A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

The First Leg...Getting to Shanghai

90 °F

We're all moved out of 524 S. Front St. Into storage everything goes and off to Asia we go!! I thought that the title the "Honeymoon Before the Wedding" was fitting since this trip will most likely never happen again and it is what we would have loved to do after the wedding if possible, but seems impossible as we will finally be getting those things called jobs. As Ma Tamm says, "this is a trip of a lifetime!!!" and we are finding that it really is. When else are we going to be able to take a 2 month break from life until we retire?? Don't hate our awesomeness.

Thanks to a lot of help from many friends in Philly and New Jersey, we were able to put our lives on hold for 2 months and we made it to NYC. The 16 hour flight from JFK to Hong Kong was long, but with the help of countless movies to catch up on, the trip went very quickly. The sun never set the whole flight as we flew right over the arctic circle. Crazy. As we approached Hong Kong, I heard "it's like we're on another planet" come out of Lawrence's mouth. He was right. It is a huge city of ginormous skyscrapers that are never ending along a series of beautiful islands. After a 2 hour layover, we arrived in Shanghai around midnight (noon back on the east coast) and had a driver waiting to pick up our backpacking butts and bring us back to cousin Jeff's amazing pad in the French Concession.

Our Shanghai adventure began with a subway ride to Pudong (pu=river, dong=east) which was another area of innumerable dizzying skyrises. The three that caught our attention right away were Oriental Pearl Tower, Jin Mao Tower, and the World Financial Center (WFC or bottle top building). Little did we know there is yet another skyscraper being built that is going to top them all in height. The area is a maze of Chinese tourists who have come for the World Expo (What the heck is this World Expo all about?? This thing called the internet says it aims to promote the exchange of ideas and development of the world economy, culture, science and technology, to allow exhibitors to publicize and display their achievements and improve international relationships. Accordingly, the World Expo with its 150-year history is regarded as the Olympic Games of the economy, science and technology.) We decided that since we were there, we needed to pay the 150 RMB (about $20 USD) to visit the world's highest manmade observation deck. Up we went, all 425 meters and 101 floors (we paid extra to go to the way top, which was way worth it!!) One of the highlights was watching the window cleaners at work on the 94th floor. Talk about a 'high' risk job!

photo.jpg

Side notes on the Pudong area:
Since 1990, billions of dollars have been poured into the infrastructure and economic development of the region. What was a swampy farmland 20 years ago is now a picture of China's economic and technological power. Researches say that Shanghai has sunk over 2 meters in the last century and have concerns that this could be accelerated with the continued construction of gigantic skyscrapers. Crazy, huh? I thought that was interesting. Basically China believes the bigger they build, the stronger they become.

Next up was a stop at the Jing'an Temple, or the Temple of Peace and Tranquility. It was interesting to see the stark contrast of the old historic buildings of the Temple against the new modern shopping malls and tall shiny buildings surrounding it. There was a sort of wishing well that you could try and throw money up into, and in my attempt to wish with a Lincoln Penny, 1 RMB fell from the well, so I considered it a good profit for the day. We didn't find much peace there, so we took the money from Buddah and went home.

That night we met up with Jeff at TiaKang Lu for dinner- no Chinese stuff, just good ol' New York Pizza :) It is an arts and crafts enclave that has risen from a renovated residential area in Shanghai. Very cool. We sat in a motorcycle with a side car for fun (didn't get the chance to take it for a spin... maybe next time).photo_2_.jpg

That's it for the first day in China. More to come of our adventure in the Crazy City of Shanghai soon.

Posted by Tammer 05:39 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beijing

The Great Wall of China and more

After only 2 days in Shanghai, we boarded another plane for a quick weekend in Beijing. Our whole trip was planned by my cousin, so we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Admittedly, neither of us read a darn thing about the city, but after the 3 days we realized what an amazing city Beijing is full of rich history.

Our first adventure was a bicycle ride around the Forbidden City, covering 26km. We bravely faced all the traffic and crazy Chinese people on scooters and got on our cruisers and followed our trusty tour guide. The great thing about Beijing is that there are lanes devoted only to bikes and scooters, so I felt a little more safe. We rode for over 3 hours with stops along the way at famous locations in the Hutongs (small alleys) and other famous sites. After the tour we enjoyed an authentic Beijing meal at a restaurant that had a sign on the front door that said "Presence Welcome." Can't go wrong with that, right? WRONG. I didn't mind my eggplant and green been stir fry, but Lawrence felt very differently about the chinese version of sweet and sour soup and his chicken and celery dish that was too heavy on the celery and spice. Poor Lawrence. So the next morning he got to pick breakfast and lunch- we ended up with McDonald's for breakfast (actually for the next 2 more days too) and thai food for lunch. He had enough of the authentic Chinese food, which means no Beijing Pecking Duck for us :( Oh well. It looked a little scary to eat to be honest!!!

The next day in Beijing was our big walking tour of the city. We must have walked over 10 miles... our list of stops included:

Tian'anmen Square- is a large city square in the center of Beijing (in fact, the largest square in the world!!!), named after the Tian'anmen Gate, literally Gate of Heavenly Peace. A year after Mao's death in 1976, a Mausoleum was built to honor Chairman Mao. We didn't wait in line along with the 100,000 others. But it was a sight to see their excitement and honor to visit Chairman Mao's resting spot.

Forbidden City - This was a crazy place! It was a Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. For almost five hundred years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government. Basically this city with a 10 meter high wall and surrounding moat was a place for the emperor and his wife, concubines, and servants. All others were kept out. We were lucky to visit this place.

North Lake- This was a beautiful lake surrounded by restaurants and some shops. Great stop for lunch.

BeiHei Park- An imperial garden that is one of the largest in China. It was a beautiful way to end the day.

Our day ended with the plan to take a nap and then head over to another another tourist destination. I fell asleep at 5:30pm and didn't wake until 5:30 the next morning. A much needed rest. I needed that sleep!!

Day three in Beijing was what we had been waiting for.... THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA!!

1photo_2_.jpg

After a satisfying breakfast at McDonalds, our tour guide picked us up at 730am. We drove up to a section of the great wall called Jingshanling. We were told this was a section of the great wall that didn't have as many tourists, but there was a gondola to take people up the great wall if they wished?? But I don't think that is considered hiking the Great Wall.There didn't seem to be that many tourists there, but there were certainly a lot of village people that wanted to sell us souvenirs. We had our own personal villager for 80% of the hike. She didn't take no for an answer. She never gave up and we never gave in. Lawrence did say at one point that if she left us alone that he was give her some money when we got back to the car (luckily she didn't understand and was not waiting for us at the car when we got back). Jinshanling section of the Great Wall is 10.5 km long with 5 passes, 67 towers and 2 beacon towers. The first section of the wall was restored to original condition, but the condition of the wall deteriorated and was in more of its natural state as it approached Simatai. Initially we were to hike all the way to Simatai and be picked up there, but that section was closed so we just hiked as far as we had time to hike and then turned around and came back the way we came. It was like 2 different hikes though because the views were so different in each direction. It was an amazing and powerful experience and worth the trip to Beijing! I hope you get to see it someday too!!!

photo_3_.jpg

Our last day was rounded out with a trip out to Olympic Park, where the 2008 Olympics were held in Beijing. It was a hot, sweaty and crowded subway ride away... but a cool way to spend our last hour in Beijing.

Back to Shanghai!!! Next up, Water Village and the World Expo!!!

Posted by Tammer 01:06 Archived in China Comments (0)

Last days in Shanghai

The World Expo!!!!

After our trip to Beijing, we came back to Shanghai to find Jeff and two of Lawrence's friends from Macon (Jess and Beth now living and teaching in South Korea) waiting to hang out with us. It was honestly a breath of fresh air to have someone other than Lawrence to talk to...especially a girl. Sorry Law. The day after we got back was not only Lawrence's birthday, but also a special day for Chinese people, the mid-autumn festival. It is a day of celebration with family and eating lots of mooncakes. We took a day trip to a water village that is known as the Venice Island of Asia, which was a one and a half hour bus ride from Shanghai. What I thought would be a great way to spend Law's birthday turned out to be a bust. It rained nearly the whole time we were there. Everyone did enjoy the History of sex museum that was there, and we did get some great pictures. Eye-muffs may be necessary :)
Koh_Tao_and_Lanta_017.jpg
We got to watch a man use his birds to catch fish for him. It was really spectacular. He had them trained to sit on the side of his boat, and then on command the birds were to dive into the water and bring up a fish for their master. He would then pry open their large beaks and then bam, a fish!! Here is a picture of the fish...
DSC_0240.jpg
Dinner that night was definitely a food highlight of the week. We went to a Nepalize restaurant and everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meals. The cheese balls were amazing! I need to get that recipe!!!
180_photo_5_.jpg
The next day we slept in until 1130!!! But the sleep was needed for the full day of adventures we were about to enjoy. We started the day with a trip across town for the best dumplings in Shanghai. We agreed with the reviews. Jess and Beth both were to anxious to enjoy them and got themselves burned by the juices that squirts out from the hot balls when you bite into them. Our next stop was to the outdoor insect and bird market. It was one of the most interesting things I'd seen since being in Shanghai. I would have loved to have on one of those audio tour headsets so that someone could tell me what was going on. I'll look into it and let you know if I find anything interesting. Next we stopped at the Urban Planning museum, which didn't have much to offer other than a huge model of the city of Shanghai. Check out the picture!
photo_6_.jpg
We waited until the late afternoon (when we thought all the Chinese people would be home napping and eating and NOT at the World Expo) to visit the main event in Shanghai- the World Expo). I don't think we could have picked a more hectic day to visit. Not only was it the Chinese holiday, but the temperature was not too hot and not raining, all factors which lead to record breaking crowds. We read the next day that over 630,000 people visited the Expo that day we were there. Regardless, it was still a super fun way to walk past nearly every country in the world in one night. We couldn't vet over how amazing and creative the architecture was for some counties such as Spain, Switzerland, the UK and Norway... But also how disappointing others were, such as the good old USA. We enjoyed dinner and a beer in Germany, walked through North Korea, Norway, Sweden, and Venezuela. We were holding out until later for the lines to lessen, but they never did. I think some people were still waiting in line for over 3 hours at 9pm! We decided to get out of there while we still could. What madness. We did get a great picture of me and Law in a mid-air chest bump in front of one of the colorful pavilions.
7photo_2_.jpgIMG_0425.jpg

The next day we boarded a plane bound for a place that Lawrence has been dreaming about returning to ever since he left it 5 years ago. A little place called Thailand.

Posted by Tammer 23:29 Archived in China Comments (0)

From Bangkok to our first Island, Koh Tao

Bargaining does exist, and I'm not very good at it!

Our first night in Bangkok was full of fun as we were met by a friend's younger sister, Brittany, who has been living in Bangkok teaching English to 5th graders for the past 3 months. She met us at our hostel, called the Green House, and took us out to the local's bar a few blocks from the backpackers main drag where we were staying called Khoa San Road. Per our guides request, we were drinking mixers with some unknown white liquor, Red Bull, and soda water. After my first drink I switched over to lemonade from the Red Bull :). It was easier on the stomach and adrenaline level! We met about 8 of her friends who were teaching in similar programs as her. They all seemed to love it there, especially the 300 Baht one hour Thai massages and foot massages per hour, which is about $10USD. Amazing!! We definitely took advantage of this the next day! After about 4 hours with Brittany and her friends, we decided to call it a night at midnight because we were pretty exhausted from the day of traveling from Shanghai. We found out the next day that they had all stayed up until 6am and one girl said she came home covered in whipped cream???!!! The usual Friday night for them I guess!!

The next morning we had a delicious breakfast at Ricky's Cafe, the Lonely Planet's pick, and it was delicious! After breakfast we decided to venture out to one if the largest weekend markets in the world, the Chatuchak Weekend Market.  It was basically a huge outdoor mall without walls.  You could buy anything from knock-off watches to clothes to furniture to a puppy to food that is prepared with fresh ingredients right in front of you!!!   We didn't buy anything except the most delicious pineapple in the world for less than a dollar.  Yummi!  And of course this is where we firs davelled in the art of bartering. We learned that after they name their price for an item, you state the price you are willing to pay and will most likely get that price if you start to walk away from the deal after a minute or so of going back and forth with the bargaining. The best part is that Thai people are super friendly throughout the whole deal!!!  I guess I just am too nice, because almost every time I tried to get the price down, I would give in before they accepted my original price- except when I bartered for my sundress, which was my last proud purchase before we left Bangkok. The girl wanted $11 and I talked her down to $8.  Not bad, eh?  
 After our shopping fun, I enjoyed an hour long foot massage and Law had his first Thai massage of the trip. For some reason my feet had swollen a bit after the last flight, so the foot massage was a wondrous thing for me.  The massages were our treat before our overnight trip to Koh Tao by bus and boat. Finally, we are headed to the islands!  First stop, Koh Tao.  This one in particular is the place that offers more scuba certificates than anywhere else in the world... Did we lose our scuba virginity here?  

Posted by Tammer 21:41 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thailand!!! First island, Koh Tao

Finally on our first island in Thailand, Koh Tao. The first day was spent at a place called Scuba Junction on Sairee Beach where we contemplated for one day whether or no we wanted to get certified to scuba. We decided to skip it since Lawrence had already done it once and I didn't really care one way or another. We saved our 9000 Baht per person it would have cost to scuba (about $300 USD) and decided to use our snorkeling gear instead to enjoy the turquoise waters- which we both love doing! The first night's lodging at Scuba Junction was in a bungalow with a manual toilet that flushed with the power of gravity and a bucket of water dumped into the bowl. The shower/toilet also had an ant hill mound in the middle of it. It really wasn't that bad but Law was kind to agree to move locations for less than $10 more a night. We went down the beach to a place called Blue Wind and I absolutely loved it! It had a flushing toilet and way nicer bathroom, a shelf to store our things, and a very comfy bed. Added bonus is there was a great restaurant 30 yards one way on the beach and a fabulous yoga studio 30 yards the other direction. What more could a girl want??
90_9photo.jpg
It rained every day on the island for at least an hour, except on the third day when we rented a double sea kayak to tool around the island and snorkel. We didn't think it would be too tough since we are in good shape and the island is only 21 sq km in area. We left around 11am and after 4 snorkeling stops and an hour for lunch on the other side of the island, we came full circle a little after 5pm. Not too shabby.
Koh_Tao_and_Lanta_023.jpg
We saw so many different species of fish, a lot that looked just like the fish in Finding Nemo! There was one kind of fish in which the whole school loved to get really close to us and swim with us. So cool to be in a school :) My strong fiancé did most of the power paddling in the back while I took it easy in the front of the kayak. His shoulders were sore the next day!! We must have paddled for nearly 4 hours! That night we enjoyed a delicious Thai dinner sitting on bean bags on the beach watching a fire show and fire lanterns released into to starry night. What a great day!
Koh_Tao_and_Lanta_022.jpg
Our last day on the island was another awesome day. We had breakfast at our resort and then I went to my 2nd yoga class at Shambhala lead by the amazingly energetic teacher named Kester while Law spent the morning running errands and getting deep into his book. After yoga it rained hard for about 30 minutes, but then the sun came out for the whole afternoon so we could work on our tan on the beach before our next journey.
90_6photo_2_.jpg
After 3 nights on Koh Tao, we decided it is time to move on. Next stop Koh Lanta via night ferry then bus then ferry. Should be about a 17 hour journey. Sounds like fun, right??

Posted by Tammer 19:20 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 16) Page [1] 2 3 4 »