The Christmas Sacrifice

I’m lying in bed today, my third and hopefully final day of this annoying cold. The sniffles have made me miss my mum’s chicken soup but they also given me a chance to stop and realise that it’s Christmas and I’m on the other side of the world, again.

The sadness is almost enough to have me reaching for the tin of roses, but I don’t have one. Apparently the Cadbury’s over here has an anti-melting agent in it, which explains the ‘this is almost good but not quite’ taste it has. Thank god (and parents) for the selection boxes from home that are being duly rationed until the big day when we will make ourselves sick trying to stuff as much delicious Irish dairy in to our mouths as possible.

It hasn’t quite hit summer here yet; we have two days of scalding heat and two days of cold wind on constant rotation which is why I have been struck down by this cruel virus. One of the best bits of Christmas time is looking out the window and wondering whether it will snow, the answer here is it won’t. The Christmas songs still play though, hearing Let it Snow on repeat while you get a sunburn feels incredibly wrong.  I swear I remember a day when I was young that it started snowing bang on midnight Christmas Eve and by Stephen’s Day the snow had all melted as if it never happened…. Then again maybe that didn’t happen. That’s the thing about Ireland we rarely have a White Christmas but we can all remember enough of them to keep the hope alive.

I have sacrificed Christmas for another year, there is no fireplace to hang my stocking and if there was it most definitely would not have a fire burning in it (this is a drought area are you trying to get us all killed?), there’s no turkey (though there is word of a barbecue) but most of all, my friends and family are not around me to bring festive cheer.

Living as Adam and I do, in such a secluded area makes time pass at rapid speed, Christmas flew around and I barely saw the seasons changing. However I can’t help but think that maybe, the Christmas I’m remembering hasn’t been quite what I wanted for a while now. Maybe skipping a couple of Christmas’ to live a perpetual summer will lead me to appreciate the Grafton Street Christmas lights and annual holiday arguments all the more when I do return

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Thailand, the Last Leg

We stayed in the North end of Koh Pha Ngan for two nights then moved closer to the party beach of Haad Rin.

The full moon party was kind of what I expected and I enjoyed it for what it was but I don’t know if I would go back. Adam and Sammy loved it though, they were in their element. I think I might have liked it a bit more if I hadn’t been in bed sick for a day and a half before it. I think heavy drinking after not standing upright for 32 hours is never a good idea.

The morning after the Full Moon we parted ways with Sammy and Jasmine as they returned to France.We were sad to say goodbye but meeting them was such an awesome part of our travels.

We took a boat over to Koh Samui, hoping to sleep off our hangovers and relax. Koh Samui had without a doubt the worst accommodation of anywhere we had visited in Asia. We stayed in two different places, both as grimy as each other. One had no sink in the bathroom and in the other the fan was connected to the light switch so you couldn’t have the fan on if the light was off… never mind what we saw when the sheet came off the bed *shudder*

(Mum, Dad, Fiona stop reading now)

Yes we did it, we did what every silly tourist does in South East Asia, we rented our first scooter in Koh Samui, we had resisted for the whole holiday, constantly seeing broken ankles and skinned knees but we finally gave in. Adam drove for two days on Koh Samui and then, in Phuket I got up one morning and put on my feisty face and said to myself, if Adam can do it, I can too! So I left Adam in bed, rented a bike from the hostel man and off I went. I was feeling pretty good about myself, scooting down the main road, I parked myself up at a 7/11 went and got some food and came out thinking my bike had been robbed, I walked up and down the street, asked the street vendors, almost took a lift from a French man back to the hostel to tell them I lost the bike and then I found it, two spots down from where I ‘thought’ I had parked it. I got back on the bike, red-faced and ready to be as far away from everyone in the vicinity as possible. I missed my turn so pulled over to the side of the road and tried to cross the street, what happened next is a bit of a blur but I basically went careering towards a BMW and hopped off the bike before causing any damage, the bike landed on my leg and scratched me up a bit but I only had time to hop up, grab the piece of plastic that had fallen off when it hit the ground and get back on the bike. ff I went again, a little bit of blood trickling down my leg and off to the beach, I told myself that I couldn’t go back straight away because then I would see myself as a failure. After about 4 minutes the bike started to cut out and the engine turned off, I walked the bike to the side of the road and kept trying to start it, then a street vendor came over to me and kindly let me know I had ran out of petrol, he offered to go get me some and so I spent four times what I should have on a litre bottle of ‘petrol’. I finally got back to the hotel, slunk into the bedroom and admitted defeat. I had only been gone for 40 minutes!

In Phuket we ate the best bbq chicken of all time and we met up with Steph, after nine months of being apart.

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Bangla Road at it’s finest

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The reunion finally

 

 

 

 

We went out on Bangla Road that night, dodging the ladyboys and pingpong shows, we took a seat up at  a bar and watched the world go by.

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Better than any KFC

The next day we moved on to Koh Phi Phi, the island was undeniably beautiful but there was so much rubbish! The beach was ruined by litter washing up with every wave. The night time was awesome though, probably why there was so much rubbish, fire shows at every bar and drinks offers to beat the band.

 

 

We spent two nights in Koh Phi Phi but we only had five days left of the holiday so we were rushing a little bit, we caught a plane to Chiang Mai and went straight to our hotel.

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Our boat around Phi Phi

The North of Thailand is amazing, beautiful, real, true, incredible. I loved Chiang Mai. Every beautiful thing I had heard about Thailand was in Chiang Mai, the people, the food, the culture and architecture, the animals. Adam and I ate from the street market every morning and nearly every evening. We rented a blue truck (a type of taxi) the first day and they brought us around the temples and then to the shopping centre (Steph can never resist).

On our last day in Chiang Mai we went to a local waterfall and trekked to a swimming hole where we came across a group of young boys, we spent a while watching them perform trick jumps off the falls and then finally got in with the water with them and joined the fun. DSC_4864The boys spoke no English but they were all between the ages of 7-14 and they were smoking like troopers. They had small handwritten tattoos an their arms but they had nothing but smiles to us. Helping us out of the water when our feet proved more slippery than theirs. Our afternoon at the waterfall was a perfect way to end our Asia trip (much better than flying into the wrong airport in Bangkok…sorry again guys) it was a reminder of why we went there in the first place, to experience new cultures, meet new people and see a side of life different to what we had seen before.

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Another World Wonder

We were unsure about whether to head to Cambodia, we were running low on funds and still had over 3 weeks left of the journey but the lure of Angkor Watt overcame us eventually and we spent the extra to see the temples. We got a bus from Ho Chi Minh, picked up our visas on the way and went to Phnom Penh for a brief visit. We only stayed one night in Phnom Penh and headed to Siem Reap the next day.

Cambodia is such a crazy mix of severe poverty and high end commercialism. Siem Reap had unsealed roads and a lot of signs of poverty but there was a new shopping complex under construction filled with major brands like Nike and Adidas, there seems to be a lot of foreign investment in the city, especially foreign restaurateurs and business owners settling there.

We checked in to a dodgy hostel, which I’m 90% sure gave DSC_4376me bed bugs, the marks of which a
re still on my side 3 months later. It was 7 NZD a night for a couple though so I am not surprised. We bought a 3 day pass for the Angkor temples and hired a tuk-tuk driver, ironically called Map, a great guy but probably the slowest tuk-tuk in Siem Reap, we broke down whenever it started raining heavily. The first day Map took us to the smaller temples around the outskirts of the complex, knowing that these were the ‘small’ ones it was absolutely breath taking. We spent from 10 am to 4pm out on the first day, having to head home a little early because of the monsoon coming down.

DSC_4194The second day Adam, Jasmine and I rented bicycles and cycled the 15km to the oldest temples, the Roluos group. The cycle was as much a part of the experience as the temples, skirting past giant lorries, being sprayed by orange dust and watching motorbikes heading to the market stacked high with dead pigs, chickens and everything else. The Roluos temples were probably my favourite, next to the Bayon and Angkor Wat itself. Maybe because we had all the time we wanted to enjoy them and appreciate every corner of their architecture.

The third and final day was the pinnacle, sunrise at Angkor Wat. We got up at 5am and headed to the temples, we reached Angkor Wat just as the light began to come through but it took another hour to see the sun itself. The crowds were unbelievable; it was a battle to get to the front. The temples at Angkor are probably one of the biggest tourist attractions in South East Asia and sometimes it seems, that is where its downfall lies.

 

Angkor sunrise

With a 5am start we finished up at the main temples by about 2pm, we went to bed for a while and resurfaced about 5pm for food and drinks. Somehow we ended up on Pub street, at a bar selling pints for 50cent, somehow we stayed out till 1am, caught a tuk tuk back to our hostel and got on our bus to Bangkok at 2am, somehow we managed to make it through the Thai border and a horrifying 4 hour mini bus journey from the border to Bangkok. Then we stayed conscious for 6 hours before boarding another bus to Koh Phangan. We had made a decision not to hang around in Bangkok, as we arrived only a few days after a bomb blast killed 20 people. So we basically went without sleep for about 32 hours or more…. Honestly I couldn’t keep track of it at all.DSC_4116

Eventually we landed in Koh Pha Ngan, Jasmine and I had a deal with the boys that we would go to the full moon party as long as we got two days of beach relaxation beforehand and that’s just what we did. We stayed at the north end of the island in cabins by the beach and we sipped on coconuts and cocktails in the sun. It was great to have people with us because we could both pursue what we wanted to do for a while instead of compromising with each other.

Cambodia, over all was a great experience but I feel like a bit of the country’s integrity may have been lost along the way to recovery. We struggled to find Cambodian food and learn any Cambodian words, nearly everything was in English and every restaurant served Western food. I think they should try to reconnect with what makes Cambodia its own place and lose the obsession with Western culture and commercialism.

Vietnam, I Love You The Second Half

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A temple at the Lady Buddha in Danang

When we left Dong Hoi we took the advice of our guesthouse owner/taxi man and headed to Danang, 5 and a half hours away. We caught another sleeper bus down there, but it was a bit odd to be lying down as we were travelling in the middle of the day. This bus had no tourists on it, just locals and we were given wet wipes, bottled water and extra pillows, it was a thousand times better than our first experience.

We weren’t very impressed with where we first settled in Danang, we were staying on a main road in a place with the dodgiest lift I’ve ever been in (honestly, the buttons were taped over an renumbered…. Why does that happen?) So we moved after the first night and took a place which was quite expensive for our budget. We paid 25 NZD (a whole 15 euro) a night for a place beside My Khe Beach, also known as China Beach.
This beach…. Is like what you imagine a beach to be. White sand, warm clear waters, perfect for swimming, perfect for lounging AND there are restaurants and bars on the beach that deliver your drinks to your deck chair. My Khe has nobody on it during office hours because Vietnamese people are really smart and stay out of the scorching day time sun, unlike myself and Adam who got pretty badly burnt during our 3 days stay there.DSC_3856

After ruining every future beach we will ever go to we moved on to Hoi An. We took the local bus there, which gave rise to an interesting scenario.

The buses in Vietnam are just as mad as the roads they drive on, basically the bus kind of pulls up at the stop and you jump on. It looks a bit like an abduction, the sliding door opens and the bus ticket man reaches out and helps you get in the back by grabbing your arms and hoisting you on. They are a bit gentler on the white folk than they are on the locals but still…it’s a bit mad.

When we were hoisted on to this particular local bus the money/ticket man came over and asked for our money, he didn’t have much English but showed us the notes to say that it was 30,000 Vietnamese Dong (2NZD) each to get to Hoi An, the lady at our hotel had told us 20,000 so we didn’t think much of handing over 10,000 more. A white man tax so to speak. We noticed a Spanish guy in the middle of the bus sitting holding tight to his backpack and thought he looked a bit odd, as if he didn’t trust the locals not to rob him in broad daylight. The money man went to him after we paid and put his hand out in front of the Spanish man’s face, but all the man did was shake his head, the money man pointed at us and showed him our money but still the Spanish man shook his head, we realised he was refusing to pay. An elderly woman beside us went to leave the bus and handed the money man 15000 Dong and later a woman boarded, handed the money man 20000 and got off before we did. The Spanish man held a 10,000 Dong Note in his hand and kept offering it to the money man each time he was asked to pay. 10,000 Dong is worth .40c euro. Locals all around us were paying at least 15,000 for their journeys and up to 30,000 but this man would not budge on his 10,000 and so instead of getting irate the money man gave up, took his 10,000, sat down beside us at the back, opened the door wide and lit up a cigarette with Adam, continuously gesturing towards the Spanish man and laughing for the rest of the journey. Every Vietnamese person on this bus was laughing at this tourist, and every local will remember seeing a visitor to their country treat the money man like that. We have to remember as we travel that how we act and how we are perceived by the locals is important for those who come after us.

We had originally thought we would go straight to Hoi An from Hanoi but a lot of people said not to bother that the town had become entirely tourist populated and overpriced. We decided one night and two days would be long enough but really it wasn’t. You have to pay now to get in to the old town exhibits which is a bit annoying and makes the town itself very disjointed, like you can walk some places but not others and sometimes you have to go the long way around to avoid showing a ticket. The ticket price is alright but I don’t think you need to go inside the buildings to get an understanding of what Hoi An is about. The town is chock a block with tailors I would love to go back and get some clothes made but we had no time and very little back pack space. I swear I will return to Vietnam for much longer next time.  We ate our dinner beside the river in a restaurant lit up by fairylights and the whole place, despite everyone trying to drag you into their store the town had a really magical feel about it. If you’re not there to shop I don’t think you’ll feel the commercialisation too much.

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  Hoi An’s fried spring rolls, nom.

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I had gone full backpacker by the time we reached Ho Chi Minh

We booked our next sleeper bus from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh city through the guest house owner in Hoi An, she told us the bus was 16 hours from A to B, now looking back on it, a quick google search would have revealed the truth but as were footloose travellers at the time it didn’t occur to us to do that so… 24 hours on a bus later we landed in Ho Chi Minh, absolutely exhausted and dreading the idea of even laying eyes on a bus again.

Ho Chi Minh is a great city and we took advantage of a pirated Lonely planet book that was procured under less than legit circumstances earlier in Hanoi and went on a ‘walking tour of Ho Chi Minh’, if I say so myself I think I was a fantastic tour guide reading through my list of facts, it’s up to Adam to tell you whether he managed to stay awake through my ramblings. Later that day we
arranged to meet up with our French friends we met in Beijing and a very drunken night ensued, a DSC_3992recurring theme with these guys!!! Everyone in Ho Chi Minh sits outside the local bars on tiny stools and drink dubious quality alcohol for cheap prices, so we joined the locals and  all woke up the next morning with searing headaches and lots of facebook friends whose names we can’t pronounce, maybe some of them are reading this now! Ho Chi Minh wasn’t as manic as Hanoi and it was a lot more cosmopolitan but it still had that authentic Vietnamese feel.

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The only way to have breakfast in Vietnam. A bowl of Pho from a street vendor.

That Vietnamese feeling is what I loved about my time there, they just didn’t see us as tourists, there wasn’t a tourist spot and a local spot there were places where everyone went and you were just as likely to meet a local student who wants to brush up on their English as you are to meet an eternal traveller with dreadlocks and harem pants. I would recommend a trip to Vietnam to everyone, what a resilient, beautiful country and if you do go, please take me with you!

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Adam and Sammy take part in a game of ‘Asian Football’ while we wait to leave Ho Chi Minh

The First Half of Vietnam

Vietnam was a real love affair for us. It was my favourite country and I’m going to try my hardest to explain why.

We landed in Hanoi after city hopping for about 20 days between Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. We were exhausted by travelling, by the amount of people, by the noise and the hustle and bustle. Hanoi is one of my favourite cities but it is so LOUD! Motorists in Vietnam beep their horns simply to let others know they are there… it’s as if no one on the road has mirrors. We stayed in the Old Quarter of the city, a crazy little place which is basically made up of about 2 or 3 main streets linking to hundreds of alleyways, each alleyway having its own little community of food vendors, barbershops, hostels and anything else required.

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This woman wanted us to buy a banana so she threw her produce and hat on our shoulders

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One of the many markets in the Old Quarter

The main streets are divided into shopping districts, whole streets are dedicated to shoe sellers or electrical shops or tourist trap shops. Hanoi’s Old Quarter is alive, that is simply put the best word to describe it. Everything is transported by scooter because generally the roads are too narrow to be navigated by car, not that that stops people trying.

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A lazy man’s load?

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We took a walk around Ho Kiem Lake nearly everyday we stayed in Hanoi and I discovered the sweet sweet taste of Vietnamese Coffee but ultimately we were too exhausted from all the people and all the noise so we upped sticks and fled Hanoi on our first ever sleeper bus. Truly this sleeper bus was a nightmare and I’m sure our exhaustion helped us get through it. I think the best way to tell the story without getting into all the details is to say the back tyre burst at 2am and after driving on the rim of the wheel for about 25 mins we then slept in the bus that they had jacked up, with all the passengers inside for 4 hours as they ‘tried to fix the problem’ i.e refused to pay the full price for a new tyre until all the passengers woke up and started complaining that they were four hours late.

Having fled Hanoi to quitter pastures we ended up missing the North of Vietnam, which only means we have to return (hopefully sooner than later) to catch Halong Bay and the hill tribes in SaPa. We chose a place on the Sleeper bus trail called Dong Hoi and this stop off really made us appreciate having zero plans after landing in Vietnam. If I had pre planned Vietnam I would have had no idea how fed up of shifting from pillar to post we would have become by this point in the journey and I wouldn’t have known how in love we would fall with the sleepy soon to be tourist town of Dong Hoi, in fact we probably never would have gone there.

There is very little to do in Dong Hoi, the town was dDSC_3708ecimated during the American war and apart from the ruins of the old church and the wall and gates of the old town everything seems to be built brand new. There are hotels and restaurants lining the coast but for now or at least at the time of year we visited (Early August) we were some of the only white people there. We ate in the local café Long and stayed in a guest house outside the town. Luckily the guest house is run by a taxi driver who took us on a day tour of Paradise Cave and on an unexpectedly exhausting trip around the ‘botanical gardens’(who knew our quick saunter around the ‘gardens’ would actually be an hour or twos trek uphill around a waterfall surrounded by mosquitoes and old land mine craters!).

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Paradise Cave

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After our trek through the jungle

Nobody asked us to buy anything in Dong Hoi, nobody chased us with fruit baskets or superglue to fix our shoes, like they did in Hanoi and everyone we met was genuinely interested in meeting us for who we were. The children especially were overjoyed to get a chance to try out their English, which was mostly limited to a very excited ‘HELLO’ as they ran around us waving and running to get their brother/sister/friend who would be equally excited to shout hello.

I read a book while in Dong Hoi called ‘Last Night I Dreamed of Peace’, the diary of a young female doctor who nursed countless Vietnamese soldiers in the American war only to see them killed later along with all of her friends and eventually herself. This woman’s inspiring diary really gave me a sense of the Vietnamese people and to see old people who would have lived through those horrible times smiling and waving as Westerners walk through their town really affected me. We kept prolonging our stay in Dong Hoi from one night to five and I was sad to leave when I did. We promised to come back though AND we have been promised a discounted rate at our beach side accommodation when we do! I have a feeling the town will be a lot different in a few years though, when it is finally discovered.

The rest of Vietnam will have to wait until next time, honestly I can’t shut up about the country, there’s just too much to say!

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In total we spent 10 days in China, 5 in Shanghai and 5 in Beijing.

We flew from Hong Kong to Shanghai and ended up sitting on the runway for 5 hours, delayed by some sort of storm but unaware of this because all of the announcements were in Mandarin. China was the only country on our travels where language became a bit of a problem. Chinese people do not see it as necessary to speak English; it was a bit of a shock really because as an English speaker I have become very spoilt by being able to travel with only my own language. Sometime people would speak English; otherwise our conversations would be a series of pointed fingers and phone translations.  We were very lucky actually as in both cities we found ourselves with people who spoke a bit of Mandarin. We met a lovely French girl and her brother in Beijing who became our translator for the few days we were there and our travel partners later in our journey.

I spent the first day in Shanghai in bed with a bad cold that had come on the day before in the airplane. When I finally felt well enough to get up the next day we went into the city centre, Adam went to do a bit of sightseeing while I did a bit of shopping on East Nanjing road. Shanghai was HOT, it reached 42 degrees Celsius when we were there and didn’t drop below 38 for the 5 days. But the intensity of the sun was unexpected. It really was a dry heat just bearing down on us. We went to the Bund, visited the Ancient town in Qibao, we ate steamed pork and crab buns in Yuyuan market and we went out to a dingy student bar called Perry’s. It happened to be Ladies night when we went to Perry’s which meant for 50 Yuan ($12NZD or 7euro) I could drink whatever I wanted until 12 o’clock. Ladies night led to many cocktails and many games of Uno with some new friends, whose names I do not know and a very drunken taxi ride home with a taxi man who spoke no English. Still have no idea how long it took us to get back to our hotel.

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The Shanghai Bund

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The Temple of Heaven in Beijing

We took the speed train from Shanghai to Beijing which was cool; the food available on the train was less than appetising though so I wish we had left in time to pick up something else. We stayed in a pretty nice spot in Beijing, it was in a local neighbourhood and Chinese families would sit out on the street outside the restaurants at night and have dinner. We were so lucky to have found our Mandarin speaking friend in Beijing to help us go in to one of these restaurants and know what we were ordering!

In Beijing we (ate a lot of food) visited the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the Olympic Stadium and Tianmen Square and we saw the Forbidden City but we didn’t go inside as we were told that we would have to pay to have a tour because the palace was closed, I don’t know if that was true as unfortunately there are a lot of scams in China. When you’re a white tourist in Asia, people can sometimes see you as a walking cash dispenser but China was the only place that we experienced people trying to outright scam us for money.

There is a scam that has been running for years in Shanghai where a couple of ‘friends’ (girls or boys) will approach single travellers and engage them in casual conversation before asking them to go to a tea tasting, at the tasting you get the regular tasting and then at the end they hand you a bill that is crazy overpriced and tell you they split it (to make you feel better) but you still end up paying 70-100 euro for a couple of cups of tea.
Adam was approached by a couple of people outside the train station one day while waiting for me, he told me when I met up with him that he had been invited to a tea tasting but had said he was waiting for his girlfriend, as soon as he said he was waiting for someone they lost interest and left. Unfortunately we met people in Beijing who went to a bar with some locals in the same manner as the tea party scam and ended up paying far too much for what they got. These kind of things in China made me pretty wary of anyone who approached me for a while, which is sad because the best part about travelling is meeting new people from different cultures.

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The fountain at the Olympic Stadium

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Tianmen Square. I have never seen so many people in one area as I did in China.

Food, food, food. Chinese food is amazing, also the way they eat. Everybody orders together and the food is put in the middle of the table where you take what you want to your own plate. Eating is all about sharing and tasting in China and I love it. Adam and I often ended up ordering 5 or 6 dishes just for the two of us and sitting down eating for over an hour, the food does not all come at once but more when it is ready.

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The Great Wall, ticked off the bucket list

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Altogether, China was a bit mad. It is such a different culture to what I am used to and there were somethings I could not get used to, for one, the staring: It is not rude at all to stare in China, so we got stared at, a lot. Most of the time it was actually pretty funny, especially when parents would throw their children towards you to get a picture with your pasty skin but sometimes the staring and photo snapping when you’re that sweaty is a bit annoying. Hygiene definitely has a different meaning in China and privacy must definitely have a different definition (our bathroom walls were made of glass in both hotels!). China was such a culture shock and I would love to go back and experience life outside the main cities. China is such a vast country and we barely scratched the surface.

The Tigers – Singapore and Hong Kong

Our two stops after Bali were off the regular backpacking track. The Asian Tiger states are generally considered too expensive for most people on our budget but I thought I’d include them because we wanted to see as much as possible. The week or so we spent in these two states was the most expensive week of the whole trip.

We stayed in Singapore for three nights, in the cheapest double room we could find, in the heart of China Town. First impressions weren’t great, it was about 40 degrees outside and the aircon inside didn’t have enough oomph to cool down the room during the day.

Singapore is a strange place, it’s a mix of so many cultures and it seems everybody has an equal standing in society (albeit a separated standing).

We spent a day wandering the streets checking out the shiny new buildings, the shiny clean paths (chewing gum is literally illegal) and the very shiny, very organised subway system. It’s Singapore’s 50th birthday this year and the Government are really promoting it as the event of the century. They have a Singapore song, that plays out of every public speaker and they have short documentaries about prosperous Singaporeans playing out of every lcd screen on the high rises, altogether they seem to be promoting the idea of Singapore as a utopia for all who live there.

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Singapore Zoo runs a night time exhibition which we went to, the first night we arrived, we realized it was the end of Ramadan and the queues were insane, the zoo staff were saying it would take 2 hours to get inside, so we gave up and we came back the next day. I enjoyed the experience, we heard the wolves and saw a few animals that don’t come out in the day but realistically… Zoos are probably better when you can see the animals…

The food in Singapore was incredible. Considering a bottle of beer was averaging at about 10 singapore dollars (11 NZD 6.50 euro, on the cheap side) the food was about 3 dollars for a full dinner! We got an Indian feast, including two main courses, two side dishes, rice and naan bread for the same price as one bottle of beer, OK we weren’t in a fancy restaurant but why bother when the best food was cheap as chips on the side of the road! The food was one of the main reasons staying in China Town was so great but it seemed to be pretty easy to find cheap, good food wherever you were in the city.chinatown

Three days seemed to be enough for Singapore but I would love to go back with a bit more money in my pocket, there seemed to be a lot more discover outsdie of our price range and the luxury side of Singapore would probably exceed my expectations of luxury.

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Adam getting a haircut in China Town

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The Hong Kong Avenue of Stars light show (it’s free!)

We landed in Hong Kong exhausted after an awful flight time of 2am, we arrived at our metro station, emerged into the monsoon rains and saw a sign for a full irish breakfast, made a beeline to the Irish bar and crashed in front of the best Irish fry since leaving Dublin. That’s when we knew Hong Kong was just as expensive as Singapore, maybe more so. There was no 3 dollar food, we couldn’t find the street food, the rain wouldn’t stop and every door seemed to lead to another shopping centre. Hong Kong or more specifically Kowloon, where we stayed, seems to be an endless maze of shopping centres, generally 10-15 stories high, impossible to navigate, impossible to get out of and full of designer brands way out of a backpackers price range. It is probably shopping heaven but we were too drenched and too much on a budget to know.

Our accomodation was the same as Singapore 50 NZD a night but the location was a little different. ChungKing mansions is a maze of hostels 17 stories high, apparently there are 1980 rooms in the mansions. Honestly, this place has to be seen to be believed, I think every budget traveler to Hong Kong will know what I’m talking about. There were a couple of times the lift broke and we ended up walking up 15 flights of stairs in what looked like a staircase from a slasher movie where the director had no care for health and safety or fire hazards. Getting past the stairwells and lifts we got to the lobby of our hostel and found polished tiled floors, beautiful clean bedding and bathroom and a free to use water fountain which supplied cold and hot water, which came in handy for when we realised we couldn’t eat out anywhere but Mcdonalds and resorted to packet noodles. Hong Kong accomodation is tiny, our room fit our bed and we had to store our bags underneath it, that was it, it was the most creative use of space I’ve seen, they fit 6 rooms in the same space most hotels would fit 2!

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Adam impressing local kids in Hong Kong at the fair

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Kids playing in a fountain outside Ngong Ping cable car

The weather in Hong Kong was relentless and I think it affected our enjoyment of the city. The Nong Ping 360, the cable car to the Big Buddha, was shrouded in fog,and that was the only day it didn’t rain. DSC_3200

I’m told Hong Kong has great beaches and a great night life and people told us there was some amazing street food but honestly we just didn’t feel it. We left Singapore with a desire to come back with more money in our pocket but we left Hong Kong just wanting to leave Hong Kong. Maybe we missed something, maybe if it was nicer weather we would have seen something different but between the two Tigers, Singapore won out in every way, even with their weird Utopian music filling the air.

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