Archive for the ‘China’ Category


Finally found a decent internet connection to get some more pictures up. Enjoy! Hong Kong & Vietnam

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Shanghai was lots of fun for us. We were able to mesh our schedule with our friends from home who play in the ‘Indie Rock Group – Paper Lions’. It was a great taste of home for us and it was refreshing to see some familiar faces from familiar places.

We let loose a little bit in Shanghai and came dangerously close to blowing our budget for China but we also had a lot of fun. John was especially kind to us and took us out for a nice dinner and treated us to some ‘Wolfberry Swill’ at his hotel room. We kept him out very late but he fought through it despite being jetlagged.

We spent one whole day at the World Expo. It got off to a shaky start when I had my Swiss Army pocket knife taken from me clearing security on the way in. There are security checks everywhere in China and it had never been a problem before I honestly had forgotten it would be a problem orherwise I would have gladly left it home. We roamed around the grounds and mostly looked at the exteriors of the pavillions as they were usually more interesting than what was inside. At the end of the day (about 10 hours later) we were ready to go home. I decided to stop by the security area to see if I could get my knife back. Luckily for me there was a young girl volunteering that spoke English and was willing to sift through the garbage to find me about a dozen red pocket knives. Mine was among the selection with my initals engraved on it. She had cut her hand but insisted it was nothing. I thanked her and that was that.

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Memory Lane : Suzhou / Hangzhou

Suzhou and Hangzhou were both nice and quaint. I think that each of them deserved more time than we gave them. We spent two days in each place which was not enough time to get settled and truly enjoy the cities. If I had to choose one over the other I would have chosen to spend more time in Hangzhou.

Suzhou was a nice little town with canals and old sections of city to wander. We took a night cruise on the river there. The cruise was nice but we shared a boat with some rowdy business men which made it less enjoyable. There was a Chinese tour guide on board as well as a musician. Even with the live entertainment and noisy men at the back of the boat one of our fellow passengers was still able to catch some Zzz’s. Our hostel there was very new and under construction. I think it will be a nice place when it’s finished. We were lucky and got a room to ourselves while we were there.

Hangzhou was a quiet little resort town. The main attractions were the gardens and parks surrounding the lakes. It was very peaceful and relaxing there. When we were there it was very hot and humid. We got caught out in probably the most spectacular lightning storm I’ve ever seen. We took cover in a building in one of the parks and waited until it was a bit safer to get to a bus stop. One flash of lightning and clap of thunder was particularly nearby to our shelter and both Brynn and I jumped a bit. There seemed to be many lightning storms in the area and the sound was rolling through the whole valley. Our hostel there was just okay. We will always remember it for the cockroaches in the restaurant area and in Brynn’s bedding.

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We spent a lot of time budgeting our money for this trip and a lot Iof the times it was really difficult to find up to date or accurate information. Fortunately though we ended up coming in more or less exactly on budget. Some cities we were over and others we were under. So for those of you trying to plan a similar journey here’s what we did and how much it cost us. For those of you who just read this to keep track of us. Skip this. It’s boring.

Out first stop was Beijing. Because of the ridiculously crowded train we ended up spending 2 days and 1 night less there than we had planned which actually worked out not too bad. You should note that all of these prices are for 2 people and in RMB

Budget for 5 days / 4 nights
Food: 780
Transportation: 295
Accommodation: 312
Extras: 910

What we actually paid and how we did it.
Food: 501. The first day we were actually quite a bit over budget on food. It takes a while to figure out what is a good price for food and where you can find it. We bought a few things at a little supermarket to eat for breakfast. We filled our water bottles at the hostel for free with the water cooler and we ate a lot of dumplings from the street vendors. We still did eat in a couple of restaurants though.

Transportation: 100. We walked. A lot. One day we hired bicycles which allowed us to see a good deal of the city but if we weren’t cycling or walking we took the metro. It was in English close to our hostel and relatively painless. Not to mention it’s cheap.
Hotel: 280. We booked ahead online. Something we did in all of the Chinese cities. We weren’t really comfortable enough not to do this. We stayed at Candy Inn in an 8 bed dorm.
Extras: 888. This includes things like admission to the forbidden city the temple of heaven and our tour of the great wall.

The last piece of the Beijing budget is the cost of moving on to out next destination. We had planned on taking an overnight train to Pingyao at 468RMB for two. That was booked though and we ended up taking a D class daytime train to Taiyuan and then a local train to Pingyao which only cost 392. //

Pingyao budget for 2 days and 1 night

Food: 182
Transportation: 0
Hotel: 52
Extra: 234

The real deal.

Food: 215. We probably could have cut down on this but we just decided not to. Since we had saved a bit of money in Beijing by leaving early we ate well. We only ate in restaurants and splurged on a couple of coffees.
Transportation: 20. We decided to rent bicycles again instead of walking around.
Hotel: 100. We went for a private room. We definitely could have gone cheaper in a dorm.
Extras: 302. We had originally intended to buy the Pingyao city pass but instead went for a massage and bought some souvenirs.
The moral of the Pingyao story is that we could have stayed on budget but it’s a city that deserves a little splurging in order to really enjoy it.
We budgeted 273 to travel overnight to Xian but we could only get a local class train for 166. So it all evened out in the end.

Xian budget 4 days 3 nights
Food: 312
Transportation: 104
Hotel: 156
Extra: 585

The scoop.

Food: 463. This is probably not a fair cost. We found a walmart in Xian and stocked up on some stuff. Street food was also a bit harder to find outside of the Muslim quarter.
Transportation: 8. The buses are cheap. Really cheap.
Hotel: 180. We stayed in a really nice hostel — that also provided free pick up from the train station so it was worth the little extra. We stayed in a 8 bed dorm room again.
Extras: 583. We had hoped to be spending this money on seeing the terracotta warriors and going to a panda reserve but unfortunately the pandas were closed and we went to famen temple instead. We opted out of a tour for both the warriors and the temple and did both on our own using the tour buses near the train station.

Our next stop was Nanjing we budgeted 546 for an overnight but of course it was sold out so we took an overnight to Hefei for 464 and then caught another train to Nanjing for 134.

Nanjing budget for 3 days and 3 nights. //
Food: 234
Transportation: 156
Hotel: 273
Extras: 130

It’s not of much value for me to write about how much we actually spent as we met up with friends who picked up the tab for everything we did. I will say that Nanjing had really great street food if you were in the right area so the food budget was probably pretty accurate. The hotel actually cost us a whopping 585 because the budget options are terrible in Nanjing and we ended up having to stay in a hotel-GreenTree was the cheapest we could find and was alright.

Our next destination was Suzhou at a budgeted 156. We could only get standing tickets for 66.

The Suzhou budget for 2 days 2 nights
Food: 156
Transportation: 78
Hotel: 156
Extra: 130

What actually happened.
Food: 161. Again street food was a little harder to come by but still pretty close to budget. We ate in a couple of Chinese fast food places.
Transportation: 47. We had to take a taxi to and from the bus station which was the majority of this. It’s generally small enough to walk around.
Accommodation: 120. We stayed at Lohas Hostel which was a decent location and pretty good value for what we paid. They had just opened so we were pretty much the only guests.
Extra: 240. We went on a nighttime cruise around the canal that kind of blew the extras budget.

We budgeted 195 to take the train to Hangzhou but opted for the bus instead at 142.

Hangzhou budget for 2 days and 2 nights.
Food: 156
Transportation: 78
Accommodation: 156
Extra: 130

The low down.
Food: 180. We ate at the hostel a couple of times which brought up the price but we did find one small restaurant but it was well hidden.
Transportation: 64. The bus station was quite far out of the city so we had quite an expensive cab ride to get to our hostel.
Hostel: 80. This may have been a mistake. We stayed at the FourEyes hostel which had decent ratings online but was quite a bit cheaper than the others and unfortunately had cockroaches. //
Extra: 30. We spent most of our time there wandering around the free parks.

To get to Shanghai we had hoped to spend 78 to take the train but took he nice one for 108.

Shanghai budget for 4 days and 4 nights.
Food: 624
Transportation: 236
Accommodation: 832
Extras: 650

How it went down in China’s most expensive city.
Food: 745. We splurged on one meal while we were in the city and then decided it wasn’t worth it. Instead we ate most of our main meals at the family run restaurant next to our hostel.
Transportation: 46. For a city with so many people it’s surprisingly compact. Walk.
Hostel: 640. We stayed in a great place Mingtown Hikers Hostel. 4 bed dorm washer and dryer good location. What more could you ask for.
Extras: 874. We went to expo which was expensive and we may have partied a bit too much.

Getting to Hong kong ended up costing us 1450 for plane tickets because the train that we budget for at 806 was booked solid.

One of the greatest tips we picked up while in China was finding out about student prices. For a lot of places they have a student price that can be up to 50% off the regular admission. They always ask for a student ID but we used our drivers licenses and it worked just peachy.
The trains are an ok value for your money but check into the buses. It’s worth paying the extra for a seat if you can as the hard seat class can be miserable. If you have an option stay away from the trains that don’t have a letter in the train number. They’re pretty raw.

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I wrote a post earlier about setting up this part of the trip but for those of you trying to do something similar here is the rest of the story.

We had already purchased our tickets on the overnight bus from Shenzhen to Pingxiang so all that remained was to complete the trip. We left Hong Kong around noon and simply reversed the subway trip we took in. It seemed to be much quicker and easier, oddly enough, to get into China than into HK and we arrived in Shenzhen around 2.

We grabbed a bite to eat at the only restaurant in the bus terminal with our HK roommate Ollie. He arrived the second day we were in HK en route to becoming an english teacher in China. It’s always nice to meet up with new people even if it is only for a short time. He took off for the airport and we boarded our bus with our other new friend Oyea. Oyea lives in Pingxiang and was more than happy to show us the ropes.

We boarded the bus at 640pm and were more than pleasantly surprised. The bunks were definitely small but clean. There are three rows of beds two high for the length of the bus. I’d highly recommend getting a top bunk as people will eventually be sleeping in the aisles so you may end up sleeping much closer to someone than you’d want to be. Also if it’s possible ask to get the top bunks at the very front of the bus as you’ll gets bit of extra room. There’ll be enough space to store your bag if it’s just a backpack which is probably a good idea.

The bus took off from the station at 640 but it didn’t actually hit the highway until about 9. The bus stopped a lot. People got on about every 15 minutes or so which is why I think it’s a good idea to keep your bag on the bus with you. The belly of the bus is opened ad shut at every stop so it’s not unbelievable that your bag may get “lost” in the shuffle.

At around 930 we pulled into the station in Pingxiang. I think it may have been possible to get dropped at the border or close to it as they made quite a few stops before the station but we didn’t ask. The minute you get off the bus you’ll be asked if you want a ride to the border. Go through the station and grab a cab. Our friend Oyea put is in a taxi and said we should pay 25RMB for the ride. It seems reasonable as it’s about a 20 minute ride.

You’ll be dropped at something that looks like a tourist attraction. There’s a booth on the left selling tickets but this is not for the border. Do not buy a ticket just head through on the left. First you’ll go through Chinese immigration then through Vietnamese immigration. Both are pretty straight forward.

As soon as you exit Vietnamese immigration there will be golf carts waiting to take you to where you catch the minibuses to Hanoi. They charge 1USD per person but it’s completely unnecessary to take these as the bus stop is only about 1km down the road.

The minibus drivers will be all over you when you enter the little parking lot. We only as the one but there may be other options. They will wait for the bus to be full and they will also pick people up along the way. Ours even stopped for lunch en route. Remember there is a time change when you cross the border so you gain an hour. We left the border around 1015 and arrived in Hanoi at about 330. The trip was 5USD each.

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Hong Kong while it’s still an Asian city has been very much westernized through it’s century of British rule. So much so that it was easy to be fooled into thinking we weren’t in Asia anymore. The city is cleaner and more efficient than any of the other cities in the area with maybe the exception of Tokyo. The people act the way we would naturally expect, making eye contact or holding the door open for you. There are anti smoking and littering rules everywhere with heavy fines for breaking them. My favourite rule is definitely the no spitting.

Because Hong Kong has been so westernized it was a nice break for us. Most everyone spoke english and often at a very high level. Unfortunately with the westernization comes the western prices. Everything was much more expensive here than mainland china and you can see it in the people. Money seems to just ooze out of HK. Everywhere you look there’s money. There are more luxury cars on the streets than any other kind of car. So much so that a mercedes or a BMW looks like a mediocre car when compared to the lambourghinis or maseratis next to it.

Not only was HK a mini escape from Asia we surprisingly also got to have a break from the city. We spent our last day in HK in Shek O. It’s a small secluded village on the south coast of Hong Kong Island. We very happily spent the better part of the day lying on the beach. We very unhappily realized after we woke up from our hour long nap that HK had fooled us again. Because it is always so hazy and smoggy we completely forgot about sunscreen and woke up looking like Lester’s cousin.

We rounded out the HK trip, and our money, eating some decent Indian food and watching the laser and lantern display on the waterfront. I really enjoyed HK even if it did make me look ridiculous. I would seriously consider paying it another visit. Next time, though, I’ll take more money.

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Memory Lane : Nanjing

It’s been almost 2 weeks since Nanjing so it is probably about time I caught up on the posts.

We learned a lot about Nanjing after we spent some time there. I will admit that I was and still am quite ignorant when it comes to China. Originally we decided to stop in since we have friends who lived there and now live in Canada.

We had such a great time in the city of Nanjing. I could write for a long time and be very detailed but that’s not really my style and typing on an iPhone isn’t as easy as it seems. The keys are small but my fingers are fat and it takes a while although I am improving.

We ended up staying in an actual hotel rather than a hostel in Nanjing. We paid about two or three times more than we usually would have for a hostel in any other Chinese city. We could have tried to find a place for less but decided to splurge so that we could get some rest and have the whole place to ourselves. It was nice but no nicer than an average motel and in the end we didn’t spend much time there. It was also a little more lonely because there were less travellers around and no common area to wind down in.

Our first evening was pretty uneventful and we just wandered near the hotel to find some street food. I had a wonderful soup and Brynn prefered the egg fried rice. We also shared a couple of pieces of fried chicken. My soup was boiled in a communal pot of broth which I thought was a great idea because I got all sorts of flavor from everyone elses ingredients as well as the ones I had chosen for myself. We spoke with our friends John and Linda on the phone after we had eaten and found out they had arranged everything else for us in Nanjing and all we had to do was relax and enjoy the city.

The next day was completely taken care of by John’s parents and the one after was covered by Linda’s. Both days were packed full with sightseeing and meals all included. We were on the go from nine in the morrning until nine at night. We really appreciated all of the kindness and generousity. It certainly made Nanjing feel more like home for us.

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Day 23: Hot Kong

After a long day of traveling on Tuesday we took it pretty easy yesterday. We unfortunately had to set out early in order to get our visas straightened out. After only 15 minutes though at the consulate we were all set. We didn’t really have anything planned as we had assumed the visa process would take a little longer and we didn’t have time in Shanghai to read up on Hong Kong so we spent the first bit wandering aimlessly in the heat. HongKong is definitely the hottest city we’ve been in and the two of us were quickly sweaty ad uncomfortable.

We took refuge in HongKong park where we escaped the heat and the sudden rain storm. We had a short nap under the trees before we continued onto the botanical and zoological gardens. One of the best parts of HK is that the majority of it’s sites are free. Definitely not the case in mainland China.we watched the monkeys do their thing for a while and kept moving.

We took a quick look at Man Mo Temple which was actually quite a bit different than the many others we’ve seen. This one had coiled incense hanging from the ceiling and free sticks for you to light. It was rally quite nice and although much more touristy it felt more legit.

We wrapped up the day at Happy Valley Racecourse watching some horses. The place was pretty swanky quite a bit more upscale than say the CDP with people pulling up in BMWs Mercedes and Maseratis. All of the members were dressed to the nines and you could feel the money in the air. The whole thing was quite exciting and a highly recommended HK attraction.

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