All posts by Manuel

Days 4 and 5: Jaipur!

We knew that it was going to be a long drive to Jaipur from Delhi. Nobody enjoys the prospect of 5 hours in the car but we steeled up for the task and left early in the morning so as to get there by lunch time. The road to Jaipur has 2 clearly defined sections: before you reach Rajastan and after. The roads in Rajastan are a lot better than in the state of Delhi. However, apart from the heat, it was a rather uneventful drive.

To start our Jaipur visit we went to the Amber Fort. This is a beautiful fort, perched high up in the Hills above Jaipur. It has great views of the wall that runs along the top of Jaipur’s hills but is a bit of a climb to get to. You can take an elephant up to the top but we preferred to walk. As it as a festival day, there were hordes of people there to visit the local temple but the fort itself was not extremely crowded.

After visiting the fort we took a drive along the lake to see the water temple and then we went to our hotel. We unpacked and decided we wanted to eat kebabs so we struck out into town in search of a place called “The Kabab Shop”.

Our hotel was a bit outside town so we had to brave the roads and highways at night to get to the food place. Esther is either getting better at walking among traffic or she’s becoming a better actress as I only heard her screaming once, maybe twice, in the whole journey.

The kebabs were delicious and well worth the walk there and back again. Back at our hotel I fought wiith the wifi for a while and then gave up and went to bed.

The next day we also got an early start and went to see Albert’s house. This building was constructed to honour the visit of Prince Albert to India in the late 19th century and is now a museum. As it was World tourism day, all entries were free to museums and attractions so we just walked in.

This building is now a museum where they display anything they can get their hands on. It had weapons, pottery, textiles, paintings, reproductions of Greek statues and even a mummy in the basement! Not sure if it’s worth a visit or not.

After that we went to see the city palace and the jantar mantar.The city Palace is rather impressive and boasts the world’s biggest silver object. 2 jars weighing 345kg each! Apart from that it has some beautiful courtyards with stunning doors and curious guards that are happy for you to take their photo and then whisper “Tip” while standing under the “No Tipping” sign. No tips were given though advice was freely dispensed.

After a brief walk through the blazing heat of the jantar mantar, we joined kuldeep for some traditional Indian thali. Though all vegetarian, it was really nice and having a beer with it also helped a lot.

As the heat was rising we retreated to a coffeeshop for espresso and air conditioning. In there we had another of our inevitable photo sessions with the locals and then ventured into the beauty of the Hawa Mahal.

This place is definitely worth a visit as the architecture is stunning and it is also full of small corners were you can retreat for a bit of peace and quiet. This is a quality not to be underestimated in a city as crazy as Jaipur. After the Hawa Majal we ventured into the local markets in search of trousers for Esther.

This took a long time and a lot of meandering through fun streets filled with the usual assortment of vehicles, people and this time also pigs! We asked Kuldeep later if people ate those pigs and he answered “No, those are street pigs”. Apparently the local fauna includes stray pigs.

Once the shopping was done, we got nicely lost in the side streets heading to the city palace and were accosted by hordes of children screaming “Photo!!!” and “Chewing Gum!!”. We took their photo, gave them a print and some gum and they were gone in a second. Leaving behind a crying 1 year old toddler that we were not very sure what to do with. Luckily an adult was on hand to take the baby and we scampered away down a side street that seemed to lead to where we wanted to go.

Back in the safety of our car, we headed to the Tiger fort to see the sunset. This fort is really high up in the hills and you would need some sort of vehicle to get here. It is most definitely worth it. Not only is the fort beautiful but also the views are spectacular. I’d also recommend paying the 200 rupee fee to get into the opa restaurant to see the sunset. You get a free drink with the entrance and the views are hard to beat.

As the day came to a close we headed back to Jaipur and asked Kuldeep to drop us close to the kebab place for dinner. “Close” was 2 kms away and we had quite a walk to the kebab shop and then to the hotel. In the end we got there safely after a bit more screaming from Esther. She now uses the screaming therapeutically to give her strength. It is mutating into half scream, half roar.

We fought with the Internet a bit, and then slept peacefully until the next day.

Day 3: Rest day, relatively speaking…

So, today was supposed to be a day of rest. We had been told that everything worth seeing was closed on Mondays in Delhi so we had decided to take the day slowly, maybe go out for a stroll but generally just have lazy day. Sometimes the best laid plans just don’t stick.

The beginning of the day was as planned. Woke up late, had another cold shower, a slow breakfast and we left the hotel by 10:30 or so, on our way to the Gurudwara Sikh temple. The heat started to build and we had to walk along some main roads, avoiding tuk tuks, husslers, cars, more husslers and the occasional suicidal bicycle. We ended up taking refuge in a cathedral as it was cool in there and nobody followed us in.

We then made it to the Gurudwara and once again had to remove our shoes. I’m not the biggest fan of removing my shoes and exposing my big ugly feet but it seems like you have to do that everywhere here. At least this place was clean and fresh. It was rather beautiful as well.

After there, our plan was to head to Jantar Mantar, an 18th century building designed to measure the movement of the stars. Once we got there and saw there was no shade anywhere, we took a detour to a nearby air conditioned coffee shop. By this time I looked like I had taken part in a wet t-shirt competition and lost with great embarrassment.

We gave up on the sunny Jantar Mantar and went in search of food. We had a hankering for western food so we ended up in Pizza hut! It’s amazing how much they can do with only chicken. Chicken Salami, chicken meatballs, chicken suasage, chicken tikka, and many more Instead of the meat lover’s pizza it was literally called the chicken lover’s pizza. I quickly professed my avian love and scoffed down all that fowl goodness.

After pizza we both agreed that the Jantar Mantar was beyond our capacity so we set out in search of a local well called Agrasen ki baoli. It was kind of hidden down a pathway but well worth the find.

It was quiet and beautiful but so not worth the 108 steps to get to the bottom. We spent a good hour there just chilling and recuperating.

Once our batteries were full we hatched our final plan of the day: do some shopping for toiletries and then retreat to the hotel. It all seemed to be going off without a hitch until our map showed us there was a park in the middle of the area we were walking through.

We quickly ditched the plan and headed for the park. It was all for naught as the park was closed but we did manage to get even hotter and see more people standing around markets, apparently not buying anything. We went back to the original plan, got some soap and gel as well as some snacks and headed for the hotel. This was the toughest stretch. The road offered no shade and it was way too hot for two people accustomed to Irish weather.

After taking a wrong turn or two, stopping for coffee, avoiding more tuk turk’s, husslers, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, acrobatic children and other dangers of the city, we finally arrived at the hotel! Our “day of rest” consisted of around 9kms walking in 36 degree heat. I’m glad we don’t take too many days off!

Day 2: Delhicious

After waking from our self-induced coma of 12 hours, we steeled ourselves for another day of intense sightseeing. Our morning shower was cold (not by choice) and our breakfast was simple (kind of by choice). We met Kuldeep at 10 am and off we went into the streets of Delhi.

We seem to have the local gathering spot for children just outside our hotel and there were already a dozen of them running amok when we left in the morning. I suspect this is because out street is the only one with no tarmac and therefore has almost no traffic.

Our first stop in the morning was the famous red fort. This place is huge! The towering walls were impressive and as we had to walk around a big part of it to get to the entrance, we got a good image of what it might be like to approach this imposing fortress as an invader. Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t want to be one.

The complex on the inside was also very beautiful. It reminded me of parts of Iran with the waterways and decorations. It is very clear to see how the Mogul rulers of India were inspired by Persian styles.

After the red fort, we ventured into the craziness of the Sunday bazaar. It was extremely packed and we were accosted on all sides by beggars, tuk tuk drivers, guides and other tourist vultures. We were also somewhat paranoid about our belongings so we sped through (relatively speaking) on our way to our lunch spot, Karim’s.

Karim’s is a little restaurant off a side road near the Jamal Masjid mosque. It is a great place to eat mutton and after 3 days of only chicken, I could do with the change.

Once our stomachs were full, we moved on to the Jamal Masjid mosque. We paid the tourist tax and got covered in a piece of cloth and charged for it too. Apart from that little inconvenience, the mosque is well worth a visit. It’s a great place to sit around and meet some locals. You will also get to take a lot of selfies with a lot of people. This place is almost as bad as China!

After a while at the mosque it was time to brave the bazaar again to go in search of our car. This was a crazy walk. We dodged people, cars, tuk tuks, motorcycles, mud and dogs just to get to the main road. I almost lost Esther at a certain point but we made it through in the end. Crossing the road was fun and Esther is actually crossing with almost no screaming by now!

Once we got to the car, we went to the Shrine of Mahatma Ghandi which was not that great and then on to the best sight of the day: Humayun’s tomb!

If you could only see one thing in Delhi, I’d recommend this place. It served as a template for the Taj Mahal and is absolutely stunning. I’d recommending coming here and spending a long while walking around and enjoying the various mausoleums. I’d also recommend carrying some spare water as there are no vendors around and it can get rather hot. Also, avoid friendly security guards offering to explain what the monuments are. They are, once again, just after your money and really have very little to offer when it comes to actual information.

To round off the day we did a little clothes shopping and ate some delicious Indian food at a restaurant near the hotel. Then a good night’s sleep to get ready for day 3!

First day: flights and Delhi!

So, here we go again. Flying off into the unknown with apparently not a care in the world. It’s all a carefully orchestrated illusion of course as you cannot avoid some level of trepidation when embarking upon a month-long trip into India and Nepal.

The flight over was relatively uneventful with the exception of encountering my first burger king that served no beef burgers. I have a feeling I’ll be sprouting feathers by the end of this trip! Eating nothing but chicken every day!

The monotony of the fight to Delhi was broken by a group of screaming old Italian ladies that spent a big part fo the trip complaining loudly in Italian to fellow passengers that did not speak a word of Italian. They also routenly ignored the fasten seat belt sign and one even got up to chat with her friend just before the plane started accelerating for take-off. Esther and I found it very funny, a feeling clearly not shared by the flight crew. Once we landed and spent the mandatory hour in the queue to get our visas, we stepped outside where our patient cab driver was still waiting for us, in spite of the fact that we were almost 3 hours late.

The drive over was either a lot of fun or nerve-wracking, depending on which one of us you asked. I have a feeling that by the end of this trip, Esther will either never want to get in a car again or will be one more of the crazy drivers that you find in these latitudes.

After getting some food and refreshment at the hotel, we sat down with the hotel’s travel agent to book the trains over to Varanasi. We knew that finding spaces on those trains could be challenging so we had to book the in advance. Somehow after a few minutes talking to the agent we found ourselves breaking my cardinal rule of my trips, No planning!

We now have a driver for the first week or so, as well as hotels, trains and everything booked until we are due to leave India on the sixth. I’m not sure how I feel about this yet.

On the one-hand it’s nice to have a driver to take us around, avoid the hassles of looking for transport and ending up stuck in a local bus. On the other hand, I kind of like those hassles and buses. In any case, I saw Esther’s look of relief when everything was booked and at the end of the day, that’s what matters. We are travelling together and if she’s happy, That’s all I need.

Now all that was over, we could begin our exploration of Delhi! Our driver, Kundeep, turns out to be a great guy. He’s been doing this for 24 years, has a solid FB following and books full of raving comments from past clients. He took us around to the best known sites of New Delhi and it was a mixed bag.

Some sites are amazing and we feel like we should have stayed a little longer. Places like the Lodi gardens and the Qutab Minar deserve time to see properly.

Other places were not so great. The Laxmi temple, Indira Ghandi memorial and the government building are ok if you have time to spare but I could have done without them.

Overall it was a good day, by the time we got back to the hotel we were wrecked and ended passing out on the beds and waking up at 6 am the next day. We’ll see what tomorrow brings!

Technology update. Smaller and better.

The last time I did some travel blogging was 2 years ago when I went to Japan for the first time. Back then I was using my Android tablet with an attached keyboard to write my posts and also to transfer my photos from my SD cards to my hard drive.

I ended up quitting blogging half-way through that trip as the entire process was a nightmare. The tablet was very slow, uploading and editing images was really hard and overall it took way too much time to complete a blog post. I still really appreciated having a way to backup my images but it was not feasible for blogging. Since then I’ve gone even more minimalist. I now travel with just my smartphone which I use for editing my photos and I also carry a card reader and a HDD but depend on the kindness of strangers to transfer my photos to my HDD. This has gone well so far but I never felt quite comfortable with the setup. For this trip I am taking a leap to try to do more blogging on the go and I’ve got a couple of gadgets that will hopefully help me achieve everything I want while not taking up too much space. My first addition to my setup is a Bluetooth keyboard. I bought a folding keyboard which I’ve paired up with my smartphone and I’ll be using that to blog on the go. I’m actually writing this whole article with this setup and it works a treat. This will let me write up my posts whenever I have a spare moment and is also so much more responsive than my old setup. The second issue I want to tackle is mobile backup. I’ve ordered a little gadget called the Ravpower Filehub. Ravpower is a company that is better known for its power banks but this nifty gadget does so much more. The main thing I want to use it for is to transfer files from my SD card to my portable hard drive.

This gadget has both an SD card reader and a USB port so I can use it to move files from one to the other without going through my phone. It also is a WiFi hub so I can read files and watch movies stored on the hard drive, it acts as a WiFi extender for bad connections, can turn hard point connections into wireless connections and so much more. Did I mention it also has a 6000 mA battery to charge my phone? I’m really excited to get this little piece of tech and start trying it out.

Chiang Mai-Take 1

I left you all after my delicious breakfast of chicken asses in Sukhothai. Later that day we once again piled into tuk-tuks and went to get a bus to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand and the hub for most travelling in the North of Thailand. It was supposed to be a 5 hour bus trip to get there so we all climbed aboard and settled down for another long trip. In the end it turned out to be more like 6 and a half hours and we didn’t stop for food so I was starving by the time we got there.

We were unlucky as the north of Thailand is covered in a thick cloud of smoke at this time of year. The farmers are burning the dry rice fields to prepare for the rainy season and the next crop. As a consequence visibility was reduced to around 500 meters which really sucked. It also didn’t make for the most pleasant breathing experience.

Once we got into Chiang Mai and after the unavoidable haggling with the taxi drivers we headed over to the hostel that my Italian friends had picked. It seemed nice but was slightly above my price range so I went in search of more affordable lodgings. I ended up staying in a great guest-house called Smile House 1 which had a nice vibe and a pool. I met up with my friends after we had settled in and we went in search of the riverside bar to have a few drinks.

Banana pancakes!
Banana pancakes!

The city seemed a bit dead and we later found out that it was an election weekend so sale of alcohol was restricted. My quest for a party was once again foiled and it was a pity to be in town on a day like that but at least we got some sleep! We finally found the riverside bar after a few missteps and had a nice beer watching the river and listening to yet another Thai cover band.

The plan for the next day was to rent some scooters and go do some exploring around the city. Though we had planned to leave early, we were somewhat delayed by my search for a place to do laundry. Once the smelly clothes were dealt with, I rented a scooter at Tony’s Big Bikes and met up with my Italian posse and we headed in search of the Mae Sa Elephant Camps.

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The drive over was uneventful and I ended up leading the group successfully to the elephants. Elephants are very impressive creatures when seen up close. there was a baby elephant that was a few weeks old and already weighed about as much as I do. We took some pictures and I got hugged by one of the animals. They have really rough skin on their trunks but can be really delicate, it was comforting and terrifying at the same time! We also saw a show in which elephants played football, danced, played harmonicas and did other activities which I’m sure they also do in the wild. πŸ™‚

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After getting our fill of pachyderms we went to see the nearby waterfalls. As this is the dry season, all the waterfalls I’ve seen in Thailand were underwhelming. This was no exception but it was a decent hike up to the top. I was sweating as if I had jumped into the waterfall by the end and my twisted ankle was starting to give me hell so we stopped briefly to dip our feet in a pool. Ok, I admit it, I was the only one that dipped my feet but I really needed it!

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We then got on our scooters and rode back to town. The evening was uneventful and consisted of more drinks by the river. There was a big market in town as it was a Sunday but I didn’t really feel like being stuck in a mass of people for hours so I just stayed in my room and blogged. It was still election time so there wasn’t much to do.

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I had decided to rent a bigger bike on the next day and head out to Pai and possibly do a bit of the Mae Hong Son loop. This is a 1000 km circuit that has over 3800 curves and is supposed to be heavenly for bikers. As my Italian friends were carrying suitcases they couldn’t do the same plan so they decided to rent a car and we would meet up there in Pai. Check in next time for my adventures getting lost in flaming forests and how I almost emigrated to Myanmar by mistake!

 

Sukhothai historical park

After spending 2 days in Ayutthaya and feeling the need to move on, I booked a 6:30 am bus to Sukhothai. The idea was to get there around midday so I had plenty of time to see the park in the afternoon. I had decided to try to find a guesthouse within the historical Park as someone had told me that new Sukhothai was dead at night and that the park was where all the action was. This could not be further from the truth. While being in the park has its advantages, night life is definitely not one of the reasons to go there!

While waiting for the bus I spotted 2 fellow travellers which were carrying around full suitcases. This is not a normal sight while travelling around as most people tend to have backpacks. I decided to strike up a conversation and it turns out they were Italian! I was on luck as I am much more comfortable speaking Italian than I am speaking French so it meant the trip would become less intellectually challenging!

Their names were Alessandro and Gilberto and they would become my travelling companions for the next few days. πŸ™‚ They had been in Thailand for a few days and were heading towards the golden triangle. At that point I was still not sure what I wanted to do so I decided to tag along as far as Chiang Mai.

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The bus ride was OK and as we had VIP tickets we even had a stop to eat at 8:30am. We arrived at Sukhothai and got ripped off by the taxi driver that charged us 150baht each to take us to the hotels. Alessandr o and Gilbert had booked a hotel outside of the historical Park while I wanted to go inside as I had seen in my guide that there were a couple of cheap options in there. The taxi driver decided to drop me off at the hostel where he was getting commission instead of the one I wanted but I easily found the place. I got a nice aircon room for 500 baht and then got in touch with my new friends to see if they wanted to bike around the park.

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We ended up heading out at 4pm and got to see a few temples and a nice sunset. We then had some nice street food and tried to find a place toΒ  have a beer before we went to sleep. Everything was dead at 8pm and we had a beer at a place that was closing up for the night. We decided to call it an early night and meet up early the next day to see some more of the historical park.

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At 8am we were again on our bikes and heading into the historical park. It was well worth getting up early as it was not at all hot and it was a very pleasant ride. It rained a little bit but not enough to bother us. I stopped to have a couple of roadside delicacies which turned out to be chicken asses. They were not bad and they also turned out to be the only food I’d have until dinner time so I got lucky!

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Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is a smallish town on the outskirts of Bangkok. The only reason I came here was because it was recommended by a French guy I met in Bangkok. I ended up staying here for 2 nights, mostly due to F.O.M.O.(fear of missing out) but as always it worked out ok. πŸ™‚

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I arrived here by minibus from bangkok. The ride was nice enough as the bus was big enough and had airconditioning. While I was waiting for the bus I bought some strawberries from a street vendor. She coated them with what I thought was sugar and handed them to me. It turns out that it was sugar and salt together! I have never had salty strawberries but it was not bad! I don’t know if I’d have them again back home but for a taste it was surprising and worked well.

I was planning on staying at what I thought was a guesthouse called Tony’s place. When I got there at 1pm they were already fully booked so I went across the road to the U.P. Inn. The room I got was lovely and cheap and I should have stayed there for both my nights but I didn’t.

At this time I was starting to get affected by something that sometimes happens when you travel alone. It’s a terrible thing called loneliness. I was enjoying my stay in the country but it had been 3 days since I had spoken to anyone and I was feeling rather down in the dumps. When you feel like this you tend to make stupid decisions based on trying to get to the place where you think you’ll meet people. In that frame of mind I went and booked a room at Tony’s place for twice the money of the place I was staying. I didn’t break the bank but I could have done without it.

I then rented a bike and went on a small tour around town to see the major ruins. The ruins were nice but the truth is that they are in the middle of a city and most are currently under construction. Though it may seem weird, they are rebuilding many of the ruins to make them look more attractive. I think they are ruining the charm of the 13th century buildings by plastering them over with new pieces but to each their own.

Why plaster this over?
Why plaster this over?

I headed back to town on my bike and went back to my hostel to rest a bit. As I said before, I was not exactly my cheerful self so I decided to wander around town to see if I could cheer myself up. I had a bit of dinner and kept my eyes open for potential groups I could join but all I could see where couples and families. I was starting to really regret booking a second night in this town and got sadder and sadder. After dinner I decided that this needed to stop and I sat down at a table of strangers and asked if I could join them. That’s how I met my travel buddy for the next day and it was a great move.

The 2 guys I met were from Quebec so I spent the evening and most of next day speaking in French. Seem like I need to travel to Asia to speak French! πŸ™‚ We went for another bite to eat and then had a few beers in town . There was little night life and we ended up sitting at a closed bar and buying beers from the shop across the road. We were then joined by another random French man whose only joy in life seemed to be to disagree with everything anyone said. He was a miserable man and kind of killed our buzz.

I agreed to meet Antoine the next day in front of my new hotel after I’d checked in so we could rent some bikes and go see some more ruins. It all went smoothly and I was shown to my new room which was definitely not worth twice the money of my previous place. We proceeded to bike all around town (over 20kms) in the midday heat. Suffice it to say that it was gruelling. I overheated at a certain point and had to pour loads of cold water over my head to cool down.

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When we were visiting one monument we ran into busloads of Thai students that had come to see the monument in airconditioned buses. The looks they gave us reminded me of how I used to look at German tourists when I’d see them sweating in the midday heat in Madrid. To think that now I’m the stupid tourist!

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After biking to the middle of nowhere to see a supposed Portuguese village, we called it a day and took a ferry back to town and returned our bikes. We headed to the local market for dinner and then parted ways as Antoine had to work and I wanted to update the blog. I booked an early morning bus to Sukhothai at the hostel and had a free dinner on the house as I had paid for breakfast but was leaving before breakfast was open.

The rest of the night was spent having beers with Antoine and talking about politics, acting, travelling and many other things. Overall a great night!

One night in Bangkok

So Bangkok, how to describe it? It’s a crazy sprawling metropolis with a little to offer for every taste. I’m afraid I only spent an afternoon there as I wanted to get away from the city for a bit but the little I saw has made sure I want to spend a couple of days there before I leave!

After my gruelling flight from Shanghai I spent all of my first morning in bangkok sleeping. I had booked a fancy hotel for the first couple of days as I wanted to make sure I had a nice place to crash while I adjusted to the jetlag. I’m not sure if that was the right choice as everyone at the hotel was there with their families which meant I didn’t really talk to anyone in my 2 days there.

I awoke at 2pm and headed out to explore the city, unfortunately the main temples all close at 3:30pm and I didn’t have enough time to get there. Instead I decided to wander around and see what I ran into. The first thing I saw was a big section of the centre of town closed off for the protests. It was a strange feeling as the streets were deserted but you could see overturned cars and military checkpoints everywhere. There were also big tents with people listening to speeches on big screen TVs. Not too sure what was happening but I acted the tourist and wandered all over the place. Nobody seemed to mind.

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I eventually made it to the first place I wanted to visit which was the Golden Summit. This stuppa was built on top of a previous mount and gives a great view over the city. I got there as there was some sort of ritual going on where a lot of people were pinning amulets on a long piece of cloth which they then wrapped around the stuppa. I felt very foreign and a little in the way but tried to be respectful.

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After making my way down and already sweating like a pig, I wandered vaguely in the direction of the Grand palace and Wat Po. I ended up at Sao Chingcha which is a big temple in the middle of a square. Apparently here there used to be a big swing where once a year they would place a bag of gold 15m high and people would swing on this swing trying to reach the bag. This practice was banned after many people killed themselves trying. The temple itself is very beautiful and had an impressive statue of the Buddha inside.

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I then left and headed towards Wat Po. I got there and was approached by a seemingly nice Thai man that asked me where I’m from and after a bit of a chat recommended I go to the Tourist office really quickly as it was a special Buddhist holiday and the government had removed all taxes from travel tickets to encourage tourism. The clincher was that he could get me a Tuk-Tuk (taxi) to take me there for free. I politely refused to be scammed and was so glad that I had already gotten scammed in Shanghai! I was approached by 2 more people with similar stories trying to get me to the Tourist information office which kind of confirmed it was a scam.

Tuk-Tuk selfie!
Tuk-Tuk selfie!

I got on a Tuk-Tuk by myself and headed to Chinatown for dinner. Chinatown feels like a completely different city to central Bangkok. That happened a few times while in Bangkok, it feels like there are many cities in this one! I got there a bit early for dinner but ended up walking to an open Street vendor and saying “Hungry” then sitting down. I got a delicious soup with seafood in it. I have been here for a while now and I have yet to be served bad food, I love this country! I wandered a bit around Chinatown and then headed back to the hotel to reset.

Chinatown stall
Chinatown stall

After a shower I went out again searching for a beer and someone to talk to. I went to Khao San which is the big backpacker area. Again this was yet another city! Brimming with tourists, bars, cheap cocktails and lots of music. I wandered around and went to a place called the rooftop bar. I didn’t get to talk to anyone but got nicely buzzed by myself. The band there wasn’t bad and the are much worse things than listening to versions of Mumford and sons while having a beer.

Crazy Khao San!
Crazy Khao San!

I tumbled back to the hotel and met a nice French man there that recommended I head to Ayutthaya as it is worth seeing. That is exactly what I did. I’m writing this post after having stayed here for 2 days. My next post will cover Ayutthaya, biking across the countryside and much more!

Shanghai my… oh my!

Shanghai… what a city! It is definitely not what I expected and that’s not always a bad thing. I arrived here expecting to see something completely different and in many ways it is very similar to being back in Europe. It’s like Europe gone crazy! I was there for barely 24 hours but I have a lot to tell so pull up a chair and join me!

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I got to Shanghai at 3 pm after a 12 hours flight from Rome. I flew with China Eastern which is not a bad company. The plane was OK and we each had our own little VOD screen. The guy sitting next to me however was a nightmare. He had no sense of personal space and kept digging his elbow into my side. This was the beginning of my contacts with the Chinese and I can tell you he was more the norm than the exception. More on this later.

We landed at Shanghai airport around 3 pm. I was a little nervous as I was planning on getting in using the new transit visa that China has established in Jan of this year. The idea is that if you are staying for less than 72 hours you don’t need to get a visa beforehand, all you need is to prove that you have a confirmed flight that is leaving in the next 3 days. With my usual lack of preparedness, I had forgotten to print out my flight information and all I had was an email in Italian on my phone that showed my flight info. Turns out everything went smoothly. I had more trouble getting them to accept that I was the hairy big-bearded guy that appears in my passport photo than getting my visa stamped.

My friend Michael was waiting patiently for me at the airport. The flight was delayed and the visa took a good while but he still greeted me with a big smile, handed me a transport card and we headed towards the MAGLEV train. This wonderful piece of engineering takes you straight from Shanghai airport to the outskirts of Shanghai at 300km/h. After the train we took a taxi which ended up being more expensive than expected as the taxi drivers said they couldn’t use the meter on Sundays. Who knew the Chinese we so religious! πŸ˜›

Michael’s apartment is amazing! It has a fantastic view over Shanghai and a really comfy couch for vagabonds like me to sleep on. I had a shower and put on a load of laundry and then we left to have dinner with my work colleagues. Dinner was great and consisted of a neverending stream of plates delivered to our table. They were all placed on a rotating centrepiece that you could spin to get to the food you wanted. This was fun and also a bit stressful as you had to be fast in serving your food or someone would spin the table and you would miss your chance!

What a view!
What a view!

We then went for drinks in a very western part of town (we went to the paulaner brewery!) and then we said our goodbyes. Michael took me for the last one to an expat hangout called I love Shanghai. The place is really cool and I would highly recommend it to anyone in Shanghai that wants to meet some English speaking people. We stayed until midnight and toasted in Paddy’s day and then went home where I slept like a drugged baby!

The next morning I got up at 9 and headed out to see Shanghai. As some of you know, I have a tendency to get scammed on the first day of my trips and you’ll be happy to know that this time was no different. I met what I thought was a nice pair of Chinese tourists and we walked around People’s square for a while. They mentioned that they were going to see a traditional Chinese tea ceremony and asked if I cared to join them. They seemed nice enough so I went along. The tea place they took me to was rather small but nice. I got shown a price chart and, even though it was expensive (49 RMB for a tea), I thought it might be worth it to see the ceremony. I quickly realised something was up when I got a thimble of tea and then we passed on to the next one. I said that I didn’t want all the teas (there was over a dozen) and said that 2 was enough for me. The scammer got a bit upset and even said that I should live a little and spend more money. Her argument was that my flight tomorrow might disappear like the Malaysian airlines one and then what good would my money do me. I smiled and paid my bill (130 RMB or almost 16 euro for 2 thimbles of tea!). The good thing is now I’ve gotten scammed, I’m immune for the rest of the trip!

Going about her business
Going about her business

The rest of my visit was kind of uneventful unless you count my annoyance with the Chinese as an event. They seem to be extremely rude and have no sense of social awareness. They will push, shove and do whatever they feel like with no consideration for the people around them. I spoke to Michael’s roommate John about this and he said that in China calling someone out on their behaviour is simply not done. This leads me to believe that the Chinese are not rude, they’re mostly just too polite. In Europe if you acted like a dick all the time, people would call you out on it and you’d stop. In China you can act like a dick all you want as nobody will ever say anything out of politeness. In any case I found it rather aggravating.

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At 4pm I proceeded to take the Metro to the MAGLEV train and got to the airport with almost no incidents. I did fall asleep on the Metro, freaked out thinking I had passed my stop and then realised after I had left the train that I was still 3 stops away! The wonders of jetlag!

The flight to Bangkok was a true nightmare. An elderly woman had a stroke on the plane so we had to make an emergency landing in Guangzhou to get her to a hospital. It was rather sad how the Chinese attitude shone here again. As she was being carried out from the airplane, all you could hear where mobile phones taking pictures left and right. We were grounded for over 4 hours and our 4 hour flight turned into a 9 hour one. Suffice it to say I was destroyed by the time I got to the hotel in Bangkok!

That’s all for now. I’ve been in Bangkok for just over 24 hours and have plenty to say in the next post. Make sure you don’t miss it!