Beijing and pictures!

Now I'm in Beijing. The train took 14 hours which was a bit too much on a hard seat where you could hardly sleep. But it wasn't that bad! So far in Beijing I haven't done much. First day went to finding my way to the guesthouse, finding out that both the Mongolian and Russian embassy were already closed and from there just strolling around town. I found a reaaally nice park. Met a Russian girl in a cafe in the park and we ended up spending the rest of the day together. We didn't do that much though - just went around trying different cafes and later on bars. Played some pool and went to a night club in the evening. Nice place but not that special really.

Today I've fixed my Mongolian visa. I will pick it up att 3 pm, but I'm beginning to realize that these visas will ruin me! Since I'm kind of in a hurry I have to pay a lot for express visas, probably around 1500 SEK/yuan for both the Mongolian and Russian visa. Will get the Russian tomorrow I hope. Then I have the time to actually see Beijing, do some sightseeing, go to the Great Wall and get a train ticket to Ulaan-Bataar. Plan is to don't stay that long in Beijing - I'm curious about Mongolia now!

And yeah - I finally managed to upload all the pictures from Chengdu, Xi'An, Shanghai and Beijing - so now there's probably a few hundred pictures awaiting the interested in a new album! Haven't written comments to all of them yet - will do that ASAP.


Sightseeing in and around Shanghai

Yesterday I had a nice day trip to West Lake (Xihu, Xiwu or something like that - learning a word is easy, remembering it is hard...). I went to the bus station where I successfully got a ticket to Hangzhou, which is a small city outside of Beijing and right next to the lake. It is always interesting to buy tickets by yourself - you have to get through the crowd in front of the office (no, there is no real queue, just a crowd surging in the same direction), pronounce the city name correct or show them the characters and then understand when the bus leaves, from where and how much you're supposed to pay. And of course they don't speak English.

Anyway, after a semi-long bus ride to Hangzhou I firstly went by local bus to the train station, bought a train ticket back (same procedure - use your elbows, try to communicate and then try to pay). After that I got a taxi down to the lake. The weather wasn't that good - it was raining slightly. I didn't mind though. The lake was beautiful and it was still warm enough to walk around in a hoodie. It was easy to see that Hangzhou was a smaller city - not on the buildings (many skysrapers, I would guess the city is only slightly smaller than Stockholm), but on the people were soooo fascinated with me. They couldn't have many "whities" living in that city and most tourists were Chinese (I did see two girls that could have been from Turkey and an old man from Poland or something like that, but that's the only Westerners I saw). The local people would be in groups and when one saw me they would whisper something and then the whole group would "accidently turn around" to see me - very subtle indeed! :) But I guess I was a bit of a sight - apart from being tall and white, I was also only wearing t=shirt and hoodie and looking really happy in the middle of the rain when everyone else was hiding under umbrellas and looking miserable. I like the quote from the book saying that "Physical discomfort is only a problem if you're in a bad mood" and for some reason I was in a really good mood this day.

After a long walk around the lake I saw bits of the city (could have been Shanghai really - skyscrapers, large banks, McDonalds and all the large chains) before taking a cab to the train station to catch the train back. In the evening me and Ashley went to dinner at an Italian pasta-place - not so genuinely Chinese and perhaps not the cheapest place to eat in town, but definetly worth every yuan! Yum! Had a delicious lasagne with spinach and goat cheese and two glasses of really good wine as well! Panna cotta finished of the meal nicely! :)

Today I've done some more "queueing" in Shanghai - to get my train ticket to Beijing. I'm leaving this afternoon, on hard seats for an overnight train that takes 14 hours (give or take a few hours). This one was a real challenge, it took me like half an hour to find the ticket office for a start. They had really nice huge signs showing the way in English - almost all the way. Suddenly the signs just disappear and you're left wandering around the block trying to find a huge crowd of people inside something that could be a ticket office. After finding it I had to stand in line for like one hour, which was actually good since I got the chance to learn how to read the large electronic board showing all departures the next ten days. First I found out how to spell Beijing in Chinese characters (the board is of course only in Chinese), then how to read out which date was actually showing, then doing it at the same time at high speed (the departures - 20 at a time, would only show for five seconds or so), then I found out how to read out hard seat, hard sleeper, soft seat and soft sleeper in Chinese and then how to see whether they were available at a given departure and whether they were sold out or not... Doing all this took me more or less the full hour and from there on I just practiced for myself how to actually order the hard seats for the departure I had choosen. It turned out to work like a charm - she didn't have to use the limited English she actually knew and the tickets were only 175 yuan - much less than bus or hard sleeper would have been.

The rest of the day i've been walking around in shanghai, seeing the Bund again (this time in better weather), seeing the old town and other parts of the town which I guess doesn't really have a name.

Still haven't uploaded pictures - there are loads to come from Xi'An, Shanghai, Hangzhou and so on. In Beijing I'm sure I'll find a great place to upload them - this cafe doesn't really cut it.


Partying in Shanghai and seeing the acrobats

The birthday party for Dan (a friend and colleague of Ashley) o Saturday night turned out to be just perfect. We started off by going to an "all you can eat and drink" Indian restaurant where you pay 80 yuan for an Indian buffet (which was delicious) and free beer. A nice way to start the evening, and after a while more than 25 people turned up. Great to meet the friends of Ashley - they were all so friendly (most of them were English teacher but also the occasional Japanese teacher and one or two locals). From there we went to a bar called Windows Temple or something like that which might have been one of the best bars I've been to. They played good music, there was a dance floor, the music wasn't too loud so you could actually sit down and talk without a problem, there was a (good) pool table where you could play some pool to catch your breath after dancing, the drinks were only 10 yuan each and most importantly - they were showing some snooker games on TV! Got to see the game between Hendry and O'Sullivan and then a game with Hendry and Ding Junhui if I recall it correctly. I was just stunned - didn't realize I missed snooker so much! :)

Sunday was great as well. After a nice brunch me and Dan strolled along the famous Nanjing Road down to the riverside street known as the Bund. Ashley went back to sleep a bit more, so we had a few hours of just walking around town, seeing some great views (view over Renmin Square from a hotel reception on the 38th floor), drinking some coffee at Starbucks, seeing the "old Shanghai" at the Bund and being annoyed with the smog and the fog that made photographing close to impossible.

Had dinner with Ashley at a Chinese pizza place, cheap, good pizzas and they actually had enus in English which helped a bit. Peas on a pizza isn't that bad actually! From there we went to the circus where we saw a show called the Intersection of Time. It was just awesome - two hours of pure astonishment! The acrobats were just amazing, all the tricks, flips and other stuff they did was great and it was all nicely mixed with live music - a mix of modern beats and traditional music, some nice light shows, intereesting use of lights and shadows to empasize on different parts of the show and a neverending stream of great performances. The romantic side of me was mostly impressed with the part were a guy and a girl were swinging about in "silk curtains" - it was just beautiful! The technology side of me was much impressed with eight motobikes inside a small "steel ball" - driving around in crazy speed and patterns in a space so small that only one driver at a time could be "on the bottom" of the baal! Amazing! Other numbers included juggling with ming-wases, doing crazy flips through rings (seemed like great fun), doing triple flips with some twists up to the top of four people on top of each other shoulders and much more that I can't even put words to. Wow! No photos were allowed though - so you will just have to trust me that it was all extremely interesting, amazing, great, beautiful and a handful of other superlatives!

Today I'm plaaning to do a day trip to the West Lake, so I will write more about that later I suppose. Pictures will be uploaded as soon as I get to a real computer (i.e. not a Mac)!



So, my first day of actual sightseeing in Shanghai. Yesterday night we went to a Shanghainese restaurant and had some great food together with Ashley's sister, her boyfriend and some of their friends. It was great, the food was just awesome and the company was good. The only not-so-good part was the baiyou (spelling?) which is rice-wine. Extremely potent and with a taste that would haunt you through the rest of the evening, night and early morning. From there we went to a bar with some of Ashley's friends. It was nice - chillin', talking and playing some dart. All in all a nice and not to extreme night out.

Today we've been to the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum which has a great model of the whole town and we've seen some parts of the town as well. Now we're going to a birthday dinner for one of Boston's friends. Will be writing more tomorrow I reckon.


Xi'An and Shanghai

Having your own personal Chinese guide in Xi'An turned out to be just awesome - especially since she knew sooo much about Chinese history. We had a really good time together in Xi'An - seeing loads of historical things, exploring town a bit and one day on Hua Shan - a great mountain close to Xi'An.

The first day in Xi'An (not including the day we got there) we went on a tour to see the Terracotta warriors, the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, a new museum in Xi'An showing some of the history about Buddhism getting into China and Huaqing Pool. It was a great day - really interesting. The terracotta warriors were so impressing - it's hard to imagine someone building sooo many warriors and so long time ago. And they're still excavating the site - finding moe and more warriors all the time. Impressive! We also got to see the farmer who originally found the first terracotta warriors when he was digging a well - he was at the museum this day. The other places were less impressive, the tomb was huge, but since they hadn't opened it (lots of traps inside, they don't want to hurt anything, etc...) there wasn't really much to see except for a hill, some nice gardens and a hazy view over the landscape. The pool was a bit more interesting, especially since Xiao Hui (Helens Chinese name) knew a lot about the history and told us a great tale about the emperor and his favourite concubine.

The second day we spent going to Hua Shan - a mountain area close to Xi'An. That was just crazy! We came there quite late, so we ended up taking the cable car to the North Peak. From there you walked along the ridge to the next peak, so it was great views, cliffsides with hundreds of meters fall on both sides and small stone buildings that used to be temples up here. Impressive views, it was a shame that we didn't have time to see the whole area. Got some great photos from here which will be uploaded shortly. We also saw a man carrying a freezer on his back to the top. That was a real eye-opener, Xiao Hui talked to him and he had been carrying that 20 kh freezer from early morning and we saw him in the afternoon. Guess what he was payed for carrying 20 kg up the mountain which would take him more than a full day? 20 yuan!!! (Equivalent to 20 SEK or not even US$3). Insane!

The third day we did some more sightseeing in Xi'An (the Big Goose Pagoda), but most importantly we went to Haegen Dazs for some really nice ice-cream! That was just great, I've been missing good coffee and great ice-cream! Then I caught the 20 hour bus to Shanghai, which turned out be not as bad as I thought, only 24 hours long, only one accident (where we avoided coliding into the two buses standing still on the highway because of the dense mist with a few inches and instead just bumped into the side fence - leaving a small scratch on the bus and then standing still for three hours) and a bed that was just slightly too small to be comfortable.

So now I'm in Changhai - staying at Ashley's place. I will write more about Shanghai later when I've been here for a couple of days. Pictures will be uploaded later!


Songpan, Chengdu and Xi'An

Oy. Once again a long time since I wrote anything. And this time I don't really have the time to write that much, so I'll probably just write a short notice of what I'm doing and what happened the last couple of days.

Songpan and horseback riding was great! I started my birthday with a real birthday cake which I bought in the bakery and then it was picked up in the morning by Emma, the owner of Emma's Kitchen which was the restaurant I ate in a few times. She was sooo friendly and spoke great English. They would even sing for me in the morning, that was awesome!

After having the birthday breakfast I was off to do the horseback trekking. The group turned out to be me, two Chinese guys and two Chinese girls and then of course the five Chinese guides. A good chance to practice some Mandarin! :) We all got our horses, they turned out to be kind of small horses which was good. And the saddle wasn't really like a normal saddle - we used normal saddles but on top of them were a lot of blankets and sleeping bags and stuff we would need for the night - so in the end the "seat" was really comfortable. People told me that I would be really sore after two days of riding, but it turned out that the horses was only slightly more bumpy than the local buses and the seats was much more soft! No worries at all!

The riding experience was perhaps not great - we mostly were riding slowly in walking speed because the path would be so steep. That wasn't a problem though - the views were sooo amazing that you really didn't have time to think about the riding. Songpan is a town on approximately 2700 meters altitude and from there we went straight up to 3500 meter. That is a great climb and even sitting on a horse I got tired. When we had to walk for more than an hour to get down the tricky parts where the horses couldn't carry us, I got really tired. Anyway, the mountain views were just fantastic. It can't really be described and all the pictures in the world can't really capture the greatness of being on a mountain top in an area looking like Grand Canyon, looking out over the mountain tops, the city in a valley far below and in the distance huge snow covered mountain peaks - everything under a clear blue sky and a shining sun! Look at the pictures to get a feeling of what I saw and then go there to see it for yourselves - a place like that has to be experienced!

Around lunch time we got to the place where we would spend the night - a small cottage close to an area with beautiful lakes. The name of the area was something like Erdao-something, which meant Two Line Lakes or something. The area was bascially a really nice forest area with beautiful lakes. Unfortunately the lakes were not really filled with much water, but it was still beautiful - especially with all the snow still on the ground and everything. We had a great snowball fight through most of our walk around the area which made us all very tired.

The night we spent on the floor of a small house without heating, but with all the cloth on, a sleeping bag and two blankets it wasn't that cold actually. After sleeping a lot that night and having a great breakfast I felt really good again - the first day was kind of rough with the altitude, the cold and too little sleep the last couple of nights. The second day took us back by horseback to Songpan again. It was a different route so there were loads of new sights, nice villages and more mountains. The weather wasn't as good though - a bit overcast, windy and cold. But it wasn't that bad - all in all it was a nice day as well. In the afternoon the sun came back and we had to take off hats, gloves, jackets and so on.

When we got back to the town it was only 1 pm or so, so we decided to go for another adventure - we hired a car with a driver to take us to a nice mountain one hour away. I'm really happy I followed the Chinese group going there, it was sooo beautiful. The mountain was about 4200 meters above sea level, so here you could really feel the air becoming thin and it being harder to do anything. We stopped on the way to watch the view - it was just amazing. It felt like being on the top of the world - especially with clouds blowing past under you! Look at the photos - hard to capture but truly wonderful experience!

On the mountain we made an 8 km trek - 4 km up to the five-colored pool and some temples, and then back down again. Going up took us like 2-3 hours and we had to stop quite often to catch our breath and then even more often to take photos. There were loads to see - frozen lakes, waterfalls, mountain views, temples etc. Look at the pictures I've uploaded (Songpan has a album of its own btw).

We barely made it down from the mountain to the waiting car before nightfall, it was already starting to get dark when we got down. It was cold, it was snowing and the driver was afraid of driving. He didn't know how to handle snow and his car in that weather so I had to show him some tricks from Sweden (like how to get rid of fog on the windscreen), but he still only kept a speed of 20-30 km/h. It took us more than three hours to get home... :)

Friday I spent on the bus back to Chengdu, then let myself into Eoin and Megans apartment and waited for them to get back from work. From there we went for a nice dinner with Helen and then went back and watched some movies. I got to see Happy Feet again - yey! :) Saturday was St Patricks Day, so it of course had to be celebrated. First we played rugby for a couple of hours with a lot of expats and other Westerners in Chengdu, that was great! Had a really good time and got to meet a lot of interesting people living in Chengdu. After the rugby we went for a good massage and then chilled in their apartment before it was time to go partying at Shamrock Bar, watch some rugby on tv and play some pool. All in all it turned out to be a really nice party evening.

On Sunday me and Helen took the plane to Xi'An (flying was the only option - train tickets were sold out...). Helen had been thinking about going to Xi'An for a while, so we decided to go together. It's great - I have a private guide now that actually speaks the language (and of course great English). So now we're in Xi'An. We found a great youth hostel out of accident. We were looking for another one mentioned in the guidebook, but we stumbled upon this one instead. It's awesome! It's newly built (they haven't officially opened it yet - one week left), it's built in a traditional old style and has like small bonsai trees and everything. And best of all - a free pool table! It's cheap, it's close to all the great sights in central Xi'An and it's just around the corner from the bar street. Awesome! And yes, of course, we thought the double room was a bit expensive so we went for the dormitory instead, but the reception promised us to let us have those four beds for ourselves for three nights. Strange, but very nice of them! :)

Anyways, gotta go now, tomorrow it's terracotta warriors and other sights in Xi'An and from there we'll see what we'll do. The plan is to stay here until Wednesday and then take the bus to Shanghai.


Emei Shan and Songpan

After writing the last blog I spent the day sightseeing in Chengdu as planned. I started by walking around by myself - finding lovely small alleys, a school with children playing and some nice street stalls selling food for less than 1 yuan per piece. After this I went to the Wenshu Temple, a big temple area in the center of the town. That was nice to see and a really nice prequel to Emei Shan the following day.

Wenshu temple has a lot of visitors, so it felt a bit touristy. As always it wasn't that many foreigners though, mostly Chinese tourists. The temple itself wasn't that impressing (see pictures), but the surrounding garden with small pagodas spread out and the great library behind the temple was awesome! The library was three storeys high and looked like a great mansion taken straight out from Chinese history.

After the temple I went back to the guesthouse where I met up with Rachel to go to the opera. Nikki didn't feel like paying 90 yuan for the opera, so it was just me and Rachel. The opera turned out to be a mix of traditional Chinese entertainment on weekends, so we saw a mix of different things. There were some parts with classical Chinese opera, but also acrobatics, juggling with large Ming-vases and a table, shadow puppets show and some theatre with changing masks. The changing masks were great - they would have really nice dresses and a mask covering their face. And the masks changed - when they turned around they would have a new mask showing a new kind of person/thing. Very interesting!

The day after the opera the three of us decided to go separate ways. Or rather - same way but by different means. The girls wanted to hitchhike to Emei Shan and spend the night there, where as I wanted to just go there for a day trip. So after a nice breakfast the "party crew" split up and I went to the bus station to get a ticket for Bauguo Village, which is just on the bottom of Emei Shan (Emei Mountain). Sad to leave them, but also nice to travel by myself for a while. I guess I will meet them later, if nothing else back in England or Holland!

Emei Shan was a great experience. The bus ride there took two hours and it took me through some small and heavily industraialized towns (which was interesting to see) but mostly seemingly endless fields of "raps" (the Swedish word- not sure about the English word for the yellow stuff you use to make vegetable oil from). Bauguo Village turned out to be a quite touristy place - felt like coming to a ski-resort in the summer. Although touristy in China means - lots of tourists but no Westerner. I didn't see a single Westerner during the whole day actually - it seems the vast majority of tourists in China, at least in this season, is Chinese or Japanese.

From the village it was a short walk up to the two temples I'd decided to visit. The first one was Bauguo Si, or literally Declare Nation Monastery. It was a newly renovated temple that still kept its charm, although as I already said - a bit touristy. They even had a price list posted for staying in the monastery. And who the fuck wants a color TV when they're visiting a temple and sleeping there, that's beyond me?! The temple itself was built in several levels and you would walk through one temple just to find stairs leading up to the next one. There were monks walking about in the temple grounds and you could always here some chanting from temples or monks walking around. Very spiritual. The temple was surrounded by gardens that were perfectly taken care of, a nice place to spend an hour relaxing, taking in the views and listen to the silence. The views were fantastic, with Emei Shan rising as the backdrop for temples that looked exactly that you would have thought or hoped that they would!

From Bauguo Si I went towards the next temple - Fuhu Si. This literally means Crouching Tiger Monastery or perhaps Crouching Tiger Nunnery since there were only nuns there. To get there you would walk through large parks with lots of planted trees of more than 300 different species - it was just sooo peaceful and beautiful. From the first entrance to Fuhu Si there was a long way of staircases leading through deep rain forest, across streams on wonderful covered wooden bridges and fantastic pagodas. See the pictures from this walk - that was awesome!

Fuhu Si itself wsas also nice - it wasn't as picture perfect as Bauguo Si perhaps, but it felt much more genuine with nuns walking about in their daily routines, not so many tourists and even more quiet. On the top of the temple area there was a large hall filled with one thousand Buddha statues - each one different from the other. Interesting to see, but unfortunately you couldn't take any pictures in there. I also spent half an hour sitting on a terrace and looking out over the roofs of the temple - I just love those typical Chinese roofs!

After walking back to the village I got a bus back to Chengdu, which took me through all those golden fields again - this time during sunset which was beautiful. Well back in Chengdu I picked up my backpack and took a taxi to the apartment where Eoin and Megan is staying. They had invited me to sleep in their new guestroom for one night, which was totally awesome! They are sooo friendly and nice and the apartment is just wicked. They pay less than I would pay for a student flat with one room in Sweden, and they have something like 120 sq meters on the 15th floor - looking out over Chengdu. The flat is really luxurious, the highligts being the view and the panorama windows, the kitchen, the computerized shower and of course - the original Nintendo and the soccer table! We had a great evening together when we didn't do much, we went for food and chilled out in their apartment. Early night for us all - I left at 6 am to be in my guesthouse 6:20 for the pickup that would take me to the bus station and later Songpan.

So now I'm in Songpan. I am still recovering from the shock of the bus ride - just north of Chengdu started a great landscape that took us through deep valleys. It looks somewhat like Grand Canyon, or perhaps the greatest fjords in Norway, with huge mountains on each side of a beautiful lake and with snow still on the top of some mountains. After eight hours on a bus we arrive in Songpan which is a lovely small town (70k inhabitants or so). I'm not sure about the elevation - but you can feel that the sun is really strong and that the air is thinner than usual. No altitude-sickness though - just a bit harder to breath and move around. Along the way we saw some signs that this is indeed on the border to Tibet - except for the views there are the local dresses (reminding of the ones in Vietnam somewhat), the food along the way and of course the yaks lining the side of the road and roaming around in the stony fields.

Tomorrow I will buy myself a great birthday cake for breakfast and then go on my two-day horseback riding tour. I'm really looking forward to it now! Hope that the blue sky and the warmth stay - I really don't feel like riding in cold and rain! My wishes for my birthday (except for a new iPod filled with great music - I'm starved on music after almost three months of traveling) are to have a really memorable time on the tour and perhaps to see some more yaks! They are soo cute! :)


Guilin, Yangshou and Chengdu

Oh. Now it was a long time since I wrote my blog. Some of you might have gotten an e-mail or two about what I've been doing and if you've been checking my pictures you know a bit as well, but I'll try and retell those days a bit here as well.

Ok, so after writing the last blog entry we went for a nice dinner in a Chinese restaurant. It felt a bit like a upper-class place, but the prices were good so we decided to eat there anyway. It was kinda late, so there weren't very many left in the restaurant. After we've ordered rice porridge - the only vegetarian food they could offer a Singaporian guy starts talking to us and he seems especially interested in talking to Rachel. He buys us some beers and then go back to his table and leaves us alone. After a while he gets back though and explains that he's working in Guilin at the moment and that at the other table is the boss and the big-big-boss for his company. They would like Rachel to come over and talk to them, they were appearantly interested in talking to foreigners (but only Rachel). The whole thing seemed kinda dodgy and wrong, but she couldn't really say no (and he was very clear all the time with the fact that they didn't want anything from her, just talk for a while). So she went to the next table and we kept a close eye on them all the time. When she gets back it turns out the big-big-boss is like really owning more or less the whole town and that he wants to give us stuff, especially pearls to Rachel. He wants to give her one tonight and if we call them tomorrow he'd give her many more. Very dodgy indeed, so we leave the place after a few mishaps. We're not sure what he wanted really - most likely someone that could smuggle pearls into England... No, we didn't call them the day after and no - so far no troubles with the mafia... In hindsight it was a interesting experience though...

After having a really nice night at our somewhat dodgy hotel (see the picture "please pull in case of security when you go to bed") we left to Yangshou. We did plan to take the bus to Yangshou, which would have been 10 yuan, but after haggling down the price for a boat ride from 500 yuan to 80 yuan each we took the boat. The boat was really cold, but there we're some really nice views and it was well worth the extra time it took.

The cold is a problem though. Arriving in Yangshou we realized that it was like 6 degrees and raining, which made us spend the evening in the warmest restaurants drinking hot chocolate and eating really good mexican food. I have bought a warm jacket (North Face - good winter jacket with fleece inside) for 250 yuan (less than 230 SEK) and some mittons - so now the cold isn't that big a problem anymore. They told us that one week ago (before the rain came) they had 27 degrees in Yangshou though, so we're still a bit disappointed that we missed out on the nice summer weather.

Yangshou is supposed to have some really good views and it must be amazing when you get here when it's warm enough to do stuff. All the places in town have bikes for rent so you can bike around by yourself, there are loads of tours to caves, peaks and mudbaths - of we ended up doing nothing. We saw a few of the peaks that are actually in the town, but we never went up to them. It simply was too cold! Instead we spent the days wandering around town, trying out more than a couple of bars and cafes and having a good time. At night time we had our dorm room with five beds all by ourselves. The first night it was soo cold and we wanted to watch a movie (you rent a DVD player and then buy a movie for 10 yuan), so we moved together two beds into one large one and just huddled up to keep warm. That was a great idea - warmest nights ever!

Yangshou was great in many ways. It was really nice to see, the town had some charm even though it was a bit too touristy (I'm glad we were there on off-season - otherwise it would have been mad I reckon). But the cold drove us crazy! The last night we did a cooking course which was really nice, we learned how to do pork dumplings, sweet and sour-chicken and ginger, garlic and chili beef. Really good and the lady showing us the things were very nice.

On the next day we took the bus to Guilin which took us one hour and from there we took the bus leading to Chengdu. We had soft-sleepers, which means you have a small bunk (literally to small in all directions - you can't really sit up, I was too tall and my shoulders are too broad to fit in) where you spend all the time. At night they would have the bus dark and quiet, which was really nice, but as soon as they thought it was someone awake they would play loud Chinese karaoke, play some action movies in Chinese or blast away with semi-Western music and videos with gogo-dancers. Very surreal experience... The bus ride was supposed to be 22 hours long, but turned out to be 24 hours, so we came to Chengdu at around 4 pm.

After succeding to find a cab that knew how to get to our hostel (we had the name in Chinese and a map - none which seemed to help very much) we checked into a small dorm (four beds), booked a panda tour for the following day and went out to see town. I mailed some friends that I met in Vang Vieng, Laos, who lives in Chengdu and said that I was here. One hour later or so, just when we were looking for a bar to go to they called and told us about a good bar to start at. After some troubles with finding the place (same things - name and map doesn't seem to help really) we met up with Eoin (pronounced Owen) and Megan and some of their friends. It was a nice bar, full of westerners and expats gathered to see the rugby game between Ireland and Scotland. He told us some interesting facts about Chengdu, for example that there are only like 600 expats in the whole Chengdu, while the population is close to 11 million now. My guidebook says 4.5 million - but that was 3 years ago and it was probably a bit unupdated already then. The cities here grow with immense speed - they say that Beijing went from 7 million to 14 million in less than five years. I can't believe that speed - it's just... unbelievable how a city can grow that much.

Anyways, we had a good night out. We started at this small bar, drinking a bit of beer, playing pool and eating some reaaaaally good pub food (best one I've ever had I think) and after that we went to the Babi Club which is full of Chinese people dancing and partying and we were more or less the only Westerners (together with two Dutch guys who joined us). We decidsed that this was my birthday party - I will probably be somewhere with the monks or on a horseback on my birthday so this was the last chance to party. It was great! Babi Club sold bottles of whiskey really cheap and then you got tea to blend it with. At first I was skeptical, but tea really hides all the wiskey taste more or less. Interesting and a bit dangerous - it was easy to drink a bit too much. After being in Babi Club for quite a while I followed Eoin and Megan to their home together with a few others and we ended up sitting there playing Nintendo (8 bit - the original!) and table soccer the whole night.

At half six I took the cab back to the guesthouse to get on the panda tour with the girls that started at seven. No sleep tonight, but after 24 hours of sleeping and resting on a bus that doesn't feel like a problem really.

The panda tour was great! We went to a zoo/breeding ground for pandas and saw lots of them. They are really beautiful, like teddybears but with something human in them as well. The way they use their hands, the way they look at you and the way they just sit and eat makes them feel very intelligent and ... humanlike in some way. It was really amazing and I've uploaded loads of pictures from this (and the party night as well).

Anyways, now I'm heading for lunch and some sightseeing in town! My plans are a bit blurry right now, but I'll probably be away for a couple of days doing tours around here, so don't expect any updates on the blog. First I'll probably try to go to Emei Shan which is a mountain area nearby where you can do some trekking and sleep in monastaries with the monks. After this I might go on a horse-riding trek for a couple of days in a place that is on the border to Tibet and that people say is more or less like Tibet (but closer). I don't know if I have the time to do both though, so I'm not sure what I'll end up doing...


Guangzhou and Guilin

After doing some Internet in Guangzhou me and Rachel, the Brittish girl, headed back to the guesthouse to catch the others. We ended sitting in the dorm for quite a while, talking and drinking some beer before going for a really nice dinner at a muslim place along the riverside of Guangzhou together with Nikki, Francois from Canada and of course - Gregory (our local tour guide you could say). That was a really nice dinner, we had shitloads of barbequed lamb (you pay like 3 yuan = 3 SEK per stick and five was more than enough per person) and some other kebab-like things. Very nice!

After the dinner we continued along the riverside until we decided to take a cab to one of the bar areas in Guangzhou. This was a small street with a couple of lounge-looking bars, probably run by the mafia for money laundry (or so Greg said at least). After a beer and some talking we went for a small walk in the really expensive neighbourhoods of Guangzhou - large houses for ridicolous prices (really ugly though) with their own guards outside each building.

The following day me, Rach and Nikki spent walking around town and having a great time. We all were going on the night train at night, so we spent the day just walking around without a goal at all. Guangzhou is a beautiful city in many ways - there are lots of small alleys that are just wonderful. There are Chinese old men sitting along the streets more or less everywhere, playing Chinese checkers, go or mahyong (spelling?). It was interesting to watch them play and they almost everytime wanted me to sit down and play with them.

The train trip to Guilin was a nice one as well. The hard sleepers we had was reaaaalle nice - although I'm like 5 cm to tall for the beds and it was a bit cold when we woke up. But it was a nice trip all in all - took 13 hours and from 1 o'clock we slept really well (at least I did - I don't know about the girls really). The first hours we spent in the restaurant carrier, eating our take-away food from KFC, drinking beer, playing cards and generally just having a really good time. These girls are hilarious, it's so easy just to hang out and have a good time with them!

Today we've been walking around in Guilin. First we got a really nice hotel room with three beds. The guidebook says that there are no cheap places to stay - but that's obviously not true during low-season. We met a guy on the street who showed us his hotel. It was a two-star hotel, really nice and clean enough. The room-rates on the wall said 420 yuan for a three-bed room, but after a bit of haggling we got it for 60 yuan. Yes, 20 yuan each! That's less than I paid for the lunch at KFC (yes, we're a bit lazy sometimes)! After checking in, walking around a bit, seeing some nice temples (the temple of the moon and the sun) and eating lunch to get warm we went for the Solitary Beauty Peak which is a 66 meter high pinnacle with a temple on top in the middle of the town. The peak is surrounded by a temple area with temples and other buildings built hundreds or years ago for one of the princes. The three of us had an English-speaking guide showing us around and it was really interesting and amusing at the same time. The cold made it a bit hard to really enjoy the view though - it's less than 10 degrees here right now.

Anyway, now we're heading out for some dinner I think. Perhaps try some snake soup or wild cat - they are supposed to have really strange food in this town!

Also trying to upload pictures now - I hope it's working, so check them out!


Last night in Hong Kong and Guangzhou

So, I finally succeded in leaving Hong Kong. Today I took the bus from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, where I just arrived. The bus trip was great - probably the best I've had so far. The bus had air con, soft seats and more than enough leg space. Crossing the border was no problem, it took like three minutes in total - very effective.

Yesterday was a great day in Hong Kong as well. I had a slow start - sleeping to 11 or so (which I reckon I really needed) and then I showed Aleks (my new German roomie that I literally picked up from the street :) to the great Internet place before I went to lunch with Carey. We went to a Korean restaurant which was really nice - especially the fact that you did the barbequeing by yourself on a small grill in the middle of the table.

After the lunch me and Carey went around in the Wanchai area and she showed me some of the "old areas" of Hong Kong. Those blocks only had like five-seven floors and they all looked really old compared to the brand new office towers surrounding the area. But it was all about to change. The area was officially closed down, so noone was living there and no shops were open - they were about to tear the whole area down within this year to make room for new office buildings and skyscapers. I'm glad I had the chance to see this before it's too late. We bought a Mandarin phrasebook for me which I reckon I will really need here in China - especially when I get to smaller places where noone speaks English. After this we found a building with 66 floors and a rotating restaurant in the top. We didn't want to go to the restaurant, but we figured we could just go up with the "observation elevator" that was on the outside of the tower. I'm really happy we did - that was a great experience - to see the town just disappear under you while you go from floor 17 to floor 59 in less than half a minute. We ended up going up and down two or three times! :)

After this I met up with Aleks again to show her to the Victoria Peak which I saw just two nights earlier. It was really great - we came there just before sunset and saw a amazing sunset over the outskirts of Hong Kong. After this we ate at Burger King (cheap cheap) and then went for the walk around the peak which shouldn't take more than half an hour. If you stop to look at the view and take lots of photos it takes more like one-two hours we found out. Anyway, after this we did some more shopping and sightseeing on the peak before taking the tram back down. When we got down we slowly walked through the town back to the ferry terminal and went more or less directly to our guesthouse when we came to the other side. The plan was to find a Internet place and then get a drink somewhere, but after failing to find it for 15 minutes we went to bed instead - we were both really tired I think. :)

Today I only went to some lunch, did some Internet and then took the bus. Now I've found a great dorm here in Guangzhou on the Shamien Island and in a short while I will go for some dinner. Tomorrow I'm going to Yangshou with a Brittish girl I just met in the hostel - we're taking the same night train, so I'll have the day tomorrow to actually see anything of Guangzhou.

The headache has been gone for two days now, so there shouldn't be any problems. If it comes back I might go to the doctor - the guidebook has a listing of English speaking hospitals in every city. Thanks for all the worried mails - that tells me you are actuallt reading what I write and that you are concerned as well. No worries, I'm fine now!

Also put up more pictures from Hong Kong, be sure not to miss them!


Still in Hong Kong

So, I'm still in Hong Kong. This seems to be one of those places that I really can't leave - I like it here and I haven't even done anything much special. Anyway, just writing a short entry now to tell you that I'm fine, that I've had some more headache but that it has mostly been due to last nights activites (although I still feel the original headache - it's there but it doesn't hurt much at all).

Uploaded lots of pictures from Bangkok and Hong Kong as well, so be sure to check them out! The night views over Hong Kong from the Victoria Peak are fabulous!!!


A new journey begins...

I feel as if one part of my trip is ending and that a completely different journey lies ahead. It's exciting and actually a little bit scary as well. The new journey begins in a really good way, but also in a really bad way.

The good thing is Hong Kong - arriving in Hong Kong felt a bit like coming home to Sweden at first. The weather (it's winter here) is like Swedish summer - approximately 20 degrees and a bit overcast. This means I'm wearing my new hoodies - this is cold for me, compared to the last days in Bangkok with 40 degrees and a blazing sun. The second feeling after arriving in mid-Hong Kong with the bus from the airport was that I've been dropped in the middle of Manhattan. Hong Kong is a whole city looking like the famous Times Square on Manhattan, NY.

The other really good thing with Hong Kong is the two locals showing me around and giving me ideas for what to do. The first one is Carey (Clacke's girlfriend for you at home who knows Clacke). She has showed me two really nice Dim Sum places (really good food - it's like a collection name for different types of dumplings and springroll-ich things). She also gave me some maps and showed me where I could get my Chinese visa, etc. The other local would be Fifi, a Hong Kong-born kiwi and a friend of Kim (the kiwi I travelled with in Laos and Bangkok). Yesterday she took me to the pub area Lan Kwai Fong and a small place called Le Jardin, where Carey met up with us after a while. We had some wine (the first good wine I've had in two months - aaah) and ate some Indian food as well. After Le Jardin me and Fifi continued on to the next party area, Wan Chai (perhaps the correct spelling?), where we started by going to an aussie bar selling Long Island Ice Tea in huge bowls for only HK$100 (roughly 100 SEK). After realizing we couldn't finish it by ourselves we went to "the place to be" - Mes Amis, which was crowded, played good music and we ended up dancing the night away there.

The bad start of the new journey is a terrible headache that I got in Bangkok. It's located just above my right eye, so I suspect there's something wrong with my sinuses or so. The first time I felt it in Bangkok it wasn't that bad and it went away after some hours. Since then it has appeared every day to stay for a couple of hours and then to go away again. When it's there nothing seems to help. I've tried all the stuff you should - drinking loads of water, taking a hot shower, blowing my nose, rinsing the sinuses, eating, sleeping, resting, massage, drinking (not water) and taking painkillers/paracetamol. Today I woke up and the headache was there (no, I was not hungover, we didn't drink that much) and it was terrible! I could barely get out of bed, but I knew I needed water, food and perhaps a pharmacy. I've never felt a strong headache like that - tears just kept running due to the pain and my whole body was slightly trembling. I don't mind the pain that much - I can always block it out, but when it makes me cry and shake it's still hard to do stuff. After buying some painkillers and sitting down on McD for breakfast an old couple asked me if they could help me - I could hardly open the box of painkillers and I must have looked like I was in great pain (which I was). An hour after a double dose of painkillers I realized that they didn't help much, except that my whole body felt a bit numb and that I could actually fall asleep after 30 mins more (despite the still horrible pain). When I woke up the pain was more or less gone, but I reckon should go to the hospital if it returns tonight or tomorrow. Let's just hope it doesn't - that was a horrible experience, especially since I was all by myself and couldn't really get any help from anybody.

Anyway. Except for the headache everything is great and I'm really looking forward to seeing China now. First stop will probably be Guangzhou (spelling probably way wrong), the town formerly known as Canton. I don't know when I'll be going there, but probably tomorrow or the day after.