A Travellerspoint blog

November 2012

Hong Kong - Nanning - Hanoi!

View Doyle and Dan's Adventure on doyledan's travel map.

It was time to make our next big overland trip from Hong Kong to Vietnam via China!

First stop was a short 2 hour train journey from Hong Kong to Guangzhou East in China on their long distance transit train. Once through immigration we boarded the train full of butterflies of excitement about being on our way to another country. As soon as we got to Guangzhou East station it was clear we weren't in Hong Kong anymore and were back in China; queuing had gone out of the window again it was every man for himself getting through the ticket and passport check, kids were wearing trousers with a slit down the back and no nappy happy to do their business as and when and smoking and spitting anywhere and everywhere was the norm. But oddly it no longer felt strange anymore and was strangely reassuring as we were making this journey to the next unknown.

Next was an overnight train for 15 hours to Nanning but I think you have heard enough about sleeper train journeys and it was pretty standard and we knew the drill.

We had decided to change our original plan of getting another overnight train from Nanning for an 8 hour bus during the day instead so we wouldn't be wasting time sitting around twiddling our thumbs in Nanning. The only thing was we were arriving at 7am and you can't buy a ticket online and we had read only a few buses ran in the morning and that the bus station was 40 mins from the train station....so would we have enough time to find our way to the bus station and sort a ticket etc!

So we were relieved when we saw a tourist office advertising bus tickets to Hanoi.....this was sort lived as the price quoted was 2 and half times more expensive than what we had read up online. In the end as we didn't have much time and it would take 40 mins to get to the bus station we decided to pay the higher amount just so we got moving, it was still so cheap in comparison to a similar journey in the UK! But our resolve turned to anger when it turned out that the bus station was only 5 mins down the road and it was the tourist office guys brother who drove us there in his car, and when we got given the bus ticket at the station we saw that they had massively marked up the price but by then it was too late.

The moral of the story is double check locations on a map, don't leave yourself too little time so you make quick decisions and finally trust your instincts and your abilities to get yourself somewhere. It was our first slip up and at the end of the day we got to our bus and although we paid over the odds (and i felt like a muppet) the rest of the bus journey was really good with water provided, several rest stops and a free lunch along the way.
The scenery was worthwhile too surrounded by limestone karst mountains which we would have missed if we had taken the sleeper train.


The border crossing between China (Ping Xian) and Vietnam (Dong Dang) was an odd experience as we were driven across no mans land in yellow buggys and when we were at the Vietnamese side and handed our passports over they were passed around 5 immigration guys and one seemed to find Dans passport particularly amusing...no idea why. After being on an air conditioned bus the difference in the temperature and humidity at the border was huge, so much warmer. As we got back on the bus leaving China behind us I was struck by how green Vietnam is...all shades of green particularly as we passed through all the rice paddy fields with loads of farmers at work cutting down their crops


It was about 5pm as we made it to Hanoi and an impressive storm cloud was coming in over the city. As the sunset the storm cloud was pink and you could see forks of lightning inside it. Never seen a sky like it! When we stopped in the town it was dark and after running the gauntlet of taxi and motorcycle drivers jostling to take us, we negotiated a price and made our way to the hostel, following each turn on the map as we went as I was determined not to be ripped off again.

I'm pleased to say we made it to the Hanoi Hostel with no more mishaps and settled down at a live music bar called "Make some noise, feed your soul" and chilled out listening to a band with some great flamenco style guitarists and a couple of cocktails before hitting the sack!


More on our time in Hanoi to follow....but I ve run out of time to write it as about to jump on a bus for a couple of days in Sapa!


Posted by doyledan 01:42 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Happy Hong Kong

Parks, Peaks, Beaches & Tai Chi

sunny 29 °C

What a fantastic city! The last 4 days have been amazing and a massive assault on the senses, particularly coming straight from Guilin! There is just so much to take in here, from the impossibly tall skyscrapers and bright neon lights to the dense green parks with colourful butterflies and birds. Every now and then you just have to stop and take a moment to look around and marvel at it all. Jawdropping stuff, I ve never been to a place like it. We also have had great weather and the added bonus of being reunited with Jo from our China trip to share the fun. I ll try and sum up our time here for you...

Day 1

As it was a Sunday and we were still tired from our long trip from Guilin we decided to give the Peak a miss as we had heard it is best to avoid it at the weekend due to the crowds (turned out was a good choice as when we passed the peak tram stop later in the day the queues were really long). Instead we opted for a chilled day exploring the parks and streets of Hong Kong Island. As we were staying Kowloon side we headed to the harbour to get the Star Ferry across, which was surprising easy to work out and so cheap at $2 (approx 20p)! A lovely way to start the morning.


As there is so much more traffic and large busy roads on Hong Kong Island there is a myriad of raised walkways to navigate that were a bit confusing for us newcomers but we eventually worked it out to make our way across to find Hong Kong Park.


Hong Kong Park is such a tranquil place in comparison the craziness elsewhere in the city and at times the trees and plants are so dense and the park is so quiet that it is a shock when you look up and see a skyscraper through the leaves! It is a lot smaller though than I expected with the "artificial lake" really being a pond, but it was very pretty none the less with waterfalls and fountains.


It was a great place to wander and also has an aviary that you can walk through with about 600 birds flying around and calling to each other (and they seemed to speak to Dan too!)


Our next stop was further up the steep slopes of HK island, the Hong Kong Zoological & Botanical gardens. There is also an aviary here but not as large as the one in HK Park but it has larger birds such as cranes. There were several groups of students painting the birds and it wasn't until we got closer that we realised that the artists had varying disabilities and it was inspiring to see that this did not hold them back in being creative.


As well as the birds there are also monkeys, gibbons and even a couple of orangutans, but they looked so dejected, so think I preferred HK park.

After an awesome lunch we explored the mid levels making use of the longest escalator in the world and the longest staircase to go up and down the slopes. It was great to see the other side to HK from the shining skyscrapers and in the narrow streets everyday life still resumes with the bustling market on Graham street where people buy and sell all sorts of vegtables, fruits, meat and fish....even frogs! Another aspect on HK which again juxtas the old with the new is that they still use bamboo as scaffolding poles! Even tens of storeys up!


After a much needed cold glass of wine we carried on our exploring along Hollywood Road and stumbled across Man Mo temple built in 27th year of Emperor Daoguang, Qing dynasty.


Before you even entered the temple you could smell the incense burning but once you got inside it was overwhelming so we only stayed in for a few minutes. The reason for this is that at this temple prayers/wishes are attached to coils of incense which are hung up and lit. There are 100s of them, from small ones to massive ones!


So we needed the refreshing breeze on the ferry trip back across the harbour to clear our heads, which was made even better by the dramatic sky.


Day 2

Today we would take the steep tram up to the Peak to check out the views over HK. Having been able to get in touch with Jo (what would we do without the Internet!) we waited outside Chungking Mansions to be reunited! What we hadn't realised was just how many exits there were at our nearest metro station! So Jo had a little adventure trying to find us but got there in the end. As she had arrived the night before we acted as her tour guides for the day and we caught up on each others travels whilst on the Ferry to HK island side!

We had spotted a bakery the day before and decided to head their first so we could have a picnic on top of the Peak and Jo was excited to see they had scones! With supplies in hand we headed up the slopes to the peak tram, and we were glad to see that the queues were no way near as long as the day before.


We were all amazed by how steep the tram journey was and at times it felt like you were almost vertical, like when you are slowly heading to the top of a roller coaster, but fortunately there wasnt a big drop at the top (although a few times i did wonder "there is only a cable stopping us from falling back....what if...."), as we looked back we could see the sky scrapers becoming smaller behind us.


The views at the top of the peak didn't disappoint and although it was hazy in the distance you could still get a feel for this huge city and it was odd to be above all the skyscrapers that had been towering over us and to be above helicopters!


We decided to take the 2 hour walk around the peak to see the views from all the sides and work an appetite for lunch. It was a lovely walk and we had great weather for it too. The path took you through all the intertwining trees that grow all around the peak and if you looked over the edge you could see how far down their trunks went and how tall they are.


Every now and then there would be a break through the canopy and you could see spectacular views and watch the kites circling overhead.


At one of these spots we decided to sit and have lunch with 3 or 4 black kites flying in front of us overlooking the sides of the peak and the sea below. Spectacular! I spent an age trying to get photos of butterflies and black kites, so thanks to Dan and Jo for their patience but I managed to get a couple!


As we had saved money bringing our own food up the peak we decided the only thing to do was to have some cocktails... I mean when are we next going to be sitting looking over HK, it would be rude not to!


Day 3

It was going to be another scorcher of a day and so Dan and I decided to make a trip to Lamma Island to find a beach and chill out in the sun. It is about half an hour ferry ride from HK island and again we had opted for taking our own picnic along. The difference between Lamma island and Hong Kong is huge, this small island made up of fishing villages does not have any cars and the only way to get around is to walk, cycle or use quad bike like mini tractor things.


It was nice to be somewhere more laid back in comparison to the frantic goings in the city. We took a leisurely stroll through the fist village Yuang Shue Wan until we got to the beach and as it was 29 degrees it was a welcome sight, and there was only 20 people to share it with!



After several hours chillin, swimming, reading and catching some rays we decided to take trail over the mountain to the other side of Lamma Island to Sok Kwu Yan. It was about 4pm when we headed of so the sun was starting to lower in the sky, which was a relief as some of the trail was steep! As we headed for the trail we noticed this sign......


... I think we may have thought twice about swimming, although I think I would have been safe as Dan had seemed to have become a super hero!


I'm not going to lie the trail doesn't have amazing views all the way through and the power station could be seen as a bit of an eyesore but we found some little gems on the way and had a laugh as we made our way to have a sea food supper in the next village.


Day 4

It was an early wake up to make it to our morning Tai Chi lesson, not so easy to do when you are staying in a box with no window to let any light in but we made it! The lesson was free as part of the Cultural Kaleidoscope programme they have in Hong Kong and was outside the Museum of Art. We had organised to meet Jo again and as we came round the corner she was already there practising.


As we got closer a small man jumped out at us enthusiastically shouting into his microphone "Good morning, good morning! Join our Tai Chi lesson! Good morning!", this was William who would be our Tai Chi instructor for the morning. Such a lovely guy. As he took us through the movements of Tai Chi from holding a ball, flapping arms like crane and picking up a needle from the sea we had the amazing back drop of the harbour. Throughout the hour lesson there were several displays of Tai Chi which were very impressive and the flowing movements were hypnotic.


They also demonstrated Tai Chi using silk fans which was very impressive, particularly the sound they made when they were all opened at the same time. William told us how the fan could be used as a weapon to strike when it was closed but then if you weren't fighting you could us it to keep your cool.


We spent the rest of the morning exploring the free museums with Jo before making sure we were all packed up and ready to leave the next morning.

Then it was time for going to Happy Valley Racecourse!!

Jo had never been to the races before and placed a bet so it was with excitement that we entered the public part of the race course just in time to place our first bets. After working out the race cards and where to go amongst the crowds we anxiously watched the horses go into the gates and soon they were off... And would you believe it Jo had beginners luck :) and Dan one on the first race too.


The atmosphere at the racecourse was electric. It is huge and so bright with all the lights on the track as well as those of the city all around us. It was also Octoberfest and so the race course was soon heaving with the crowds who danced along to the odd German band that were playing songs with weird actions of swimming and jumping, but we joined in with the rest of them!


It was a fantastic night and a great way to end our stay in Hong Kong.

So lovely to catch up with you Jo, thanks for joining us and making HK even better, safe travels in India and who knows hopefully we ll meet up in Australia! For the Melbourne cup?


Tips for HK

  • If you re staying more than a couple of days get yourself an Octopus card, it can be used on the metro, bus, tram, ferries and gets you a discount on the peak tram too. You can also use it to make payments in some shops and fast food places. It's 150 HK Dollars with 50 being a deposit that you get back however there is a sneaky 9 dollar refund charge we did not know about so we were a little short on cash for snacks for our onward journey.
  • Le Velo the baker - great place to grab a sandwich for a picnic! Tuna mayo baguette ...yum! So nice not to have sweet bread after a month in China!
  • Wednesdays several of the museums are free, Hong Kong Museum of History is worth a visit for the story of HK.
  • Cultural Kaleidoscope provides several free activities where you can learn things like Tai Chi, tea ceremony, cultural walks etc... Quite a few happen at the weekend so we had missed a lot but the Tai Chi lesson is worth getting up early for!
  • if you go to the cinema the one on Kowloon side is cheaper! But if you each the new Bond movie whilst travelling it ll make u miss the UK!

Posted by doyledan 20:37 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (2)

First steps on our own...

Guilin to Hong Kong

Armed with our new 90p watches (Dan went for the jazzy one!) we jumped in a taxi with our bags and made our way to Guilin station. We were 2 hours early and so were slightly unsure if we could wait inside yet or wait outside the station. After a few mins we were ushered through by the helpful ticket lady and got our bags through the scanners before the next challenge....which waiting room? As we were early our train was not on the boards yet but one of the train staff on seeing our confused faces directed us up the escalator to waiting room no. 2. It was quite empty but we put this down to being early and settled into our seats to wait.


Half an hour later our train still was not on the board in our waiting room and so I went to take a look around just in case and would you believe it our train goes from the other waiting room!! Thank goodness we checked early enough! So loaded with bags we trudged over and found the right row to wait in for our train. We still managed to get prime seats towards the front of the row so we would hopefully get through before the mad crush of the crowds as we knew the train was full as there were only 3 tickets left when we got ours!


We were some of the first people in our carriage, found our bunks and got good places for our bags so we felt like pros at this train game! As we settled down for the night it became clear that the guy below Dan had hit the rice wine before getting the train, making it hard for Dan to sleep as his alcohol breath kept hitting Dan in waves as it rose up to the top bunks. I didn't have the best sleep either as my stomach had other ideas. So even though we successfully arrived in Shenzhen we were pretty tired to say the least!

Shenzhen is the town at the border with Hong Kong. We had read online that it was an easy border crossing, "just get off the train, follow the crowds and the signs to Hong Kong" so we were relieved when this is exactly what happened.


It took longer to get through immigration than we had expected as we had not factored in that it was the weekend, otherwise normally during the week as a foreign visitor we had been told that it takes a matter of minutes to get through. On the other side we just had to navigate getting to Hung Hom station in Kowloon and then we would nearly be at our final destination. As we have 5 days here we opted to get an Octopus card which is a bit like an Oyster card which you can use on the train, metro, ferry and trams etc... You can also use it in some shops too I think. We managed to get a seat on the train and Dan delighted one of the kids by bringing out one of the Panda paws we had from my birthday and growling like a bear, the kid then growled at his grandma for the rest of the journey lol!

Getting the taxi was simple too, I think it helped that we are now somewhere that has a lot more English signs and English announcements compared to mainland China! Before we knew it we were outside Chungking Mansions on Nathan Road where Apple hostel is located on the 10th floor. This is a really busy street with people everywhere trying to sell you things, shops and lights. We had heard mixed reviews as it was one of the cheapest but with a bit of a dodgy side too and you need to watch out for unlicensed hostels. If any of you have read the latest Jo Nesbo book The Leopard (if not I recommend you do), this is the place mentioned at the beginning essentially Chungking Mansions is portrayed as a rabbit warren with gangs and opium! As I had read this only a couple of weeks before I was a bit concerned and we prepared ourselves for the worst. We had read reviews of people being hassled and being directed to the wrong place but we had a map and directions from the hostel which were great and other than a couple of people asking us if we wanted to buy watches we were not troubled at all which was a pleasant surprise. We are about to spend our first night here and so far it's been fine but then again I have only seen our floor and the ground floor so who knows what goes on elsewhere! Even our room is a little bit bigger than we thought it would be...including shower and toilet!


It was time to explore some of the city and I had been craving a chicken tikka masala and we had heard that there were some good Indian restaurants here. Being in Hong Kong was such a change from Guilin with high rise buildings everywhere, so many lights that you could wear sunglasses at night and loads of people! Another huge difference in Hong Kong compared to China is that we have not seen one bike or moped yet, and all the cars stop at pedestrian crossings! We are so used to just stepping out amongst the traffic now but have noticed we are the only ones doing this here.


We needed to walk off dinner and so made our way to Tsim Sha Tsui promenade for a stroll to take in the great views of Hong Kong island across the water. We had not noticed the time and it was just by chance that as we got there just as the famous light show 'Symphony of Lights' was about to begin. It was a fantastic skyline even before the lasers and changing colours on the buildings began and it was a great way to spend our first evening in Hong Kong!



Posted by doyledan 07:56 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

Next stop Hong Kong

View Doyle and Dan's Adventure on doyledan's travel map.

It was only a matter of time before one of us got the dreaded travel bug and unfortunately for Dan it was his turn. Maybe it was the excitement of seeing MJ or the Ox tail soup, we're not sure, but he was in a bad way.

We were meant to be catching a 20 hour sleeper train in the afternoon to Shanghai but as the day went on it was clear he was in no fit state to travel and so I had to make the decision for us to stay in Guillin and not continue on with the group to Shanghai. Real Gap were really helpful and Jennifer came to help us, despite it being her day off, to book 2 more nights in the hotel and organise our train tickets from Guilin to the Chinese border with Hong Kong called Shenzhen.

It was a huge relief to have that support so a huge thank you to Jennifer and the Real Gap team.

dan could not even come down to say goodbye to everyone and was not well enough for people to go and see him so the guys made him a great get well card using Jenny's artistic talents to draw us all. It definitely brightened his spirits.

I went with the group to the station to cancel our train tickets to Shanghai and with the intention to say goodbyes there but I got stuck in a queue and they had to go to the platform. It was gutting not to be able to go to the end of our adventure with them but it was definitely the right decision. Dan would not have been able to cope with the cramped conditions on the train with all the noises and smells. Having caught up with the group on email today it sounds like it was a blessing in disguise as they had quite an eventful train journey with half the carriage full of psychiatric patients with their nurses and doctors given them medication and shouting the whole journey!

On Thursday morning Dan was much better and later in the day was able to come for a walk by the lake with me and we tried some Pagoda hats!


To be fair there are worse places to be stuck and its been lovely just chilling in Guillin, although I won't be shopping at this store...


We re now just waiting in the hotel lobby, all packed up, before we head to the station for our first true travelling experience on our own! Eek!!

Next stop Hong Kong...

Before we go though just want to say a huge thanks to Jude, Jackie, Jo, Soph, Sam, Jenny and Hannah for making our time in China so great. It has been awesome meeting you all. Safe journeys and I know we ll be seeing a couple of you v soon in HK and
Vietnam! Woop woop!



Posted by doyledan 03:32 Archived in China Comments (0)

Did someone say elephant!!

Elephant Trunk Hill and Reed Flute Caves

View Doyle and Dan's Adventure on doyledan's travel map.

OMG today we went back to Guillin to visit the Elephant trunk hill so named because it looks like an elephant drinking from the river. As the group had not been with me in Africa they had not fully appreciated until today just how besotted with elephants I am and we didn't even see a real one! Weirdo alert! Lol!

So we waved goodbye to Yangshou and drove on one of the most treacherous but beautiful roads we had been on in China. At points only half of it had tarmac and it was fair game to all traffic no matter if it wasn't on your side of the road! There were several moments of 'chicken' with traffic coming at you head on but we survived it even though it was so busy and bumpy! It was worth it though as we had the karst mountains and rice paddy fields on both sides which were impressive.


The elephant hill park was full of elephant statues which made my day ...



and we climbed to the top of the scenic point to get a view over Guilin! which of course involved more steps....


As we climbed back down to walk round to Elephant Hill Jennifer told us the story of how the elephant had got there. It goes something like this...

One day the Jade Emperor came down from Paradise to visit Earth and he of course would not walk there himself so he came on a giant elephant. When it was time to leave the elephant did not want to as he had fallen in love with the beauty of Guilin and so he hid from the Jade Emperor. This made the Emperor very angry and he sent guards to come and get the elephant and there was lots of fighting. The elephant was tired and needed a drink and as he stopped to drink from the Li River a guard crept up and killed him from behind. As punishment the Emperor did not allowed the elephant to return to paradise but instead changed the elephant into stone and so he stayed on the riverbank as the elephant trunk hill we see today...


You can give him a kiss if you want to...


Elephant fever had gripped us all!!


After lunch we headed to see the Reed Flute Caves so named due to the reeds that grow outside it. Inside it is full of stalagmites and stalagtites that are huge and you are tiny in comparison. The cave system is lit up using bright colours to add drama to the place but personally I would have preferred to have seen it a bit less enhanced by man.


There are also weird and wonderful rock formations which if you use your imagination can look like different things such as a Christmas tree and a stage curtain.


It was spectacular none the less particularly the reflection pools and one which looked like a city skyline.

The cave system is also home to ancient inscriptions that date back to the Tang Dynasty. There are at least 70 inscriptions like this but only one is lit up on the tourist path through the caves to help preserve the others.


It was quite a spooky place to be walking around on the eve of Halloween as you never know what's lurking around the corner!


After dinner in the evening we went to the main square in Guilin to see what is meant to be the largest man made waterfall in the world according to the guide book. At 45m tall water cascades down the side of the Guilin Lijiang Waterfall Hotel at 8.30 each night.


On the floor of the square is a map of the world and we had fun finding our home for a few minutes. Then we went to look at the two Pagodas on the Banyan lake in town, which represented the moon and the sun and were beautifully lit up. The sun pagoda is made of copper and the moon pagoda is made of glass.


As we walked by the lake we began to hear the unmistakable beats of Michael Jackson and as we turned the corner there he was!


This guy is by far the best Michael Jackson impersonator I have ever seen (bar the singing) he had all the moves down and could moonwalk like you wouldn't believe! As we watch him bust his moves we sang and clapped along which stunned the otherwise silent audience watching him, but helped to gather the crowds. MJ was lovin' us and we were lovin' him! We do have some vids but can't load them at the moment but if you're ever in Guilin keep an eye out for this guy, oh and check for the resemblence with the moonwalking greenman at crossings. What a legend!


Posted by doyledan 02:54 Archived in China Comments (0)

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