Posts tagged ‘The Great Wall of China’

An ode to Asia – our top ten experiences

In ways it feels like only yesterday that Gary and I said tearful goodbyes to our Mums and Dads and set off with our names sewn on to our shiny new backpacks, hardly able to breath for all the excitement/nerves/sadness/happiness and general overwhelming flow of emotions vying for our attention. Yet somehow, we have found ourselves a few days short of halfway and, even more alarmingly, out of Asia. Somehow we have become semi-seasoned travellers. Gone is the lettering on our bags – the victims of a hundred careless baggage handlers – and the brand new look. Now everything we own smells like Asia; all our clothes have bobbles around the waist from chaffing backpacks; we don’t bounce out of bed at 7am every morning; we barter for everything even when it’s inappropriate; and we start sentences with the ever-infuriating “Well when I was in Laos/Cambodia/China/East Timor…” We could be gone for years or it could have just been days.

Leaving Asia, after having such a fantastic time, was more bitter than sweet. Granted Oz could offer us all the comforts of home – chocolate, television, air conditioning, home cooking, cleanliness and the ability to communicate – but would it surprise us with impromptu religious processions in the street? Would we have the fun of blind ordering creamed yams because we couldn’t read the menu? Would there be the same backpacker solidarity that we found in rural China or Vietnam? Would we be able to buy and sell motorbikes without a drivers license? Would we be able to afford even the  most basic of things? Hardly.

As a tribute to our favourite continent we decided to compile a bit of a nostalgic top ten list. After much squabbling and a few punches we came up with a list that surprised even us. Whenever asked we always say that we loved Japan and Thailand most yet China seems to have housed most of our best memories. The main difficulty lay in choosing just ten – how could we leave out watching the Hong Kong skyline come into focus from the Star Ferry or the Full Moon Party in Ko Pha Ngan or having our teeth rattled out of our heads in Timor Leste? It was hard but here it is – our ode to Asia. It’s been emotional.

10.Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos
Choose getting wet. Choose taking off all your clothes in front of strangers. Choose sunburn. Choose throwing yourself into a fast-flowing river. Choose drinking from a bucket. Choose falling out of a tractor tyre. Choose dropping your camera in the water. Choose dancing on tables. Choose 100 new friends, Choose killing your liver. Choose falling asleep at 5pm. Choose writing on your face in permanent marker. Choose risking your life for the best matinee party ever. Choose tubing in Vang Vieng.

9.The onsen experience, Japan
For most people being naked with a big group of people is about getting dirty. In Japan it’s about getting clean and let’s face it, there are very few times in life where you will have the opportunity to perch between two naked Asian women in an outdoor thermal mudbath high in the mist-shrouded mountains. The Japanese onsen experience, be it in the dedicated town of Beppu or a public facility in Tokyo, will change the way you feel about bath-time forever.

8.Food, just about everywhere
Slurrping down bowls of ramen at noodle bars; discovering mango and sticky rice at a roadside stall; bagging 20 Indonesian fried bananas for 40 cent; eating an entire fish on a stick; figuring out where M&S steal their recipes from over a bowl of fish amok; and the endless search for the best Thai curry. Who said eating in Asia just meant pad thai and fried rice? Yes there was enthusiastic vomitting and 100 odd boxes of immodium but it was worth it to be able to say – “Can you make that Thai spicy, not farang (foreigner) spicy?” And thanks to fantastic cooking classes in China and Thailand we may never have to eat western food again…

7.Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan
The phrase ‘fresh sushi’ never rang as true as it does in Tsukiji Fish Market where fishermen and chefs meet to haggle over a 70 tonne tuna fish or a handful of live prawns. While the rest of Tokyo is still sleeping, skilled tradesmen gut fish with one hand while texting with the other and demonstrate just how easy it is to turn an eel inside out.

6.Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat was one of those extremely rare, heart-stopping moments. We’ve seen our fair share of religious sites from simple wooden structures in Kyoto to the ancient stupa of Borobudor and even the gold-plated royal temple in Bangkok but nothing has come even close to seeing the light change Angkor Wat from a vague black shadow to a spectacular glowing pink, orange and yellow marvel. Never has getting up at 4am been so worthwhile.

5.Tiger Leaping Gorge, China
There are very few places in China where you can find peace and quiet but over three days in Tiger Leaping Gorge our only human interaction was around a camp fire on our last night when we finally met the eight other hikers doing the trail. During the day we edged across cliffside waterfalls, dragged ourselves  by the fingernails up the last of the infamous 28 bends (more like 128 bends), clung onto fraying rope ladders for dear life and sat and stared in awe at the mighty Yangtze as it roared past Middle Tiger Leaping Rock.

4.Diving in Thailand
“Two thirds of the world’s surface is covered by water. How can you call yourself a traveller if you’re happy to settle for less than a third?” reads a sign in Ko Phi Phi. Diving in Thailand opened our eyes to an entirely different, entirely superior world full of vibrant colours, swaying reef and curious fish. Away from the blaring music, honking horns and obnoxious tauts we perfected our backflips and were adopted by schools of Sergent Major Fish.

3.Biking in Vietnam
Yes there were near death experiences, crashes, break-downs on mountain peaks, monsoons, burst tires, broken engines, dodgy chains, hit and runs, guilty pay-offs, police bribes and painful sunburns but as the saying goes – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Biking around Vietnam we managed to get off the very sticky tourist trail and see a whole other side to a very beautiful country. Of course it didn’t hurt that we got to know some great Aussies on the way too.

2.Halong Bay, Vietnam
Once listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Halong Bay in Northern Vietnam is a spectacular blanket of silky water broken by hundreds of dark shadows – giants hunched over as if in sleep. Add to that a traditional oriental junk, some fantastic food, a handful of great new friends and a liberal serving of alcohol and you have a New Year’s Eve to remember (or not remember). And as we all know, the only cure for a hangover is to run out of bed and leap straight from the deck of a boat into freezing cold water. Heaven.

1.The Great Wall of China
We had been on the Great Wall of China for around an hour and a half before we saw it. It’s hard to miss something that big (some say you can see it from the moon) but in the blanket of fog that had fallen over Beijing that cold winter’s morning we were more concerned about getting off the damn thing alive than we were about visibility. Subzero temperatures had left the wall coated in black ice, making an already precariously delapidated wall even more impassable. As we shuffled along, using our hands and bums to keep us from falling off the edge and into the abyss, the strangest thing happened. We turned a corner and all of a sudden the fog cleared and the sun came out. Stretched out before us was an endless stretch of sandy brickwork zig-zagging its way up and down the hilly landscape. We stopped dead, totally speechless. Bloody hell, we were on THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA!

All our pictures from Asia are available in the gallery

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April 27, 2010 at 1:41 pm 1 comment

What’s so Great about this Wall? Jinshaling to Simatai, China

November 25th, 2009

Cold, wet, exhausted and a little intimidated, Gary and I were ready to give up on the Great Wall of China before we even clapped eyes on it. In our infinite wisdom we had chosen to do the hardest section of the wall on one of the coldest days in months. This, combined with a pair of impractical shoes, resulted in Gary spending the first 45 minutes of our Great Wall adventure (a steep uphill climb through a forest currently coated in compacted ice) locked in an intimate embrace with the mountain.

Face to face, pelvis to pelvis, the two struggled for the upper hand, Gary shuffling his way forward a few inches before his opponent’s icy grip closed around his ankle, dragging him back on top of one of the ten local villagers who had followed us from the entrance. ‘Who are they? What do they want? Why are they following us?’ These are all questions that weren’t running through Gary’s mind as his sole focus was leveraging himself off an old lady’s shoulders and up another slippery foot.

Trying not to giggle as he fell on another octogenarian, I dangled our entrance ticket in front of Gary’s eyes for encouragement, promising him to most spectacular view once we got to the top. If we could only get through this patch of fog.

No such luck. As was a reoccurring theme during our trip to Beijing, once we got to the top we still couldn’t see 10ft in front of our noses. And our band of merry villagers were still following us with no indication of what they wanted. We had, of course, been warned. “It’s really slippy up there!” Our guide had said. “It’s really dangerous. You should just go straight to Simatai and you can walk all you want there. Please?” But we were hardcore and, after getting up at 5.30am and riding on a freezing cold bus with our legs tucked behind our ears for four hours we were going to climb the damned wall even if it killed us.

And there were times when it nearly did. When I was sliding down a hill on my bum, for example, because it was too steep and icy to stand up and I started to pick up speed and veer towards the edge of the wall and the foggy abyss. Or the time I nearly lost my footing on the first set of steps – steps that were so steep that you had to use both your hands and your feet to scale them.

It was in this grumpy, disappointed frame of mind that we stopped for a rest at the end of the Jinshaling section of the wall, holding up our entrance ticket to compare the view we had been promised (a beautiful, luscious image of the wall and its towers stretching on forever) to the one we had gotten (a few crumbling stones in the foreground and a whole lot of empty white space). Were we on the Great Wall of China or was this just another Chinese con? We could have been in the middle of the city for all we knew.

Then, as Gary once again put away his camera, sighing over his broken dreams, China suddenly started to give a little back. The fog peeled away to reveal the early afternoon sun bouncing off the yellow and brown reconstructed stones of the Simatai Great Wall of China.

Whatever about the original section (a great adventure and undoubtedly good to see), this was the pristine, powerful wall we had come to see – one we could trace as it snaked its way over mountains and across emerald green rivers, always picking the hardest path. Despite the freezing cold, the next seven slip-free kilometers were brilliant fun as we bounded, cheering and shouting and doing our finest Rocky impressions over the peaks.

I’m still not sure why  but the Great Wall of China is every inch of what it’s cracked up to be if you get the space, weather and visibility to enjoy it. Definitely the high point of our trip so far.

P.S. After literally carrying half of our team – including one incredibly unfit, considerably overweight American – 5km along the wall, our Chinese back-up team only wanted to sell us some chopsticks and postcards for 50 cent. You have to love an innovator.

December 2, 2009 at 4:37 pm 1 comment


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