A Travellerspoint blog

Thailand

where our hearts lie...

sunny 32 °C
View RTW - Part 1 (Russia, Mongloia, China, S/E Asia) on RosiePony's travel map.

Bangkok. The City that never sleeps, where you hear the cry of 'Thaiiii masssaaaaagggggeeeee' (think high pitched whine) on ever street corner and you hear the croak of those annoying wooden frogs the old 'ladies' (loosley used in this instance) insist on trying to sell you as they follow in your footsteps down the street! Would i have it any other way?! Not at all...here again after 1.5 yrs and its great!
We bit the bullet and stayed on Kho San road (the famous Backpackers street) which was alot busier than i expected given all the political unrest the country has seen recently. We were travelling with two of the girls (Ash and Ags) from our original meeting in Vietnam, whilst the rest of the bunch had headed into Laos. 4 nights in BKK exploring the markets, China Town and other seedier parts of the city (gulp!), all the while comparing it to our last visit, as you do...
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It is no less tiresome travelling through bangkok, trying to say 'no' to Tuk Tuk drivers, although they have got much better at being honest about how many 'stop offs' they want you to have in order of reducing your Tuk Tuk bill (usually at tailors or gem shops - or both - where you spend 15 mins or so being talked to by a shop assistant who is trying to convince you the clothes you had made in vietnam were really not as good quality as the ones he can make for you - at a much cheaper price!). After all the pretence of feigning interest at said gems and cloth, onward to our final destination!
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As the girls were leaving to catch the others up in Laos, we stumbled across a dive/travel shop the owner of which got us interested in a few trips, one of which was a PADI scuba diving course down south on one of 'the Islands'. Well since we were heading there soon anyway we thought we'd get a great deal in Bangkok beforehand...
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Which was exactly what we got :) We arrived via a bus-ferry-taxi ride from BKK to Ban Ko Tao (Turtle Island) spending the first day relaxing in our Bay (Chalok Baan Kao Bay) on the beach. This was followed with 4 days of learning to scuba dive and taking 4 open water dives - including a 'James Bond' somersault into the sea

...as well as under water dancing and other tasks, plus an exam...Phew, we passed with flying colours and the next step was to decide what 'fun dives' we wanted to do...whilst contemplating getting a Thai massage (or two).
Then of course, because nothing had gone wrong for a while, I got a cut in my ear (whilst trying to equalise underwater for diving) so had to go on anti-biotics for 5 days. 5 days out of the water killed! In this time we took the opportunity to do a 2 day Visa Run to Burma (Mayanmar) which was....nice. So whilst we sunbathed on the beach and read, it was so hard not diving! We obviously knew we had 'the bug' so arranged to start our Advanced Open Water course as soon as my ear healed. This was a 2 day course, which we had 5 dives in; day 1 was our deep dive (down to 30m), then our Peak Performance Bouyancy dive, followed by a night dive (gulp!). Day 2 was our navigation dive as well as an underwater photography dive for me and a Fish ID dive for Jon. We thouroughly enjoyed the experience and cannot wait to go diving again!
Nemo

Nemo

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After our time on Ban Ko Tao, we headed back the way we came to Bangkok, where through the same agent we booked on a 2 day 'Gibbon Experience' near Pattaya. We were picked up ina lush van that had full reclining seat so we could sleep - cushions supplied - and since there was only Jon and I being picked up, we did just that! We arrived at the Camp in the Jungle (actually it's a zoo with accommodation to one side - but a BIG zoo) and were immediatley signed in etc, and taken to the 'Flight of the Gibbon', a 3 hour zip line trail through the jungle with two guides. There were 8 of us in total, the other people were Russian (although they kept themselves to themselves and didn't seem impressed we had visited their country when they found out during lunch!). Now I confess, I am scared of falling off tall things. Its not so much the tallness or the view, more of the falling/jumping unsecure-ness feeling. So this was going to be a real challenge for me!
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In actual fact it wasn't. You are attatched to a safety line at all times, so even if you fall you cannot actually fall. the Guides hook you on and off the zip lines, all very professional and safe. and it was so much FUN! I highly reccommend it! once that was over, we had lunch then just Jon and I were taken to the zoo where we were given a golf cart to drive around in (that is how big the zoo was!). Guess who got to drive?! Yep, me! And i loved every minute of it - even the bit where we got chased by a monkey because he spotted us snacking on some crisps - they can run fast but golf cars dont go THAT fast!!!
after the zoo we went to our accommodation - a tent. But not just an ordinary tent. Oh no! It was an air-conditioned tent, with fridge etc - best nights sleep Jon and I had in all our travelling! It was a 4/5 star resort and Jon and I were the only people staying there!! Brill! after freshening up, we went on our night safari, which was took 3 ppl to complete - one to drive, one to sit ontop of the (opem sided) bus in the rain and shine the spot light and one to be our guide. we were even lucky enough to play with a 3 month old bear-cat that just wanted to sit on our shoulders and climb about us whilst sniffing us - very cute (and free)!
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The next day we started with 'The Jungle Gym' - a fun obstacle course made of zip lines, ropes, rope swings etc ... we loved it so much we completed it twice! After that we had lunch then we were off back to BKK for a chance meet up with the boys who had come back from Laos (the girls were back in the UK by now). Then we caught our flight and flew home to the UK...

Posted by RosiePony 13:33 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Cambodge

Cambodia; the Killing Fields n Siam Reap

sunny 32 °C
View RTW - Part 1 (Russia, Mongloia, China, S/E Asia) on RosiePony's travel map.

Well, the Mekong River, we have been on it before (in Laos, 2008) and using the best Thai quote "Same, Same but Different"... a two day trip passing by floating Vietnamese villages turning into floating Cambodian villages and we arrived in Phnom Penh on the eve of the second day. We decided to stay around the lake area (as opposed to the river side) which was a hive of activity. We are travelling as a 3; James who we'd been with throughout Vietnam is travelling with us until Siem Reap...
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We visited the Killing Fields (it rained as we saw and learned about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge), S21 (the former school turned prison under the Khmer regime), the Phnom Watt, and the History Museum before heading south west to the beach...
S21

S21


Kampot is a small town where we stayed for three nights...we went on an (illegal) jungle trek (i should state now we were told this after booking and about to embark into the forest) where we saw a baby monkey (cute!) and heard lots of jungle chatter.
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Our trek guide grew up during the Khmer Regime and all his family were killed whilst he ran into the jungle to escape with his life; as a teenage he survived alone for 2 years in the jungle...something i still find hard to imagine having trekked through it. It is common for Cambodians to talk freely about death and such experiences - it's good to talk...
From Kampot we headed to Kep a much smaller fishing village where life is a slow repetitive day in the heat, farming and fishing. We had the best crab there which is what it is renowned for and visited a small island (Rabbit island) to sunbathe for the day. on the way over we saw a group of dolphins in the water from the boat. after debating jumping in, we decided we'd better not, in case they eat us! no sign of them on the way back however :(
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We went from Kep directly to Siem Reap, a 10 hr (delightful) bus journey...where we settled into our hotel room after bargaining a good price. we ended up staying there 6 nights, longer than expected because it is such a nice place to be. The temples of course are stunning - a three day pass is enough to see all that you could ever want to as long as you do as much as you can each day, which we did. The temples are split into two circuits - the small one and the big one. We started with the small one which actually was a longer day than the big circuit. Angkor Watt in the sunrise (stunning) followed by Angkor Thom and its temples.
Angkor Sunrise (6am)

Angkor Sunrise (6am)


The Bayan with all its heads looking out from multi directions, and finally Ta Prohm (think Tomb Raider) with the trees propping up the temples as you wander through the twisting roots and passages. All the climbing and clambering up steep temple steps made our lunch time ice cream all the better, enjoyed in the shade of a tree....sigh...after Siem Reap we had a boarder crossing into Thailand, where we headed for Bangkok.

Posted by RosiePony 21:46 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Good morning Vietnam!

Hanoi to Hue, Hoi An and then Ho Chi Min City (Saigon)

sunny 33 °C
View RTW - Part 1 (Russia, Mongloia, China, S/E Asia) on RosiePony's travel map.

Arriving in a new country at 6am isn't the most fun, but we were first on the hostel waiting list for rooms which were big n spacious, despite being in a mixed dorm of 12 beds. We'd met a couple on the train (Alex and Mirja from Sweden who are 23) travelling along our route for a bit as well as another British guy called James (23) so we all got beds in the same dorm. Louis and Perry (think back to the Trans-Mongolian blogs) were also at our hostel so we had a mini reunion with them :)
After sending (another) parcel back home and doing a guided walk (from our guidebook) around Hanoi, we decided it didn't really appeal to us so we researched somewhere that would be fun- Halong bay. However the tours going there were booze cruises n we wanted something of a unique experience so instead Cat Ba Island seemed the way to go. Trip Advisor came up trumps with Mr Tung, who met us off the (4.5 hr) bus-speedboat-bus from Hanoi. We met a couple (Claire and Ian, 22/23) and 3 girls (Natalia, Ags and Ash, all 18/19) on the bus to Cat Ba Island so the
12 of us all booked on a 2 day 1 night excursion which included:
Day 1: sailing around Cat Ba island, kayaking to a lagoon, seeing floating fishing villages (they're on stilts), then going to a small private beach cove to stay in our beach huts (mosquito nets provided mum) with beach BBQs (can I mention beaches anymore?!). Floating in the sea at night watching the stars in silence wondering what ppl back home were doing (working - ha ha ha ha!)...
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Day 2: Sailing around somemore, visiting a famous cave for stalacmites and stalactites then kayaking through a bat cave- the latter jon and I didn't do because we had already set off to shore in a bamboo boat to go see the 'eye doctor' since I had got conjunctivitis from one of the girls travelling with us and both eyes had got infected :(
One eyewash that stung like hell, antibitoics and eyedrops later we decided to stay in Cat Ba until the worst had passed. And then Jon got infected in one eye :( but we had outstayed our welcome since it was now Friday 10th and the weekends were booked up with vietnamese holiday makers so we booked tickets on a sleeper coach to Hue
(pronounced 'Hway') further down the coast.
We fell in love with Hue and stayed there 5 nights, visiting the beach by motorbike and visiting surrounding sights. We enjoyed going on a tour of the DMZ (De-Militarised Zone) and seeing and walking through the northern sections of the Vietnam Cong tunnles which was very insightful. We enjoyed a river boat ride, local cuisine and of course the beers.
After Hue we headed south to Hoi An, the land of tailors. You cannot imagine it. Street after street filled with tailor shops, restaurants and bars. Mainly tailors, who (depending on your timescales) can make clothes ready for the next day! So this is were we made our base for 7 nights. At first we tested 3 tailors but in the end plumped for a top end one since we wanted good customer service- which we got! There is a nice beach in Hoi An too, so spent a few days there recovering from all the clothes fittings etc ;)
Leaving Hoi An by plane (the bus took 24 hrs!) to Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) we were excited to meet up with our Hong Kong friends who were visiting for the weekend! So we went to the Chu Chi tunnles which were very different to the DMZ ones we'd seen earlier; alot smaller!
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Afterwards we continued to the War Remnants museum which was very enlightening for a variety of reasons:
1) the propogada still used today (bad, bad Americans-no mention of southern Vietnamese fighters...)
2) the horrific photos of war crimes and aftermath
3) being in the tunnles aloes a small insight of what it might have been like for both sides, neither pretty!
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We visited the local Market which was filled with everything and anything, but they are hard bargainers so we didn't buy too much..Jon celebrated his birthday by being ill :( Must have been the night out previously with our Trans-Mongolian mates et al since I do recall a few 'Jager bombs' being purchased along with the jugs of cocktails (in our defence they were on offer an there were 10 of us!).
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7.45am set off on a 2 day Mekong Delta trip which includes us crossing the boarder to Cambodia, by boat no less, then straight to Phnom Penn. I have to say, I love Vietnam! Not for the food (which is nothing to shout about unfortunatley) but for the people, culture n feeling that there's always tomorrow, an optimism that comes from surviving the war, not to mention the stunning scenery!

Posted by RosiePony 05:22 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Ow ow ow ow ow ow!

Guilin and Yangshuo, China

sunny 30 °C
View RTW - Part 1 (Russia, Mongloia, China, S/E Asia) on RosiePony's travel map.

Our roasty toasty HK bubble went 'pop' as we went through the border back to China, but suprisingly it wasn't as bad a feeling as I thought it would be. The upside- cheap tasty food and a manicure/pedicure which cost £16, Inc nail treatment and mega buffing :D
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One pampered Rosie later, we were ready to get the train to Guilin (15 hrs). This time we were in the top bunks (the hard sleeper trains have three tiers) so got lots of balance practice climing up n down as the train chugged along. Our Arrival in Guilin was unlike anything we'd witnessed before. Mainly because I've never witness pick-pocketing on the streets, or anywhere else for that matter. After arriving at our hotel n checking in, we took a walk to find breakfast - outside the train station we got noodles n bread (yum yum). Walking back to the hostel to settle in I saw a young guy (aging people in Asia is incredibly difficult but I'd estimate he was in his early twenties) walking behing a girl (again in her twenties) matchind her stride. Observing him try to unzipped her handbag I realised what his game was. I also happened to see another guy walking a few feet behind him, who then saw me observing. He started to laugh n told the main theif who turned to look at me. I shook my head n mouthed "no!" but he smiled, mimed back "shhhh"... Jon noticed another guy with them so not wanting to get stabbed (you never know!) we walked into a shop n watched from there (fingers crossed the girl noticed) - well, she did notice n screamed so we were happy. Not a nice welcome to a city n the vibe we felt in Guilin was one of greed, deviousness n a lack of pleasntry. However it's saving grace was the scenery - stunning limestone karst mountains with vegetation n bamboo all around surrounded by a winding Li River which we took a bamboo raft down to Yangshuo - more of that later.
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The Rice Terraces, Long Hair and a wedding!
We took a day trip to see the famous rice terraces that are renound in this area. The day started dubiously as it was tipping it down wih rain- and whilst this acted as a reminder of Home it made us wonder if we would look like drowned rats by the end of the day! Luckily for us, the rain stopped in time for us to arrive at the bottom of the hillside where we visited the village there, famous for the womens long black hair (I think he longest is 2.5 metres) which they wash in rice water (apparantly it stinks in high summer so we were lucky to miss that).
Depending on the woman's social situation (single, married or married with children) dictated how they wore their hair. Single women covered their hair with a bandana like hat (only the husband can see the hair for the first time).
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Married women (no children yet) wrap their hair around their head from forehead to back and round again. Married women wih children wrap their hair around from the forehead but create a knott which rests just above on their forehead to show they have had kids.
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Whilst there we went to see a show they put on (singing n dancing and the like). They needed male volunteers so Jon was up there like a shot (volunteered of course by Rosie). Luckily jon is a good sport because he had to pick a girl to marry by tapping her on the foot with his foot ('Jon seems to be a cumulating wives like there's no tomorrow!' I hear u think- yes he is!) then do a dance, beat some dough wih a bamboo stick (were still not sure why) and sing a love song to her. Kareoke renditions from precious holidays ran through my head as jon waited for his turn but luckily he was saved by the fact it was his wifes birthday so he got to sing Happy Birthday to her (in front of 300 strangers)! It was fun :D
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Lunch followed the wedding after a steep climb up (can u guess what...?) some steps! (did u guess right?) we had (and this was novel) rice in bamboo and chicken in bamboo. Literally a bit of bamboo is stuffed with said food and put in a BBQ. It tasted yummy.
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Then we had another 15 min climb to the top where you could see the rice terraces in full view from above- there were viewing platforms along the way up so it was great to see these beautiful terraces from different heights and perspectives. We even got to see some terraces being 'worked' on.
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A bus along a windy mountain path (you can imagine the type -steep drop to the side and speeding driver- back to Guilin ended the day so jon n I walked through Guilin to find  a restaurant for dinner. This is where we met Avan, who approahed us as we were walking along the road. Not as dodgy as it sounds- he was honest n friendly n sold trips down the Li River (amongst other things). We took his number in case and went to the restaurant he recommend - it was good food n we met Jeff and Amanda there. Jeff was from Essex (yes Nika- Leigh-on-Sea- used to work at Totts!) and has now moved to Australia where he met Amanda who is Australian. They were also interested in the bamboo ride so we arranged it with Avan for the Sunday. No regrets there! It was a beautiful hot day, the bus picked us up with 8 other ppl and we arrived at the bamboo rafts. It was 6 ppl and bags to a boat. The 4 of us met Jade, an American girl studying Chinese at uni and Jens, a german who was traveling round china and Asia. And so we sailed to Yangshou, a small town on the Li River in beautiful surroundings (just look at the pics but they don't do it justice, so even better- visit!!!). Jade left that night but the 5 of us stayed at the same hostel, had dinner and arranged the next days activity.
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The Dragon Bridge
The 5 of us rented bikes and set out on what we thought would be a few hr bike ride... 10am til 7pm and 25ks later we returned to the hostel for a well deserved shower n rest! We cycled out of Yangshou to the first bridge, stopping to take photos on the way- we were on tarmac for this bit rising leisurley through the countryside, karst hills dotted about as far as the eye could see and rice paddies on the low ground with streams diverted between the fields. Green lush plants everywhere, including bamboo, often springs with water buffalow lazing about in them trying to cool down. Comerant birds on the riversides waiting for their work to begin in the evening, and locals selling icecreams n drinks by the road side at well placed locations.
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Then we had lunch at the giggling tree hostel and continued in our quest for the dragon bridge... This is where the road changed. To bumpy mud tracks stone laden- not nice on the bottom, or wrists :s  the tracks went through tiny villages where locals would stare at these crazy foreigners on bikes but would kindly point in the right direction to our destination. We found the second bridge and were told it was only another 40mins to the dragon bridge, so off we went (this was about 5pm) to the dragon bridge! The track this time (I use that term lightly) was the 30cm wide 'bit' between rice paddys! Workers eitherside were looking at those crazy foreigners on bikes like we were mad! That, and laughig when one of us (mainly me) went headfirst on my bike off track into a rice paddy- I still managed to remain on my bike but it hurt :s after the third time I got off n pushed but still managed to slip down the path into the paddy- it was so narrow! Anywhooo. We realised we were lost (after half an hr) and asked directions. We finally got to the dragon bridge (must admit, after that rigmarole it was a bit of a dissapointment!) got more water n headed home with the thought of diminishing light hot on our heels!
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Ow ow ow ow ow ow!
The next day (my birthday) our poor bottoms were sore, so we all went to the body doctor and got a full body massage for £9! Then we chilled out and watched a DVD at the hostel, went for a nice dinner followed by a few drinks. All in all a great birthday, thanks for all the messages! :)
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Moonhill Cave
The next morning we made our way to Moonhill and went caving- not as I imagined crawling on ure belly though tunnles (thank goodness) but hardhat n torch walking though caves to a mudbath! We entered a cavern where there was a natural clay mud mini swimmingpool which of course we all got into and had a mud fight ;) not really sure who won out of the 4 of us but we were all caked in mud by the end if it! Then we were taken to a natural cave stream to wash off (mud, like sand, gets EVERYWHERE) then went onto the hot natural spring (sighhhhhhh). So lovely n refreshing, after that we needed another massage so the girls went off to 'recouperate' whilst the boys did final packing preperation. Jeff and amanda left that evening to go to hong kong so jon and I researched our next move- onwards to Vietnam!

Posted by RosiePony 02:17 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Wine cellar

Crown; from London to HongKong - It only took 5 yrs!

30 °C
View RTW - Part 1 (Russia, Mongloia, China, S/E Asia) on RosiePony's travel map.

Crown
For those of you who didn't already know, before setting off on this adventure I (jono) worked for a company called Crown Worldwide - for 5 years. The (IT) head office is based in Hong Kong here....
Thats where Hong Kong is!

Thats where Hong Kong is!

Chris Davis-Pipe (head of IT), or "cdp" as he is better know as amongst the 'IT' crowd, thought he had finally gotten rid of me, and so as the party celebrations continued in my wake, I turned up in HK to annoy him. mwah ha ha ha (evil laughter) .... !!
The Crown Office

The Crown Office

Night Out
On our first night in HK, we met Chris and his soon to be fiancé, Nicole (he will kill me for typing that) for a few drinks and a catch up. At around 1am he took us to the most amazing place that Hong Kong has to offer; an Irish pub! But no ordinary Irish pub! One that is home to the Hong Kong Tottenham Hotspurs Supporters club (heaven for me, hell for Rosie). We stayed here watching Spurs beat Man City (yey!!) and finish 4th in the league, which took till 5am. Rosie loved every minute and never fell asleep at all :-) Obviously this was not the last time we went to this amazing HK tourist attraction (Mehul you would have loved it - Rosie did!).

Office Lunch
We went out for lunch with Chris and his team where I finally got to meet all of the great people I had been communicating with over the last 5 years.
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Lunch was a mixed variety of food, ranging from amazing dim sum and included our first (and last) taste of chickens feet. We also had curried squid, cows intestine and to finish of a "Hello Kitty" mango desert ...
Chickens Feet!

Chickens Feet!


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Sport Climbing
Chris took us Sports Climbing (indoor rock climbing) and we were joined by a few other hardcore office members... RoJo as you know being super fit, knew that this would be easy and of course, both made it to the top in record time, showing the others how to do it :-) (boy did it hurt the next day).
Sport Climbing

Sport Climbing

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After 2 hours of pain (despite finger exercise to warm up!) we moved on to have some well deserved lunch. Being next to the harbour we were treated to some great fresh seafood. Loads of tanks full of different varieties of seafood ready for us to pick the ones we wanted which were then killed, cooked and eaten! Mmm mm.
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Wine Cellar!
Crown happens to own a wine cellar in HK. On my fist day at the company one of the first questions I asked was "When do I get to visit the wine cellar"? Well, 5 years later I clearly needed to quit my job and travel the world in order to get a visit, the cause of this adventure ;p
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Wine! I wish it was all mine!

Wine! I wish it was all mine!

So how could Chris refuse us; he took us to be wined and dined, and mix with the posh clientele (you have to be a member to go there). Unfortunately when packing I did not think I would need a suit or nice shoes so I may have been a little out of place but no one seemed to mind too much (probably cos Rosie was sat sparkling opposite me - can you tell she added this bit?). Great food, great wine and great company, what more could Chris ask for :-)
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Rosie n Chris

Rosie n Chris


Tenderloin steak (yum yum)

Tenderloin steak (yum yum)


Warm fresh bread

Warm fresh bread


Jono, Nicole and Chris

Jono, Nicole and Chris


Stolen decoration (nearly) at the Wine Cellar

Stolen decoration (nearly) at the Wine Cellar

Oh how he will miss us when we are gone....

Posted by RosiePony 05:15 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged backpacking Comments (4)

Kowloon & Lantau

HK (Part 2)

semi-overcast 30 °C
View RTW - Part 1 (Russia, Mongloia, China, S/E Asia) on RosiePony's travel map.

still here in HK....

Electric storm
And i thought it 'rained' in England!! Well, having just got the ferry over to Kowloon we wondered whether they ever stopped it (the ferry service) on account of the weather; the sea was rough n choppy despite it being less than a 5 min journey over the water.
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The rain was the big splashy kind that enjoyed grouping up with its team mates to get you soaking wet - I was wearing shorts and a v-neck top so occasionally got splashed down the back too! and we had a brolly! But despite, the salesman saying this was in-destructible in a typhoon, we wondered what use that would be when Jon and I had been blown away already!!
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Temple Street, Jade Market and Mong Kok
Temple St is the place to go in Kowloon for souvenir stuff, and as you stroll along waiting to be accosted by the store sellers, you feel a sense of "been here, done that"?! Incidentally, the weird thing is about HK, not one does end up shouting at you to buy their products, and i still haven't worked out why not. Could it be because they know they don't have any shoes in my size (size 6 = size 40 in HK, despite trying to convince me a 39 will fit) ... or they just know we'll show interest if we want something?!
The Jade Market, just at the end of Temple Street is fascinating, rows and rows of stalls selling the same items - jewelry, pearls, jade, other stones. necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings etc so out came my bargaining skills, not used since the Silk Market in Beijing!

(Jono here now) obviously we did not go to the Jade Market only once, yep thats right twice: I found myself bargaining for bracelets, earrings, and necklaces!! I even considered buying one for myself after all that hard work :-)

Mong Kok is situated north of Temple Street and is teaming with people - this is what i imagined china would be like at every turn, people shoulder to shoulder and being forced along roads you weren't interested in seeing. Well, it wasn't quite that bad (think Oxford Street padestrianised for xmas shopping girls) but close! In the mix on most street corners were stalls selling animal innards (to use one phrase) so not something we particularly fancied as a snack :s

The Subway
I know i've mentioned the subway in previous posts, but there is something which i overlooked and now take for granted, as is the way when you get used to how things are done in a country. The subway here has... wait for it ... aircon! A delight from the humidity. Also and possibly more exciting than that - ticket machines are touchscreen, yep, you click on the tube map station you want to go the and then the machine kindly tells you how much money to insert! Oh TfL please please look towards HK for transport inspiration, should you wish me to return to London!!

Lantau Island
Lantau Island is sparsely populated, compared to HK Island or Kowloon, but it is a hotspot regarding the Big Buddha and the cable car, not to mention the beaches on the south shore. After catching the ferry, we took a bus to the southern beach (with sand as opposed to shingle shell on HK Island) where we spent the morning enjoying the sun, sea and sand ... then we caught another bus to a sleepy fishing village called Tai O, where they dry their daily catch of fish on a wooden rail outside their metal homes ...
Hanging the fish out to dry

Hanging the fish out to dry


Then we caught another bus to the top of the hill where the Big Buddha sits on a lotus flower (what else?) in meditation.
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Steps to the Big Buddah

Steps to the Big Buddah


Of COURSE there are steps leading up to it which you must climb in the hot lunchtime sun, whilst the humidity makes you drenched (with sweat i am sorry to add), gasping for water - lucky us, we were carrying our water bottles. But once you're up top the views are great as they are whilst you ascend towards Buddha (it was his birthday on Friday, but more of that later) and the breeze is lovely and refreshing, enabling you to descend back down to earth and towards ice-cream ;)
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Lunch quickly (Japanese noodles) then onto the 45 min cable car ride, back down the hill (i meant mountain) where you could watch people look like ants from above. Many a geographic photo later, after discovering my camera also had a 'multi-click thingy' (i.e. takes a photo every second whilst the button is held down), which i know i will later come to regret when photo editing... (thats now, by the way) I snap away happily to my delight ;)
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10,000 buddhas
Now if one Buddha is not enough, you can go and visit ten thousand! Jon and I arrived at the tube stop and followed the directions down the road where they abruptly stopped in front of this HUGE shopping mall. Having a great sense of direction and geographic skill, i deduced, the trail may well heat up again should we go around said shopping mall (just to point out it was a home ware shopping mall; had it been clothes, this could well have been a different blog entry - one more like 'mum, can you lend me a tenner?!'). At the back was a big sign saying "10,000 Buddhas this way" so we knew we were onto a winner!
I guess its that way

I guess its that way

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Along the path we found the beginning of the statues; all different shapes and sizes with unique facial expressions but each gold coloured with red lips and black hair.
See even Buddahs grow beards

See even Buddahs grow beards

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Having got to the top of the steps (they are everywhere!) we find the funniest pair - one with an outstretched arm reaching to the sky and another with really long legs holding his gown from splashing in a puddle (no idea why they are out of proportion but funny nonetheless). This is a bemusing place to be, but at the same time, given its position up a hill, has a cool refreshing breeze that makes it all the more serene. A nice place to spend the afternoon.
Go Go Gadget Arm

Go Go Gadget Arm


Go Go Gadget Legs

Go Go Gadget Legs

Posted by RosiePony 05:29 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

A Close Shave!

Hong Kong (Part 1)

semi-overcast 30 °C
View RTW - Part 1 (Russia, Mongloia, China, S/E Asia) on RosiePony's travel map.

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Well, to answer the most important question from the Wuhan blog; YES! There IS toilet paper (and hand wash) in the bathrooms so i feel like i am being spoilt here compared to China! (Jon has it so lucky being a BOY!). We are coping using the HK $ but not used to the London price tags... We are loving HK as I am sure you all would hence why there has been a delay in blogging (sorry avid fans!), so to make up this will be a long one ;) Also make sure you check out the photos we have uploaded too...

Hong Kong Boarder
Crossing over the border (spelt right this time mum ;p ) from China was one of the smoothest, quickest transfers we have had, not just during this journey, but i think i can safely say "in our lives!". It took all of 10mins to go from Shenzen, China to Sheung Shui, Hong Kong. Then we got the MTR (Tube equivalent) to "Central" in Hong Kong Island (called so because it is -rather appropriately- in the centre of the business district (where the $$$'s are made!) and got a taxi up to our luxury accommodation; we stayed with a friend of the family (Thanks Anthony) who's apartment was "A"mazing!

Mid-Levels and The Escalator
The apartment has 3 bedrooms, was on the 12th floor of a skyscraper in the "Mid-Levels" district (V posh - I wonder what they thought when RoJo turned up, backpacks n all!!). And the best bit - there is an escalator that runs from the bottom of Central (near the tube station) right the way up the hill to Mid-Levels district, which was suitably (not to mention convenient) used by us!!! It goes 'down' in the morning (so ppl can go to work quickly without sweating from walking down the million steps - i've counted them, and there ARE a million! - that run alongside the escalator) until 10.00am and then it changes to go 'up' until Midnight which is rather handy when you're a little tipsy (our new word for drunk) from the beer tasting (we HAD tooo!).
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A Close Shave
Now as you all know (if you have tracked our progress and looked at our photos) a strange growth was forming on Jono's face - something i believe to be called a 'beard'! Some of you protested to such a thing in your emails and comments to us, and whilst it provided a shelter from the bitter siberian cold and also acted as a home to some of the delicious delights of Chinese cooking, Jono (finally) decided to have a shave!!!

Botanical Gardens
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A newly sheared Jono (who's face was now as smooth as a baby's botty) and a happy Rosie (for the toilet paper, not the beard shaving) took a (sweaty - HK makes you very sweaty!) stroll around (in the HUMID) Botanical Gardens. We saw Monkeys, Lamas, Orangutans, a huge tortoise and lots of birds... as well as joggers, speed walkers and other crazy sport people moving quickly through the gardens for exercise. So we sat and watched them whilst having an ice cream and beer! hee hee

Hong Kong Levels
It takes a while to figure out how to get anywhere because HK has so many different levels. There is 'street' level (as you might assume; it can be seen from the street), 'ground' level (can be seen on the ground) and 'skyscraper' level (look up). There is also 'below you' level (look down)! So It all seems like a childhood rhyme "Look up, Look down, your pants are falling down! Which of course they weren't, but it still makes you feel like you're having a sensory overload walking down a HK street - too much to look at!
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Star Ferry & The Symphony of Lights
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Its a ferry for the Stars, so naturally Jon and I got free transport across. Not really, but it would have been nice! A ride costs $2 for the lower deck and $3 for the top deck (20p or 30p) and as you walk up the (moving) gangway you can pick your seats and direct of travel by moving the seat's back, either right or left. You get great views of the skyline as you leave HK Island and head towards Kowloon (mainland peninsular) something that is made a spectacle of in the "Symphony of Lights". This is an automatic digital light show - some of the skyscrapers have multi-coloured lights on their outside, and they all participate in the 'show' by tuning these lights to music. However it wasn't as good as we had anticipated having been to Xi'an first and seeing the water show (which was synchronised to music too)...but it was still enjoyable to watch!
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The Peak
The Peak is The place to go to see a glorious view of HK and its scrapers but you need good weather to get this, and of course, HK being an island the weather is always changeable but mainly misty at the top (its near the clouds you know?)! We got The Peak Tram up (took approx 8 mins) and saw the mist, got drizzled on so had to buy ponchos and walked down (a bit steep in places) looking like sweaty ghosts (the ponchos were rather large) ... sorry no photos!
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View from the Peak

View from the Peak

Trams and Causeway Bay
We got a tram (get on at the back and off at the front, pay on exit) and sat at the top front to see HK at night - lots of neon lights, people and traffic- to Causeway Bay. We were expecting a scenic Bay with sea front restaurants n great seafood (imagine Spain at night) but got an urban bustling sector of streets all hiding their restaurants up the skyscrapers where the only way to find them is by noticing a neon sign (amongst lots of other neon signs) and trying to locate where its entrance was. After chatting about going for seafood, we ended up in a rather posh restaurant having Goose and other various delights that were non-seafood!
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Happy Valley Racecourse
The Races! How exciting!
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We arrived at about 7pm and upon entry signed up to a (free) guided tour which included; How to bet, where to bet, where McDonalds was (we were told, we didn't ask!) and last but by no means least, where the beer was! So a beer jug later we were stood by the side of the racecourse (at the front) and the betting commenced. Having missed the first race due to our (detailed) guided tour we splurged out and placed a bet on two horses - $10 each to place (1/2/3rd), both of whom finished 11th/12th out of 12!!! :S not the best of starts! We mainly went by name (no RoJo insight unfortunately) and managed to loose a lot more (don't worry mum, this is in the region of $200 which is twenty quid), but we recouped $16 (1 pound 60) in the last 2 races... woo!

....part 2 to follow!

Posted by RosiePony 04:32 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged backpacking Comments (3)

Wuhan - waiting for the train!

sunny 30 °C
View RTW - Part 1 (Russia, Mongloia, China, S/E Asia) on RosiePony's travel map.

We arrived Thursday eve in Wuhan, had dinner at the hostel which seems to be really busy so is instantly better than the past two!
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Friday we got up, had brekkie then spent the morning researching the best way to get to Hong Kong, our next destination. However things didn't work out too well. It turns out China also has the May bank holl so EVERYONE is off and celebrates by booking up all the train tickets so RoJo can't get a sleeper train til the 6th of May!!! Yes, I was gobsmacked too- 6 whole days of discovering Wuhan before getting the train to HK!!! Agh. Did I mention our first china visa expires on the 7th???!
One 3 hr walk around Wuhan later n we were both feeling back on track, knowing that if the worst came to the worst we could always fly to HK. So we had explored a bit too. We'd walked down to the river (smoggy so not too pretty) where there was a small park which we had walked through in ten mins. We walked along the river front and the turned up a side street that had stalls spread out along it. Sauntering along at a leisurely pace (as u do when ure not at work -hee hee) we came across a guy who melted toffee and made lots of different animals on a stick (they like to put lots of things on sticks here!). We saw a man melting glass on a Bunsen burner and making a vase. He'd made loads of other ornaments too- v. Pretty.
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Now, back in Xi'an, Chris who worked at the hostel had given us Chinese names since ours cannot be directly translated- mine is "chao mie" (it's a pretty flower) and jons is "li Lin" (forest). We got the symbols cut into green stone, painted with gold n so we now wrist braclets. A couple of Chinese people spotted them n loved that we had Chinese names!! :D
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Walking further up the street we discovered a street full of food stalls. Well u can imagine my dismay at having to sample some of the delights! ;) Spicy chicken wings on sticks, veg spring rolls, dumplings, flat pancake thing with pork in the middle... All washed down with a refreshing orange juice n ice (it was a hot hot day).
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Saturday we re checked the ticket situation and lo and behold, we got two tickets to Shenzen (where u cross the boarder to HK); hard sleeper for the 4th... So we snapped them up. Train leaves at 5.40 so have to occupy ourselves til then...luckily here are lots of nice things to do in Wuhan!

Sunday, we went to the park- East Lake- had lunch there (homemade sarnies) n read our books under the trees watching the lake, people padding round in mini boats etc... Even ppl fishing. it was about 29degs! But lots of pollen from the trees so hay-fever tablets quickly came out.
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Monday we went to the Yellow Crane Tower (5 levels) where we were approached by a Chinese girl (called Penny) who wanted to practice her English so we got a free tour! :) Then we went to re test the food again just in case we missed something the first time round! Yummy yum yum!!
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Tuesday eve we went to a restaurant for dinner where we met the nicest lady ever; luckily she was our waitress and could speak enough English for us to order "a fish dish and a pork dish with no chilli"! When it came out it was pork n mushroom and the other dish, fish n Ginger in a soy sauce (with bones) - amazing!! We had Chinese tea too which tasted superb. I'd been wanting to get some tea so we asked what kind it was that we were drinking n asked our waitress to write it down for us. I asked where could we buy it and the next minute, she'd left the restaurant to check if the shop they get it from had some in stock. She returned with 2 bags of tea for me (35 yuan = £3.50!) so bargain!! How sweet. Just tested it now n it's lovely! Jon just spilt his on the floor! Typical. Eh!?

Wednesday, our final day in Wuhan reminds us both of home - its raining, really raining, with rain n everything! Hasn't stopped yet but we have 2 more hrs til we get our (15 hr) train to Shenzen, Hongkong the next destination!

Quite excited about going there but not sure what to expect- questions
springing to mind:
1) Will it be similar or vastly different to china?
2) Will the toilets be nice for one in this journey?!
3) Will we still try n use yuan instead of the HK$?
4) is my 'tea' really tea and will it get through the boarder?!
5) do they haggle in HK??????!

And finally hoping the HK skyline is all it's said to be...

Posted by RosiePony 22:35 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Yangtze River Cruise and the 3 gorges

Chongqing to Wuhan

sunny 25 °C
View RTW - Part 1 (Russia, Mongloia, China, S/E Asia) on RosiePony's travel map.

So we rocked up to Chongqing train station at 00:30 am, convinced a taxi to take us to a hostel where we'd not yet had chance to book a room! Taxi couldn't find it, called them for directions and luckily for us we got two beds in a dorm full of snoring (smelly) men! One lovely nights sleep later n we had booked our 4 day cruise down the Yangtze River! Time was of the essance so off we ran to grab some food provisions... We arrived at the meeting point typically Rojo style (30 minutes late) panicking, thinking that we had missed our transport to the docks; only to realise they were running 1 hr late and that the docks were literally across the road!  

Aurora

Aurora


A couple of years ago we went on The Aurora cruise ship (see above) which took us around the Canary Islands in style, with evening dress for dinner, karaoke (we rocked out!), casino n bingo hall, shuffleboard, coits (still not sure what this is) and 3 pools - did I mention the spa?! Our room was fully kitted out with mod cons, dbl bed, balcony, lovely bathroom etc - the works (nearly!). Well the Yangtze cruise ship was exactly the same!!

It floated in water! Ha ha ha

The Chinese ship capacity is 300+ ppl over three levels. Of all of the passengers on board, there were 2 Non-Chinese people; prizes for guessing who these were?! Yep, u guessed it, Rojo were the only foreigners on board so as is becoming the norm, we are a novelty (still). 

Now here's the real boat description:
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The restaurant menu was in Chinese (no pics) so we had lucky dip for dinner, all the tours were in Chinese so we made our own version of events up between us which provided our ship entertainment. That and trying to work out the rules for Chinese card games we were invited to. Got lots of stares and we grew to like some of the more inquisitive ppl on board. Typically on the last day we met someone who could speak English. He was from china living in Canada. He wasn't too impressed with the tour! 
Did I mention it was 4 ppl to a room; there were bunkbeds (small, uni sized ones) and a shower over the toilet situation (hole in floor) in the bathroom (not nice!).
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Our roommates of course snored away for 3 consecutive nights so we're really happy Jon left the earplugs back in St Petersburg...
The Snoring Man from our cabin!

The Snoring Man from our cabin!


Played lots of UNO (I'm beating Jon currently), drank (free) green tea n ate noodles for breakfast! Scenery was stunning, we loved it- very geographical. Lots of caves, cliffs n vegetation plus old n new waterlines. Sunny so got a bit sunburnt! Gradual build up to my mahogany tan I'll have when I come back!!! (dreaming...). Surprisingly no incidents re falling overboard! not sure they would have stopped had either of us actually fallen off since we Don't know "man overboard!" in Chinese...  

Our first stop off was to the Ghost City. We climbed up a zillion steps to the top of a hill on the way seeing weird n wonderful temples relating to death n the underworld. We got this from the sparse English plaques scattered around. 
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steps!

steps!


Second stop was to change boat to a day cruiser to go and see the Three Little Gorges.
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After seeing two of the three we transferred again to another boat- this time it was a tiny bamboo boat, two to a bench with life jackets you'll  be pleased to here. We even got asked to dress up in traditional clothing so everyone else on the boat had good holl snaps! And we got a keyring to remind us of this amazing moment...and were then charged 10 yuan (£1)! 
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Third n final stop was to see Jinshan river where we changed boat yet again to a tiny bamboo dragon boat where we got to 'race', yep we grabbed an oar each and rowed to drumbeats! Then they turned on the motor cos everyone gave up!
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Arriving at our destination we discovered a walkway on the water (so we can honestly say we've walked on water) which we followed to the end then up some iron steps to the side of a cliff. The railing continued so I had a safety net thank goodness! Carried along n got lovely views then sat through a Chinese drama (no clue as to what was going on) and then sailed back home to the big boat. 
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Bus to Yichang the end of the river cruise as advertised (didn't bother with the dam) then bus change over and on to Wuhan (5 hrs) which is where we are now!

I currently have the cutest bunnie in the world sat on my lap! All White n tiny!!!! Trying to give it a bit of freedom cos it's cage is tiny- just fits him in with the food :( I could fit him in my pocket....I'm sure no one would ever know... Hmmmm! :D
This is the white ones brother!

This is the white ones brother!


Joyce, FYI - We wrote this together so no more cheeky comments please!! (Jono typing now obviously) :-)  

Posted by RosiePony 07:10 Archived in China Tagged cruises Comments (2)

Chengdu

Our Panda friends

semi-overcast 16 °C

So we set off from Xi'an at 10pm and headed to yet another train station for our next (short) 16 hour train to Chengdu.  Again we went for a hard sleeper and this time Rosie and I were put in the same Cabin, so the start of this journey was not as eventful as the last one.  Oddly enough nobody queued for pictures with us and the staring stopped much quicker. Maybe we are not so wierd after all :-)

We had 6 beds in this Cabin instead of 4 and again we had a very musical sleep. 3 of the 4 men in our cabin were snoring. Unfortunately the harmony did not send us to sleep.

We finally arrived in our hostel (the traffic inn) the following afternoon. We booked a tour for the next morning to go and see the pandas. Not sure if anyone is aware that we saw some Pandas yet? Rosie may of mentioned it to a few of you aleady? One lucky 6 month old baby panda was treated to a cuddle from Rosie (has she told anyone about this yet?) :-)

Watching the Giant Pandas eating and playing was the reason for our journey to Chengdu and we were not let down.  The park was set up as a breeding place for the giant pander to stop them from becoming extint as there are only about 1000 left in the world, but only one can say they have had a hug from Rosie (I bet he emailed all his mates straight after to make them all jealous) :-)

The rest of our time was spent walking and exploring the local area.  We went to the peoples park for a romantic walk (we were tired and wanted to sit down and relax) so we stopped at a tea house (these are the only places in China you can almost get away from the loud noises and relax). The only peope that come up to you are people staring (we are now used to it and stare back and smile and say "Ni Hao". This normally makes them stop or get very shy cause 'the aliens' spoke. You also get harrased by men wanting to give you a massage and clean your ears while you drink your tea. £4 and 30 minutes later I had had my head neck and shoulder massage and had things poked in my ears to take out all that wax. Overall a very odd experience but it kept Rosie ammused watching me being shook and prodded by this man.

We were trying to plan our next move and decide when to go on our trip down the Yangtze river. As we did not like our hostel very much we decided to just pack our bags and head to the train station to try and get a ticket the same day to Chongqing where the river tours start.

So, farewell Chengdu and the Pandas! Chonqing and a 3 day river cruise through the 3 gorges next!

Posted by JonoElias 02:00 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (6)

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