Location: Luoyang, China
In Luoyang we were almost conned and led astray by some little old ladies pretending to be from our hostel but we managed to get rid of them and found the way.
That afternoon we caught a bus out to The Longmen Caves and spent a few sweltering hours looking at the thousands and thousands of buddahs carved into the rock - the massive ones after a little climb up were definately the most impressive (and we very nearly missed them cause it was so hot).
We had a short, but nice ride on a boat back down the river to where we had started and then found the nearest place with aircon for our lunch. This is where our friends became hooked on Ba Si Xiang Jiao (fried banana chunks covered in thick caramel - mmmm delicious).
The Lonely Planet lied to us that evening (not the first time, nor the last - no surprise as everything in China is changing so fast) and we travelled across the whole of the city ready to sample the delights of a proper night market, only to find they stopped doing the market last year!! Some locals directed us to a small restaurant which happened to serve some weird and wonderful dishes (not weird by chinese standards though). Amongst other things we ate grubs (quite tasty), some creepy lobster-ish looking creatures (tricky to eat, but also very tasty) and a few local specialities that they gave us free of charge (not exactly sure what they were). All in all, it turned out a great night.
The next day we got up at the crack of dawn (a common occurance during this fortnight) and caught a bus to the famous and sacred Shaolin Temple. It was the second time for Neill and I, but definately worth the return visit. The others loved it there too. We watched two different displays of the Shaolin monks doing a range of very impressive kung fu moves and tricks. We walked around the temple and the forest of stone pagodas, then caught a chairlift up one of the surrounding mountains and climbed to the lowest peak. The weather was gorgeous.
On our way back to the entrance we passed all the martial art students out on the yards practising their moves. It is the largest school in China (18,000 students) so as you can imagine it was an impressive sight to see.
Location: Beijing, China
We arrived in Beijing a few days before our friends were due to arrive. We checked into the hostel, did a bit of planning and saw some sights. We went to the Art Gallery, walked around Beihai Park and took a boat out onto Beihai lake. The weather was gorgeous, right up until the evening before our friends arrived, when we had a very very very heavy thunderstorm. We were worried that the weather may stay like that, but thankfully, during the two weeks we only had rain a few times (and only for a few hours at a time).
It was a brilliant two weeks - so great to have our friends out here, we all enjoyed it and managed to cram loads of things in - a perfect way to end our time in China.
On the sunday we met 6 of our friends at Beijing Airport (who had all flown over from the UK) and the holiday began. We started off with a walk through the Hutongs to our hostel, and then a walk up to Tiananmen Square by which time they were all ready to collapse from exhaustion - so we had a lazy evening and an early night.
Which was just as well because Neill and I had decided to take everyone to The Temple of Heaven Park early the next morning to see the old locals doing Tai Qi. It was great, there were so many people in the park; dancing with fans, Tai Qi with swords, morning excercises to Celine Dion (My Heart Will Go On - on repeat!!), playing traditional instruments, singing Beijing Opera and loads more. It was really interesting to walk around and experience. We also looked around the Temple of Heaven and other sights in the park, one being the Whispering Wall (apparently you can whisper something at one end and someone will be able to hear it clearly at the other end, unfortunately it was too busy by the time we got there to see if it actually worked or not!).
After lunch we had a few hours to kill before heading to the train station, and as the Natural History Museum was the closest thing, we headed there - the main reason was to see their 'Human' exhibi tion. It was so gruesome - human bodies cut up and plonked in jars (it didnt seem like much care had been taken with the exhibition at all), there were two full bodies with all the skin peeled off apart from their fingertips and ears, heads sliced in half, a spine in a jar too small for it, a childs head with the mouth pinned wide open, plus loads more - it was all so horrible, but amazing to see. And especially as all the kids in there on school trips weren't fazed by it at all!!!!
After being sufficiently grossed out we collected our bags and headed to the train station for our overnight train to Luoyang. We had a short wait for the train, so all sat on the floor playing cards. An audience slowly built up around the 8 of us and they stood watching us the whole time we were there - a new experience for the others!
The train journey was good and arrived in Luoyang early the next day.
Location: ShanHaiGuan, China
We only spent 2 hours in Beijing - enough time to have Breakfast and book our next train tickets. This train journey took us to ShanHaiGuan (where The Great Wall meets the sea). The write up described it as a lovely small town surrounded by an old wall, however when we arrived we found that for some reason they had demolished everything inside the town wall (except for two hotels and a couple of houses), so we were staying slap bang in the centre of a construction site! Only in China would they flatten the whole city in one go and just start again from scratch!!!
Despite that we had a great time there - we went to the beach where the great wall meets the sea, walked along it for a bit, went out on a speed boat and even managed a bit of sunbathing, then we travelled inland a bit and walked along another section of the great wall (where it meets the first peak).
We caught the express train back to Beijing, though were not able to get seat tickets so had to buy standing tickets - it was'nt a problem though becasue it was only a four hour trip and we managed to spend a lot of it in the Buffet Carriage.
Location: Inner Mongolia, China
Yayy!! Our holiday has begun. We had our last day of teaching last Thursday and spent all of our time between classes posing for photos with all our students. And Thursday night, the school took us out for a farewell banquet which was delicious as usual.
We had panned to take the public bus to Xi'an with all of our luggage, but the school admin insisted on driving us - which was great (quicker, easier and free). We dumped our big bags with a friend in Xi'an and on Saturday caught an overnight train to Hohhot in Inner Mongolia.
Hohhot was great and the weather was lovely. On the first day we walked around the city and visited a few temples and other sights (I think we are more or less temple-d out now!!) and on the second day we caught a bus out to the Grasslands (very impressive sight, green green grass as far as the eye could see - kinda like a massive green desert). We were greeted by a group of Mongolian people who sang a traditional song as we arrived and gave each of us a cup of baijiu (very very strong rice wine). Before drinking it we had to dip a finger in then flick it in the air three times and then drink the whole cupfull. After that we climbed onto some Mongolian horses and set off for a three hour ride across the grasslands (with no helmets or instructions of how to ride - I haven't been on a horse for a very long time, so didn't have a clue, and nor did Neill). We had only one guide between about six of us - it was a bit scary, the guide couldnt speak English, and we didn't know how to ask for 'horse riding instructions' in Chinese, so there was a lot of pointing, neighing and confusion.
We managed to make it to our first destination without a hitch and went into a Mongolian family's home for some milk tea and mongolian snacks.
After that we walked out to an area of tall grass in the grassland before preparing ourselves for the return ride. For some reason, I was put on a different horse (a bigger one) for the trip back, which to begin with, I was pleased about, until, however, it got rather excited and no longer wanted to walk slowly with the others, but instead ran off as fast as it could in a complete random direction (a number of times!!) with me screaming and holding on for dear life!!! Neill was hysterical. Eventually the guide managed to calm it down and my horse stuck right by him for the rest of the ride.
I'm glad we did the ride, but I don't think I'll be getting on a horse again anytime soon - not without some instructions anyway.
We ate a banquet of mongolian style food and then sat and read in a yurt for a while before watching a horse race and some mongolian men wrestling.
At the end of the day we took the bus back and then caught an overnight train to Beijing.
Location: Ningxia, China
Well, we just had yet another holiday. It was the Gao Kao (College Entrance Exams for the senior 3 students) and all the S3 students from the surrounding schools came to ours to sit the exams they used our kids' classrooms, which meant our kids (and us) had a week long break, perfect!!
We took an overnight train up to Zhongwei in Ningxia (a tiny province to the north of Shaanxi), home of the Hui Minority though all the people we spoke to were Han Chinese.
Our train arrived at about 7am, and with the help of a roadsweeper we found the correct bus, and set off for Shapotou (a tourist resort built around a desert sand research centre) on the edge of the Tengger Desert. We'd arrived, checked in, showered and were ready to explore within no time.
Although it was beautiful located wedged between the Yellow River and the desert, it was dead, I think we were the only people staying in the hotel. But, apart from the swimming pool, everything was in good condition, so I guess it must get pretty busy at some time (just not while we were there).
We took a chair lift up a gigantic sand dune and entered the desert, we decided to head towards a restaurant built a little way into the desert, but after walking for about 10 minutes (and being exhausted in the heat), we thankfully stumbled upon a camel riding area, so we hired a camel each and set off for the restaurant. We reached the restaurant and a small collection of buildings and huts about 20 minutes later. From there we were able to hire sand buggies and Karts, so we chose the 'Ka Ting Che' and had a short but exciting drive around on the dunes. We each had our own kart and steered while one of the workers (who sat in with each of us) kept his foot flat on the accelerator great fun!
We had a delicious lunch in the restaurant and then returned to our camels for the ride back. Instead of taking the chair lift back down the massive dune, we opted for the sledge. It was steep and looked pretty scary, but my brake got wedged and I went sooooo slow that at two points I stopped completely not scary at all, but once I got up some speed it was good fun. We spent the afternoon and evening relaxing in the sun by the river.
The next morning we were up early and on the bus back into the city. We stopped at a market for breakfast (they had some really nice breads and some strange doughnuts covered in sticky rice) and then went to the Gao Miao (the town temple) which over the years has been used for a number of different religions and has been influenced by them all so it was a mishmash of different styles. It was a cool place to walk around. They had a few rooms crammed full of freaky models, quite eerie and they have turned their underground tunnels into a sort of scary dungeon walk, with scenes of torture and general grotesque activities tucked away in all the tunnels (it was pretty tacky but good fun). We bumped into an old man down there who seemed to have lost his tour group, bless him. He stuck with us until we caught up with the rest of his group.
After exploring the Gao Miao, we rode on the back of a san-lun-che (motorbike attached to a trailer like a tuk tuk) to the long distance bus station and caught a 3 hr bus to Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia Province.
Yinchuan was a large (but not that exciting) city, not as interesting as Zhongwei. We spent a night there, looked around the HaiBao Ta (pagoda) the following day and then caught an overnight train back to Xi'an. The whole time we were away (apart from in Xi'an) we only saw two other foreigners as we were boarding the train back.
We are coming up to the end of our time here in Huaxian now. Only 2 more weeks of teaching and then we set off to do a bit more traveling before finally heading home. So at the moment we are pretty busy packing up, cleaning out and getting ready to move on.
I'll put up some pictures of our Ningxia trip as soon as I have a spare moment.
Location: Hong Kong, China
Nikki and Kaz had to leave Thailand so they could re-enter and get a new visa (theirs' had nearly run out) so they were going to fly to Hong Kong and travel up through China to see me, but they didn't really have enough time/money, so instead, we all flew to Hong Kong (Nikk and Kaz for five days and me for two days). It was brilliant great to see Nikk after 11 months of us both being on completely different continents and was also nice to have a spur-of-the-moment weekend away.
On Thursday evening Neill and I travelled to Xi'an, once again by flagging down a passing bus on the expressway. I then booked flights for the next morning and Neill and I went out to our local (well our local whenever we are in Xi'an) with Steve (an American guy we were living and teaching with last year in Ningyuan) and a couple of his friends. They had come up to Xi'an for the weekend from Hunan where they live (the same province we used to live in). It was great to catch up with Steve, even if it was only for one evening.
Early Friday morning I was up and off in the direction of Hong Kong, it took about 7 hours to get there, and thanks to free internet access in the Hong Kong metro stations I was able to find Nikk and Kaz pretty quickly (I don't have a mobile phone here).
They had found a tiny little hotel in the Mirador Mansions which was perfect; the room was soooo small but just about managed to fit the three of us in nicely.
We spent the afternoon and evening exploring Kowloon; the Avenue of Stars, Nathan Road, The Light Show and Temple St Night Market.
On the Saturday we headed over to Hong Kong Island and after having to faff around getting the right change for the bus, we travelled to the south of the island towards Stanley. On the way we passed some lovely beaches, so hopped off at one of them and spent a few hours swimming and sunbathing. I'm sure Nikk and Kaz have probably seen enough beaches to last a lifetime, but I've hardly been near the coast for the past two years, so they were happy enough to sun worship for a bit!
We then took and extortionate taxi to Stanley, a small village with a famous market (thought the market wasn't that great). We had a lovely lunch, wandered around, sat and wrote postcards on the beach and then caught the bus back to the centre, with the intention of taking the tram up to the peak in daylight and then wait for the sunset so we could see the city both at day and night. However when we reached the entrance for the tram the queue was massive and the sun was already starting to set. So, after a bit of debating we decided to buy tickets for Madame Tussauds (which is at the top of the peak) which enabled us to jump to the front of the tram queue and go straight up then.
We missed the sunset, but it was still an amazing view of the city. When we had taken enough pictures we went to Madame Tussauds. We didn't expect it to be that good (we only bought the tickets to fast track the queue). How wrong we were! The mannequins themselves weren't actually that good, but because it was interactive, we got to dress up, sing, fight
. it was great fun. We switched straight into childish mode and had such a laugh. It was definitely worth the extra.
After exhausting all of our camera batteries, we went back down the peak tram and caught a taxi to a bar area on Hong Kong Island where we found a tiny Indian restaurant and had a delicious meal before returning to our hotel.
The next morning I was up early, said goodbye to both of them :( and set off for China. My trip back consisted of; a short trip on the metro, a walk until I got lost, a taxi, a coach to China, a coach to the airport, a bus to Xi'an, another taxi, another bus and then a short walk back to the apartment. 10 hours after leaving Nikk and Kaz I had arrived back in Huaxian.
16 hours of travelling for only a day and a half in Hong Kong with Nikk and Kaz it was definitely worth it!