A Travellerspoint blog


Local Aussie!

sunny 26 °C

We arrived on the Friday evening in Bowen - a small very local East Coast Australian town with few tourists. We enjoyed a barbecue on the beach before walking to the local pub and witnessed most of the population of the town arrive for their Friday night out. As well as a bar/restataurant the pub had a 'games room' - with loads of slot/games machines, a club and a huge beer garden. We got the feeling that you could go there any Friday night and the pub would be pretty much exactly the same...with the same clientel.

Having returned to our campervan we had been asleep for around an hour when we got several knocks on the door. Wearily peering out we saw a local official. On opening up the van we were informed that we were not allowed to sleep in the van on the waterfront where we were parked and that we must move immediately to avoid a $200 fine. Thankfully we'd only had a couple of drinks earlier and were able to move the van... to the local service station where we parked amongst the big trucks before continuing on our journey down the East coast the next morning.

Despite it being daylight - the first live Kangaroo that we had seen on the trip (we'd seen many roadkill Roos by the side of the roads) decided to hop out right in front of us. Chris slammed the brakes on and we managed to just avoid hitting it and off it hopped. We'd both wanted to see a living breathing Kangaroo, however not in those circumstances.

Posted by NicChris 04:23 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


Loved it (despite being told not to go here)!

sunny 27 °C

Our first stop was Townsville (340km) where we parked up with little time to spare of daylight to set up the van from transport mode to camper having parked on the sea front with other campervans. Some people we had met on our travels had told us not to visit Townsville - remarking that there was 'nothing there'. However, we really enjoyed our time there - it had some lively bars and restaurants along the waterfront and we enjoyed walking down a scenic beach, speaking to local fishermen about the local area and the 'many reasons' why not to swim in the sea there. So we decided to ignore all advice given to us on our travels and make our own minds up on destinations.

Posted by NicChris 04:20 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


Australian Initiation

sunny 25 °C

After two flights from Tokyo to Sydney (approx 8Hr) and Syndey to Cairns(3Hr) we arrived at our hostel determined to keep going despite the lack of sleep. Our hostel offered a pick up service from the airport and we decided to take the easy option for the first time in our travels so far.

On our first day in Cairns we hired bikes, cycled down the Esplanade to the Botanical gardens, walking through the bamboo and tropical undergrowth (keeping an eye open for killer species) and up to a lookout point at the top of a hill, with a great view of Cairns. As we cycled back we saw how close we had been to Croc infested waters - with signs making it quite clear what the consquences of straying over borders may be.

One evening in Cairns, Nic recognised a teacher from her old school in Switzerland and we spent the evening having a few beers with Andrew (English teacher and Kiwi native) and his girlfriend Row (English).

We booked a trip and took a boat (and travel sickness pills) out to the Great Barrier Reef and snorkelled in two locations on Wednesday. We saw many fish, big, small & Nemo's, a sting ray, an eel, turtles and there was a reef shark that we swam over where it lived and decided not to go too deep down to say hello - although some of the other nutta's did. Nic is also convinced that a shark swam past her...

Hiring a campervan we headed South on our three week journey to Brisbane.

Posted by NicChris 04:17 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Japan: Tokyo

Hot Hot Japan!!

sunny 35 °C

On our evening arrival back in Tokyo we went to a recommended Sushi restaurant were Nic enjoyed her fresh sushi "best ever". The next day Chris's birthday started with brunch in a Japanese Tempura restaurant which only sold beer to drink.. what a shame! We took oursleves on a tour of the city, making our way up two skyscrapers with observation floors for great day time views of the huge sprawling city of Tokyo below. We then visited an area popular for shopping with Japanese young and trendys and observed mainly under 25's with very impressive, many very wacky outfits. We saw the Hachiko statue, which is a statute of a dog which belonged to a local professor in the 1920's and every afternoon the dog would go to the train station to await his owners return. When his owner died in 1925 the dog continued to show up and wait at the station each afternoon until it's own death 11 years later. Chris had requested "no museums or Temples" on his birthday but he made an exception for the Yebisu Beer Museum (& bar) where we learnt about the history of the beer and then sampled it. This was Chris's favourite museum so far - as the history part was limited and lasted less time than the sampling that followed! In the evening we went to Ropping Hills to, 'The top of Tokyo' which was light with sparkling neon lights. We ended Chirs's birthday in Akasaka or 'Electric city' as it is also known. Despite many attempts by Nic, Chris did not opt for the Karaoke bars.

Posted by NicChris 04:14 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Japan: Hiroshima


sunny 32 °C

We arrived early evening, again staying in a Japanese style hostel where you remove your shoes on entering the building and you sleep on futons on the floor etc. Having read the guide we headed for the 'lively' nightlife which was said to be excellent. We walked passed a number of Japanese Karoke bars and saw a quiet a few interesting sights of large numbers of Japanese buisness men leaving buildings while Geisha's and younger girls dressed in long Summer dresses, stood outside smiling and bowing as they left (literally until they got into taxis and drove away only then did they walk back inside). On the way back to our hostel we stopped for a couple of drinks at an outside bar by the river and enjoyed watching the world go by.
The next morning was a packed one involving a trip to the Atomic Bomb Dome, which being one of the very few buildings so close to the drop zone (6th August 1945) to remain standing - albeit damaged, clearly providing a stark reminder of the impact the A-Bomb had on the city and the thousands who died. Having walked through the Peace Memorial Park with the Cenotaph, Flame Of Peace and the Children's Peace Monument we visited the Peace Memorial Museum and the Hall For The Victims Of The Disaster. It is remarable how much Hiroshima has rebuilt itself in the 64 years since the end of WWII. The museum and its surrounding area were indeed very informative and moving. Obviously the city will be forever remembered for the A bomb attack, however Hiroshima is recovering rapidly and is already a prosperous cosmopolitan city that continues to develop. Before leaving for a Bullet train back to Tokyo we had a local speciality Japanese lunch with the locals which involved a lot of shouting and loud talking and much fun as several cooks prepared our pancake/egg/pork/vegetables 'thing' (actually called 'okonomi') infront of us on a hotplate!

Posted by NicChris 03:20 Archived in Japan Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Japan: Kyoto (+Okayama)


sunny 33 °C

After our first experience on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) which was everything we had been led to believe (super fast/on time/clean and a great experience) we arrived in Kyoto within three hours from Tokyo. We stayed in a traditional Japanese Ryokan - from the furniture down to the employees wearing Summer Kimonos. These lodgings have a large outdoor Onsen (natural hot water bath) and with traditional tatami-mat rooms and futon bedding, it was a real experience. In Kyoto we took ourselves on an afternoon temple walking tour and visited some of the local traditional streets including the charming Sannen-zaka with its wooden houses and traditional shops and Ishibel-koji which is claimed to be the best in Asia acording to LP). Walking was a great way to see the city but in 34c it was really hot. We sampled some of the Tempura Restarants and Noodle Bars and the local tipple. We took an evening walk and did a little Geisha spotting and walked along the lantern lit Kamo-gawa river. Lovely! Leaving Kyoto and before arriving in Hiroshima we took a day trip to Okayama and visited its Castle and enjoyed a quick lunchtime curry in a small backstreet that we would never have found had it not been listed & recomended in LP.

Posted by NicChris 20:52 Archived in Japan Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

China: Hong Kong

Hazy Hong Kong

sunny 32 °C

We arrived in the centre of Hong Kong in style, having taken a double decker bus from the airport. At last some civilized roads - with driving on the left and right hand drive vehicles. The former British sovereignty is still clearly influencing things round here and our nerves are all the better for the improved driving after the mayhem of other Chinese cities we had visited.

We had booked a hostel in the notorious 'Chungking Mansions' on Kowloon - a building right in the heart of the tourist area of the city. The building from the outside looks like it has suffered bomb damage - I don't think it has - it's just years of neglect and typhoon damage. As we hopped off our souble decker london looking bus, we were immediately pounced on by hawkers outside offering rooms, copy designer watches/bags and 'taylor made suits' from the many street traders who ran small stores at the bottom of the Chungking building. Having made our way through the maze, finding the right lift (which looked like it had been hacked into the concrete wall by hand) we made it to the sanctuary of our hostel on the 5th floor where the guy running the hostel was really nice and always cleaning things. We had read that space is at a premium in HK but nothing prepared us for the tiny room which greeted us and the super small bath/wetroom which had everything although the shower was literally above the toilet!

Whilst in Shanghai we took a stroll around Kowloon park, visiting a Chinese garden, The Hong Kong History Museum and in the evening we watched the Symphony of light (the worlds largest permanent light show - Guinness book of records apparently). Hong Kong is split over several islands so we took a ferry to Hong Kong island which is where all the skyscrapers are (and evidently the wealth). We boarded the old tram up to the Victoria mountain peak which had splendid views over the City. Despite warnings from all tourist guides not to walk down the mountain (as the path could be slippy due to a rain shower/typone 1 warning) with our walking shoes on we hit the trail and we did not see anyone else walking downhill in the whole time we walked down.

We walked down the famous Nathan road with all its gadget shops and bright neon lights and made a detour to the Temple night market where we braved a meal with the locals (chinese and mosquitos) where fish swam in buckets on the floor next to diners and shellfish crawled around trying to make a run for it! The meal was indeed fantastic although the next day it was clear the mosquitos had also had a nice time!

Posted by NicChris 19:25 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

China: Shanghai

Steaming Shanghai

sunny 32 °C

When we arrived in Shanghai the first thing we did was head to straight to 'the Bund' via Nanjing Road - both absolutely heaving with locals/tourists which must have been even busier than usual with the Expo being on. The views of Pudong skyline (from the Bund) - the high rise new area of the city across the river were fantastic which included the oddly shaped and lit with pink neon lights TV tower that looks more like a space exploration rocket.

We visited the Shanghai Museum, the site of the First Congress of the Communist Party of China (Nic enjoyed these much more than Chris) and walked the Bund in daylight. We also experienced the Yunnan road (part of the old town area of the city) where street traders and food stalls lined the paths ready to barter with anyone who stopped. Randomly, amidst the old town we came across a new shopping mall with a newly opened M&S and Tesco!

Shanghai lived up to our expectations and was significantly more developed, cleaner and more Westernized than Beijing and Xi'an and it's clear that the city is continuing to develop rapidly with new building in process and the world’s tallest building ‘to be’ - also in construction. However, in the backstreets the old/traditional China was still easy to see/experience and we witnessed washing being hung to dry between a street light and traffic lights, an old chap having his allover wash with a flannel and a bowl in the street where a busy food market was taking place which included buckets of live fish and shellfish amongst skewers of ‘meat’ being cooked on open flames.

The hostels have been great. We took advantage of the bar, large screen showing World Cup and the pool table. We've met a few interesting characters already and in this hostel a 72 year old multi-lingual Belgian chap who is currently learning Chinese (“why wouldn't I be” – his words) introduced himself one evening and we had some interesting conversations about his travels and his views on different countries and cultures around the world. After his explanation of how to spot the difference between a Chinese and Japanese girl we decided it was time to leave before we got lynched with him!

Posted by NicChris 03:56 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

China: Xi'an

eXiting Xi'an

sunny 32 °C

To get to Xi'an we took a 17.5 hours overnight train journey on the cheapest option a 'hard sleeper'. Not knowing what to expect we boarded the train and found our beds/shelves - which despite the description 'hard sleeper' were soft mattresses with pillow supplied. 3 shelves high, 6 per bay and open carriage. Ours were in the middle bay and we had 2 Chinese girls above us and a young Chinese couple beneath us all of whom were very nice and friendly. Once again, the lack of Westerners in the vicinity was apparent as we were photographed and watched intensely - smiling faces and being pointed at, this culminated in two Chinese guys requesting to arm wrestle Chris whilst having a picture taken!
The train had a boiling water dispenser - which was in high demand as the locals all had 'pot noodle' style food prepared for the journey. You could smell these immediately and this continued throughout the journey as even at 7am the locals were tucking into noodles for breakfast. The beer available on board was impressive - large, nearly wine sized bottles and 9% in strength - a couple of these helped us to get some sleep! The toilets on-board were however less impressive - hole in the floor in design and teacherous to say the least!

On arrival in Xi'an South train station, which we had learned in advance was 30km outside of the centre of Xi'an we found a single rickety old bus waiting outside and avoiding the fake taxi guys jumped on holding our note in chinese writing with the name of our hostel. We boarded the packed bus in sweltering heat (no air con) and Nic was sat by the driver (at the request of the driver) and Chris was directed to the rear of the bus. The locals told Chris that the bus was not going to Xi'an - so after having no idea what was going on the bus took us in the direction of Xi'an with again many more curious looks and after an hour the bus driver told us to get off and change to another...

Terracotta Warriors and Horses were impressive but clearly highlighted that Qin Shi Huang (First Emperor of China) had a serious ego problem. The excavation was immense and its still going on as they only discovered it in the 1970's so well worth a later visit perhaps.

We had orginally planned to go to Chengdu to the Panda sanctory although with so much fuss and movement required when we found out there was a Panda reseve 2 hours by car in Xi'an we changed decided to get our panda fix here. With a lot of help from the hostel folk we got a taxi to take us and the driver came with us to the park (and clearly loved it) before taking us back. The taxi for the whole trip cost less than £30.00
Animal welfare appears a bit of a strange thing in China. They really don't seem to get it although we were assured that the animals in the park had been rescued. At the end of the day its another culture with a different set of values...with regards to animals the relationship is one of either the animal is a working aid or its there to be eaten. With regard to the Panda's they were brilliant, one female Panda who we saw outside having a bit of a scratch was indeed a highlight of the trip!

We have to make a mention of the roads and the driving that we have so far witnessed in China, whether it be as pedestians, or bus/taxi passengers - as it is the most ludicrous, dangerous and KAMIKAZE system we have ever witnessed. Words simply cannot describe how crazy the 'driving' is over here. We have only seen one serious accident so far but the extremely near misses and complete lack of any sense of danger from road users in general is utterly shocking!

We experienced several problems booking flights to Shanghai due to local security checks (non Chinese credit card and lack of access to scan and fax copies of our ID's etc.) but in the end we managed it and despite the delay on the outward flight on which we were served lunch before the plane even took off from the Xi'an airport (which involved the very quiet Chinese lady sitting next to us eating her bread roll and then opening her butter and eating it on it's own with her spoon, then smacking her knuckles together for the rest of the flight....?) after two hours the plane took off for its two our flight and we eventually made our way to Shanghai!

Posted by NicChris 07:59 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

China: Beijing

Beautiful Beijing

sunny 34 °C

We landed in Beijing in heavy rain, smoggy and very humid. Immigration did some extra checks on us without informing us why, after a nervous few minutes delay - we realised that this was due to having flown from UK but our China visa's had been applied for and granted in Switzerland.

Our first hostel was a traditional 'courtyard' set-up in a 'Hutong' (single storey traditional buildings) area of the city. The room and facilities were great - much better than we had expected and the staff were extremely helpful and friendly.

Based on a recommendation from the hostel we went to a local restaurant and had a 'hotpot' cooked in front of us. We were asked if we liked food spicey and both nodded enthusiastically - and oh boy was it SPICEY, hottest Chinese we've ever had!! Very nice though and a great start to our experience of China.

Our first days were spent walking aroung Tianamen Square, The Forbidden City and The Summer Palace which were all very impressive and beautful in their own way, despite the hot conditions we were able to join the many chinese tourists under trees for shade.

We joined the other backpackers for a Chinese Dumpling party at the hostel on the Fri night - where we were shown how to make Dumplings and then ate our efforts as punishment.... only joking, they weren't bad and it was a good way to socialise with other travellers and gain information.

On Saturday, at Wangfujing (an area of central Beijing) we saw some recognisable highstreet shops (and several KFC / Mc D's -which are everywhere over here) but the outdoor food market was the most interesting. Speared silk worms, snakes and scorpions (still wriggling in some cases) on sticks that are cooked infront of you to your taste! Some sort of smoking chemical experiment which we were told was tea and spagatti worms which many of the Chinese were slurping up as they walked through the bustling streets. Needless to say we were spectators rather than customers and opted for a restuarant, one of the most famous places to eat Peking Duck in Beiging apparently, no worms or live animals in sight, although we had the option to eat the ducks head but decided to just take a picture of the poor thing instead.

We had a train booked on Sunday morning to take us to the nearest (to Beijing) part of the the Great Wall - at Badaling. Lonely planet recommended not to go there at the weekend as it gets too busy so of course we went on a Sunday. As we neared Badaling we could see the Great Wall from the train and it was so packed with people walking it - that it was like a human snake. We opted for the steeper walk and this resulted in a quieter part of the wall, albeit the gradient on certain sections were extremely challenging in the midday sun and heat.

Second hostel was another 'courtyard' set-up, however the quality of the set-up was even better than the first. The room was better than many European hotels we've stayed in and the common area was air conditioned, Wi-Fi, a pool table and serving great food. The only negative was the staff were pretty useless.
Still, Two hostels visited and the standards overall were excellent - the time spent reading reviews on the internet had paid off!

We had a great time in Beijing, we didn't see all '9 million bicycles', however we were very greatful of one particualr one (of sorts)! We cut it really fine in terms of leaving to catch our overnight train and on exiting the very packed underground with 10 minutes to spare (before our 16 hour overnight train was due to leave) - and a 25 minute walk ahead of us to the train station, Nic and I (with our backpacks on) jumped on the back of a small motorized bicycle trailer, crouched down as there was not enough room to sit down, negotiated a price with the elderly Chinese chap and he sped us towards the station with us both hysterically laughing and clinging on for dear life, both hoping that the weight of us and our backpacks would not result in us toppling over or crashing into the oncoming traffic - yes we were going the wrong way down the road! Our friendly local driver was not able to take us the whole way due to the police ahead. However, after a run - in very hot, humid conditions - we made it to the station and somehow to our train with literally a minute to spare, dripping with sweat and out of breath - much to the amusement of the other passengers we found our beds for the night! Bye bye Beijing and Xi'an here we come!

Overall our inital experience of China (Beijing) has both lived up to our expectations and has in some ways exceeded it. The hostels have been great and the people have been really friendly. Getting around has been fine, most place names are written in Chinese and English, the subway in most places was cleaner than the London Tube and people were happy to help even when they couldn't speak English. One of the most interesting things was the intrigue the people had in us. In most places we were literaly the only white westerns there. Some (both young and old) looked at us with fascination. We frequently had people stopping us for our picture, very bizarre! China is definitely a destination to be experienced by everyone, although maybe not all at the same time as it's already a bit busy!

Posted by NicChris 03:29 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

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