IndyJunior © Bryan Boyer

Monday, July 31, 2006

Bangkok First Impressions

As we waited for our flight to Bangkok from Macau, the usual feeling of uneasyness came over me. I am usually a bit hesitant when we get into new cities, let alone a whole new country.

What's in store? Is it dangerous? Will we be pestered by persistent touts? Will we get lost??? Will we get scammed, lose all our money and have to come home early? What about all the druggings we hear about? What about those huh?

All these thoughts are running through my mind. Jenni of course is giddy with anticipation!

We had a very eventless flight into Bangkok and once we got through customs and our bags, we headed out to the bus area to get a ride into town to find our hotel.

Only a few people pushing taxi's, we declined and stepped outside for the first time! Damn it's hot and humid! And the street is bustling. Cars, busses, scooters everywhere!

My first impression of Bangkok, as we sit for 2 hours on a bus to get to our hotel, is that traffic is really really bad! Why did we decide to land at rush hour?

Once settled into our room, we head out into the street. A street so filled with Westerners you could swear you're back home! It was unreal. Like Yangshuo in China but even more so.

The street was filled with night life. Really cool. And yes, I did feel fairly safe. :)

The city is just like any other large city. Lot's to see, lot's to do. Things are fairly cheap here but we keep comparing to China and right now, it would seem China was cheaper in all respects.

Well, we're here for a week at least so I'll post more of what we see, the differences to what we've been doing the last 4 months.

As usual, my fear of new places was just a figment of my imagination....

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Macau and our SWEET surprise...

It's a simple 1 hour boat ride to Macau from Hong Kong but for whatever reason, I've never really thought about going over there.

Since we were back in Hong Kong with lots of time on our hands, we thought we'd take a trip over. From everything we've read and heard from people, Macau is becoming the next Las Vegas. I pictured a massive strip with huge casinos, lots of lights and real flashy.

Well, as our ferry docks and we get off, all I can see is the Sands Casino. Huge really, but not as much flash as I would have thought. We needed to find our shuttle to the hotel, and once on it, we end up passing the "strip", or the area they will be making into a Las Vegas...there was only one casino there being built, the Venetian. Identical to the one in the US, but twice as big! Holy cow was it big! There's supposed to be another 9 or more within the next few years. We'll see how this places changes then.

Anyways, our sweet surprise was that we were being treated to two nights at the Westin Resort in Macau! Thanks again Sis and Bro in Law! What a sweet place. Ocean view, King size bed, in/outdoor exactly are we supposed to see Macau with a room like this?

We split it about 60/40...we did manage to go see the Sands Casino, walk along the historic Portugese area, saw St. Paul's ruins, and found some jerky and egg tarts. The rest of the time was spent relaxing in the pool, getting comfortable on those Heavenly Beds...which are pretty darned nice!

All in all, a very nice and relaxing 2 days in Macau. Not that we needed anymore right! ;)

The place is very easy to get around. Shuttle buses galore at the ferry terminal. You want to go to Sands...hop on the Sands shuttle bus. No problem.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Geocache attempt

I found what seemed like a very cool Geocache here in Hong Kong and was hoping to get a chance to go look for it.

Apparently is was a "WWII" cache which was supposed to have some old bullet shells in there with some CD roms which I have no idea what was on them. Sounds interesting enough.

After having lunch with my sister in Shek-O, we started talking about this whole Geocache thing and she seemed interested enough and offered to drive us around the area to look for this thing.

You can imagine the scene with my GPS on her dash, me shouting out to her "650m, 600m, 550m, yes we're going in the right direction..."

After a few wrong turns we ended up in a cemetary where I thought it was going to be but after a bit of a search we found out that we were about 70m away outside the cemetary's entrance so away we went again.

We ended up pulling over to the side of the road and Jenni and I got out to go find this thing. We were 33 m away from it and we were heading into a small stone path when I saw the biggest fricking spider I've ever seen sitting in the middle of his web blocking the path. I swear it was the size of a dinner plate!!! I stopped just in time as my head hit something in the path. Instinctively I backed up and felt this sticky stuff pull off my head. As I looked up, I saw another fricking huge spider sitting in the middle of his web. I'm glad it didn't come after me as I walked into the web.

In any event, I called the search off after seeing these huge spiders. Jenni suggested we just take a branch and clear it off....ummm No.

We just left. Whatever was in the cache will stay there.... :(

Relaxing in Hong Kong

Ahhhh...who would've thought one would be able to relax in a city like Hong Kong, but when you are lucky enough to have a sister who lives here and happens to have an extra apartment to stay at, it's pretty much like being at home (Thanks Sis)! It has been so great to be able to come to Hong Kong to relax and recharge before heading out for the next leg of our trip.

We actually did do a few things while here. It's amazing to me how much fun the public transportation is here in Hong Kong.

We rode the "Ding Ding" (the Tram) a couple times to get into town, took the Star Ferry a couple times to go across the harbour, the MTR, we even ventured onto a bus to get home and to North Point for no more reason than to try it. Lot's of fun. We figured out today that the Tram would be a bit faster than the bus in rush hour.

As for shopping, there's tons but most of ours was the window kind! :( Too bad.

Of course we spent some time with my sis and our little niece who's Chinese is getting so good that soon we won't be able to talk to her anymore! :)


I can see again....

Yes, after 4 months of being censored in China, I am able to finally see what my blog looks like! Not as bad as I thought it would be. A few pictures could have been moved but nothing serious.

Well, I hope to be able to respond properly to comments and I guess now there's no excuse for a poorly formatted entry! Shoot. ;)

Unfortunately, I think Jenni read somewhere that Blogger is also banned in India. Can anyone confirm this? We'll have to see once we get there I guess.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

China in Summary

Well, we are preparing for our last train ride in China (Shanghai to Hong Kong). We've bought our Thailand Lonely Planet and found our China patch, so it's time to say goodbye.

Like everyone says, China is growing fast! You can see this in all the construction everywhere. You even see bridges with no roads connecting them yet. All in the near future I am sure. It's going to be really interesting to see how China's one child policy is going to affect their fast growth. From all the manual labour used to do everything, I'm thinking they will need major amounts of automation to take over the small things like making bricks, light bulbs, earth moving equipment etc...stuff no one wants to do anyways.

In terms of travel, I would recommend everyone to start on the west side before coming out east. The west has much more to offer in terms of old traditions, old architecture; basically the old ways. It was extremely cheap, and we didn't have too much trouble getting around. It's also less crowded! :)

Guangzhou can pretty much be experienced in most Chinatowns around the world. I think most people have already experienced Cantonese food and dim sum.

Guanxi is as beautiful as everyone says and a trip to Yangshuo is definitely worth it.

Yunnan, Tibet, Xinjiang are all beautiful provinces which should be experienced. Now that the Qinghai - Tibet railway is open, Tibet may begin to change even faster than it has in the past (we hear 1500 more people per DAY into Lhasa). A ride on that line would be amazing in itself. Imagine being over 3000m for the majority of the trip and travelling through some of the most beautiful and oldest mountains in the world. Don't forget the overland trip to Everest! I'm pretty sure there will soon be a paved road from Lhasa to EBC within 10 years! Load up on the mutton skewers and nan bread while doing some Uighur watching as they watch you! :)

I wouldn't bother with Inner Mongolia unless you don't plan to go to Mongolia at all in the future.

Beijing and Shanghai are a must. The capital has just too much history not to go and Shanghai is just cool to be in. The rest of the east is up to you. In to beer? Qingdao of course. Into seafood? Take your time down anywhere on the coast. Just make sure you have enough money. It's much more expensive (at least double) than the west.

Next stop: Hong Kong and Macau!


Shanghai is definitely at the forefront of all other Chinese cities. If you're not staring at the beautiful modern skyline, or strolling through the historic European river side, you're either shopping in the 7 storey shopping malls or trying to figure out their danged subway system (took us 3 days and about 20 wasted Yuan!).

We have had a great time here just strolling around. There is definitely an energy here that isn't found anywhere else in China. We've been busy seeing all the sites in the 6 days we've been here and we could probably still use a couple more days. Maybe it's because the weather is sweltering out there and we don't move as fast but there is a lot one can do here.

Of course, my high point here was the Maglev ride. Other things I enjoyed was the quick ferry ride across Huangpu River (2Y); Walking on the Bund; And the really REALLY good eggtarts we found (see Jenni's blog). If we weren't on such a budget, I surely would have spent a few days shopping in Yuyuan Bazaar for all the Mao memorabilia we saw today!

Magnetic Levitation

I can still remember way back the first time I found out that the same poles of magnets repel. How cool it was to take two round magnets and push them around the table top, or to try to actually get the two buggers to like each other!
Who would have thought 20 some odd years later I'd get the chance to ride on something using that theory!

Shanghai has the first commercially available Maglev train in the world which goes from one of their subway stations out to the airport. It cost about 1.5 Billion Yuan to build, it's a 30 km ride, it cost 80Y for a two-way ticket, and it is STUPID fast! I mean it.

I didn't even think about going on this train before I talked with some Swedish guys in Suzhou who had just come in from Shanghai. Thank god I did otherwise I would have missed one of the funnest things I could do here in China. Yes, this rates right up there with Everest Base Camp!

The station looked just like any other train/subway station. 2 tracks on 1 platform. Just the absence of rails and rail ties that give you the clue that somethings different.

The train itself is like the highspeed trains in France and Germany. Bullet shaped and very sleek for aerodynamics. We got on, and since it wasn't busy, Jenni and I searched for empty window seats and managed to find two (one on each side of the train) to sit in. We didn't need to be together for a trip like this. Window seat is the way to go!

Out comes my camera (set on video) and my GPS. I wanted to try to record the speed and position of the train over the entire 8km.

Right on the minute, you can feel the train lift up a small amount (Floating, we are now fricking floating!!!) and move forward. Of course they have an LED displaying the speed and 100 km/h came pretty quick but not so fast that you were thrown back in your seat.

Not bad I thought...really cool...we're still riding on air! Although I thought it was a bit more bumpy than I thought it would be. I remember riding on the Japanese HSST at Expo 86 in Vancouver and that was darned smooth. But I guess we were only going like 30 km/h.

I was much more interested as we passed 200 km/h and you can hear the pitch of something getting faster and faster which means we were still accelerating. 250...300...350!!! Are you serious??? Still accelerating! 400!

Holy SH!T...

Still going...430! The cars on the road are standing still, everything is flying by in a blurr...I sure hope this thing is safe! :)

After about a minute the speed goes down and we have almost travelled the 30km. I think my camera was showing about 7 minutes. Crazy! Next to a plane, this will be the fastest way I have ever travelled.

Other cool things to happen in the 8 minutes? The tracks bank. They would have to otherwise you'd be thrown to the outside of the turn. The speed in which the opposite train passes you (think "blink of an eye") along with the punch of the shockwave. Oh and did I mention we were fricking floating!?!?! :)

Too much fun. I could've ridden that thing all day. Here's a video of the first run out to the airport. Oh and the GPS? Couldn't pick up a signal. :(

Monday, July 10, 2006

Shanghai. China's largest, and our last, city!

The one hour bus ride into Shanghai was probably the smoothest one we have taken thus far in China. Reminded me of the good old 401 (but with less potholes and no traffic!).

Shanghai is huge! And the apartment buildings are similar to the ones you'd see in Hong Kong. 20+ storeys high and grouped tightly together. Will have more info on the things we do here. I'm quite looking forward to our Maglev train ride to the airport and back. No wheels, 430 km/h, 8 mins to go 30 km one way! Suh-WEET!

We've got about 5 days before we hop onto the train back to Hong Kong thus ending our China leg of the trip. 4 months...just like that. Wow.

Suzhou's Gardens...

We decided to stop in Suhzhou about an hour outside of Shanghai before making our way into Shanghai. We had read something about Suzhou being kind of a heaven on earth type of place so we thought it would be good to check out.

Most of Suzhou's gardens are now part of UNESCO's world heritage sites. We decided to go and check out one called "Master of the Nets". I must say at first impression, I was wondering where the garden was? It was a whole compound with houses and not much greenery.

It wasn't until we realized that the point of these gardens is to integrate it in with a home and not have a separate area with nice flowers and such like what we are used to.

All the rooms in some way flowed along with the gardens. It was actually quite soothing almost to walk through. Very peaceful.

On the other hand though, unless you are really really into Gardens, there's really no need to stay more than a night. I'm not sure where the heaven on earth tag came from but I didn't really see it there.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Tsingtao Brewery

We found our way to the Tsingtao Brewery, China's most popluar beer.

Our Lonely Planet mentioned that the only way to get a tour of the plant was to go with a tour group, but we decided not to and take our chances of going there ourselves.

We are happy to report that you can tour part of the plant and some historic buildings for 50 Yuan per person. No guide required (which is better because you can go at your own pace).

We paid the money and proceeded through. The first building is one of the original buildings from 1903 and now houses old artifacts and gives information on the history of the brewery. Very interesting to note that when Japan invaded, they took over the brewery and Tsingtao was being sold along side Sapporo, Asahi and Kirin beers! Very cool.

The second building shows the making of beer. It's all displays but still interesting to walk through. No mention of any fish guts here! Just the best hops and mineral water from nearby Laoshan.

We then hit a small bar where we were treated to fresh Tsingtao on tap, and some beer nuts! YUM! It hit the spot after all the walking.

The last part of the tour has you going through the bottling and canning lines. Very cool to see. Reminded me of the starting credits to Laverne and Shirley. Anyone remember that show? :)

After the bottling we ended back in the Tsingtao Pub where we were again treated to more free beer. This time Jenni and I had to share a pitcher. I'm not complaining as this beer was so damned good. It went down like nothing and I found myself getting all happy! We picked up our free glasses, but I wanted the ones with the Beijing Olympics on them so I staggered up to the bar and in my best Chinese, asked the guy if they sold them. He said yes, then Jenni had the idea of swapping our glasses with those so we went back and somehow, with broken Chinese, managed to swap glasses! Cool.

GO Tsingtao!

Oh and I am happy to report that according to Mexican authorities, beer IS a health food so everyone DRINK UP!!! :)


Some of you may have heard of this already. For those who haven't, Geocaching is a world wide hobby.

Basically, there are people all over the world who decide to put a small container in some location (usually scenic and sometimes hard to get to.) It's contents are left up to the owner and can range from just a notebook to sign, to coins, to local souvenirs etc...

The owner then posts the coordinates of the geocache on the website and people who have GPS's can input them into the unit then go out and "hunt" for the container. If you find it, you can usually take a trinket in the container but you need to leave something else. That's perfect as we have some toonies and Canadian pins we brought with us.

Is it a sport? Probably not. But it's a really fun way to kill of few hours.

Jenni and I have just started this hobby since there are quite a few geocaches here in China (and it's a good excuse to make use of my GPS). We went out yesterday in search of GCPT6K, a cache located in Lu Xun Park here in Qingdao.

It was loads of fun. We walked at least 2 km to find this thing, then when you get close, since GPS's are usually only accurate to 5 or 6 meters, you have to go searching. We found this small film canister at the base of a tree under some rocks.
What was inside? A log sheet and 3 US coins. Well, I must say we were hoping for something more local but I guess it'll have to do. I picked up a quarter and left one of our Canadian pins. We sealed up the container again and I put it back where I found it for the next person.There's lot's more coming up and we'll probably try to hit a couple more before leaving China. Which by the way is sometime before the 18th!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Getting down from the Great Wall

We took a trip to the Great Wall (although the Chinese translation is "Long" wall) at Mutianyu just outside of Beijing.

Finally, we made it to the wall and it didn't kick our butts! Although, to get to the wall you need to take a chairlift up. :) Oh well...
After a short 1.5 hour hike around we decided to go down and that's where the fun is. To get down you can either take the chairlift back down OR you can take a super cool toboggan ride down. Of course that's what we took.

Here's a pic of the warning sign.
It's one of the most fun things we've done. I swear Canada needs to get some of these rides made up. I think Blue Mountain needs to install a ride like this. I did manage to get a video of the whole ride.

Those of you who have been in front of Jenni while biking will be able to relate to what I felt on the ride down. That woman is a tailgator I tell ya. Check it out for yourself. ;)

p.s.: Don't mind my childish shrieks of joy as I'm going down...

Happy Canada Day!

Wow, July 1st already!

Here's wishing a great big Happy Birthday to Canada. Hope everyone is out enjoying some nice weather and cold brews! I had the obligatory Tsingtao already. Too bad there's no Richard's Red, or Sleeman's here.

Hope all the Canadians we've met travelling so far are having a great holiday too!

Let's not forget our neighbours to the south and the American friends we've made since we started our trip. Here's a Happy 4th of July to you all too.

While I'm on a role, here's a general hi to all the Swedish, Finish, Korean, Chinese, Swiss, Polish, Danish and Dutch people we've met so far.