I’ve got a lot to write about to follow from Taz’s post…. including dancing in Macau, being banned from Facebook for 2 weeks, peeing in public view, mountains of climbing, a climbing legends watering hole, China’s version of “porridge”, being sardined in Hong Kong and feeling really really intimidated in Manila. Oh and getting robbed just one more time… Sorry if this is a bit muddled, loads has happened in a few weeks and my typing may be a little bit random as memories flood back…
We arrived Macau 8.30pm on Wednesday night and was on the swanky complimentary bus to the Sheraton at 9pm. I’ve never been on a posher coach in my life.
First thing to note here in Macau on leaving the airport is the cool air, it’s getting late and we’re still in Chiang Mai gear (shorts and t-shirt). It was refreshing to be cool. We’d booked the Sheraton on a cafe’s wifi at Chiang Mai airport. I knew our options were either complete dives also used as horrid brothels in Macau, or expensive hotels. There was no way I was spending 1, never mind 2 nights in a brothel so we splashed on an 80 quid a night 5* instead… it was 60+ for the 3* holiday Inn so I thought it was worth the extra. We checked in – everything in our room was marble and all fancy! Downstairs there were amazing Christmas decorations and even a real ginger bread house!
We got a bath and had food court style food.
We went out to a night club called club cubic in hard rock cafe’s hotel and met Duncan from Perth (Oz) and Marco from Serbia. They were hilarious. 200 Macau dollars to get in, about 15 quid. It was ladies night, so free for me and I got quite a few free drinks. At around 11pm it was dead and I thought, for god sake, where’s the dancing at. Around 12 it all kicked off, there was a really good DJ on (not a Chinese one!). We spent a small fortune on this night out, but sometimes, it’s got to be done. We had 2 nights in Macau and it’s not likely that we’ll come back so you’ve got to just go for it sometimes! This is a place for really rich people. Chinese businessmen in suits rented booths with a view of the dance floor for 6000 Macau dollars which is about 450 quid or more, and then they get to drink 6000 Macau dollars worth of drinks so basically they all have a bottle of champers in their hands to try and get their moneys worth. When someone orders champagne they bring something that looks like a flare over with it to drawn attention to whoever ordered it. Weird. Anyway the dancing was good and we left in the early hours.
Disappointingly a drill was being used in the room above at about 9am when I should have been sleeping off a hangover! But this motivated us to go out and see the city, but because it’s not often you see a bathtub whilst backpacking so we made the most of the kettle with real English tea bags and had a brew in the bath before a day of sightseeing!!!! We dragged our hangover first to McDonald’s where they serve breakfast all day (bloody brilliant) and then wandered all around Macau’s famous Venetian hotel taking millions of pictures. The canals inside the hotels are just like the pictures…
The resorts are connected by luxury shopping malls so it’s possible to walk through loads of casino’s, loads of shops, hotels and attractions without ever actually having to go outside… But this comes at a considerable cost. It’s about ten quid for a couple of scoops of ice cream. We craved a cake one night and they were all about a fiver for a thin slither!
You’re trapped though, there is no street food here, no stalls, no sign of poorer people anywhere, actually. We probably didn’t venture far enough but we only had 2 days so settled for pricier stuff. The people working here are really nice and genuinely helpful, but you get what you pay for and we’d paid 5*… We had to ask 3/4 people how you say hello in Chinese before somebody knew what we were talking about, because the staff there are from Nepal/India/Vietnam etc. They flood in for the jobs in the good hotels and most speak English but not Chinese! We went back to the Venetian’s light and sound show at around 10pm that night. It’s really nicely done up at the moment, they have covered loads of it with artificial snow, fairy lights, Christmas trees and some of the fanciest looking huge decorations I’ve ever seen.
If you like winter wonderland theme, you’ll like it here. And we saw a wedding couple having pictures taken! We need to plan our wedding soon…!
Friday comes and it’s time to check out We’re out of the room by around 11am and we leave our bags with the bell boys?! (all this 5* stuff is foreign to me!!) We go back over to the Venetian where they have a Titanic exhibition for the 100 years since the sinking. It was pretty good, there were some replica corridors on the ship that you could go through and it felt like you were on a ship, and a huge block of ice at 0 degrees and it said the sea water that the ship sank in was 2 degrees colder but didn’t freeze obviously because it had salt in it. You had to touch the ice and see how long you could keep your hand on it. I lasted about 4 seconds. No wonder so many people died! There were all sorts of artifacts that had been dredged up from the bottom on display. We spent around 3 hours in the exhibition. My Dad would have loved it and I’m sure he’d have spent even longer soaking up all the information in there!
Overall Macau was nice to experience. But it’s one of those places we’ll not make the effort to come back to. Once is enough. It’s too “fake” and set up for tourists. There’s no real China here.
Moving to Mainland China
We rushed back to the hotel and a bell boy walked with us to the other side of the hotel where we could get our free shuttle to a place called Zhuhai or something where we could cross the border into mainland China. I was hoping all would be well getting in and that our visas were 100% etc after all the fuss to get them! So this was about 3pm and our shuttle takes 20 minutes. We were dropped off and through Macau’s exit and China’s entrance within about an hour. Taz ran over to the China Bank and withdraws 200 quid which got us about 2000 Chinese yen. We get a 30 minute taxi through traffic for about 50 yen, a fiver. We passed a lady moving slowly along on her motorbike which had a large platform extended onto the back of it, with chickens in cages on one side and a boiling pot on the other. The bus to Yangshuo leaves a couple of hours after we get there so we buy our ticket, and settle in to the bus terminal with a can of beer each from the fridge. The tickets to Yangshuo are just under 20 quid each and takes around 12 hours. The bus left at around 8pm, it was supposed to be 7.30pm but that’s no big deal. I have a feeling what might have happened was the bus didn’t know we’d bought a ticket and drove past us. Because at 8pm they ushered us into an electric powered tuk tuk and after 10 minutes we arrived at a petrol station where the bus had pulled in. When we got in our beds were the only 2 left, 2 top bunks right at the back but next to each other. It’s not bad because this sleeper bus wasn’t just a reclining seat it’s a purpose built sleeper bus with about 20 beds in it in 3 columns down the bus. I got a middle column so I had Taz on one side and a random Chinese man on the other. Cozy! You get a big wooly blanket and there’s plenty of room to move about if you’re my 5 foot 5 height, Taz was comfy too. At around 11pm the bus stopped and everyone was ordered to get out and the bus door is shut behind you. I followed everyone in the direction of the “loo” and I see a narrow building with a channel of around 15 meters stretched out with women crouching over it in full view. There’s a concrete wall of around 1 meter in height between stalls to provide you with some dignity but all I can say is thank god it was dark because while you crouch you can see the guys coming out of the men’s and it’s all just a bit gross. The pee or whatever is deposited in the channel just floats down to the drain at the end. No sink. No surprise. This was a priceless, exciting experience for me which might sound a bit strange but it’s just a memory you can’t find on any other type of holiday!! I was secretly hoping we’d see something like this after hearing from other travelers 🙂 Then we stood about for around half an hour at the bus in the nice cool air. What’s weird is nobody is talking to each other. Around 20 passengers and bus drivers all stood there in silence. Only clicking of phones can be heard. We’d heard about this from traveler friends, speaking isn’t the primary communication method in China anymore – it’s via phone texting and apps! Then they open the doors, we all file on and have what was actually a really good sleep. The “loo” I experienced was the only no doored loo I saw in China. But that’s ok, once was enough.
We spent I think 9 or 10 nights in Yangshuo. At about 7.30am we arrived in the town. The cool air swarms you as you get off the bus and into this beautiful mountainous place. There’s tall, narrow, limestone peaks in every direction and you just know the climbing’s going to be good.
There’s so much to say about Yangshuo I hope I can remember it all after leaving 5 days ago… Unlike many places on this trip Yangshuo’s a place we’ll visit again. We got dropped outside what I think was called the Comfort city Inn so we checked in there for 24 quid and slept until about 3pm, but not before logging in to the wifi and discovering that the myth is true, the Chinese government do what they can to restrict your web access and we wont be able to use Facebook or our blog whilst we’re here. The noise we could here outside that sounded like a ground breaker was in fact one of these: http://youtu.be/OPs46flaxx4
When we got up we headed out for food and stopped at a place with lots of food pictures up in it with a coffee outlet attached. Taz ordered rice with pork on it and I ordered 3 flavor porridge… Taz’s looked ok, it was boney pork, they cook everything on the bone here and cleaver it up and put it on your food. You want to see the state of the table’s after the Chinese leave the restaurant, there’s bits of bones and stuff all over the table, they make no effort to leave it in a neat pile or on a spare plate, it’s just spat out all over the place. My porridge arrived and it was like something out of I’m a celebrity. A dish of runny transparent greyish jelly with a bit of rice in it and plenty of what looked like the leftover bits of different animals, like bits of heart and artery walls or something. But treating it as one of those things you’ll remember forever I sipped up the salty gray liquid and chewed on a couple of pieces of “meat” and make a mental note to tell everyone via the blog because you can’t get stories like this back home 🙂
Outside the cafe type place we head to “west street” because I remember my friend Sarah telling me this was the tourist area. It was a pleasant 15 minute walk to this area. When you get there it’s like oh my god this is where all the people are. At the top is McDonald’s and KFC and down the street there’s stall after stall selling all sorts, restaurants and tour shops everywhere and loads of Chinese restaurants. There’s 3 or more rock climbing shops in this area so we check them all out for replacement quick draws. We find some really smart Dynema quick draws but they only have 5 in stock so we buy those. About the same price as at home, 12 quid each or something. We also buy the Yangshuo climbing guide book for a tenner.
On the way back to our hotel we stop off at a few places to find a closer, cheaper room for the following nights. We discovered a Chinese one 10 minutes walk from West Street, it has no English name, just symbols, with a big room and a big bathroom and it was all brand new. It’s advertised rate on a plaque on the wall is about 80 quid a night. We get our room for 11 quid a night without much haggling at all. Most hotels we looked at had ridiculously massive prices on the wall, all offered their rooms for nowhere near that when you go in and ask.
Anyway we shower up and head out for tea and to a bar called the Rusty Bolt which had been recommended by the climbing shop next door to it. By this point we realize it’s really really cold here at night. The temperatures around 8 degrees at night and 15 by day at the moment. I thought it’s be a little bit warmer. I was wrong! However The Rusty Bolt is one of the only none-club type bars that have doors on to keep the heat in. So freezing, we go in and warm up. The beers cheap, about a quid for a bit bottle of local Tsing Tao and they also sell loaves of really crusty bread to nibble on, we got on most nights as sitting here became our regular after dark activity. They sell imported cheese too but the price knocks you off your bar stool. The Chinese woman that works in there is also a well travelled climber and was able to recommend crags and transport options. One night we were talking to her and she said most famous climbers had been in their bar. On the tour to make the last Petzl Rock Trip in Getu (6-8 hours from Yangshuo) all the climbers used the bar while they visited Yangshuo (www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcU255XBlcI). This woman has chatted with Chris Sharma and Alex Honnold and all the others… She’s been out there climbing with them (This is like football fans kicking a ball about with their football idol…). This lady also advised, as did many other people that climbing in Yangshuo is hard, the grades are a little bit sketchy and she wasn’t wrong. Some 6a’s feel super exposed, very dynamic and you’re thinking, this is way beyond it’s stated grade, surely.
Anyway, the next day we both buy thermals from the local market and I bought some fluffy boots because they were only 6 quid and anyone that knows me knows I get really grumpy if I’m cold so they were well worth it for Taz’s sake. All thermalled up at night I felt a much nicer, friendlier person to be around 😉 By day you didn’t need thermals, just a jumper or a coat. I had a jumper but because there’s so many good copies of North Face gear and Mammut gear for example we both bought a coat each. Mine’s a purple Mammut wind stopper and it cost 28 quid. Taz got an orange north face waterproof for 22 quid. The day after we went back and bought one for my aunty Carole, my mum and my brother and posted then home! The rates with China post were reasonable and the post office is just off west street. A 2 week delivery for the 6 kilo’s was about 36 quid. I didn’t think it was too bad. Similarly price to the Thai post we sent last month.
We ate at 1 Chinese “restaurant” in Yangshuo and the food wasn’t as good or as cheap as the street food just off West street, near a little bridge. For street food you sit on little plastic chairs or rock, if a chair isn’t available. We came here every night apart from trying a restaurant. On our first night there I was ordering some fried noodles with green peppers (5 yuan) and I shouted Taz over for some cash, who was at another stall ordering a dough ball, fried and flattened with some ace spicy meat and herbs inside (also 5 yuan). The people working at the stalls heard me and every night they saw us would should “Taza” in the weirdest accent, almost like Tazerrrrrrrrrr! They were so nice. And their food was top notch. The friendliest, most genuine place this trip?? Probably. Taz loved the clay pots that they did there with noodles and vegetables in and beef broth, with loads of liver in it. It was a bit strong tasting for me, but each to their own!
We met Vicky whilst we were sat in the Rusty Bolt one night. She’s terrified of climbing but like us she was drawn to the place by the closed doors and the heating! Vicky is an inspiring person to meet. Currently she’s just finished a 6 month unpaid placement working in a children’s hospital in Cambodia. She has some stories to tell! She’s spent a month travelling through China from Beijing to Yangshuo. She’s possibly the most independent woman I’ve ever met. She’s going to spend another year on a local wages contract in Cambodia promoting the hospital to businesses to raise funds to keep the hospital running. Some kind of marketing?! In a nut shell it’s a poor hospital, nurses and doctors provide necessary treatment to kids in Cambodia where she says kids die of simple things like diarrhoea all the time. Parents sit at the bedside 24 hours and provide all after care so that trained people can be used elsewhere. She has saved up for this trip and she’s doing something really worthwhile! The hospital is free for the kids that turn up, so she says they travel hundreds of miles to get there because all other hospitals cost money that they don’t have. Vicky says that you won’t see this hospital if you have to go to hospital in Cambodia, you’ll see a nicer, more modern one where the people who can afford to go there fund it.
Climbing in Yangshuo (may bore none climbers!!)
The climbing in Yangshuo is great. No doubt about it. So where to start!! There are vans that run past our hotel every 5 minutes and go past most crags. The fare is 3 yuan each, each way. About 25p. The trips about 10-15 minutes long. Bargain?! So our first wall is Wine Bottle, recommended by the climbing shop next door to Rusty Bolt. Over the next 9/10 days we visited this crag 5 or 6 times to work on the routes. I feel I personally improved a lot climbing here, definitely improved mentally anyway.
For example on about day 4 of climbing there’s a 6b+ on the wall that is gradually overhanging all the way up from the start, there are a lot of ledges involved, very small finger holds and a couple of dyno’s are necessary. The bolts are as spaced as long as 2-4 meters so you’ve got to have a good head for this one. How exciting! Taz spent around half an hour getting up the 25 meters and he struggled but said it was a fantastic climb. He left the rope in for me and I top roped it (I know, the shame!) But it was amazing to do the moves. I really struggled at around the 3rd clip and I truly believed that without the top rope I wouldn’t have done the moves. After a clip to your left you’ve to get your right heel up on the ledge you’re holding and rock up on your leg to reach the next much smaller ledge and then right traverse over the fingery ledge where there’s basically nothing for your feet but smears, then there’s 4 hand moves over some jugs that can only be held whilst leaning back and to the left (like holding a flake I suppose), before a dyno to reach a really bad sloping right hander where you must stick it gently whilst leaning at full stretch to your left to make the clip. At this point only having clipped into 3 bolts you would feel exposed because there’s a fairly long run out and a very sketchy clip to be made! But I was on the top rope and it took me around 10 minutes of bobbing about on the rope to be able to do this move. The rest of the climbing is smaller holds where technique rather than power is the key. Without good footwork you’re going nowhere. There were times where I was completely stretched up my limit and you just tiptoe your way up, or across and hope the next crimp is a good one. The angle of the rock makes it a really tough route but it’s great to complete it. So I found it hard on the top rope, would be nonsense to lead it right! 2 days later (I couldn’t climb the day after this route, I was ruined) I was back to lead it. I flew over the start where I’d struggled 2 days earlier. The clip was scary as hell to make but that’s why you climb, right?! A bit of excitement in your life!! Took me a while but I found my own resting positions and the sense of achievement at the top is pretty great. Every muscle, especially your stomach is pumped after this route and you feel like Chris Sharma. I was amazed that I’d managed to lead it, Taz says my technique was good originally but now it’s great 🙂 But he’s biased! I believe it’s similar in difficulty to the 6c in Chiang Mai that I managed to lead, or even harder because there were just so many difficult moves to complete to get up there. But I’m no grading expert. Taz did the same lead right after me in no time, after mastering the moves the other day he just powered through.
There’s so many good routes like this in Yangshuo, long, interesting, beautiful routes. I can’t write in detail about all the ones we did, I’d bore you all to death. But just know that if you’re thinking Tonsai or the lesser known Yangshuo for a sport climbing trip, chose Yangshuo, the weather’s more suited, it’s not a shit heap, and there are just as many routes to go at and of all types. Over hanging caves, flat technical walls, juggy routes, everything. Or if Thailand’s a must for you, try Chiang Mai too, it’s much better quality. I won’t recommend Tonsai to anyone, ever again.
What we didn’t see is the long hairy black animal that a Spanish guy climbing there said he’d seen. I don’t know whether he was making it up… but he said they’re the size of a cat but longer and really really hairy. If they do exist, they are scared of humans so run away from you, but very poisonous if you pick it up to see what the hell it is… ha ha.
We left Yangshuo on the 17th December on the 5pm bus from Yangshuo to Guilin with Vicky. We had bought our 25 pound tickets for a hard sleeper train the same day at a tourist office in Yangshuo. The train didn’t leave until 9.15pm so once in Guilin we crashed down with our bags at a nearby local eatery and ate some nice local dishes and Taz drank a small bottle of cheap alcohol (don’t even know what it was, paint stripper maybe?!) to help him sleep on the train – any excuse 😉 We all boarded the cold train but got wrapped up on blankets. Hard sleeper means basically 2nd class – a bunk of 6 beds per cabin with no doors along the corridor. Comfy enough. Vicky splashed on a 1st class cabin called a soft sleeper which has 4 bunks per cabin and has a door and is therefor much less noisy! An extra tenner I think. She says she’s done the backpacker thing many times and is prepared to pay the extra for a better sleep. Can’t say I blame her!
A short video clip of the train to Shenzhen: http://youtu.be/EFW1dENi_Y8
Transport is always an “experience” its self. I’ve always loved the travelling aspect of this part of our trips. This was no exception. The train soon smelled of cigarettes as just down the hall, between cabins (with no doors of course) there’s a smoking area with no window 🙂 Priceless again. I love travelling 😉 It was nice meeting you Vicky.
In Shenzhen at around 11am we departed the train and followed the signs to Hong Kong inside the station to “Hong Kong” via McDonalds (sinners!!) Walking through border control was smooth, through China’s checks and through Hong Kong’s checks.
At the other side in Hong Kong we were kind of clueless about where to go and this cost us 4 hours of carrying our bags around the city and the tube. After unsuccessfully being able to find a place to sleep that wasn’t hourly (gross) or 200 quid a night we got a tea latte (random but really good) in Starbucks and with the last 5% battery that I had on my mobile we located a hostel advertised at 25 quid a night on booking.com, called the Oi Suen hostel up near Mong Kok station. When we eventually got there by walking up 8 flights of stairs with our bags, tired and irritable the rooms were 35+ a night with no bargaining. We settled for this, paid 3 nights and showered ready to explore the city without bags.
This is our “hotel”….
To cut Hong Kong short I don’t rate it as a nice city with anything particularly interesting to do. As one of the most densely populated places on earth it was impossible to walk anywhere quick because every street had like a million people on it and every tube was rammed to the door. The weather was still cold and I was fed up and couldn’t wait to get to the Philippines to be honest. Our room was shit. For 35 quid a night you’re basically 4/5* in any other Asian location but not here. In this hostel the shower, loo and sink were all squished in a shower cubicle and the door fell off when we got in. There was no floor space, the bags just slid under the bed so that you could shut your room door. The room was in a crappy run down council flat block type looking place, with sex shops and other hostels above and below you. Nice.
Basically in Hong Kong we went to a few restaurants, a good Vietnamese place too. We took pictures of skyscrapers. Visited a crappy indoor bouldering gym and that’s about it. Hong Kong was a really expensive place but also really filthy and not what we expected. Everything is shrink wrapped in open front shops because of the pollution, even trainers in top notch looking sports shops!
We flew out of Hong Kong airport to Clark in the Philippines yesterday at 9.45am so we got up at 5.30am after going to sleep at 3am to make sure we could get the 2 metro’s and the train to the airport in good time…
We got carried away with skyping the family that night so 5.30 seemed a ridiculous time to get up. We got a 20 minute Jeepney type taxi from Clark airport Dau Bus terminal for 50 pesos each (80p) and a 2 hour bus (that really took 4.5 hours) to Manila city (114 pesos each) where we just made our flight to Cebu by getting a 30 minute taxi to Manila international airport (155 pesos). It was in this taxi that I realised our 100 USD secret stash of emergency money had gone from my purse… gutted. You know you’re ok if you have USD in your bag, everyone knows what that is if you’re in a crisis…! I don’t know where along this journey that this has gone, basically from Yangshuo-HongKong-Manila it has gone missing because I have’t used my purse since Yangshuo, we just use Taz’s wallet for ease. It was hidden away inside my purse at the bottom of my bag in a little zip part, so I really don’t know what’s happened there… Dau bus terminal was also a disaster. Kids we begging off you the entire time, we gave some our water etc that we had but they were just climbing over your bags, running circles over you whilst the adults around were just staring with such suspicious eyes that I felt really intimidated. We’re going to try and fly direct Cebu-Kuala Lumpur in January instead of having to fly to Manila and cross back over to Clark again for the flights we have booked. The place just has such as bad vibe about it. It’s the first time the people have made me feel afraid. I literally thought at any moment they were going to mug us. So by the time we got off at Cebu airport after the hour flight (with a 30 minute delay) and were on our way to the pre-booked hotel Valley Front Hotel I was relieved to say the least… It’s hot here and it’s Christmas in a few days.
We’ve had 1 day here in Cebu city because we were too tired to leave today after arriving late last night. All I will say is out of every place I’ve ever been to on my own and in a couple, Cebu City, combined with Clark and Manila are the most frightening intimidating place to be. I came here in the internet cafe with pretty much everything down my bra. When we get on the bus tomorrow I’ll be able to relax. But here there’s so many begging kids and women and men following you around with devious looks that this is the place we’ll get mugged if anywhere! I came out today with my camera and I just felt like I’d made a big mistake, small pocket camera maybe, big camera, no way. So we left it in the room tonight, in the safe!
On the plus side we bought 3 bottles on offer of Bacardi Gold at Duty free and plan on supping them all fairly soon. We’ve already started. The alcohol is mind bogglingly cheap here. 90 pesos for a 750ml bottle of vodka snaps and the same for brandy and a couple of other things. We’ll stock up here before leaving for the islands in case it’s more expensive there!
Tomorrow we head to Bantayan, a stunning island to the North of Cebu. There’s a 2 hours+ bus journey and a 70 minute ferry involved but the pictures make me giddy. Google Images says it all, give it a whirl and see 🙂 Unfortunately Sarah and Ali who have had a right hassle securing their permanent visas for Australia won’t be able to come join us! We think Bohol for New Year but who knows…
Merry Christmas everyone xx
Ps – The pictures of my little niece Lily posted on FB melted me into a right mess today. Lily sat in a snow globe with the most beautiful innocent little face 🙂 I’m going to miss that little one so much over the next few festive weeks, I already do.