For our safari tour we headed to Yala National park. We stayed in an eco-hotel where each room was a designer mud hut. The hotel had an infinity pool that looked off into the mountains. It rained but it was warm we stayed in the pool.
On safari day our jeep arrived at 4.30am to take us to Yala National Park. We raced through the empty streets to get to the front of the queue for opening.
We didn't love the safari tour. Each group of tourists have their own jeep and driver who speeds around the park trying to find the animals. If a particularly rare animal is spotted like a jaguar or an elephant, the cars pile up and jockey for position, frantically manoeuvring to try and get the best view. It's pretty stressful for the tourists, god knows what it's like for the animals to have six jeeps bearing down on them. After a few hours we asked our driver to call it day and headed home.
2 December 2017
Buoyed by the sunshine we headed south to the beachtown of Mirissa. Life in Mirissa revolves around the sea - surf schools, dive centres and whale watching tours are scattered everywhere. We stayed at a boutique hotel with a swimming pool that backed on to the sea.
Our whale watching tour started at 6.30am. The bumpy ride caused a bout of sea sickness for the unlucky few. The boat was expertly manuvaoured into the perfect position to see blue whales surfacing. Mothers with their cubs blew rainbows into the sky. Packs of dolphins chased the boat, leaping out of the waves. It was magical.
We also went scuba diving, a new experience for Sue. Low visibility and strong currents made it a challenging dive. We didn't see much but we had a great time. We spent the rest of the day at the beach drinking coconuts.
30 November 2017
We flew to Sri Lanka and were joined by Alana's mum for two weeks of paradise. We said goodbye to the hostel dorms and hello to a more luxurious lifestyle. Staying in a hotel that backed onto the beach we were ready to get our tan on. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. A huge storm rolled in and rained on our parade. For three days.
To avoid the rain we visited the turtle sanctuary and the sobering Tsunami museum followed by full body massages at the spa and salads at the Salty Swamis. We had platefuls of king crabs and delicious seafood. The hotel only had Wi-Fi in the lobby so all the guests crowded into a depressingly small set of sofas.
After 2 days the storm dissipated and the sun came out. In our exuberance, we were careless with applying sun cream and got badly sunburnt whilst snorkelling. Not that we cared, we were just happy to be in the sun. On our final morning we fed semi-domesticated turtles and saw a reef shark.
27 November 2017
Our final stop in India is the Alleppey Backwaters. We stayed at the Peaceful Lake Homestay ran by two young lads that were keen to please but didn't always get the execution right. They were hilarious and made us very welcome. We ordered dinner which they went out to the market to buy it fresh for us. It resulted in dinner being served 3 hours later and very overcooked.
To explore the backwaters we went on a canoe tour. We shared a boat with an awesome Isralei couple on their honeymoon. We had geared ourselves up for a day of rowing. The penny finally dropped after 2 hours of drifting along that the boat we were in was the canoe & we'd be chauffeur driven all the way. The backwaters were beautiful & an another example of how diverse India is. Back at the hotel we stayed up drinking beer with the owners until we ran out. It was great send off.
26 November 2017
Varkala beach is all about the detox. Our beach side accommodation was full with yogis or those on a quest for aurevedyic enlightenment. The restaurants served Buddha bowls and cleansing juices. With no booze and no nightlight available, we decided to jump on the band wagon.
The morning yoga classes start at 8:30, so we woke up early for a 'beginners' class. We left with aching muscles and sore necks from our amateur attempts at the lotus position and headstands. Not really the desired outcome but at least we got in some great sea views and worked up an appetite for breakfast.
Afternoons at Varkala were spent relaxing at the beach. The beach is located down a winding cliff staircase and keeps the touts & shops from interrupting the vibe. The main strip in Varkala is pedestrianised and tuk tuk free. It's by far the most relaxing place we've visited in India.
24 November 2017
Bangalore is India's fastest growing city, an Asian Silicon Valley built on IT outsourcing for multi-nationals. Bangalore is so aligned to the west that most of the city's businesses shut down on the 4th July.
We stayed in the Indiranagar area. It's a polished bohemian area full of cafes, bars & restaurants. The streets are clean, the people are well groomed & unnervingly there's not a stray dog in sight. What have they done with them all...
We met up with Alana's brother who has been living in the city for 5 months and fully ingriatated/intergrated with the Indian way of life. He loads of stories to share & it was great to see a familiar face.
You can order pretty much any type of cuisine you fancy in Bangalore but if you're craving something western then look no further than Toast & Tonic. Amazing food and service.
22 November 2017
We left the beach & caught a train to Hampi. Hampi is an ancient capital city of the Vijayanagara Empire - its name translates to the Victory City. The empire spanned 3 centuries & across 5 states. Hampi comprised of temples, a royal enclosure & musical theatres. The landscape of hampi is unique. Giant stacked boulders created by weathering form a natural fortification around the city.
During the 16th century, hampi became an international centre of commerce trading diamonds by the kilo, horses and spices. Portuguese, Russians & Mongalians travelled to swap goods. The city was destroyed by Sultanates in 1600 & remained undiscovered until 1859 when the British stumbled upon them.
Nowadays hampi is a sleepy town geared solely towards the tourist trade. You can't walk down the street without being offered a temple tour. It's definitely worth doing a tour to understand the historical context - one full day is enough. It's a truly spectatctular place & there's loads of great sunset spots
20 November 2017
We finally made it to a beach after 2 months of travelling! Goa surpassed every expectation we had. Amazing beaches, fun nightlife and great seafood.
Goa is huge and split into two distinct halves. The north is the spiritual home of Goa where hippies settled in the 60s. Its now become a partying hub known for crowded beaches and hedonistic nightclubs. To get around we rented a moped and explored the coastline. The main strip (Baga) is heaving with people, cows & competing soundsystems. It's fun but gets a bit much after a while.
We relocated to southern Goa which is completely different. It had a chilled out vibe. The expansive beaches of white sand stretch as far as the eye can see. They're also empty. You can relax on the beach without being hassled by hawkers. This is the Goa you see in the Google searches. Paradise. It's definitely worth visiting both, we liked Anjuna in the north and anywhere in the south - it's all beautiful.
17 November 2017
Mumbai part 1: The South
I had sold Alana the dream that we were staying in nice accomodation in a cosmopolitan city. Only part of that sentence was true. Mumbai is a sprawling cosmopolitan city with a rich history. It turns out the accomodation was a dive.
We pulled up near Masjid Bombay station to pure chaos. A naked man was lying on our street corner. I stood on something squidgy and looked down to find a dead rat. This was not how I'd envisioned it going.
Just a few blocks south of where we were staying was Colaba. The area is home to amazing restaurants & chic bars, beautiful 19th century British architecture & most of Mumbai's historical attractions.
We had incredible King Crab at Trishna's. We drank flat whites & ate brunch at Plenty. We wandered through the historical Fort & Colaba areas to Marine Drive, a huge stretch of beach that runs parallel to the city. You can't beat a city with a beach. We visited Mani Bhavan, home to an excellent Ghandi museum - well worth seeing.
Mumbai part 2: The North
We relocated north to West Bandra. The north is far trendier & representative of the new Mumbai. It's full of boutique shops, micro breweries & salad bars. All to feed the needs of the Bollywood elite & burgeoning middle classes.
We arranged a tour of the Dharavi Slum with Reality tours. The slum produces over $650m every year & is referred to as the 5 star slum. The tour provides an insight into the slum's industry & resourcefulness. The profits of the tour are reinvested into the slum through education. It's fascinating & not poverty porn at all.
We visited Juhu beach, although not the cleanest, it was interesting to see. In the evening hundreds of people & cows were playing on the beach. We also had a bizarre experience at the cinema. The national anthem is played before the film starts, there's an interval and film is heavily cut & bleeped.
Mumbai is great city. Our favourite spots to hang out were Doolallys & Bombay Salad Co, check them out.
9 November 2017
We booked our desert safari with Trotter's & set off at 2pm. We stopped at the Guide's village to meet his family & drink chai. His house built 800 years ago using mud & cow dung!
We continued onwards to meet the camels & the rest of the group. As soon as we saw the camels I felt guilty for supporting animal tourism. The camels walked through the sand dunes with us on their back for an hour before we reached the camp. The camels were free to wander the desert for the night & we found a spot to watch the sunset. Watching the sun go down over the dunes was pretty special. We settled around a fire & listened to some local travellers sing & dance while eating some Dahl. The stars are meant to look incredible in the desert but unfortunately the full moon was too bright. We went to sleep on our camp beds & woke up at 4am, after the moon had gone down, to see the sky filled with thousands of stars. We watched the sunrise & made our way back to the city via an abandoned village & an oasis.
4 November 2017
We flew south from Amritsar to Jodhpur. Known as the blue city for its distinctive indigo coloured houses, it's located in the dusty heart of Rajasthan. The pigment used in the paint helps keep the houses cool & acts as an insect repellent.
The temperature regularly rises to 35 degrees & the pace of life reflects this. It's a relatively sleepy city (for India) & during the day people mostly laze around. We followed suit.
Towering above the city is the Medharaa fort built to protect the city from the Moughal forces. The imperious fort has never been breached in its 500 year history. We did the terrific audiotour and it's a great way to learn the history of the city. The city is also full of great rooftop restaurants to watch the sunsets from, serving up ice cold beers & excellent food.
31 October 2017
Amritsar is a small but overwhelmingly busy city. The narrow congested streets are packed day & night with people.
We visited Jallianwala Bagh, a park where the British slaughtered over 400 Indians in cold blood. They were peacefully protesting the Rowlett Act when the British opened fire. The park is still littered with bullet holes. It's very moving. This event captured public attention & lit the fuse for India's push for independence.
A short walk from the park is the Golden Temple, the centre of Sikhism. The complex of white marble buildings is huge. At its centre is a temple built with 750kg of gold that houses the writings of the Sikh Masters. It is surrounded by a square pool of holy water that people bathe in & drink for its healing properties. The temple provides food to 70,000 people every day for free & is run entirely by volunteers & donations. The temple is our favourite site we've seen on our trip so far. It's a relaxing place to spend time & looks beautiful at night.
29 October 2017
Everyday, just before sunset, military from India & Pakistan meet at the border to engage in a show of military strength that verges on pure theatre. The purpose of the ceremony is to lower the flags & officially close the border gates.
Crowds gather either side in grandstands dressed in patriotic colours. On the Indian side, women in the crowd are invited to dance to Punjabi bangers whilst the crowds chant "Long Live India." The whole scene could be taken from a Bollywood movie. The Pakistan side were whipped into a moshpit by a one legged flag bearer & a poppin' & lockin' teenager.
A loud droney claxon rings out on both sides & builts with the crowd into a crescendo. A drumbeat, similar to She Wants To Move by NERD, booms out & a soldier from each side starts quickmarching towards the gate. At the gate the soldiers high kick their legs vertically and then roar whilst flexing their muscles. The crowd goes wild. This continues for 30mins until the flags are eventually lowered.
26 October 2017
We had been told that sunrise is the best time to see the Taj Mahal so we got to the entrance at about 6am and joined the long queue. The gates finally opened at around 6:45, long after sunrise.
The monument is immediately striking, and its beauty is made even more powerful by the love story behind it. It's clear why this is a wonder of the world. We wandered through the pristinely manicured grounds towards the Taj and into the mausoleum where Emporer Shah Juhan and his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, lay in tombs.
The ivory marble is decorated with detailed and colourful borders made from precious stones, which were illuminated by a guide with a small torch. We came out the other side and walked through the grounds once more, taking a few obligatory snaps.
25 October 2017
Delhi was a baptism of fire. We arrived at a hotel that looked nothing like the pictures. Leftover from Diwali, two kids lit a banger & chucked it at us. We turned away but it exploded with a deafening bang. People accosted us selling drugs & everything else. Cows lined the road chewing on huge piles of rubbish. We sat down for dinner next to a white dreadlocked girl boasting about paying 10 rupees for a thali. The food was great. Welcome to India.
We acclimisatised with a day spent in Old Delhi at the Red Fort, Jama Masjid & Karims restaurant. Delhi grew on us day by day. We explored central & south Delhi, visiting Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the beautiful Lotus Temple & wandered down Rajpath for a sunset stroll with kulfi ice creams. We checked out the boutique shops at Haus Khas Village & even got a haircut. But our favourite spot was Lodhi Gardens; an oasis of calm in the middle of mayhem. A serene & tranquil park full of mughal tombs from the Lodhi dynasty, where nobody hassled us.
20 October 2017
In Kathmandu, Hotel Yala Peak became our home for our time in Nepal.
Unfortunately, on the first night a bout of food poisoning wiped us out for 2 days. Once we had recovered we headed straight to Swayunbath temple. The golden structure sits on top of a hill and overlooks the city & the surrounding mountains. The temple was busy with locals, tourists, salesmen & a mischievous pack of monkeys.
We were fortunate to be in Kathmandu for Diwali. In the evening we helped to decorate the hotel with candles, made mandalas to bring the gods down into the hotel, danced & shared curry with friends. The next day a street parade of music & dancing gridlocked the roads while everyone partied in the streets. The atmosphere was buzzing!
We indulged in western food (mushroom ravioli to die for) & treated ourselves to a 90 minute full body massage at the Seeing Hands clinic. The masseuses were blind & knew how to apply bone breaking pressure, finding points in our backs that had never been touched.
Day 5: Cherko Ri Summit
Daal Bhat count: 10
We set off early to climb the summit of Cherko Ri. It stands at a testing 5000m altitude. We made good progress, climbing past yaks & wild horses. The sky was completely clear & the mountains looked beautiful. As we approached 4600m, the altitude sickness set in. Our pace slowed & the dull headaches became throbbing. The rocky dust path steepened & we took breaks every 10 mins. It felt like we were never going to make it & we pondered quiting, but we persevered.
The feeling of reaching the summit was incredible. Relief. Elation. Exhaustion. In that order. At the top there were panoramic views of the border between Tibet & Nepal. Snow capped mountains & glaciers in every direction. A buddhist shrine decorated in Nepalese flags makes it even more picturesque.
The way down was steep & tough. It took us nearly 3 hours & was almost as hard as the way up. We got back 10 hours after we set off. Two teas & a hot shower later, it was finally done.
14 October 2017
Day 4 Langtang to Kyanjin Gumba
Daal Bhat count: 8
A sober start to the day as we trekked through Langtang village. Langtang was one of the worse effected areas from the 2015 earthquake and over 200 people lost their lives. The landslide caused underground caves to collapse, splitting the ground in half, and swallowed up hotels and an army barracks.
We trekked through the mountain villages; at this altitude trees do not grow. The countryside reminded me of Ireland, green meadows extend across the hills. Except the cows are yaks, and the churches are Buddhist temples. This analogy really falls down when I describe that each side of the valley is lined with glaciers and snow capped mountains. It's nothing like Ireland.
We had lunch and a nap, then headed up the nearby mountainside to acclimisatise to altitude. We went to 4000m but didn't feel any different. We found a Himalayan bakery and treated ourselves to some warm apple pie. That tough mountain life.
13 October 2017
Day 3: Lama Hotel to Langtang
Daal Bhat count: 7
We slept badly as the room was crawling with insects. The temperature had dropped over night and we were layered up for the walk ahead. We hiked for 4 hours through dense woodland. Under the tree cover we covered ground quickly in the cool climate. The waterfalls continued to become more impressive and the river looked incredible. Along the way we saw packs of white fur monkeys that stared back at us with the same cautious look that we gave them. By 3pm we were 3200m above sea level. At this height, when the sun disappears behind a cloud the temperature plummets.
In the mountains many things are extortionately priced, but none more so than water. A 1 litre bottle that normally costs 60 rupees, was inflated to 350 rupees. At the guesthouse, I went to hunt for a deal on water, bartering with the mountain ladies. Suddenly, we were engulfed by cloud, reducing visibility to zero. It was really cool (literally) to be inside a cloud
12 October 2017
Day 2: Syabrubesi to Lama Hotel
Daal Bhat count: 6
We set off at 7.30am following the Langtang river upstream. We've hired a guide, Krishna who has 18 years experience and a porter, Shiva, who's doing the trek for the first time. In order to become a guide you have to spend 2 years as a porter, carrying heavy loads for tourists. Shiva has the unenvious task of carrying our rucksack.
We followed the ferocious river for four hours through breathtaking scenery. Along the way there's evidence that many places were destroyed by the earthquake and Krishna points out where entire guesthouses were flattened. We stop for lunch and fuel up with dhaal bhat. This Nepalese hiking staple is a rice and lental dish. Every restaurant offers free refills, so it's a case of eating as much as you can.
After lunch I carried the rucksack instead of Shiva to see how difficult it is. I lasted 20 minutes and one big hill. We arrived at the friendly hostel at 3pm. No power, no Wi-Fi, and loads of dhal bhat.
11 October 2017
The Langtang Trail
In Nepal there are many treks available and it can be daunting to know where to start. A helpful guide to navigate the options with is essential. Fortunately, we were recommended the amazing Durga, from Yala Peak Hotel.
We decided on Langtang because it's graded "easy/moderate" - we will see, it's high - going up to 5km altitude, making use of our expensive travel insurance, and it's full of snow capped mountains - it's called the valley of glaciers trek.
Day 1 Kathamandu - Syabrubesi
The day started with us breathing in giant clouds of toxic & polluted air, not exactly what we had in mind. Exiting Kathamandu in a local jeep, the roads are packed with huge lorries that kick up dust storms & funnel black diesel fumes into the air. After 4 hours we went off road and climbed into the Himalayas. Alana woke up to find us bumping along mountain roads with huge drops either side. We got to our first hostel and visited the local hot spring to shower for the evening.
1 October 2017
We woke up early to catch the sunrise and although our view was blocked by some hovering clouds, we watched the sky turn golden and rays of light bounce between the faces of the Stone mountains.
We set off at 9am, looking forward to an easy downhill walk. We took our time walking to the halfway house for lunch - stopping regularly to try & capture the incredible views on camera, but none really do it justice - and arrived around half 11. We enjoyed some lunch on the rooftop & took in the views. We used the famous 'world's most scenic toilet' (pic 8) before we left and it was pretty impressive.
We hit the road again, walking underneath waterfalls & along cliff edges until we reached the Tibet family guesthouse around 5pm. We went for a brief walk around the walnut groves & had an early night. The next morning we walked along the lower route, which was equally breathtaking. After running out of steam, we hitchhiked to the entrance and caught the bus to Lijiang.
30 September 2017
Tiger Leaping Gorge
We caught the bus to Qiaotao, put our bags into storage & packed our day packs to the brim for the 3 day hike.
The first part of the trek was steep & we were soon stopping for regular breaks. We'd have undoubtedly got lost, if it were not for the metronomic ring of horse bells. Chinese tourists hire horses to help them up the steepest parts of trek & the ringing bells signpost the way.
After 3 hours of stunning views, we stopped at the Naxi Guesthouse to refuel. We set off & tackled the toughest part of the hike, the 28 bends. As a reward at the top, there is the a viewing spot where it is said the mythical tiger leaped across the gorge to escape the poacher, giving the canyon its name. Perched precariously on a ledge, we peered down 3km to the pounding Jinsha river below.
We reached the Teahorse Guesthouse as it was getting dark & were greeted with views of the beautiful Snow Mountains. We treated ourselves to a nice room & drank beers on the rooftop terrace👌
28 September 2017
We arrived in Chengdu - another small city of 14million people - with the intention of visiting the giant panda sanctuary.
We arrived early to miss the crowds & catch the pandas enjoying their breakfast. Watching giant pandas eating is hilarious and adorable. Great big fluffy blobs lay belly-up, legs wide open, shovelling as much bamboo into their mouths as possible, moving only to reach for more. They seemed unfazed by the small crowds photographing them, with their full attention fixed on the food.
After breakfast they retreat to the tree tops or a spot in the sun, find a comfortable position and lay motionless until it's time for lunch.
The baby pandas were the highlight. As we walked around the exhibit of 5 baby pandas most were motionless, except for one that was feeling mischievous and wouldn't sit still. Climbing and falling off low hanging branches and chasing the volunteer who was trying to clean one of the sleepy ones. It felt like we watching a cartoon. 🐼🎋🇨🇳
27 September 2017
The Leshan Buddha
We woke up early and caught the bullet train to Leshan. We met a sweet Canadian couple who were keen to share their world view on Buddhism. We've realised the Canadians that we've met are very fond of talking about themselves.
After a refreshingly short walk, we set eyes upon the Buddha. Standing at 71m high, it's the tallest Buddha in the world. The Buddha lies at the confluence of three rivers. It was built in 730AD by the local monks, in the hope that it would provide safe passage for shipping vessels through the turbulent waters. During construction large amounts of rock from the cliff face was excavated and dumped into the river. Inadvertently, this altered the currents and calmed the waters. A miracle in the eyes of the believers.
We climbed down the cliff to his feet. The water ripped past and whirlpools swirled in every direction. Tour boats jockeyed the river, struggling to hold position. All of us feeling insignificant under the gaze of the Buddha.
25 September 2017
Beijing part 2
In the evening we went to the street market, where Josh made good on his word to eat a skewer of scorpions. He admitted to being a little scared but claimed they were delicious & he'd eat them again. The other things in the market were equally horrendous; starfish, sea horses, giant octupus tentacles, non-descript baby birds... every stall manages to surpass the last in its gruesome offerings.
Our love affair with the hutongs lasted several days. On Stu's final day we wandered through the artists section & found a nice mexican restaurant to celebrate his big 3-0 with cake, beers and guacamole! The following day we rented bicycles & planned to go through the lakes & parks but China had done what it's best at & built a wall around all of them. Banning cycling and charging entry. We stuck to the smoggy roads & explored the hutongs to east of HouHai lake. The shops are really cool & it feels like you're in Soho, it's touristy & expensive but still undeniably cool.
23 September 2017
After marauding around the lacklustre forbidden city, we were renewed with vim in pursuit of the Great Wall of China.
We prepared Stu for a big hike but climbed up to the first tower of the wall in just over 20 minutes. Once you're on top of the wall, the scale and size of it is immediately apparent. It's vast. Running along the tallest ridges in both directions like a snake winding across the mountain. It feels completely indomitable.
We hiked from station no.10 up to no.20, along uneven stairs and 40° degree paved inclines. With each progressive station, the terrain got steeper and the number of tourists dwindled. By the final climb to station 20, we were practically on our own.
Once we arrived at the top, it suddenly felt worth it. The views were spectacular, and its inclusion as one of the wonders of the world is truly justified. We sat at the top for nearly 45 mins taking it in and showing off our selfie game.
21 September 2017
Beijing part 1
We arrived in Beijing by bullet train expecting to be greeted by clouds of thick smog, so we were pleasantly surprised to see blue skies. Unfortunately this didn't last long, over the next few days we could see, feel and even taste the pollution thickening the air.
There is loads to see and do in Beijing so we started out with the forbidden city - a Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty (completed in 1420) that has housed emperors. 980 tradittional Chinese buildings (many not open) sprawl across several large courtyards. The small decorative details throughout made the grounds feel really special, but otherwise we a bit underwhelmed.
Next we headed to the hipster Wudaoying Hutong. We excitedly explored the arts and crafts shops that had the same minimalist exposed brick and copper trimmings you find trendy east London. We ate some western comfort food and treated ourselves to a slice of Black Tea Chocolate Mousse and a pint of the local Pale Ale (Jing A).
20 September 2017
After 10 days of nature & mountains we were excited to be back in a city, especially one as modern & western as Shanghai. In fact; there is little to distinguish Shanghai as an Asian city. It feels almost American with skyscrapers & tree lined boulevards.
We met up with Stu & went for dumplings at the famous Shanghai chain Yang's. Doughy on the top, crispy on the bottom; when you bite into a dumpling hot broth pours out. They are delicious.
After that we wandered down to the Bund, the area that houses Shanghai's Financial district. The skyline is beautiful, especially at night. It is both retro & modern, evocative of how they imagined the future in 1950s sci-fi movies.
We spent a day at the M-50 art area, a collection of over a 100 art galleries & studios. This is a transient & creative space, constantly changing. The highlight was the island6 gallery.
We spent most of our time in Shanghai relaxing, eating at Yang's & catching up with old friends. The city was a traveling tonic.
15 September 2017
Day 2: With aching legs we returned to the park in search of the floating mountains - where Avatar was filmed. The hiking route started along a river surrounded by enormous mountains and rock paths & it really looked straight out of hollywood. We climbed (more stairs) for an hour to the aptly named Heavenly Platform.As we approached the first viewing point we began to see glimpses of the incredible rock pillars, standing tall as clouds drifted and wrapped around them. We were finally glad we came.
We carried on around the viewing platforms, which all provided outstanding views. Along the hiking trial we felt like we had the park to ourselves.As we approached the very top we could hear the unmistakable sound of Chinese tour groups in the near distance. The top was chaos.To get down we queued up for the Bailor Elevator, undoubtedly the low point of our trip.We paid 150CNY to be herded into a lift that was so busy, the only views were of shoulders and armpits. Classic China!
14 September 2017
We made our way to Zhangjiajie to explore the national park which famously houses the 'floating mountains'. The Chinese have installed cable cars & elevators for tourists to move around quickly & effortlessly, but we were excited to take the hiking trail. The park is massive & we spent two days exploring.
Day 1: We got to the park and embarked on our 3000ft climb to the highest viewing point. We knew it would be about 3 hours but we weren't expecting the relentless staircases containing 3868 steps to the top. Halfway up we encountered a huge monkey, sat in the path, intimidating all who crossed him. He snatched a few bags of fruit from the group in front and we ran past while he devoured its contents. On the way up there were great views, but when we reached the top, we were slightly underwhelmed. I think we've been spoilt recently! If you're not hiking, you have to pay to get up or down the mountain, there are no free alternatives. Reluctantly, we forked out 150CYN for the cable car.
12 September 2017
Our stay in Yangshuo was magical. We cannot recommend the Wada Hostel enough, it's located on the Yulong River, pitched between the mountains and the ricefields. It feels wild yet provides all the home comforts you need when travelling.
Now on to the views, neither of us have ever seen scenery like it. Absolutely breathtaking. Where as the boatride down the Lijang River was stunning, we were viewing it from a distance, and usually behind a wall of Chinese tourists. Along the Yulong river it was just us.
Over two days we went cycling, motorbiking and for morning runs. We spent as much time exploring the river as we could! One evening, we saw three Chinese wedding photo shoots, the litmus test for good views in China. To cap off a brilliant few days, I even managed not to crash the motorbike! Third time's a charm :D
10 September 2017
We started the day catching a river cruise from Guilin, down the Lijang River, to Yangshuo. Queuing up to get on the boat we met a Canadian family and had our first conversation (After 8 days) with Westerners. They both worked at an English school and had been living in China with their 4 girls for the last 3 years. They had some good insights into food, typhoon days and that China has only just removed its one child policy last year. They said the whole of China is pregnant! After being ripped off on the previous tour, the boat was surprisingly luxurious. Spacious, with cream leather seats and a viewing deck on top. The scenery along the river Lijang is stunning, mountains spring up from the ground in every direction. The scenery is considered a national treasure and appears on the 20RMB note. We cruised down the river for four hours, taking in the vistas and the sun! Glorious.
9 September 2017
We signed up for the Longji Rice Terrace tour, &trying to save some money, opted for the cheap tour with no lunch or guide (£30pp). We drove within range of the terraces, but made a series of pitstops. The first was tourist friendly village of the 'long haired girls', where the girls perform a show and the tour group has lunch. As we haven't paid for this, we were ostracised for 2 hours. We wondered around the village & ate our packed lunch of cucumber flavoured crisps & spring onion crackers. We made the joint decision to sign up to the more expensive tours in the future. We finally got back in the van and drove to the terraces. We park up at the bottom, next to a cable car. The cable car is another hidden cost of 110¥,so we opt for the hiking route. We trekked through the villages &up the slippery hill. 40 mins later we were at the top,drenched in sweat.The views were incredible, totally worth the hike. Bright green terraces under a thin veil of mist rolled on as far as we could see.
8 September 2017
On first impressions, Guilin seemed like it had nothing to offer. As we took the 100 bus to our hostel along busy, run down main roads, with the streets lined with KFCs and burger kings, we were starting to question why we decided to visit this city. It was not the picturesque town from our Google searches.
We had arrived a day early, and immediately spoke to the hostel owner about moving our reservation. We'd missed the deadline and were here for 3 nights! Fortunately, Guilin had a lot more going for it than first impressions and we were glad we had the extra night.
The city centre is positioned between 2 rivers and 4 lakes, and the government have invested in building a scenic walking route around the water. It took us just over 4 hours at a leisurely pace to wander around the endless bridges and walkways. It's worth visiting the lakes again at night, when the sun and moon towers are lit up!
7 September 2017
Today primarily consisted of travel. The bullet train was slightly underwhelming but the views were incredible. The endless green mountains that lined the tracks for the entire journey were spectacular.
Guilin didn't seem to have much to offer when we arrived, but we wondered to a restaurant at night and our opinions completely changed. We walked along the picturesque river with river boats cruising by, listening to Chinese music that sounded both traditional and like a whaling cat jumping around a kitchen.
6 September 2017
In the evening we headed to Happy Valley Racecourse - the self proclaimed equine capital of the world. With gambling prohibited in Hong Kong, it's the only venue where you can legally bet your hard earned dollars. Entry cost is £1, but that's the only thing that is cheap about this place. The whole venue is set up to empty your wallet, it's pure excess. They have beer stands, band stands, food stalls & even a McDonalds! The first thing that strikes you is how many expats there are, easily outnumbering the chinese locals 2:1. It really feels like you could be at the races in the UK, if...it was 30 degrees and everyone dressed in linen suits. We had one beer each, placed one bet - we lost, & then jetted out of there. On the way back we swung by Lan Kwai Fong for a beer and kebab (went to Ebeneezer's - great Shamen reference). LKF is located next to the finance centre & the bars are pumping all night, every night. This is one place that we'll come back to when we have a bit more cash!
Today we hiked up to the top of Victoria Peak. We shunned the easy route of catching the funicular, in favour of hikking up the fitness trail. Being seasoned hikers, we sensibly opted to hike during the midday sun from 12-2pm. The fitness trail turned into a fitness trial, consisting of never ending steep staircases that varied only in steepness and treecover. Alana attempted to overcome her fear of insects by taking the lead, but this ultimately ended in failure after flinching and chucking a bottle of water into her face when approached by a flying bug. Halfway up we stopped for a banana at an old WW2 barricade, which was strategically located with beautiful views of the South. Persevering on, we reach the top, drenched in sweat head to toe. The vistas at the top were spectacular and we opted for further punishment by walking around the 3.5km loop. It's definitely worth doing the hike if you fancy getting in some exercise, but make sure you catch the funicular down!
5 September 2017
We're travelling on a budget so we are always on the look out for local cheap eats, and this one was a real gem. The restaurant was completely full when we arrived and we were the only tourists, so we felt like we were getting a taste of the real Hong Kong. We ordered prawns with vegetables (celery, spring onions and ginger) and cashew nuts, followed by the famous clay pot rice. The hot clay pot makes the rice at the bottom crispy and we soon understood why everyone raves about this dish. Definitely one to try if you're in the area.
Both snoozed our alarms and had a later start than anticipated. Made our way to the Tian Tan Buddha via two trains and a cable car. The cable car was stunning, going over the sea and over three cloud topped hills. My fear of heights only tingled slightly when the wind was blowing the car to an angle and Alana insisted on moving to that side to take photos, making it sway further. Once we'd disembarked from the cable car and made our way up 228 steps, we were greeted with panoramic views and got close up and personal with the Buddha. After a quick Wikipedia, we were underwhelmed to find out the Buddha was only constructed in 1993! Still worth the trip. On the way back, we managed to confuse a graveyard for low rise housing from a distance. Still haven't seen a house in HK!
Met up with an old uni friend, Alex, and his fiance kelly in the new territories for dinner. After a tour of the local market, including the giant corn, we went for dinner at Fu Kee. A busy local restaurant, off the beaten track, where we were the only tourists. The humorous restaurant owner insisted on pouring free beers and getting everyone to down them while saying cheers in his questionable British accent. The food was incredible: crispy squid, garlic prawns, steamed sting fish and stir fry vegetable seafood mix. After the restaurant owner finally let us leave, we went for a tour of his flat, currently undergoing renovation. It's no secret that real estate in HK is expensive, but the cost was more than double the UK! We caught a tesla uber into Victoria harbour for drinks over the city. A truly breathtaking view, then hopped on the ferry home! HK really blew us away tonight.
We woke up to a downpour of rain and were forced to ditch our original plan of going to Victoria peak. Instead, we headed out with an umbrella to Hollywood road - a street lined with antique shops, trendy bars and street art. After taking the obligatory tourist snaps we headed to Sik Sik Yuen Temple which was beautiful, colourful and peaceful. The air was filled with the strong scent of incense, burnt by locals who have come to plea to the Gods of good fortune for their wishes to come true.
3 September 2017
We went out for a walk to familarise ourselves with the local area and to find some dinner, and stumbled (through reading copious TripAdvisor reviews) into Mak Ming Noodles. The food was excellent and very cheap. Definitely get the stir fried vegetables with oyster sauce, it was so nice to eat something fresh after the plane food.
Had a stroll around the block and picked up some snacks in the supermarket before being rained off by another downpour.
Touched down in HK to start our journey! The smoothest transition from the airport to the hotel we've encountered in any country; totally stress free. After catching the high speed train, we jumped on a free bus direct to the hotel! The hotel is a bit blingy, to say the least. Fake gold on every wall, but I can't argue with the price or the views from the roof top pool!