A Travellerspoint blog

Room by the hour, sir?

Smelly cities, ticket troubles and vibrating cock rings

The last couple of days have been traumatising to say the least but as they say all’s well that ends well, as you shall see. It all started on the overnight train from Xi’an to Chongqing which is where we left off in our last blog (The Xi’muda triangle). The Chinese love their security and to get on any train you have to go through a metal detector, your bags through an x-ray machine and have your passports and tickets checked three times. After all this proving that you are who you say you are and that you have the right to be on the train you would assume that they would then leave you alone for the rest of the journey. This is not the case. Being the nice people we are we had switched our tickets for others of the group who wanted to be together. On this occasion Rach had swapped with one of the boys who then put the ticket on his bed. This meant when the ticket collector came around, at one in the bloody morning, our fellow traveller could not find it. This in turn seemed to trigger the conductor to into some kind of meltdown. So instead of thinking of the four different ticket checks you have to go through to even see the train and letting the matter lie, she decided to start a witch hunt waking up almost every single member of our group before the offending ticket was eventually found.

As if in revenge for the insult we had visited on all conductors we were visited by yet another who decided that bottom of Rach’s bed was the perfect place to perch whilst he cleared his throat in the most phlegmy, gurgly manner. After he had deemed that all of us had been tortured enough (it was loud enough that there was no question of anyone staying asleep) he left, his revenge for all ticket collectors complete.

And so completely wretched, almost crying from sleep deprivation, we arrived in Chongqing. It was raining, now this is not unexpected in China but it certainly didn’t help when we were kicked out of our taxi by the driver and managed to figure out from his broken English that he did not know where our hotel was. Lost we set off trying our best to find other members of our group or the hotel. Twenty uncomfortable, baggage lugging minutes later we arrived. Whether we had been distracted up until this point or had simply not noticed is not debatable as the latter would be impossible; the stench of the place suddenly hit us and as the insidious wafts assailed our nostrils and our stomachs turned over we all ran for the elevator to take us to our hotel rooms, the boys in one room, the girls in another.

After piling in it was then pointed out, by the girls (who else), that there vibrating ring condoms supplied. It was then that Alex put two and two together and got flashing red neon lights as he had seen that the rooms were available by the hour. Thankfully though Chongqing was not a place we were staying in for long but a mere stopping off point for several hours until we caught a bus to go on a cruise of the Three Gorges.

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After having read all of this you would no doubt assume that our run of bad luck was up and our time from here on in would have been full of laughter and jollity. Wrong! As mentioned we had to get a bus to our next destination and so as everyone knows last wees are an important part of any pre-travel prep. Sadly the hotel had obviously already filled the rooms that we had vacated (no doubt testing out the robustness of the beds) and so we were directed to some public toilets just down the road. If we thought that it had smelled before then we were mistaken, our nostrils were taken to new depths of depravity and despair. The people of Chongqing had obviously seen public toilets as some kind of challenge and tried to get one of every kind of animal to use the loos and then trample the resulting mess around, as well as locating a large fish market right next door. Those who were lucky enough to have scarves had to loan them out so that no tour members suffocated on the stench. It was universally agreed that these were the worst toilets any of us had ever experienced.

Chongqing wasn’t through with us yet though and needed one last chew before it spat us out. The taxi driver the tour group used to drop us at the bus station wasn’t answering his phone. Our valiant tour guide then had to take the desperate measure of flagging down passing vans and seeing if they would take us but to no avail. We were stuck with no option but to pony up with our gear and lug it the two kilometres to the bus station. It hurt. A lot. Oh and did we mention before that it was raining?

For the first time however something did go our way and we managed to make it to the bus on time and so we bid adieu to the smells and went on our way. Things then got better the further from Chongqing we got and as we boarded the cruise ship our moods lightened. The rooms are great and they let you drink your own beer in the lounge room so we’ve been able to crack a few cold ones open with the rest of the group and finally relax, ready for our two day cruise of the Three Gorges.

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Rex’s Rules of the Rules

  • If you can avoid Chongqing do.
  • Ticket inspectors on Chinese trains have no qualms about waking you up at silly o clock in the morning if you haven’t presented it to them so do so, at the earliest opportunity possible.
  • As we’ve mentioned toilets we should probably mention something we’ve been keeping from you all this time. China is big fans of the squatter loos. Not pretty, not nice to use and very smelly. Avoid long trousers, they trail in the excrement.

Posted by rexontheroad 23:45 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Xi’muda triangle

Eggs, bacon and terracotta warriors

So after a decent nights sleep (probably due to the fact that our legs had almost fallen off walking the Xi’an wall the day before) we got up and joined the group for our day out to see what everybody comes to see in Xi’an; the Terracotta Warriors.

We should probably mention that in Xi’an is something of a misnomer. Two hours after we had set off we were strolling up to the ticket office and after a quick scan of the price boards almost had a heart failure. Being such tight arses we’d already worked out, according to the Lonely Planet guide, how much money we would need to get in. Unfortunately in the time after the book had gone to print the asking price had almost doubled! The only way that we could get in would be to fake it as students. So our hearts in our mouths we queued up with our very out of date student IDs praying for the best.

It seemed that luck was with us that day as we managed to con our way in on our student IDs and so we started out on the warriors. Luckily Joy our tour guide is amazing and so we did everything in the right order. Instead of rushing off and seeing the most impressive thing first she made us leave the best till last and so we discovered more about the warriors that way and also it meant that the big wow was left until the end. Sadly for Alex though just before stepping into the final viewpoint of the warriors one of his contact lenses split in his eye. He then had to spend half the time that we had in there trying to fish it out. Just before the ambulances were called and after pinching the skin of his eyeball several times he finally managed to get it out and so we were able to make our way around and marvel at the sight of the silent and ever watchful ranks of warriors. It was amazing just how many warriors were lined up and of so many different ranks. There were horsemen, archers, generals and infantry just to name a few.

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After having taken our fill of the seemingly never ending hordes of soldiers all put there, as everyone knows, in place of the sacrifice of thousands of actual warriors to serve the Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first ruler to unite China, in the afterlife, we then set off for the long dusty trek back. We really enjoyed seeing them although the distance from Xi’an meant most of the day was taken up so we decided on an early night before a day set to be filled with museums.

Our sights were at first set on the Shaanxi History Museum. Sadly it was not shown on the maps in our Lonely Planet and so we asked at the hotel for directions. They very kindly gave us a sheet with the route we’d need to take to get there. So after a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, lettuce and sauce all wrapped up in bun we set off on our way. Sadly it was the wrong route. Wildly wrong. It was like the museum had vanished into thin air, or the Xi'muda triangle! After having stumbled about for most of the day trying to find the place we eventually gave up and after a quick bit of research found that it was actually about twenty kilometres in the opposite direction to the way that we had gone! Still it was an interesting day and we got to see a lot of the city that we would have otherwise missed. Crossing a six lane motorway was definitely one of the nerve wrecking highlights! Now we’re just waiting for the joy of our fourth overnight train. We cannot wait!

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Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • If you go to see the Terracotta Army in Xi’an make sure that you do the halls in reverse order. Start with the cinema then do hall three, then two and last but by no means least; one.
  • Beware of rising prices wherever you go and make sure to carry some extra cash to cover all eventualities.
  • If you are stuck for directions in China ask. And then check online just to make sure!
  • Check out Rach's review of the warriors.

Posted by rexontheroad 18:29 Archived in China Comments (0)

Don’t mess with the Xi’an

The Muslim quarter, the city walls and the Werewolf game

Our train journey from Shanghai to Xi’an was definitely a lot more exciting than our other train journeys. This train had open cabins so there was nothing separating the beds from the corridor, which meant that we were able to sit as a group with four on each of the two bottom bunks and others on the seats in the corridors. We’d all gotten some beers and were up for some fun so our guide, Joy, got out a game called the Werewolf game. Each person playing is a certain character, whether it’s a werewolf, village person, seer or witch and the werewolves aim is to kill off as many of the others as they can, whilst the others are trying to find and kill off the werewolves. It was such a fun game and one we’ll be looking for back in the UK. We still had a few beers left so next came Ring of Fire. The rules became a mish-mash of English, Dutch and Chinese rules and included a lot of dares. All of them seemed to be aimed at making fools of ourselves in front of the rest of the train as we had to perform dances for them, hop all the way down the carriage and Erik had to hug and tell a random Chinese woman that he loved her (in Chinese). Only when the lights went out did we finally stop.

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We got into Xi’an pretty early and had a couple of hours rest in our hotel before Joy took us out to show us the local area. One of the main attractions is the Muslim Quarter, where there is a huge market, one of the cheapest in China. We spent a while stalking the stalls, trying to persuade ourselves not to buy junk we don’t need. It was tough but each time our hands strayed to our wallet we’d remember our budget and pull ourselves away much to the dismay of the market workers. We were however both tempted by a bamboo wall hanging. It was really beautiful and something we would appreciate when we got back. Alex worked hard at the haggling but after a long period we got it down to ¥80 from ¥480 which we were reasonably happy with. Now just to squash it in the rucksack!

After lunch we met up with Joy and the group to go and see the City Walls. The walls are the most complete city walls to have survived in China as well as being one of the largest ancient military defences in the world. Joy gave us a brief talk about the use of the wall, when building started and when it was completed, before excitedly finding an appropriate spot to perform the Gangnam style dance once again, much to the amusement of the passing Chinese. After that almost everyone else elected to pay the ¥50 for bike hire, whilst a few of us chose to walk it. By a few we mean us and two other guys from the group. It didn’t seem that far to begin with, being only a measly 13.57km-and after all the travelling we were used to walking long distances. However with all the talking and sight-seeing it took us around three hours, finally getting back to our starting point just as they were shutting the gate. It was well worth the walk though, particularly as we’d started it during the day it meant that as the sky darkened we got the chance to watch as the wall and surrounding city gradually light up around us. With a brief stop at Walmart for our customary pot-noodle we headed on back to the hotel.

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Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • If you can get your hands on it, the Werewolf game is brilliant with to play with lots of people.
  • The Muslim quarter market is apparently one of the cheapest in China so when you get there haggle well- you’ll come away with a bargain.
  • If you plan on walking the whole of the City wall then make sure you leave yourself enough time and don’t get locked in.
  • If you don’t fancy the walk there are single and tandem bikes available for hourly hire.

Posted by rexontheroad 16:22 Archived in China Comments (0)

Alex gets excited by pottery

Dancing, queuing and some Faberge eggs

Our second visit to Shanghai has proven to be much more pleasant. We arrived after a fairly rubbish nights sleep on the trains and so, after we'd braved the crazy taxi driving on the way to the hotel, we had to have a quick nap to recover. After our beauty sleep we headed off to see some of the sights of Shanghai with the group.

We first went to the Yuyuan Gardens, something that we had not seen on our first visit. The gardens were absolutely stunning and gave some insight into the splendour that China once had, at least amongst the rich since these were where they went to relax. There are several different halls throughout and some stunning rock gardens and pools. It was a really interesting walk and the alleyways surrounding it are full of shops and stalls that sell any kind of souvenir you could possibly wish for and many that you wouldn’t. We had a great time wandering through and even managed to find some dice so that we can teach our fellow tourers the three man game (Awkward Auckland).

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After our tour of the gardens we set off for the Bund a sight that we had seen on our previous visit to Shanghai (Stranded in Shanghai) but a sight well worth seeing again. Another reason for going along was to do the Gangnam style dance that our tour leader has got us doing in different locations around China. We proved quite the spectacle and there were quite a few Chinese with their phones and cameras out taking videos of the ridiculous Westerners doing a funny dance. Sadly the day had to come to an end and so we dragged ourselves to our beds for a good nights sleep that wasn’t disturbed by snorers!

Our last two days in Shanghai were taken up almost exclusively by the Shanghai Museum located in the Peoples Park. There were some great permanent exhibitions there on Chinese pottery that Alex absolutely loved. Our joint fav however was an odd one to find in China, an exhibition covering Russian jewellery over the last two centuries. It was astounding the richness of some of the pieces especially the royal creations and perhaps the highlight was the Faberge eggs which were amazing. There were quite a few guards around telling people off for using their cameras, but lucky for you guys we’re quite subtle and so we managed a sneaky few. The best of the eggs is below!

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In betwixt the two days of museum sight-seeing we also managed to squeeze in a real Chinese restaurant experience. We picked one out at random and strolled on in. After sitting down we had to spend about half an hour looking over the menu as there was so much to choose from. We are not joking when we say that there was every possible kind of meat on the menu either; Noah’s ark would have been a good starting point for these guys. We had a nice enough meal although it was very fatty and poor Alex had very little meat. The sauces were terrific to make up for this though and we left with our taste buds satisfied if not our stomachs.

All-in-all our second visit to Shanghai was better, although whether this is because the city suddenly improved in our four days absence is debatable. Far more likely is that we have simply gotten used to navigating and being on our own in China, and are generally enjoying China more for what it is as opposed to what we expected it to be.

Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • If you do go to any stall in China haggle and haggle hard. And remember if the price isn’t right just walk away. Chances are you can buy something almost exactly the same for the price you want two stalls along.
  • Check out Shanghai museum if you get the chance, although beware of the queues at the weekend. We had a half an hour wait on the Saturday.
  • Speaking of queues, the museum queue was the best we’ve yet seen. The Chinese don’t queue well at all and you’ll often be waiting in line patiently and some guy will push past you to the front. If you’ve got your rucksack on you can usually block them.

Posted by rexontheroad 13:54 Archived in China Comments (0)

Mushu and other tales of the Forbidden City

Snoring, Mulan and guessing grisly stories

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Our last two days in Beijing have not been filled with as much wow factor as when we visited the Great Wall (There are nine million security checks in Beijing). None the less it has been impressive. Two days ago we stopped off at the Forbidden City and, for those who don’t know it, this is the place that Mulan meets the emperor. For those who don’t know who Mulan is you need your head checking! So with Alex pretending to be Mushu we set off on our first whistle stop tour of the palaces and its gardens.

We had such a brilliant time that we left our tour group to stay behind and explore its alleyways, courtyards and gardens much more thoroughly. Not having a map left us at a bit of a disadvantage and so with no real plan we dived straight in and tried to make the best of it. Most of the signs on the buildings have English on and so it was relatively easy to quickly get an idea of what had been going on in most of the rooms. It seems that the palace was actually that big for a reason and not just to show off. At most points during Chinese Imperial rule the emperor had somewhere in the range of one to three hundred concubines. Boy did they know how to live. The buildings themselves were stunning and many held some beautiful works of art and sculptures and we even stumbled across a calligraphy demo being held in one of the rooms which was cool.

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After an obligatory evening meal of pot noodles and a good nights sleep we woke up refreshed and ready to see what has so far proved to be one of our favourite attractions in other countries that we have visited (Browsing in Brissie, Pretendy surfing on Bondi) the police museum. It took a little while to find the Beijing Police Museum as our guide book wasn’t exactly spot on but once we were there we paid the ridiculously low admission fee and passed through the by now standard security check and x-ray scanner. It seemed we had the place to ourselves and we took it at a leisurely pace. We read about the formation of the police after the Cultural Revolution in China and how it went about its business during the Olympics. It took ages to get through but we persevered knowing that the next section was our fav.

The stories section has always been the best for us as we’re both a little geeky when it gets to history and we both love to see the real side of things and put what has already been learnt into perspective. However much to our eternal disappointment the entire section was in Chinese only and so we only got to look longingly at the photos of drug busts and kidnappings knowing that we would never truly understand what we were seeing. So disgruntled we didn’t spend a huge amount of time covering the rest of the museum which concerned traffic policing, weapons and uniforms which was a bit boring in all honesty anyway. We probably would have had to cut short our time in museum had we not rushed as we had to back at the hotel for two in the afternoon to catch our overnight transport onto our next destination.

Morning has broken and we are currently still on the train bound once more for Shanghai after an incredibly bad nights sleep. This time we were in the hard sleeper section, so as opposed to our first hellish experience (The train ride from hell) we had the luxury of beds. The night started out well with everyone from the group chatting away but when it came to lights out at ten things started to go downhill and before long the situation was in freefall. Picture the scene. We are both in a cabin with one other group member and three random Chinese people on the three bunks on the other side. As we climbed into bed we thought we could make out a storm of some sort assailing the train but it soon became plain that the three gentlemen we were sharing with were setting up a snoring racquet that would have roused the dead from their slumber. Imagine three large, wild animals trapped in a cage growling at one another as you are trying to fall asleep. Now multiply that by a jet engine and throw in a couple of random squeaks and snorts and you have what we had to contest with. Needless to say none of us slept and so now face a bleary day in Shanghai.

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Rex’s Rules of the Road

  • Take ear plugs for the sleeper train.
  • If you are on a tour don’t be afraid to split and go and do your own thing. Remember it is you who is paying for it.
  • The Beijing Police Museum is good, provided you can read Chinese.

Posted by rexontheroad 08:52 Archived in China Comments (0)

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