Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Xi'an


By the time we got on our train to Xi'an(a 16 hour ride from Shanghai), I felt the first signs of a cold. My eyes were red, my throat itchy, my head pounding, and my nose wouldn't stop dripping. So its not surprising that I wasnt particularly cheerful when we arrived in Xi'an. From the ticket counter, we bought our train tickets first - this time to Beijing, then headed to our hostel. Ludao Binguan was just a 5-minute walk away from the train station - there we met the owner/manager Jim Beam. Cool name right? We just had time to stuff our bags in our room to catch the bus for the Eastern Circuit Tour which will take up the entire day. First stop was Lintong Meseum - a boring same-old-same-old museum. Then off to Huaqing Pool where the old emperor Xuanzong and his concubine Lady Yang had their pleasure baths.

After a quick lunch, our guide told us the next stop would be the Terracotta Warriors Museum. Woohoo! This is one of the reasons why we are in China - over 7,000 terracotta soldiers, horses, chariots and weapons have been found here and they are still excavating. These lifesize warriors were buried with the first emperor of Qin in 210 B.C. which means these guys are over 22000 years old! There are 3 pits on the museum - Pits 1, 2 & 3. Earlier, while we were still stowing our bags away on the dorm, Jao read on the wall(guests can just write anything on the dorm's walls - tips, notes, greetings) that the best way to see the pits is in the reverse order. That is go to Pit 3 first, then 2, then 1 because 3 has the smallest collection and 1 has the largest. Well, turned out it was an excellent advice. The pits got better and better as we went along, but I'm not sure why we weren't that awed. It was impressive alright but I thought upon the sight of it we would flip out and ran out of superlatives but I guess I was expecting too much. Maybe the warriors were quite far from us, that's why. And it was quite frustrating how hard it is photograph the soldiers. The museum was a bit dark, so a tripod is a must. I brought one but my lens is not that long so no close-up shots of the warriors for me. Sigh.

Before we left the museum, Jao couldn't find her digicam anymore. She left it on the sink in one of the toilets, and when she tried to come back for it - it was long gone. This earned her the title - 'the slob'.

Our bus brought us back to our hostel, and while resting we drew the philippine flag using pink, light blue and yellow markers(because there were no more red and blue) and posted it on the hotel lobby wall of flags. Then we walked to the not-so-near Muslim Quarter for our dinner, the city was very lovely at night - we walked past the bell and drum towers, a dried fruit market, some souvenir shops and then to the restaurants.

Next Day

We rented bikes to explore the city, it was surrounded by city walls and we wanted to bike on top of the walls. We were looking for the way up for quite a while so when we saw a young couple biking - we asked them for directions. They didn't know the way up either but they helped us find it - after some time they realized what should have been so obvious, the reason why we couldn't find the way up is we were looking for it outside the walls. The walls were built to keep out outsiders so we should have been looking for the entrance inside the wall. Hehe what a bunch of dorks. The wall of course had an entrance fee(40 rmb) and they don't allow bikes so we had to leave them down. Up the 13-km wall, we rented bikes(20 rmb) again - and biked all way around for almost 2 hours.

Our train is leaving in a few hours but we wanted to see the Great Mosque first. We biked all the way from the wall to the Great Mosque(beautiful courtyards, interesting architecture - combination of chinese and muslim) to our hostel. We said a quick goodbye to Jim Beam(who had a crush on Sym - which earned her the title 'the concubine') and ran to the train station. We forgot to eat the entire day except for breakfast so on the train to Beijing, we had quite a feast. The train's food was yummy by the way(or maybe we were just too hungry).

More pictures of Xi'an trip here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Xitang


Day 4

Xitang was not even featured on the latest edition of Lonely Planet China. I only learned of the place when a chinese friend recommended it as a sidetrip from Shanghai. He said the ending scene of Tom Cruise's MI 3 was filmed there - I remember that scene quite vividly - he was running on a long cobbled corridor with cloths still hanging on the lines, the waterfront houses were these ancient ones with black tiled roofs, the town was rustic and charming.

We were not disappointed. It was already dusk and the town was lighted with red lanterns - we walked through several narrow alleyways, crossed an old graceful bridge and arrived in a guesthouse with a courtyard that resembles a museum.

We had dinner in one of the small restaurants near our house, the tables were located on the riverside where old gondolas skim by, willow trees lightly curtained the view, and the food was very interesting. They preserve vegetables for winter and they put it in almost all of the dishes. (it was mustasa according to Jao - by the end of our trip, we could not bear to eat this vegetable anymore. even the instant noodles are mustasa-flavored)

We walked for some time, and even tried a gondola ride up and down our street. It was a very cold night so we looked for a place to have a drink. We found a small bar covered all over(walls and ceilings) with post-it messages from tourists, they served us a hot pijou(beer) which tastes like soy sauce.

Day 5
The next day, we just walked around town, and took lots and lots of pictures. The town was so photogenic, I just want to capture everything - a cat resting near a window, a bike parked near a bricked wall, an old man washing his clothes along the river, an artist painting near a bridge.

And by the way, there wasn't a single english-speaking person in the place. Good thing Sym and Jao still remember their mandarin. :)

How to get there: From Shanghai South Train Station, take the 1-hour train ride to Jiashan. There are buses/minivans outside the station. A van to town will take around 20 minutes and costs about 35 rmb.

Where to stay: Tongcun Hotel, Tawan Street. 80 rmb for 1 room with a bathroom. We waited for the owner of the guesthouse to pick us up in front of the town's hospital.

More pictures of our Xitang trip on this link.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Day 3 & 4 - Shanghai



Day 3

From Macau, we took a 1-hour ferry ride to Hong Kong. Several transfers on the very modern and convenient MTR later, we collected our train tickets to Shanghai at the Hung Hom train station. From there, we met Jao and Sym. We boarded the train quite early, so we had a lot of time taking our pictures, unpacking our stuff, checking out the toilets and the other types of sleepers(we got soft-sleeper berths) and all in all we were very happy with the K100 train. With so much free time in our hands, we spent the next 24 hours reading up on Shanghai, practicing our Mandarin on each other and on the train staff and the next thing we knew, we were finally in Shanghai! We headed straight to the ticket counter to buy our tickets to Xi'an and then we decided to just take a taxi to our hostel, but getting one was a lot harder than we expected. We found a few taxis alright but some of them just wanted to bring us to some hotels they know and some don't want to use their meters(the bastards). So to be on the safe side, we just took the metro which is just outside the train station. We found our hostel(Captain Hostel) after a few wrong turns, and after checking in to our room and saying hi to our new roommates, we climbed the roofdeck of the hostel. The view of the Pudong was amazing!

After an excellent but cheap dinner(xiaolongbao!) at a restaurant near the Captain Hostel, we walked to see the Yuyuan Gardens and Bazaar. We found the memory cards there very cheap so Raycee, Sym and I each bought a 2G card for our cameras. (We found out much later in the trip that these cards were probably fake, Raycee's card keeps displaying corrupted images and Sym's card reader back home could not even read her SD card, mine was ok though..)

We then checked out the Bund - it was more beautiful than I expected especially at night, the buildings were these old colonial ones and you get a big sweeping view of the Pudong on the waterfront while old boats glide by. From the Bund, we strolled down to Nanjing Donglu - a famous shopping street but we found most of the stores were already closed. It was a very chilly night so we stayed in the nearby Mcdonalds for a coffee before calling it a night.

Day 4

After a hot shower and checking out of our room, we deposited our bags and went on our way to Yuyuan Gardens, we couldn't find this garden the night before so we had to come back today. Yuyuan Gardens is famous for its zigzag bridge - the reason for the irregular shape is to prevent evil spririts from crossing it, the chinese believe the spirits can only travel on straight lines. The bridge was more stunning in the pictures though, I guess a view from top is much better. There is a garden near the bridge where you had to pay 40 yuan to enter, and since its there, we might as well check it out. It was pretty what with the ponds and trees but maybe a bit slippery because Raycee lost his footing and almost broke his neck and gave us quite a scare, good thing he only got a few scrapes and bruises.

When we got tired of the gardens, we had a quick brunch(xiaolongbao again!) and then headed straight to the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel(40 yuan each). This train leads to Pudong, the trip lasted for a few minutes but it was such a cheesy ride, we couldn't wait to get out(and to think we bought a round-trip ticket). In Pudong, we saw up close and personal the pink Oriental Pearl Tower and Jinmao Tower but we decided to go back to the more interesting Bund because Pudong was quite boring. We strolled along the Bund, checking out some buildings, and we stayed for some time in a cafe in the old HSBC building(No. 12). I love their pizza :)

We claimed our bags in the hostel after a while and took a cab to Shanghai South Station where we will take the train to Xitang - our next stop.

More pictures here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Day 1 & 2 - Macau


Yes, it might have the yummiest, creamiest, melt in your mouth egg tarts. And the ruins of the Church of St. Paul was very impressive whichever angle you look at it. And the Senado Square was quite charming, with all the old buildings surrounding it and the flowers in the windows and the big water fountain in the center of the town square. But it is not these things that remind of Macau. Not even the ubiquitous casinos and the fellow Filipino workers everywhere. It is the one night I spent in a small house-turned-hostel named Auguster's Lodge. We arrived on a weekend and we didn't have a reservation so Cath and I had to squeeze in on a single bed and share the room with 3 swiss guys. It wasn't that bad and we thought Raycee was the unluckier one because he didn't even have a bed - just a small, foldable mattress that they put up in another room. But the moment I opened the door to our room, the nasty odour almost knocked me out. The culprit was already sleeping with his stinky feet dangling from the upper deck of our bed, and his yucky shoes and socks were all over the floor. Haay. Surprisingly, we fell asleep quite easily but not before sniffing a good amount of tiger balm to drown the smell.

More pictures of our Macau trip here.

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