Sunday, September 24, 2006
The Great Wall, Shaolin Monks and dodgy Dutchmen.
We've been in Beijing just over a week now and we're only just starting to understand how to cross the road. The driving here is terrible. Possibly worse than India.
We've had quite a productive week. We went to the cinema to watch the newest Chinese blockbuster, called 'The Banquet'. It was about an Emperor of China, his nephew (who is the rightful heir to the kingdom), and the Empress marrying the bloke who killed her husband. It has lots of cool fighting scenes and loads of beautiful scenery. The first 90 minutes are brilliant (with the last 15 mins being a bit of a let down), but we highly recommend seeing it. Though not sure it'll come out in Oz or England.
The following day we went to see the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The Forbidden City is where a few of the Chinese Emperors lived during the Ming and the Qing Dynasties. Its called the Forbidden City because it was off limits to the public for over 500 years. It was ok, but just a little boring after a while. The main large building in the middle of the City was covered up with scaffolding and green sheets, so it lost a little of its mystique.
Next to the City is Tiananmen Square. This is the largest public square in the world, so it was very large indeed. Generally it was also quite boring, with loads of people just standing around (though we imagine it would be considerably less boring with Tanks driving around). It has a massive picture of Chairman Mao, and some chinese writing (which apparently says something like Chinese people forever).
One interesting thing about the Square, is that there were a lot of Uniformed Policemen on guard, and each one of them had a fire extinguisher next to him. Andy reckons that the only possible reason that they all have fire extinguishers is to put out people who set themselves on fire as a protest (which has happened before in the square). As there isnt really anything else that could catch fire, as its all concrete.
Besides the Policemen, the square also had a nice floral display which they are getting ready for the Olympics in 2008. The mascots are, as far as we could tell, going to be 5 Panda bears doing various Olympic sports (such as swimming, weightlifting etc.). Very cute........
In the evening we went to a local Food market. Although we only ate food that was relatively normal (like beef kebabs etc.), there was a large selection of animals and insects to eat. Among them were Scorpions, Crickets, SeaHorses and other insect looking things. We weren't sure if these were largely for show (for the tourists), or if anyone was actually eating them.
To try to be a bit healthy we hired two bikes to ride around a special route (taken from the Lonely Planet). While we saw a few nice sights, the whole experience was a little unnerving because of the erratic driving in Beijing. When on the big roads we had to really concentrate to make sure we didn't end up under a bus! But on the roads that had bike lanes it was quite safe, and a rather nice way to get about town.
The next day we went to visit the Great Wall of China, in a place called Mutianyu. We were dropped off at the visitor car park, and then had to walk about 30 mins to reach the wall. It was quite a hard walk up the hill, but once we got to the top the views were spectacular. We then stopped half way along the wall and had lunch (from a packed lunch that we brought with us, just like at school). The only thing that slightly spoilt the peaceful atmosphere was some loud Americans, who could be heard from miles away.
On Saturday we did a bit of shopping, and Andy really got into haggling with the locals. In the evening we then went to a bar to watch the football where, after quite a few beers, we started talking to some backpacking Dutchmen. They seemed very nice, and so we went with them to the night club next door. Against everything that Andy stands for, we bought a round of drinks (which included 4 bottles of beer for them). And then when everyone had finished drinking not one of them offered to buy us a drink in return. The bloody cheek!
We certainly wont trust anymore backpacking lay-abouts ever again! After Karly had danced on the bar for a bit, we said our goodbyes and finally got home at about 3:30 in the morning. As a result Sunday wasn't very productive.
However, in the evening we did go and see some Shaolin Monks. These guys were truly mad. They did stuff like smashing iron bars over their heads and balancing on spears. We were also highly impressed with the little kids doing Kung-Fu and summersaults on their heads.
Today we went to another market, where we saw live Scorpions being put onto kebab sticks ready for the BBQ. They were still wriggling when they went onto the flame. Nice.
We fly out of Beijing on Tuesday 26th Sept, and arrive in Hanoi (Vietnam). So goodbye China!
Here's the link to the photos of Beijing:
Monday, September 18, 2006
Chicken feet and smelly dorms.
So we finally left friendly Malaysia and our laid back hostel in Kuala Lumpur for the very fast paced and regimented Shanghai (that's in China if you don't know). We flew into Shanghai early in the morning and caught the Maglev train (it gets up to 430kn/h!) into the city.
Accomodation in Shanghai is so expensive so we decided to stay in a dorm. This was a nice enough room but there were 8 other people in it (who all seemed to smell), our beds were at opposite ends of the room and Karly was the only girl. So we didn't like it much. Although the bar on the top floor had a great view of the Shanghai skyline so it was nice to go up there and have a few happy hour beers.
We spent our first day at the Shanghai National Museum. It had lots of ancient ceramics, jade stuff and other typically Chinese stuff. It was interesting ......... for a while. In the evening we went for a stroll along The Bund (the riverfront). You get great views of the bright lights on the new side of the river but there were lots of people hassling us (beggars, people selling stuff) so not a great place to hang around for a long time. Some random locals asked for a photo with us (both of us not just Karly this time). It was a bit weird.
There are so many bicylces in Shanghai. None of them stop for traffic lights, even when we are crossing the road. But there are traffic police who yell at any pedestrian who step onto the road when they are not supposed to.
The next day we had Dim Sum for lunch. The menu was in Chinese so we just went for the one the waitress recomended. It included chicken feet. They are quite slippery so hard to pick up with chop sticks and there's not much meat on them so a lot of effort that's not really worth it.
After lunch we went to some very very beautiful and very old Chinese Gardens. There were heaps of huge fish in the ponds that seemed to eat whatever tourists through at them.
On Saturday we caught a bus from Shanghai to Beijing. When we bought the tickets we were told the trip would take 13 to 18 hours. We thought this sounded not too bad as it was a sleeper bus (it had beds). The trip ended up taking 24 hours! It was dreadful we only stopped properly once (and that was two hours into the trip). There was a loo on the bus but Karly wasn't to keen on using it so didn't drink much water and we only had enough snacks for the evening as we though we'd be in Beijing in time for breakfast. The bus stopped a couple of times on the side of the road and the driver would yell something in Chinese. We always assumed he was announcing the stop name not 'we're stopping for food'. It was only when we'd see people get back on with food that we'd realise.
Anyway, we finally got to the outskirts of Beijing and the bus dropped us at a bus garage in the middle of nowhere. The map we had and the map at the station both said there was a subway station close by so we set out to find it with no luck(It's only now we realise it's a proposed line that will be ready in time for the Olympics but it didn't say that anywhere!). We tried to get a taxi but no taxi driver could understand us. It got to the point that Karly nearly passed out due to dehydration, lack of food, heat and a heavy back pack (Andy says her lips turned blue). Luckily she had this funny turn in front of a five star hotel so we ended up checking in there for the night and then made our way into central Beijing the next day.
So here we are in Beijing. They need to get things together before the Olympics. It's a bit hard to find your way around.
Here is the link to the photos of above:
Monday, September 11, 2006
Beaches, Leeches and Germans.
To get to the Taman Negara National Park we took a three hour boat trip along the Temberling River. This river was exactly how you'd imagine a river in the Amazon to look e.g. with high jungle trees lining the riverside. This was quite a slow journey, but the views were worth taking time to appreciate.
Everywhere we've traveled so far in Malaysia we have found the vast majority of other backpackers have been German. We're not sure why this is (we've even asked some Germans why there are some many of them), but nobody seems to know why. We guess its because the friendly, warmed natured Malaysian way of life must be very appealing to Germans! Or maybe its just cheap.
When we arrived in Taman Negara we stayed in a dorm that sleeps 6 (it was the cheapest option). Funnily enough, the other people in our dorm were German. We had a good long chat with them one night, and became quite friendly (we had dinner with them twice). In particular we got on well with Daniel and Ela. At first we mistook them for a couple, but they only know each other through a friend of a friend, and they have come traveling together after only meeting 3 weeks previously. Ela has a bloke back home anyway, so we don't think anything was going to happen.
On our first full day in Taman Negara, we joined Daniel and Ela (and 2 other German girls) on a walk into the Jungle. Karly and the others went onto a rope bridge that circled the canopy tops of the tress in the jungle. At some points they were over 50 meters high, so the views were very impressive. Andy doesn't like heights, and thought the rope bridge wobbled a bit too much, so he stayed on the ground and watched.
Unlike our Forrest walk in the Cameron Highlands, this time we had the proper clothes on to go jungle walking. We wore trainers, socks and trousers, and even carried extra water and food in case we got lost (but generally we stuck to the path so they wasn't much danger of getting lost).
Andy didn't have any suitable trousers to wear (only heavy jeans), so he had to buy some very trendy white linen trouser (take a look at the pictures!). There are leeches in the jungle so you have to tuck your trousers into your socks. Despite tucking his cool new trousers into his socks Andy wasn't able to avoid the leeches and ended up with two bites on his ankle. There was heaps of blood but it didn't hurt and he survived (though Andy thinks he was lucky to have survived such a ferocious animal attack!).
After the jungle we moved to the Perhentian Islands. These were probably the closest thing to paradise that either of us have seen before. The beaches were beautiful, the water clear and blue, and the weather was hot and sunny. Perfect.
Here we stayed for 6 days. Generally doing very little indeed apart from reading books, laying about, sleeping, drinking and eating. All the guest houses on the island have a BBQ every night, so we had lots of nice beef, chicken and fish. This makes a nice change from the rice and noddles and fast food that we have been living on recently.
Karly did some snorkeling, Andy sat and played his Gameboy. The only down side to this paradise island was that alcohol wasn't that freely available (only a few places sold it). But we did still manage to have a few drinks, see the photos.
On the last day Daniel and Ela (the Germans) from Taman Negara arrived on the island, so we had dinner with them again. We then went and watched football, Liverpool v Everton, and had a few beers while saying goodbye to the would-be-couple.
We are now back in Kuala Lumpur for one night before we fly to China on the 12th. Today we had lunch at the Kenny Rodgers Rooster Chicken restaurant. This is actually a chain of (relatively) healthy chicken restaurants owned by the great country and western singer Kenny Rodgers. He wasn't in the restaurant personally.
Our next blog entry will be from China, so goodbye from the lovely Malaysia.
Auntie Karly and Uncle Andy (Karlys sister, Rachael, is up the duff, and due in March).
Heres the link to our photos of above:
P.S. we notice that the link to the photos of our previous blog entry didn't work, so if you try the link again now it should work.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Tea for Two.
We have travelled from the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur to a place called the Cameron Highlands. This is where they grow, harvest and package the majority of Malaysian tea.
Our journey to the Cameron Highlands was very eventful. The coach tire blew while we were driving along the motorway. The driver was actually very claim and managed to pull over to the hard shoulder, while keeping the coach under control. We were shitting ourselves!
As a result, a coach trip that should have taken 4 hours, took nearly twice as long (as we had to wait for another coach to come and pick us up from the hard shoulder). Then, when we got closer to the Cameron Highlands the roads became very narrow and winding, often right next to a cliff edge that you could look down as we went round a corner.
When we arrived at our hotel / hostel we signed up for a couple of day trips to local places of interest. The first was a trip to meet some local tribal people called the Orang Asli. These are the original indigenous people of Malaysia. When we arrived in their village most of the people were hiding away in there huts, with the children staring at us through windows or holes in the wall. We then went and had tea with the tribes chief, and learnt a bit more about their customs etc. Andy also got the chance to try a Blow Pipe, which they used to hunt monkeys, birds etc. Karly didn't want to try the Blow pipe, due to germ issues.
The whole experience, while very informative, was still a little weird. We felt that we were walking into someone's front room and snooping around, while they hide upstairs. But, the Orang Asli need tourists to visit them, as they need the money, so we didn't feel too bad about the whole thing. And to help them even further, Karly bought a hand-woven mat and Andy bought a bamboo puzzle game (each for 10 Ringetts)....................it would have cost us a lot more in the local shop near our hotel so we saved a fortune!
Our second day trip was a walk in the Forest. This gave us a chance to see lots of interesting plants, and flowers (no it really was interesting), as well as some great views when we got to the top. The guides we really good as well, and they seemed to really have a passion for what they were doing, so they were able to answer all of our questions. The only problem with the Forest walk, is that both Andy and Karly were not properly attired for the trip e.g. everyone else had trainers and trousers on, while we had shorts and flip flops / thongs. So basically we got our expensive Birkenstocks very dirty!
After our Forest walk we visited a local tea factory, and did a little tour. Karly found this very boring, while Andy was quite interested (as they had a couple of large machines that were crushing, grinding, and sorting all the tea leaves). The surrounding hill tops were very picturesque, see our photos below.
We are now in Kuala Lumpur for a night before travelling to the Taman Negara National Park (a big jungle, with rope bridges etc.). We will be there for a couple of nights, before moving onto the Pulau Perhentian Islands, (which have beautiful beaches apparently) as we need a break from all this hard travelling. Unfortunately the islands do not have many amenities (like banks, telephones, internet or even 24 hour electricity), so we might not be able to check our emails for a week or so.
Here is the link to our photos of the Cameron Highlands: