Well It was a long and tiring flight (first long haul for us both) but we made it (endless movies at the touch of a button helped!)
We spent our first couple of days in Ngong Ping which was a lovely place, the scenery on the bus ride from Tung Chung was brilliant, although the ride itself was a bit scary!
We booked into the S.G Davis Hostel for 2 nights which,.. well lets just say we knew we were jumping into the deep end! heh
It was very basic but could be cleaner, a bit out in the sticks and no where to get food or drink after 6pm (Mr Man the owner was lovely though). We had a good full day at Ngong Ping however seeing the Giant Bhudda and Po Lin Monastry, very cool place and plenty to do for the day.
We headed into Kowloon jet lagged and tired after no sleep (a late group arrived at the hostel and kept everyone awake till 4am!) so to get us back on track we booked ourselves into the Prudential Hotel (4 star! ;-) which was just what we needed. Loved Kowloon, we walked round the park and saw some Kung Fu demonstrations, went to the Avenue of Stars on the evening and watched the Symphony of Lights where they light up the skyline which was brilliant.
We set out to look around Temple Street night market but a typhoon hit and it absolutely chucked it down, so we sheltered in a local side street restaurant and had some dinner... and got a bit drunk on local beer! hehe.
For the last night we checked into yesinn hostel over on mainland Hong Kong. On another level to Ngong Ping; small but cosey, comfortable and clean rooms and super friendly staff who spoke great englsh (Hiya Kitz!). On the last day we went up on the Peak Tram which was brilliant, breathtaking views at the top although it was slightly cloudy when we went.
We're back in Hong Kong airport (by the way, Hong Kong transport is fantastic, clean and easy, I reconmend buy an Octopus Card [bit like Londons Oyster card] if you are there for a few days). We were going to get to Guilin by train but looked to be a bit of a hassle so are flyng instead. Will let you know how we get on in mainland China! :-P
Jay & Bex x
So now we're in China! We arrived in Guilin and got the airport bus to into town and haggled with the taxi cab drivers to get "a good price" to the hostel (getting used to this haggling lark) ;-)
Hostel was nice (Downtown Backpackers), good communal area and large clean hotel like rooms. We had a good first day, we went to Solitary Beauty Park and Peak in the morning. We made the steep climb to the top of the peak which was good to get a view around Guilin. The park wasn't that impressive, especially for the price. We walked over to Seven Star Park after that which was brilliant, much better for a similar cost (I would just go there and climb one of the many other peaks and save yourself some Yuan!). Loads to do and see at Seven Star Park; beautiful gardens, waterfalls, a zoo (with pandas), palaces and temples and Seven Star Cave which is worth the extra cash; a huge cave which is all lit up. You could easily spend a good day there.
There's a good selection of shops and restaurants and bars on the main strip, however for us the endless persistant touts there became really annoying, some starting to be really nice and friendly chatting away then you hear the words "You wanna boat?", "You like chinese food/tea?" grr. We thought we'd go with one of them and just got ripped off in the restaurant he took us to.
Met some cool people in the hostel; a lot of people including us replied to a noticeboard message to join them on a private boat down to Yangshuo. Made some great friends in our crew on the 7 seater boat and had an amazing 2.5 hour trip down the Li River which had breathtaking scenery. So glad we did that rather than get on one of the big and slow tourist boats that can take half a day! We were darting around and between the large cruiser boats, and the driver would slow down and stop for photos when we wanted. The large spiked mountains dominate the landscape, local fishermen with thier animals, bamboo boats, water buffalos... just amazing and our highlight of the trip so far!
We instantly loved Yangshuo when we first arrived, its beautiful and has a good main strip and everyone is so friendly. It's a backpackers haven and is quite like a cool holiday resort but still very rural China.
We went for food and a few drinks with our fellow crew members after we dropped our bags off at the hostel, and we keep meeting up with Emily and Dean who are cool. We hired some bikes yesterday and rode out into the countryside. It was a beautiful sunny day and again the scenery was just breathtaking. It was great to ride through the rural villages and farms and everyone was so nice along the way. It was good to get off the beaten track and see life unchanged by tourism, albeit some of the locals have cottoned on and filled fridges with ice cold water to sell to thirsty cyclists!
We ended up staying for nearly a week in Yanshuo as it was so relaxed and there's loads to do. We did a cookery course where we went to the local food market in the morning to get our ingredients which was really good, although we did see the dog section and skipped quickly past it! learned how to make dumplings, and cooked beer fish and fried green beans, very yummy!
The Impressions Show was amazing, performed on the Li River itself they light up the mountains as the backdrop and it was spectacular! Our camera didn't take any great pics but you can read more about the show here. The day after the show however Rebecca found that the mossies made a buffet out of her and she was covered in about 70 bites!
We took the bikes again and did some more riding in the countryside, and got a bamboo boat down the YuLong river which took about 2 hours and was brilliant, again breathtaking scenery and we were lucky with the weather. This took us near Moon Hill which we cycled to and climbed up 1000 steps to the top to see the view.
We had some good nights out with the guys there too, and a Swedish couple Rebecka and Tobias who we met also (Hi Guys!), went to a club where some locals just kept buying us beer and playing drinking games! We we're feeling it the next day! heh
After a fond farewell to Yangshuo we were ready to move on, so took a local bus to Guilin, then boarded an overnight train to Chengdu. It was our first experience of the sleeper trains, so we played it safe with a soft sleeper (four beds, as opposed to six, plus you get a door on the room!!) We had the cabin to ourselves for the afternoon and were just bedding down for the night when we were joined by a Chinese guy. He was very polite but didn't speak a word of English so it was a bizarre experience just smiling across the carriage to each other every now and again. Didn't get an awful lot of sleep, but it was a fun experience.
We arrived in Chengdu and collapsed in our hostel room after a much needed shower! The hostel was brilliant, had everything you would ever need, plus the restaurant and bar were great and cheap - we met a good crowd of people there. Lots of beers and travelling stories were shared. The main attraction in Chengdu is the Panda Breeding centre and we took ourselves off there using the local buses. The pandas were amazing, so cute, and in the words of fellow German Traveller Karina “Just so f*cking lazy!” We also visited Wenshu Temple and the People's Park and spent a lot of time watching the world go by whilst observing the art of tea drinking in various teahouses.
Chengdu was a really cool city and really hasn't been affected too badly by the earthquake so if you were planning to visit but weren't sure since the earthquake, go ahead, there's no problems there.
BEIJING IS AWESOME! Had a great long weekend here. We were really lucky with the weather, the day we arrived was hazy but after that its was clear blue skies and bright sunshine, although it was still very cold. The hostel was near the Lama Temple so we visited there the day we arrived, and had a look up at the Olympic Village and Birds Nest stadium which was great to see (although you had to pay to get in so we didn't bother with that).
Had a good couple of days sight seeing after that, went to Tiananmen Square (although some military thing was happening and so it was empty and we couldn't get on which was dissapointing) and to The Forbidden City which is so impressive on a massive scale. That night we ate peking duck in a restaurant in one of the Hutongs which was hard to find and we nearly gave in when a guy on a bike pulled up anbd gave us a ride through back alleys and to the door. It was sooooo good! Didn't stay out too late though as it was an early start the following day to The Great Wall!
Definately a main highlight of the trip, we hiked from Jinshanling to Simatai parts of the great wall and it was spectaular! Tiring as there were many ups and downs (sometimes very steep!) but the views are spectacular. We were with another couple from England and a guy from Portugal and we had a great time.
We did a lot of chilling out in Beijing aswell, did some shopping and bought lots of local art and some clothes at the market . We also went clubbing which was funny as they were playing some old school classics!
On the way to Shanghai now on the express train for our last few days in China.
Shanghai was our last stop in China, unfortunately we were not as lucky with the weather as we were with beijing, and it was cold, grey and wet most of the time.
We did enjoy some more shopping though on the main street, Nanjing Road, and enjoyed the food and tea. We also walked down beside the river to see the Oriental Pearl Tower and the rest of the Shanghai skyline. It was good to look round the Old Town area which has some cool architecture (the heavens opened that evening and we got drenched walking back to the hostel!).
We also bumped into a really nice Chinese couple who were on a week holiday and spoke good English, they invited us to join them at a tea ceremony which was great fun and we spent 1000RMB on tea.... ....yep thats about 85 GBP! Worth it though!
Our last evening was another highlight of China, watching the Shanghai Acrobatics in action! It was a fantastic show which was about an hour and a half of wow factor. The next day we said goodbye to China, and took the incredibly fast (430km/h!) train to Shanghai Airport and flew to New Zealand, unfortunately we are full of cold from that day in the rain and are spending our first few days in Auckland feeling sorry for ourselves! heh. We're still getting out and about though and are looking forward to the next stage in our adventure!
Arrived in New Zealand full of cold after a very long and bumpy flight. It took us a while to get over the jetlag, and a whole load of lemsips, but we managed to get out and about and see a bit of Auckland.
It was strange being back in a western city which wasn't quite like home, particularly as we were feeling a bit rough, we were dreaming of a sofa to lie on at home. However, being homeless at the moment soon made that fantasy disappear and we got on with having some adventures. We spent our first few days in Auckland looking around the city, went to the museum and up the sky tower. We also got out and visited the outlying islands and got in some good walks and topped up our tans a bit (I got burnt to death!). On our last night we met up with old school friend Sam who I haven't seen for 12 years since he emigrated to New Zealand, so it was great to catch up and get the low down on the country from him and his girlfriend Annalies - thanks for all the tips guys!
Very exciting moment when we picked up our little hire car 'Daisy the Daihatsu' - very cute but not an awful lot of room for baggage! It feels great to be able to go wherever whenever we want to now. We took a long scenic drive up to the Bay of Islands and chilled out their for a couple of days, walking through some bush (15km in flip-flops and blisters to prove it!) and visting the local marinas and ports.
On our way to Raglan now which is supposed to be a 'surfers paradise' and is about 6 hours drive away.
A good few days on the road! We headed on down to Raglan, on the way we went and bought a load of camping gear in a bid to save some pennies! We got a cheap tent, chairs and a little gas stove and portable pots and pans etc. and so stayed at the main camp site in Raglan which was good fun. It's a cool little surfer town with a really nice vibe and lots of sun bleached hair! We did a 3 hour surfing lesson which we absolutely loved, it was so much fun and we both managed to get up standing on the board a few times.
We only stayed one night and then drove down to Waitomo where we did Black Water Rafting. Basically get wet suited up, pop on a helmet and some wellies and sit on a rubber ring and float through rivers in underground caves, and jump off waterfalls!! Really weird but so much fun and not just because we were in full length rubber! :-)
We then head onto Rotorua...
So Roturua smells. Maybe camping was a mistake... No seriously it's an amazing place, we felt like we'd been transported to a prehistoric world. You just wander down the streets and there are bubbling mud pools and steaming sulpher pools right there in the middle of the road. We visited the Polynesian Spa which was just what we needed after our surfing and rafting activities. We spent half a day soaking in hot pools and having mud packs and massages - bliss.
On Tuesday we moved onto Taupo which is just beautiful. The weather has been gorgeous and when we arrived our first view of the town was from across the lake which was crystal clear and calm with the snowcapped mountains from the distance reflecting in it. We got out on the lake and took a 8km kayaking trip to go and see some Maori carvings on the cliffs surrounding the lake. It was another beautiful day, we stopped at a beach and took a little bathe in the lake, which was a strange experience when you think that the lake is in fact an active volcano crater! We got in a bit more volcano action the following day when we hiked the Tongariro Crossing, one of NZ's most famous one day tramps. It goes along the edge of three volcanoes, one of which is Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings. An amazing, if totally exhausting hike up and down the volcanoes for 7 hours!
Wellington has been a very chilled out experience. It's a really cool laid back city to say that's it's NZ's capital. We took advantage of the hostel's organised bar tour on our first night here and met a great crowd of people, some of whom we hope to catch up with in the South Island. We've ventured out into the city for a few meals, but have spent a lot of our time in the fab TV lounge at the hostel watching movies. Back-to-back Lord of the Rings! But when you're walking amongst the film's backdrop it just has to be done!
Moving onto the South Island tomorrow and are very much looking forward to some wine tasting and hopefully some more surfing and waterbased activities in the next few days.
Oooo look, I can change the font on this thing.... sweet!
So we felt a wee bit sea sick on the ferry over to the south island, but it was all good (no chucking!) and we headed for Renwick, a little remote town near Blenheim, bang in the middle of a lot of wineries which was a bit of a shame, but we thought we'd stop and have a little look around anyway ;-D We had good weather and we hired some bikes for the day cycling around the wineries tasting all the good vino! We made 9 stops in all, and were a bit wobbly on the way home! Great day!
We then moved onto Kaikoura, originally to go do some whale watching, but when we got there there were bad sea sickness warnings which put us off, so we just stayed by the pool and the hot tub in the hostel and soaked up the sun instead! :-P
It was a nice drive over to Nelson where we stayed for a few days, the hostel there was cool and we booked on a horse trek which was great fun, riding through forest and rivers, up onto the mountains. James even managed a canter on his first time, Bex did too and nearly died as she had an "expert" horse and ended up galloping downhill and jumping over a fallen tree with no stirrups! We met a great bunch of guys there aswell and ended up joining them on a paintballing session afterwards which was a good laugh, James got a good shot in the head which is a pearler! We were planning on doing the Abel Tasman park area next, but that was the start of the bad weather; a rain storm coming over from Oz hit the west coast and the DOC office laughed when we told them our plans; "Have you seen the weather forecast!?!" ...so we moved on...
OMG! THE RAIN!!...
At first, it wasn't too bad, we drove on to a little place called Hokitika stopping off to see the pancake rocks on the coast along the way. We found a really nice little hostel with a good view of the sea and an amazing log fire!! ..However there was nothing in Hokitika so we moved swiftly onto Franz Josef (during which time to stop James being annoying on the long drive, Rebecca tortured him by playing Christmas songs! [sorry to be writing about us in the third person, but I gather you dont really know which one of us is writing the blog!]) :-)
The weather then got really bad, all the glacier hike trips were cancelled and we couldn't even get out as the roads were closed, in the hostel the lights kept dimming as the power was struggling. Our only entertainment was watching movies and going on the internet, but eventually that even died a death! We did see a couple of the guys from the horse trek though which was good and had a beer though. We were gutted we couldn't do the hikes, but to determined to see the glacier we ventured out in the rain, covered head to foot in GORE-TEX hardcore waterproofs and saw this!!..
..Yep, nothing, just rain and mist... but it got us out of the hostel!...
We eventually made it out and headed onto Wanaka...