Sunday, 23 December 2007


And so the end is near and I've reached my final destination. It's been an incredible 11 months but more than anything I can't believe how fast it's gone. As I sit in a cafe waiting for breakfast under the fan with mid 20s outside it's hard to think I'll be back in european winter in a matter of hours.
Hong Kong has been great. My accomodation is without a doubt the smallest room I've ever seen, but at least it's not exorborant and it's clean. Kowloon is a bit manic though, but fun in a strange kind of way. The pervasive smell of curry is hard to shake, but the excellent park here makes a nice retreat.

Hong Kong island itself is generally a much more pleasant location. I spent most of a day up on Victoria peak, accessed by a cool funicular ride. It's a great day out and even with some haze/fog has amesome views, as well as some nice trails to stretch your legs.
I also made it out to lamma island, a car free spot only 30 minutes by ferry. It seemed to have a large proportion of expats engaging in all kinds of new-agey and healthy pursuits. Indeed Hong Kong has been a bit of a revelation in China with the number of white faces about - and theres tons of people from all over asia and africa as well, making for an interesting mix. If a very expensive one.
Well, it should at least help me get to grips with the prices back home.

Other than that I've just been eating and drinking and admiring the views from the star ferry, particu1alarly memorable at night. Just a few more hours and I'll be on the BA jet for Heathrow. Joy. Though to be honest, it is kinda nice making it home for Christmas and catching up with everyone.

Honey, I'm home! Well after the MTR to the train, train to HK airport, plane to heathrow, hour on runway, tube to Tottenham Hale, train to Stranstead, plane to Dublin, bus to Hueston, train to Athlone and car home I finally made it just in time for sunset on Christmas eve.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Um pouco portuguese

Macau is a slightly strange entity. Despite never leaving China, I still had to invalidate my Chinese visa and clear customs and immigration to get there. Like Hong Kong, it's retained a special status for 50 years after it's handover (in 1999) It definitely feels different than the rest of China so far, especially in your pocket, with prices closer to it's former ruler than it's current one. But it's got a good vibe to the place, with European like streets and people crowding around shopping, hitting the delicious bakeries for breakfast and the Macanese eateries serving a mixture of specials from places like Goa and the old and new homeland are very good.

After struggling with Mandarin I now have to try to understand Cantonese, but at least the signs are in English or at least Portuguese. For a small place there are plenty of interesting cultural sites around to pass a couple of days. Wandering around the backstreets especially in the hillier parts almost makes you think your in Lisbon. Well, with a heck of a lot of Chinese tourists.

Macau is also becoming something of an Asian Las Vegas. It's had legalised gambling for a long time, but only recently is it taking on Vegas style theme hotels and casinos. You can now wander around mini amsterdams, miami beachs and Colosseum type buildings. All quite tacky but somehow impressive nonetheless.
One final strange thing about the place - despite being a former Portuguese colony and currently Chinese, they drive on the left. Weird. And I didnt even notice until I was leaving.

Friday, 14 December 2007


Up until now everywhere in China has pretty much exceeded expectations. A cynic might say that that's partly cause I didn't have such great expectations to begin with. But nevertheless, I've been very impressed with almost everywhere. But I arrived in Yangshou and felt a little underwhelmed. I don't know if it was the cloudy weather hiding the scenery, the constant sound of jackhammers and angle grinders or the thumping Chinese discos, but I felt a bit let down. It was the one place in China I was going to make a real effort to get to. Perhaps it's cause I expected a lot that I was inevitably disappointed.

A few days here and the place is starting to grow on me a bit though. I've found a couple of good bars serving reasonably priced beer and a decent bunch of people frequenting them. Staying out till the discos close is a good way of getting a good nights sleep too.
And the locals are very friendly and really keen to practice their (pretty good) English, offering some Chinese lessons and even plying us with free beer in return. This English teaching is easy! Apparently I'm welcome back on a longer, more formal stint at any stage.
Although the cloud cover is pretty constant, I did have a decent day visiting Moon hill on a bike. The views were decent but lacking the beauty that a really clear day would give, but it was nice just to get out of town for a while. Yangshou also has some pretty decent climbing so I spent a great day with the guys at Blacrock Climbing on the local karsts. Consequently I'm pretty wrecked today and have spent a pleasant day doing absolutely nothing.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Back tracking

When I got back to Lijiang from Shangri-la, I decided to pay a visit to the nearby village of Baisha to the somewhat (in)famous Dr Ho. He rose to acclaim after Michael Palin's visit to him during "Himilaya" as well as a couple of other international organisations. At 84 with a face full of character and a long white goatee he definitely looks the part, but I kinda felt like he liked to blow his own trumpet a bit. Still, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, so we will see what effect his mixture of herbs has on my blood pressure.

Getting there was half the fun, as the scenery was quite nice and I managed to wander off the main road on my bike and find cute little back roads through the local countryside. Despite getting well lost, I always seemed to end up close enough to a main road to meander back. The part of the village away from the Doctor was actually much prettier (no souvenier stalls or jewellery sellers in sight).

Leaving Lijiang with it's lovely streets and super friendly guesthouse was hard, but eventually I managed to hop on the bus back to Kunming. It's kinda weird being back in a big city again, but the weather is balmy and it really is quiet a nice place. The area near the university is especially athmospheric and a bit different than the pervasive shopping malls elsewhere. I bumped into Phil from TLG/Mama Naxi's at the hostel here so hanging out with him until I head off on the long train trip to Guilin.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Leaping tigers and Shangri-la

Until recently, it existed only in a fictional novel and as part of a myriad of resorts and hotel names, but now there is an actual town of Shangri-la, and I'm in it. A few years ago, the Chinese decided that Zhongdian wasn't really pulling in the tourist dollars, so a little nomenclature wizzardway and all of a sudden James Hilton's mythical place has been born in north western Yunnan, close to the tibbetan border. It's more than a little tibettan complete with roving yaks, which isn't surprising as it was once part of Tibet prior to the Chinese "liberation". It's actually a pretty cute place, with a nice old town and a cool athmosphere. Actually it's pretty baltic just now, I arrived to snow flurries at noon and the mercury is well below freezing as I pen this entry. Given that it's two miles above sea level and it's December, I guess it's hardly surprising. But at least the resturants and bars are well equiped with toasty fireplaces. So far I've just wandered about, and visited the local monastry, an impressive and pretty place.

I arrived here after completing the Tiger Leaging Gorge trek, an incredibly beautiful hike through one of the worlds deepest gorges, and just physical enough to give that added sense of achievement. The first day was a bit overcast, and the scenenry nice but slightly underwhelming, but the next morning waking up under the gigantic spires of the mountain and the resulting hike through gorgeous scenery was simply stunning.

I was also with a really nice bunch of people so that made it more fun, though every now and then it was nice to drop back and just enjoy the birdsongs, the sound of the roaring water cascading through the rocks and chasms of the gorge and appreciate the remoteness of such a location in a country of so many people. I'd higly recommend it to anyone with an adventerous bent, especially as the Chinese have damming plans for the gorge.

Prior to the hike, I stayed in the beautifully picturesque town of Lijiang, a couple of hours north of Dali. It's another heavily touristed (by chinese) town but the lovely setting under snow capped mountains and the beautiful winding ancient streets (or at least ancient looking) more than make up for it, and the stay at Mana Naxi's guesthouse is an experience in itself.

Before leaving Dali, I managed to tear myself away from the delicious Bai cooking for long enough to cycle to a couple of local villages and to the nearby lake, and to take the cable cars up the local mountain, which allows you to complete a 10k walk along a path cut into the side of the meandering mountain valleys, which was pretty stunning in itself. Leaving Dali I was quiet sad but I imagine it's somewhere I'll make it back to sometime. Yes, although I'm heading home in a couple of weeks I'm far from finished with China.