All Around the world
A travel blog by Rebecca Cain
I'm Rebecca Cain from St Weonards in South Herefordshire currently, on an 'around the world' trip with two friends. I'd like to share my experiences with you so I'll be posting articles from my travel diary on InSITE.
Part 1 St Weonards to Beijing, China
Feeling slightly apprehensive Daisy, Penny and I boarded the BA039 flight to Beijing on the 3rd of February to start our "around the world" trip. We made it to our hostel feeling quite jet lagged, with the help of a friendly Mongolian man.
Beijing is a fast developing city and one with many different dimensions. The main streets were wide with huge, impressive buildings and we began to wonder where the little back streets were with dingy looking buildings that we had seen so often in films. We did, however, come across these later.
One thing I found it difficult to get used to was the spitting. As I walked along the street I could hear hacking and coughing as people spat phlegm up on the street, or sometimes, on the back of my jeans.
We went to the zoo, mainly to see the pandas, of which there were three and who were very fluffy and chewing on a lot of bamboo. Then we went to The Temple of Heaven, a large cylindrical temple built in 1420 by Emperor Yongle.
That evening we met our tour group that consisted of five Australians, three Kiwis, one Irish, one Welsh and three other English who were all very nice. It was the Chinese New Year's eve and we all went out for a huge banquet. I have never seen so many fireworks and firecrackers. The nightlife was interesting as karaoke was very popular. The first bar we went into had a Chinese lady singing "Hey Jude" by the Beatles, which was actually very good! One of the best things I saw in Beijing was the Summer Palace. It is further out of Beijing's city centre and there was a large frozen lake on which Daisy and I walked across and did a few skating poses. The scenery around the palace was stunning and it was a relaxing and pleasant place to be. As a whole I found Beijing very contrasting as it had a facade of large, glitzy buildings and just behind there were huge slums that hardly looked habitable.
Part 2 Xi'an, China and Shanghai
We caught the overnight train from Beijing to Xi'an, which was an interesting experience. The train station was rammed with people and we were practically pushed along with the crowd in order to board our cart. The beds were in sections of six with a top, middle and bottom bunk and no door on each section. There was little room to move around but it didn't matter too much as the lights were turned off at 10pm!
Xi'an has a population of 6.8 million and is one of the few Chinese cities that still has it's city walls. The Muslim quarter had a really good atmosphere and was brimming with food stalls selling meat and fish on sticks and sugar blown in mouse shapes! We also went outside the city to see the Terracotta Warriors. They were sculptures discovered in 1974 by a farmer digging a wall who was actually on site signing books and having photographs taken but if you didn't pay for your photo he would put a fan in front of his face! The terracotta warriors were made to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (259 to 210 BC) when he died. Each one is different as they were modelled on actual people who served the Emperor. Although historically rich in culture I found Xi'an less interesting than Beijing, it was less accessible and the pollution seemed worst. We did ride along the city walls on rickety, old bikes which was really fun and gave us brilliant views of the city.
Our next port of call was Shanghai, it was a lot more fashionable and hip than the other two cities. The skyline there is bursting with skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. We took a stroll along the Bund, a stretch along the river that looks across at the Pearl TV Tower and on the side of the street there are large colonial buildings. We went to the theatre to see The Shanghai acrobats who were amazing. They were so athletic and flexible and very entertaining. One of my favourite acts was a couple performing a love story with a ribbon, it was very moving.
Part 3 Yangshou, China
After our longest overnight train journey we arrived in Yangshuo at "Fawlty Towers" hotel, which was not at all similar to the Torquay branch and had no Chinese Basil Fawlty. The town was small and accessible and the most touristy place so far. Our tour guide took us to a random little house for breakfast one day and we sat and tried to eat Yuam Shou which was a mixture of nuts, onion and sesame seeds covered with green tea. We went for a cruise along the Li River, which gave us the opportunity to view the gorgeous scenery surrounding the area. Either side of the river big limestone peaks that looked like the tips of large mountains towered above us. It was very relaxing and good to see the wonderful countryside.
From Yangshuo we rode our bikes out to a small nearby village which, considering the traffic, was rather brave. We rode through the village and saw the Chinese locals sitting and playing cards. I noticed that in each of the front rooms there was a large TV even though the rest of the room looked relatively bare. The village reminded me of days past in England (besides the TV) as there were small haylofts, vegetable patches and chickens roaming the dust track road. From our base in the village we rode our bikes around the countryside. At one point we stopped to buy an apple from a market where nearly every stall sold apples. It made me wonder how they managed to make money.
Part 4 The Longji Rice terraces and Ping An, China
We next went to the Longji Rice Terraces near Guilin. The rice terraces were based on the earth's contours and it is amazing to think how much work must have gone in to making them. The village people were so friendly and welcoming and called hello to us as we walked past. The villages in that area are famous for the women who never cut their hair and dress in a traditional manner. We paid two of the older ladies to carry our coats on the journey to the next village called Ping An which was a four hour trek. Ping An had suffered problems because of a storm that ruined much of their bamboo, an important fuel source, and which cut off their electricity. The day we arrived they mended the electricity but unfortunately that night there was a fire in the village that burnt down two houses. We watched with apprehension as all of the villagers ran down the hill to help. The whole village is made of wood so they were worried it would spread but fortunately they manage to keep it under control.
Part 5 Hong Kong, China
On Saturday the 23rd of February we caught our last overnight train to Hong Kong. We had one more night with the tour then on Monday we had to venture off to find our own accommodation. We ended up in a large tower block called Chungking Mansions that was described in our guidebook as "fit for demolition." It was like a small town in itself as there were lots of shops on the first two floors and restaurants and as many hostels as you can imagine on the next 14 floors. The three of us shared a two-bed room but we had an en suite of sorts! We soon got used to it. As Hong Kong is renowned for its shopping and we were poor travellers who didn't want to fill our back packs any more we spent the days enjoying the sunshine and ambling the streets soaking up the atmosphere. Hong Kong Island is for the super trendy and has a buzzing atmosphere. The business quarter has sky scrapers stretching along the river gave great views. Our China leg had come to an end and it was with excitement we left Hong Kong on the 28th February to fly to our next destination, Thailand.
Part 6 Bangkok, Thailand
I was not prepared for the rise in temperature as I stepped off the plane in Bangkok on the 28th of February. Bangkok is a lively and noisy city, if not a little bit dirty, and certainly more chaotic than the Chinese cities we had been to. On the first day we ventured to Khoa San Road - a bustling street stuffed with backpackers, market stalls and pubs. It had a really good atmosphere and we all got over excited by the bargains on offer. It is a good place to meet people too although there are also a lot of weird & crazy travellers who had clearly spent too much time on their own! The next day the heat was too much for me and as I rushed off one of the rickety public buses my sight blurred and I fell to my knees on the pavement. I tried to get up again and passed out into the arms of a Thai man who took me into his cafe to cool down. Needless to say I returned to the cosy hostel and stayed in bed for the rest of the day. It is so hot there and almost impossible to keep cool, as soon as you step out of the shower you are sweaty and the mosquitos also took a liking to me. We ventured to the Grand Palace, a residence of the ever popular Thai royal family. The King is much admired and in every cafe or public building there is at least one picture of the King and Queen. The palace was extremely ornate and beautiful. It is also home to the Emerald Buddha which is actually tiny and made out of jade. It was sat on top of a huge pile of gold. We also went to see the Reclining Buddha that shows the Buddha just before he dies and it is very impressive. His feet were made of mother of pearl and were much bigger than me.Bangkok is full of delicious food. Along the roadside there are small stalls on wheels and you can order fresh food like noodles and seafood for just 50p and watch it being cooked in front of you. It is a wonderful taste experience. A not so fantastic experience are the tuk tuk rides. We ventured on one a few times but it is a rather hair raising journey zooming through heavy traffic on a small motorbike style cart, especially when your driver decides to do a wheelie.
Part 7 Patong, Ko Phi Phi and Phi Phi Don
Having had enough of cities we took an 18 hour epic journey to Patong in Phuket, where we left soon after. Unfortunately tourism had ruined what may have been nice about this place. It was a dirty, westernised resort with neon lights, bars and a beach. We stayed there long enough for Daisy and Penny to get severely burnt sunbathing and for me to get covered in mosquito bites. We caught the boat to the idyllic island of Ko Phi Phi which is off the West coast of the Andaman shore. It is a small island with pretty, narrow streets selling the usual souvenir items. Phi Phi Don, where we stayed, was devastated by the tsunami in 2004 but everything seemed up and running and there was little sign of the damage it caused. No cars are allowed on the island making it feel very relaxed and chilled. Unfortunately, due to my red friends we couldn't really leave the room as the sun was so strong. On the second day we got up early and walked to the beach on the other side of the island. It was a strenuous climb but it was certainly worth it as we had the beach practically to ourselves and it was beautiful. I managed to procure a swollen ankle due to an insect bite becoming infected on my ankle. We all lay in our beds as if were on a hospital ward and wondered if this was how a paradise island was meant to be!
Part 8 Phi Phi Leh, Krabi Surat and Thani
Once we had mostly recovered we were on a boat tour to Phi Phi Leh, an uninhabited island. We snorkelled and saw a lot of fish then we went to May Bay where The Beach was filmed. That evening we watched the sunset from the boat, it was so peaceful and calming. Our next destination was a town called Krabi in a province of the same name. We used it as a base to visit the surrounding sights. We went on an elepahant trek which was one of the most scary experiences of my life. I got the unruly, stroppy elephant who trumpeted and growled nearly all the way around the hour trek. My elephant handler had a heavy hand and had to control the elephant with a short metal prod far too often. He kept hitting him on the head. I did manage to enjoy it at one point as the elephant calmed down and the scenery was spectacular but one hour was certainly enough for me! We also met a crazy bunch of people in Krabi who gave us Sangsom whiskey to sample which I took a liking to.We continued on to Surat Thani where we stayed for two nights in order to visit Koah Sok National Park. It was definitely worth a visit as we trekked through beautiful rainforest to find some small waterfalls. There were monkeys swinging from the high trees and we went for a dip in the river.
Part 9 Ko Toa, Thaing Og Bay and Ko Phangan
The next day we headed off to Ko Toa off the East coast. It was a lovely island and during the day Penny and I had plenty of time and space to explore. One day we trekked up hills and down rocky paths along the coast and arrived in Thiang Og bay where we snorkelled and saw some black tipped reef shark. That night we also went to a bar at Sairee Beach called Lotus Bar. It was such a good place to go and we met people of all sorts of nationalities including Israeli, Australian, Dutch, Swedish and Chilean. Needless to say the buckets of sangsom whiskey, coke and red bull helped us stay up until late. On the 19th of March we ventured on to an island called Ko Phangan, famous for its Full Moon Parties. We stayed on Leela beach in some very interesting beach bungalows. They were essentially small shacks on stilts with holes in the floor and roof and a make-shift en suite, if you could call it that! However the location was fantastic as we were right on the beach and only a ten minute walk from Haad Rin, the main town. We were geared for relaxing and partying so we spent our days on Leela beach and our nights on Sunrise beach where all the party goers went. The Full Moon party was on the 21st March. We painted ourselves with UV body paint but there were no UV lights at the party! The beach had such a wired atmosphere and was bursting with people. It was so easy to meet people as every one was chatty and friendly.
Part 10 Kuala Lumpur, Little India, The Cameron Highlands
We departed on the night boat two days later which was an experience indeed. We were on the bottom deck crammed in like animals and we could not even stand up straight. There were only thin mats to sleep on. I was quite relieved to get off even though we had a whole day of travelling ahead of us. All in all we were travelling for 28 hours before we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital city, at midnight. Thankfully we stayed at Daisy's friend's flat which was lovely. Her friend, Kathy, is teaching there and we each had a room to ourselves which was such a luxury. I liked Kuala Lumpur as it was very accessible yet diverse, We went to Little India where a lot of the Indian populatioin live and I had the most delicious lamb curry there.
The next day we got up early and went to the Patronus Towers. They issue 1600 tickets free a day so we got there early to claim ours. We went up 41 floors to the double decker sky bridge where we found some fantastic views of the city. It was a good experience even if we did have to endure a corporate video about Patronus, the oil company. That afternoon we caught a very late bus to Cameron Highlands which is in North Malaysia. We arrived two hours later than expected. The hostel driver had been waiting and during that time he had consumed a fair amount of whiskey so was in high spirits. Luckily the drive was not too far and we arrived in one piece at Father's Guesthouse where the dorms were in army barracks.
On our day there we went and visited the beautiful tea plantations. They are planted up on hills and the leaves look so green and lush. We learnt all about how they make tea. They do not make enough to reach the demand of tea drinkers in Malaysia so they actually import some from India. We also went to a stunning mossy rainforest. The guide showed us the uses of different plants. The rainforest itself was intriguing. It is balanced on rocks and the moss and trees grow on them, If you jump enough the trees vibrate. It was extremely cool which was nice and made it easier to trek. In the afternoon we went on an hour and a half drive to deeper forest to visit the Orang Asli people which literally translated means 'The original people'. We arrived at the village which comprised of about 8 to 10 houses on stilts. The chief's house was entirely made of bamboo with one room to sleep and live in, with a side room for the kitchen. Instruments, toys and hunting weapons were all made of bamboo. Unsurprisingly the Orang Asli people rely more on bamboo than they do on money. They gave us tapioca to eat and tea to drink and we had a try at blowing darts from a blow pipe. The people were very friendly and the children seemed so happy running around with their home-made toys. It was definitely worth a visit.
Part 11 Singapore
On Friday the 29th we caught a bus back to Kuala Lumpur and then to Singapore. By this time I was tiring of bus journeys and was relieved to arrive in Singapore. We stayed at a hostel called The Inn Crowd in Little India. On our first day we went on a walking tour of Little India and we went to the temples in the area, they were beautiful. We visited a Hindu temple brimming with worshipers, the women's saris were a sight to behold as they are so bright and colourful. The Singaporeans were extremely friendly. We asked a lady for directions and she guided us all the way there. The financial district in Singapore was totally immaculate, efficient and in order. We saw where the English trader, Sir Stamford Raffles landed and we looked at the older colonial buildings. We also ventured to the famous Raffles Hotel but all we could do was look in envy as the residents tucked into delicous looking cakes. Our budgets didn't stretch that far!
On the 30th March we left Singapore and headed for Cairns in Australia, where I will spend the next month.