Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Traffic and more ……… For those of us who take for granted the orderly world we live in it is time we think again. Our world of crossing the road on a green walk sign with very minimal risk of being squashed is not how the rest of the world functions. This sideline is dedicated to traffic from a pedestrian perspective and the various modes of transport as we travel.
As I am always adding to this page it is best read from bottom to top. I have arranged it so the bottom of the page is the first entry of where we started.
We arrived in the evening and went get the bus to town only problem the current protests meant no buses to our location. So off to the metro we went instead. A couple of transfers and 40 minutes later we arrived to the protestors and a greeting from Mike.
After checking in to the smallest room in the world we went out for drinks. A week of local buses, metro rides and ferries and we had seen lots more of Hong Kong and had a great catch up. The one sad thing was no tram rides due to the protestors but we got to walk many streets that were now devoid of traffic thanks to the protests. This was a very eerie experience a bit like a bad horror movie as you walk through deserted streets waiting for something bad to happen.
We flew out of here for an overnight stay in Kuala Lumpur then a flight to Penang.
Overnight stay in our usual Tune hotel and then a flight to Hong Kong to catch up with Mike and Patricia.
Did I mention scams before. I had arranged for a hotel near the airport as we were flying out early in the morning. I had also arranged the hotel to pick us up. The driver picked us up but we were almost dropped off at one place then taken to another. The hotel was not the place I booked but I was told it was owned by the same people. The room was ok but the clincher was that the wifi did not work. On enquiry I was told that they were waiting for someone to repair it and was told it would be a few hours. Now no one every wants to be stuck in a hotel with Richard and no wifi, I also started to smell a rat.
Fortunately I had a local sim with data. On checking out the details of the two hotels I found that our current location was $10 a night cheaper and had a lower rating. I called my booking company who said they would investigate, I then called the other hotel and demanded they send a car to take us to the correct hotel. We packed up and waited out front where a car was summoned and we were taken to the correct hotel, the one the driver initially tried to drop us off at but was told to take us elsewhere. The people at the desk looked rather sheepish but didn’t even bother to apologise or say anything just pretended nothing happened. Needless to say this hotel was a little better than the last one and the wifi worked.
The next morning we left and as a token gesture the hotel paid for our taxi to the airport. We headed to Kuala Lumpur initially we had a 6 hour layover but our original flight was cancelled so we were now overnighting at Kuala Lumpur airport.
Rather than an overpriced taxi ride we walked to our hotel. A swisher place than usual, amazing what $25 a night gets you. Hoi An is very touristy. The usual hawkers and touts. We walked the streets, swam in the pool and enjoyed the local food.
Vietnam is not really our cup of tea or in the case of my husband, coffee. The touts and hawkers are in your face, you constantly have to be on guard for scams and rip offs and they over cater to the tourists. This is a great place for a holiday but not really to travel.
We left here by car for the airport in Da Nang and a flight back to Hanoi for an overnight stay.
A quick taxi ride to our accommodation and a lot of walking and we managed to cover the city with minimal problems. A short bus ride and we were in Hoi An.
Cat Ba is a little more challenging to get to. A taxi to the bus station, a bus to Haiphong, another bus to the ferry terminal, a ferry to the island and a bus to Cat Ba town. All was fine til a loudmouth group of Americans and their ridiculous amount of luggage joined us. This made for a very noisy trip and lots of extra time waiting for them to load and unload their luggage. Fortunately we do not stay in places they would frequent so after leaving the bus to walk to our accommodation we hoped never to see them again.
We hired bikes here for a great day riding across the island and also went on a day cruise through the bay. I wanted to go kayaking but my husband informed me he had no sense of balance and would capsize. I told him this was rubbish and the kayaks of today are lite weight, easy to paddle and use. Boy was I wrong. My husband has no sense of balance and I never wish to be in a kayak or a canoe with him again.
Richard did not wish to repeat our journey of getting here but unfortunately we had to return to Hanoi somehow. We took a different company and the trip was much improved and much less crowded. From Hanoi we took a flight to Da Nang.
After a quick flight and a taxi ride into town we arrived in Hanoi. We were right near the old quarter, tourist central. After much walking and exploring we left here for Cat Ba.
After a quick flight and a short shared taxi ride we arrived at our accommodation, lovely beach bungalow. Unfortunately it was pouring with rain. One day later it cleared to blue skies and we began a little beach break.
We hired bikes and toured the island, my husband occasionally behaving like an idiot but we survived. This place is about to be besieged by several 5 star hotels which will really spoil this area. It is already struggling with rubbish and the once pristine beaches are littered.
We flew out of here for Hanoi.
A few hours in a bus than an overpriced taxi ride we reached our accommodation, the smallest room since Hong Kong. This place was all about the floating market. A lovely boat ride and we saw two markets and a rice paper/vermicelli factory. Our boat driver was very talented in pineapple leaf art.
This was really a nothing town but still fun to roam and explore. We flew out of here for Phuo Quoc
Ho Chi Minh
After flying into Ho Chi Minh we took a taxi into town and our accommodation. Our room was not ready so we deposited our luggage and heady off to explore and have a few beers. A few hours later after the constant hassle from street vendors we relaxed in our room. The usual Asian room.
The next few days we wandered the streets exploring the old colonial buildings and the museums. Vietnam is a country that rumbles thanks to the large number of motorbikes. Unlike China they have not embraced the ninja bike probably do to the power issues. The roar is ever present with bikes and taxis jostling for position.
We were staying in the seedy red light district and I took great delight in walking a distance behind Richard as the locals touted for business, I laughed a lot. We took a bus from here to Can Tho.
Vietnam has become a service culture and they really pander to the tourists. So much so they pick you up from your accommodation and personally escort you to your bus. A bit much for independent travellers but great for those with little experience.
From train to metro then a short walk to our Beijing accommodation. Back to the crazy traffic and pollution for our final days in China. We caught up with Richard’s cousin and even got in another Great Wall trip. Lots of Metro rides and lots of street food later and it was time to fly out. We were off to Vietnam after the usual Kuala Lumpur stop over.
The fast train ride placed us in Shanhaiguan for one purpose to see the Great Wall head into the sea. You have to love China trains just under 1000 km in 5 hours. This train station is down a back alley and we unfortunately walked the wrong way which led to a 5 km walk to our hotel.
After arriving to a lovely hotel in the middle of nowhere we relaxed and the next morning caught the local bus to the wall. This is a tourist site and probably the most crowded part of the wall we have been to. We were very disappointed as it had been blinged out by the Chinese and was a definite cheesy tourist sideshow. A walk on the beach and we departed for another local bus to town.
We walked through the walled city which was very touristy and poorly done and then headed out the other side through the countryside. After quite a long walk which was worthwhile thanks to the bits of the wall we found in the local paddocks we arrived at the first pass. Although a little overdone by the Chinese and full of Russians this was an amazing climb. It included ladders and lots of stairs. From here we caught a local bus back to town then on to our hotel.
We left Shanhaiguan by fast train for the couple of hour ride to Beijing.
Another bus from the airport dropping us off at the start of the peoples mall for a short walk to our accommodation. This city is a lovely mix of Chinese and Russian. The city is best remembered for its winter festival but is still very beautiful in summer. Harbin is the home of Harbin beer the malls and river walk are littered with beer halls.
We walked the mall and both sides of the river including a cable car ride across the river from platforms designed like medieval castles. The walk even involved an interview by the local uni students. There was also some very lovely garden art and a funky Russian village.
We flew in got out of the airport and jumped on the Maglev. This is the fastest train in China at 431km/hr, we took our quick 8-10 minute trip hopped off for a quick lunch and back on again to return to the airport.
We flew out to Harbin a few hours later.
Arriving at the airport we took a bus into town. I had directions once we arrived but they proved a little hard to follow but after a while we figured it out and landed at our accommodation down the usual back street. The usual tiny Asian room and even smaller bathroom with over the toilet shower. Koreans are lovely, polite and very helpful. Seoul is very western, more western than we have seen in a long time. Every second shop is a coffee shop and every other one sells cosmetics. These guys spend a lot of time primping and preening.
The scary part for us is that road rules apply, they stop at crossings and obey red lights, way to civilised for us. The public transport system is fantastic. A great metro followed up by a great bus network and taxis that use meters. Unfortunately this place is expensive on par with most western countries.
Much walking and a few metro trips and we were done in Seoul so we headed to the DMZ on a daytrip. This place was very removed from our Datong trip to the other border. This place is obsessed with the division of their country and reunification. Driving along the road it is all security posts and razor wire.
There is even a train station and lines built in the last few years to reunite the two countries and provide rail access for trade but apparently the Northern Korean leader said no at the last minute so now it is a giant white elephant turned into a tourist attraction.
I do love their approach to apologising for road construction (see photo of sign) so very polite.
From here we took a bus to the airport and flew back to China to commence our last leg of China. Now we could have flown straight to Harbin but as we missed the Maglev in Shanghai the first time for the same cost we could fly to Shanghai for a few hour stopover, ride the Maglev then continue to Harbin, so why not.
6 hours later after listening to the fish wife ticket collector and the bus driver yell out the window or over the loud speaker along the streets and every bus stop we passed ‘Dandong, Dandong, Dandong’. This resulted in extra people crammed into the aisle of the bus sitting on upturned buckets and anything else passing for a temporary seat. Every time the bus stopped to pick up the extra people passengers would jump off to pee in the bushes resulting in the driver honking and yelling at them. Not a fun trip.
Arriving in the rain we hopped a cab for the 800 metre ride to our hotel, good thing really as this was another of this hotels where the booking name was different to the name on the door. You see the booking name was ‘Dandong Chang Cheng Hotel’ but the name on the door was the ‘Great Wall Hotel’ but I worked out Chang Cheng is Great Wall in Chinese. Just another level of intrigue to finding your accommodation.
Because we were here for just a short time off exploring we went. It was raining but not too bad, eventually it became a torrential down pour. By the time we went to the river, had dinner then went back to our hotel we were very drowned, Chinese drainage does not cope with heavy rain.
The next day we headed to the bus station to get a ticket back to Dalian for the next day and a ticket to the Great Wall section nearby. We piled on to our bus which took us through villages and corn fields to the Tiger Mountain Great Wall entrance where they quickly shoved us out. This section of the wall is very close to the North Korean border and also quite steep. After roaming around we jumped on a bus going back to Dalian then decided we should go back to the river and the bridges to get better photos.
The next morning we walked back to the bus station praying for a better ride back to Dalian. We got our wish 3.5 hours later we were let off in the chaos of Dalian’s train station to try and get a cab to our accommodation in the new section of the city near to Beer Festival.
Dalian Part One
The first time into Dalian saw us in the old section in a hostel near a nightly food street and a short bus ride to the main square. This section of town has great food streets, coffee shops, Russia buildings and the bits we love about China. Dalian also has trams and electric buses.
From here I had to get bus tickets to Dandong. Now Chinese bus stations are not as easy to navigate or find as Chinese train stations. They have a tendency to be hidden down alleys or different bus stations go to different places. Dalian was no different after one false start when the hostel sent me to one of the old train stations which is now a metro station to look for a ticket office we headed to where I thought it might be. Bingo, after some help from the locals as the ticket office was hidden down a dodgy alley, we had tickets for the next day and bonus knew where to go.
Tickets organised we headed off to be tourists thru town and then tried to catch a bus back to the hostel but it was so crowded we had to get off and walk the last two kilometres or die from heat stroke and suffocation in the bus. Bright and early the next morning we hopped the local bus to the bus station in the rain for our 4.5 hour ride to Dandong.
One of the highlights of this place was a chance to catch up with Heath, a great Chinese boy we met in Shangri-La and have been chatting with as we travel through China. We were staying across the road from the train station at one of my favourite Chinese hotel chains, Hanting Express.
Heath met up with us and took us all over Jinan, life is so much easier when you are with someone who speaks Chinese. We caught taxis, walked and took local buses. The highlight was the luge ride down the Buddha mountain after climbing lots of stairs, well I climbed all the stairs Richard flaked out half way as usual but it was very hot and sticky.
The real reason we were in Jinan was that Richard wanted to go to Taishan the last of the places on the Chinese money. Taishan is a short train ride from Jinan. Taishan is a mountain with a temple on the top which the Chinese treat as a pilgrimage. It is over 3000 steps to the half-way point called ‘Half way to Heaven’ from there you can either keep climbing or take a chairlift to the top. The day we went was very foggy/smoggy, hot and humid. Richard made it to a little under a quarter of the way but still over 1500 stairs which was a fantastic effort considering he hates stairs. I made it to ‘Half way to Heaven’ which took about 2 hours of stair climbing with occasional stops to drink plenty of liquid. As we had set out late I didn’t have time to climb the rest and taking the cable car was pointless as you couldn’t see anything, so back I went to find my husband. After finding him shirt off relaxing on a rock under a tree entertaining the Chinese walking by, we both headed back down the mountain to find our bus to the train station and get a train ticket back to Jinan.
We flew out of Jinan to Dalian.
After a walk up the hill and much complaining from Richard both due to the walk and the heat and humidity we reached our Hostel. After discarding our bags we settled in for dinner and beer on the roof top in the breeze. The next challenge would be getting Richard up and down the hill every day, he hates stairs.
Qingdao is on the coast not that you would know it because for most of our visit you were lucky to see 10 metres in front of you due to the fog/smog Beijing style. We caught local buses and walked most of the time, lots of hills and stairs mixed with the heat and humidity was not to Richards liking.
Qingdao has tiny tree lined streets complete with washing lines this meant not only the usually crazy street navigation but the risk of decapitation or attack by hanging clothes.
We took a fast train out of here to Jinan, first class tickets in quiet luxury, very much appreciated.
This place is supposed to be the quintessential Chinese walled city. In reality it is the least fake of what is available. We took an electric cart from the station the experience qualifying that the external part of the city is terrible and the inside while fake is a lot less depressing but expensive.
They have put up barriers to stop the traffic but the Chinese just lift their electric scooters over the top and keep on going. Pedestrians are a bother and have no rights but no matter how much they beep Richard and I are never swayed to move faster or get out of the way unless we are so inclined. If spoken at we just shrug our shoulders and continue on our way. We don’t understand Chinese so yelling at us has no impact, poor things.
The wall was a good walk but unfortunately you couldn’t go all the way around due to construction. It is the first wall that isn’t square but has curves following the lay of the land. There is the usual fake bits but not as bad as Datong and Xian.
We took a minibus to Mianshan traversing the terrible roads and playing chicken with coal trucks. Once inside you travel the provided buses squashed on small roads hanging on a cliff. Lots of great stairs and temples for me and a chairlift for Richard.
We took an early train out of Pingyao to Taiyuan and after being unable to locate the bus stop for the 201 bus we took a taxi to the airport for a flight to Qingdao. The flight turned into a dilemma with neither us being very happy. Richard likes to sit on an aisle seat and I like a window our usual combination is a and c. I did my usual navigation of China Southern’s difficult website to achieve allocating our preferred seating but when we got to the check-in desk the lovely Chinese guy reallocated our seats to a and b making me very unhappy. He then redid them but Richard was 17 rows back, not happy. He told us we could ask to change when we boarded, such an easy thing for people who don’t speak Chinese.
We took the shuttle from the airport to near our hostel. The ride was complete with vomiting passengers and children peeing on the floor.
While the bus was bigger and we all had a seat, Richard’s seat was broken and keep reclining by its self every 20 minutes. He seems to have no luck in buses. We arrived in Taiyuan just 3 km from our hotel but it may as well have been 50 km with all the roadworks. This is the bit you never know, how much construction is being done in the next town?
Taiyuan is basically redoing its train station and all the roads around it. I try to give Chinese taxi drivers the benefit of the doubt most of the time because they are usually fair and use their meters. The driver from the bus station was taking a real roundabout way of getting us there and nearly incurred my wrath until I saw the construction. What was a 3km 5 to 10 minute trip took 45 minutes and at one stage we were 6 km from our hotel. Not to complain it only cost about $6.
Our hotel was lovely and after the last place with a really stinky ‘I will not shower here” bathroom we were both in need of a good shower and scrub but first the museum. Catching a local bus is a little more challenging in Taiyuan with all the construction as bus stops have been moved and are not very well sign posted. We found a bus and went across the river and after a 10 minute walk located the Museum. This was an ok Museum but not the usual stunner we have seen. The building looks like an upside down pyramid. The best part was a side exhibit in a separate building of minority culture in particular their clothing and the billiard hall we discovered under the bridge on the way home. This is what always amazes us and one of the reasons I love walking the streets because you never know what gem you will discover.
We took a train out of here amongst the construction and chaos to Pingyao. This was another of those packed trains with lots of standing room only tickets sold but a little more comfortable than the last one.
We arrived at the bus station in Datong for our bus to Wutaishan, I had prepurchased seats and went to the ticket office to get print outs. The lady at the counter looked worried and yelled at a man in uniform who ushered us through to the waiting area motioning us to a stop to stand. After much discussion with many he raced off and found a young girl with a smattering of English who attempted to fuss over us. We told her we were fine and didn’t need anything. We asked what the issue was but she didn’t know.
Eventually a lovely primary school teacher with ok English took us under her wing explaining her and her family were on the same bus. 45 minutes before the bus was to leave, thank god we are usually really early, we were ushered into a 9 seater minivan, all 10 of us plus luggage with an explanation that the Datong bus had broken down and the van would take us to a bigger bus for Datong. About 30 minutes into our journey the lovely Primary School teacher explained that the driver had just been notified he was taking us to Datong in the minivan. Fortunately Richard was fairly comfortable in his seat and had plenty of leg room so he was not to upset. On the narrow bad mountain roads I was glad for the minivan especially when it started to rain, unfortunately the story got a little worse.
On arriving into the scenic area with about an hour to go we were told we would be transferring to another bus for the rest of the journey. No bus but a 7 seater minivan, Chinese size, for the 10 of us plus luggage. I ended up in the back with 3 others and Richard ended up in the jump seat in the middle row but with my big backpack between his legs because it wouldn’t fit anywhere else. I had to but my small backpack in the back on top of Richard’s bag and nurse his daypack. So off we went trundling down the mountain in the pouring rain with steam coming out of Richard’s ears. 15 minutes into the journey the back door flew open and my small backpack with laptop, phone and Kindle rolled out the door and down the road towards the oncoming traffic causing me to squeal. All traffic came to a screeching halt and my bag was retrieved. To prevent this happening again Richard ended up with his big bag on his lap and I had my small backpack on my lap. 45 minutes later we reached the bus station and the lovely Teacher got the minivan driver to take us to our hostel, which was good because it was not called anything like what was on hostel world. To top it all off two doors down from the hostel someone had set up Karaoke, really loud, which did not finish until midnight and started again at out 8 am. Richard was a very unhappy campier. By some miracle my laptop, phone and kindle came out without any major problems.
After a not so auspicious start we went exploring on day 2. We walked, caught the chair lift and ignored the free buses that travel up and down the mountains. There are 46 temples here but we really came for the scenery. The terraces on the drive in were spectacular and for the next two days we had lovely sunny weather to stare at the amazing views. Friday came and the place started to go crazy as everyone was arriving for the weekend. We were out on the first bus Saturday morning at 630am to Taiyuan hoping for a better ride than last time.
A daytime train saw us in Datong. Richard did not enjoy the ride as the Chinese sell standing room so the train was very crowded with up to 5 people on a seat for 3 not to mention the extra luggage. This mixed with the spitting, smoking, yelling, spruiking and singing drove him a little crazy. We caught a local bus toward our hotel, ran some errands then caught a taxi the rest of the way. We were staying in the middle of old town.
This city was another one deciding to utilise the sidewalk as a parking lot. The city is in the middle of a major rebuild. It has almost completed the walls apparently using a French guys old photos as a guide. We managed to get a shot of the old mud wall, the brown bricks and the new Ming bricks surrounding it all. They have finished most of the outer but still have a lot the do. Walking the walls gave us a great view of the old cities layout. Did I mention the moat under constriction surrounded by a huge park, only in China. I found the best little electric car and it came in pink.
We arranged a trip to the Monastery and the Caves which involved most of the day in a minibus avoiding trucks, donkey carts, sheep and cows. At one stage I thought I was back in India with a 20km stretch of two two lane roads side by side but I think it was a service road that the locals treat as part of the highway and zip from side to side on as the mood takes them. Did I mention the huge coal trucks doing the same thing. This mixed with the poor roads and the constant need to stop at every T junction because the locals don’t look as they pull out made for a crazy journey.
I am constantly reminding Richard that in China road rules including crossings, the direction of the traffic and lights are just a guide. This was made more obvious one evening when we were crossing the road on a green walk sign and were honked by the cars driving straight ahead through the red light toward us. It took 25 seconds after the red light for the traffic to bother to stop and I swear it was only because we were westerners.
We took a bus out of here to Wutaishan.
After a sleepless night thanks to the Chinese man in our cabin who snored very loudly we arrived in Hohhot and took a local bus to out hostel, plus a small walk. Again living down an alley.
Hohhot has no Metro or BRT just lots of buses. Our hostel had a great cheat sheet for this so we took advantage and travelled all over town on the bus. The buses are numerous but in poor repair and old but not too uncomfortable.
The museum is a spectacular building, the mosque is not the building you think (it is not the white one but the brick one beside it), the buildings look like they have yurts on the top and it is not as clean or remodelled as most Chinese cities. The museum had an outstanding way for the workers to get around and polish the floor. It also has a fantastic dinosaur, space and Mongolian display. There are no sidewalks and Inner Mongolians cannot drive, the traffic is a disaster despite the Police. The train station was a diabolical mess of cars, buses, rickshaws, pedestrians and carts. At least our street became a great restaurant strip after 6pm.
This was an overnight train ride which was the usual except after a few beers and dinner in the Lanzhou food street prior are outlook was a little rosier. Yinchuan was a break the journey town with an extra day due to difficulty getting a sleeper to Hohhot.
Our hotel and our location was spectacular. We walked and rose the local bus back and forth exploring. This was another place where sidewalks are not for pedestrians but are parking lots or bike paths (beware the ninja bike) making walking a constant obstacle course. Bell and Drum Towers have become roundabout decorations.
We did spot a lovely old car, girls feeding fish with a babies bottle on a stick and a Rolls in the Chinese version of Costco, found will on a local bus expedition. The museum was outstanding especially the Mao buttons and red books.
We left taking the local bus to the train station and an overnight train to Hohhot.
This place is all about the caves and sand dunes. Richard hates camels so I was unable to convince him that another ride into the desert was in order even though these ones have two humps. Dunhuang is a very enjoyable city with great food options.
We took the local bus to the caves which were a bit of a disappointment but a great example of how an historic site can be so easily destroyed. Between a well meaning monk, foreign explorers and using the site as a prison for white Russians there is little left. The two hour English tour was very good though. Dunhuang also has the largest walk signs I have ever seen in China, no knowledge as to why they are just huge.
Dunhuang for us was more about the food and company particularly the two Australian cyclists who we spent great times and a few beers with. From here we flew back to Lanzhou spent the night at the airport and then headed to the city via a shuttle. We had another train ride out of Lanzhou to Yinchuan.
Jiayuguan was one of the first cities marked for tourism remodelling. It has huge planned roads and bikes lanes as well as a good local bus network. We travelled the local buses to the plastic Great Wall of Jiayuguan Fort and the Overhanging Great Wall. The trip was not a total loss as the before and after posters (see Sidelines) and the Museum was worth it.
After much yelling about our terrible hotel and it’s woeful service we departed in the early hours of the morning by train to Dunhuang. The next few train trips were a little troubling as this route sells out very quickly leaving only hard seats which Richard is not a fan of. These days I am no stranger to getting tickets but the next few legs worried me. After a little research I discovered Ethel from China Highlights who unlike other sites does not charge 50 to 100 Yuan per ticket to organise bookings and you can pick up your tickets at the train station. Ethel only charges 10 to 15 Yuan per ticket and the China Highlight site lets you see the number of available tickets and type. I managed to book the next few legs with ease. You still have to line up at the window but all the hard work of which train and seat or sleeper selection is predone.
Our soft sleepers to Dunhuang were not in the same compartment but in the same carriage. Richard ended up with 3 other guys snoring away while I ended up with a carriage all to myself for the 5 hour journey. We had managed a pick up from the train station so all was great as we arrived into Dunhuang.
The bus was more comfortable than the last one and the ride was all on bitumen. The most interesting part of this ride was watching the change in buildings and people as you crossed under the old Tibetan boarder gate and back into China. This saw the Tibetan buildings give way to Chinese buildings and for this section of China many, many Mosques. The Muslim influence continued until reaching Lanzhou.
Lanzhou bus station saw us greeted by overpriced taxi drivers who may have been a little shocked when we and our two companions turned and took a local bus for 1 Yuan each rather than the 50 Yuan they wanted to charge. Google maps bus section can be so handy at times. The local bus ride was cheap but not very comfortable but saw us arrive 45 minutes later near our hotel. We were getting a train out so I had us near the train station 5 minutes’ walk from the food street.
Lanzhou has great local buses and we explored the city easily visiting the river and “beach”. This city is in desperate need of a metro to help curb the crazy traffic. We caught a train out of here to Jiayuguan on a quest to explore more parts of the Great Wall.
After 5 days of relaxation with Richard barely leaving the recliner chair and the TV I coaxed him onto a bus to Xiahe for 7 hours. The bus could best be described as a Deluxe Chicken Bus in which Richard did not fit and had to sit sideways. We were doing really well until the last 50km when the bus stopped at the start of the road works and several men piled out including some monks. The guys then proceeded to move rocks and shovel dirt to build a ramp so the bus could proceed down the road. The next 50 km became a slow crawl over corrugated and rock roads not dissimilar to Tibet. I cannot describe the expression on Richard’s face which proceeded to get more and more scary as we went on. After almost 3 hours of very rough road we finally reached bitumen and completed our journey. Despite the terrible ride the trip had given us spectacular views of the grasslands, yaks, goats, sheep, walled villages, temples and yurts.
Xiahe is tiny but has the worst horn honking problem in China. The wide roads do nothing to prevent the overuse of loud horns. This place has no local bus but the taxis will take you anywhere up the main drag for 1 Yuan for a one way trip. There are monks everywhere here more so than in Lhasa and Shigatse. The monastery is like the rest of china “under construction” but it is a spectacular site to explore.
After 3 days here Richard took a lot of convincing to get back on a bus to go to Lanzhou.
So far the roads were not great but they were tarmac. We hit the last 75 km late in the afternoon and the fun began. Heavily corrugated or rock roads for 3 or more hours is not what either Richard or myself envisaged. All I could thing was ‘we had to do it all in reverse tomorrow’. On we trundled both on and off the almost existent road catching small glimpses of Mt Everest until we reached base camp 11 hours after commencing our journey that morning.
We slept in tents a bit like yurts for the night. The bathroom was either a tin building with a wooden floor that had badly cut holes in it as makeshift toilet spots, no lights or water and a smell that could not be described or you could wander the paddock or river bed and locate a convenient spot avoiding those before you.
We woke to sunrise over Mt Everest, breakfast and a 6 km bus ride to the photo spot. We piled into buses, got out and took pictures then bussed back to camp. After packing and a cup of coffee we piled into the minivan for the 11 hour reverse journey back to Shigatse avoiding the crazy four wheel drivers, yaks, goats and sheep.
After a night in Shigatse we drove the short road and 6 hours back to Lhasa. One more night in Lhasa before we headed to the train for another 24 hour ride to Xining. This time they made us wait in the VIP waiting area all on our own and board the train before anyone else. Richard loved it.
We headed for Shigatse. Travelling by road in Tibet is like being in a rally race. There are several checkpoints between places. You arrive at the checkpoint and you are given a time to reach the next checkpoint. Our first checkpoint gave us 90 minutes to do 50 km on a very good road. There are fines of about 3000 RMB or about 500 to 600 AUD if you get there early. This is all to do with apparent safety on the roads. In reality everyone drives at whatever speed they want and then stop for whatever the required amount of time is at roadside stalls, defeating the purpose.
We took the long road in dodging yaks, sheep and goats. The local transport appears to be a modified rotary hoe with a trailer. The trip to Shigatse took over 12 hours including some crazy road works. The one thing we did learn is that a Tibetan witches hat is a rock painted red.
After a very long drive in cramped conditions we reached Shigatse and our hotel. The hotel was ok except for the smoke and incense which made Richards life a little difficult. After some sleep we had breakfast and set off for a local Monastery. After climbing all over the place, chasing some sheep, looking at local stalls and watching the horsemen ride by our guide showed up with our Mt Everest permits. We then set off for the rally drive to base camp.
After being scanned and producing copies of our permits several times we were off on out train journey through Qinghai and Tibet provinces. The railway rises to 5072 metres with 80% of the Golmud to Lhasa stretch being over 4000 metres. The train however is pumped full of oxygen from 3700 metres and above. Unfortunately the oxygen is offset by the chain smoking Chinese and the offensive toilets. The scenery was spectacular including the snow.
In Tibet all foreigners need to have a guide so we were to be part of a tour, something the two of us generally are not fans of. We had a small amount of information about our trip but I can say for certain that if Richard knew what it all involved he would not have gone along with it.
Lhasa has a population of around 500,000 with everything centring on the Potala Palace. This place is small enough to still allow tractors and trailers as everyday transport around town. Two days were spent here roaming the streets, looking at brightly painted cycle rickshaws and watching the Tibetans navigate temples.
I did venture to the local pool/spa with Cindy, a member of our tour who was Chinese currently living in Canada. The pool was a fascinating experience, Western women obviously do not frequent such spots. After an hour of swimming while constantly being stared at which fascinated Cindy as she had never experienced it before we had a wet and dry sauna before showering off to leave. During my shower the fascination continued as I turned around to three young girls standing and staring as I showered and dressed.
After two days in Lhasa we hoped into our 9 seater minivan all 9 of us for what was to be a very long but beautiful journey.
We flew to Xining for a one night stop over before boarding our 24 hour train to Lhasa, Tibet. We returned again post our Tibet adventure for a rest. Tibet took its toll on Richard for 4 days of R & R was required in Xining. We stayed at a lovely Hostel/Homestay near the Mosque, markets and a coffee shop. Western who ran the hostel took great care of us. Richard spent days in a soft reclining chair catching up on movies, eating and breathing.
The hills around Xining are currently undergoing the largest transformation I have ever seen. Chinese are planting and irrigating trees up and down every barren hill on a grand scale. You can imagine that In 10 years this place will look vastly different.
We flew in from Urumqi after being again screened within an inch of our lives which by now has more of a calming effect as you realise with the current issues it is better for your safety to have everyone spend an hour being scanned, poked and prodded.
The flight was amazing. Snow-capped mountains, desert, rivers and lakes. Catching a cab proved to be a nightmare. For the first time since we have been in China the cab drivers were a bunch of rip off merchants. Now these were not Han Chinese but local Muslims trying to charge a 400% mark up on a cab ride. Eventually we found a reasonable but still overpriced individual to take us.
Kashgar is unlike anywhere else in China. The local Uighur people are Muslim and speak a Turkish dialect and they do not mix with the Han Chinese. Due to recent unrest the People’s Park square was full of armoured vehicles and police in riot gear. The police patrolled the streets in groups in full riot gear with dogs id checking and questioning local Uighur people. This show of force was not unusual to us and was of no real concern. The issue for me was the men.
I am by now very use to being stared at with Richard constantly referring to me as a ‘Freak Show’. The Indians were not staring by ogling rudely however the Chinese stare out of curiosity and never make me feel uncomfortable. In Kashgar the local Uighur men ogle rudely and make you feel very uncomfortable. Now this is not because I am wearing anything skimpy or showing any skin, I have long pants, a long sleeve shirt, hat and sunglasses on. Normally Richard is not concerned for my safety in China but in Kashgar he was back to his old habits of India, not letting me out of his sight and walking a few paces behind me.
This wariness was reinforced in the Bazaar when a pickpocket attempted to steal my wallet and was met with an angry women swinging a half full bottle of water at his head several times. Again not Han Chinese but Uighur.
The government is slowly pulling down all of the old town replacing it with fake new buildings or parks. It was lovely to wander the old streets and look at what is left of the old town. We saw butchers, blacksmiths and bakers. We managed a small glimpse of the old wall hidden behind buildings or gates.
The Livestock Markets were fascinating as the locals bought and sold livestock stuffing them into taxis, vans, trucks and their little three wheel utilities. The little utilities were used to transport goods and people all over town. If transporting people they had wooden boards covered in carpet attached to the tray rim for comfort and sometimes if you were lucky a guard to hold on to. This was not a legal form of transport so they tended to use backstreets to get around and avoid police.
The local bikes and mopeds were now adorned with carpets or macramé for seats. This extended to the cabs that had either carpet or beaded seat covers.
The roads were in a state of repair with loads of plastic plants making a nature strip down the middle. Everything was in Chinese and Arabic again so not only did I need a Chinese note to go places but I also needed it in Arabic too. We flew out of here back to Urumqi before heading to Xining.
We flew into Bishkek for our first taste of the Stan’s. We choose Kyrgyzstan as it is visa free for over 60 countries. We arrived to the usual customs and immigration scrutiny made funnier by the hats (large overexagerated service hats in khaki and green making their heads look really small). We flowed like sheep through the airport as nothing was in English.
After much negotiation we managed a ride into town, this was for half the 3 original quotes. They see western faces and immediately think money. We piled into a very dilapidated black cab and off we went. The worst part was when we stopped in traffic for any length of time exhaust fumes poured through the handbrake threatening to asphyxiate you.
We arrived not at our hostel but at the landmark they gave us the local Beta store. Our hostel was eventually found behind some shops in a dodgy dirt alley up a rickety set of wooden stairs. We checked in only to find we were staying in the new rooms 5 minutes walk down the road, above a bar, in an alley behind the Deli and Margarita hole in the wall shops. Our room had two power points in the bathroom and no window, fans or air-conditioning. As usual we never judge upfront and it was clean.
What we discovered about Bishkek was:
- Minibus is the popular mode of transport. These are numbered vans of all varieties that take people all over town. Stops are not marked you just all stand together and flag the right one down. There is a great app for this Bus.kg you can plug in your to and from and get all the details. It is in Russian but so is everything else.
- The other public transport is trolleys or electric buses
- This is where second hand cars go to die. Apparently they import them from elsewhere in all shapes and forms in particular old mercs. There is a huge car market on the main road into town.
- Black cabs abound here like China
- Police corruption can be so bad the locals have cameras with night vision hanging off their rear vision mirrors to record the police if they are stopped
- BP stands for Bishkek Petroleum
- KFC stands for Kyrgyz Fried Chicken
- There is an unmarked middle lane on the roads that is used to overtake and either side can use it.
- The biggest vehicle wins
- The main roads are bad but the others are really, really bad. Thanks to a drive into the countryside for 3 hours each way that was torture
- Our first sightings of fat bottomed sheep and actual lived in yurts
- They have real coffee and coffee shops here
- Richard hates hiking but loves Towers of Beer
- Osh Bazaar is a huge rabbit warren of shipping containers and the food section is a giant deli
- We need to come back and see more Stan’s
- Our Chinese is better than our Russian
We spent most of our time eating and drinking with the occasional walk around town. There is a great phone app called Bishkek Tours which has some great walking tours and attractions to see.
We discovered eventually that our room was not only above a bar but beside a Karoke Bar and we have a sneaking suspicion that the lady running it was renting out rooms by the hour some evenings. After one particularly loud evening ending in me yelling at her and whoever she was conversing loudly with at 1am we spoke to the hostel manager. The next two nights were eerily quiet. I must say it was not all her our fellow travellers at times were loud and inconsiderate even knocking on our room door at 6am while waking up the entire place to leave early on some excursion.
We flew out of here back to Urumqi after ourselves and our luggage were scanned and checked 5 times before boarding our plane. We landed to discover even more security in Urumqi due to a bombing that morning at the markets. From here we flew to Kashgar.
Another spectacular flight skirting the mountains of Xinjiang and Tibet province. You get some concept of just how huge the mountain range is as all you see is snowcapped mountains to the horizon for most of the flight with the plains appearing as you get almost to Urumqi.
Due to recent unrest security was very tight and after several scans and security passes we made it out of the airport. We took a taxi to our hostel which took a bit of finding and a phone call by the taxi driver. Our hostel was next to a shopping centre a bit like a David Jones but this one came complete with a tank and armed guards. Minimal English here everything comes in Chinese and Arabic neither of which I am good at.
We walked the streets, took the buses and the BRT (Bus Rapid Transport). Unfortunately due to the recent unrest night markets have been pretty much stopped but the street food we found was great and very muslim. We managed some blue skies which was great. This place is a real mixture of cultures and nationalities. The same raised roads but with the columns showing a more Arabic look with patterned tiles and the largest presence of armed police, tanks and armed vehicles we have seen in China so far. This included bag checking, scanning and explosive testing everywhere from shopping centres to parks.
We flew out of here to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan after being scanned several times including review by the bomb squad.
An 11 hour bus ride and we arrived at Pengfeng Village in the National Park. This is the longest bus ride so far and got to say I am not a fan and Richard is definitely not a fan. Chinese are not good to travel with in close proximity. They are very loud, like to have all the curtains drawn so you can’t see out the window, they leave the sound up loud on their phones or the play loud music with no headphones, they constantly hike up phlegm and spit. This topped with their inability to consider others and their space adds up to a not so fun journey. I understand that all of this is in built in their culture and I am even more understanding because they are always so lovely to us but after 11 hours it does try your patience, I won’t repeat any of the things Richard comes out with.
The National Park was worth it. 9 hours of buses and trekking had us exhausted but very satisfied with our trip. The most difficult part was on crowded sections where I could no longer stand doing the Chinese Penguin excused myself constantly and either weaved or parted people to get by. Not a place I would want to visit in peak season but fortunately most Chinese just catch the bus from site to site and avoid the walkways.
One bit did annoy us very much. When walking from our hotel and returning along the footpath we were herded by the Police down one section through the shops. Basically no one could bypass the shops and walk on that section of the footpath. This of course meant, that for us, there was no way in hell we were buying anything or even looking as I will not be party to such corruption. Most Chinese sites you cannot get to the good stuff without going through the shops or stalls but this version deliberately smacked of tourist corruption especially using police to cordon off the public footpath and not letting you walking on it.
We flew out of here after a 90 minute winding drive avoiding horses and yaks on the road. Chinese are terrible drivers. The airport was spectacular with stunning views of the snowcapped mountains. The flight even more so with rolling snowcapped mountains as far as the eye could see. We flew into Chengdu for a 6 hour layover until our flight to Urumqi
From Guiyang we hopped a flight to Chengdu. This flight was made fun by the pilot sitting across the aisle from Richard giving him a running commentary on our flight including the landing and what was wrong (must admit it was a lousy landing). He gave us some great insights on his views about Chinese women of marriageable age and how he would prefer a western girl as they were more independent and less needy. We caught our usual airport shuttle to town and walked to our hostel.
Chengdu is the capital of Panda Land. Panda stuff is everywhere. This city was touristified a while ago so this means shopping streets and malls, lots of parks and an ancient town tourist strip. Unfortunately this means minimal good street food vendors as they are regularly sent down the alleys by the police only to reappear 10 to 15 minutes later.
We took a minivan to the Pandas and Leshan. Unfortunately no baby pandas as they don’t appear for another 3 to 5 months. I had deliberately avoided the holiday so both were relatively easy to transverse but looking at the channels set up for crowds I would not want to be there in peak season. Apparently it can be a 2 to 3 hour wait to take the stairs down.
Chengdu do has the usual metro with only two lines at present but more to come. We were bussing out of here and as I was busy studying I sent Richard out to get tickets. Don’t worry, I programmed his google maps with the bus station, programmed his translator app with what he needed, I got a note from the staff at the hostel in Chinese and checked to make sure that all the counters were the same. He had no trouble and returned with two bus tickets.
A quick taxi ride with the driver even calling our hotel and laughing when he discovered he was less than 500 metres from it when he called. I knew but with no Chinese communication skills getting your message across in a hurry is hard. At least this one was called the right thing and on google maps. Again minimal English and a hotel as no hostels here. Also no westerners, we haven’t seen a westerner since Dali.
Richard has taken to saying hello in Chinese to everyone who stares at us and it is everyone, some of them even coming back for a second or third look and bringing their friends and family if we stop. We stop for several pictures a day. I am back to wearing my sunglasses and hat to hide.
We decided we would attempt the Huangguoshu Falls first. This was supposed to involve a bus to the site and back from the long distance bus station. Well it appears the bus station has moved to the new East bus station so our first attempt was a dud so we spent the day visiting the close by sites. We caught a local bus one way to the temple thinking we would just get it back the other way later. The return journey sent us miles out of our way to the terminal and then we caught another bus back, we are not sure of what route this bus was on but it really zigged and zagged crossing over itself. We later discovered the terminal was the new East bus station.
After our bad first attempt we spoke to the lovely reception staff using translator apps. They even offered to send a staff member with us. Declining we took their directions the next day. We took the local bus to the East bus station and using the trusty translator app we got tickets on a bus hopefully to the falls. We arrived and went to the ticket office.
We found a huge map on a wall and a heap of things listed with prices but no real directions. We purchased tickets and eventually figured out where the buses left from. After the 500 metre walk we discovered we also needed separate bus tickets. So back to the office we went trusty phone in hand. After returning we got on the bus, a whole bus to ourselves and started our journey.
5 hours later, much walking, several bus rides and an escalator and we had completed the circuit. Most of the time we had no idea where to go, how long it would take or what next. We took the bus home only to land right near the train station in a tiny bus station hidden behind in an alley near the train station.
This place is crazy on the horn honking more so then anywhere else so far in China. The streets are full of buses, taxis and slow little tractors. Lots of street junctions have no lights or give way signs and are a free for all when getting anywhere but the chaos appears to work for them with minimal delays. Accidents are a little different, everything stops so the Police can take out their tape measures and assess everything, nothing moves much until they are done and no one directs traffic.
We caught local buses to some other sites before getting a train back to Guiyang. Anshun also has automatic ticket machines with an English button so you can check details but you still need to go to the counter to purchase them.
This one was always going to be a challenge. After much research I had narrowed down the site of our hotel (there are no hostels here) to three possible locations all about 2.5 km from each other. I did have the address in Chinese but it had no street number but rather the name of a bridge.
On arriving at the airport we thought it best to take a taxi. He dropped us off at a shopping mall and pointed inside. Now it was likely that this may be our location but nothing was mentioned in the hotel details. So we walked inside and showed the man at the door our address and he pointed inside. Off we wander looking for signs. After 15 minutes we came to the indoor aquarium and the cinemas, we decided that as we had not seen a sign we were clearly not where we should be so outside we went.
On going outside we discovered the food street much to Richards delight but no hotel. Through the wet market we went attempting to go to one of the three locations I researched. A lovely Chinese gentlemen offered to help in his broken English and led us up the road where some lovely Police Officers offered their assistance as well, but they had no idea. We spotted a Hotel called Sails International Hotel, while we were looking for Yangfan International Hotel, but we thought we would go in and ask. You guessed it, this was our hotel. We never worked out why it had two names, one on the booking website and a different one at site, and as the staff spoke minimal English there was no point in asking. We discovered later if we had of kept walking past the cinemas for less than 50 metres we would have reached our hotel.
This hotel was in a perfect location for Richard he could eat at the Shopping Mall or on the food street.
Here we walked and caught the local buses to sights. We walked along the river only to get stuck as some sections had no stairs out but this led us to a great coffee shop called 66 Coffee. We did visit the park one day but with no English signs or maps a 1,000 acre park can be hard to get around. One journey up many, many stairs resulted in me coming face to face with a telephone tower and no view. At least Richard stopped half way or else he may have pushed me off the top.
From here we decided on a train to Anshun. The station was new with ticket machines that had an English button. After plugging in all the details I discovered you needed a Chinese ID card otherwise you have to go to the counter but at least I could check details, cost and number of seats available. Armed with my trusty phone, passports and a note with the train number etc I joined the cue. Trains are much cheaper here less than 3 dollars each for the 100km ride. The ride to Anshun was in a double decker train, clean but minimal luggage space.
We took a taxi to our hostel or as close as he could take us but I don’t think he knew where he was going, we walked the last kilometre. This place has mountains, lakes and an Ancient Town. We wandered the town, traipsed the pagodas and did a cooking class. We also spotted tuk tuks a sight we haven’t seen for a while.
We flew out of here by Yunnan Lucky Air and the way the Captain landed I think we were very lucky. This was another of those planes where the life jacket was your seat. These guys took us to Kunming where we got a China Express Airline flight to Guiyang.
We arrived and caught a taxi to our hostel. The hostel did not see many foreigners so English was minimal but nothing was too much trouble. Papa took us where ever we wanted to go in his car for no charge. This town lost 3/4 of its Ancient Town to fire in January but looking at the bits that remain it must have been fantastic. We had great fun catching the local bus, wandering the park complete with yaks, and touring the Monasteries.
This place has cute little three wheeled cars that usually come in red or green although I did spy a pink one. The streets come complete with tractors, trucks and carts. The square had traditional dancing every night. This place had a fantastic feel despite the cold. We came here to test ourselves in the altitude but the people here are so fantastic we wished we could have stayed longer.
We hopped a bus from here to Dali thinking it would be a 7 hour trip, it was only 5 hours, thank goodness because of the screaming baby and the vomiting bus sick passenger across the aisle, along with one really dodgy toilet.
We hopped an airport shuttle to town then wandered to Ancient Town through the road works stopping at a Coffee Shop where we got a taste of the tourist prices that were to come. Ancient Town is a giant tourist trap all prettied up in the usual Chinese way. After a little luck we found our hostel and were greeted by the friendly staff and a resident chicken. Ancient Town is overpriced and not the type of China we enjoy. The place is full of Chinese tour groups and their loud guides, this mixed with crazy prices did nothing for Richard and I.
I have wished to hike Tiger Leaping Gorge for ages but knowing my husband and his dislike for walking and stairs I had given up on the two day hike. We settled for a one day sneak peak. This involved a 2 to 3 hour bus ride, a few hours at the gorge and a bus ride home. The bus was comfortable but the habit of our driver talking on his phone while meandering along roads with no guard rails and a sheer drop did not instil us with confidence. We arrived safely and then preceded to become mountain goats as we trekked to the gorge and slinked along a very dodge wooden bridge and back up a nasty step ladder. The worst was the climb back up complete with Richard cheating and taking a horse for part of the way. I suppose it was better than being carried.
We took a bus from here to Shangri-La. It was a nice bus with wifi and minimal volume on the music, considering it was 5 hours this was good.
An airport shuttle saw us at a different hostel to our last visit. We even decided to find our way to the Stone Forest. This involved a taxi, a bus, notes and a translator app. After a bit of trouble negotiating the park we managed to visit the site. We ended up walking rather than seeing it the Chinese way, sitting in an electric cart trundling around the site never stopping until the circuit is completed. After elbowing our way to a seat on the bus home we arrived back at the enormous bus station. We ended up using google maps bus/public transport section to get home via local buses and a walk. This was due to an unlabelled Chinese note that I thought was the hostel address but was actually “take me to the airport”. Thank goodness the taxi driver wanted an outrageous price or it could have ended badly. Reminder to self ‘label your Chinese notes in English’.
We flew out of Kunming to Lijiang headed for Ancient Town knowing that this was going to be a difficult transit as the directions to the hostel were minimal and google maps only showed the big alleys not the small ones.
Arriving at Hong Kong airport we wandered off to find the airport shuttle to Causeway Bay. This was the easy part the next was where to get off. Fortunately the bus had wifi so we got to our stop and easily found our hostel. Hong Kong has trams, lots of traffic, metro and ferries.
The trams are skinny double deckers plastered with advertising that slowly meandered through the streets. The metro is large but easy to traverse especially with an app. Hong Kong has its own version of an Easycard which you can use all over the place.
The most confusing part in Hong Kong is walking. The British favoured one side and the Chinese another and this is not helped by escalators changing sides in a building or arrows on stairs being different in each place. Walking becomes a slow weaving as you try to traverse the streets changing sides with the pedestrian flow. Richard and I gave up and did whatever.
Hong Kong has an enormous escalator 800 metres long with 20 segments. This mixed with linked buildings means that you can walk from building to building undercover but be careful it is easy to get lost or misdirected and shopping centres can be enormous.
We also managed to catch the metro to the mainland (Shenzhen) for a lovely day with Richard’s friend CJ catching a bus back to Hong Kong. We much preferred Shenzhen. Hong Kong is rude, very western and expensive. Bec and I sat on the shore watching the skyline during Earth Hour and the only thing that happened was the nightly laser show was cancelled, very sad to see that the lights on the buildings did not go out or even reduce in number.
We flew from here back to Xiamen and then after a few days to Kunming as we headed to the mountains to test the altitude.
We decided to catch the BRT to our hostel. Xiamen’s BRT is a separate road so buses sit up high like a freeway just for them. The system is new so it has a few issues namely no English instructions. Armed with my trusty phone containing the address on an email in Chinese and a translator app I joined the cue to get tickets or in this case tokens. Hoping that I got it right we headed to the buses, unfortunately Richards token was a dud but one of the staff ran off and brought him back a new one. We piled on the bus Chinese style, walking like a penguin elbows out trying to get on first.
The next step was working out where to get off. After figuring out that each stop had signs with the name of the stop plus the previous and next stop we were a little more settled. Crammed into an overloaded bus we eventually reached our stop, piling out we walked down the stairs and faced our next obstacle, Old Town and it’s alleys. After one false start we found our hostel and all was good.
We had landed in a hostel smack in the middle of the wet market and food streets. You could see Richard salivating. Boots on we trekked through the markets and food stalls. We returned again after Hong Kong to continue eating and drinking.
We visited the island Gulang Yu by ferry, again requiring a bit of guess work and a translator app. We had by now mastered the getting on and off Chinese penguin walk. The island has no cars so we wandered all the way round on foot watch porters deliver goods on hand pulled carts. We found the local library, it was a very large vending machine.
We flew out of Xiamen to Hong Kong and back again. The airport was the first place I have seen toilets with plastic covers where you push a button before you sit down and the plastic on the seat rotates to a new clean section.
On our return we had decided to catch the airport bus into town. Our first attempt yielded nothing but after taking a picture of the route with my phone and pointing to the last stop we managed to get a bus. On arriving at our departure stop I knew we were not far but on asking an English speaking person, because my phone had run out of credit, we were told it was too far to walk so we caught a cab, it was less than 2 kms.
We flew to Fuzhou. Fuzhou is the capital of Fujian province and has close ties to Taiwan. This is noticeable in the buildings. This place has minimal tourist destinations so we were the only western faces. There are no hostels here so we stayed in a local Home Inn and were greeted by the local girl at the desk with “uh oh!!”. This translated as no one speaks English, hasty phone calls were made and a Manager appeared who spoke a little English.
The place is full of highways, tunnels and ninja bikes. The bikes use the footpaths to traverse the streets and they are very silent. We had fun wandering the streets catching a train to Xiamen from here. To get to the station our lovely reception staff personally took us to the taxi rank, we ended up sharing a taxi with a local who paid for our taxi and showed us into the train station, all with no English. Again we have to say thank you to the lovely Chinese people who go out of their way constantly to help us.
After an easy, if not crowded, Metro ride to Pudong Airport we got our flight to Taipei. After Immigration, Customs and sorting out some Taiwanese Dollars we headed for the buses armed with my usual instructions. We easily transited to the bus we needed and landed in the Nangang District of Taipei. After a false start we eventually headed in the right direction to our Hostel. We past many food places and our walk was slowed as Richard assessed his food options. We arrived checked in, did some housekeeping then Richard needed feeding.
After much food we decided we needed a beer and the Hostel staff sent us to the night markets. This required a bus ride. Richard and I avoid buses as there is usually no English and we have no idea where we are going. Armed with my usual pieces of Chinese paper off we set. Taipei buses come with English notices I also showed my note to the driver who let us know when our stop was. Getting to the night market was easy I was not so sure about getting home on the bus.
We prowled the markets and eventually located beer to help with the courage to brave the bus home. The bus home ended up being very easy and we alighted a couple of doors down from our hostel. Unfortunately it had been too easy so Richard had a new feeding ground.
The next day we purchased an EasyCard at the Metro station. This little card is wonderful, it works on all public transport, taxis, some tourist sites and in some convenience stores. You just swipe and go or swipe at the end of your bus ride. All stations and ticket areas have an ATM, EasyCard purchase and top up machines. Richard and I got very good at the Metro and buses before we left. There is also an Explore Taipei Metro App and Taipei Bus-English App if you are here for a while.
We had a wonderful Gondola ride up the mountain and back, several night market visits and saw some parks. Taipei is very easy to get around with many tourist options and lots of English. Every time we looked slightly lost or worried someone would ask if we were ok.
We stayed in two different places here. The May Rooms which was a family run place out in the suburbs a bit but on the Metro and bus line, the rooms were small but the Wifi was the best we have ever seen. The other was Holo Hostel which was in an office building our room was huge and a bit like a dormitory but chinese breakfast was included and it was right next to the Taipei Main Train station and Metro.
Taipei is China with more International influence, better English and lots of Hello Kitty. We caught the Metro to the second airport (Songshan) and hopped a plane back to China. Although the Taiwanese immigration official was not convinced about Richard due to his much darker colouring and lost weight, even chasing him into the Duty Free shop for a second look at his passport. Richard was very happy to show him his watch tan and give him other ID. All I could do was laugh both of us understanding the need for the official to be happy in the present climate.
After leaving our Hostel in Shanghai at 930am we were in Hangzhou by 1250pm. This had included
- A 20 minute walk to the metro
- A 30 minute metro ride
- A transfer walk to the train station
- A fast train ride
This included all the security and ticket buying.
We stood in the taxi line and the memories of Chinese taxi lines came flooding back including don’t bother trying to get a taxi anywhere between 4 and 6pm.
Hangzhou is like the Gold Coast for those from Shanghai. We arrived on a Thursday before the huge weekend influx by Saturday it was very crowded and crazy but lovely to see everyone outside enjoying themselves. My only concern was a Sunday train ride back so we headed to the train ticket office in town armed with my usual Chinese note. Ticket offices are not marked in English and our Chinese is almost non-existent but we managed thanks to Chinese patience and a willingness to help. Armed with two tickets we were all prepared.
After much walking and complaining from Richard we took a D train out of Hangzhou and back to Shanghai for an overnight stay before a flight to Taiwan.
The Chinese are such an organised bunch. So nice to be back in the clean. A quick and efficient Metro ride and a short walk, following excellent directions, to our hostel. Pavements to walk on bur we almost forgot to be mindful of the ninja bikes that make no sound, green walk lights and crossings have no meaning and to walk on the right. The traffic is almost silent compared to India.
It is amazing how easily we slotted ourselves back into Chinese life and the easy navigation of the Metros helped by the Explore Metro apps that work offline telling you how best to get to your destination and how much it costs.
Richard was in heaven, a hop on hop off bus so I couldn’t make him walk everywhere and food everywhere he turned. We loved the bund promenade, the crazy off ramps that go in circles like a car park exit road, massive four lane freeways, pedestrian streets and pedestrian over and underpasses.
We caught a K train called Harmony out of here to Hangzhou. The only problem was I got a little complacent and thought we would just go to the station and buy a ticket there. The station was bigger than most airports, these ticket and information machines had no English button and there were 10 different ticket areas with 15 or so counters all in Chinese. I don’t know how but we picked a line that looked like the Hangzhou characters and armed with passports and my translator app I stood in line. We had two tickets to Hangzhou in less than 15 minutes. Despite the ease at which we had accomplished our mission next time I will do a little more prep work.
After another overnight stay in Kalka and retrieving our bags we headed to Delhi by train to catch our flight at 3am to Shanghai. We got into Delhi about 5pm and thought we would go for a meal before deciding how we wanted to get to the airport. We rocked up to a local bar ordered some snacks and beers and settled in for a couple of hours.
After a feed and some liquid we had decided the Metro was our choice of transit thinking it was a 10 to 15 minute walk to the nearest Metro, one line change and then a direct Metro to Terminal 3. Thank God for the liquid to numb the pain that was about to come after all it is Delhi.
The walk was down Bazaar Road, a tourist strip full of touts, pedestrians, tuk tuks and cars making walking a chore. I have an advantage as my backpack is on my back so it acts as a buffer and a battering ram if needed. Richard wheels his so it gets caught up and has difficulty in uneven terrain. This lead us to a minor incident when an Indian gentlemen did not move for me when asked twice to “Excuse me please”. Needless to say I moved him out of my way using my body and my backpack. The gentlemen got a little angry and proceeded to follow me down the road unaware of Richard behind me watching him. Now an angry Indian gentlemen cursing, waving his arms and running after a white women is not seen very favourably in Delhi in the present climate. Richard had by this stage reached the gentlemen in question and reefed him by the scruff of the neck and asked him ” Are you right there?”, scaring the crap out of him. I had turned around and commenced walking back to find the gentlemen joined by his two friends, who were very apologetic, obviously realising that it would not end well for them if the authorities got involved. The gentlemen then proceeded to give me a verbal torrent which as you can imagine led to me in full flight, luckily his mates calmed him and I continued on my way to the Metro. Got to love Delhi? NOT!!!!!
We got to the Metro to find we had to go one stop change and then go one stop get off and buy another ticket as the Airport Metro is completely separate. After several security scans we arrived at the Airport Metro, clean but very expensive. We arrived at the Airport at 830pm for a 3am flight having left Kalka at 10am.
We sat in the Airport terminal entertained by travellers, particularly Indians, weighing their luggage then rearranging their goods between carry on and checked luggage to get their sums right. I saw one guy pay 20,000 Rupees (about AUD360) in excess baggage. At 1150pm we were allowed to check in. After getting rid of our bags, traversing Customs and then Immigration we made it to the gates, exhausted. Got to love China Eastern though, exit aisle and just the two of us no extra charge. So I managed some sleep on the plane the only downside waking me up then serving me Indian curry.
We walked to the station to catch our 4am train with Richard wondering why and me explaining that the daytime trains are booked out by the tourist guides who then cancel what they don’t need just before hand so getting the ritzy tourist train wasn’t happening without spending time at the station organising a ticket and I wanted to spend as much time as I could in Shimla.
The Kalka Shimla train is 96 km of small gauge railway that goes through 103 tunnels, one over 1km in length. This was the biggest toy train we had been on with first class even having a latrine. Richard slept most of the way rugged up in a jacket complaining about the cold and me opening the window to take photos of tunnels and 3 tiered viaducts.
We arrived in Shimla at 9am to a clear day with views of the snow-capped Himalayas and an uphill walk to find our hotel.
We were lucky our Kalka hotel had kindly let us leave our big bags behind so we only had overnight bags with us. Let us say that at altitude the stairs and sometimes 90 degree inclines can be a killer. After getting off track and finding a spot with a great view we located our hotel then went to wander and have lunch.
I had read about a two part lift from Mall road to Cart road and I thought we would take a look. I didn’t really know what I expected but it certainly wasn’t what we found. We paid our 10 rupee each and headed to the lift. The lifts are actually just that two lifts in towers to stop exposure to the elements. You take one then walk along the winding walkway to the other and press the down button. Richard and I felt a little cheated.
Shimla has made it’s self very pedestrian friendly by not allowing cars along most of Mall road and other shopping areas. They also have some walkways attached to the sides of the roads overhanging the buildings below. They also do not allow public smoking since 2010 with a 250 rupee fine. No spitting and a 5000 rupee fine for littering. Go Shimla!!
The porters here carry their loads strapped on their backs but the strap is across their chest rather than their forehead.
After many stairs and hills we caught the train back to Kalka the next day at 215pm.
We took a train out of Chandigarh to Kalka a quick 30 minute ride. The hilarious bit was the lady we got on late at Chandigarh and freaked out when she realised she was on the wrong train. She then pulled the Emergency Break, the train stopped in a hurry, she jumped off and the conductor reset the break with no one batting an eyelid. We took a flash A/C Chair car ride to Kalka with Richard complaining “why weren’t all our trains like this?” and “How come the really good ones are always a one hour or less trip?”
Kalka was a quick overnight stay for our 4am toy train ride up the mountain to Shimla. We were staying 400m from the train station in our usual budget accommodation.
The bus terminal was loud and chaotic and getting on a bus was a bit like placing a bet at the races for the first time. We managed to find our bus even though it was late and the two foreigners with prebooked tickets seemed to cause even further chaos which took 20 minutes to sort. There is nowhere for your luggage except inside racks or your seat so thank god we don’t have much. We found a spot where we could sit up front and have our bags next to us and hoped the bus never got crowded. The bus ride ended up taking 6 and a half hours instead of 5 but the driver sat in an enclosed compartment, you couldn’t see the front windscreen so the fear factor was greatly reduced. We stopped off at a few more interstate bus terminals along the way which were just as crazy.
One thing we did see on the way were crazy off road tuk tuks that looked like a Wolseley with 3 wheels. These tuk tuks had normal car tyres, extended fronts and backs. Have not seen them anywhere else in India and they were not in Chandigarh.
Chandigarh is a planned city built in the 50′ and 60’s and reminded us of Canberra, lots of roundabouts, good two and four lane roads and large green belts. It still has horse carts, cows and pedal rickshaws but the local buses are newish. It is also relatively clean by Indian standards. This place has lots of sculptures made from recycled materials in all major public areas. We stayed out near the bus stand and then caught a train out. We would have loved to have taken a car but the price quoted was on the ridiculous side and I had no time to go to the tourist office for a more believable quote.
Our hotel was fantastic upgrading us for no extra charge and settling us in very quickly so we could get some sleep. We decided to wander a little during the day and catch the border show that evening. Amritsar tuk tuks have bullbars and body armour, a first so far in India. I am not sure if it is because they are bad drivers and hit things or because the water buffalo are the size of small houses. The outside of the tuk tuks are covered in metal bars and some colourfully decorated. Pedal rickshaws abound and we discovered they are the best way to get across the road when faced with 4 lanes of craziness.
Horse carts make an appearance with wooden carts and truck tyres. The guys here stand up on their carts when empty and I even caught a guy on his phone trundling along the road. Some carts are piled high with wood or bananas and guys sitting on top of the load. Pedal rickshaws are also used to carry massive loads precariously strapped on.
The border show involved a taxi ride to cover most of the 30km then a 2km walk. The roads were lined with trucks either waiting to cross or stopping to eat after crossing. We saw lots of overloaded tuk tuks ferrying people to the show. We walked the road to the border passing vendors selling trinkets and popcorn. At one stage the Border guards moved us to the opposite to the Indians we discovered why when we saw a Guard on horseback shoving Indians into one line for security. After passing the first checkpoint we all merged again and then separated in to Men and Ladies for the usual pat down. From here we took the foreigners gate through more security to the final security post where we all stood in line till 415pm when the final security pat down occurred and we could be funnelled into the seating area. We were now 5 to 10 metres from the Pakistan border seated on concrete stairs awaiting the show to commence.
The Indians were dressed in red and khaki the Pakistan with a similar uniform but black and red. We watched the last bus for the day pass through the gates to Pakistan and then the craziness began. The crowd was whipped into a frenzy by the compere, the girls ran large Indian flags at the border gate and danced on the road Indian style. The Border Guards came out to pomp and ceremony marching to the gate in twos doing a high kick and then waiving their fists while one guying made sounds trying to be as loud for as long as possible competing against the other side. The Pakistan side was doing similar things but they also had a balcony. At the end came the flag lowering, some last minute high kicks and gestations and the gates were closed for the night. We then filed out and headed back up the road hoping we could find our driver and car especially since he didn’t speak English so I couldn’t call him. We found him and headed back to our hotel.
Interesting thing we did see on our driver were the statues on the houses. They weren’t on every house and varied from a huge bird with outstretched wings to a warrior on horseback to multi-coloured soccer balls. No sure why they were on the roof but we saw then all the way to Chandigarh
The next day we wandered the bazaars and alleys before heading to the Golden Temple and then we wandered back exhausted. Amritsar is lovely not just the sights but the people.
To get out we were taking our first interstate bus so our hotel kindly dropped us off into the mayhem of the bus terminal. Richard was not too happy about our chosen form of transport and even more so when the bus arrived. I had had a little difficulty with booking buses as many do not accept foreign credit cards. I could have actually just left it and got a better bus ticket from the touts but it was just a straight forward 5 hour daytime trip or was it.
Varanasi airport is about 30km from town. We got off knowing this and expecting to pay for it as well. I was aware that it was after 5pm so traffic would be bad making a 45 minute trip stretch to 90 minutes. We walked in to the prepaid taxi place and set it up and just as we were completing it two girls arrived needing to go to the same guesthouse. So we all organised a bigger car to go together. The roads into Varanasi are truly bad and we eventually arrived to mayhem, rain and wet muddy streets and alleys. As luck would have it the guy who owned the car had a brother who met us and despite us knowing he just wanted to get us to book a tour with him we let him show us to our guest house. Now I knew our place was really hard to find but add in the dark, wet, muddy, winding alleys and google with no idea and it could have been disaster. We thought the brother was leading us around in circles but he really wasn’t.
We arrived exhausted, got a room, dumped our luggage, organised some beer and met the girls at the roof restaurant for dinner.
Varanasi is about the water. Boats ply their trade giving people rides up, down and across particularly at sunset. Richard had no real desire to go boating so we just wandered the riverside up and down the stairs to various Ghats people, cow, water buffalo and cremation watching. The hardest part was dodging the laundry laid out on the pavement. Scooters and motorbikes roam the alleys while tuk tuks, pedal rickshaws and taxis are stuck on the larger roads. Varanasi had had some rain so boots were a must for trekking alleys this mixed with lots of stairs made Richard very happy.
We left Varanasi via the airport after a taxi ride at a much quieter time of the day but this did not improve the bad roads. Initially we were on an 815am flight but Spicejet had cancelled this flight and put us on a 1055am flight assuring me we would make our connection at Delhi at 215pm. So the saga begins. I got a text before we let the guest house telling me our flight was delayed til 12pm due to fog in Delhi. I phoned to check if there was another flight to Amritsar from Delhi if we didn’t make the 215pm and there was not. I checked for other companies and found a 515pm and a 10pm if needed. So off to the airport we went.
On arriving I saw that Indigo had a flight leaving at 1015am so I asked but theirs was also late, in the end not as late as ours but it is always hard to know. We checked in and the Varanasi Spicejet guys were fantastic doing everything they could to ensure we made our flight. Unfortunately we didn’t make it and it only got worse. The Delhi Spicejet staff were useless and very unhelpful. The lady at the counter even playing candy crush in front of us and Richard took a photo of the staff watch the cricket on the TV while we waited an hour and a half for our luggage to be retrieved. Our initial reply on finding a solution to get to Amritsar was they could rebook us on tomorrows flight or refund our money. I took the refund after having to argue to get a full refund. Richard was pissed so he waited an hour to talk to a Manager who was again useless stating he didn’t know we were coming from Varanasi when I know they called and hooked everything up.
He informed us he could have organised a 9 hour drive to get us there but they didn’t have any contacts to other companies or flights. I fortunately had a computer and internet hot spotted to it so I organised a flight in less than 5 minutes. Unfortunately the 515pm was gone and we took a 10pm flight with Air India. This is where it got better.
I noted that we were leaving from Terminal 3 not the usual Terminal 1D so I checked with Information and it was correct. So to the free shuttle bus we went. After a bit of a drive we arrived at Terminal 3 which is mostly International flights. It was 530pm and you usually can’t check in to a domestic flight until 2 hours before so 8pm for us. Off we went to check out where we would need to go and to our surprise we could check in. We checked in paid our excess baggage, which the guy dropped 3 or 4 kg off, and thought we would just go through security and make ourselves comfortable.
We tried the domestic security and were sent to the International security, it would appear Air India leaves from the International area. We spent the next few hours doing our duty free shopping prep work and scoping out the places to eat and drink as we were back in a week. We even found sleeping pods for about $2 an hour because we have a 3am flight to Shanghai.
Air India were great and we arrived in Amritsar at 1130pm very tired but a little happier about the transit from hell. We hopped in a prepaid taxi to our hotel who I had called ahead to let know we were going to be 7 hours late.
Upper Bagdogra is about 2km from the airport with nothing much around. We were staying in a 4 storey commercial building and both Richard and I are convinced we were the only guests. Quite a nice hotel but we couldn’t get a cold drink. We did walk the dirt road for a bit to go to the ATM but quickly returned to our hotel.
The next morning had us catching a cab to the military airport to fly to Kolkata and then onto Varanasi. We were again unavoidably flying our least favourite airline Jetairways and yet again they did not fail to disappoint with their usual incompetence and lack of customer service. Jetairways also does not have the online ability to pay for excess baggage so despite being assured you could pay at the check in counter you had to go to another area and wait in line, pay your bill and then come back. While you did this no one else could be served so you can imagine how frustrating and time consuming it is for you and everyone else involved. Kolkata was no different to Delhi in that you have to go through security again and put new tags on your hand luggage.
The train let us off at tiny Kurseong station and we took the short walk to our hotel. After dropping of our luggage we headed up Hill Cart Road, every village has a Hill Cart Road which is officially called Tenzing Norgay Road. Now walking at times can be difficult due to the one lane road shared by two way traffic, train, parked cars, pedestrians and animals.
But the walk to the Lodge and Church was worth it even if just to eat momos and take pictures of the famous hurry, burry sign.
We took a share jeep from here down the mountain to Siliguri. We did quite well as we had the back to ourselves most of the way down. After that experience we were very glad that we had not done this up or all the way down. 14 people should not be squashed into a jeep and the motion sickness because of the 360 degree turn roads can be horrendous. Also Richard does not fit and I spent most of the journey with my legs stuck between his, ok for me but very inappropriate and uncomfortable for someone else.
Now on arriving in Siliguri we took a tuk tuk the 15km to Upper Bagdogra. Richard queried the price to start off with until I nodded ok and informed him it was a long way on crap roads. He got the message half way in.
A longer than 4 hour drive up the mountain with a very happy driver listening to his strange collection of music which included country and Michael Jackson. Some of the highlights included:
- A one lane bridge with a sign “Very Weak Bridge One Light vehicle at a Time”. Not a good sign to read before you drive across a bridge. And why was it Very Weak instead of just Weak.
- The “Elephants have right of way” sign. I didn’t see an elephant but I am sure I would give it right of way regardless of the sign.
- One lane road. But we will make it two way and add a train.
- Bamboo guard rails. Really how much help is that going to be.
- 3 inch rock guard rails. Again really.
- 360 degree turn roads. Yes 360 degrees almost makes you motion sick when you take 5 or 6 in close succession.
- Share jeeps stuffed with people and topped with luggage.
- Toy train tracks weaving across the road as they wind themselves up the mountain
- Breathtaking views.
- Winding in and out of Nepal as the road goes up the mountain.
- Small villages and towns perched on the side of the mountain.
- Tea plantations
- Pine forests
- Nepal views
- Not a tuk tuk or rickshaw in sight.
After a lovely drive we checked into our Tibetan homestay and went out for dinner.
Google does not handle Darjeeling at all well. It cannot figure out where it is and neglects the winding alleys and stairs used to get from one road to another. Added to this it puts places in the opposite direction to where they are. Fortunately Darjeeling is not that large.
After a day huffing and puffing walking the streets and climbing the hills and stairs it was time to catch the toy train down the mountain to Kurseong. If you don’t want to walk you can take a mountain pony. I love a toy train and this one was really a toy. The little steam engines give daily joy rides and the little diesel engine takes the train down the mountain and back. The tracks run back and forward across the roads and through the towns so close to the shops and houses that you can touch them. In some stages the pedestrians walk faster than the train. The train isn’t expensive but the ticket sellers appear to have a habit of double and triple booking seats. Fortunately I pre booked back in December so they had little comeback when it came to arguing over our seats. This train is also not good for luggage as there is no racks or luggage storage areas in the little carriage just seats. The other issue was Richard not being able to handle the engine whistle but it didn’t seem to bother anyone else. It was a shame the weather was so cloudy so we could not see the larger mountains.
Bagdogra Airport is a military airport so security is high and there is nothing much there. We took a taxi to the next town Siliguri ready to be picked up in the morning for our drive to Darjeeling. This place does not see many tourist dollars and is quite poor. The tuk tuks are old and battered and there are many pedal rickshaws. The roads are in poor condition and there are large expanses of almost dry river beds where the locals take truck loads of rocks and gravel that they sieve and put in different piles according to size.
Siliguri saw us in the usual dive this one with a dive bar attached. The bar was a dim lit singing bar where Indian women and one man sang for tips and unfortunately was frequented by men of the sleazy variety. The table clothes had never been changed and were very food encrusted this was also our breakfast venue. Needless to say our stay did not go well and breakfast was the source of Richards gastro for the next few days. We were scheduled to return to the hotel in a few nights so I cancelled our booking and organised an alternative.
We were thankfully picked up in the morning by our taxi driver taking us to Darjeeling by Mirik and the lake.
The train got us here at almost midnight not a time I like introducing us to a new city. I had organised a pick up but Richard and I have had minimal success with ever being picked up when we arrange it. Richard did his usual and was be friended by Salem who was just starting out his business. He dropped us off after we organised a tour to the Ellora caves with him for the morning.
Salem picked us up as promised in his pride and joy, his little white car. We began our trek to the caves. Aurangabad roads are really bad not helped by a trip through the military base and the use of old city gates as thoroughfares. The roads have the usual motorbikes, vans, cars, trucks and mopeds joined by tractors and ox carts. This is the first time we have come across share jeeps. Share jeeps are jeeps with roof racks that the squeeze up to 14 people and their luggage in.
Indian road traffic so far consists of:
Hand pulled rickshaw – these days mostly just in Kolkata. Capacity 2 to 4.
Pedal rickshaw or tuk tuk – seen in tourist or very poor areas. Capacity 2 to 4.
Auto rickshaw or tuk tuk – Comes in various sizes those in the south being bigger. They sometimes come in a share version where the luggage area has been removed and small seats on the sides put in. Capacity legally 4 normally 2 to 10.
Bicycle – usually in bad condition and too big for the rider. Used to carry goods or pull a trolley behind with goods. Capacity 1 to 3.
Motorbike – various sizes. Capacity 1 to 6 (yes 6, apparently if you keep your family between 4 and 6 you can have a motorbike as the family vehicle). Motorbikes are used to transport all sorts of goods. I have even seen a guy on the back of one with his hard drive in one hand and his monitor in the other. The ladies usually ride side saddle on the back while balancing the shopping or the kids. Don’t forget no helmet.
Moped – Capacity 1 to 4 (yes 4) similar to a motorbike but less powerful and less capacity. Again no helmet.
Ox cart – comes with various size trailers and one or two ox. Ox can be colourful with painted horns with pom poms that swing when they walk and bells around their necks. Trailers can be wooden or metal.
Vendor carts – These are pushed or pulled from place to place along the roads by the vendors. They may be metal or wooden and sometimes elaborately decorated.
Cars – from very small to just stupidly large for the tiny roads. As they do not use seatbelts the capacity is however many will squeeze in as you look at the faces pressed up close to the windows in a sea of arms and legs.
Little White Vans – Little vans with bench seats. Capacity legally 7 normally 10 to 14.
Share jeeps – Jeeps some very old with bench seats and luggage racks. Capacity up to 14.
Trucks – small and large with 3 or 4 wheels usually overloaded with goods. Trucks are usually decorated including pom poms. Some even have seats and canopy over the cabin so you can sit and watch the world go by.
Buses – These range from beaten up local buses to nicer looking tourist buses. Capacity as many as will squash in or hold on to the outside.
Tractors – these come alone or with a trailer full of people or goods.
Now add the animals (cows, goats, sheep, buffalo and dogs), people and really large potholes. Mix this with no road rules, poor roads, no lane markings and lets have some fun.
All of the above explains why it takes 2 to 3 times longer to get anywhere.
We even saw a large generator being transported with one guy walking beside it with a long bamboo pole that had a large fanned out rake at the end. This guy’s job was to lift the power lines up as the truck and generator passed by to make sure they didn’t touch. Interesting, I wonder what he was paid.
Now I could write about the passing practices of the traffic but let’s just say I don’t wish to think about it, it is not for the faint hearted and I don’t sit in the front seat. After two days on the road that was enough for now.
I did get a small inkling into the reason for the bad roads because for the first time I saw a road crew. One guy was building a fire in a smaller tanker with big vats so he could keep the tar hot, another guy had a small wheelbarrow with tar mixed with stones that he was delivering to 6 guys sitting on the road, 3 on each side who levelled it in patches. I don’t know how much they got done in a day but looking at it not much. This kind of explained the state of the roads.
From Aurangabad we took a flight to Delhi with a two hour stop over then another flight to Bagdogra. We flew Spicejet this time, they are not as good as Indigo but much better than Jetairways. The interesting part was that you had to repass through security in Delhi to get to your next flight. In India you cannot go from one domestic flight to another you have to repass through security and get new hand luggage tags on to do so. At least your luggage can go on to the next destination. So make sure you tack on an extra half an hour between flights for this.
I have been trying to fit Hampi in our schedule for ages and finally we made it. Richard did not understand my drive to get here until a day or so in when he really wanted to stay longer.
Hampi started with a free pick up from the train station without even asking. Tappa our tuk tuk driver and Richard soon became firm friends. The trip to Hampi was on mostly shocking, potholed, corrugated dirt roads but it saw us pass overladen Ox carts with bells and pom poms swinging from long horns, sugarcane overload small trucks, green rice paddies, banana plantations and tiny villages. We had gone very rural this time. The 14km trip took about 30 minutes and in that time Richard had organised a tour of the sites by tuk tuk in a few hours time.
We arrived in the tiny Hampi Bazaar had breakfast, checked in and reported to the police station all within 2 hours.
Tappa picked us up for our tour. 5 hours of wandering wonderful ruins while our tuk tuk driver explained the areas history, even dropping us off at the bar for a beer before returning back to Hampi. It was one of the best days so far.
The next day saw us take the ferry across the river. Two wooden boats working in tandem taking people and goods across the river. Initially Richard wanted to hire bikes an take them across to explore the other side but after watching how you got your bike across (mounted on the front of the boat with you sitting on it to keep it stable) he decided it may be best to hire them on the other side. There is no bridge at present but there was one about 3 years ago but it collapsed killing about 28 people and there are no plans to rebuild.
We wandered the other side deciding we would come back for dinner that night (that side had beer and non veg food) and explore on bikes the next day. We did indeed go back for dinner and a few beers and that’s when it got interesting. The ferries finish at 6pm after this you can get across by prior arrangement in a coracle (a giant woven fruit basket sealed with a tarp and tar. We organised to cross back over at 8pm and took the guys phone number, I didn’t have any paper so I wrote it on a bandaid.
We settled in for momos and beer at a lovely place down the road. At 750pm we headed for the river. Using the mobile phone flashlight we made the decent to the water and tried phoning our boatman several times with no reply. We then began yelling his name, no reply. We then began discussing going for a swim and how we would keep the important stuff dry, when we heard the sound of a paddle and our boatman arrived. We then proceeded to load into the oversized fruit basket for our journey in the dark across the river.
We arrived safely and then proceeded to climb up the bank and wander back to our guesthouse along the dark dirt alleys. Did I mention we had had several beers and thought all of this was very funny.
The next day we thought we should get bikes and explore the other side of the river until we got there and the price got a little out of hand. We decided we would take a tuk tuk instead. Having had such great experiences with Tappa, we asked and were given a ridiculous number. After much yelling we got a more reasonable price negotiated. In the end we both wished we hadn’t. Our tuk tuk driver drove like a madman and I swear he hit every bump on purpose. Richard and I both agreed we would have been more comfortable on a camel. 3 hours later we were glad to return to the ferry thankful we didn’t hire bikes either.
Hampi is the best place we have been in India and the only place we would consider returning to. Unfortunately it is changing. The bazaar area is being knocked down and 400 people have already been relocated 6 km away to a new village. The people were so lovely and rely so much on the tourist trade. Richard and I were very happy to buy things here and wished we could have bought more things.
Another train had us returning to Hyderabad
The tuk tuk ride from the train station put us in the middle of the protesting street cleaners but they were all very jovial and we soon arrived at our hotel. Not wanting to make the same mistake as the previous town after checking in we ventured the streets to the Tourism Office to organise tours of the sights. Unfortunately the bus was full so I organised a driver to take us around for the day all with absolutely no fuss.
We walked around the lake popped into a few parks and got a tuk tuk back. We even spotted a Rolls Royce stuck in the same crazy traffic where one lane turns into 6 with lots of beeping and protesting. The Traffic Police are great and they work very hard all day to keep the chaos a little under control. We saw the start of the Hyderabad Metro lines going in. This city is trying very hard to become clean and more tourist friendly.
For our tour we were picked up by a Tourism Office driver in a Tourist Office car and basically treated like royalty for the day much to Richards joy. We were dropped at the door of everywhere we needed to go and either personally escorted around by him or a quick phone call saw us picked up at the gate.
On one tuk tuk ride I got to see the new price list as of february 14 – 20 rupee for the first 1.6km then 11 rupee every km after this. We pay at least double this but when any of them got out of control I could sprout off the new prices and make them look sheepish. But in Hyderabad 95% of the people were lovely and friendly and were very proud of their city.
To kill waiting time on our last day we went to another zoo. Now I am not really a zoo fan but Richard loves them. One of the reason I particularly don’t like Indian zoos is because we become more of an attraction then the animals and sometimes I get sick of being stared at all day. This zoo was no different but you have to laugh at the excitement on people’s faces when we let them take pictures with us. This zoo was the best I have seen in India and the animals had great enclosures and appeared to be really well looked after. It was also the cleanest zoo we have been in. The school kids were having a great time in the playground and on the toy train. You can even hire bikes to ride around as well.
We left here via train for two days in Hampi and then returned by train for one night before another train to Aurangabad.
We took a train here, just a short hop during the day and fortunately in first class. It was funny to watch the Indians in our carriage giving orders to the attendant. They had him making their beds and fetching and carrying. They decided that they would like a nap so to their beds they went. Now in the time we have been here we do note one think, Indians are very self absorbed and do not consider or notice anyone else. They also have the worst phone manners. These Indians were not any different with one guy having 3 mobile phones which he left on and turned up while he napped. Between the two of them not much sleeping happened as their phones were constantly going off every 20 minutes very loudly. Neither Richard or I needed to nap fortunately.
The reason to venture to Bhubanswer was to break up an over 24 hour trip to Hyderabad and possibly see the Sun Temple at Konark. Let’s just say it did not go as planned.
By now Richard has reached a level of what he considers reasonable to pay for a tuk tuk ride. I try not to get involved because I think at least 85% are lying, cheating scum and he over pays. I have come to the realisation on this trip that we do not give to beggars but tuk tuk and taxi drivers instead. The tuk tuk drivers here are by far the worst of the worst. As they rarily see a white face they charge outrageously thinking we are all made of money.
We came across one lovely tuk tuk driver who took us home one evening and I accidently sent him the wrong way round on Goggles advice. This sent us down some really rough, potholed alleys with several twists and turns. We all laughed about it when we finally go there.
We spent our evenings walking or catching a tuk tuk to what became our favorite watering hole (Oceana at Hotel Swosti) and then going to dinner at one of the restaurants at Hotel New Marrion and catching a tuk tuk home. Is it bad when you actual know the street names on the way home. Now I do say streets lightly mostly dusty alleys and interesting diversions around roadworks.
We did organise a tour with our Hotel Manager. The tour was good but the Manager left a lot to be desired and had to be spoken to. I am sure he was glad to see the back of me. Even what was supposed to be a free drop off at the train station was an extortion attempt for money when we were asked for parking money when none was required.
We were very glad to see the back of this place and get on another train and for our recent penance we were rewarded with a first class coupe. Just the two of us for a 20 hour train ride out of hell. The train ride saw the landscape go from brown to green as we went along beside a large brackish lake. I even managed to see a sign warning the train drivers of an Elephant Crossing Zone unfortunately not quick enough to get a picture.
The first class train journey even had room service for dinner and breakfast. A very happy husband. The only down side was a couple of rude Indian mobile phone users venturing outside our cabin to talk on their phones and not disturb the people next door. A couple of words from me and they got the message and went elsewhere.
Now we arrived in at midnight and not wanting to venture into the outside world until daylight saw us perched in the arrivals hall for 6 hours. Kolkata airport is the most infested mosquito ridden place I have every come across despite only being a year old. This may have something to do with the stagnate water features particularly the one in baggage claim. This place is so infested that they actually fog the inside of the building not the outside. The point of interest is the large family of swallows that live in the roof of the arrival hall, yes it is only a year old but it is India. We were not alone in our stay in the airport but were joined by at least 50 others, foreigners and Indians, awaiting daylight.
We left here by prepaid taxi again with a guy who did not know where he was going and my internet had deserted me but as long as we got to the metro station I knew I could get us there. We arrived at the metro station and I directed him down an alley with in trepidation he went and about 400 metres and several just keep goings we got there.
Kolkata has trams (old beaten up metal ones), a great one line metro, taxis and tuk tuks. After a sleep we caught a tuk tuk to a very, western shopping centre for food and then surprisingly Richard was happy to walk the twenty minutes home. Somehow I had lost my internet and was on satellite only so we stayed on the big streets and avoided alleys but we made it.
The next day saw us on the Metro which is great, for 5 to 15 rupee each you can go anywhere on the line. Sadly there is currently only one line, due to Indian issues, as you can imagine but at least it is underground not a giant cement eyesore running down the middle of the street. We spent most days travelling to sites via Metro.
Kolkata is one of the last bastions of the tana rickshaw , a human powered wagon. Between these and the amazing porters carrying huge packages on their heads there is lots to see. The trams are mostly in use around the city we didn’t try one but they are basically very narrow beaten up metal buses.
We did watch an altercation between two buses at a roundabout which had us in stitches. These guys were honking and swearing at each other until they were confronted by a police officer who stopped them on a busy roundabout. It eventually worked out that the one on the right wanted to go left and the one on the left wanted to go right and neither of them would give an inch. The Officer quickly sorted them out and they were on their way.
Most streets in Kolkata have not even bothered with lane markings as no one pays attention anyway and again red, amber and green lights are just a guide unless there is a police presence. We walked through the rubbish strewn Maidens and past all the parks no one can go in so they stay tidy and clean. We walked through the bus depot and watched them packing the bus roof. We walked down local streets with shrines that had huge blaring speakers competing with each other. We didn’t make it to the river and the ferries but we are a little gun shy of waterways in Indian after recent experiences. We did cross the Howrah Bridge on the way to the train station and it didn’t look too bad, the water that is the bridge was a horrible potholed mess.
Howrah Train Station is huge and in two separate buildings(Eastern and Southeastern Railways) but it is a very European model with no lines running through it. There are lots of waiting areas where you just sit until your train appears on the board. We were again on a train headed for the Odisha coast.
A lovely China Eastern flight where they even left the seat vacant between us as the plane was not full. Richard decided that because we were no longer in India he would take a Black taxi to our accommodation. Despite my misgivings, as I was still definitely in India mode, we arrived with no drama to our hostel. Beautiful wide freeways, minimal honking and clean streets, oh how I have missed you.
Kunming was a delight perfect weather, constant fireworks for New Year, hostels and great food.
After 5 glorious days and a promise to come back we headed to the airport again via normal taxi and a hostel note. We were doing fine until check in when I had to go out the back as there was a question about my luggage. After unzipping my bag and a bit of charades we worked out the offending item was a can of fly spray. Once I pointed to the picture of a mosquito and said India all was good and I repacked and zipped up my bag. Again wonderful China Eastern gave us two seats with a vacant one in the middle despite a nearly full plane.
We hoped off the toy train in Metupalaiyam and hopped on to the train taking us to Chennai. I had managed first class tickets and we also got a coupe. Richard thought he was in heaven. This service includes wash cloths and toilet paper. (I never thought toilet paper was so exciting until now) This was the best nights sleep on a train so far.
We got in early am and waited to daylight then walked across the road to the local train station and caught a local train out to the suburbs and our accommodation. Very simple, easy and cheap. We did a quick walk to our accommodation. We again were in a transit so just an overnight stay and back on the local train for two more stops to the airport. Local trains are highly recommended and cover most sights.
We were flying Indigo again and it was just as pleasurable the second time, these guys could not be more helpful even putting us in the exit aisle for no extra charge.
When I say we were in transit I really meant it, as we were catching a plane to Kolkata with an 8 hour stop over and a plane to Kunming in China. I had organised a hotel so we could catch a little nap and a shower.
We walked to our hotel down the most disgusting stretch of road covered with rubbish and dotted with peeing taxi and tuk tuk drivers. I had to rescue Richard at least once from persistent tuk tuk drivers with the angry white woman. We arrived at the road to our accommodation which was a piece of dirt between two festering cess pits of stagnate rubbished filled water that we swear bubbled. We were shown to our room which was filthy, the toilet had a ring of urine around it and the pillowcases had drool still on them. Angry white woman appeared again along with a phone call to Cleartrip. Needless to say we did not stay but hiked back to the airport for a long wait.
Ooty is very hilly and tuk tuks charge extra for hills. We got a tuk tuk to our accommodation and it was a little out of town but with great scenery.
The bus stop was only about 100 metres away so we took a local bus into town. Now everything about this journey was in Hindi so out came the trusty google maps and we alighted at a stop close to where we wanted to be. After we explored town we took another tuk tuk home, mostly because we had no idea which bus to catch back. This tuk tuk had no idea where he was going but after a false start, several discussions and the obligatory angry white lady we got there.
The next afternoon we braved the local bus with our luggage to return to town this time a lot more crowded and harder to stay upright with a backpack on. We hopped on to the toy train for our return journey, this time I had managed to get first class tickets and a good thing to as the configurations were very different and second class did not look like fun. This time no fog so a chance to see the scenery we missed on the way up. If only we could get the Indians to stop throwing rubbish. We also got to view the winding roads used to get up here.
This was something I was looking forward to, a steam train ride on one of the very few cog and pin railways in the world. I had not been able to score first class seats but we were in the first class carriage anyway, so instead of spending $7 for both of us it cost less than $1.50. The journey takes about 5 hours to travers 46km. Half the ride is by steam train to Conoor and then Diesel to Ooty (Ughagamandalam) in tiny wooden carriages. The steam train section involved several stops to fill up the water as the engine was pushing us up the hill.
The morning was very foggy and it did not clear until we were in the Diesel section but luckily I had booked us a train ride back in a few days in the afternoon. The down side to our journey was whooping and hollering from the Indians when going through tunnels and their habit of polluting the area with their rubbish, despite all the signs and bins. Otherwise I had a lovely time hanging my head out the window watching the world go by.
Off on another train journey as we transit to Ooty. We didn’t venture far here as our hotel was down an alley near the train station and we were on a 5am train the next morning. Although it was a very, seedy alley. The train ride to Metupalaiyam gave Richard his first taste of real first class train travel. We were set up in a lovely two bed coupe. Unfortunately it was a one hour journey. You can imagine his comments.
Another overnight train journey saw us arrive in Bangalore at around 6am. We found a tuk tuk and started to travel to our guest house. You can imagine we were a little tired and at one stage of our journey I asked Richard if we had changed countries because all of a sudden the side of the road everyone was driving on changed. His comment was no I was not imagining things everyone was on the wrong side of the road and this is India. Eventually everything righted itself and we all returned to the correct side of the road. I don’t know who comes up with the ridiculous road strategies but no wonder foreigners don’t drive here.
Bangalore has a Metro now I say this lightly as it is really 6 stops on a rail system set on really big pylons above the ground. It seems that building a Metro in Indian is very difficult and takes a very long time. I wonder why. Bangalore is hilly but we managed to do a bit of walking. Unfortunately most of it was past open drains, sewers, polluted waterways and piles of rubbish. Tuk tuk rides were over very potholed streets and through crazy roundabouts.
The tuk tuk guys do use meters but they have a conversion table that has to be used to calculate the fare, so what is on the meter is not correct making us a little more confused. One tuk tuk we got into caused an argument because all he wanted to do was take us shopping, we ended up getting out. We did try walking to the lake but this was all fenced off probably to keep the locals from polluting it.
We did venture into the tourist strip once but the persistent annoying touts saw as leave very quickly. The one amazing area was near the art gallery under the metro line where we walked along a beautiful clean pavement dotted with lots of artwork, hopefully this was a taste of the improvements they are making.
I like early morning as the streets are not crowded and there are minimal touts. We (usually means me) decided to walk to our hotel this was a nice easy 1.5 km walk down the main street and unusually there were minimal packs of dogs so all good. After waking up the Manager he let us in but our room was not ready for 5 hours so back out to the streets we went to go to the Promenade to watch the sunrise.
Pondicherry blocks the waterside Promenade off from traffic from 630pm to 730am, fantastic. Everyone was out walking, running and generally enjoying themselves. Pondicherry has two open drain/sewers, La petite canal and a larger one I nicknamed La grand canal, unfortunately we were staying on the other side of La grand canal and had to cross it if we wanted to go to the French Quarter (White Town) or the Promenade. This involved holding your breath and darting across two lanes of traffic, a bridge and then another two lanes of traffic, I usually found it fun to ask Richard a question while we did this causing him to stop and ask me what I said. This would make him inhale and start yelling expletives, ha ha. La petite canal was not such an issue.
Pondicherry was another place that was small enough not to require a tuk tuk or taxi ride and we happily strolled the streets. The streets unusually had an old name, a French name, a Hindi name and a new name so navigation could get a little tricky.
The tip of India, unfortunately that is all this place has going for it. The infrequent trains are met by many, many tuk tuks, now this is a small town so we were walking everywhere despite being told several times we were foreign and did not know where we were going.
We had a brief notion of taking a ferry out to the monument but (A) Richard took one look at a very, very long winding line and gave a definite no, (B) After Mumbai and Kochi I was a little over ferry crush. We went down to the tip but were a little over the filth and watching Indians just drop their rubbish on the ground gets tired after a while. Unfortunately the tip is a little obscured by markets, rubbish and touts.
One night and back on to the train we went. Most of our train journeys have been a little marred by screaming babies, out of control children or Indians that learnt to whisper in a helicopter. This one involved a mother with a useless husband and a need to constantly shove food in the baby’s mouth even while it was screaming and shaking its head. The other child spent its time pouting and whinging for attention and then had to have the curtains open with light streaming in when it was time to sleep. This did not end well when at 4am the mother decided to have a conversation with her husband at full throttle while Richard was still asleep. After some terse words I think she got the message. This saw us in Pondicherry at 5am.
Finally we got a tuk tuk driver to use a meter, this was only due to a clamp down by the authorities and sometimes it took two or three goes before you found one that would. This didn’t stop me from making Richard walk everywhere, I did feel bad one day when he had to buy a new shirt by 10 o’clock because the one he was wearing was soaked.
Trivandrum was the usual bad roads and nasty traffic but less expensive to get around thanks to meters. We left here on another train opting for a smaller train station but there appears to be a move towards advertising in this region. This was a small train station with a brand new TV mounted every 10 metres running constant noisy ads for products, to make matters worse they keep playing through the train announcements making it even more difficult to figure out what is happening.
Expensive, indulgent but absolutely fantastic. This sums up our houseboat adventure. Three staff and the two of us on the Kerala backwaters for 4 days in our own luxury houseboat. Alleppey has over 500 houseboats and this does not include the day trip boats. Houseboats range from one to two storeys and one to 12 bedrooms.
The first day was spent in the main canals which were chock full of hundreds of other boats and noisy. Day 2 was spent in larger canals with a few other boats and Day 3 was with no one but us. Day 3 may have been because the Captain ran aground and twisted the prop shaft and it took all afternoon and a morning to repair but we were down a very small canal with no one around, absolute bliss.
The Kerala backwaters are freshwater with land being one to two metre strips with larger spots for small houses between huge rice paddies and canals. Small houses dot the area with temples , churches, shops and schools. Wooden boats traverse the canals with goods and people. Metal barges bring in large objects. You can spot the occasional tuk tuk , small van or bike otherwise everything is done by water. Wooden boats powered by pole or egg beater engine travers the waterways. Richard has already mentioned the Duck herder but that was one of many fun sites on the water.
This was the first occasion that we ventured onto a local bus and only because the Captain of our boat was taking us to see a temple. This was a very crowded cramped experience with Richard unable to stand upright as he hit the roof of the bus. We were the source of much entertainment for the locals. Thank goodness it was crowded because it was a very rough and bumpy trip and if you couldn’t move it helped. We sadly departed our boat for yet another train journey.
I had originally planned for us to stay in Kochin but the place I had booked didn’t have AC which Richard would not survive without. So I organised one in Eranakulum a short walk from the train station. On arriving we went for a walk towards the ferry terminal now this did involve some dodgy streets and an dodgier train line crossing. All good during the day but a definite night tuk tuk ride. I thought Jaipur tuk tuk drivers were crazy but Eranakulum is worse. They also ask some very over the top prices which I laugh at and tell them they have rocks in their heads.
Now to get to the rest of Kochin and other areas involves a ferry ride. One storey wooden ferries, quite pleasant really. We rode over and walked the streets for a couple of hours had lunch and caught a ferry back. The streets were the usual no sidewalk, open drains and rubbish ridden as everywhere else.
Next we were off to Alleppey and our house boat which involved a 55 km car ride which I had not organised but had a good idea of what it would cost. After much negotiation we paid a little more but the alternative was a local bus ride which I knew would cause me to spend several days being chastised by my husband. I did not at first understand my husband’s desire to sit in the front seat until I remembered the AC. I am glad it was him not me as I stopped looking after the first 15 minutes, a one lane strip of bitumen should not be made into two to four lanes depending on who wants to pass who and potholes should not be so big as to force everyone to come to a complete stop to traverse them. At least it was day light.
Mangalore was just a quick stop off prior to Kerala. This was also the first time we arrived somewhere at 3am. Luckily I had put us in a decent hotel and we had a room on arrival something you don’t always get. I did make Richard walk a lot here and Mangalore has hills but I also let him eat.
There was one occasion he decided he wanted to go somewhere and vodaphone was having a rest but he assured me he knew where he was going and it was only 800 metres up the road. Now this was 800 metres on Richards google maps not mine which said 25 minutes and 2.4km. Off we set after about 15 minutes I think he realised setting off at night without my google maps is fraught with danger. Fortunately it kicked in and after a couple of hills and some expletives from my husband. We got to our destination and had one of the best meals in Mangalore.
We left here by train during the day but due to an early start there was a ridiculous taxi charge to the train station. I was happy to walk but alas my husband does not like it. This was a 9 hour train journey in a chair car, a bit on the rough side but achievable. This gave us a chance to view the countryside.
They call this a foreign country and I understand why. This is a relatively clean place with minimal taxes full of crazy tourists on mopeds and motorbikes. Clean beaches, lots of alcohol and many society drop outs. One thing that we did see on our crazy drive from the airport trying to avoiding the speeding tourists with no helmets surprised us.
In Australia if you have two bridges side by side on the same road you tend to make one go one way and the other the other way. This does not apply here, yes two bridges side by side on the same road with two way traffic on each, nuts.
The tuk tuk drivers of Goa do at times ask for ridiculous amounts of money for fares fortunately you can easily hire a scooter or motorbike or in our case walk. Again thank god for google, it made it very easy to tell tuk tuk drivers to take a flying leap. In say this there were a few issues with gazetted roads having houses on them and a couple of darkened dirt roads at night but that was minimal and I got to use my torch.
On leaving Goa we went from a small train station this is where we learnt that at the stations where the train stops for 1 to 3 minutes they sometimes have boards telling you where each carriage will be on the platform. The platform then has corresponding numbers, this is quite accurate and makes life a lot easier.
A big city of around 17 million. After having read the tips and noted that Mumbai taxi drivers don’t always know where they are going I had google at the ready. Our trip proved to be no exception but at least this time our driver genuinely had no idea where he was going, not like Delhi. Now I don’t like to jump in too early with instructions because you never know what the current road conditions are like. The other point that I have to make is I can read English and know how to follow a map which taxi drivers don’t seem to be able to do. Due to road works and a distraught driver we stopped about 5 minutes from our hostel and walked the rest.
We actually did this a few times in Mumbai as the taxi drivers were only good for well known places or hotels. Tuk tuks are not allowed in the city so only taxis ply their trade and there are thousands of them. They spent most of the day parked on the side of the road except for the peak hours in the morning and evening. The same goes for the police. There are about 6 officers every 300 meters along areas like Marine Drive. They spend most of the day talking or sitting and reading until peak hours when they blow their whistles and direct traffic.
There are plenty of traffic lights mixed with crazy roundabouts with no rules. I understand the many signs saying ‘stop at the stop line’ as they just keep inching in front of each other until they are almost in the opposite flow of traffic while you are attempting to cross the road. There are a few pedestrian underpasses for some of the nastier roundabouts or roads. There are still the occasional hand pulled cart, pedal driven cart, ox cart, horse drawn carriage and a camel cart. Cows are minimal and general only come out at night where you find them tethered to a tree.
We didn’t venture onto the local trains or buses choosing to walk and catch taxis back if required. Mumbai does have some sidewalks but unfortunately they can be difficult to walk on as traders set their stalls up on them or people park their bikes on them. The streets are cleaner with a lot less open drains, at least in the city.
Mumbai has a bay with ferries. We decided to embark on a day trip to Elephanta Island. Our first attempt at this was an afternoon where after seeing the crowds we beat a haste retreat and decided we would attempt it again first thing in the morning.
The morning was much less crowded and we had a lovely ferry ride through the smog on the polluted brown water of the bay. After a climb to the caves we returned to the pier to catch a boat back. As the morning is busy with everyone getting to the island only about one in ten boats take passengers back. The return boat on the dock wasn’t very nice and was very crowded so we decided to wait for the next one.
Richard came up with a brilliant idea of asking the next offloading boat if we could just jump on and go with them. Surprisingly they said yes and on we jumped, leaving behind a group of unhappy Indian tourists who tried the same trick and were refused. We had the whole boat to ourselves, much better way to travel. There is generally a down side to something good and this became evident as we were pulling up to the dock. We were not being let off at the offloading site but rather at the on boarding site. We watched as the boat ahead was swamped by stampeding Indian tourists pushing and shoving their way on to the empty boat as it docked, this could be interesting. The smart crew cleared right out of the away and left us to it. This was not helped by the lack of gangplank, moving boat and the sideways facing stairs we were disembarking to. Richard jumped first and managed to get off but by then the hordes were advancing. After a little yelling and some shoving I managed to get them to see reason and the crowds parted so I could get off. Thank god we decided to go early in the morning.
Mumbai is the first place I have seen someone doing their washing in the middle of the road works on an up turned cement barrier but there this lady was pounding away. I thought this unusual until one evening I came across a guy washing the tea towels on the cement sidewalk. Best not to dwell.
Now we had to catch a flight from Mumbai to Goa so with much trepidation we headed to the airport. Different airline, different airport very different experience. The efficiency, the politeness and the customer service was excellent. We still had to produce our initial documents but only to one guard and he was very polite and happy. The check in line while very long was manned by staff who direct everyone and ensured those who required assistance were given it. Carryon luggage tags were handed over and they were also available at the security checkpoint so no one got sent back. The security staff were very polite and efficient. Even a last minute gate change was easily dealt with. The cabin crew were extremely helpful and polite and the Captain kept apologising for the plane being late. Considering this was also a budget airline there was no excuse for the other one.
It is all about James Bond and Octopussy. This is a small town of approximately 400,000 with tiny streets and lanes riddled with tourists. Anywhere else we have been has restricted the small roads and alleys to tuk tuks, foot traffic and animals. Udaipur still allows cars this results in lots of jams and hilarious situations as cars and tuk tuks back up and try to manoeuvre around each other and you are constantly jumping out of the way. This is even more hilarious on a bridge.
Udaipur is set up around a series of lakes so now we have boats, lots of tourist boats. These range from almost unseaworthy to the deluxe boat bring residents from the Lake Palace to the shore. We did attempt a boat trip but unfortunately if you are a westerner there is a 400% mark up on taking a small boat on a 30 minute trip where you can’t see all that much due to the smog. Most of the time we sat in our hostels roof top bar and watched the tourist boats pass by.
We did however take a trip, a day in the countryside. This involved 5 of us including the driver squeezing into a small car for a drive to a fort and a temple. Now it was 2-3 hours to the fort, this involved driving at pace down sometimes narrow, pot holed roads having to pass slow vehicles and buses. All I can say is, ‘not sitting in the front seat’, ‘ignoring the no seatbelt’ and ‘not looking where we are going’. We did stop a couple of times to take pictures of a dying practice of using oxen to pull water up to the fields. I even got to drive them at one stage. Absolutely fascinating.
We also stopped in a town for ?lunch of sorts. Here our fellow traveller when finished her lunch had some rubbish left over. She asked the local shopkeeper if he had a rubbish bin to dispose of her rubbish. He promptly took it from her and threw it on the ground ignoring her pleas of “no,no,no”. No wonder the place is in the state it is.
Well back to our drive. After making it to the fort and trampling all over it we got back in the car and set off for a temple another 1-2 hours away. This time we had to avoid, cows, buffalo, monkeys, dogs and stupid tourists along with everything else. Still ‘not looking out front’ or ‘sitting in the front seat’. We arrived at the temple and went exploring as our fellow travellers were dropped off at a local town. Our driver picking us up and Richard forced me to sit in the front seat. My, ‘you will have more room in the front’, did not work this time. The consolation was a seat belt. We then raced along the lane ways avoiding the stupid tourists in the bus who stopped to feed the monkeys in the middle of the road on a blind corner.
Now the sun was setting which means the cows and buffalo are returning to town via the roads and tend to appear out of nowhere. After a few close scrapes we found ourselves on an Indian highway. Now it would appear that despite two actual marked lanes you are supposed to drive in the middle of the road with the white line in the middle of your car, go figure. Thank you to our lovely, competent driver who got us there and back in one piece. He did provide us with another piece of information. A lot of Indians drive but have no licence apparently you just give the policeman money if you get stopped. Explains a lot
This then led to our first domestic airport trip. A short one hour flight to Mumbai. Now Indians do not like to get up early so I was forced to settle for a 5 am pick up for a 30 minute trip to the airport and a 7 am flight. Arriving at the airport was the easy part.
You are not allowed into the airport without a copy of your ticket and photo id. Easy enough as I had my phone so I showed the guard an email and after showing him how to use the phone to view the whole email he let us through. Next you have to go past another guard and produce the same information to get to the bag security area and the check in counter. The two guards are about 20 metres apart. After repeating the first process we stood in line to have our bag scanned. This involved one bag at a time slowly going through a scanner as 3 people viewed the screen. Once it was scanned they put a tape and stickers on it then handed it back to you.
Next step is the check in counter, here they weigh your bags. Now India allows only 15 kg per person of checked in luggage and one correct size carryon bag. We knew we were carrying more than this so we had to pay excess baggage. The airline we were flying does not allow you to pay for this ahead of time but only at the airport. So the fun began, we then had to go out passed the second guard to another counter to pay for the baggage and as you could not get your boarding pass until you produced your receipt you had to show the guard your print out and photo id again before you could get back in. Once you have your receipt you then have to go back to the check in counter and get your boarding pass.
This is where you think, good alright to go, but no. We then got in the security line to go to the boarding gate. Once we got to the top of a long line we were turned back as the check in staff had neglected to give us tags for our carryon luggage. These, as it turns out, are the small name tags with the elastic band that airlines give you to write your name on your luggage, nothing special. After we retrieved these and attached them back to security we went. After almost completely stripping down, with separate lines for boys and girls, and being given 3 ping pong bats for the three things I had to send back through the screening, we managed to come out the other side. After exchanging my ping pong bats for my objects, redressing and ensuring the all important tags and boarding pass had been stamped we headed to the gate. The whole process since arriving at the airport taking around an hour and a half.
Our flight was called and after being checked again by another guard to ensure your boarding pass and carryon luggage are all stamped we were allowed to board. No wonder only one flight an hour manages to leave the airport. Now this Indian airline is not high on customer service. Despite being a relatively new plane with all the usual mod cons none of them were in use. They raced through the emergency protocols as if they were reading the racing guide and there was a reward the quicker they could say them. No drinks or service, just paying customers who were obviously an inconvenience. The one highlight, plenty of room for cabin baggage.
A civilised train trip at 5am saw us in Jaisalmer by 12pm. This is a small town of 80,000 people centred around a fort and tourists. A small camel trip was in order for this particular place. Now neither of us have ridden camels before but knowing my husband as I do I knew to keep the time on a camel to a minimum and boy was I right.
It all started with a jeep ride out into the desert. Now normally tourists sit in the back of the jeep but alas there was no way Richard would fit, so he sat in the front seat, always a bad idea. We trundled along at speed except for the occasional speed bump. Speed bumps in Australia are very well sign posted these were not. There are no markings on the road or signs just a small line of rocks on both sides of the of the road placed in a line.
On arriving at the dunes two camels were produced and off we rode for the hour through the dunes. Surprisingly Richard lasted the whole trip although he did complain about no longer having any testicles. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos as it was impossible to take a photo on a moving camel, I tried.
I do have concerns about the dunes. One the rubbish that is everywhere, according to the locals this is recent in the last 5 years and it is Indian tourists not foreigners that are to blame. The other is the four wheel drivers who just storm all over the dunes again Indian not foreigners. Although it is funny watching the local camel drivers chasing after the jeeps to see if they want to ride on a camel.
We wandered the dirt lanes during the day and into the evening avoiding pot holes, cows and cow pats. We also wandered the lanes of the old fort and even managed to stroll along the edge carefully avoiding the sewerage and open drains.
We took another train ride out of here back to Jaipur, Richard rejoicing that he gets another night at the roof top restaurant at our old hostel. Unfortunately our train trip was marred by a one hour delay and a stupid American tourist which I will now explain.
In the sleeping compartment of the train (1AC & 2AC) you get two sheets, a blanket and a baby pillow for your bunk. The factors to note in this story are foreigners don’t always have the luxury of being able to prebook tickets and have to rely on tourist quotas to get a berth. At this time of year this can be impossible so for some people travelling. Sometimes only one ticket gets confirmed in the good berth and the other has to ride in third class (no allocated seating, jam packed and nasty). Due to this they decide to try and fit two people in a bunk or they decide they will just sleep on the floor in the compartment. Now there was a couple sharing a bunk in our compartment and they did this with ease causing nil inconvenience. Alas the American decided he would sleep on the floor which is not allowed. He was discovered by the Conductor around midnight in a vacant bunk because the people who had booked that bunk had just got on the train. After yelling at the Conductor and then moving back to his compartment to lie on the floor he was told this was not allowed, more yelling. Then it was discovered that the blanket from the bunk of the person getting on was missing. This then led to more yelling as a blanket hunt was conducted which involved turning on all the lights and counting blankets, by now it was about 1 am. Eventually things settled down and the Conductor kindly found the American a staff bunk next to the toilet and found him a sheet.
Thinking that all was good we all went back to sleep only to be woken again an hour later by the new Conductor checking tickets by turning on all the lights, unfortunately I had had enough so I yelled at him that our tickets had already been checked in Jaisalmer, he quickly apologised and turned the lights out. I wondered if he has ever heard of a torch.
All went well until 430am. Why ? There are no announcements in Indian trains, some trains travel for 3 days and make over 50 stops, most station stops are two minutes, small stations names are only in Hindi, only 1AC has any staff attached to it, staff don’t always speak English and trains can be hours late and can catch up time at stages and then be on schedule. I have negated all this by a brilliant phone app which has train live status. This again paid off on this trip because all the foreigners were up at 430am as we were due at our station shortly and I knew we were two hours behind schedule and still had 3 stations to go. Indian Rail app by Coolapps rules.
Our next train trip was from Jaipur to Udaipur and was the best one so far. We scored two bunks on their own in their own curtained off compartment. Best overnight sleep especially as our destination was the last stop.
Another train ride but this one started at 3am. This time we were in 1AC, as good as it gets, unfortunately not a patch on Chinese trains but at least you could lock the door. It was a pleasant enough trip despite the early start and the 20 minute walk to the train station in the dark because it was too short a trip for tuk tuk or taxi drivers at that hour.
Tuk tuks in Jodhpur are the old fashion kind, two stroke, and larger. They sound like a lawn mower. To add to the mix most streets are alleys about 1.5 to 2 metres wide which can barely fit two tuk tuks side by side. All I can say is Thank God for Google maps and a Google phone because this is the only way you can navigate the labyrinth of alleys with absolute certainty. This meant that we could wander the place and navigate without needing to take tuk tuks and many an hour was wasted wandering Jodhpur.
Roundabouts got an added twist here as they were watering holes for the cows. The alleys brought back images of Chinese alleys as cars, bikes and carts were moved so alleys could be negotiated by tuk tuks and you constantly were moving from side to side to stop from being run over or ducking into shops to avoid standing in open drains as traffic passed.
Another train ride took us to Jaipur. Now I do have an app on my phone to check the live train status and on consulting this we knew our train was at least an hour and a half late so we settled into the fast food outlet at the train station and had breakfast.
This time we were travelling 2AC and hoping for a better ride. We managed to swap one seat with a fellow traveller and got the side upper and lower bunk with a window. After sitting together for a while on the lower bunk Richard finally kicked me out to my top bunk where I had a nice couple of hour nap. On returning I showed him how the seats could be moved to make two seats so we could look out the window together comfortably. All in all a very pleasant way to spend 5 and a half hours watching the world go by.
Jaipur is the usual mix of road transport with a few elephants thrown in. We spent one day riding around in tuk tuks viewing the forts. I swear our tuk tuk driver is a frustrated rally car driver. At one point we were headed down a one way lane with loads of traffic coming at us, it is best not to look. Most of the time tuk tuk rides feel like the old cartoon Wacky Races, I think I am Penelope Pitstop but Richard thinks he is Dick Dastardly and I am Mutley (I think it is the way I laugh).
Jaipur saw the first real appearance of jeeps. The other interesting thing was the cars pulling over taking up a lane as they were served lassi and cakes from their favourite cart or shop. Roundabouts in India have no real rules just get on and off as quickly as you can without hitting anything and avoid the cows. There is no slowing down just trundle in at speed and hope for the best. I have seen traffic lights, apparently some you have to stop at but others are just a guide. The buses are getting crappier and the cars more dented but the tuk tuk drivers are not as harassing, a shake of your hand or head and they usually go away.
We took the train. The best I had been able to do was a sleeper seat which appeared ok until a family arrived and tried to squeeze 4 people into two seats. Richard was not impressed by this. It got worse as our 3 hour train trip extended out to 5 hours. But all in all it was doable.
We got a prepaid taxi to our hotel with no issues, so things appeared to be looking up. The next day we set out really early to get our tickets for the Taj Mahal. We took a peddle tuk tuk to the ticket office, never again. If you can imagine a small skinny Indian pedalling two fat white people up hill, not a good look and definitely no fun. Needless to say we will not be repeating that again.
Agra does not have any real sidewalks you can see what is left of the infrastructure but without any maintenance it is all disappearing. Added to the usually types of transport are camel carts for the tourists to ride and lots of wandering cows.
Delhi Tuk Tuk drivers have nothing on the ones in Agra who can be very pesky. Trying to walk anywhere is almost impossible without being setup on every 10 metres, our only respite was the main road to the Agra Fort from the Taj Mahal where auto tuk tuks are not allowed.
One trip to the baby Taj turned into a nightmare as all modes of transport tried crossing one bridge and brought new meaning to bumper to bumper as they all fought for every inch of space. Making it slightly more scary was the 50cm drop from one side of the road to the other with no barrier. I also was amazed at how many people could be squeezed into a tuk tuk.
Another flight took us from Guangzhou to New Delhi. This flight was with a Chinese airline but full of Indians. Richard spent the first 20 minutes fobbing of the guy sitting between us who really wanted his aisle seat while I was not giving up my window seat to sit between two boofie guys again. Chinese airhostesses do not offer any level of service and the planes are quite old. If you remember the really old headsets that were like stethoscopes you may have some idea. They do show a movie but it is the same movie repeated three times, this was Richards first really Bollywood movie viewing, he really doesn’t like it when people break into song and dance for no real reason.
I had spent some time reading about the usual scams and was therefore semi prepared for issues, Richard on the other hand appears to be a little more trusting and doesn’t always appreciate my hard line. We went with a prepaid taxi hoping that this would minimise issues, sorry to say no. The taxi drivers behaviour at times was farcical. First he told us the address was wrong and he didn’t know where it was, I showed him on the map but he fobbed me off. He took us to a blocked of road (later we found out this was the road to the US embassy) then he told us this was the only way in and he would have to ask people. He then pulled over and took the piece of paper with the address and then proceeded to run around pretending to asking people. He then returned to the car saying no one knew and he would have to go to the office to get assistance. When I stated we could call I was fobbed off. He then took us to his office. By this time I was pretty peeved off and sent Richard into the office knowing that they would try to sell him tours etc. Eventually they both returned with Richard getting quite enraged by now. The taxi driver then stated he now knew where he was going but it would be an extra 10km and cost more, this just made me see red. After telling him that we were now going past roads we have already been on and my next call would be the office or the police. This seemed to do the trick and we soon arrived at our destination with the taxi driver stating we could tip him as much as we like. You can imagine Richard and my responses, needless to say they are unprintable.
Delhi traffic is not as busy as China but with a broader range of on road transport. Transport includes newer taxis, old 1960 style taxis, tuk tuks both pedal and auto, horse and cart, tractor and trolley, buses, trucks and bicycles. Their driving behaviour is less organised and their horn honking at times unnecessary. Crossing the road is still like human frogger and sidewalks are a little hit and miss with a good 50cm drop to the road. We did try walking a few times but this could be very difficult with tuk tuk drivers constantly pestering Richard.
We travelled on the Metro which was clean and easy to use all though at times stations can be a little hidden down a back alley. We did attempt the HO HO bus or the Hop on Hop off bus but after waiting at a stop for an hour calling to be told the bus was 5 minutes away, then waiting another 20 minutes with no bus in sight we gave this up as another Delhi scam and moved on. Delhi is not a favourite on either of our lists and we are hoping to avoid it in the future.
We took another flight to get us to Guangzhou, this plane had life vests but the Chinese seem to have developed the American idea of carry-on luggage. It has been a while since I have seen so many oversized and probably overweight bags being carried on, with most carrying two or three large bags. This required lots of extra loading and unloading time and included some very frustrated Hostesses.
Our in-flight food was a sweet bread roll with pickled cabbage and a piece of sponge cake, I will never complain about Australian in-flight snacks again. Like our last flight they do not turn off the seat belt sign and so you cannot use any electronic devices, this mixed with the magazines being in Chinese did not impress husband.
The airport is linked to the city by a Metro and armed with my Explore Guangzhou Metro app off we went. The Guangzhou Metro is more crowded than the Beijing Metro and one stop scared us completely. It was announced that if you wanted Line X you get off left and Line Y you get off right. This mixed with people also getting on through both open doors was like a Boxing Day Sale rush. After a few trips on the Metro we have also discovered that some people in Guangzhou are very pushy, we have witnessed on a few occasions people hurtling themselves or their children full pelt at a vacant seat.
We have had one mishap where we went up an escalator think we were transferring to the next line only to discover it was an exit with no ability to back track. Fortunately we were joined by a few fellow Chinese travellers who had made the same mistake. After pushing the available buzzer and waving furiously at passing staff someone arrived to unlock the gate and march us all unceremoniously through the station to access the required line. We got the impression this happens a bit.
We have also discovered that one of our local streets goes through a major transformation after dark. During the day it is a normal two way street with a few shops and carts spilling out onto the sidewalk but after dark the street comes alive with restaurants and the road becomes one lane only, of course going in both directions. The road is filled with tables and chairs alongside food venders cooking everything from oysters to steam pots.
This became a little more chaotic last night as the building site in the middle decided to do a night pour of concrete. The other thing I forgot to mention is that this street is also a bus route. Amazingly it all works out with a little obligatory horn honking. We happily sat on the road watching while eating our clay pots and drinking beer.
Our Bamboo raft trip to Yangshuo turned out to be a PVC boat, with us sitting on a park bench, powered by an electric beater. Despite this it was a wonderful experience and I would happily do it again. The local bus ride I would not necessarily repeat. While it has seating capacity for 20 I am sure at least 60 of us were piled on the bus not including goods, at least no chickens. I did wonder what a pile of children’s plastic stools were doing on the bus until it got busy. Apparently they are the extra seats which are pulled out as needed and placed anywhere they will fit and sat on, when they are not required they are neatly stacked in the corner.
We did get to experience a “real” Bamboo raft. This is a bunch of bamboo strapped together with two bamboo reclining chairs and a man on the back propelling you down the river with a bamboo pole. A Chinese Gondola. A very serene trip except for the obligatory tourist stuff of sending you down a manmade cement drop where someone could take your picture, laminate it and charge you 20 Yuan for the pleasure. I would still happily go again.
Knowing my husband’s requirement to take the easy way we hired electric bikes. Now both of us thought this meant a bike you could occasionally pedal and just use the motor when needed, No this was a moped. Now anyone who has read the above will understand my trepidation at this little adventure but off we went. After a little practice we got the acceleration and brakes worked out. In some respects thank god they don’t us indicators as we never got the hang of those. It is fine to have a horn, in fact these bikes had two, one on each side, but when you don’t know horn honking rules, you are not sure of their appropriate use. After initially using it to release out pent up frustration of being honked at constantly for weeks we ended up only using it if really necessary.
We survived our exploit despite at the end both not being able to traverse a rather difficult 4 lane merge into a left turn at a roundabout. This required a two km detour and a scary U-turn into oncoming traffic and a drive back sandwiched between trucks and buses having lost each other before the initial turn. We arrived back safe thinking thank god this place isn’t busy.
Yangshou does have one interesting vehicle best described as a Chinese ute. It is a green truck powered by what looks like and sounds like a tractor engine. The vehicles front has no cover and it has a unique sound he can heard from afar. These things are loaded up with all manner of things and people and potter around town all day belching black smoke every inch of the way.
This was our first domestic plane flight in China. The first interesting thing we noted was our seat numbers 41J and 41K. Now we were going to a small place so how big was a plane to require 41 rows and to use J and K seats. We went to the gate which had buses for transport and no air bridges so we became a little more curious. On getting in the plane, about the size of a Dash 8 we found that the rows started at 30 and there were single seats on one side and a two on the other.
We sat back for the safety demonstration which unusually did not include a life vest demonstration. On completion we read the safety leaflet to find there were no safety vests, your seat cushion could be removed and hugged as your floatation device if required. This was a first for both of us.
I did get to sit in the front seat for the taxi ride to the Hostel. I don’t know what he has been complaining about I had a lovely drive. Apparently being the only car on a four lane highway for most of the trip does not count.
Guilin was also where we experienced the most bone jarring bus ride ever. The ride lasted at least two hours one way and included single lane winding mountain trails with 90 degree turns traversed at speed while honking before and during the turn to warn oncoming traffic of your existence. This mixed with the hairy overtaking practices lead to a drive best forgotten.
Unfortunately we arrived just after 5pm which is apparently taxi handover and dinner time. As it was dark we decided the 3 km trip was probably best done by taxi rather than walking. We headed for the taxi rank and were immediately set upon by the black list taxi touts. The constant banter continued as we waited in a very long line as the man in charge yelled things in Chinese and displayed information on an electronic board, again in Chinese. To go with this the Chinese can be a little pushy and love to queue jump. I took to using my considerable backpack still located on my back as a deterrent to the invasion of my personal space and any would be queue jumpers. An hour and a half later we stuffed ourselves in a taxi and produced another note for this driver. Into the chaotic peak hour traffic we trundled and were fine until our taxi traversed from the far right to the far left on the opposite side of the road (across 4 lanes of oncoming chaos) to drop us off.
Our next Wuhan taxi experience was on the day we departed to the airport a 6am. My first step was to get the staff to write me some more notes for our next journey. This would have worked had the night staff spoken english. After several uses of both his and my translator we got ourselves sorted and headed down the alley not sure where we would find our ordered taxi. At the end of the alley I was greeted by a hurrying Chinese man flapping his arms like a bird. I took this to mean he was the taxi driver and were we going to the airport. We piled into the taxi and set out. Now it must be said that this was the third or fourth time my darling husband had sat in the front passenger seat for one of these rides, I think this was the worst. We hurdled at great speed weaving through the traffic and honking while the driver used a cloth to demist the windscreen every few minutes. This mixed with his mobile phone, other drivers, trucks and buses with the occasional sections of fog requiring the application of hazard lights led to an interesting trip. My husband then requested that I should also experience a trip or two from the front passenger seat as this trip was really enough for him.
We were really only there for an hour or two but this was the first time we were forced into catching a black list taxi and to get our own train tickets. We trudged off the boat holding several pieces of paper with english converted to Chinese by the lovely reception staff.
Step one – Get a cab to the train station 40 minutes away – Unfortunately no metered taxi’s just touts and mini buses. We hooked up with another couple going our way and managed to get a van for 100yuan. As soon as we were all tucked into the van with all our luggage the price suddenly went up. So out we all piled. We then spent the next 10 minutes doing a to and fro with another driver as we lugged our gear up the hill headed to what we hoped would be a taxi stand. We finally came to an agreement with the driver and we piled into the van and headed off. There is no taxi stand at the top of the hill, in fact there was nothing but road and it was more than 40 minutes drive and there was a toll involved. We were very happy to pay our money at the end.
Step two – Get a train ticket to Wuhan – We went with the manual approach. First look at the board and figure out when the next train went, board only in Chinese. Second go to the window with translated note and hope for the best. Winner, lady behind the counter spoke english. Lovely 2 hour train ride reaching speeds of 198km/hr.
This section involved boats and sampans. The boat was easy, the sampan involved 12 western tourists sitting in rows of threes on a wooden bench as a team rowed or in one section pulled you along from the bank. We got on and off the sampan one by one precariously assisted by the boatmen. The ship locks and the trip through them was really the only enjoyable part to a rather forgettable plastic tourist trip
Same chaos but add hills and the most amazing hardworking porters you have ever seen. These guys either use a bamboo pole with two pieces of rope or any imaginable type of trolley to lug huge hessian bags full of stuff around. The choice for us was to take the crazy roads or roam the back alleys, some of which are building sites, and climb stairs. Mostly we chose back alleys and stairs, lots and lots of stairs.
We occasionally took to walking as far as we could and then catching a metered taxi back to our hostel. Which was fine except our hostel was a little hard to find as during the day it was a loading dock, thank god for google maps the first one or two times after this we learnt to make gestures to the driver and get out on the opposite side of the street. So far we have lived down alleys but this was our first wharf. We not only braved the Metro but for the first time the local buses which even after our first trip with a hostel guide I think may be a little beyond the non-chinese speaking of us. From here we hopped a cruise boat down the river.
Just when you thought the sidewalk was the last bastion of the pedestrian you visit Xian. Beijing road chaos moved to the sidewalk. In Beijing large cars are limited to business districts but in Xian they have taken it to the next level and include the sidewalk as a road way and a parking lot. This includes market day when some drivers think it is necessary to drive a large 4 wheel drive through the throngs of people and the scooters take to the sidewalk as people shop from the seat of their scooter.
The other interesting aspect of the city is the giant human roundabout under the Bell Tower. This is an amazing underpass which has several exits as you traverse underground in a giant circle which is fine if you understand the language not so if you have no idea where you are going and have to rely on your sense of direction.
This is the place where you spend some of your time playing human frogger in an attempt to cross the road using the white lane markers as traffic islands. Horn honking is just because and not always to say I am passing. It appears you can park anywhere except the road.
The land of the electric bike and really small cars. The sidewalk thing has slightly improved but apparently bikes and scooters get to use them to. This is where I learnt that a green walk sign does not stop turning traffic from turning and running you over nor bikes or bicycles. Crossings do not mean you can just cross, in fact I am not sure why the stripes are on the road other than to let you know that this maybe an ok spot to cross the road. Also available are underpasses and overpasses of varying quality, some of these are amazing constructs that allow you to cross in all directions.
The horn honking (used to let you know they are passing) is a given and also essential as a lot of scooters and bikes are electric and make no real sound, although I don’t think it is necessary for them to wait until they are almost on top of you before honking and scaring you out of your wits. The array of small vehicle innovations is amazing. This is definitely why the small car is necessary. The other interesting aspect is the parking and movement of cars in the small compact alleys that were not really designed for the modern car. A trip down an alley may be quite time consuming as other cars are moved and obstacles negotiated to allow movement. The cold weather innovations on bicycles and scooters include gloves like oversized oven mittens attached to the handle bars so your hands don’t freeze and a matching over the knee blanket while you ride with fur lining, how civilised. Again no seatbelts, bald tyres and do you really need to load the vehicle so it looks like an ant carrying an apple.
The land of the Jeepney. All I can say is where did the sidewalk go. The horn honking and the chaos you get used to but the lack of sidewalk is something else. Through all the chaos it sort of works except in some instances when 12 lanes try to become 4, and I am using the term lanes in a broad sense, who pays any regard to lines drawn anywhere. The mixture of large trucks, buses, jeepneys, taxis, motorbikes, motorised rickshaws and peddle rickshaws all attempting to go places leads to an almost constant, horn honking chaos.
The Jeepney – a fantastic mode of public transport where extended jeeps are personalised and made into a bus service with the route written on the side. The cost is dependent on air conditioning or not, with the fee passed from one person to another all the way to the driver. These can be very elaborately decked out or all shiny and silver.
The taxis – The yellow ones are controlled the others are not and sometimes getting them to put the meter on can lead to you opening the door and removing yourself and your belongings. This is when you are thankful for the bad traffic. Don’t even get me started on the no seatbelt thing, the bald tyres and many other safety considerations I use to take for granted.
All I can add is don’t look and pretend you are elsewhere while in the car, wear covered shoes when walking and the lines on the road make good traffic islands when crossing a four lane road. Also avoid the front seat as it is difficult to avoid looking at the oncoming world and makes for a more white knuckled ride.