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Been there, Dan that!

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A couple of days as a nomad!

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Well not really.
Jumped straight on a tour for the next morning after arriving at my guest house the Golden Gobi. A couple of nights in Gers (Yurts) one in the local national park and another with friends of the guest house owner in the middle of nowhere... theres a lot of middle of nowhere in Mongolia.

The tours are usually very expensive here due to the long distances traveled and all the guides and other guff that you are supposed to have.
However we where offered a more local experience without all the tourist spots and due to the park being close the fuel costs where also minimal, So a tour that would normally cost $50 a day (that 3 days not 2 nights) cost $45 dollars in total. A much needed bonus at the end of my trip now the money is running dry.
So we ( teamed up with a couple who lived in Beijing, 1 Aussie and a chap from Newcastle) where driven out to our Ger and left to our own devices in the beautiful pine forest park, walked around a fair bit then warmed up in the tent. The food wasn't too great, lots of dried dairy and grease but its all about keeping your energy up when you live in the Steppe. Went on a horse ride for the 2nd morning and visited a local monastery.
The first family didn't really get involved with us but after we where driven to the next family, visiting a huge 44 meter high statue of Genghis (pronounced Chinggis) on the way, we where soon put to work shoveling frozen shit and chopping wood (the girls where taught how to make dumplings) Next morning we helped the chap slaughter and butcher a sheep which was a great experience. I feel it really important people know hoe there meat is killed and the Mongolian process is very peaceful and quick.
The sheep is turned on its back. a hole is cut below the ribcage and the slaughterer quickly shoves his arm in to the beast and snap the main artery by the spine. A couple of puffs and the sheep was dead and no blood left it body. This is because the Nomads use everything from the body so during the butchering process the all the blood is scooped out, The ladies made it into black puddings using the intestines.
The sheep was put onto the roof after the job was finished to freeze along side a cow they had killed the day previous.

After our mornings work on the third day we returned to Ulaanbaatar. That evening went to see some Mongolian wrestling. Interesting no rules stuff with some of the biggest people I've ever seen all in one room! I'm not ashamed to say that I was shit scared especially when we strolled in a bit late to struggle t find a seat and discover we where the only foreigners in there. The Prime minister rocked up halfway through!

permalink written by  Dan on October 29, 2008 from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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The Great Train Journey begins...

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

So I'm on my way home... The slightly long overland route though, traveling on the Trans Mongolian and Trans Siberian Railway then through a bit of Europe before getting to Berlin before the end of November. So i wont be gracing your couches eating cheese and chutney sandwiches and generally pissing you all of by complaining I have no money because I've been on holiday for 9 months just yet!

After convincing the taxi driver I wanted to go to the train station and not the airport I got n the train early on Saturday morning without any hitches. The cabin is a nice spacious 4 bunk with a door and I'm joined by an Aussie lady going to visit her son in Mongolia and 2 Mongolian sisters who are about to take the 2 of us under there wing for the next 31 hours of train travel.

Not that we really needed looking after but they insisted ad the trip was made most enjoyable by there tales of Mongolian culture ad custom andgeneral health and safety tips. I was also given a Mongolian name "Tengis" which means wide blue ocean, just like my eyes I'm told!!!

The border crossing where the most tedious part and after getting up at 6am no ne appreciated being kept up til 2:30 the next morning waiting for our passports to be returned on the other side. It takes so long to cross because there are so many people going through customs and we all have to "pass" the inspection AND the wheels on the train have to be changed as the Mongolians run there trains on a different gauge to the Chinese!

Arrived in UB the next afternoon about 1 hour late. Very cold.

permalink written by  Dan on October 27, 2008 from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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Beijing is Bueno!

Beijing, China

Just been taking it really easy this week. The hostel is really ace and too easy to just laze about in.
However i haven't just whiled away the days reading about how to survive robot uprisings and messing around on the internet, honest!

Had a trip to the flea market which was good fun lots of tat as expected but some cool communist bits and bobs and plenty of "Maomerabilia", if your REALLY lucky you might get some as I bought a fair few bits and bobs then had to have a practice pack to ensure I didn't need a new bag or a trip[ to the post office, fortunately neither is required, you'd think I'd be pretty good at packing my bag by now after about 8 months! It will be nice to not be living out of the same slightly tatty bag soon.

Went to the forbidden city, was trying to do it on the cheap so I went to the parks north of the city from which you can get an excellent overview with the intention of not bothering going in if I was satisfied with what I saw, however due to the shocking smog I thought I aught to go down and have a closer look so I wondered down to the Northern gate which is actually an exit and was met by literally thousands of tour groups and in a moment of swanky traveler naughtiness made like a lost child looking for his mum and walked in through the exit, expected to be met by some sort of ticket inspector at any second (there usually everywhere in China) but non came and before I really realised it I was in!
Was well busy inside but impressive stuff. Didn't really know what I was looking at as I didn't have a leaflet, apparently you don't get one if you steal your way in...

Next day the weather was crap and that night the wind suddenly blew and it rained, the first time for me in about a month.
The weather was well timed as it blew all the clouds and smog away by the morning and at 6am with a very crisp blue sky above I set off on a bus ride to Jinshanling the starting point of a 10km walk along the great wall.
The weather really was perfect as you could see for miles but it was seriously chilly despite the lovely sunlight.

The wall is everything I expected, truly impressive engineering takes it over impossible terrain it really is a super structure. Shame Genghis just road around it!

The walk was lovely a few steep parts in places and plenty of hawkers trying to sell you books, postcards and t shirts but it wasn't too busy and worked out fairly good value as the Thai student card once again came in to good use and also the tour company who where charging 18 quid each for the 3 hour bus ride there and back (expensive because there is no other viable option apart form taxis) only charged 2 of the 3 people in our group so we got there for 12 quid each instead, making it far more reasonable.
I'm turning in to a bit of a dodgy geezer I'm ashamed to say. I'll be nicking apples of next doors trees next!

permalink written by  Dan on October 23, 2008 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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The capital... at last

Beijing, China

My final destination in China is the big one. I think I've saved a goodie to last too I've only been here a day but there's a really nice vibe and the hostel I stumbled across on the web which is situated in one of the peaceful hutongs is lovely.
(A hutong is an area of small traditional streets and houses where your common and garden Beijinger traditionally lives, there's not so many of them left now as your friendly local communist government knocked a lot of them down for various reasons, one being the Olympics and those that remain have been spruced up with fresh slaps of concrete.
Well I've made them sound awful but they are still nice, honest)

After going to bed VERY early Thursday I had to get up at the crack again to get across the city to the Mongolian consul and despite a late scare regarding invitations they've issued the visa with no quibbles. So that's all the visas done and dusted (to my great relief). I need not apply for one ever again, or at least not until I do another trip, hmmm.

I then dropped in on the Chinese astrology museum, not something I'm massively interested in but it was close and cheap. Had some pretty cool Jesuit built instruments and was as old as Greenwich which makes it one of the first ever built!

Then went to pick up and pay for my Beijing to Ulaanbaatar train ticket which cost about 75 quid, another piece of the jigsaw home.

Jumped on the excellent Beijing subway and went to check out the Olympic area. Pretty impressive they are too and for 4 quid you can go in the main stadium and wonder around on the track and green. Lots of very odd dummies strewn around with stocking over there heads, bank robber style where on view. They where adorned in the various costumes from the opening ceremony and the medal ceremonies.
Also saw the waster cube which is a cool building but didn't stump up dosh to go in there as well.

Got back to the hostel and got confirmation of my train ticket from Irkutsk to Moscow, a stiff 250 quid but it does take 75 hours. So I'm nearly all lined up for the trip home. Still 6 weeks away though so don't all get too excited!

permalink written by  Dan on October 17, 2008 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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Hmmm, trains

Nanjing, China

The normally reliable train service let me down a bit.

Let me qualify that, no trains where late or anything its just I couldn't get a ticket. This usually isn't a problem due to the large numbers of trains (its said that theirs something like 8 million people traveling on a train in China 24 hours a day!!!)

Anyway during my first 5 month stint I never failed to get the ticket I needed but it seems the East coast is a different story.
Unable to get a direct train to Beijing from Huangdhan city I took a hard seat to Nanjing where I was told I would easily catch a connection to the capital. By the way "hard seats" are the lowest class you can get (apart from standing actually) but there not to bad, you've just got to be careful you don't leave your seat for too long as there seems to be the 10 second rule in China where if your not sat on it then its fair game. Well it wasn't to bad for a 7 hour morning ride and I arrived in Nanjing at lunchtime and went straight to the ticket office to get my connection and a bed.
With the words "MAYO" (don't have) tinging in my ears I was left a little shell shocked at the prospect of waiting in Nanjing for the next 2 days when the next sleeper ticket was available for the 1400km trip.
That was no good as it would get me to Beijing on the Sunday so I queued again and asked (with a little help from a English speaking chap) when the next seat of any king was available.

So with my hard seat ticket leaving at 1am in my sticky little mitt I went off to explore the city. A pleasent enough place with a huge park containing (guess what) a massive lake. I then jumped on the tube and trusting in my Lonely planet map went of in search of an internet cafe. After being pointed in the opposite direction by a lovely looking but clearly a little dim Chinese lady (that's not entirely fair rarely can a Chinese person give you decent directions, oh a she offered to help me by the way which is why I believed her...) I found it and camped out for bit passing the time.

I'm rambling sorry, got the train eventually and got to my hostel in Beijing (which is really comfy and quiet) at about 4pm Shattered form a fairly sleepless and stared at night. Still I can now say I've roughed it proper on the trains though I certainly wouldn't jump at the chance of doing it again.

permalink written by  Dan on October 16, 2008 from Nanjing, China
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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Huangshan, China

Huangshan means Yellow mountain, though I don't understand the name for it is not yellow... Mind you its certainly a mountain!
There are hotels on top and it is recommended that you take a couple of days over your trip here being all soppy and checking out the sunrise. To be honest I'd have liked to stay longer but 2 factors changed my mind. My desire to get to Beijing before the weekend so I could get to the Mongolian consulate and because hotel rooms on top of the mountain where not cheep. I was already forking out 200 yuan about 17 quid just to go up and it was going to be at least the same again to stay.

Anyway all this meant I was intending to blitz the hill in a day and being the super fit specimen that I am I was going to avoid using the cable cars and walk up. However I was talked out of my only walking plan b a number of Chinese who quoted me times between 3 and 10 hours just to walk up the thing, this was in fact bullshit (it takes 2) but they had a point as I needed 4 or 5 hours to walk around the top plus photographing time and the last bus back was at 5 so I would have been pushing it for time. So I took the sensible if a little expensive option of catching the cable car up so after setting off from Huangshan city at 6am I was on the top amongst the crowds of tourists by 9:30am. After a couple of hours of close proximity with the throngs of Chinese tour groups all wearing there colour coded hats it was a welcome relief and a stunning view.

Huangshan is formed from a very hard granite stone which over the years had formed into vertical (or at least very steep) peaks which would normally erode but due to the strength have remained and also sport an array of pine trees that have grown into the gaps in the stunted style of bonsai trees. The combination creates a very picturesque and "Chinese" landscape which against a crisp blue sky really looked great.

I had made a friend on the bus and in the queue for the cable car, a chap from Shanghai who had similar views to large groups as I so once he'd checked into his hotel we struck off to the Western section of the mountain in the hope of leaving all the retirement groups in our wake.

We soon came across a large gorge type structure which reminded me of Tiger leaping gorge because of the way it just dropped down seemingly endlessly. As We got to what we thought was the end of the path a few huffing Chinese passed in the opposite direction appearing from a small path in the cliff face. We followed this down and soon realised that the impossibly steep cliff wasn't too steep for insane Chinese path engineering and so began the long decent down, peering at the opposite face and thinking how on earth were going to get back up.
The views where fab and well worth the knee crunching stairs and the assent wasn't too difficult as we where in the shaded side of the mountain and it wasn't as steep as the opposite side.
At least I didn't find it too difficult but soon found myself well ahead of Minglung (the chum) and was also passing other Chinese with alarming regularity. Either I'm as fit as a fiddle or the Chinese are rubbish at steps, I have a sneaking suspicion its the latter!

After waiting 30 minutes for Minglung to catch up and only halfway up the hill I said my goodbyes and carried on as it was getting into the afternoon and I was about 10 km away from where I needed to be to descend.
After reaching the top of the far side I carried on wondering the tops and the relentless up and down steps began to take there toll. Fairly shattered I got to the steps and cable car down saw the massive queue for the car and made my fatal error. I chose the steps.

Fairly early on in the descent my muscles started to wobble and within minutes I was in a Monty Python style funny walk trying desperately to stop my knees from giving up on me. Pleasingly all the Chinese coming down looked similarly stupid so we all grinned at one another as we developed are own unique styles. It got less funny after an hour and a bit when I saw the sign that said I had another 2.5 km's of the 8 to go.
Eventually got to the bus station though and hobbled onto the bus.
I never really understood why people said they preferred stairs up to those down but now I completely agree. If you get in a bit of pain going up you can just stop and rest and it will go away but this doesn't work in the opposite direction, your not tired but your legs start acting like jelly!

All worth it though.

permalink written by  Dan on October 14, 2008 from Huangshan, China
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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Shanghai, China

Came back for Friday night, one of Alyns friends Birthday was happening so we went out for a meal (tex mex) and had a lot of Mango Margaritas and Coronas. Stumbled in at 4. Had a very snazzy day Saturday having Brunch (at a proper brunch restaurant) then strolling through the French concession area drinking the odd coffee and eating cakes, How jolly!
Same evening went for another meal with some other of Als mates (amazing North Indian fare) and then went to a Jazz club who'd shipped over a group playing fantastic Franco American stuff. The club was ace absolutely packed with the dull red light and the whiff of cigars. Lots of classy people there and me with my curly mullet and skanky shoes, I felt a bit out of place.

Next day was recuperation then a train to Huangshnan in the evening. Alyn of course went to work the next morning, I really don't think I could keep up the expat lifestyle!

Anyway thanks to Al for allowing me to freeload a bit. I'm now back to skimping and probably not drinking much more til I get home!

permalink written by  Dan on October 12, 2008 from Shanghai, China
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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West Lake

Hangzhou, China

Hangzhou is famous for its lake. Its very pretty but its the most ridiculously pristine place I've ever been literally not a leaf is out of place. The lake was built for some emperor chap back in the day (as you can tell I've been reading up!) and is lined with hundreds of willow trees. Its also has some causeways which are really nice to cycle along, all very photogenic and lovely and I got lucky with the weather too as the full day I had there was the only day it wasn't really hazy.
Seemed a fairly affluent and slightly yuppyish city but it certainly wasn't an unpleasant place just a little bland. I wonder if the rest of China will end up like this as it gets richer?
The highlight was stumbling into some Chinese street opera and watching all the locals really enjoying the performances from whom I assume where other locals.

Back to Shanghai for the weekend.

permalink written by  Dan on October 9, 2008 from Hangzhou, China
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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Meeting up with Alyn, at last

Shanghai, China

One of the main reasons I came to China was to visit Alyn an old work colleague and current mate from Sheffield. So its taken me over 7 months to make it here which I feel a bit bad about!

Was it worth the wait?

You'll see when I can be bothered to sit down write about it...

Just for Mr Honeymoondestinations here goes!

I arrived ridiculousness early on the train from Guangzhou, this sort of thing hasn't been much of a problem in the past as hotels are open 24 hours (usually) however poor old Al isn't so I woke him as my taxi arrived at the apartment at 6am, but the mans a trooper so he bounced out of bed and we hit the tourist destinations for breakfast.

Worked out very well as getting to The Bund at 8amish on a Sunday morning means its almost empty unlike the rest of the time. Took the obligatory photos and some less necessary ones, next was Pudong which is the east side of the river Pu, don't trust my spelling on that one. The trip under the river was funny, the Shanghai tourist tunnel a strange monorail type thing with silly lights and voices saying random words at odd intervals in Chinese then English... meteors!!!... magma!!!... Yet another stroke of Chinese genius.

Then went to the aquarium which was super, some really big tanks with sharks, rays, seals and penguins. Not all in the same one but there was a tank with a lot of alligators and 2 ducks swimming around on top, stood there for 5 minutes hoping for a Jurassic park moment but it didn't come. Someone suggested throwing in one of the plethora of Chinese children ruining the view but it was thought better of.

Then went to look at the 3 prominent towers of the skyline first was the oriental pearl, which is in all honesty ugly and looks more suited to the futuristic style buildings you used to see on Thunder birds. Then came the really big 2 the Jin Mao tower, formally China's largest tower and the newly completed Shanghai World Financial centre which is currently the tallest in china and 2nd in the world. They are impressive structures though who knows how long they are going to last as authorities are concerned by the amount of construction going on on what was formally a swamp!

It was then time for lunch and a siesta followed in the afternoon by a trip to the shooting range which was a giggle. I was also a little disturbingly good. Must have been all the practice with the air rifle in scouts, shot a small handgun then a hefty Magnum, I came to the conclusion that guns are scary!

Next day Al went to work and I went to the Shanghai museum, the best bits where the really ancient (3000BC) Bronzes and Jades. After that I came back. There's not much more than a days tourism in Shanghai.

permalink written by  Dan on October 6, 2008 from Shanghai, China
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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Bad time to come back! But it aint all bad...

Guangzhou, China

So coming back to China on the week of the national holiday wasn't too sensible. Wanted to get up to Shanghai asap but couldn't get a train for 2 days and then had to pay for a soft sleeper ticket.

The dorm I found in Guangzhou was full too so had to pay 15 quid for a single room.

Despite what I said last time Guangzhou aint all bad. Spent a couple of days with some other travelers, we strolled around the market and ate some good Cantonese food, something I hadn't managed previously!

Caught the train Saturday morning, 20 hours to Shanghai, was comfortable apart form the bratty 3 year old that ended up in the cabin. Chinese kids can be spoilt little shits!

permalink written by  Dan on October 4, 2008 from Guangzhou, China
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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