A Travellerspoint blog

Petra, Jordan

Magical Petra

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The only public bus to Petra leaves Amman at 6.30am, so it was a very early start for us as we had to be at the bus station before that to ensure that we got a ticket. The bus takes you directly to the visitor centre entrance, so often people do it as a day trip from Amman.

Its 50JD for a one day Petra pass or 55JD for two days, so we opted for the two...and glad we did because there's so much to see. From the visitor centre to the Treasury monument there's a 2km walk through a natural gorge, it's a great first impression... with reminants of sculptures hidden in the rock and then, the most famous Petra view of all, the glimpse of the Treasury appears round a corner through a gap in the rocks. Spectacular, it doesn't disappoint. Petra was so quiet when we went that Jason managed to get the brochure shot of the Treasury without any crowds and with a camel perfectly placed in front.

It was really hot and a lot of the site is more of a hike than a stroll. You have to take regular rests and soak up the views. Or, you can opt to go round on a donkey, mule or camel for a fee. There's lots of ruins built into the red rock and you can get a sense of what the ancient town would have looked like all those years ago. It never felt busy, we could soon find ourselves a step to sit on and be by ourselves to admire the view.

After making our way up over the rocky path, we reached the monastery. This was my favourite of all the sites at Petra. It's huge! When we first got there there was a Bedouin boy climbing and jumping over it...and I thought "crazy"! Not knowing at the time, that later we'd follow a crazy Bedouin to an even higher point of the Monastery to watch the sunset. There's a perfectly placed cafe opposite the Monastery where we stopped to have a drink and started chatting to a local Bedouin. He told us a lot about his life, working in Petra, the Bedouin way, it was really interesting. He said he'd take us to the best place to watch the sunset...and it really was! If you look at our photographs, there's a dome shape at the top middle of the Monastery ruin...well that's where we sat to watch the sun go down! Again, I had a little vertigo episode (probably made worse by the boy that decided to balance near the edge and on the very top of the Monastery spire), but it was worth it! This had been one of my best days so far.

I hadn't quite sussed out how we were going to leave the Petra site once the sun had gone down and we were in pitch black...the only answer was by mule! We relied on a group of Bedouins to help us get back; although Jason had to run alongside in the dark because he was worried about being allergic to the fur. We got taken back to the Bedouin village where we had a cup of tea. A great end to a perfect day!

We only stayed in Petra for half a day the next day because we were shattered from our previous day's adventure. We hiked up to the High Point for amazing views of the site...you could see for miles and it highlighted new areas that we hadn't explored yet. It's breathtaking, honestly one of the most beautiful and interesting sites/parks I've been too. I could have spent hours just sitting, perched on top of the mountain, taking in the views. There must be so much more we could have seen if we'd had more time to explore.

Our hotel was really nice too, AlAnbat Hotel. The staff were really friendly, there was a pool, they cooked great food, and more importantly there was an onsite Turkish bath. After all that walking, we figured we needed a treat. We loved it...a steam room, a man to scrub you down and then sud you up with soap, then a full body massage, followed by jacuzzi and apple juice. Amazing! It was a little off putting when the man showed us how much dead skin he'd managed to scrub away...there was a lot!

My descriptions don't do justice to Petra. I hope you get an idea from our photographs how spectacular it is. We will continue to recommended Jordan, and especially Petra, to everyone we meet. Truely magical!

Posted by bloorsontour 08:34 Archived in Jordan Comments (2)

The Dead Sea, Karak and Madaba

A little bit of luxury and a Nissan Sunny

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We'd debated whether to hire a car for the whole of our Jordan trip, but instead opted for 3 days in case we didn't like it and we'd also heard that you could get to tourist sites relatively easily on public transport.

We'd got a night booked at the Crown Plaza, Dead Sea, as a little treat using Jason's hotel points he'd collected whilst working away in the UK. To make the most of our day of luxury we dashed down to the Dead Sea in our little Nissan Sunny and managed to check in early. Wow...it was amazing...first, an upgrade to a sea view room, then a chauffeur in a golf buggy to our room (as the place was huge), then free mini bar , then a knock on the door with a present of free baklava, then free mud minerals on the beach, amazing pool and the sun was shining. I was in my element. After all this travelling a little bit of luxury was greatly appreciated. Apart from the sun bathing we really didn't do a lot, but we would definitely recommend the Dead Sea as an experience. It's so weired! There is nothing you can do to sink and Jason tried his best to push me down in the water but I just popped straight back up again. You can't swim because your feet end up floating above the surface so you can never kick to get anywhere. It gave us a lot of entertainment. In order to get the best Dead Sea mineral experience for your skin you are supposed to soak in the water and then apply the mud until it dries and then dip back in the sea to wash it all off. We followed this advice, but not sure we look 10 years younger for doing so...?

Jason did all of the driving and made the most of quiet, winding roads that take you through the desert and mountains (I think he secretly quite liked the Nissan Sunny). It was great to take in the scenery, stop when you wanted to and go to wherever you decided...we spent a night in Karak. It was a very quite town and had a budget hotel for us to stay in (a bit of a downgrade from our previous room). We tried to eat locally and sought out the busiest place in the town...a kebab house. I was disappointed with my meal, which was basically a chicken and cheap cheese sandwich, but Jason's BBQ chicken and veg with pitta was much nicer. Karak has a castle, which was why we chose to go there, because Jason likes castles. The castle was OK, not kept in the best condition for a tourist site, but it did have great views of Jordan's desert landscape and we virtually had it all to ourselves.

The next stop in the car was Madaba, which is about one hour south of Amman. It's famous for its mosaic pavements and an old mosaic map of the Holy Land and religious sites across the Middle East before borders were made. The mosaics themselves are very impressive considering their age, however the Mosaic Park is a rip off considering half of the sites weren't open when we went...nevermind. We did visit a nice church, which had a bell tower you could climb to get a view. Dad, it would seem that I have your gene for fear of heights after all. I started to climb the tower, thinking nothing of it, but then looked up at the huge bells ahead of me and got very dizzy and couldn't take a step further. Jason made it to the top and informed me that I'd missed out on a cracking view...oh dear. I hope this doesn't become an issue for me...

The Nissan Sunny had successfully made it around the Dead Sea, Karak and Madaba and it was time to head back to Amman for another Hasheem restaurant fill...yummy!

Posted by bloorsontour 01:59 Archived in Jordan Comments (3)

Amman, Jordan

"Welcome to Jordan"

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Our hotel was in downtown Amman, where all the locals do business, go to mosque, eat and socialise. It's a refreshing change from Asia, a completely different feel and new culture to get excited about. The eery call to prayer rings out over the city, theres new food to explore and the smell of shisha pipes in the air. As you walk down the street everybody says "Welcome to Jordan". There was no time to sleep off the jet lag, instead we wanted to explore.

Our first visit was a food stop at Jafra restaurant... delicious! We sat out on the terrace to people watch and feasted on halloumi, spiced green beans, pitta and lamb pieces in houmus. I was in my element. Jason has also found a taste for Jordan coffee, served strong and infused with cardamon. A lovely anniversary meal.

We then headed down to the souk, the mosque and explored the ancient amphitheatre that sits in the heart of downtown Amman. We spent a good amount of time just sitting in the amphitheatre, soaking up the atmosphere and surroundings. The landscape is hilly and the houses line steep streets that make way for the amphitheatre at the bottom. We wandered up through the sand coloured streets that occasionally had a brightly coloured piece of art painted onto buildings in stark contrast and reached the top, the Amman citadel. By the time we got there it was probably about 5.30pm and we virtually had the place to ourselves. There are interesting ruins, but more impressive than that is the view. Amman looks beautiful at sunset. We sat and watched the sun go down, cast shadows over the ruins, listen to family parties in the streets and the call to prayer.

The next day we hopped on a local bus to Jaresh, an hour north of Amman and Jordan's second tourist attraction. And again, we were virtually the only ones there. We had a brilliant day exploring the ancient ruins of this city. It compared to Pompeii in Italy and Ephesus in Turkey, but in some ways more impressive as you didn't have to fight your way through the tourists and instead take in the enormity of this ancient city and how it used to be. I hope the photos do it justice...

It's such a shame...many people have told us that tourism has dramatically dropped due to the recent unrest in the Middle East. Jordan borders Syria, Israel and Egypt, all of which have bee, or are still at war, yet Jordan is a very peaceful country and nobody should be put off by its neighbours unrest.

Our second day was topped off with a cracking evening meal. It was a table of salad, pita, houmus, falafel and drinks for two all for just £2.40...bargain. It's Hasheem restaurant and its always packed with locals. There's not an extensive menu, but their falafal is the best we've ever had.

A brilliant first two days here and we're looking forward to hiring a car to explore the country ourselves tomorrow.

Posted by bloorsontour 04:53 Archived in Jordan Comments (2)

Hong Kong

A city with everything

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We'd booked ourselves into a little guesthouse in the heart of Kowloon, literally in the middle of all of the hustle and bustle. We stayed within the Mirador Mansion building, but there's also Chungking Mansion which is similar. They're worth visiting anyway...a collection of counterfeit goods, Indian food stalls, dodgy guesthouses and locals flats. When we first arrived we both thought "oh no, where have we booked?!". We had to work our way to the fourth floor and asked numerous people where to go through the maze tower block...we found our room and it was actually nice and clean (if a little small). The mansion block was really busy when we left our room, people hanging out over the edge of the balconys, peering down at the police below. We wondered what was going on and then Jason pointed out a small tent and when we asked a local lady she informed us that a lady had thrown herself off the top of the tower block right in the middle of the building in everyone's view...grim! What a first welcome to Hong Kong.

Once we'd got over the shock of what was on our doorstep we went exploring around Kowloon. There are lots of shops and restaurants, very busy and VERY expensive. Hong Kong was going to stretch our purse. In some respects its like shopping at home, with good old Marks & Spencer and other familiar UK stores. We had heard that there was some of the best food to be had in Hong Kong, unfortunately not much of it was in our budget. We managed to find a little cafe that served us prawn wontons in noodle soup and chutney pork & noodles. Later in the evening we walked along the avenue of stars...a bit like the Hollywood stars,but with an amazing skyline view. It's worth going to this area for the view and we heard that at 8pm the skyscrapers put on a free light show. We missed it on Kowloon side and it wasn't very impressive from the other side of the sea, Hong Kong side. Nevermind...maybe next time.

Luckily for us I'd managed to save some points and got us two free nights accommodation at a nice hotel, the Cosmopolitan Hotel, on Causeway side of Hong Kong. It was really nice, and I was particularly desperate to get out of our other accommodation. In our room we had a free smart phone with information about tourist atractions , restaurants and transport. The phone also meant we could phone the UK for free so got to catch up with those that don't use Skype and my brother on his birthday.

Causeway and Central side of Hong Kong were fantastic, I liked it here a lot. There's an area with an escalator that goes right up through the skyscrapers and through cute little streets filled with gorgeous restaurants. I'm not sure how long we can keep using the 'its nearly our anniversary' card, but we treated ourselves to an Italian meal complete with a lovely glass of prosecco! I could have spent days window shopping and eating at different restaurants. Due to our budget we got a bottle of wine from M&S food and took it back to our hotel to enjoy...its a lot cheaper than Hong Kong restaurant prices.

Hong Kong is very busy, so it was nice to get away from it all and catch a ferry to Lamma Island for some beach time. We thought it might be busy because we chose to go on the weekend, but because Asian people generally don't like sunbathing the beach was relatively quiet. We'd both been nominated for the ice bucket challenge and it had caused us a bit of a problem. However problem solved...a hot beach and a refreshing bucket of ice water to cool us down...perfect. I think if we had moremore time we would have spent time exploring the different islands, apparently the islands have some good trekking routes on the coast.

Our last night in Hong Kong and we wanted to enjoy it...Lan Kwai Fong is the place to be. There are loads of bars and restaurants; we had a delicious Thai meal. The nightlife spills onto the streets and it can be relatively inexpensive if you want it to be (which we did). The local 7Eleven shop turns into a bar itself, where you queue to get your beers from out of the shop fridge to drink on the street outside the pricey bars. We were happy as we found a place showing Premier League football. It was a great night and Jason had a hangover to match.

Asia has been incredible, but now it's time to head to the middle east... can't wait! Asia, we'll see you in November.

Posted by bloorsontour 23:27 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Shanghai, China

Cocktails with a view

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We flew from Beijing to Shanghai and arrived at our hostel at 1am...I'm now starting to get really tired from our busy travelling schedule in China. We have both agreed that after Istanbul in October we're going to start taking things a lot slower. Jason was not impressed with Spring Airlines...he'd bought a large bottle of gin and had put it in his hold luggage and they said he couldn't take it on the plane...this was a new rule to us and none of the information signs had anything about this on either. He was gutted!

Sightseeing time. There's an area of Shanghai called the French Concession and it's very busy, trendy, filled with boutique shops, bars and restaurants. We spent the morning just wandering around the area, general people watching and grabbed a huge burger...delicious! We were both really tired and flagging, so went back to our room for a well needed afternoon nap. Feeling revitalised, we went for a walk along the famous Shanghai riverfront, the Bund, at night and the Pudong skyline really was spectacular. The Oriental Pearl Tower is the iconic tripod structure that takes pride of place and then there's the Jinmao Tower too that are illuminated in a changing aray of colours. There's also a new skyscraper being built too that looks like its going to tower over all of them in the future.

We ate at a local Chinese restaurant for our evening meal because we felt guilty that we'd had a burger earlier. It consisted of sizzling beef and oyster greens with rice. It was nice,but Jason was even more impressed that there was a local bakery that only sold Portuguese custard tarts that he loved when we were on honeymoon there. I lost count how many he had.

We had a really chilled day in Shanghai on our last day. For anybody that skyped us on that afternoon you will know that we spent it taking advantage of the happy hour in a bar we found. It was buy on get one free...who could resist?! Plus they served amazingly huge pizzas. As it was nearly our 2nd year anniversary we decided to treat ourselves to a drink with a view at night...the 87th floor of the Jinmao Tower, Cloud9 bar. It was simply spectacular...the other buildings looked like toy houses they were that far away. I had a lychee margarita and Jason had a Manhattan...I thought it was worth every penny. It's worth knowing that the Cloud9 bar is there as it was £16 for two cocktails in a beautiful bar on the 87th floor rather than paying £12 each to go to the observation deck on the 88th floor. It was a perfect end to our 5 weeks in China.

Posted by bloorsontour 00:37 Archived in China Comments (3)

Beijing

Temples, hutongs and a massive wall

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Our room at the Grand Hotel du Palais Rouge (a ridiculously grand name considering it seemed to be run by 2 young girls who shared the 24hr manning of reception, breakfast duty and we suspect the massage service) was nice and very Chinese. Only downside was the lack of segregation between bedroom and bathroom- not romantic! The staff generally responded "no" to every question, bit they did do it with a smile so not as bad as some of the other Chinese service that we'd been used to...

Enough of the domestic arrangements, once we caught up on a little sleep we got out exploring and started to love it. Behind our hotel was a cool hutong with all sorts of cafés, restaurants, bars and shops. There was even a homemade sausage restaurant called Stuff'd which served the best sausage that I have ever had! We also frequented a food hall a few times on the main shopping street where you can choose food from stalls specialising in different regional specialities and it is pretty cheap. I treated myself to a few new threads and also stocked up on a few electronic essentials. Sophie trawled the cosmetic counters and we had some minor disagreements about the price one can put on maintaining rosy cheeks...

On the eve of our first night in Beijing we headed to Tianamen Square. I hadn't noticed the smog too much but as the sun went down the bright orange sun disappeared and our eyes burned a little. We were accosted for photos numerous times, but spent some time people watching in peace. Seeing the deadpan expressions as they took the hundredth selfy of the hour and watching families in matching outfits cavort around with kites and streamers was pretty entertaining! Note: the deadpan photo of Sophie is a bit of a micky take of the photo culture in China. The square was very closely monitored by the police/army and as darkness descended, those of us remaining on the square were herded off. It was interesting seeing Chinese suppression in action having seen how westernised much of the city is.

Day 2 was the Forbidden City. I expected not to enjoy it, but thought it something we should see. We joined the hordes to enter the palace but managed to go straight to a ticket window and then found plenty of spots away from the crowds. The complex is huge and pretty impressive and far more enjoyable than expected. I tried to teach Sophie the Wil Poole method of fast walking, but she wasn't willing to give it a proper go... After the forbidden city we wandered around and came upon a bustling hutong, complete with cheap giant mojito stall - an excellent find!

Day 3 was something I'd been looking forward to for a long time; the Great Wall. I was hoping that it would live up to expectations and spent a while looking for the best way to see it. Areas such as Badaling have been restored and converted into theme park type attractions with huge number of tourists trampling around, cable cars and the usual Chinese approach to mass tourism. We found a few other options with complicated transport arrangements, but settled on joining a local walking group: Beijing Hikers. The other walkers were locals and expats, they spoke English and were really well organised. It did cost £35 but was well worth the money! The walk set off at quite a pace and Soph wasn't too impressed. One of the walkers was in full trail running attire and did running drills when we stopped... Not sure she quite appreciated what a hike should entail. Our view is that it involves WALKING, eating, surveying the scene and a general sense of wellbeing. Anyway,she gave us plenty of entertainment as well as something to moan about and we walked at the pace we wanted to so she just had to wait. The views from the wall were better than I imagined, stretching out as far as we could see (a long way on a perfect blues sky day), perched on the precipice of mountain ridges. It was fairly hard going with the heat, the changes in elevation and the state of the wall and watchtowers in places. That said, the condition of wall was amazing considering it's age. It was easy to imagine how easily the army would have been able to march right across the tops of mountains; journeying in minutes what would otherwise have taken hours. As you can probably tell, this was one of the highlights of our trip so far for me!

We took things fairly easy the remainder of our 5 days in Beijing, taking in: the Olympic park, the Summer Palace (huge lake, stunning pagodas and thousands of tourists), the Tmple of Heaven (impressive temple and park complex and surprisingly quiet), the Lama Temple (one of the most sacred Tibetan temples outside of Tibet, stunning, busy but with a reverence and refreshing quietness not normally witnessed around Chinese tourists) and lots of food establishments. One of the highlights was Beijing (Peking) duck. We thought they'd made a mistake and brought us 2 as we had so much food but when the bill came it was all one portion...a pleasant surprise. So much so that we treated ourselves to a glass of French red wine at a nice cafe in our hutong.

I was a big fan of Beijing: an interesting mix of east and west, it felt like we only scratched the surface. The weather was also amazing and I was only bothered by the smog on the first night. Sophie did get ill whilst we were there and whilst it would be a candidate for somewhere to live more permanently, I'm not sure it has made Sophie's shortlist...

Posted by bloorsontour 03:17 Archived in China Comments (2)

The Terracotta Warriors and the Muslim Quarter

Xian, China

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It's been a flying visit to Xian, just one nights stay here. We felt like the terracotta army was a 'must see' when in China and so made sure we had time to visit it.

The first day we got there we had an afternoon of fooding it up in the Muslim Quarter. It's a series of bustling back streets and alleyways filled with street food,restaurants and shops. Jason was fine,but unusual for me I struggled to find my appetite after having a bout of food poisoning. Jason managed to work his way through squid kebabs, herb filled fried pastries, chilli potatoes and slow cooked lamb burgers. We spent a fair few hours just taking in the atmosphere...groups of men bashing nuts in big pans, people heckling for your custom, neon lights, the smell of bbq'd meats, lots of tourists for people watching. The day after we also came to the Muslim Quarter again for some food,but this time found a highly recommended restaurant for traditional steamed baotzi, which is a sort of rice dumpling filled with beef, that we had with chilli soy dip. Delicious.

We'd been really looking forward to seeing the terracotta army based on a documentary we'd watched at home that presented its history, gradure and advanced technology in detail. Unfortunately it didn't live up to my expectations. I think I'd built up this idea of seeing a huge army up close that had been buried for years, but instead it was a lot of unexcavated broken ruins that had yet to be pieced together. There is no doubt that the army is impressive from an historical point of view and the horses & chariot are particularly incredible, with beautiful detail and colours. However it is extremely busy and you have to fight your way to get a photo and you are quite far away from the ruins in the big pitted arenas. Jason thought it would be a tourist trap and may not live up to expectations and came away impressed. The whole idea of this army being made in so much detail all those years ago to protect Emporer Xin in his afterlife is where its awesomeness lies. All in all it is one of those sights you must see.

Posted by bloorsontour 03:48 Archived in China Comments (2)

A taste of Tibet, China

Kangding and Tagong

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We had been recommended travelling to Western Sichuan province by a previous backpacker we'd met. We would have loved to travel this area for longer but again we've ran out of time therefore have only managed to visit Kangding and Tagong.

We stayed at a beautiful little hostel called Zhilam in Kangding that is decorated with bright coloured throws, lanterns and beautiful embroidery. We loved it even more because they served French wine...and yes we had a bottle! We had a fairly chilled day there really; walked up to the top of a mountain viewing spot and then watched a local school performance competition. The kids were amazing, all dressed up in bright coloured costumes and dancing to traditional Tibetan music. We then had a lovely afternoon relaxing back at our hostel, drinking wine, eating food and chilling out...bliss!

The hostel helped to arrange our onwards trip to Tagong; organising transport, accommodation and guide for two days. Tagong is most definitely Tibet rather than China. It's like the wild west, with local men in traditional hats and women in brightly coloured head pieces and long coats. It's also much colder and wetter than anywhere else we've been in China. There was quite a lot of cloud cover when we were here but you could occasionally see the snow capped mountains in the distance.

On our first day our guide took us on a trek to visit the Tibetan Nomads that look after the yaks on the grasslands. The only problem was that I appeared to struggle adjusting to the altitude. The top of the mountain was 4000m above sea level. I had to stop every 10 steps and felt like my lungs and head were bursting with the effort. A fellow backpacker gave me some tablets and the lovely Tibetan lady at our hostel gave me some Chinese medicine...I was willing to try anything! The next day I felt much better, the only side effects I had were an unusual pins and needles feeling across my face, it made me feel like I had a beard.

Seeing the Nomads was so interesting. The lady was really friendly; she welcomed us into her tent, offered us yak milk tea, yak cheese and some weetabix type stuff. They basically live off yaks; their fur, meat, milk, poo for the fire. The scenery on the top of the mountain was beautiful, although a little cloudy, with wild flowers and yaks covering the grasslands. I felt too rough to do anymore that day and wanted to rest to make the most of the second day there.

The guide met us in the morning and took us to the nunnery and monastery on his motorbike. Wow! I can't explain and fully do this place justice...the ambiance and scenery was like nowhere I've ever been before. There was a festival there at the time and lots of locals, nuns and monks were attending a celebratory service and prayer. There were loads of flowers and brightly coloured flags. As well as huge prayer wheels that we walked around clockwise three times, which is typical for Buddhist Tibetans to do. The locals are so friendly, all greeting us with 'dash-ee-de-lay', which is hello in Tibetan and huge smiles and rosey cheeks. As we were wandering around the eagles came out and soared above us in the clouds, there were 12 of them at one point, absoloutly huge! They don't live far from the nunnery because they live from the sky burials that take place there. Our guide explained that when local Buddhists die they have a burial up on the mountain where their bodies are given back to nature. The bodies are cut and offered to the eagles as food. We didn't get to see a sky burial but other people we met did and said it certainly was an experience. The whole place just had this special 'feel' about it...beautiful!

Our guide then took us for a walk in the forest, where he says there are bears, wolves and even tigers (he once saw one when he was younger). He grew up in a Nomad family and knew the area well. We walked through wild herbs and flowers, ate wild strawberries, foraged for mushrooms and he picked roots for Chinese medicine (that he could sell on and make some money). The only wildlife I saw was a grouse and millions of mosquitos...I got so many bites on my face again! Our guide also said we could hear wolves, but to be honest it sounded more like dogs.

The place where we were staying was very basic, but the lady owner was lovely. She cooked our foraged mushrooms for us in garlic, ginger and chilli. Delicious! We did have one moment of panic when she was cooking the mushrooms and she asked a fellow backpacker to translate "how do they know these are safe to eat?" What?! We thought she cooked and ate these all the time. Well we're still alive!

We've loved our two days in this Tibetan area of China. It felt in no way Chinese at all. They speak another language and still have very traditional lifestyles. This is what gives it its charm. It'It's a shame we only had two days here because apparently this area of China only gets better...

Additional note: Jason took the photograph of the baby's bottom. We have never seen so many bare bums. The Chinese toilet train their toddlers by having open bottom trousers on so that they can squat and do their business with ease. Yes, this means you often see kiddies squatting in the streets having a wee! Lovely!

Posted by bloorsontour 20:28 Archived in China Comments (4)

Chengdu

Panda time...amazing!

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We both needed a sleep after our horrible train journey to Chengdu. After the well deserved nap I felt reenergised to hit the shops, the global centre, the biggest (by mass) building in the world. The global centre has a water park,hotel,shops and restaurants all under one roof. It was massive. The only thing I was allowed to buy was a chocolate ice cream, mango smoothie and beef sizzler plate...no clothes. We spent the afternoon just wandering around this Asian super-building.

The next day was panda day! I have been so excited to visit Chengdu Panda sanctuary. We had been advised to get there early because that's when the pandas are at their most active and also because they are often taken inside in the afternoons if the weather is too hot (which it was). We definitely got there for the best bit. As soon as we got our tickets we dashed to the delivery suite. There were baby pandas in incubators and in a cot. Absolutely amazing! They are tiny, apparently 1/1000th of the size of a fully grown panda and born bald, blind and cannot walk until they are 6 months old. We then wandered around the park and saw panda cubs eating a bamboo breakfast, sleeping in the trees and even mischievously acting up when the rangers were calling them back into the enclosure. The full size adult ones are huge! They really are beautiful animals and would recommend a visit to the sanctuary to anyone.

We had the morning in the park and then needed to catch a 7 hour bus to Kangding. We have another night booked in Chengdu in a couple of days so will hopefully see more of this city then.

Posted by bloorsontour 05:06 Archived in China Comments (2)

Lijiang

The ups and the downs

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Lijiang is a very popular tourist area for the Chinese as there's a beautiful old quarter with historic buildings, temples, souvenir shops and restaurants. We spent a lot of time wandering through the old quarter and having coffee stops. You can find some nice areas with boutique shops and posh guesthouses if you wander away from the main square. We also hunted out an Indian restaurant too,which gave us our curry fix. Overall I would say its worth a quick stop, but there are better places to see traditional Chinese architecture in a less touristy area.

In one of the tea houses we made a mistake by asking for some advice about booking plane/bus/train tickets to Chengdu. Somehow the shop owner ordered a 30hour bus ticket from Lijiang to Chengdu. We then got stuck with an indecisive 16year old Chinese student, who had helped with the ticket buying in the coffee shop, and wanted to hang out with us for the day. At first we though "great, somebody to show us the ropes", but it became quickly clear that that wasn't going to happen. Nevermind...I think he enjoyed his day with us.

We'd finished our sightseeing in Lijiang and were most definitely ready to move on...then we had a transport disaster!!!!!! We missed our bus...not our mistake...the public bus didn't turn up for over an hour instead of every 20 minutes and then no taxi driver would take us to the bus station! Ggrrrrr! We have had numerous times where taxi & bus drivers won't help us because we are Westerners.... so frustrating. We were limited with what to do next, we had to get to Chengdu and the only way was to get on an 8 hour overnight train to Kunming (luckily in a hard sleeper bed) and then a further train from Kunming to Chengdu for 22hours in a seat.

We had a few hours to kill between missing the bus and catching the train, neither of us were in the mood to do much, but luckily found a posh restaurant with amazing food, free WiFi and plug sockets to charge our tablet for the long train journey. The waiter used a translation app to convert Chinese to English...this proved quite entertaining. Firstly he said "wait one moment like Kazakstan" and then he turned to Jason and said "beautiful guy, you want food and drink". We spent the afternoon eating, skyping and internetting. We both felt much happier.

Then came the trains...it was the worst journey so far! It was long, uncomfortable and found many of the people really rude. I was stared at the whole way by a women, whilst being surrounded by people that think its OK to spit, drop litter and shout on a train! Not happy! Neither of us got any sleep.

Let's hope Chengdu was worth the journey.

Posted by bloorsontour 04:45 Archived in China Comments (1)

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Totally worth the 28 bends

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Jason managed to persuade me to trek the Tiger Leaping Gorge and although it was hard I'm glad he made me do it.

We chose to stop at the beginning of the gorge at Jane's Guesthouse in Quiatou (pronounced Chow-tow). There's not much there really so we spent time watching The Wire series again. It meant the we could have an early start and ensure we completed the first part of the walk in daylight. We set off at 8.00am and gently strolled up to Naxi guesthouse so that we could get some breakfast. Mine was lovely...a vegetable omelette and mint tea. But Jason chose maize porridge, which was awful. I don't know how he finished it, but he did through politeness.

The next part of the walk was the challenging bit...28 bends!!!! Its a series of winding bends that are so steep and it was really warm too (my poor nose got sunburnt again!). You could opt to be taken up on a mule, but jason convinced me that it would be an achievement to complete the walk instead. I had to stop on every bend for a rest but I did it. From there its a beautiful walk to the Halfway point where you can spend the night. You are walking amongst cloud cover at times, high above the gorge, with spectacular mountainous views. Its really worth all the effort of the climb. I hope the photos give a sense of it.

We stayed at a new place called Come Inn at the half way point. It won us over with its terrace views. We were also lucky because they only had dorm rooms left when we got there, but we ended up having a 6 bedded dorm to ourselves so it was like having an ensuite room anyway. The owners wife cooked us a lovely stir fried pork dish for our tea too. Would definitely recommend.

I thought the next day was going to be a bit easier...how wrong I was! The first part was fine, a downhill 2 hour walk to Tina's hostel...a breeze. We had a quick drink and then Jason wanted to go and explore the very bottom of the gorge, where the myth says the tiger lept over the white water. OMG...I should have known better...the walk down to the river was steep and long and I should have considered how I was going to get back up. It took 40mins to get down and over an hour to get back up. I completely freaked out trying to climb back up because you have to climb up 40 metres of ladder unharnessed and half way up I froze. My legs turned to jelly and I couldn't turn around. Eventually I got up, very slowly! Even Jason admitted that he had underestimated how steep it was.

So that was the gorge...challenging, beautiful and most definitely worth it!

Posted by bloorsontour 04:11 Archived in China Comments (0)

Dali, Yunnan province

Tasty mal a tang

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So the flight to Kunming was a dream; on time, spacious and food included. We didn't have long in Kunming before we took an overnight train to Dali. A lot of travelling, but I guess you have to be prepared to do that to get anywhere in China.

Our hostel was lovely in Dali, called Jade Emu Guesthouse, and well located for the old town and Cangshan mountains. You know what Jason's like...even after all that travel and no sleep he was keen to do some trekking in the mountains that surround Dali as soon as we got there. Luckily I managed to persuade him to let me get the cable car up and walk the 20km afterwards.

The Cangshan mountains have been made into a tourist trap in some areas, with cable cars and paved footpaths that wind their way through the forests. Apparently you can get off the beaten track and do some proper trekking but we didn't do this because actually found that the path was very quite as a lot of the Chinese tourists simply choose to go up and down the cable car in one area. The path is called the Cloud Path and you could see why...the clouds are ever changing and we found ourselves in torrential rain one minute and then glorious sunshine the next. I think Jason secretly liked wearing his poncho rain coat. The mountains offered superb views of Dali Erhai Lake and Dali city. By the end of the 20km we were both exhausted...and Jason even managed to strain his foot...oh dear.

The next day we booked ourselves onto a tour around the Erhai Lake, meaning 'shaped like an ear'. It gave Jason chance to rest his foot a little and be chauffeured around. It was a pleasant day; local markets, picnic on the lake, embroidery factory, beautiful scenery. I always find the local markets fascinating...especially the food. You can see from one of the photos a bunch of little ball shaped red chillis, called the 'flower chilli' and the night before had experienced its anaesthetic affect on my mouth when eating Yunnan chicken...I thought I was having an allergic reaction, its not hot but instead is numbing on your tongue. A girl from our tour ate little sparrows on kebab sticks (bones, beak and flesh)...not my cup of tea. The market offered the usual hustle and bustle of buyers, sellers and livestock.

Dali is famous for its tie-dyed cloth. We were shown how local women create intricate dyed patterns on cloth by sewing specific pieces of material together so that the dye doesn't take and instead creates a repeated pattern.

We took time to wander around Dali old quarter; it can get quite busy with Chinese tourists and a lot of the shops sell the same souvenirs but nevertheless offers a glimpse of what Chinese old city's used to be like with their traditional houses, narrow lanes and open waterways. We found a couple of really good local treats for our tea; amazing pork dumplings from a really smiley Chinese couple and my favourite food so far, mal a tang. Its basically a DIY soup; you pick and choose your ingredients (I.e. tofu, greens, mushrooms, bean sprouts, noodles) and then it gets boiled in an individual basket that sits within a huge vat of delicious broth. It was so tasty!

Anyway, I'd better get myself geared up for Tiger Leaping Gorge trekking...

Posted by bloorsontour 03:19 Archived in China Comments (2)

Longji rice terraces - Dazhai

A room with a view

sunny

large_DSC_0129_1.jpgDSC_0124_1.jpgDSC_0161_1.jpgDSC_0154_2.jpgDSC_0169_1.jpgDSC_0157_1.jpgDSC_0126_1.jpgDSC_0123_2.jpgDSC_0148_2.jpgDSC_0177_2.jpgDSC_0186_1.jpgDSC_0224_1.jpgDSC_0260_1.jpgDSC_0258_1.jpgDSC_0253_1.jpgDSC_0266_1.jpgDSC_0269_1.jpgDSC_0256_1.jpgDazhai has got to be the most stunning landscape I've ever seen. Green mountains, rolling hills, covered in perfectly formed rice terraces. I hope the photographs do it justice.

It's a 3 hour bus ride from Guilin to the bottom of the rice terraces in Dazhai. We were greeted by the local women, who were offering to haul our bags up to the top of the terraces to our scenic hotel on their backs. Luckily we left our big bags at the train station storage and so were able to manage ourselves. It was a fairly steep walk up to our hotel, winding through cobbled paths that ran between the paddy fields. Everywhere you looked the scenery was breathtaking. Our hotel room also looked straight out onto the terraces...what a view!

We spent the day wandering through the terraces and taking in the scenery. The craftsmanship of the terraces is amazing; apparently they were first sculpted in the 12th century and have grown & grown from there. We saw them in their summer when its all green and lush, but apparently they look spectacular in autumn when the tips of the rice is bright yellow ready to harvest and also in spring when they flood the terraces and the sun glistens on the mountains. The next morning Jason had me up at 5am to watch sunrise (I moaned a little).....but it was so worth it...stunning!

We decided to just spend one night in Dazhai as we'd managed to cover most of the rice area already. So spent a night back in Guilin instead. Guilin is a relatively big city that has some rivers running through it and is surrounded by karst mountains; but to be honest,because we'd been spoilt by the scenery in Yangshuo and Dazhai we didn't feel we needed to pay to see them up close in the city too. We needed to be in the city to catch our flight the next day. We just walked and browsed through the shops instead. But we did have an eventful evening trying to find a restaurant...

So we wanted to eat local Chinese food for our tea and the hostel receptionist advised us to go to a street just around the corner. The start of the street was OK, with a few bowls of fish outside the restaurant for you to choose which one you wanted for your food...but it got worse...the next restaurant had people choosing what chicken they wanted to eat and the waiter wafted it in front of my face to take it into the kitchen to be killed. Then the next one had ducks and HUGE lizards/fish things (I'm not really sure what it was) for you to eat. Then it was the rats (I hate rodents!!!!), they were enormous, like they'd been fattened up ready to eat, munching at the cage they were kept in. Snakes too...ergh! Just as I was at the peak of me freaking out, deciding whether I should be vegetarian, a waiter took a fat fish out of its bowl in a net, swung it over his head and bashed it right on the pavement by my foot. It happened so quickly, I just heard this thud and then there was this wriggling fish next to my feet on the floor. I'm sure the man did it on purpose... Jason had to drag me away in horror. Awful.

Anyway, we're off to catch our flight now...

Posted by bloorsontour 20:04 Archived in China Tagged rice terraces longji dazhai Comments (1)

China part 1 - Nanning and Yangshuo

Karst mountains, rivers and the Chinese...

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The very next day we caught a train and bus to get to Yangshou. The train was amazing..smooth, fast, efficient. We hope they're all like that. We are staying at a beautiful little hotel called Cosy Garden, which is in a gorgeous setting amongst the limestone karst mountains.

On our first day we hired some bicycles to explore the local scenery. Unfortunately we had a miscommunication with the man from our hotel and ended up struggling up a series of hills in the baking heat. We argued virtually the whole way...me claiming I was at risk of heat exhaustion and Jason telling me to get on with it. (For those of you that don't know , our last big bicycle ride together in Scotland nearly ended in divorce as Jason made me continue for 50miles in the heat until we had to give up and get rescued). We found a local shop to give me a Coca Cola sugar fix and the old Chinese man pointed to where we were on the map...I could have cried... we had hardly got anywhere. So, at last, we turned around to head back. I had cheered up at this point and enjoyed the scenery on my downhill back to the hotel. Stunning landscape! Thankfully we have access to the Ly River to enjoy a refreshing swim in once we'd got back. Bliss!

So for a more successful day 2 in Yangshou we decided to hire a motorbike to explore. Again, more gorgeous scenery after the other. Miles of karst mountains and rolling green hills alongside the river. We made a couple of stops at the river to enjoy a drink and to watch the Chinese tourists enjoy themselves on the bamboo boats as well as making sure we caught a glimpse of the Moon Hill rock formation. We must have covered miles on the bike, with only one blip where it lost all power, and it was simply nice to enjoy the scenery along the way.

Its our last night here and I'm writing this relaxing in the garden of our hotel. I've had a lovely afternoon chilling after our morning of rock climbing. So glad we did rock climbing, it was hard work but loads of fun. Jason will claim that he was the best (because he got to a slightly higher point on a trickier climb) however I think I had the more natural ability and did most of the climbs with more ease than Jason. We definitely want to try more climbing if we get the opportunity.

Yangshuo has a pretty hectic night scene. Its full of Chinese tourists and they seem to love the tacky souvenirs; laser pens, plastic games, putty, etc. The only time we've seen people crowding like they do here is at a music festival. I sort of really like it, I can easily fill my time people watching. There's also quite a good collection of street food that we tried; dumplings, pork filled buns, spicy wraps, bacon pancakes, chilli noodle soup. We have also got addicted to a place called Topcup (I'm hoping its a juice chain shop that we can get throughout our trip in China) and have already sampled a lot of their drinks; mango, passion fruit, blueberry, green tea & red bean, lemon.

We've really enjoyed our first stop in China; the scenery, the food, outdoor adventure; and yet again have high hopes for the rest of our trip in this country.

Our experience of the Chinese so far (jason here)...
Every time we've been a bit stuck, there has been a good Samaritan to help out.
They ALL stare and as a general rule don't smile or break your gaze when you look back.
Personal space means nothing.
Hacking their guts up and gobbing it out is acceptable in any situation.
They are LOUD!
They will seemingly eat anything, very loudly and pretty messily.
They have little feet.

Posted by bloorsontour 03:56 Archived in China Tagged climbing cycling yangshuo Comments (3)

Ha Long Bay

Dirty, hectic, rubbish - clean, relaxing, stunning... 2 very different days!

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We had to choose between Sapa and Halong Bay as our final destination in Vietnam because of our China visa. We went to Halong Bay for two nights on a junk boat. You read endless reviews about Halong Bay being cheap, dirty and touristy and yes, in parts, it is. Our first day on the boat was disappointing. We were herded from one thing to another, reaching a very dirty beach that was packed with tourists. The day wasn't helped by me not feeling very well either. Fortunately we had a really good second day, opting to spend the day on a smaller boat that found some quiet spots for us to enjoy a swim, sunbathe or kayak at our leisure. We were surrounded by stunning limestone mountain scenery that Halong Bay is most famous for and got to appreciate why its considered a highlight of Vietnam. Jason said it was one of his favourite days so far; he was jumping off the boat into the sea, kayaking around to see the wildlife (which included eagles and langurs) and of course topping up his tan. I still wasn't feeling well but enjoyed scenic snoozing. We had a nice small group of people on our boat and enjoyed spending the evening with three Parisians; two of them in theatre production and the other an orchestral conductor. They were fascinating.

An Australian couple we met were left disappointed after their trip to Halong Bay because they chose to have an overnight stay on Cat Ba Island rather than the boat stay we did. I think it involved more busy tourist attractions and a timekeeping guide to race you through your day. There's definitely positive and negative experiences to be had at Halong Bay. You have got to be careful what you book.

We've loved Vietnam and will definitely be back, but for now it's another new county...China!

Posted by bloorsontour 08:55 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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