Friday, December 25, 2009

A fake fashion prarade in Hoi an!

The trip from Hue to Hoi an was pretty chill.. No dramas and it was pretty quick! When I arrived I ended up staying at the guest house that the bus dropped me at, it was cheap though a little scetchy. After dropping off my stuff I headed into town and explored it a little. Hoi an is really famous for tailors and let me tell you, there is no shortage of them. From the moment I stepped out of the hotel I was hit with touts from ladies trying to get me to come into their shop to make clothes or shoes. Due to the fact this is a relatively small town, most of the people's income comes from these tailor shops or from cyclos and motorbikes, so all of the above are being constantly thrown in your face everywhere throughout town. The town itself is quite nice though, very small and quite pretty. I ended up just walking around the first night soaking it all up.
The next day I got into fashion mode!! I started early so I could spend time deciding what I wanted and so the clothes could be made with enough time to get altered if necessary. I really just wanted a suit and some pants and shirts for work, but I really got into the spirit and ended up getting a bit more! So, these guys can make almost anything for you... Seriously! They let you flick through a 'Next' catalogue and you can decide what style, material, where you want pockets... It's brilliant! I ended up getting a bunch of shirts, a suit, some pants, shorts and a sweet winter coat!! Had to send it all back to Korea though because it wasn't overly practical traveling with nice clothes for 3 months, but shipping was cheap and they should be there when I get back ( I hope).
On the last day in Hoi an Dom, Lyndsay and myself hired scooters and headed over to a place called 'My Son' which are temple ruins that were bombed during the war. The temples were okay, but the ride over was fun! Passing through villages with loud 'hellos' from children... Was cool!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hue and bamboo umbrella hats

I would just like to begin this post by noting that I rarely stereotype countries and their people (this comes after defending Aus's reputation on an international front for many years). However in saying this there are certain times when countries and people really do fit their stereotypes. When many people think of Vietnam they think of ladies running around with those bamboo shoulder sticks wearing those cool umbrella hats. This is a total stereotype... But that's exactly what they wear!! Awesome.. huh! And they aren't just putting on a show for the tourists either... no no!! They are wearing this kit all over the country; On farms, in the city, riding bicycles etc.

Anyway, enough distractions! So after Hanoi I went to the small city of 'Hue,' Which has a lot of history and is interesting if you are really interested in the American War or the previous Vietnamese rules of the past few decades. My interest in the previous issues is merely lukewarm, so I opted to only spend a day in the town in order to have a quick look and nothing else. That's pretty much exactly what I did. I saw the Citadel, I visited the market and I peered into the scetchy looking 'Perfume River' and then I left. I did also find time for another cooking class though, which was fun because it was just me and it ended up being a private lesson! My favourite part of the lesson was when my tiny little Vietnamese cooking teacher threw me on the back of her scooter and took me to the market. It must have looked rather strange... Like she was my little scooter slave or something. On the return I threw her on the back though and listened to her scream in my ear the whole time like I was going to get us both killed. But the lesson was fun! I can now make Kick-arse spring rolls!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How long is Halong Bay?

The first thing that you need to note when visiting Halong Bay is that there is no way to go there without being a massive tourist! You can make your own way there, but once you get there you need to hop onto a tourist boat that takes you around the bay. Or you can just simply book a tour, which is what a lot of people (including myself) do.
The tour was reasonably priced (though there were definitely cheaper options) and it went for 3 days (3 nights). It involved us all jumping in and out of vans and hopping on and off boats. Did get to do a bit of swimming in the bay too which was nice, though the bay was notably dirty! We also visited Cat Ba island and Monkey island too. Each was rather nice, though there is really nothing magical nor special I can note about either. Overall though the bay is a really pretty place, however the Halong Bay Boat trademark sails seemed to be subbed for filthy petroleum engines and there scent and pollution was sure evident. We all had a good time on and off the boat though... Drank some, ate some and played some... Good times!


Okay, so I have to try and keep this blog a little more frequent and up-to-date and to do this it means simplifying it a little and keep post to mere summaries rather than detailed descriptions.
Anyway, let's talk Vietnam! To get to Hanoi I had to cross into Vietnam by land, which I was pretty excited about! Don't ask me why, I was just curious more than anything I guess. But the border was no problems! It was a little strange however seeing how different one side was to the other. It seems as if I had stepped into a land of tropical landscapes in a matter of a simple visa exchange and all the cars on the road had been swapped for scooters.
But I arrived in Hanoi none the less and went onto 'The Drift Hostel,' which was pretty nice and well organised! During my time in Hanoi I didn't do anything remarkably exciting, though I did enjoy the new challenge of crossing the street and my new favourite sport... 'Scooter dodging.' Try it when you are in Vietnam! The best way is to simply close your eyes and step out into traffic! I also met plenty of people at the hostel who shared my passion for scooter dodging and joined me on my adventures across town.
Here are the main things I did/achieved in Hanoi:
-Didn't get hit by a scooter.
-Drank beer for 3000 dong (15c) on a plastic chair in the middle of the street.
-Saw some old American B52 that had been shot down during the war.
-Sent home all my warm clothing from China.
-Ate some awesome Vietnamese food (trout, pho and spring rolls).
-Visited the prison where John McCain was during the war.
-Visited a museum (can't tell you much about it really).

Well that's about it really. I did also manage to meet up with Prairie (ECC) and Lyndsay (China) as well and we all booked a Halong Bay trip together... But that's the next post!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Are you Yangshuo???

So, on the way to the train station in Kunming I happened to meet up with Sarah again. She was meant to be heading to Kunming on that day, but I saw her down near the train station and she was with some other travellers. The other travellers’ names were Omri (Israel), Eva and Jeremy (USA) and we were all catching an overnight train to Guilin. Once again the train was relatively calm, even though it was an 18-hour journey. The sleepers were quite good though, even if there were some strange things happening around me. When I arrived in Guilin I decided to take a bus to Yangshuo rather than staying in Guilin for the night. I headed there with the crew I had just met up with and we all hopped onto a minibus that took us all the way to Yangshuo bus station. We ended up finding a decent hostel right in the middle of town and we hit the town to find some food because we hadn’t eaten a decent meal for about 24 hours! The town of Yangshou is a very beautiful place. It is located on a river and there are tons of tall limestone peaks throughout the area. It was very impressive to see! I didn’t really have anything planned for my time in Yangshuo, but that was good in my opinion because I was able to relax and take it easy for a bit. The day after we arrived, we all rented mountain bikes and headed off to some nearby sights. The mountain bikes ended up being the best thing too, because the terrain at times became a little rough and bumpy. First we went to the ‘Moon Hill,’ which was a cool natural arch located just outside the town and we all hiked up it. We were followed by local touts who were trying their hardest to sell us water and whatever else they had stuck in their little eskies. After the hike we got back on the bikes and peddled out to find a village that was nearby. We found the village, along with locals exploiting their heritage and trying to charge an entry fee to get into the area. We didn’t want to pay, so we rode around the outskirts looking for another way in or even another way round. We ended up being stopped by the same pushers further up the trail, but we just rode past them and continued on. It turns out the village was not that special nor that interesting, so charging an entrance fee was ridiculous. Riding through the countryside out that way was really nice though; it was definitely a pretty place to see. That night we all ate together and we ate quite well because Eva and Jeremy have been blogging about food and they did some research and had found good places to eat in Yangshuo. The next day Eva, Jeremy, Omri and I got up early and took a cooking class. We began by heading to a local market where we look around for fresh produce and our Chinese master chef (Amy) bought all the necessary things that we would need to cook that day. She also showed us where we could see people preparing dog meat, so we stopped there to have a quick look. I not sure what I expected, but it was actually quite shocking! There were different parts of dog all cut up, and next to them there was a man with a knife skinning a dog that had just been killed on the ground. There was also many large dogs in cages freaking out, because they new that they were next! It was pretty shocking actually, so I walked in out of that area quite quickly! After we had finished seeing dogs being butchered, we headed to the restaurant where we would learn to cook Chinese food. We all had a pretty good time and we learnt to cook some nice tasty food! We’ll see if I’ll be able to replica the whole thing again though. I do have a recipe list and a plan to do more cooking classes through Asia, though I do have a poor memory and tend to just cook things the way I want rather than to the correct recipe.

After a few nights in Yangshuo, Omri and I headed to Longshan where we intended to go see some famous rice terraces that were in the area. The trip out took a bit of time and we had to catch a few buses to get there, but we eventually arrived late in the afternoon. We hiked up to the town of Ping-an, where we found a cheap room for the night. We didn’t see much of the rice terraces in the afternoon due to the fact it was a little cloudy, but we went to bed that night with high hopes for the next day. The next day we awoke to similar scenes to the day before, though this time there was a thick mist present, which was a little disappointing. From what we could see the terraces did look quite spectacular, though I couldn’t help but thinking that maybe they would’ve been a little better on a clear day. We hike
d on anyway and eventually found a village where some of the locals were cooking food and inviting people into their house (at a price of course). We ended up following a nice local into their home and let them cook a bunch of food for us, which ended up being very cheap and very tasty! After a nice meal we hiked on to the next village, but the day took a little turn south and we ended up getting stuck in the rain. It wasn’t that big a deal because neither one of us was worried about getting wet, but it was a little irritating. Eventually we found a minibus that was heading back to Longshan, so we squished into that and it took us to another bus that took us to Guilin. Eventually we made it back to Yangshuo early in the evening tired, a little damp and really really hungry! For the next few days I did not do a whole lot, just relaxed and took it easy. At night I went out drinking with Omri and I bumped into Annete and Gerald again. It was totally by chance! It was fun to hang out with them again though. They had done a bit of a different route, so it was funny that they ended up in the same place as me. After a couple of lazy days I left Yangshuo and started my journey toward Vietnam. When I was catching the bus to Guilin I met some nice English guys (Lyndsey, Alex and Sarah). They were heading on a similar path to me, so I caught the bus and train with them. I actually ended up getting a soft sleeper carriage on the train (due to a communication breakdown), which was nice, bit more expensive then what I was planning on spending though. I am glad I had the soft sleeper at the end of the trip though, because I may have become used to this nicer option hence spending a bit more than I’d hoped.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A quick stop in Dali and Kunming

So, after travelling with Sarah, Chantal and Dennis for almost 2 weeks, I said goodbye to them and set off to Dali. Dali isn’t too far from Lijiang, so the bus trip there was relatively tame. I ended up staying at the ‘jade Emu,’ which is an Australian run hostel. It was a fun place, and I spent the night drinking and playing pool with other guests. I met an Aussie guy named Trent who was riding his bicycle with his girlfriend from London to Vietnam! They’d been riding for about 6 months so far and had covered some pretty good distance and seen some pretty sweet places.

I stayed 2 nights in Dali, but didn’t do a whole lot. The old town was cool, but not as cool as Lijiang and the mountains were nice, but not as nice as the Gorge. I ended up meeting a few people that I had met previously in Lijiang and we hung at night with them for a bit, but we really did nothing special.

After the 2nd night I headed to Kunming. The main reason why I went there was to obtain my Vietnamese visa (which I later discovered I could’ve done in pretty much any city). I arrived on the weekend, which meant that I had to wait till Monday till I could visit the embassy to get my Visa. I didn’t find much to do in the city of Kunming (though I hear there is a lot to do outside the city). I pretty much hung out at the hostel and studied Korean or went downtown and wandered about. On the Sunday night I went and saw a performance called ‘Dynamic Yunnan’ (Yunnan is the name of the province). The show was really cool! They performed with drums, singing and there was a chick that did a peacock dance, which was a traditional dance performed by people in the region. It was cool! I highly recommend it if you are ever in Kunming!

On the Monday, I went and got my Visa! I also saw Trent (The cyclist) there too, which was a strange coincidence. The visa took a day and it was ready just in time for me to get it before I hopped on a train out of Kunming.

The ‘Jang’ is slang for Lijiang

So, after mapping out the route from Chengdu to Lijiang I decided that it would be a good idea to fly rather than take trains and buses as I would save a good deal of time. Plus the flight was not too expensive, so I opted for that and Sarah, Dennis and Chantal came along too. I had arranged to stay at ‘mama Naxi’ in Lijiang, which once again is the Lonely Planet’s “our pick.” I had also arranged for the hostel to come and pick us up from the airport. Instead of picking us up however, the hostel just came and picked up some other random foreigners and left us stranded! We called the hostel and they sent a van back and said it would be 10 mins… 1 hour later the van finally came! The whole ordeal was made more frustrating due the fact that the airport was closing and they needed us to leave (the security were giving us a hard time). When we got to the hostel it was quite late and the girl was very rude to us and just threw us all into a room and left. She didn’t even apologise about the pick up and when we asked about it she didn’t seem to really think it was a big deal. The room she threw us in was horrible too, plus the shared bathrooms were some of the worst I’d ever seen! We did manage to get some sleep however and the next day we got up and immediately looked round for another hostel. We found a decent one, so we went back to mama’s and checked our arses out of there. They did over charge me a little too and they were neither nice nor helpful. So if you are thinking of heading to this hostel when you’re in Lijiang… DON’T!!!
The old town of Lijiang is a very pretty place! It’s really hard to describe it, but I was very impressed! It is however, full of tourists and they once again they are the kind that love to stare and stick cameras in your face. But if you can ignore them you can have a really pleasant time in the town. Some of what is old though has been restored and painted to be pretty
for all the visitors, so it does lack a little authenticity.
The next day a bunch of us got up really early and got into a taxi and headed to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. I have been really excited about hiking the gorge, as I hear that it is really spectacular and that day I was definitely full of beans! There were 6 of us walking together (Sarah, Dennis, Chantal, Wenna and Lee). We began the hike at about 11:00 am and we headed up towards our first guesthouse.
The weather was looking a little bad when we started, so we weren’t really sure what to expect. We all started at pretty similar pace, which changed as soon as we started to climb a little, and people started to throw in some breaks here and there. Right from the start the view was amazing! It is really hard to explain, but the gorge is massive! The huge stone peaks of mountains tower over you and make you feel really small! We were hiking up the side of the gorge with the smaller mountains so it was a little easier, though the climb up was still a little difficult in parts. We ended up stoping about halfway across the track and staying at a guesthouse that had some really cool views. It was also a very cheap place to stay and it appeared that we were the only ones staying there too. The night got a little boring after a while, but we filled the time playing cards and some other random games.
The next day we took off at about 10:30, which we thought was a little late because there was meant to still be about 4 hours hiking to go and we still needed to find our way back to Lijiang. The weather was also very similar to the day before, but it still never really rained on us, which was nice. The hike ended up only being about 2.5 hours (not 4) and we were ready to head home by 1. It turns out however that the road that was meant to take us back had been shut due to a large rock that had fallen onto it during their attempt to widen the road. So we ended up having to take a taxi 17km in the other direction. This taxi took us to a place where we could get a ferry across the river, but finding this ferry was another matter! We walked around for about an hour looking for where to get onto this ferry. We could see the boat!!! But, we couldn’t see where we were supposed to hop on it! Eventually we waited on a rock where the ferry came over, picked us up, and ripped us off! It was one of those ‘What are you going to do scenarios’ where there was no other option but to take the ferry (for 30 secs) across the river.
Once we were across the river we had to hike up to a guesthouse, where we waited for a bout an hour for a bus to come and get us. The bus too was a little bit expensive, but once again it was our only option! We ended up getting back to Lijiang 7 hours after we finished the trek, which was longer than the whole trek put together!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chengdu & Cheng-don't

So, Chengdu has a reputation for being a very large but very relaxed city and I have to say that for the most part it has lived up to this reputation. I arrived here with Sarah, Dave, and a bunch of other backpackers after a 16hour train ride from Xi’an. The train wasn’t too bad though, as I pretty much slept for more than half of that time.

We arrived at ‘Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel,’ which I might say… Is quite nice!! Very large, friendly staff and all the necessities one might need in a hostel. Didn’t seem like there was a lot of people staying there though, which was a surprise, because these “Lonely Planet our picks” tend to stay quite full for the most part. Anyway, didn’t really do much on the first day. Just took it easy and ate some Sichuan style food (which I found much better than the northern stuff).

The next day a bunch of us got up early and went and to the panda research centre to see the pandas. This is the best time to see them, as they are very active early in the morning and no just lying around sleeping. They were very active and a lot of fun! I got a lot of good pictures. I also met a man from Korea, who I practised my Korean with. It was really exciting for the both of us! My favourite part of the tour though was at the end there was a place where you could eat some panda and buy some genuine panda fur. Some people think this is very cruel but I think that this is just one of lives finer things! Don’t judge me!! I bet you eat meat and you wear leather… you do, don’t you! Cannibal!!

Anyway, I was totally joking about panda cruelty before… Though I have punch one or two in the face back in the day. But all jokes aside, Chengdu is a really relaxed city. Even though there are about 4.5 million people living there (and another “something something” million living on the outskirts) everyone just sits around drinking tea and taking it easy. So… “When in Chengdu…”

I’ve been pretty much just relaxing here. Spent a bit of time in teahouses, plus been cycling around town and trying not to get hit by cars and buses. There is a people’s park here that a bunch of us went to see and it was quite a site! People just hanging out, dancing, flying kites and drinking tea. It wasn’t all that big, but it was full of older Chinese people just doing their thing!

At night, the local ‘Sichuan’ speciality is ‘Hot Pot.’ And yes… it’s pretty much as the name suggests!! A big pot full of hot stuff! Its quite good though and I had it couple of times during my stay in Chengdu. The first time that I had it I didn’t realise that you were meant to put you meat in a “cool off” dish after taking it out of the pot. This dish has coriander, garlic and sesame oil in it and it’s used to flavour the meat after its been in the fiery pot. So… I took the meat out of the pot and put all of it into my gob. After this, my face resembled a similar colour to the broth in the pot and I literally could not speak. It was definitely an experience and every bite after that was somewhat tame.

On the 3rd day in Chengdu, some of us rented a driver to take us out to the Leshan Buddha, that was about 2 hours drive from where we were. The Buddha is really something impressive! It’s more than 70m tall and over a thousand years old. It has been carved out of the side of a large cliff and he is positioned in a straight-legged sitting position. The annoying thing about this trip was that we went on a Saturday and half of China came on a weekend trip. These tourists weren’t your regular city folk either. No! They were out-of-towners that were incredibly fascinated by foreigners/white people that don’t look like them. A bit of staring is fine… I’ve been living in Korea!! Those guys wouldn’t stare any more if I were naked. But these tourists would stare for minutes (with half minute intervals) and what made it worse was they were all armed with cameras! ARGHHH!!! Leave me alone!! They were not at all shy about sticking that camera in you face either. But luckily none of us were intimidated by this and we would stick our cameras right back in their face or just cover our face like we were criminals. I mean seriously… Why would they won’t to take pictures of foreigners? Are they going to get home and show their friends the pics? “Here is me standing at the entrance, here is the Buddha, and oh… Here are some white guys that I saw standing in a line, Aren’t they weird looking?!”

Anyway, apparently on the way home our taxi driver nearly fell asleep while driving. I say apparently because I too was asleep and I was in the front, so everyone blames my sombre state for his drowsiness. But we made it back safely and that night, Anton and Anna (the German Couple) checked into our hostel. This was totally by chance and it was cool to see them again. We all played Mah Jong and hung out for the evening and talked about what we’d been doing for the past week.

Xi'an-Attack... GO!

After a relatively easy (9 hours) train ride, I arrived in Xi’an and I went to my Hostel (Shuyuan), which a lot of people had spoken about in Pingyao. The hostel was really big and there were tons of travellers there. There is a nice cafĂ© there as well as a huge bar downstairs in the basement.

I spent the first day just walking around the city inside the city walls. My first impression was that the city was a little polluted, and very big. Looking around the history was very evident and there are some impressive structures in the centre of town. When I got back to the hostel I met up with a couple that I was rooming with (Clare and Owen). Clare was from Melbourne and Owen was from London but they had both been living together in London for the past couples of years. They were both really cool and I ended up eating and drinking with them that night. We went to the bar downstairs, which was large, busy and very very smoky! We had a good time though, and we really didn’t spend too much money, which was nice.

The next day, I met up with Gerald and Anette again and we had breakfast together. They were leaving though and were heading to Chongqing, so I may not see them again. Also that morning I met up with Sarah again; she had just gotten the train in from Pingyao. Anyway, I ended up heading up the city walls with Clare, Owen, Sarah and an English guy called Dave. We rented bicycles and rode them all the way around the city walls (14km). It was a pretty cool experience, though it does get a little redundant after a while. I ended up saying goodbye to Clare and Owen, as they were leaving in the afternoon and Sarah, Dave and myself wandered around Xi’an for a bit. We headed over to the Muslim quarter in search of the Great Mosque, which was actually really hard to find! Eventually, we found it and we paid to go in. It was a little disappointing, but it was cool to see a Chinese style Mosque and it was also interesting to see Chinese Muslims hanging out and doing things that were not typically Chinese.

That night I met up with another Dutch couple (Dennis and Chantel) and Sarah and we hung out and had dinner and drank for a bit. The Dutch couple were incredibly funny and we spent most of the night laughter at their antics.

The next day we all went to see the ‘Army of Terracotta Soldiers.’ They are located a little out of town, so we had to take a couple of buses to get there. Once we got there we organised a guide so that we could have someone explain everything and we wouldn’t be just looking around and potentially becoming unimpressed. The soldiers are really very impressive! They have excavating them for years and they are still doing so as well as piecing them all back together. I was a little annoyed at how the place seemed to be a very large shopping complex though. There were so many souvenir shops and they were scattered in and outside the complex and really could not be avoided. But if you come to Xi’an you really have to see the Warriors and I was very glad that I did it! Also, the Dutch couple again were very entertaining and gave us a bunch of laughs throughout the day.

That night we all ate and drank together again, but this night seemed to go on a lot longer than the others and some people drank a little too much. We all had a good time and we met up with some other fun travellers too, so it was a pretty good nigh!

On the last day in Xi’an everyone seemed to be a little hungover, so many people just stayed in the hostel. It was also raining very hard, so doing stuff outside was not exactly an appealing thought. Sarah and I did venture out however and we headed over to see a large Pagoda (Big Goose Pagoda) and we checked out a free museum (Shaanxi museum. The museum was boring though… So if anyone tells you it’s good, SLAP them in the face and say ‘Ian says you’re a liar!! . But we did have a pretty fun time walking around Xi’an outside the walls, even though it was raining for the most part.


The train ride into Pingyao was relatively placid. I had a hard sleeper that was really nice and I slept nearly the entire way (8 hours). I was also in a berth right next to Gerard and Annette and we chatted a bit, which was nice.

We arrived in Pingyao at 6:30am and it was cold and dark, but there were little bike taxis waiting to take us to a hostel nearby. We all (Anton, Anna, Gerald, Annette and I) hopped in the taxis and went to ‘Harmony hostel’ which is the “our pick” in the Lonely planet. Driving into the city was quite cool. It was a very hazy and the sun was starting to rise. We drove up to the city and the first thing I noticed was the large and very impressive city walls! We drove through as if heading back in time and entered a city that looked as if it had been left the same for 500 years.

When we arrived at the hostel we discovered that it was not that busy and we all got our rooms upgraded. I had booked a dorm room for 25RMB a night and ended up getting a twin room by myself for the same price. Once I got into my room I immediately fell asleep again. I woke at about 10:30 and went out to explore the town. The town was really incredible! It really did look like it had been left untouched for 500 years! The only sour part was that the main streets were lined with tacky souvenir stores selling the same fake crap that you can find all over China. I walked around for a couple hours weaving in and out of the Hutongs (alleys) and walked along side the city walls. Back at the hostel I met up with my friends again and we organised to do a tour together the next day to a near by village and an underground castle that was supposed to be quite cool! For the rest of the day we all just chilled, played cards and relaxed.

The next day a van came and picked us all up and took us to a nearby site called ‘Wang family courtyard.’ This “courthouse” was more like a massive city and neither one of us had read or even heard anything about the place. We were all really impressed however and we spent about 2 hours exploring this cool residence. After that we went to a nearby village that had a bunch of old temples and some other cool things. The coolest thing about the village though was a castle that was underneath it. The Zhangbi Cun is a series of really fascinating tunnels that are under the village that apparently go for about 10km (only 1.5 are opened to the public). But they don’t know how old these tunnels are as there is no real written record of them, but they do know that they are at least 2,000 years old. We really enjoyed exploring these tunnels and our guide was pretty interesting for the most part.

That night I had dinner with Gerald and Annette and we were pointing at the picture of dog on the menu board and I guess the waitress thought that we wanted that. So, we ended up getting some dog… oops!!

On my last day in Pingyao I met a Dutch girl named Sarah, who was really nice and her, the German couple and myself all rode bicycles out to a temple that was nearby. We also spent the day cycling around Pingyao, which I really enjoyed and overall I had a pretty good experience in Pingyao.

Arriving in China

So, after the flight into Beijing I was feeling a little strange. I guess it was a mix of nerves and anxiety really, but I was also very sad to have left Gwangju and everything and everyone that I had become familiar with and become attached to. However I braved through the nervous and began the journey through China.

First, I hopped on to a train that took me to the main long distance train station. This train station (Beijing station) was absolute chaos! Tons of people everywhere just running around mad, so I felt a little nervous trying to order my first train ticket. Anyway, I sucked it up and headed to a random ticket window and tried my luck. The first angry ticket lady pointed me toward another window and then that angry ticket lady found my train but informed me that I had to go to another train station. Anyway, I headed to ANOTHER ticket window where that angry ticket lady sold me a ticket! After that I hopped into a taxi and went to the other crazy and big bus station (Beijing West). Eventually, I got onto a train headed for Datong. I had purchased a seat (rather than a sleeper) as it was much cheaper and the train ride was only about 6 hours long. The seat was quite uncomfortable, but bearable and the people around me seamed very curious about me being on the train. The trip was made all the more uncomfortable by the fact that I was sitting next to a couple of young Chinese guys who didn’t say a word the whole trip, they just sat there and stared without a word. But it was an experience and that’s what travelling is all about!

When I arrived in Datong my body went into a numb state of shock! It was freeeeeezzzzzzzzing! I walked straight to the nearest hotel and paid the stupid prize that they were asking. I kind of wished I had looked around a bit because other people mentioned cheaper places that they found right next to the station. But anyway, I had a nice shower and a good sleep and the next day I felt awake and ready to take on the city!

The main reason I came to Datong was to see the Yungang Grottoes, which are famous Buddhist carvings located in the mountains near Datong. My main objective for the day was to find a way of getting to these caves. This goal seemed to be harder than I thought! Firstly, I need to mention that the Chinese really like to burn coal (for heat, energy and maybe just for fun) and Datong is known for having many coal burning facilities right in town. And let me tell you… They did not disappoint!! The town seemed incredibly polluted by this crap and it also stunk like hell! So while holding my breath I wandered out of the hotel and found a bus to take me into town. The bus was so packed that it could hardly move under that weight of all the people, but it eventually got me into town. When I was in town I walked around looking for another bus but eventually gave up and got a good deal on a taxi to take me to the caves.

The caves were really cool! They are all about 1500 years old and they are still in immaculate condition. There are about 20 or so different caves and some are really mind blowing and others are quite simple, but none the less they are all nothing short of amazing! There are some huge carvings of Buddha that were incredible and there were some very fine carvings on the walls that had very good detail.

While at the caves I met a German couple named Anton and Anna, they had organised a taxi to pick them up from the caves and take them back to Datong. I managed to share the taxi with them and get back into to town. We all ended up having lunch together and while doing so we discovered that we were headed to the same destination that night on the same train. I ended up hanging out with these guys for a while and walked around the town with them for a bit.

That night I went to the train station and hung out and waited for my train. While I was there I met a Dutch couple (Gerard and Annette) that I mad bumped into previously when I was checking out of my hotel. They were very nice and they too were heading to the same place I was that night. The place we were all heading was called Pingyao, Which is an ancient city surrounded by city walls.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Farewell my Han-gukans!!

So, I'm just sitting at Incheon Airport now taking advantage of Naver's free wifi... Kick arse Naver!! Way to go!!
It feels really strange to be leaving Korea! I don't feel like I've been here over a year and I am really not ready to leave! I guess I am comforted by the thought that I will be coming back here next year and that anything (or anyone) that I will miss will only be missed temporarily and that I will be back at it again soon. Everyday that I have been here I have had some kind of experience and I have really learned a whole lot in one year and Korea really does feel like my home at the moment.

Anyway, totally of topic.. I would just like to note that I have witnessed a 'matchy matchy' record here at Incheon. Within the hour I have counted 20+ 'matchy matchy' couples and about 200+ white masked surgeons wandering around the airport. I'm going to miss Korea!!

I am really looking forward to this trip that I am undergoing... It's going to be sweet! Firstly I am flying into Beijing, where I will immediately hop onto a train and head for a city called 'Datong.' This city itself is apparently nothing special, but nearby there are some famous Buddhist grottoes that get a real 'Lonely Planet hype up,' so I will trust their judgment and check out the place for myself. Next I will be heading to 'Pingyao' which is a famous ancient city surrounded by some cool city walls. I will spend a day or two there and then head on down to Xi'an, and after that... who knows! I will make it up as I go!

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Quick Summary

Okay! To explain what I am doing and where I am at, I need to just summarise everything as simply as possible I think.
I live in Korea! I have been here for 10 months and I am doing what nearly every other foreigner is doing here... Teaching English! I really enjoy doing what I am doing and have had some great experiences, some trialling times and met some really cool people along the way. The lifestyle and the experience is really what you make of it and for me I feel like I have had a very productive year in both areas.
I am currently the senior teacher at the school I am at and I have to say that teaching really is a pretty fun job for the most part. Though some days are better than others and some students are more frustrating than some, the good times really do out-way the bad times. I am lucky in that I work at a good school where the staff are very helpful and there are a lot of Korean teachers that are always willing to help. Though many people have bad experiences teaching in Academys, I have found them to be that big of a problem. In saying that though, I am planning on teaching at a public school next year because of holidays and all that good stuff!
Living in Korea has been pretty fun for the most part. It definitely comes with its frustrations though, which I will highlight quickly. Being stared at! Its expected when you first arrive, but annoying when you've been here for a while. Always being referred to as a 'foreigner'! This just creates barriers between Koreans and expats and not very welcoming in my mind, and it is purely based on your appearance. I also get a little frustrated too when all Koreans think exactly the same! Swine flu, mad cow, melamine etc, most Koreans are all petrified of these things and they will go to extreme lengths to avoid things they think contain these killers!! For the most part though, Korea has been a good place to be. I have enjoyed the food the culture and getting to know the people.
Anyway, as has been mentioned.. This is a quick summary. So I am going to leave it all at that. I know my Korea experience has been as well documented as some of my co-teachers, but this is better than nothing I guess.