Summary of the trip: Mainland Euroasia

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.

Best site

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.

Honourable Mention

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.

Best museum

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.

Honourable Mention

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.

Best city

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.

Honourable Mentions

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.

Honourable mention

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.

Best nightlife

St Petersburg, Russia, because clubs in half finished buildings are cool and the ballet was pretty solid as well.

Best Activity

The acrobatics, Shanghai Centre, Shanghai, this was absolutely awesome and kept me riveted to my seat for 90 minutes.

Friendliest People

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.

Best bargain

“Russian” coat from Giordano, ¥299 for a coat that would probably be the better part of £100 in the UK was a great deal.

Biggest rip-off

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.

The most boring place on earth: Xi’An

Note that the title of this post is untrue, Xi’An is actually really good aside from the terracotta warriors, I was worried there wouldn’t be enough to do for more than two days and it’s simply untrue. There are another 3 full day excursions I could have done as well – and I spent nearly 3 days in Xi’An. I was worried there wouldn’t be enough for more than two days entertainment and in fact you could easily spend 5 or 6 days here (though if you see the pandas at Chengdu that is probably reduced to 4 or 5.)

Anyhow to continue my story. After I finished with the terracotta warriors I headed back to town and then with a bus/taxi combination I made my way to the big goose pagoda in the south of the city. I was unsure of which bus to get and for some reason I couldn’t figure out where to pickup a taxi at the station and they therefore kept driving past empty. Then due to the further excellence of my Canon’s battery meter my battery basically ran out at the temple. The big goose pagoda is big and tall and in a fairly interesting temple grounds which I wandered around – I was a bit late unfortunately so I didn’t get to go up the pagoda itself. After this I returned to town and tried to buy some thermal underwear and failed as either noone had it or it was well over my budget of ¥100 – in the end I got two for ¥100 each at the supermarket the next day, I got an OK stealth discount for them from the usual price of ¥149 by being given a different box with what I’m sure is exactly the same goods inside. I got the same kind of “special” discount with some postcards as well as a terracotta statue which apparently both carried a 50% discount because I’m a student* – yeah that’s about as likely to be true as the iPod’s in the market here to be a) real and b) hand delivered from the factory by Steve Jobs himself.

The next day I had a lazy morning as I was unable to go to the pandas which I’d tried to arrange the previous evening and I didn’t get up early enough to head to the apparently great Farmen Si temple complex so at about 11am I finally left the hostel to head to the Beilin museum. This contains a bunch of confucion stone tablets that were OK but I didn’t find them that interesting in a nice temple.

After seeing that I then headed south to the excellent Shaanxi history museum. This was surprisingly difficult to get into as the ticket desk was marked “baggage” in English but it was free so I can’t complain. Once inside I picked up the excellent audio guide (a must for foreigners as most of the signs aren’t in English.) which gave a good – though a little lengthy overview of the pieces. All in all I spent two hours here and was impressed. A lot was made of the first emporer and then the silk road which apparently the Chinese discovered. It’s something that isn’t said in Europe but as they generally imply the silk road magically materialized from thin air the Chinese are probably correct.

After seeing this I returned to buy the thermal underwear and have dinner before heading to the train station by bus to get my train to Beijing.

* I actually got a further discount on both and in the case of the terracotta statue it was entirely because the seller messed up the student discount speech :p. It is true though that for museum entry and stuff you do generally get a 50% student discount.

Xi’An and the Terracotta army

After catching the night train from Shanghai I arrived into Xi’An – First I went to my favourite restuarant (McDonalds) for breakfast. After that I made my way down to the south gate to look for some accommodation. I found something right by the south wall which was good and cost ¥40/night. I found later that you could have got a better price booking online on Hostelworld et al. I was talking to some Americans who did this and that seems to be typical for China.

After checking into my hostel I made my way to the nearby south gate and climbed up onto the city walls. These are impressive brick constructions that apart from one segment appear to be in excellent condition. That segment is much more rough and ready but it was definitely still standing and keeping the wall up.

After wandering around the wall for a bit and looking over the walled centre of the city I headed back to the hostel for lunch of some Chinese dumplings before heading north into the centre of town towards the bell tower. First I attempted to get some thermal underwear as it’s freezing here and only going to get colder as I go north. I found a store selling them for ¥100 that contained “cashmere” when they were selling pure wool ones for ¥250 – something wasn’t right there. After this I headed to the bell tower and then to the drum tower which were both OK but not great – they had a musical performance in each as well but to be honest it was awful I even walked out of the second one. To be honest it reminded me of the end of year assemblies at school in goodness. But there you wanted to go home afterwards so I’m definitely biased against them. Then I went to the Xi’An mosque – something I had been looking forward to since I was in the islamic art museum in malaysia. The mosque is especially interesting as it is built in Chinese style so it doesn’t remind me of a mosque at all. There did seem to be practicing muslims in Xi’An as they were praying at the mosque when I was there. On the way back I passed through a Market selling the usual fake designer goods. It even had some fake iPods that had gone to great lengths to copy Apple’s copyright information which I found amusing. After that I went back to my hostel and had pizza which was great, at that point I met some Americans who had had much better luck at avoiding western food so with them I headed out to the muslim quarter to paradoxically have some traditional Chinese food after this I returned to the hostel to chat some more.

Then in the night I awoke to feel the room shaking slightly – clearly there had been a minor earthquake before I left to go to the Terracotta army. Rather than go on an organized tour (about ¥160) I headed out on my own which was fairly easy as you just take bus 306 from the train station. It was also much cheaper as it only cost ¥7 each way. All in all I paid another ¥35 to get in and ¥30 for an audio tour which was quite good and it had clearly been designed by an ease-of-use specialist as it only played each piece on the device exactly once. So if you typed the number wrong you were screwed.

Anyhow I should talk about the greatness that is the terracotta army itself. The whole thing is re-assembled as all the warriors were destroyed before they were found – though there were still some broken warriors left. In my view pits 1 and 3 were the best though pit 1 had most of the warriors with a large series that greeted you. Even though I saw some terracotta warriors before at the British museum this was still seriously amazing. The detail that has gone into them is absolutely stunning.

There is also a museum of some of the works, especially the bronze work which was highly detailed and also chromed to protect them from corrosion – something that wasn’t reinvented until 1937.

After that I left and got the bus back to Xi’An and then my adventure continues but I’ll talk about that in another post.