Getting to Shanghai

Note that £1=¥9.71, $1=¥6.84

On Thursday I relaxed in the morning in my private room – the first since Cambodia and the last for the rest of my trip before catching the train to Shanghai. For breakfast I had a “British breakfast which consisted of fried eggs and tomato and orange juice and tea which cost ¥20 (£2). There was no bacon or sausage and to add those would have cost another ¥12 each – making the breakfast cost about the same as at Wetherspoons in the UK.

This was actually a bit of an interesting adventure. First stage was getting to the train station – I was advised to go by taxi but I instantly ran into the problem of how to ask to go to the station as asking for the “train station” in English failed (of course the taxi drivers may have understood the older “railway station” better :p.) so I walked the 500m or so to the bus stop I got off yesterday as that bus went to the station – that was the cheaper option as well as it only cost ¥2. This worked surprisingly well as the bus was quick and clearly frequent as I just missed one and even then only waited a few minutes.

After arriving at the station I was a bit overwhelmed as there were clearly lots of queues to get tickets but I found the information counter and was quickly pointed in the direction of the tickets for the Chinese Shinkansen train (though Shinkansen is being a little optimistic – actually the train was about as fast as a UK express train. Still the train took 84 minutes rather than a minimum of 120 before; also the line extends from Hangzhou onto Nanchang which used to take at least 10 hours and now takes 4 hours which is a big improvement.). This was a surprisingly ordered queue as the only person who did any even slight pushing was me and it was really a draw who arrived first. Getting the ticket was fine too, it cost ¥54 to get to Shanghai and I wasn’t even thrust into first class which was good. This also led to me getting to sit in seat 61 of my carriage.

Before getting on the train I found the waiting room for the train before heading off to buy some lunch from a nearby stall. This was a couple of Chinese sticky rice cakes that were nice but a bit difficult to eat – they were very filling though and slightly sweet. In the waiting room I also got to chat to a Chinese girl in the waiting room while I slowly but surely got the plastic off my ricecakes which was also interesting.

The train isn’t the only part of china that is modern – Hangzhou feels nice too – from my short time there it feels nicer than even malaysia in my view. I think a good comparison to another city would be to Leamington Spa – though obviously it’s much bigger.

Another thing I noticed today is how nice the Chinese’s mobile phones are – they also seem to be keen on western pop songs as ringtones. The girl sitting next to me on the train had the “MacBook Air ad” song and on the bus I heard Nickelback’s new song – sadly Katy Perry’s Hot n’ Cold which seems to be the soundtrack of my trip hasn’t yet made an appearance on anything other than my own iPod touch when I picked it up on iTunes.

After arriving into Shanghai the people weren’t quite as friendly as I picked up a smartcard for the metro. Though they were friendly as I made my way to my hostel which seems to be very nice so far.

Wet and misty: Hangzhou

I woke up moderately late on my first (and only) day in Hangzhou.

I had a fairly cold night as I didn’t figure out how to get the AC to heat my room but otherwise it was fine – after all the dorms it was nice to have a private room, though at ¥140 it was fairly expensive. Anyhow I headed out just before lunchtime for a wander along the Hangzhou lake shore. First I had some lunch in costa coffee as it shockingly seemed to be only moderately expensive – it did allow me to endulge in some hot chocolate and cake both of which were delicious and I haven’t had either for a while.

After this I walked along part of the lake and saw the Chinese buildings alongside which surprisingly were actually not just ugly concrete boxes – they are actually more attractive than most of the buildings built by their friends across the sea to the east :p.

I also got chatting to a Chinese man who was amazed I could speak “so many” languages as I can speak a little german and Spanish as well as English. It does make sense I suppose as the Chinese aren’t as multi-lingual as the Europeans are generally. He also asked for some English grammar help which I gave but it was clear that English is surprisingly tricky – he seemed to have most trouble with words like “is” which don’t exist in Chinese.

After this I headed along the lakefront for a bit more and saw some tasteful statues to various people and other buildings. The lake itself was quite boring though as it was covered in mist though a few pagodas did poke their way through the mist.

After all this I took a bus back towards my hostel which was cheap at ¥2 and worked surprisingly well for someone who doesn’t speak Chinese and when noone else speaks English. After getting off the bus as it pulled away from the lake I went into a department store – the prices did seem to be extremely high at about twice what you’d pay in the UK and the staff were very amused by my visible shock to the high prices, hopefully you can bargain them down as I probably need to get a warm jumper especially as it’s not going to be warmer further north in china and especially on the trans-Siberian.

All in all it was a miserable day so I returned to my hostel to have a nice Chinese dinner for ¥28 including beer before returning to my room to dry off. Tomorrow I head to Shanghai which should also be interesting to see – it’s also going to be back to dorms for the rest of my time in China on my own.

Arrived into China: First Impressions

I flew into Hangzhou, China tonight. The airport and the airport bus into town went very smoothly. The AirAsia flight was fine though a little boring as the entertainment was extra and I was too cheap to spend the £4 to get it.

I have a few first impressions of the language to give. Firstly it is really difficult to use any butchering of Chinese to talk to people as they fail to understand, however underneath they are seemingly friendly and the taxi driver tried really hard to figure out where I wanted to go, so I didn’t bregrudge him the ¥15 (£1.50) – as it was shared it should have been about ¥5 though as he did try extra hard to figure out where I wanted to go when neither of us spoke the others language at all! They have also given me lots of wonderful small change when I’ve paid with large ¥100 (£10) notes which is nice of them – it was pretty harsh to pay for a ¥3 Coke with a ¥100 but that was all I had from the cash machine.

It is also pretty cold and wet here, I’ve left the tropics behind for sure, my hostel is really nice and honest (so honest they won’t accept my YHA membership email.). Hangzhou itself looks like a modern city though as it is dark now I obviously can’t see too much.

Langkawi and the Batu Caves

My next few days on Langkawi continued the pattern of lounging around and relaxing. I read some more books and headed to Underwater World an aquarium which started off not very good and got better. At RM22 (£4.50) for students the price was OK too. I also headed to a Reggae bar on the beach and a club where surprisingly as I am massively out of practice I was complemented on my dancing! The music was solid too. Not dance but more poppy music which I prefer. I don’t go clubbing that often – I can count the number of times on my trip on one hand but if you are with friends it is great fun (though as I want to have a real attachment to a woman it’s not my ideal place to pull women.).

After Langkawi I returned to KL which was fine though the bus trip was a bit dodgily organized so I had to buy the bus ticket twice. Only RM50 (£10) lost but still it’s not good.

After arriving into KL late I went to my absolute favourite restaurant (McDonalds) for dinner before going to bed. The next day after breakfast I headed by bus (which took seemingly forever) out to the Batu Caves. These are an awesome set of caves on the outside of Kuala Lumpur. The caves are a Hindu temple and have a giant gold statue of a Hindu god outside. The caves themselves are also impressive and absolutely massive and stretch up to the top of the hill breaking through into the jungle as well as giving a great view of KL. Unfortunately they are also very dirty and smelly and need more proactive clearance of rubbish. I also headed into the dark caves for an “educational” tour which was interesting and cost RM35 (£7). This contained lots of bats and other animals which live off the bat excrement including cockroaches that was interesting to see. We also got to learn about the beautiful rock formations in the caves and a temperature controlled “wind tunnel”.

After this I headed back to KL and went back to the Petronas towers to do a brief bit of book shopping and bought this weeks Economist (which has a very interesting article on the spread of English – EDIT: link) before heading to have dinner and watch Slumdog Millionaire. First though I had the most expensive meal I’ve eaten in Malaysia which was delicious Korean food. It cost RM17 so I would spend more than RM15 to get a free cinema ticket to see Slumdog millionaire. I did OK as the cinema would have cost RM8 otherwise. On the film itself I don’t know if it’s a true story but it’s an excellent and believable tale on modern India and love that is well worth seeing if you have the chance. The premise is a guy from the Indian slums beats lawyers and rich people to win 10 million rupees (about US$200,000) and the police don’t believe him as he’s uneducated. Of course coming from the slums exposes him to the “real world” more than the lawyers so not everything is against him.

Pictures named

I named the rest of my photos this morning.

Sorry I don’t have time now to post about what I’ve been up to here in KL as I need to go and get my bags and head over to the airport for my flight to China this evening. It has been pretty good however.

Photos uploaded

My friend Rupert has kindly uploaded a bunch more photos for me, which I’ve started to name, I’ll finish when I’m not in the most expensive internet cafe in Malaysia in the KLCC complex (it costs RM8, 1.60GBP for 1 hour!). I’ve named some of them as well

Thaipusam and Langkawi

On Saturday evening I thought I wasn’t going to get up to much, but in fact I had had quite an interesting evening. I was pursuaded that it would be a really cool idea to go to Thaipusam festival which was being celebrated by the Tamil in Penang. First to get there we headed up towards the festival by bus which took almost 90 minutes; unfortunately we didn’t get off at the right place so we had to get a taxi back towards the festival so the whole process took ages. After we eventually got to the festival we grabbed some food before heading towards the temples themselves.

The festival is actually a two day affair and I only caught the first day, where a chariot is brought up from one temple to another pulled by bulls. The festival also involves people piercing themselves which people do to prove their resistance to pain. They often had a bar in between their teeth to stop them biting off their tongue so it must have hurt a lot. First we had a wander around the temples, one of which was surprisingly in a colonial style building and the other opposite was more traditional before we walked back to the bus stop and the chariot. This took absolutely ages as there were tons and tons of people walking, and there was a bit of a crush as we tried to pass the chariot which got a little scary for a moment or two.

The festival was really good overall – much better than the mediocre Chinese New Year.

On Sunday morning I left Penang and I arrived into Langkawi on Sunday morning on the express boat, the journey was fairly uneventful, except that they didn’t have breakfast on board the boat and I got to watch some tom and jerry cartoons. That evening I had a pizza for dinner which was expensive at RM30, but the main issue was that I ate it too fast as I hadn’t had much food that day, so I had to sit down afterwards on the beach for 30 minutes to digest it fully.

Over the next few days I basically just chilled out, and on Monday I sat on the beach for several hours and managed to get really sunburnt which still hurts a bit now a couple of days later. I’m not going t-shirt less on the beach or snorkeling again as its actually pretty embarrassing. One of the main problems was that I didn’t get all the sand off as the showers are cold so that probably made matters worse. On Wednesday I went up to a nearby mountain to go on a cable car which gave great views of the rest of Langkawi island which was really good to see.

Langkawi itself is a tropical island in the north of Malaysia near the Thai border, basically it has lots of restaurants and the prices aren’t too bad, really its like a combination between Tahiti and Moorea though the prices are literally less than 20% of those on Tahiti, and I’m eating all my meals out here, rather than buying food from the supermarket as I did on Tahiti, except for one meal/day where I’d buy a meal on the side of the road.

Bed bugs

Well it appears that the mosquito bites I talked about weren’t actually mosquito bites at all but were actually bed bugs, so now I have to wait for my clothes and stuff to be washed to get rid of them.

It also appears that the accommodation in question, Love Lane Inn has a problem with them. There is a trip advisor review from 2006 saying the same thing, as well as the owner of where I am staying now on Langawi.

Oh the joy.

Georgetown, Penang

On Friday evening after an excessively long bus ride that included 2 hours messing around in KL bus stations and no movies I arrived into the small port of Butterworth. From there I was able to get the RM1.20 (US$0.33) ferry across to Penang island itself. As the sun set Georgetown looks like a typical city with some skyscrapers towering overhead. After the boat docked I headed into the area of town with the travellers accommodation and checked into a guesthouse. That evening I didn’t do much other than grab some chicken noodles from a nearby street stall before heading to bed. I decided to stay in Penang for a couple of nights though so I wouldn’t have to leave first thing the next morning to go to Langawi It also gave me some time to sort out accommodation.

The next morning I set out to explore Georgetown. First I headed to the KOMTOR tower where the tourist office was supposedly located. I also thought that I’d be able to grab some breakfast as well. Upon arrival the only open place for breakfast was an overpriced Starbucks where they hadn’t even put on the air conditioning. After a wander I found the tourist office but it failed at it’s task by only having it’s opening hours in Malay – for a country with a sizeable Indian and Chinese community and where English is the lingua Franca between those communities and the Malays as well as being the language of tourism that was very surprising to see.

After this things got much better however. I headed back to my accommodation to book my onward transport and accommodation on Langawi. After doing that I headed to the excellent Penang museum which only cost RM1 ($0.28). This had thoroughly interesting coverage on how the British founded Georgetown and the communities that live there. It was pretty fair in general though it was probably a little biased towards the British. After seeing that I went to an Indian restaurant to have a delicious sweet lassi and slightly spicy rice and cashew nuts that also wasn’t too expensive – the whole meal only cost RM6 ($1.67). After this I headed through the colonial part of town before looking at the main mosque and an impeccably restored Chinese temple before returning to my hostel to shave (which is actually an event when you don’t use a manual razor) and catch the end of Casino Royale on Star Movies which was excellent.

Of note the island of Penang is actually spelt Pinang in Malay and like many only recently romanised languages it is pronounced like Spanish or Portugese (and maybe Venetian) reflecting those countries dominance in the world in the 16th century.

Melaka

I arrived into Melaka on Wednesday evening. The bus ride up wasn’t particularly exciting as it was motorway driving all the way. The crossing over from Singapore was fairly painless however. Melaka itself doesn’t seem to be particularly exciting beyond the usual shopping centre. Even most of the restaurants shut early. The town itself is quite pretty and has some ok European style buildings but it isn’t really my favourite city. The highlight was sitting around my hostel chatting and on Thursday evening having a satay dinner where you dipped scewers into a central pot. It was good but a little expensive at RM10 (£2). On Friday I’m going to get the bus up north to Penang and from there I’ll probably go and relax on the beach for a few days.