I’ve uploaded the final set of photos from the last part of my trip and named them over the past few days. You can view these on my photo page.
Note, I haven’t dealt with my photos yet, I’ll post when I’ve got them onto Flickr from the final part of my trip.
I do have a few extra awards that only make sense on an overall position looking at the whole trip, these are below:
China, overall I think my favourite country on the trip was China as it had good and surprisingly good museums as well as a lot of great sites. New Zealand, Peru and Japan also stood out.
Most difficult country to manage with only English
Japan and China, well neither of them uses roman script and although China is slightly harder to get around, the Chinese museums and sites mostly had excellent English translations. Whereas Japan was easier to get around, but the sites had poorer English translations. All-in-all I’m calling it a draw between the two.
Most useful material possession
iPod Touch for letting me write these blog posts when on buses and public transport and having lots of other useful information on it, from exchange rates to games. It looks like Apple will get all the features that everyone had over them as well.
Just because sometimes you book too much and sometimes too little I’m giving the next couple of awards:
The flight from New York to Washington DC. given that the public bus was probably superior in every way the main reason was that I met a really cool girl called Sophie the night before who I didn’t get to know as well as I’d have like to. If you’re reading drop me an email (don’t worry if it takes a while to notice this).
As I stray towards overbooking this didn’t happen very much – though hostels in China often gave a much better deal online than if you just turned up.
I was always going to give some awards at the end of my trip and this is the award for the final third of the trip. As well as this I will follow this post with some overall awards which will include some additional awards as well. That post will follow this evening UK time.
The Great Wall, China, the Great wall was stunning, especially seeing it snaking off into the mountains – apparently 20% of the entire Chinese population worked on it at one point, meaning it probably wasn’t the great military success it was supposed to be.
Taj Mahal, Agra Although Agra and frankly the rest of northern India isn’t exactly the nicest part of the world to travel in, the Taj itself is absolutely stunning. Angkor Wat was pretty damn cool as well too.
Hermitage, St Petersburg, although some of the artwork wasn’t amazing a large proportion of the artwork spread over 400 rooms was stunning, the rooms it was kept in were pretty good to look at as well.
Shaanxi Museum, Xian, this museum gave an excellent overview of Chinese history – excellent.
Best tour company
No Winner, all of the tours I have been on in this part of the trip have been significantly flawed though I have to admit I haven’t been on very many.
St Petersburg, Russia, St Petersburg is absolutely stunning to look at and it is great to see a European city that hasn’t been ruined by plate glass like Oxford has for example. The European style buildings that exist throughout the centre are stunning and the streets are wide enough as well.
I thought that Singapore was going to win the best city award as there was enough to keep me busy for the 8 days while I was there, that was until I got to Beijing, which was frankly better as it has two world class sites within its city limits. It was then pipped to the prize itself by St Petersburg. This is undoubtedly the top 3 however.
Best non-Family accommodation
Etour hostel, Shanghai, I was going to give it to the Beijing Novotel but they offered a dodgy tour to the Great Wall so I’m not granting it to them, but Etour hostel was well located behind the JW Marriott on People’s Square. It also had a great lounge with good food and drink – and excellent staff and th
Best food for under US$25
Food court, apm, Beijing, after eating far too much Western food in China it was good to get some Chinese food for a change, and the apm food court in central Beijing was excellent.
Singapore and Malaysia’s foodcourts for being consistently strong and cheap too.
The Lee, Mohan and Tim award for the best burger
Burgers seem to be turning into a staple on this trip and in honour of my time in Chicago when I had four burgers in six days with the guys from Chicago (including two for two successive meals.
Rice Burger @ MOS Burger, Singapore, this was gorgeous, disappointing I had to wait until Singapore before I could understand the menu enough to get to try a rice burger. The burger was delicious too – can we have a branch in Oxford please.
St Petersburg, Russia, because clubs in half finished buildings are cool and the ballet was pretty solid as well.
The acrobatics, Shanghai Centre, Shanghai, this was absolutely awesome and kept me riveted to my seat for 90 minutes.
The Russians the Russians always seemed to be friendly and went the extra mile to help pretty damn frequently, given their limited resources it was great to see.
Best Transportation Company
No Winner, nothing particularly stood out, but China rail, the metros in Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore and the buses in Xi’An were all pretty damn good.
“Russian” coat from Giordano, ¥299 for a coat that would probably be the better part of £100 in the UK was a great deal.
The tour to the great wall for costing probably 3x as much as just doing it yourself on public transport with the Chinese and then taking us to a dodgy medicine centre on the way back.
The Patrick Levy award for cinematography
When I went to South East Asia my friend Patrick (who doesn’t need much sleep) would watch films before going to sleep in the evening. Therefore I am dedicating this award to him. However even though films you watch while travelling are usually bad I’m giving this award to the genuinely most entertaining film.
The winner is Milk, a great film on American gay rights – and given the “great” state of America at the moment, maybe it has wider importance to all the other issues in the country.
I will also be having some awards for the last 1/3 of my trip as well as some overall awards – these will follow the second St Petersburg post.
First I want to talk about some details I missed about the Trans Siberian. One thing that seemed to happen every night is that snow blew from the track inside the carriages which was very amusing as you don’t often get to see snow inside and it was a strange site to see.
The other thing I missed was that the carriages are heated by coal so that they are still heated even when the wheels are being changed as you go from China to Mongolia (as the Russians/Mongolians use slightly wider track, this was done so the Germans couldn’t invade along the railway line from Europe which is the same width as Chinese track. This also helps when the engine is being changed as happens fairly regularly along the line.
After a good nights sleep we awake to be crossing the Gobi Desert, this is a pretty large desert in the south of Mongolia, we saw quite a bit of wildlife including sheep and deer as well as some traditional Mongolain yurts – it was mostly just scrubland. However there did appear to mostly be mobile phone reception. Also for breakfast some enterprising mongolians got on and we bought a surprisingly large number of mutton dumplings for US$3 each. Even though the Mongolian currency isn’t even in xe.com’s top 85 (which even includes the Cambodian currency which isn’t really in use) they didn’t seem to know how many tögrög’s there were to a US dollar so they asked for US$4 after giving us the food – the food was excellent though and at US$3 a good deal by any standards. As there wasn’t much else to do we headed down to the dining car after breakfast where we had some tea and a chat with the other people in the car.
After lunch in the dining car which was pretty good we arrived in Ulan Baator the capital of Mongolia, where a lot of people on the train got off, we did as well to have a wander around the platform and experience the high temperatures of -10ºC. It wasn’t as cold as I had thought though and like the rest of Siberia the thermals I’d put vast efforts into buying in Xi’An was wasted. It does go down to -40ºC in January though so they’d be useful then. I was surprised at how rich the capital of Mongolia appeared to be, I was expecting to see a country that was poorer than Vietnam and India, whereas instead I saw somewhere much more comparable to the development of China.
After we left the capital we headed north through land that looked similar but more scrubby than the Gobi as we headed towards the Russian border. Like in the Gobi there was also some snow on the ground, though it was a bit deeper than the bare dusting there – that was probably the years rainfall!
The next day we got up and went to the Russian dining car for breakfast, we weren’t sure whether it’d be up to the standards of the Mongolian or even the Chinese dining car, actually though it was pretty good and we had ham and eggs for breakfast. Then after breakfast we soon drew alongside the fairly large lake birkal which we spent about 4-5 hours following the shore of, what made it more impressive was that we only followed about 10% of the shoreline. The lake itself was mostly still frozen however and people were even driving cars over it, though at one point the lake had started to melt. There was still snow on the ground everywhere though it was a little deeper than Mongolia, but not as deep as in the alps for example – of course here it is cold enough that the snow falls and then stays until spring.
After leaving Lake Birkal the line curved around through a couple of tunnels, which were the only tunnels on the entire line, after which the train reached the town of Irtrusk. At this stop we got off the train to try and get some Russian roubles as we’d forgotten at the border, though unfortunately there wasn’t an ATM on the platform, if you’re doing this trip make sure you have enough roubles for the journey – you also may find them difficult to get them in China.
Anyhow after this we headed into the forests of Siberia, where we spent the next three days (well along with the occasional industrial town, and a few open spaces. Now I was impressed by the lake Birkal and I suppose I was impressed by the Siberian forests as well, but really 3 days was too much. The ural mountains also weren’t very exciting and the highlight of that day was seeing the Europe-Asia obelisk go by. Fun for all of 10 seconds.
I don’t have time to write much tonight, but I should at least begin writing some more content. We left Beijing early on the 4th March. First we actually headed south, but mostly west through beautiful mountains to the West of Beijing, unfortunately I was tired so I took a nap – though I should definitely have waited and missed some Siberian trees instead. There were ice rivers and stuff there which was really cool. As we continued on brand new track we slowly but surely made our way to the Mongolian border.
I was also surprised to see the level of development in out here though. There were often places where there was another brand new 2 track railway on the other side of the river valley showing that China is still marching ahead towards becoming a fully developed country.
Very briefly as I only have a few minutes left online, but I’ve arrived into Moscow this afternoon on the train. To summerize there are lots and lots and lots of trees on the way. Lets just say the highlight of one day was seeing the Europe-Asia obelisk by the railway. There were some cool people on the train though and the first couple of days through Mongolia, China and by Lake Birkal were really cool.
The Lonely planet also suggests a shorter tour so for the first time ever the Lonely planet might actually be right :eek:.
Early tomorrow morning I’m off on the Trans Siberian railway train to spending a few days in Moscow and St Petersburg before I return to the UK in a couple of weeks.
As I’m going to be very busy squeezing everything into only a few days I’m not going to be posting any more blog posts until I arrive back in the UK.
I arrived into Beijing on the train from Xi’an at
6am 10am before I made my way to my hotel where i’m staying in Beijing with my dad. After arriving by taxi I headed to a nearby coffee shop to have a fairly overpriced late breakfast while they got our room ready. After checking into the room I went out to try and do my laundry (as the hotel was overcharging.) before heading to the metro to get the train to the airport to meet my dad. Even though I had a bit of trouble figuring out which direction to go on the metro I managed to arrive at the airport at a perfect time – at which point I met my dad and we then returned to the hotel. By this point I was hungry so I headed to the nearby food court to have some Osaka rice dish which was delicious.
After this I met up with a Chinese girl I met in Malaysia and we headed to a traditional Chinese restaurant for supper. There we had lots of excellent real Chinese food (which is totally different from the stuff you get in the UK.) as well as some frankly mediocre spring rolls. We had this at a very popular restaurant called the Golden tile located near the Lama temple. After dinner we walked around a nearby park and some Hutong alleyways that were also very atmospheric before driving around to Tianamen square which was interesting to see at night.
The next day we got up early and headed to the Forbidden city. There we spent about four hours wandering around. The forbidden city is absolutely massive and even the walk from the west gate (which is comparitavely very close to the south of the palace rather than the north.) to the south gate is about 1km. Inside the buildings are yellow roofed and are incredibly attractive. What’s amazing is that even the opening square and the buildings directly around it would make a large palace. Inside we had a wander around and saw quite a lot – we got the audio guide but it was rubbish as it tried to be too clever by half and guess our location rather than using numbers. There were also a lot of exhibitions including some on clocks and some jade and other treasures. After this we then did some shopping in the afternoon – followed by a delicious meal at the foodcourt opposite the hotel. I had some Chinese dish that was great but I don’t know the name of as it was only in Chinese. Then we headed to the Beijing opera which is a colourful show of dance and acrobatics. This was pretty good – though I have to admit I preferred the Shanghai acrobatics which was also cheaper. We also met a good sounding English speaking guide (email: annalovetour
The next day we headed on a tour to the Great Wall. This left at a suitable 10:30am, and we went to the Mutianyu Great Wall. On the way we had a chat with the guide about Beijing and the wall before we arrived at the wall itself. The part we went to was a well restored part of the wall that I really enjoyed and we took a cable car to the top of the wall, then walked along the wall through 8 watchtowers before coming back down the chairlift on the other side. This was incredible and we got to see great views of the wall and the surrounding snowy mountains.
On a tour with BTG F.I.T travel (aka Dragon Bus) booked through our hotel (the Novotel) we then returned to a chinese medicine centre where we were attempted to be sold dubious herbal remedies which mysteriously managed to cost ¥1000! We were also given a foot massage which was apparently paid for by the tour but we were suggested to give a tip of ¥20. As I didn’t think my massage was that good (certainly it wasn’t as good as the full body massage I got in Shanghai.) I offered to give a tip of ¥5 for it which was refused and then I was asked for ¥20 which I refused to give. Frankly for a tour arranged through an international hotel it was disappointing as the only tour that went somewhere more dodgy was the one in Delhi to Agra. Then in the evening we went out with the Chinese girl again where we had some Peking roast duck and other dishes which was delicious. After that we picked up some supplies for our trip on the trans Siberian.
The next day we got up fairly early and headed to the temple of heaven on Beijing’s modern and clean metro system. This is an important temple where the Chinese ask for a good harvest. These days though in the grounds you get to see lots of people doing tai chi in the morning. We also saw the golden temple buildings around as well as an interesting exhibition on Chinese music. After this we headed out the south gate and after about 40 minutes of walking we reached KFC for lunch which even my dad thought was pretty good.
After that we headed to the lama temple which is a Tibetan Buddhist temple in the north of Beijing. It was also blessed by the emporer so it has yellow roofed buildings (other buildings had to have grey roofs.) it was a nice temple and then to avoid the rush hour we returned to our accommodation to get ready for our early trans Siberian departure.
A joke that is often made about Japanese is that they don’t have a word for no but just say hai in an uncertain manner. They actually do though: ie (pronounced ee e).
Now one of the very few things I’ve learnt with my very limited Chinese* is that the Chinese actually *don’t* really have a separate word for no in fact saying bu shi which translates as “negative yes”. Of course as unlike Japanese, Chinese is tonal which means it is impossible to just say yes directly in an uncertain manner as it could well mean something entirely different. Maybe at one time the Chinese had a proper word for no, it’d be an interesting thing to find out.
* this means I’ve just about made it onto really tough words like yes for example :p.