Saturday, July 29, 2006

And we thought we were spoiled in HK ...

The night before leaving for Macau we were presented with an amazing surprise from Mona and Oliver. Oliver had booked us into the Westin Resort in Macau for 2 nights! We were completely floored. We thought we had already been spoiled silly while in HK and here we were, checking into a room the next day with an ocean view! AND of course, for those of you who have stayed at the Westin before, the HEAVENLY bed! WOW.

Needless to say, we only saw a little bit of Macau during the time we were there. We did manage to explore one of the casinos there, visit the ruins of St. Paul and get a taste of Portugese food with my cousin who works there as well.

We're now in Bangkok and although it was hard leaving all that luxury behind, I'm glad we're on the road again. I'm absolutely loving Thailand so far. The people here are extremely friendly, travelling here is easier than China, and the food has been delicious!

We're not sure where to spend our time in Thailand yet so if anyone has any suggestions, we'd love to hear them!

Monday, July 24, 2006

The journey continues ...

We've been in hiatus for the last week here in HK. It's been amazing having a nice place to stay in (Mona's) and getting some good R&R. We've been well fed as well and I think managed to pudge up back to our pre-travel selves in just one week. To sum it up, we've been spoiled silly and it's going to be hard getting back on the road after this!

I am, however, looking forward to continuing our journey. We are heading to Macau tomorrow to get a taste of the Portugese world and then off to Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore before making our way to India!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tropical Storm Bilis

Little did we know, we were leaving Shanghai bound for Hong Kong as tropical storm Bilis was making its presence known in southern China. Our 26 hour train ride turned into a 37 hour ride as it was 11 hours late on arrival in HK.

We boarded the train at 11am on the 15th totally oblivious and excited to be heading to HK again. The day went fine and off to bed we went thinking that we only had the next morning to kill as we were supposed to arrive in Kowloon at 1:10pm on the 16th.

As sleep is often disrupted on overnight trains, we were both awake on and off throughout and Ian thought that the train had been sitting still in spots throughout the night. In the morning, Ian pulled out his GPS and it said that we were half way between Shanghai and Kowloon. Not a good sign at all as we had been travelling for about 17 hours by then and we were only HALF way!!!

I went to ask one of the train employees what time we would get to HK and she said she didn't know. Hmmm.. not a good sign. 1pm on the 16th came and went and HK was no where to be seen. Ian started hearing people on the phone saying that we might arrive at 7pm or 11pm ... all different times. Great, just great. Finally, at around 6ish, I asked the train lady again and this time she said 1o'clock. Since my mandarin really stinks I thought maybe, I didn't hear her right. So I repeated the time and she said that was right. Holy smokes, that is 12 hours after we were supposed to arrive! She mentioned something about the bad weather, we still had no clue how bad it really was. We were wondering why we never thought of flying instead.

We found some travellers who had a cell phone handy so we could call Mona (Ian's sis in HK) to tell her that we were going to be REALLY late and now to come down to the station to meet us, we'd find our way to her place.

At 12:23am on the 17th, we finally arrived in Kowloon. Poor Ian had a rough start to his birthday, I felt terrible. Everyone was exhausted and really happy to be there. After going through customs, we were surprised to find a whole crew of tv cameras filming all the passengers departing. There were also people there directing us depending on where we wanted to go. They had chartered buses going into different parts of HK for free. What service! Never expected that. Somehow, we made it to Mona's safe and sound in the middle of the night.

The next day, we saw the severity of the storm on the news and on the paper. The storm had flooded many parts of central and southern China, right along the route our train was supposed to take. There were boulders on the tracks and many landslides. Apparently, we had taken many detours to avoid the flooded areas which explains our much delayed arrival.

We realized afterwards how completely lucky we were to have arrived at all and most importantly, in one piece.

These are clips we cut out from the paper which talks about our train delay (they said T99 but it's K99) and the many delays everyone else was experiencing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Farewell China!

I can't believe we've been in China for 4 months. The time just flew right by. We've seen so much of the country and yet we've covered so little in so many ways.

As I'm sure you can tell by my blogs, I will truly miss the west. From the smiles and dances of Dali and Lijiang to the surreal experience of standing in front of Everest to being brought back in time among the donkey carts and lamb skewers of Kashgar. Those have been some of the most amazing experiences I've ever had.

I'm amazed at the diversity of landscape China has to offer. We've encountered so many extremes here from the 2nd lowest deression in the world (Turpan) to the highest lake in the world (NamTso) to the highest Mountain in the world. All in one country. Fascinating. On top of this, the numerous ethnic groups spread throughout the country were eye opening. When most think of China, most just think Chinese but there really is so much more out here.

This is a land far more dramatic than we were used to back home. The streets are constantly filled with action be it people dancing together, yelling at each other, holding an accused thief back, laughing together and sometimes, crying together. It's amazing.

We've gotten to be fairly comfortable travelling in this country as we're familiar with the faces and the way things run. We are however, ready to move on. It's time to see other faces and learn about other cultures. Maybe ... just maybe, we'll come back to China someday to visit the parts we've left untouched.

The best EGGTARTS in the world!!

Wow, so here in Shanghai, we have had the most amazing eggtarts EVER! We were strolling along the pedestrian area in Shanghai and came across this area selling lots of goodies. My eye caught the eggtart stand and fought Ian's pulls away from it. :D Good thing too because we ended up buying 4 for 10Y and spent the next little while in heaven. :)

They were sooooo fresh ... piping hot! The first bite in ... the crust was nice and flakey and the custard was soooo smooth. It was DELICIOUS! I'm still drooling over how good it was. Unfortunately, the were really piping hot and both of us ended up burning the roofs of our mouths. :P Not that that would have stopped us! We just kept eating... paying for it now but they were just that good.

*Update* From the time I originally typed this blog, we've had these eggtarts 2 more times! We must have lucked out on the freshness the first day as these weren't piping hot but they were just as yummy let me tell ya. And this time, we could actually enjoy the taste a little more without getting a burn! :D mmm... mmm.. GOOD!

Shanghai saved the East!

I'm happy to report that Shanghai has been amazing. The diversity in architecture and sights this city has to offer is wonderful.

We took a walking tour through the new Pudong area where the Oriental Pearl Tower and Jinmao Tower stood as well as the Bund where historical buildings still hold strong. That was quite enjoyable seeing old and new face each other only to be separated by the Huangpu river.

We also rode the Maglev train and hit 430 km/h. That was a little nutty. 30kms in 8 minutes.

What a ride ... Ian was all giddy afterwards. :D

Monday, July 10, 2006

Last week in China!

We've now made our way to Shanghai after visiting Qingdao and Suzhou. So far, the east has failed to make an impression on me. I'm not sure if it's because we've been in China for almost four months but chats with other travellers tell me I'm not alone.

Suzhou was supposed to be paradise on earth with lovely women. Not sure if I saw either. :P I've seen lovelier women here (Shanghai) in one day. We did visit a garden in Suzhou which they are supposed to be famous for. Started out a little odd as it wasn't my impression of what a garden would be but in the end it turned out to be a nice stroll.

Shanghai looks to be promising though ... we'll be visiting the Bund and the French Concession over the next few days. We've also got our ticket out to HK booked for the 15th. I can't believe we're leaving China after 4 months! More updates after our Shanghai excursions!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Northern Capital

First of all, Happy Canada Day to everyone!

We've been in Bejing for almost a week now and will be catching tonight's train out to Qingdao (for some beer, beach and German architecture)! Beijing has been both intriguing and disappointing for some reason. Disappointing perhaps because I expected more advancements than they've had, both in architecture and technology. For the most part, the buildings are bland´╝îthe computers and connection much slower than many other cities in China, and the subway more archaic than Toronto (if that's possible)!

All this aside though, we walked through the forbidden city, caught a quick glimpse of pickled Mao (that was weird) in Tianammen Square, climbed the Great Wall and tobagganed down (highly recommended!), went olympic paraphernalia shopping, and had some good peking duck with some friends. It was a good time.

I'm not sure how Beijing plans to handle the crowds for the 2008 Olympics. The congestion is brutal as is. We sat in traffic for 2 hours when it really should have taken 20 minutes, the buses and subways packed but I'm sure they have great plans ... although, I know I wouldn't want to be here then.