Hong Kong

Oh Hong Kong. After distinctly not falling in love with mainland China, Hong Kong was exactly what we needed. We had a fantastic time, and felt like we really made the most of the few days we had. We had the pleasure of meeting one of Tom’s grandfather’s friends, John Li, who he had taught at Rugby, and who treated us to a delicious Dim-sum lunch and an incredible helicopter ride over the city and the surrounding islands. What a privilege. Thank you.

  
 Other memories from Hong Kong:

The races. A brilliant evening – made even better by winning enough money to make it a free night!


 Star ferry to Kowloon and the walk along the promenade. Well worth doing.

Sound of light show (distinctly underwhelming!)

The botanical gardens and zoological park – the caged primates brought out the Greenpeace in both of us.

A great night at a jazz club – a private gig (despite the guidebook suggesting everywhere would be rammed!) by the Nowhere Boys. Not remotely jazz, but still really good – and on Spotify!

Getting sunburnt at the beach. Typical.
Thank you HK, we will be back!

Zhangjiajie

Up to this point, our time in China had been almost entirely in cities, and even the London girl was feeling a little claustrophobic. There were a multitude of options for us take for some fresh air – China really is enormous, and you can get really remote and rural if you try hard enough. We went for Zhangjiajie – a national park famed for it similarity to the Avatar mountains of Pandora, and it didn’t disappoint. We stayed in Wulingyuan a town to the east of the park, and about an hours bus from Zhangjiajie city. It was the first town in China we had been to that didn’t feel oppressive, and was a really pleasant place to stay. The hostel (a hostels international one) was good, and improved by the really helpful, English speaking staff, which can be a rarity in China! We were even able to continue our ongoing Table Foosball championship at a bar/coffee shop in town, although a foot massage is not recommended!
The national park itself was like nothing we have ever seen before. Huge towers of Karst rock rise out of the ground – I’m afraid the photos just can’t do it justice. Do be prepared to climb steps though – over 3200 of them – and watch out for the monkeys, which are bold enough to steal food out of your hands. Arm yourself with sticks and they stay away – a lesson learnt from Tom’s previous experience in Nicaragua!


  
  

Chengdu

From Xi’an we went to Chengdu (Flipflop hostel recommended), still firmly on the tourist trail – this time to visit the panda breeding centre. We had received a tip to go early in the morning, so, despite it being New Year’s Day, we were up early and had the park essentially to ourselves for the first couple of hours before the usual horde of Chinese tourists arrived. We left in the early afternoon, feeling very smug that we had had the pleasure of seeing the pandas feed, play and climb trees in the morning, whereas by 11am they were mainly all asleep. There was also an excellent David Attenborough documentary playing whilst we had lunch which was all about the park and the ongoing breeding program. All in all, very informative, interesting, and had a much nicer feel that the other major tourist attractions in China. It helped that the pandas were really, really cute!

Xi’an

China has an excellent sleeper train system, and Kat and Tom made full use of it, catching a total of 5 within the 3 weeks we were there! The first was to Xi’an, mainly to see the Terracotta Warriors, which are a one hour bus ride away from the city itself, and simple to organise on your own – you definitely don’t need to do a tour – we weren’t making the same mistake again after the Great Wall. Hiring bikes to cycle along the old city walls was an excellent introduction to the city, and helped blow out the lungs from the ever present smog.

Beijing

After leaving our dearly beloved with Landbridge LLC for loading into a container, the four of us rather excitedly boarded the train in Ulaanbaatar for the 28hr journey to Beijing – which is the final leg of the trans-Siberian railway.
We stayed together for a few days in Beijing, before Jon and Coby flew to Vietnam, whilst Kat and Tom stayed to do a whistle stop tour of China. Beijing itself was pretty cool, with really good food and some pretty incredible sights: the Summer Palace was a particular highlight (and in winter, not heaving with tourists!).