari 355 F1, a Ferrari 360, a Honda NSX and a Caterham, in about a 30 minute walk around town. There is some serious money around here. After watching the R8 speed off, we cross the road and decide to have a McDonalds, what a mistake. I order a medium double quarter pounder meal and it costs £6.77! We walk further up and visit the Kyoto imperial palace, which isn’t open because it’s Sunday and then visit Nijo castle, which we have to pay 600Y to get into.

We then return to the hostel as our feet are killing and we need to actually check in to the hostel. We chill out at the hotel and then decide to go out and get some food and go to a bar to watch Japan vs England.

The guy at reception gives us a good place to eat and a place to watch the football, so we walk up, we end up not being able to find the restaurant he had recommended and eat in an Italian restaurant. We both have a pizza and one beer, which costs us 1800Y each. When we have finished eating the waitress comes over and kneels next to the table for what seems like ages, we don’t know what is going on, I think maybe she is asking for a tip, but later find out we should of bowed as well, and by not bowing it was the equivalent of refusing to shake someone's hand. So that was a big Faux pas! We also leave a tip on the table which is also apparently not good. We pop over to the bar, which is quite busy and actually has quite a few foreigners in as well as Japanese. We go to the bar, but don’t get served, finally one a girl tells us you have to queue up for the bar and low and behold there is a long organised queue going back from the bar. A pint is about £5, we end up buying 4 pint jugs which work out a tiny bit cheaper. We watch the footy and there is some really good banter with the Japanese crowd. We then decide to head back, but on the way there is two young girls with a big skipping rope in the middle of the street for no apparent reason and we get roped in by some other Japanese guys to try and skip over it. They go to a club over the other side and we join them. It costs 2000Y to get in and when in there is a total of about 5 people in the place. We play some darts with the Japanese guys, the first round, I’m playing great, hitting the treble 20’s until I realise the game is to actually hit specific numbers! We lose and we have to drink Tequila, great! It starts to get a bit busier and we meet some really cool Japanese people. We finally leave at about 5am and walk back to the hostel, for some reason out here it is really light at this time, so it seems like the middle of the day. Tom is absolutely wasted and somehow I just about manage to find our way back to the hostel. We get back about 6am and have to check out at 11am, I have 3000Y left in my pocket from the 22000 I had taken out, so it ends up being the most expensive night ever, not good, especially for us budget travellers!


on Saturday, 29 May 2010

We get up at 7:30am and have decided to visit Miyajima Island and also the A-bomb dome. We check emails and realise this hostel has the fastest internet ever, downloading at 4mb a second, it downloads a film in a couple of minutes and uploading photos is ridiculously fast as well. We plan to upload some photos and get some films later. Firstly we go to the station to book our ticket to Osaka for the afternoon. We book the train leaving at 4:15pm and then get the train to Miyajima station. The train takes 25 minutes and then we have a short walk to the ferry, which takes us to the island. Thankfully the ferry is also included in our rail pass, so we don’t have to pay. On the way to the ferry there are two guys trimming a tree as if it is a bonsai tree, which is quite funny. We jump on the ferry which takes about ten minutes to cross over to the island and have a look round. The island is full of very tame deer, that will just come up to you and let you touch them, obviously after food.

We visit the shrine, which shockingly is 300Y, After paying so little in other countries it’s a bit shocking and to be honest it was nowhere near as impressive as the other places we have gone, for much less money or even free.

Unfortunately the aquarium is being refurbished and is not open till August 2011, so we can’t visit that. We are about to just leave the island but decide to go and look at the ropeway, which is a gondola and see how much it is. It turns out to be 1800Y for a round trip, which is about £14. It’s really too much for us to spend, but we decide to do it anyway. There is two cables cars, going to the top and then a short uphill walk to Mt Misen. You can actually walk all the way up, but it is a two hour walk and we were not dressed appropriately and also did not have enough time. We visit the top and take some photos of the amazing views, although very hot and very hard work walking uphill.

We catch the cable car back down and the ferry and train back to Hiroshima station.

We are very short on time but want to visit the A-bomb dome, a ridiculous name, but had to be seen nonetheless. We get the tram from the station to the dome, which costs 150Y and have a look around the dome, which is one of the only original structures left and a sort of memorial. The dome was originally an exhibition hall and was almost directly underneath where the bomb detonated, which apparently was one of the reasons some of the structure stayed intact. We were really short of time, so could not visit the museum, but walked round the river, while a band was playing on the other side.

We caught the tram back to the train station and had to run to the hostel to grab our stuff and get back to the station in time for our train. This time we have made sure we book non smoking and the journey only takes one and a half hours. We arrive at the station and the hostel we had tried to book originally is full, we ring another one which is also full and finally decide to try one very close to the station on a map we have been given. We walk to the hostel which is a huge place on the top two floors of the KoKo plaza, it’s a very posh place and costs slightly more than we had paid before, at about £25 a night.


on Friday, 28 May 2010

Today we have to spend the day sorting out various things, the most important being getting our Chinese visa. We had found various comments on the internet saying you could do it in Nagoya and some saying you couldn’t, some saying you could do it at the consulate, some saying you had to get a travel agents to do it for you. First of, in the morning we go to Nagoya station and exchange our JR pass to get our proper ticket. We also book out ticket to Hiroshima for that afternoon. We then manage to find our way to the Chinese consulate with some help from the tourist information at Nagoya train station. We have to get the subway which is not included in our pass. We arrive at the station and a nice women in a local supermarket shows us where it is with a local map. Luckily it is just round the corner and we can see the Chinese flag. We go in and after asking at the counter and not getting much of a response, we are shown to another room where a Japanese women who speaks great English and I think was from a travel agency, says she will help us out. The sign at the window says unless you have a long term Japanese visa, over 12 months, you can not get a visa there, but we fill out the form and she phones her boss and they say she can sort it out for us, but the visa will have to be sent to Tokyo and we will have to pay for it to be rushed through. Also, although I had thought we could get a visa for more than 30 days, we can’t so we end up having to pay 12000Y for the visa (£80) and as we had forgotten our passport photos another 700Y(£5) for some passport photos for a visa we had hoped would only cost £20. We leave a bit annoyed, but also relieved that we had managed to get it at all and in time to get our train to Hiroshima. We stop at a Pachinko casino place, but it costs 1000Y to play which seems very steep, so we give it a miss for now, but will have to try it at some point. We go back to the hostel, pick up our stuff and go to the station to catch our train. We have noticed that the Japanese give away lots of freebies in the street and on the way to the station a couple of girls give us packets of tissues, advertising some pretty questionable massages.

We find out this is quite a common thing in Japan and the advertising for other things can be quite graphic in the street. It is about 600km and takes about two and a half hours to Hiroshima from Nagoya. This is the first bullet train we have got and it looks massive as it pulls into the station.

We have a stop over in Osaka-Shin where we have to change trains to go to Hiroshima. The first part takes about 45mins and then it is 1 hour 45mins from there to Hiroshima. The train is very comfortable and very fast, and spot on time, unfortunately we had not realised but had booked a smoking carriage for the second leg, so had about ten Japanese filling the carriage with smoke. We arrived in Hiroshima and found our way to our hostel, where we had something to eat and chilled out, before having an early night as we only have the day tomorrow to see Hiroshima and also get back to Osaka.

Arriving in Japan

on Thursday, 27 May 2010

We arrive in Beijing at about 7am and have a lot to do before our flight to Nagoya at 3:30pm. We again arrive at the wrong train station and the cab drivers want 100Y(£10) to take us across town, which we don’t want to pay. We decide to walk around a bit and eventually stumble across the subway. Amazingly the subway is ridiculously easy to navigate and we find the station we need and the cost is only 2Y each, great! We go down to get the tube and by this time it’s just past 8am and obviously rush hour. The first tube arrives and it looks like it is absolutely crammed full with people without an inch to spare. Somehow about another 5 people manage to force themselves on. The next train is virtually the same, but I decide we are going to have to do the same or will never get on. We are on for about 10 minutes and there is absolutely no space to move with people pressed up against you on all sides and us with all our bags on. At least you couldn’t fall over as you were so wedged in. We arrive first at the post office and I manage to send 8kg of souvenirs back for about £30. But they reject the fake yak tail I had bought in Nepal. Our next stop is to buy our Japan rail pass, after spending a while finding the right building, the first place will only sell the passes to people who have booked tickets with them, which we haven’t and the second travel agent have run out of tickets and send us to their head office, which means another trip on the tube and a search around the streets. Finally we find it on the 21st floor of an office building and manage to buy our 1 week pass for about £240. Apparently a very good deal as a single long train journey can cost the same. By this time it’s passed midday and we decide to make our way to the airport for our flight at 3:30pm. We decide to get a cab to make sure we get there in time. We arrive and after 15 minutes of trying to find out were to go and being sent to different ticket offices we finally check in.

Checking in we have our luggage scanned and I have a bottle of water confiscated, Tom has all his toiletries, sun cream e.t.c confiscated, although I have exactly the same things in my bag.

We are apparently a bit late even though the gate had only been open 5 minutes and are rushed out to the plane. As we take off I think I hear them say the flight is 1hr 10minutes, which sounds way too short. After an hour and ten minutes we land and think we have got on the wrong plane or something, because we are at Qingdao airport. Which is still in China! I query the boarding pass with the air hostess, who just points at the door. We walk of the plane and a guy is calling Nagoya, we realise we have a connecting flight, even though we had not been told and had not been issued with any other ticket or information. We follow the guy through to the gate and have to have our bags checked again, this time I am stopped and they have picked up my asthma inhaler which I have to explain and also some deodorant and a small knife in my bag, which amazingly after showing them they just give it back to me. We get through and board the plane for the next two hours. We end up getting on exactly the same plane again.

We arrive in Nagoya airport at about 9pm, after clearing customs, where we have our fingerprints and a photo taken, we find a information desk, which thankfully looks up our hostel and tells us how to get there. We have to but the train ticket from the airport, which is on an island to Kanayama station. This costs us a ridiculous 790Yen (£6) for a journey that cost 20p in Beijing early in the day. We arrive at Kanayama and go outside to get a cab, in the square outside are lots of kids on bmx’s doing the most ridiculous tricks you have seen. These guys must have been professionals riding the bikes upside down, turning the wheel with their feet and flipping it around like a skateboard. Unfortunately my video camera was right at the bottom of my bag and I couldn’t get it out, but it was pretty amazing. We decide to get a cab as we don’t know where the hostel is. We get in and the driver has to ring the hostel to get directions, eventually we end up driving for about 2 minutes, when the guy gets lost and just sits there reversing up and down a street as the meter seems to go up about £1 every 30 seconds. Eventually when it it’s 1000Y we decide to get out, just as the hostel owner turns up. So what was less than five minute walk costs about £8. In hindsight we should have just paid less and walked off, but we only had 1000Y notes. The hostel is very small and we soon realise everything is going to cost a lot of money out here. To rent a bike it is 500Y, to use the washing machine is 300Y and then after visiting the local supermarket, where water is now 100Y and a small sandwich is 230Y.

Last Day In Pingyao

on Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Again, we just chilled out in the hotel. It seems like a waste, but we needed a few days doing nothing. Pingyao doesn’t have much to offer anyway and most people only stay one night. As we are sitting in the hotel a band walks past with what must be over 50 cars in a procession and loads of flower arrangements and about 30 guys carrying what looks like a huge coffin. It must have been a very important persons funeral. I later do a bit of a search on Google and find out it is actually quite a regular event in Pingyao. We hang around the hotel until about 6pm before leaving to catch our train to Beijing.

Souvenir Shopping In Pingyao

on Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Today we had planned to look around the city and see some more of the sites inside on the bicycles. We didn’t get going until about 11am and then ended up just having a short cycle round town, I bought a few souvenirs, but it was harder work than normal and some of the things I wanted seemed too expensive. We went back to the hostel with the intention of going back out on the bikes, but it didn’t happen and we spent the rest of the day chilling out. I spoke to Bob, the manager and he said it was really easy to just stay and teach English if we liked and even said he could recommend us. He also me to write a sign in English for him offering half price beer, which was a bit annoying as we were spending a pound a bottle and now it was only 50 pence. So the rest of the night we made the most of the promotion.

The Underground Castle That Wasn’t Underground

on Monday, 24 May 2010

Today we had to do something, after doing absolutely nothing the day before. We had decided it was too early to get up for the underground castle at 8am and had decided to just have a cycle around town and check out some of the other sites we had not seen the first day. But when we got down stairs for breakfast, Bob the manager said we could leave for the castle at 11am, so we decide to do the castle today. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the castle, and soon after arriving I realise the castle is not actually underground as I had thought, it in fact is just a castle with some underground tunnels. We have only managed to get the trip because Jonas a Swiss guy and two girls, one from Shanghai and the other a Thai living in Shanghai have joined the group. The girls are ultra friendly and both speak good English, so can help translate things for us. The fact that all the hotels are empty makes it fairly difficult to get a big enough group to book any tours up.

We walk round seeing lots of temples in the blistering heat. The girls are Buddhist so find it quite a bit more interesting than us I think. We go down the tunnels, which apparently there are 10km of and they are larger than I had expected and run all over the town. After spending several hours in the castle we return back visiting Shaoling Temple on the way back. It is full of art students from Beijing sculpting the various statues out of clay, which for us is probably more interesting than the temple itself. We get back to the hotel about 5pm and spend the evening playing pool with a few beers.

Chilling Out In Ping Yao

on Sunday, 23 May 2010

Today, for the first day in three months, we did pretty much nothing. We barely left the hotel and just sat and played pool and that was about it. We were pretty tired so had an early night after trying to chat with the Chinese receptionists, who speak absolutely no English, with the help of Babel fish. Tomorrow we still haven’t got anything planned, but will have to make sure we get out and start seeing the sights in Ping Yao!

First Day In Ping Yao

on Saturday, 22 May 2010

We arrive at Ping Yao train station at about 6:30am, first of all we try and book our train ticket the next day to Beijing. We are told that there are no sleeper beds available for the tomorrow or the day after that and we can only go by hard seat. We decide we have no choice and book the hard seat for the 23rd. We then get an electric rickshaw to the hostel that we have booked. The place is really nice, but the girls at reception speak next to no English. We spend most of the day chilling out as we had both not slept very well on the train. We do hire some bikes and have a quick look around town, visiting the draft bank, which was the first bank built in China as Ping Yao was like the wall street of China. We then decide hard seat is just too bad and that we could do with a few relaxed days. We speak to someone at another hotel and his English is much better and he kindly writes down in Chinese the options so we can go to the train station and find a sleeper train. There is only one bed for the 25th, but there are lots for the 26th, so we book two tickets leaving in the evening and arriving the morning of the 27th where we have our plane to Japan at 3pm, so are cutting it a little fine.

Later that afternoon, we meet a couple of a girls Amanda and Fabueolo, a Canadian and Brazilian, who are English teachers in Beijing, we seem to be meeting a lot of English teachers out here. We have a few beers and some food in our hotel and play a bit of cards, before deciding to cycle to a nearby bar. The bar was completely empty, but we decide to just have one and we play some dice games, then cycle back to the hotel, with the girls being a little worse for wear.

The Day After The Night Before

on Friday, 21 May 2010

So after finally going to bed at 7:15am, I end up waking up at 11am. It’s too late for the mountain, which is annoying. I go to Tom’s room and there is no answer, so don’t know whether he has gone to the mountain or not. I end up sitting down in reception after checking out and eventually at about 2pm Tom comes down. We could have changed our train ticket and stayed another night to do the mountain, but decide against it, which is a shame because the mountain sounded really good. We just chill out in the hostel for the rest of the day until our train to Ping Yao at 9:15pm.

Recovery Day

on Thursday, 20 May 2010

Today we didn’t really have anything planned, apart from visiting the history museum.  We had a lay in and left about midday. We were not particularly interested so we didn’t spend long there and headed back to the hotel, stopping on the way at the Muslim quarter to do some souvenir shopping. In one shop they are selling Mont Blanc fountain pens. The young girl starts at about 300Y, I start the negotiations at 10Y and she calls me crazy. Eventually I get it knocked down to 25Y, which is probably still way too much. She starts to get really aggressive tough and shouting at me to decide quickly. Even starts punching me and saying she is going to kill me. We are just cracking up with laughter, Tom buys a few souvenirs and I buy loads more stuff. We then head back to the hostel, we meet another Chinese musician who we had played dice the night before and tell him about last night, he can’t really shed any more light on what was going on, so we will never know. We have a few drinks with James and another British couple, we are then all invited to join a group of Chinese students who are on a night out with their tutor and want a bit of practice I think. We sit and drink and chat and play Jenga, until finally deciding to go out again. This time James isn’t up for it and sensibly has an early night as he is going to Huashan mountain the next morning as we are planning to do as well. So we meet a guy from the US who is staying in my dorm and we all decide to head out. We turn up at the other club that we had been recommended and as with all the places out here they have lots of security, but instead of bouncers, there like soldiers with helmets and body armour. The fact that the Chinese seem so chilled out and we haven’t seen any trouble at all makes it seem very unnecessary and excessive. This place is much cheaper and they sell the beers in crates of 24. With 24 beers costing 150Y. As usual everyone is playing dice and the place is really busy, unlike the night before. We end up drinking quite a bit too much and eventually get back in at about 6am.

The Terracotta Warriors

on Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Today we were visiting the famous terracotta warriors. We ended up leaving a bit later than we had planned as in the morning we went round the park wall for a bit of people watching and try out all the equipment in the park. We caught the bus, which was an hour journey and cost 7Y. We ended up arriving at about midday and met a German couple staying in our hostel, so decided to share the cost of a guide between us. We were shown round the three buildings. The biggest of which, the size of a football stadium and the one Tom missed yesterday was right at the front and I have no idea how they missed it. The first two rooms quite small, which just a few warriors. But the third was huge with loads of warriors. Apparently there is still more to uncover and as it was only discovered 35 years ago, there is still lots more to excavate. Especially as it takes one person a whole year to repair one warrior. They were very impressive and it obviously is an amazing thing to have been built. It took 720,000 people 38 years to get to the stage where it was, but they believe they planned to create many more soldiers and they still had lots to complete. The workers were also killed to keep the whole thing secret and buried on site. Each warriors face is also unique and was sculpted using real soldiers as models. We finished at about 3:30 and headed back on the bus to the hostel. After 2 and a half months without a hair cut it was getting a bit out of control, so we stopped at a barbers, where they washed and cut our hair for 30Y each. We returned to the hostel and played some cards with the guys in the bar, learnt a new dice drinking game and then at about 1am decided to go out to a club.

First Day In Xi’an

on Tuesday, 18 May 2010

So the train arrived pretty much spot on this time and the unorganized person I am, I hadn’t booked any hostel or even looked at where to go when I arrived. I walked out to a mass of taxis and went to sort my stuff out by the side of the road. I went to ask a cab for a price to a hostel I had found on the lonely planet on my laptop. But he just drove of, which seemed a bit odd. Then I see a police car coming through and realise the taxis were not allowed there and they had to drive off. I manage to find a taxi and he wants 30Y and won’t put it on the meter, so I just walk off and decide to try and get the bus but I can’t find the right bus stand for the number 603 bus, later I discover the bus stop was so huge it actually went round the corner. I end up walking a bit further down and manage to find a cab driver who will put it on the meter. The journey ends up costing 10Y. I find the hostel Shu Yuan  youth hostel and fortunately they are very busy and popular, but I manage to get a dorm room, but can’t check in till 12 o'clock. I decide to have a look round town. First I go and visit the city wall and stupidly decide to pass on renting a bike and instead walk round, thinking it can’t be that massive he whole way round at the base of the wall Chinese people are doing exercise and singing and other weird things. There is a lot of old guys doing Diabolo. They are unbelievably good and are doing some mad tricks with it.  About two hours in and I have only walked about a quarter of the way. Unfortunately there are no places to pick up a bike and I eventually get off the wall halfway round. I then have a walk through town and visit the bell and drum tower. They end up being a bit of a let down, and are actually quite expensive. 30Y for the two with my student discount. I then return to the hostel and chill out.

About 30 minutes later, Tom walks in, we have booked the same hostel again. He has visited the terracotta warriors today, but apparently after someone told them they had moved all the warriors to Shanghai for the Expo. They some how missed the massive room with 2000 odd warriors in it. I would expect something like that of Oli (Sorry Oli), but not Tom. He plans on visiting again the next day with me. We go to the station and book our train tickets to Pingyao, and spend the rest of the day playing table tennis, pool and have a few drinks in the bar.

Bus To Guanyuan

on Monday, 17 May 2010

I managed to set my alarm correctly this time and woke up at 5:30am. I went up to the reception and she kindly got me a cab to the bus station. There was only about four people on the bus, so plenty of room. As we set of a few more people got on at various stops, but the bus was only ever half full. It took about ten hours to get to Guanyuan and once there I headed straight to the train station to try and book a ticket. I still hadn’t decided where I was going to go, but in the end sided with Xi’an as I hadn’t found anywhere else that was that exciting. The ticket was 139Y for the 11 hour journey on a hard sleeper. A nice guy at the booking office booked the ticket for me. The train wasn’t due for about 3 hours, so I got some supplies and looked round town. I ended up going to sleep quite early and the next morning would be in Xi’an at about 5:15am.

Jiuzaigou National Park

on Sunday, 16 May 2010

Today I was visiting the park. I was up early and arrived at the park at about 7:30am, in hindsight I shouldn’t have gone so early. The park entrance fee is quite high, normally 210Y and then 90Y for the busses. I managed to get 50Y of using my STA youth card. They really will accept anything as a student discount card out here. Also everything has a discount if you are a student and some cases there pretty decent discounts. I started by getting the bus right up to the top, you couldn’t walk straight down because of damage to the pathways, so had to catch a bus a short way down then walk back down to the centre point. The weather was very overcast and it rained briefly. This side had the most stuff to see, so it was a shame. I then caught the bus up the other side to see long lake and walk a short way down to the five coloured pool. The water here really is as clear and calm as it can get, the reflections were a nightmare to photograph and some places it doesn’t even look like water is there. I caught the bus pack down to the middle as the pathways were again damaged. I didn’t see any other foreign tourists, just Chinese people. From the centre point I walked back down to the main entrance, by this time it had started to clear up a bit and there was blue sky. As I walked down to the entrance the weather got better and better until it was really nice. I got a  lot of photos at Rhinoceros lake, and then I had, had a enough of walking, so just caught the bus between sites down to the bottom. I returned to the hotel and booked a bus ticket to Guangyuan and just chilled out. The bus leaves at 6:30am tomorrow and then I need to try and get a train to either Bijou or Xi’an. If not I will have to stay there for a night.

The Bus To Jiuzaigou

on Saturday, 15 May 2010

I wake up and notice that it is fairly light outside, I look down at my IPod and it’s 7:34am. My bus leaves at 8:05am and I haven’t packed at all and the journey to the bus station apparently takes twenty minutes. I quickly cram everything into my bag, half thinking whether it’s worth bothering or not and rush downstairs. I am in the office at 7:55am and ask them whether I can make it to the station, they say the bus might a few minutes, so I pay the bill and rush outside to hail a cab. Luckily one comes along quite quickly and I ask to go to the bus station and manage to get him to realise the time I should be there. The Chinese cabs drive pretty badly, but this guy drives like he is taking part in the WRC. We end up getting to the bus station just after five and after the airport style security checks, get to the bus at 8:05, although I am the last one and I take the last seat. The bus journey is due to be about 11 hours and I am tired, haven’t had a shower and still paranoid I didn’t pack everything. The journey was actually not the bad, and although we had been told I had been told it was the worst journey ever, it was actually fine. The driver was a bit too fast on the windy roads. We arrived in Jiuzaigou at 5:15pm, so it only actually took 9 hours. I hadn’t booked a hostel, so had a walk up the street for 20 minutes. After not finding it I hailed a cab and surprise surprise it was just round the corner. I walk in and Tom is sitting there on one of the computers, I check in and then we go and grab some food and play a bit of pool back at the hostel. Tomorrow I am up early to go to the park, so I get an early night. Tom leaves early as well to get a bus then train to Xi’an.

First Day Alone

on Friday, 14 May 2010

Tom has to leave at about 7am to get the bus, which leaves the station at eight. Today I have decided to just spend the day exploring Chengdu. I catch the bus into the city centre, the busses are absolutely packed, so it is very cramped, but the fact that I am almost 2 foot taller than anyone else makes it feel less so. The bus only costs 1.8Y and they run every five minutes or so. I get of the bus near Tianfu square and have a little walk around, there is a huge statue of Mao overlooking the square. Behind the statue is the science and technology museum. I get a ticket for 30Y although find out that maybe using my student/youth card I could have got half price. Inside, it is absolutely huge, not the size of the science museum in London, but still massive, with 5 floors with 4 sections per floor. The place is absolutely empty of visitors. I see maybe ten people, but the place is full of staff, including an elevator man sitting on every elevator. Quite a few of the interactive attractions inside are either closed or not working, which was a shame, the place must be making a huge loss with no customers and so many staff. Afterwards I have a look around the shops and buy a few pieces of clothes, as some of mine are way too big now. On the way back to the hostel, I stop at Wenshu monastery and have a look round, I get chatting to a Chinese guy in the monastery, but his English is not very good and my Chinese is even worse, so we get very far. I chill out at the hotel and meet up with Alex and Ben, they had done pretty much the same ting today, but had also gone to the peoples park and said it was brilliant.

In the evening I went back to Tianfu square to watch the water show. On the way I stopped at the peoples park and had a  look around. They have a big square in the middle and there was music play and loads of people just dancing, young and old, men and women, couples and people by themselves. Some of the people dancing were almost in a trance like state, it was as if everyone was on drugs, but I think maybe this is just how the Chinese are, unbelievably chilled out and happy. One guy was particularly into it and was trying to dance with anyone and everyone. There were also lots of classes going on, some of which seemed to be Caporeia, the kung fu style dancing. There was also lots of people playing badminton and just generally a lot of people speed walking, clapping, exercising or just walking round the park half walking half dancing. It was actually really contagious and you felt yourself starting to have a little dance as you walked subconsciously. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t spend longer there, you could spend hours just people watching. The water show started at 8pm till 9pm, so I quickly rushed up the road to the square to watch it. The city was totally different in the evening, all the buildings had multi colour light shows, yet it was still as busy if not more so than during the day. The water show started, and the fountains were massive, I watched and took photos for about twenty minutes, until I noticed that it was actually quite repetitive, so headed back to the hotel, as I was leaving quite early the next day. I got back and went and had a few drinks with Ben and Alex and a few other guys from the hostel. We ended up staying up till about 1am before finally getting to be.

The Biggest Buddha In The World

on Thursday, 13 May 2010

Today we had a trip booked to Leshan, where the biggest Buddha in the world is carved into the side of the cliff face. The Buddha is 71m high and construction was started in 713 and took 90 years to finish. The bus trip from Chengdu was just over two hours. Unfortunately I had left my youth card at the hotel so had to pay 90Y, while everyone else got away with just 50Y. We arrived and spent a couple of hours looking round. There was a long staircase going down to the foot of the Buddha. The Buddha was carved in sandstone, so had weathered quite badly, but was still fairly impressive. We finished looking round a little bit earlier and had a something to eat while we waited for the rest of the group to get back. We then had the two hour bus journey back, and on the way came across three accidents. The Chinese really do drive as bad as the Nepali’s or Indians. We then popped out so Tom could buy a camera and then chilled in the hostel, with a few beers and had a really nice bacon cheeseburger. Tomorrow Tom leaves for Jiuzaigou and I have one more day in Chengdu before leaving the next day.

Panda Breeding Centre

on Wednesday, 12 May 2010

This morning we were up early to visit the panda breeding centre. We had to leave early in order to catch the pandas while they were eating, we were told. There was 3 minibuses full of people leaving from our hostel, so quite a few people. We get chatting with a British couple called Ben and Alex and end up spending the day walking round with them. Today is Ben’s birthday. We are shown round the park and see loads of giant pandas, most of them just laying about eating and not doing much else. Apparently they eat for 16 hours a day on average. There is one enclosure with some baby pandas in and they are play fighting with each other and one chases the keeper around, the adults just lay there constantly eating though. We also see some red pandas which look more like racoons, but are apparently very rare. I buy a few souvenirs and we have a look round the museum. Our guide is just the driver and speaks very little English and the tour feels a bit rushed as we have to all stick together. It would probably be better just to get a bus or taxi by yourself and spend as much time as you like as it is not far from the city centre.

We get back to the hostel and just chill out, trying to decide what to do next. We eventually decide that as we can’t extend our Chinese visa in China as it is a Tibet/China visa, we will fly to  from Beijing and spend a week there, then fly back and do the rest of China. We are splitting up for the stage to Beijing and then will reunite to fly to Japan as we have to leave the country together.

We go out with Alex and Ben to a local hotpot restaurant to celebrate his birthday. To start with we have to go into the kitchen to choose the things we want. In the middle of the table there is a gas burner and a big metal dish. The idea is you cook your own food in two different rings, the outer being really spicy and the middle one more mild. We order pork and beef, with some vegetables, rice and a few other dishes including rabbits heart, which is actually quite nice. The meal is only 100Y for the four of us and that includes a beer, so is very reasonable. We return to the hotel and have a couple more beers and play some cards, before getting to bed at about one. Tomorrow we are travelling to Leshan to see the biggest Buddha in the world, at 71m tall.

Arriving In Chengdu

on Tuesday, 11 May 2010

We had thought the train would arrive in Chengdu at 7 or 8am. But apparently it is delayed and we don’t arrive until 11am. I have slept pretty well and don’t wake up at all, but Tom is woken up by another guy in our carriage falling on him twice during the night. We leave the train station which is strangely very clean. We walk out of the train station and it is like coming out of an airport, there are hundreds of people waiting with pieces of paper with names on. We have pre booked a different hostel to the others, so we both get different cabs. We have booked to stay at Sim Cosy’s Guesthouse but it has two address’s listed. I get my laptop out and use it to show the cab driver the address in Chinese on my lonely planet, and we are off. We arrive at what is a run down building with rubbish everywhere, I think Tom has made a bad choice with the hostel, but he insists it looked better in the pictures. We have a look around and eventually a women comes out and gives us a piece of paper with “Take us here” and some Chinese underneath. It’s then we release why there was two address’s and that they have changed location and my lonely planet is an old version. We manage to speak to the hostel on the phone and then have to get another cab to the correct location. We arrive and it looks much better, in fact it’s probably the nicest place we have stayed. We get to the room and although quite small, it’s not too bad. We decide to book our trip to the panda breeding centre tomorrow and also a trip to the Sichuan opera for tonight. We decide to have a look round town and I buy a laptop case, although not particularly strong it should add a bit of protection. For some reason I can’t actually buy it and the store assistant gets a local women to buy it on my behalf. On the way we see a lorry spraying water on the road to apparently clean it and more dustbin trucks singing happy birthday. We have some noodles and dumplings at a local restaurant after just pointing and it only costs 60 pence each for huge portions. We chill out in the room and try and take advantage of the free wifi while we wait to leave for the opera. We have a short drive and then take out vip seats on the second row, although there is nobody sitting in front of us. There are several different acts and musical pieces. The highlights being the hand shadow show and the changing faces.

Near the end of the show it starts to absolutely tip it down and we have to run back to the car. Back at the hotel we have a couple of beers and play some table tennis and foosball. There is a strange old guy teaching a young Chinese girl to play pool and walking around holding hands. We don’t get to bed till 1am even though our panda trip leaves at 8am.

Day 2 On The Train

on Monday, 10 May 2010

I wake up fairly early at about 7am to people chatting really loudly and the lights in the carriages have been turned on. I spend most of the day watching Flashforward or playing cards. The electricity doesn’t work but I manage to get one of the attendants on the train to charge it in their room, which seems to be the only place that has electricity. Today we are much lower and out of the mountains and into more built up areas, including passing through a few big cities, so the train has picked up speed and we are going much faster.

The Highest Train In The World

on Sunday, 9 May 2010

Today we are getting our 43 hour train journey from Lhasa to Chengdu, which is also the highest train in the world. We have to leave the hotel at 11:30am and unfortunately they turned the electricity off last night so I didn’t get much downloaded, so try to get a bit more this morning. We load up on some food for the journey and then get the mini bus to the train station. We arrive at the station and it is a pretty impressive building. We have to have all our luggage scanned and there is a guy on our tour with a bicycle which has a bit of trouble getting it through. It seems like they just don’t know what to do with it. Finally we are all through and go inside and sit down while we wait to board the train. about 20 minutes before departure we are let out onto the platform and everyone queues up at the carriage to board. The platform and train are so clean it’s ridiculous and everything is so organized. We get on and after a bit of confusion about the seats we find our beds. I am on the top of the three bunks and Tom on the bottom. The top must be eight foot of the floor and you have little pegs that pop out to climb up. We have 3 other people from the tour in the next cabin and there are three people in hard sleeper and one in soft sleeper. The hard sleeper is absolutely packed out and I can not imagine spending 43 hours in there. I hope you got upgraded Joe and Flora! The soft sleeper has only four beds and is a private room, which also includes personal TV’s and a bit more luxury. Throughout the train there is oxygen sockets, because of the height the train goes and how quickly it goes there, there is quite a risk of altitude sickness. A few hours in I get a headache which lasts for several hours, but thankfully is not too bad. Outside we are in the mountains and there is quite a lot of snow on the ground. We play a bit of cards in the restaurant cart with some Israeli guys who are in hard seat. They let us sit there and play even though we are not eating. I then go back to the cabin and try and catch up on the blog and watch some Flashforward and 24. I get to sleep quite early but wake up several times through out the night.

Extra Day In Lhasa

on Saturday, 8 May 2010

Today we had an extra day in Lhasa because our train tickets had not been booked. We got up and said goodbye to everyone else who was leaving this morning and then decided to go visit the square outside the Potala palace to get some more photos.

On the way there I hear the happy birthday tune playing, firstly we think it’s coming from a restaurant or something, but soon realise it is coming from some loud speakers on top of a dustbin lorry notifying people to bring their rubbish out. On the way back we stopped at the market again and bought a few more souvenirs. For lunch we stopped at Dicos, which is the Chinese equivalent of somewhere like KFC. We then went to the post office because Tom wanted to post his stuff back, but turned out he had to go to the main post office back near the Potala palace. While Tom goes back I go and pick up my laptop which happily has been repaired and I have lost nothing of it. The rest of the day we spend on the internet and I manage to download some stuff to watch on the 43 hour train journey we start tomorrow. I also manage to find a way of getting round Chinas firewall, so can now access the blog and facebook. I leave my laptop in the internet room over night to try and download as much as possible.

Second Day In Lhasa

on Friday, 7 May 2010

We are up fairly early, even though we had a very late night. We have a monastery to see in the morning and a temple in the afternoon. Everyone else is feeling a bit rough after the late night and beers, so they all give the monastery a miss. I go along with the rest of the group, while they stay back at the hotel and sleep it off. I get back and have a bit of food, before we have to leave for the temple. We have a look round the temple and there are loads of Tibetans in front prostrating for hours on end.

Afterwards we have a look round the market which surrounds the temple and people walk round and round with their prayer wheels. We buy a few more souvenirs, several of which I buy just because they seem to be so ridiculously cheap. We go for a meal at a local restaurant called Lhasa kitchen, which turns out to be much more expensive and very disappointing. We return to the hotel and have another poker tournament. My luck is not in and have a dreadful game, but the damage is only a few quid.

First Day Sightseeing In Lhasa

on Thursday, 6 May 2010

Today is our first day sightseeing in Lhasa and firstly we are visiting the Potala palace, the palace of the Dalai Lama. We have leave at 8am and people are moaning about leaving a few minutes late. We arrive at the Potala palace and as soon as we get in, a guy from our group takes of his top to reveal a free Tibet t-shirt and has his photo taken in front of the palace.

We have to rush round the palace a bit as tour groups are only allowed one hour to try and keep down the number of people inside the palace at one time. We have not been allowed to take any drinks in, so inside I buy a bottle of what I think is fruit juice. I just see some strawberries and blueberries on the front. It’s not until I taste it and it tastes dreadful that I realise it has Tomatoes in as well. It’s absolutely revolting, but I give it to the guide and he seems to really enjoy it. We walk into one room and a man is having a real go at a women, who is apologising profusely and keeps bowing. We find out she is a guide and she has said something incorrect and has had a real telling off. One room includes a massive Buddha made of 3716kg of gold. There are loads more Buddha’s and there must be easily ten times as much gold in the whole place. We work out the single Buddha has about 130 million pounds worth of gold and the monastery must have a billion pounds in total. From the Potala palace we get a cab to the laptop place and finally after about thirty minutes of trying to explain they say it is possible and they will charge 13000Y, but this is still cheaper than quoted in Kathmandu and is a more reputable place. We walk back to the hotel and come across a meat shop selling pigs snouts, trotters, chicken feet and allsorts of other weird meats.

On the way back we also get an ice cream, they have sweet corn flavour and pea flavour lollies. I get  a pea flavoured lolly and it is one of the most revolting things I have ever tasted. We get back and then have another monastery to visit. This monastery is a bit disappointing and is pretty much a huge building site. We find out that the guy who was wearing the free Tibet t-shirt has been arrested and taken to the police station. Apparently he had shown the guide the t-shirt and the guide had apparently had to report it to the police. The couple who were arrested were asked some really strange questions on their views about Tibet and China and the guide who is still with us is really worried about losing his job. He has to leave half way through the tour to go to the tourism office to be questioned. I buy a few souvenirs at the monastery which I think I have got down pretty cheaply. We get back to the hotel and have finally got our train tickets and find that we have paid £50 more than the face value which is a bit annoying but we didn’t have any other choice as it was a condition to get the visa. We have decided to have a poker tournament and had got 880Jiao from the bank, each jiao is about the equivalent of one pence, but the it’s in note form, so we had huge piles of cash on the table. We have a lot of beers as well and end up playing poker for about four hours. I finish second and another British guy we have got together with called Jack wins the lot, all £8.80 of it.

Gyantse To Lhasa

on Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Today we have a long drive to Lhasa, which is going to take about eight hours. We leave at 8am and have a few stops along the way. One at Namtso lake, 4700m up, and another at a huge glacier at just over 5000m.

Some of the guys on the tour start a snowball fight and it turns into a massive 20-30 people snowball war. We also get a chance to sit on a yak and Jack decides it would be funny to slap it on the arse while I'm on.

We arrive in Lhasa which is an absolutely huge city and is unbelievably modern. We are greeted at the hotel with silk scarves like we were for the birthday party. The hotel doesn’t have enough rooms and the group has to be split up. We get a room in the first hotel, as does Joe and Flora, but the Eton boys are at the other hotel, although they have booked in to move hotels the next morning. We also find out that our train is not leaving on the 8th as we had expected, but is on the next day. The say we have to pay for an extra nights accommodation and our transfer to the train station. There is a big argument between the guide and the nine people who have no tickets and eventually they agree to pay for another nights hotel and our transfer, which works out quite well as the hotel is so expensive. I also manage to find a shop that gives me the address of, amazingly, an Acer service centre where I can have my laptop repaired. We decide to have an early night as we have quite a few things to see the next day.

Shigatse To Gyantse

on Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Today we have quite  a short journey and again we arrive and the hotel is again very nice. Not quite as good but still very nice compared to what we have been used to. We visit another monastery and a stupor. Some of the group had wanted to leave at 7am, but the consensus in the group was it was too early. So led by Flora we managed to get the group to agree to leaving at 8am instead. We play a bit of cards and have a few drinks back at the hotel.

Lhatse To Shigatse

on Monday, 3 May 2010

Today we have been given a lye in, as the journey is less than two hours. Luckily our accommodation from now on is in twin rooms and when we arrive at the hotel it is a nice change. It looks like a 4 star hotel, so this helps cheer some of the other people on the tour up and stops the arguments over the rooms. Unfortunately the toilet in our room is blocked and even after getting them to unblock it twice. It seems like it can’t be fixed. We go to a local fast food restaurant and this is the first town we visit which is quite large and it is surprising how modern the city is. There are even police riding around on futuristic electric motorbikes and there is rows of 20 mobile phone shops alongside each other. Even the monks all walk around on their mobiles. I try a computer shop to try and get my laptop fixed, but they just laugh. They do say that I will be able to have it repaired in the capital Lhasa though. We visit a supermarket and are shocked at how cheap everything is. A large bottle of beer is only 4Y (40p) and you can buy 5L of Vodka for about £2. The food is equally as cheap, so we raid the pick and mix, the only thing that is very expensive is small chocolate bars which cost about £1 each. We visit the monastery which has one of the biggest stupor’s, on the way back we pass by a school where all the kids are dancing in the playground. A few of us go in and watch, most of the kids look pretty bored, but a few of them are really into. Apparently they are practicing for an upcoming festival. Later we go out for a meal with most of the people on the tour as it is somebody’s birthday. We go to a local restaurant and they great us with silk scarves and after the meal they bring out a birthday cake and a special flower shaped candle which is a huge flame and then once burnt down it opens up into several smaller candles on the leaves. We go back to the room and along with Joe and Flora and a couple of other British Tom’s who are quite posh and went to Eton we play some cards and have a few drinks.

Nyalam To Lhatse

on Sunday, 2 May 2010

Today was a long day on the coach although we have good seats and I can get some good photos out the only window. We have to wait an hour because somebody has swapped buses and they are unsure whether he is on the other bus or not and seem to be unable to just count everybody. We stopped along the way and the guide told us this was the best place to see Everest from, but today it was much too cloudy to see anything which was a bit of a shame. We had to stop at a few checkpoints and the children would come up and beg for money as their mother watched on.

We get to the hostel and there is a big argument again over the rooms because people are going to have to share dorm rooms together. We share with Joe and Flora again and this time we get what we think is an excellent room with a TV. We later find out some people got rooms in a new luxury building that wasn’t even finished, with hot water and a bath.

Crossing The Border Into Tibet/China

on Saturday, 1 May 2010

We wake up at about 8am and have not been told when we are leaving, or have been woken up by anyone. I look out the window and see a lot of the group walking up the road with their bags on. We have to quickly get dressed and pack and eat breakfast before catching up at the immigrajavascript:void(0)tion office. We are a little worried as we have overstayed our visa by a couple of days. We have heard that we may get through alright and some people have said we will get fines varying from a couple of dollars to thirty dollars. There are actually four of us who have overstayed. Me and Tom by 2 days and a couple of others by about two weeks. Our guide chats with the immigration officials for a while and by this time everyone else has got their stamp and left. Finally they come out and announce we will have to pay twenty five dollars as a fine and the other guys fifty dollars. Nobody is very happy, but the only other option is to return to Kathmandu, where we would probably get a similar fine anyway and also miss our tour of Tibet. We get to the border crossing bridge and on the Chinese side it is lined with Chinese soldiers, at the end two soldiers stand to attention, like the guards outside Buckingham palace, not moving at all. On the Nepal side there is nobody except one lone soldier further back down the road. We queue up and have to show our visas as we cross the line separating Nepal and China on the bridge. We have been told to not take photos, but as we get to the other side a Chinese soldier rushes over to a couple of guys in our group and is very angry at them taking a photo of the bridge. The soldiers speak no English, but demand they delete the photos immediately.

We are one of the first people to go through customs as we had booked the tour a month ago. The soldiers in the customs hall tell us to come forward then for no reason shout at us to go back, then they will say stand somewhere, which we do, but then for some strange reason will demand we move backwards or forwards a few steps to somewhere else that seems to be no reason. The have thermal cameras recording peoples heat and are very strict on people being ill. I have a really bad cough, so am desperately trying not to cough as we go through. They scan our bags and then ask us to empty everything out. I am a little worried about my laptop as I have been told they like to check what is on them and as the screen is broken they would not be able to. We have also been told they confiscate lonely planets and lots of other books, thankfully they let my autobiography of Frankie Boyle go through no problems. Tom has got his lonely planet though, which we have been told they don’t like the map inside because it doesn’t count Taiwan as China. Some people have said they have ripped the map out and taken the cover off an even ripped the book in half in an attempt to get it through. Tom decides to try and take it whole and rip out the map there and then if needs be. They find it straight away, look at the map and confiscate it, no amount of saying we will rip any pages out they don’t like work and they will only give it back to the guide who will return it to Kathmandu, which is no good for us, so Tom leaves it. We go through passport control and Tom is stopped and told his passport needs extra checks, I go straight through and they again scan my bag and again I have to remove my laptop for them to look at. Finally through, Tom follows shortly after, no idea what the problem was. As we are the first through, we have to wait for the other forty odd people to come through. We get what is basically a huge pot noodle from a local shop, where they supply you with hot water a well and make it for you in the shop. It costs only 5Y(50p) and we soon realise the food is pretty cheap out here, although we had been told it wasn’t very cheap. We then have to get the bus a short way up the road and stop at another customs office. We are told it should take about 20 minutes, but don’t end up leaving for about 4 hours.

We then drove to Ninxiang where we had some lunch and then a short drive to Latse, which was where we were spending our first night. We arrived at the guesthouse which was pretty basic and was just dorm rooms. We decided to join with a British couple we had met, Joe and Flora and share a 4 bed dorm. Some of the other passengers were not happy about having to share dorms, especially the older couples and people by themselves.