Popping into Myanmar

From Chiang Mai it was time to head to the border crossing at Mae Sai and head to Keng Tung. The scenery was amazing, especially when the sun was setting. A bit of a walk and a visit to a local village where a small community lived was great but hot and sticky. The village was up a hill, so it was a good bit of exercise after so much sitting around on transport. The community have their own calendar, but don’t know how old they are – a different form of time keeping! The people were very friendly. The ladies kept on trying to sell their goods with a nice smile which sometimes revealed black teeth. This was down to many years of chewing the black betel juice from the leaves which is a local form of dental protection. The ladies also wore what looked like a white paste brushed on their faces. This was meant to be a good cosmetic, as well as prevent the harm of UV rays and is done by rubbing the bark of a Thanakha tree with water to produce a liquid. The country is fairly religious and Buddhism is the most popular religion. Some customs are also quite strict e.g. No affection to be shown in public by couples. Local sticky rice – was very sweet!An internal flight from Keng Tung to Heho was fun as it was a little byplane which seemed to take off as soon as it has landed and exchanged passengers.Then travelled on to Nyaungshwe on the outskirts of Inle Lake. This massive freshwater lake houses many different businesses and lots of families. Racing around the lake and its surroundings in a little boat was incredible. There were lots of fisherman who are famous for paddling with their legs while their arms are used to manoeuvre the nets in the water. It was an impressive balancing act.​​

Many businesses include making a form of paper out of tree bark and carpenters producing lovely parasols.A group of long necked women with rings around their neck were weaving scarves. The metal rings remain on their necks all the time – even when asleep. This has been a long standing tradition of the Padaung tribe on the lake and was compulsory to do so (only until 20 years ago) by order of the tribe leader. Rings get added gradually from quite a young age, and women can have around 35 rings in total. According to a legend, this was done because a tribe leader had a dream that a tiger would have attacked his baby daughter by the neck, so the rings were added for protection. Back on the boat and it was a visit to Inlay Shewe Inn Tain Pagoda. This was a complex full of a mixture of stupas, both old and new and the site is around 1000 years old. In the main temple, there is a separate place for women to pray, and they cannot enter the most sacred part. This is because women can distract men from their concentrated prayer. On the way, I tried some little spring onion dumplings from a street vendor which were very tasty. Another business on the lake is making silver jewellery. The silver was mined in the mountains nearby, but has to be separated from the other metals in the rock. This was done by using a very high heat which makes the other components evaporate leaving the silver. Then it is combined with a tiny amount of copper for strength, as the silver can be quite soft.A visit to the Phaung daw Oo Pagoda showed five original old Buddha statues. It is said that bad luck has happened if they are removed from the sacred place. Again, women are not allowed to enter the central section. Weavers make a lot of different types of clothes using thread which has been taken from the stem of the lotus plant. These are quite thin, so they are combined together and dried out to start weaving. I got some Thanakha on my face at this point and hoped it would add to my suncream protection on my face.

Cigar and cigarette making are also a popular produce. They were made using bamboo leaves and sticky rice was the glue. There were many different flavours that could be mixed with the tobacco including star anise. Going from place to place, there are a lot of floating gardens on the lake where are a lot of crops are grown including tomatoes which are a local delicacy in this part of Myanmar. I tried a fish ‘curry’ with a tomato sauce and it was amazing.The last place to visit was the jumping cat monastery where there are a lot of old artefacts….and cats. They were trained to jump over certain things by a monk, but he had died, so they stayed at the monastery. I explored a bit of the backpacker town which had an interesting market. There were lots of local goods.A cycle into parts of the countryside in the rain was great, although being completely drenched wasn’t so great. Lots of lovely farms were seen including a cashew nut and chilli plantation. Getting the bike over a rickety bridge was a test as the bike could have easily fallen through the gaps of the rickety bendy wooden boards that made up the bridge. I sampled some amazing coffee which was sweet and a tea leaf salad which was mixed with garlic and nuts. Then sampled some Burmese wine at a local vineyard. Not sure I’d try the wine again but it was good to give it a go!An overnight bus to Bagan was windy and bumpy. But the arrival was just in time to see the sunset over the 2000 pagodas and temples that pop out from the grass over a huge area. It was amazingly peaceful and quiet, and I really appreciated the lack of tourism at this point. I hate to think that in about 10 years, there will be a McDonalds or a Starbucks popping up too. There was one large hotel complex, but you could tell that it had tried to blend into the surroundings. This complex is stunning, but is not officially recognised by UNESCO due to clashes with the government over building construction in the area, so relies heavily on donations from locals and tourists to support the upkeep of the temples. The temples were mostly funded by the royalty of the time when they were built – 11th/12th century. Food (e.g. Rice) is offered for certain special occasions, as well as supplying the local monastery for the homeless. Donations are also offered to ensure certain things in the next life e.g. Water is for peace, flowers for beauty.


One of the temples was Manuha which housed some very large buddhas, one of which was a sleeping one. It is one of the oldest temples (built in 1067) and is named after the King who sponsored the construction.Gabyauk Gyi is another amazing temple which is covered in old murals inside. These included images of the Buddha, white elephants (which are an important symbol) and hermits. It was built in 1113 and has its number (out of approx 2000) inscribed on the outside – it is Number 1323. Dahammayan Gyi was also visited and this is the biggest temple which was built in 1163. Ananda temple is the largest and one of the most famous temples; built in 1105.There are two original massive Buddhas inside where the face changes depending on the distance you keep from the statue. Up close, it looks angry, while far away, it smiles. This is to distinguish the status of the worshippers. Wandering around some of these temples can make you believe you’re in a maze. Then went to Shwezigon Pagoda which is meant to house a relic of Buddha’s rib. It was an amazing pagoda and built in 1090. It was stunning and was actually covered in bamboo rugs while the gold leaf is being preserved and restored. Visiting the local area was also good. A trip to Toddy Palm workshop where coconut juice is made from the fruit of the trees, and brewed into a beer was interesting. The coconut syrup is also combined with different flavours including ginger to make confectionery. There were lots of gourds hanging around which I almost walked into on many occasions. Peanuts are also farmed and collected and crushed to produce oil. Mount Popa is an extinct volcano in the region and I went to the top which included climbing 777 steps and trying to ward off the cheeky monkeys who try and take your belongings – just like the ones in China. The views were great from the top. There is a temple at the base (and a temple at the top) to nat spirits, each of whom is responsible for a different aspect of life. You pay your respects to the one who you want to bless you in that particular aspect. I then visited a lacquerware producer who explained the process of lacquering bamboo to craft lots of different things including bowls, cups etc. Laquer is made from bamboo sap which has been oxidised. Lots of patterns are etched by hand – it can take 6 months to make just one cup. Then got taken to Min Nan Thu Village and was shown round. I was surprised how clean it was. A sunset from a high point was spectacular. One night was on a temple and another was from a high tower where you had a great view over the land.Next, onto Mandalay: this visit included temples and a sunset at the top of Mandalay Hill.One of the sites to see was Kuthodaw Pagoda which is massive and is surrounded by lots of white structures each containing a marble slab – there are 729 in total – which depict Buddhist teachings. The U Bein Teak bridge was also a highlight which was used to connect the old capital city to where the royal palace used to be. It is 1.2km in length and the oldest wooden bridge in the world, although parts have been restored for obvious reasons, as it was a it wobbly! Then a visit to Mahagandhayon monastery to see the 1000 monks and apprentice monks (young children wearing white robes instead of red) queuing to eat their main meal of the day as food is not consumed after 12pm.2 further temples were also visited on Frock hill before an overnight bus to Yangon, the former capital.On arrival into Yangon after another night bus, it was a lot cooler as the rain has been heavy. A quick walk after a shower (both rain and actual) to see Sule Pagoda and some of the old colonial architecture was good, apart from the heavy rain starting again. Some of the nice buildings looked a little bit run down.

Shwedagon Pagoda was amazing and very big. It is the oldest in the city, and possibly in Myanmar and houses a couple of relics. It looked great lit up at night.I learnt that my Myanmar Buddhism zodiac sign is a dragon because i was born on a Saturday. Around the temples there are individual Buddhas with the corresponding animal for each day as they each mean something different. You are meant to bless the Buddha and the animal statue that belongs to your birth day a certain amount of times with water.  I also walked past the building where Aung San and his colleagues were assassinated. It’s a lovely building, and only open to the public once a year on the anniversary of his death. That is one thing that surprised me when I was in the country – I heard no mention of any politics. I never heard ‘The Lady’ referred to. It’s still a delicate situation, and I guess it’s similar to Cambodia where politics is a taboo and cannot be spoken about in public too much. Visiting the Scott Market was nice – the old building houses a large collection of jewellery and wood work. Speaking to some students studying English in a monastery was enlightening. They were so keen to learn and talk to improve their language skills so that they could have more career options e.g. Becoming a teacher or a translator. Sometimes, I thought they were the ones teaching me English! You see a lot of men wear the traditional clothing called a longi. This is a long piece of material which is wrapped around the waist and almost looks like a long skirt. There are ones also for women which are a bit more colourful. Chit (my tour guide) wore one occasionally, especially in the temples. On my last night, the whole group was invited to his house for a home cooked meal with his family which was so humbling.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful country full of lovely people and peace – what a great two weeks!

Next stop: Thailand

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3 weeks of fun in China

Getting into China provided its own tale of fun. After leaving the hostel in Tokyo and taking the scenic monorail to Haneda airport, I was a bit miffed to discover the seven hour delay on the flight. Even more miffed about the complications arising from missing the Beijing connection from Guangzhou. After some talks with China Southern Airlines, they managed to get me on a different flight a little earlier than the one that went to Guangzhou but I’d have to sort out a connection to Beijing when I got there. It looked as though they were quite regular so I was hoping to get one plane later that night, if not the next day. I was told that I had to take my hold bag onto the plane with me so I could easily get it and go straight through to a domestic transfer desk to sort out my connection. This meant that I had to give up most of my toiletries when I went through security as most of them were over 100ml. It was a bit annoying as I had bought mostly new stuff for travelling and had only been away three weeks. But it wasn’t the end of the world. It could’ve been much worse. I eventually made it to Beijing at 3am the following morning after managing to get on a late flight which was also delayed by a couple of hours. Got to Beijing seven hours later than expected. What a faff!

After a few hours sleep at a hostel, I had to transfer to a hotel. This meant working out another metro system which actually was fairly straightforward. You have to put your bags through a security check and there is an army presence who are always standing to attention without looking at anything. The single use tickets look like Oyster cards. IMG_5170Until now, I have always relied on Google to get me around but Google is something that is banned in China. Having to use another search engine or the Apple Maps app took a bit of time to adjust to. Facebook/Instagram/Twitter are all banned too. This was an odd feeling, as I know that many of us are often tied to social media in some way or another. In a way, I think it’s quite liberating not to be able to use social media. I couldn’t be bothered trying to deal with a VPN or a proxy server – I’m only in China for three weeks. Managed to acquire some more toiletries and get some money sorted. I didn’t realise how exhausted I would be. Beijing is quite hot and there is a bit of a haze in the air. It’s quite a busy city traffic wise and lots of people on scooters/bikes who think they own the road. I haven’t seen many helmets worn though. There is a cycle system here where you can pick up a bike from anywhere random by unlocking something on the back wheel. There aren’t any cycle stations like there are in London.

After some nice food, it was time for some much needed sleep. An early start the next day was required to get to a well preserved section of the Great Wall of China in Mutianyu. This section is 14th century and in pretty good nick. The whole wall took many centuries to build. Sections of the wall are separated by towers which are numbered. There are a couple of ways to get up to the wall – you could walk up about half an hour or get a cable car to a high tower. There was also an option to get a ski lift up to a tower slightly lower down and walk up to (and beyond) where the cable car is. This also allowed people to take a toboggan down (which I obviously did!). The wall could be seen all around – you could see the towers at certain points on mountain tops quite far away – definitely an efficient way to keep the enemy out! Walking up and down the many steps was quite a challenge, especially with the increasing heat and the growing amount of people. Some of the steps reminded me of the Inca Trail steps – nice and steep haha. When I had walked back to the tower that I had arrived at to go down, it dawned on me how far I had walked. The distance of fourteen towers to the top and the same on the way back was about five miles. It was a good three hour walk up and down. The views were amazing and sliding down was fun! It was definitely something to do earlier in the day – the heat and the people would be too much later on.IMG_5188IMG_5207IMG_5209IMG_5217IMG_5275Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City were next. The square is absolutely huge, and while I was a little ignorant of the complete history of it, the magnitude and atmosphere were evident. Mao’s presence is forever present, both by a portrait of him hanging on the gate into the Forbidden City, as well as his remains embalmed in a mausoleum opposite. I was talking to someone who mentioned that there are some things that are not spoken about in China. The ‘Tin Man’ episode in the square is one of the taboo subjects. I found it very odd to see the extent of how much is controlled – some young Chinese people don’t seem to fully understand. IMG_5305IMG_5309IMG_5310IMG_5316The sense of tradition is also strong – women are still expected to marry a husband young to provide a family, and the man is the breadwinner. For a woman to be without a husband at the age of 30 can provide pressure within the family unit to produce heirs, but the one child policy seems to be a bit more relaxed – or couples keep on having children until they have a son. Someone I spoke to was the second child (and a girl), and her parents had to pay to register her when she was born, but they had chosen to have a second child. While boys are still preferable, girls are also still required for evolution, so I think that there can be a fluctuation between the desire for a male child and the desire for a female depending on the gender ratio. I was questioned why I didn’t have a husband or a family, and why I would want to travel by myself at my age instead. I wasn’t sure how to respond at first, but came up with something.
The Forbidden City was the old palace of the Chinese dynasties – mainly Ming and Qing who ruled over China for the best part of 600 years. The term ‘Forbidden’ comes from no one being allowed to enter the palace apart from the emperor, unless you had an invitation. This is why there are no green spaces within the grounds until you come to the Imperial Gardens at one end – so that intruders could be easily spotted. Courtyard after courtyard rolls along – passing through gate after gate after gate to give a distinction between certain areas (work and living). You could easily spend a whole day wandering around getting lost in this place. It had become more crowded and hot later on – lots of Chinese tourists wanting a glimpse inside the various buildings that had were such an important part of their history. There was a lot of pushing and barging to grab the photo opportunity. Some parts of the palace were older than the others and you could spot the difference with the fading of the colour.IMG_5345IMG_5346IMG_5347IMG_5369IMG_5392IMG_5412IMG_5414IMG_5420Visiting a local district called Hutong made me understand the importance of the family values and community – there are houses which have been passed through several generations. There is a tradition where the status of the family is illustrated by the beams outside the house, as well as the number of steps going inside the house. They should complement each other, so they preferably match – a balance illustrating the recognition of Feng Shui. Stopping for a home cooked lunch inside someone’s house was lovely and humbling – the food was simple, but delicious and the lady of the house made all the food herself while her husband was out at work.  Visited a cricket trainer who developed the fighting talents of the crickets for gambling purposes – he would train the cricket and then sell it for a price depending on how good a fighter the cricket was. When looking for some food, I stumbled across a street market, and there were scorpions on sticks! You could see them wriggling around before they had been cooked – slightly odd.IMG_5440IMG_5425IMG_5442IMG_5448IMG_5455IMG_5472Boarded a fast train to Shanghai which took about five hours. It was nice to read my book for a bit and they reminded me of the Shinkansens in Japan. There was a completely different feel to this city. There was also a lot more cloud/fog/smog around. The day after I arrived in Shanghai, the weather in Beijing had turned from sun and heat to tropical thunder storms which made news headlines. The Great Wall access could get shut and there was news of a massive mudslide due to the weather – it was good that the Great Wall was seen in the sunshine!

Shanghai was certainly a metropolis. The financial city was full of skyscrapers and the buildings were all very British looking after the Brits had come and developed the original port town. There is also a district full of French architecture. It was such a contrast to see the skyscrapers and architecture – part of me felt like I was at home. Unfortunately, the weather was a little disappointing, so the tallest skyscrapers on the Bund were difficult to see. But a night time boat ride was great so that I could see the buildings lit up. The Shanghai museum was good – there was a lot of old items inside which were ornately decorated. A visit to the Yuyuan bazaar was fun – it was originally part of the old town, but had been rebuilt to look old. It was a contrast to see the ‘old’ buildings with the tall skyscrapers behind. Walking down Nanjing road was busy – lots of modern shops and malls. The Shanghai Circus was fun to watch – all the acts are people who failed to get into the Olympic team. They have set a few world records – one included 8 motorbikes circling around inside a steel dome.IMG_5492IMG_5643IMG_5662IMG_5680IMG_5681IMG_5521IMG_5525IMG_5531IMG_5547IMG_5593IMG_5517
Shanghai to Xi’an – overnight train. It took about 16 hours in the end and was fairly comfortable, apart from the toilet! Wine and a pack of cards helped to pass some of the time. I spent the last day in Shanghai exploring the Xin Tian district which looked very French and found the Chinese version of Pizza Express. Had a nice mid afternoon noodle meal but I realised I had left my iPad in the hotel room after I checked out so I wasted a bit of time having to collect it. Also thought I had lost my wallet on train but was fine. It was stealthily hiding behind my bag – that could have been a real pain to try and sort if I had lost it. I seem to have developed a habit of misplacing things. Either that, or I am just too tired and busy to concentrate. Got to Xi’an feeling pretty grimy so a much needed shower was very welcome. A city walls cycle was next – the perimeter was 15km so took a while to get round in the heat but it was nice to be back on a bike again. An evening enjoying a banquet dumpling was also very nice.IMG_5726IMG_5732IMG_5743IMG_5756IMG_5757IMG_5760Visited the Great Wild Goose Pagoda and the temple which originally built in 652 and is now a little bit wonky due to an earthquake. The temples were very decorated and each ones housed different Buddhas for different things e.g. One symbolised wealth etc. I was able to buy something made of proper Chinese jade here too – a nice bangle but it was a bit on the expensive side. You could buy something from a street vendor, but it obviously would be fake. Then went to the Muslim sector of the town which was beside the Bell Tower and Drum Tower – these were originally used to signal the presence of the enemy, as well as give the town a sense of the time of day – bell was rung at the start, and drum sounded at the end. The Muslim quarter was one long street full of vendors selling different foods. These ranged from battered squid and crab to bread and nuts. Tried a variety of hamburger which was called a pancake – I think it had mutton inside. Found a great little place to eat on a rooftop where food and drink came to about a fiver each! It’s a lot cheaper to eat here than in Japan.IMG_5784IMG_5785IMG_5796IMG_5846IMG_5856IMG_5863The Terracotta Warriors were amazing – they were only discovered in 1974 by a couple of local farmers working the land. The army was buried with Emperor Qin, who was an important ruler during the dynasty over 2000 years ago, along with things for the afterlife – the warriors were there to protect him, but had been broken into pieces by the enemy at the time who discovered the tombs after they had been betrayed by one of the workers. Usually, the workers were killed so that the secret could be kept, although I don’t think the actual tomb has been found yet. The excavation is still going on and more pieces are being put back together. Each warrior is individual and is a replica of the creator of that particular warrior, as one person usually made one. There were approximately 700,000 builders, so you can only imagine now many constructions happened. There is a large collection of the fully reconstructed ones on the site where they were found (about 2000 on display), and you also had the opportunity to look closely at a couple contained behind some glass. You could see the detail on the clothes and faces.IMG_5872IMG_5875IMG_5880IMG_5887IMG_5917IMG_5944IMG_5981IMG_5983IMG_5984IMG_6002It was then time for another overnight train from Xi’an to Emei mountain. This was a 19 hour one and it was a bit more comfortable than the last one. There was some great scenery. Finally arrived and then went to the accommodation, which was another monastery near Emeishan town. Everything was basic and the communal showers could only be used at certain times in the late afternoon. Three nights here in the tranquillity after the hustle and bustle of cities. I did feel a bit intimidated walking through certain parts of the temple to go to the loo in my pjs – I felt that the Buddhas were looking at me disapprovingly. Oh well!IMG_6023IMG_6029IMG_6035IMG_6039IMG_6042IMG_6043A hike next day into Mt Emei was welcome after a long train journey. There were a lot of carvings in the rock walls on the way up to certain temples, as well as streams and lovely bridges. After having had my photo taken with several Chinese people by their relatives, it was off to try and find some monkeys. A few monkeys were encountered and they were definitely ‘wild’! One or two looked into people’s bags and nabbed the odd face wipe. Luckily, I (and my possessions) remained intact, but they definitely looked fierce.IMG_6049IMG_6050IMG_6060IMG_6068IMG_6072IMG_6078IMG_6098IMG_6115IMG_6142IMG_6156IMG_6162IMG_6170IMG_6181IMG_6182IMG_6194A long soak in a hot spring was a good reward. I thought that inflatable toys in the pool were much more fun, but I fear that I lost all dignity when I attempted to leap frog onto a little van called ‘Wave Attack’ (I now think that this was probably meant for small children). I jumped and went right over the darn thing ending up head first in the water and getting water up my nose. I rose out of the water to fits of giggles, but I was not going to be defeated. I managed to conquer the crocodile and the massive pink flamingo successfully in the end. With a bit of help. And many attempts.

Anyway, the next day was a trip to the Leshan giant Buddha. It was absolutely massive and completely hollow. It is 71 metres high and was built in the 8th century. It took a while to carve as it was started and stopped on many occasions. You could definitely see the difference in perspective from looking at the people standing at the base of the statue.IMG_6200IMG_6202A local neighbourhood nearby was interesting to visit – there are a lot of very happy and relaxed people, compared with the citizens of the city who are rushing around and barging you out of the way. They are all still working at an old age – maybe in their 80s and 90s as there is no pension system, and if you don’t have children to help support you, then you have to continue working. This life isn’t easy, but they make the most of it – perhaps by drinking copious amounts of tea and playing mahjong. A local market was quite an eye opener – at home we are used to seeing meat packaged in supermarkets or a local farmers market being clean, but the way meat is prepared here is slightly different. For the Chinese, if they cannot see the meat being prepared, then it is not fresh for them. For me, if I see some meat on a stove in the sun on the street, I wouldn’t go near it, as I wouldn’t know how long it had been sitting around, especially with flies etc. On the plus side, one of the vendors did think I was 17, and was a bit surprised when I told them my real age. Winning!IMG_6220IMG_6223IMG_6230IMG_6242IMG_6244IMG_6259
After the town, it was time to go to a local tea plantation. I even had a go at picking tea! Different varieties of tea are made from the different types of leaf from the same plant. The leaves are then dried and cooked to remove the moisture. The spring months are the best times to pick the leaves, and this is when the process becomes a bit more industrial in this plantation, rather than doing it all by hand. I was shown the traditional way of how the leaves were dried – it can take a long time! They would only sell the tea leaves after they were ready to be used as tea to wholesale companies.IMG_6268IMG_6270IMG_6284IMG_6287IMG_6302IMG_6303I’ve been lucky enough to taste a lot of home cooked traditional food which include different types of meat and vegetables. Rice comes with pretty much everything. I’ve never been too much of a rice person, so haven’t had too much which is never a bad thing, although I am missing my bread intake. A typical Chinese breakfast is a rice porridge with some sort of bun, but I wasn’t tempted by this. I found somewhere that actually made eggs on toast, so ate here three mornings in a row. Bread isn’t a common food here – I was starting to miss lovely bread.

Next stop: Chengdu on the bullet train. Arrived early afternoon and it was time to sample a Chinese hotpot which is similar to fondue, but you dip different meat and veg into a simmering broth and allow it to cook. You could choose the level of spicy for the broth, but I think the heat can get quite strong! It was good to explore a small section of this massive city for a bit. A trip down Zhaixiangzi Alley was nice – there were lots of little independent shops and tea rooms, and it looked as though there were several places that put on shows. Then it was off to see the pandas! They were amazing and definitely played up to their audience. A few small ones ended up rolling around. I was actually quite glad that I had bought a selfie stick, as this was the first time I had properly used it to see over heads as there were a lot of people and it was quite difficult to get to a good spot. Chengdu is famous for its panda conservation.IMG_6326IMG_6335IMG_6337IMG_6339IMG_6344IMG_6358IMG_6360IMG_6390IMG_6445IMG_6478IMG_6507It was time to set sail on board a boat down the Yangtze River from Chongqing to Yichang. I was prepared for basic accommodation, possibly dormitory style cabins and shared facilities – almost like the sleeper trains but was pleasantly surprised with what I found. Nice cabins and own bathroom, along with some decent food and a deck on top. The Yangtze is the third longest river in the world, after the Amazon and the Nile. It isn’t actually called the Yangtze in China – this name was given to it by a European who first came across it in the town of Yangtze, but the Chinese translation means ‘long river’. I got off to see the Fengdu Ghost city on Ming mountain. It was believed that your soul or spirit would come here to be judged when you die, depending on what sort of a person you have been in this life.  A series of tests would have been done to see if you were a good person or not – one of these was crossing over a bridge in odd steps, another balancing your foot on a small metal stone for a number of seconds. Of course, I passed all the tests, so no need to worry about going to hell or coming back as a slug in the next life! Some parts had been reconstructed after the earthquake in 2008, but the Temple of Hell at the top is still in its original state and had been built in 1666. The whole city is almost 2000 years old.IMG_6522IMG_6528IMG_6537IMG_6541IMG_6543IMG_6550IMG_6558IMG_6565IMG_6568Going up the Yangtze continued through the three gorges. The river is quite murky in parts and this is something to do with the sediment collection. Went up Shennv Stream – this was shallow in comparison to the Yangtze and the water was a lot clearer. Surrounded by high cliffs both the Yangtze and Shennv Stream have varied climbing mountains either side where different names given to certain rock edges which are meant to look like things e.g. a seated Buddha. The water mark is clearly visible where the face has disintegrated and no trees grow. Exploring the Three Gorges Dam was amazing. It is the biggest one in the world, but only supplies electricity to 3% of China’s population – which is still a lot of people, but not as many as you’d think. IMG_6730IMG_6752IMG_6757IMG_6780IMG_6796IMG_6805
Off on another overnight train (only 16 hours this time, and I was armed with the Chinese version of a Pot Noodle which took me back to university days) to Yangshuo – this is a little backpackers town which had only been hit by torrential rain just prior to arriving, The scale of the floods were pretty bad – small businesses have lost a lot of stock and were badly damaged. While the government will send help to clear the streets, the businesses often do not have insurance. The chaos in the streets ensued; people were trying to dry out anything they could. Electricity was scarce. Such devastation was difficult to comprehend in parts, and vendors were desperate to sell anything they could to make some money to restore their business. The power and strength of nature is not easy to deal with.IMG_6828IMG_6830IMG_6832IMG_6839IMG_6853IMG_6856IMG_6861IMG_6870IMG_6889IMG_6890I did manage to attend a cookery class, and also cycled around the local area (although parts were shut off due to collapsed trees etc). The scenery is stunning. It was still very humid – I walked ten minutes and I was already dissolving into human prune situation. Factor 50 was not enough either. It was nice to cycle along some lovely roads with mountains either side, and lots of fields. The weather brightened up, so this made cycling rather warm. Navigating the roads (and being on the wrong side) was interesting, but the speed of the traffic was quite slow on the main roads – no helmets got given though due to the storage place being flooded. But it was definitely a memorable way to end the three week trip in China – a country full of different landscape and culture. Finished by entering into Hong Kong for a day – reminded me of home!

Things I have learnt in China

  • Don’t bother indicating when you drive, just honk the car horn and other drivers will either move or just pay attention. Weaving in and out of lanes, very heavy breaking and a lot of noise is how I would describe life on a Chinese road.
  • Don’t try and get on inflatable toys in a pool, if you know what is good for you, and you want to retain some sort of dignity.
  • Making a horrific noise to clear your throat, and then spitting anywhere is acceptable.
  • Wine is hardly sold in glasses. Only bottles.
  • Drinking tea all the time and smoking leads to a healthy, long life.
  • Don’t let the locals do all the barging. Lose all Britishness and don’t bother queuing – act as though you are constantly trying to get to the bar.
  • Helmets are not common on the roads.
  • Although I am a tourist, I am also a tourist attraction – have had many photos taken with Chinese people, either with or without my permission. The ‘stealth selfie’ photo is fairly popular, where people are not trying to be so obvious, but it’s easy to notice.
  • Looking like a 17 year old will not get me very far.
  • A Western toilet with a seat is a rare and beautiful thing – hoping that I will have much stronger thighs by the time I return home!
  • The Birdie song is something that’ll surprise the English when they hear it in a foreign place, and will shock them so much that they have to dance.
  • I’m definitely getting a travellers tan!

The Inca Trail

An early start in the chill was our introduction to the 4 day hike to Machu Picchu. A bus took us 45 mins from Ollantaytambo to the start of the trek. It only costs around 300 soles (£75) to actually do the trek which isn’t a lot! After a bit of organising, we set off with our guide leading the way. There is a weight restriction on the amount of luggage you can take with you as there are porters who carry it for you to the campsite – they are absolute machines as they carry around 20kg on their back, leave after you leave, and arrive at the campsite before you do – I felt so inadequate! They are absolute machines and legends! It’s 44km over 3.5 days, which I know doesn’t sound too far, but dealing with altitude, varying weather conditions and steep ascents/descents makes it the challenge.IMG_2316IMG_2320IMG_2322IMG_2323The walk itself was only 11km but was up and down hill a bit. Reached an altitude of 3100m having started at around 2650m. It gave us a good idea of what to expect over the following days. We were fortunate enough to see a few Inca ruins along the way – they suddenly appeared out of no where and the views were stunning.

The food was amazing and continued to be for the whole trip – we were definitely spoilt! I was used to eating cold baked beans out of a tin, not having amazing soup and a plate of rice, beef stew and veg, along with “Happy Hour” which consisted of several cups of tea and cheese crackers and jam. Early nights on all three evenings was a necessity as we were all so tired.IMG_2327IMG_2336IMG_2344IMG_2352IMG_2358IMG_2394IMG_2395The second day was much more of a challenge – the morning was all about climbing. Went up 1000m to 4200m and reached Dead Woman’s Pass in under 5 hours. It was such an achievement – a hard one both physically and mentally. The altitude affects the lung capacity more than you may think although the recovery is a quick one. I also had a couple of odd dreams too. The rain came down when we started the descent so it was poncho time! It made the steep steps quite slippery. We had to keep ourselves motivated and the reward at the end was great. I thought I’d be a lot worse and find it harder than I did. The spin classes have clearly paid off! IMG_2369IMG_2372IMG_2375IMG_2376IMG_2379IMG_2383IMG_2390Day 3 was another early start – this was going to be the longest day (16km) and mostly downhill which isn’t easy sometimes – down 1000m to 2500m. My quads were starting to feel the burn on this day. I didn’t use walking poles on the second day so relied entirely on leg power. We started uphill which was ok but I was definitely slower – tiredness was beginning to sink in. The group tended to separate a bit depending on the different paces, but we all met again at various points. Going down was a huge challenge – I slipped over a few times down the wet steps and near some steep cliff drops which was frightening. Now have 2 elegant bruises on both bum cheeks. I ended up getting frustrated with myself that I kept on slipping over or coming close to it so got a bit emotional. But as the day went on, I grew in confidence and was fine by the end of the day – it takes a while to adjust to focus on where you put your feet. Everyone else was feeling the fatigue too.IMG_2411IMG_2420IMG_2421IMG_2425IMG_2437IMG_2438IMG_2447IMG_2451The final day – we were woken up at 03:30 to get through the final checkpoint as early as possible. This meant waiting in a line at the checkpoint for an hour in the dark. But it would be worth it. The views along the way were incredible. You were never tired of the scenery around you – 360 degrees of mountains, waterfalls, luscious grass – almost jungle like in parts. The walking on the last day was great in comparison. Easy up and down with some narrow parts. We finally reached the Sun Gate and had the most incredible view of Machu Picchu as the clouds cleared and the sun was rising. Another 45 mins on our feet and we made it! It was hard to take it all in. Of course, we were all shattered by this point and had to contend with a huge amount of tourists. Walking around the site made me realise how massive it is in comparison to other Inca ruins we had visited along the way. We explored the major temples and wandered around.The sun was fairly fierce and it was so early in the morning.IMG_2483IMG_2488IMG_2498IMG_2528IMG_2535IMG_2539IMG_2545IMG_2548IMG_2549IMG_2557IMG_2561_Copy(1)

Things I have learned to love and appreciate:

1) Oxygen

2) A toilet I can sit down on

3) The power of the legs

4) Face wipes & deodorant

It was the most amazing journey and I valued that more than visiting the big site itself. It suddenly hits you once you’ve completed it. Sitting in the town afterwards having a celebratory lunch was great fun. Back to civilisation – aka Wi-Fi!

Lima: hot, hectic and a heck of a lot of honking

Arriving into Lima early this morning, I was greeted by a warm breeze and a lot of voices eager to transport me here, there and everywhere. Thankfully, I’d already organised a transfer to Milaflores (although in my error, I’d made it for yesterday rather than this morning – doh! But managed to sort it out without having to pay any extra 😎).

The next thing I seem to notice as I got in the cab was that everyone seemed to be in a rush – it was 6am, granted, so the familiar rush hour traffic full of buses carrying school kids and businessmen falling asleep didn’t feel quite so out of the ordinary. But the amount of noise was insane! Endless honking of horns made it seem that everyone was completely stressed out! No one seems to allow anyone to pull out or want to indicate or allow pedestrians to cross the road when it is their right of way. I have been almost run over quite a few times.

After making it successfully to the place where I was staying, I was greeted by lovely Peruvian women who couldn’t speak much English, and I have to confess that my Spanish is a tad rusty. When I say “rusty”, I of course mean “can’t speak much whatsoever”. I was able to briefly sort myself out and then headed out to explore. Did a bit of Miraflores and then decided to go more towards the city centre. Realising it was a good 5 mile walk after looking at trusty Google Maps, I got on a bus and hoped for the best as it was heading on a straight road towards the old town. A bus did only costs 1,25 soles which is the equivalent of 40p. Please take note TFL! It took about 20 mins obviously taking mad traffic into account – I did see a prang or two en route.

Got off at the Museo de Arte de Lima  and had a bit of a nosy. Also the pit stop for the loo and wi-fi came in handy. It was an impressive building and grounds, and contained a lot of historical items from the Inca empire, Spanish rule, and the eventual independence.2017-04-IMG_13712017-04-IMG_13772017-04-IMG_1384I particularly liked a painting of the enthroned holy trinity painted in the early 18th century.2017-04-IMG_1380
It reminded me a bit of the painting of Charles I by Van Dyck, both slightly different in meaning though.

Then I walked over to the historical bit which was another mile away. I came across the magnificent square and popped into the Cathedral and Archbishop’s Palace – both impressive buildings and date from the mid 16th century.2017-04-IMG_14182017-04-IMG_14152017-04-IMG_14142017-04-IMG_1416A quick lunch and a good walk around and I was knackered! It had got to around 27C in the middle of the day and I was melting. 2 lots of sun cream applied and I still got burnt! I thought the sun must be fierce but then realised I had grabbed my factor 15 instead of 30 on the way out this morning *facepalm*. So lots of after sun will hopefully do the trick.

The buildings are amazing – all very colonial and a variety of bright colours. I like the little wooden balconies that protrude outwards.2017-04-IMG_14192017-04-IMG_14242017-04-IMG_1449Navigated back to where I was staying (via a quick walk along the Miraflores coast) and had a much needed shower and watched an episode of Homeland. Found a little place to grab some food nearby and it was amazing – was hungry after a long day!2017-04-IMG_1464Think I’ve done enough walking for today. Now for sleep as it’s 6 hours behind London here! Yawn!

The snow has started…in London…during rush hour

You can sense the tension in the air among the snowflakes falling from the sky….can’t you? 

While I am now safely in the warmth of a South West train carriage heading into London, I am accutely aware of the disappointment of the commuters trying to make their homeward journey. The floor is wet. Glasses are steaming up. My feet are cold. As you’d expect, everyone has their head down either in a device of some kind, a book or a damp copy of The Evening Standard. I, meanwhile, guilty of being one of those people (while writing this), am also listening to ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ by Joy Division, and was convinvced I was almost dancing along at one point due to several odd glances from those unhappy commuters who really need to brighten up. My smile soon vanished and I became one of…them…

It’s officially zero degrees and the beginning of January. No one is happy. Snow in London during rush hour adds to the despair as public transport will just seem to…stop. 

Oh well! I’ll just have to find somewhere to build a snowman! If it ever settles…