Weeks 12 to 13 - China 2006
Shanghai Travel Blog› entry 1 of 1 › view all entries
Another sleeper train and we arrived in Chengdu before the sun rose with the sole purpose of seeing Giant Pandas and we were not dissapointed. We hopped on a tour that very morning to see them at their most active. They were absolutely gorgeous - check out flickr to see the photos. But we can kind of see why they're at risk of extinction. They don't really have that killer instinct and their ability to get up and down trees is just laughable - the fact that they just sit on their backsides all day chomping on bamboo is neither here nor there...!. It was altogether a very entertaining morning.
Still in shock at such an early start we decided to take advantage of a little luxury - the hostel's DVD room. As a traveller you can't imagine how exciting these small things are and it turned into a DVD marathon-cum-all day drinking session and some of us stayed up until 6am to watch the football - Arsenal v Barcelona (Pam went to bed at 1am being the lightweight she is).
Chengdu itself was absolutely wicked. One of China's biggest cities but it had a really chilled out vibe and all the women were beautiful. Everyone was totally glam, 'Sex in the City' styleee. Whilst we were there we discovered Szechuanese Tapas (not so good, especially when things look like eye balls) and Chinese Karaoke (fantastic) at one of the many KTV bars. This consists of a number of small rooms running off numerous corridors that you hire out as a group. Inside the room, you find a full karaoke get-up, and you can sing away to your hearts content. James' rendition of 'Itsy Bitsy, Teeny-Weeny, Yellow Polker Dot Bikini' was a particular highlight, although Steve showed his disapproval by falling asleep.
Another highlight of Chengdu was the hotpot. A speciality of the region, this consists of a bowl of boiling chilli stock & another of chicken stock, into which you throw your chosen ingredients, as you would in a fondue. Being the fluent Mandarin speakers that we are, we threw in whatever we had pointed to on the menu. The barbecued duck's heads weren't as good as they sound..., but fortunately the chicken's feet made up for them!?!
Finally for Chengdu, we can't forget to mention the trip to see the Grand Buddha. Although not a top attraction on the foreign tourist trail from what we could see, the 6 hour round trip was definitely worthwhile. Firstly, I got to ride a tiger statue like the crazy cowboy I am. Secondly, the pure scale of the Buddha is incredible. The statue has been carved out of the cliff face, and dwarfs anyone who cares to have their picture taken next to it. Enough said!
Moving on from Chengdu, we parted from Ade & Steve (top memories - cheers guys), and made our way to Chongqing with the sole purpose of joining our boat for the much anticipated Yangtze River Cruise. Along the way we met up with another group of wicked guys who we were to spend some time travelling with, namely Irish Gary, Merlin & Ben, Sarah & Jeremy, and the space pixie herself, Amanda. The three gorges along the river were stunning but the 3 little gorges and the mini gorge were the most spectacular - really high cliff faces, along narrow rivers (see flickr for the piccies).
Apart from the gorges there were a few other highlights of the trip, the first being the standard of accomodation. We had paid for a first class ensuite cabin for two. Let's just say the images of luxury this conjures up weren't realised, unless we had hoped for a bathroom the size of shoe box where we provided our own towels and loo roll, came armed with decorating equipment and hate double beds. If so we were on to a winner! Second was our tour guide, Adam. Just imagine a Chinese Graham Norton in matching Hawaiian shirt and shorts and you've got the picture. The third highlight, or rather first non-highlight, was the organised trip to see the Three Gorges Dam. Having been sold this trip by Adam we were hoping for an insightful and detailed look into the building of the dam and the actual dam itself. It wasn't! We should really have been warned when Adam dutifully informed us that the Chongqing skyline (his hometown) is the 3rd most famous skyline in the world, behind New York and HongKong!?! I don't think he has travelled much...So, the interesting and insightful trip around the dam (baring in mind the whole thing lasted for 7.5 hours), transpired to be 3 uninteresting and uninsightful view points of the dam, all from a distance and in the pouring rain, followed by the 3rd best aquariam in the world - Florida's Seaworld has some serious competition if you only want to see grey, stuffed fish, the 3rd best model in the world (of the dam), and finally, the coup de gras, the 2.5 hour wait for the boat to make it through the Three Gorges locks. As you can imagine, we were on a high when we reboarded, and Adam, strangely enough kept a very low profile, Pam having told him very publicly in no uncertain terms that it was the worst tour we had ever been on (even I was hiding at this point).
It probably wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't for the fact that we were hungover from the night before. However, at least we were able to hang our heads high, unlike our fellow travelling companion, Ben, who had not only insulted the Irish and Chinese nations and shamed America in one foul swoop, but has given one poor old Chinese lady a rather disturbing insight into what she must think is a strange Western ritual. What I am talking about here, ladies & gentlemen, is the classic 'mistaking an Irishman for a toilet in a 4-birth cabin after a few too many beers' scenario. Apparantly, the aforementioned old lady awoke to Ben quietly urinating all over Irish Gary who was asleep, completely oblivious to all this. The first he knew was when our great friend, Adam, awoke him to inform him of the dastardly deed. With shock & awe, Gary promptly went back to sleep, happy in the knowledge that he hadn't actually p***ed himself. Needless to say, Ben was rather embarrassed for the next day or so.
Our other 'hightlight' of China, and not just the cruise but unfortunately at all tourist traps, is the Chinese tour guide. Famous Chinese proverb say, "If tour guide can shout, tour guide can shout louder with megaphone!". A further Chinese proverb say, "If there is silence, tour guide shout again!". It seems that from 5am until 10pm (generally expected awakening and sleeping hours of everybody, regardless of willingness - the many announcements take care of this) the Chinese are not happy unless there is noise, and a lot of it. If someone is talking on their phone whilst on a tour and the guide is busy screaming away, they will scream louder in order that they can continue their conversation. Ridiculous! Famous English proverb say, "If Chinese tour group approaching, run for the hills!".
Shanghai was our next destination, and after such a restful (?) experience on the cruise we were looking forward to something a bit more lively. We travelled with Ben (rain coats at the ready), Merlin and Amanda, to Shanghai, the land of Starbucks (yes, we have succumbed - sorry) and English menus. Being uncharacteristically disorganised we had not booked ourselves any accommodation and did not percieve this to be any particular problem. Fortunately it wasn't, so once we had finished putting up our beds along with the 10 other people sharing the cramped confines of the converted hostel meeting room (don't worry - we got a discount of 80p per night), we headed out on the town. Ozzy Dan joined us, who was sleeping in the next bed, along with who can only be described as a rather odd Canadian (think it may have had something to do with his constant meditating, but he wasn't really our cup of green tea).
Shanghai is not cheap, with prices comparable to Hong Kong, so with this in mind we tried to bargain our way into a jazz bar, guaranteeing them lots of business if they slashed their beer price by 75%, which was met with sheer distain, and a very quick ejection. We discovered a few days later that the bar was infact 'THE' jazz bar in Shanghai - oops! Not to be deterred, we promptly marched to the shop across the road and drank cheap beer in the park - took us back a few years, but did the trick (the joys of being a traveller). Dan had picked up a flyer for DJ Howie B (apparantly he produced one of U2's albums) who was playing at God's Kitchen so we drew out some more cash and succumbed to Shanghai prices. It was most definitely worth it. The club itself was absolutely amazing, and the music was awesome. It was full of VIP areas where Shanghai's 'It' crowd were obviously hanging out. Let's just say that the vodka was served by the bottle. Of course, I was merging in well, having gone out in a t-shirt, shorts & flip-flops. Pam, as always, looked fantastic. Nonetheless, it didn't stop us hitting the dance floor and chucking out some crazy shapes until 5 in the morning. Again - awesome!
Nursing hangovers once again, we managed to make it up for a reasonable hour. We did the river cruise, ate McDonalds and went to watch the local football team. This time the standard was somewhat better than our Chengdu experience as Shanghai United play in the Chinese Premier League.
Our last day was taken up by sitting in the Huxin Ting Tea House in the Old Quarter (patronised by the Queen nonetheless) whiling away the hours with Chinese tea and playing cards, before making our way up to the 54th floor of the Jinmao Tower, to enjoy cocktails in the Piano Bar of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. It was supposed to be the Cloud 9 Bar on the 87th floor, but we were denied access for being travellers, i.e. I did not have any shoes on - sandals were definitely not allowed. Even so, the view was amazing and the cocktails did not disappoint. In fact, they were so good that we sacked off dinner in order that we could have some more.
We both loved Shanghai. Even though we were doing it on the relatively cheap, and there aren't so many sights as such, the city just has something about it - it's a place that you need to live rather than see. I think Pam & I managed to do that rather well. Still, like all good things, our time in Shanghai has to come to an end and we are now awaiting the train to catch the overnight ferry to Putuo Shan, our R&R beach getaway. Can't wait!