Coming home to England…

After nearly 11 months, 13 countries and countless incredible experiences, we finally returned to England. Looking back, the whole experience seems quite surreal, but we feel incredibly lucky to have been able to do the trip. We have learnt so much about parts of the world we barely knew existed, met countless fascinating people along the way and have made memories that will last a life time.

In total, we travelled for 318 days and stayed in 148 different hotels, hostels and home stays. We took 22 flights and over 60 different modes of transport; from becaks to bumboats, tuk-tuks to toboggans and campervans to camels! Even when there was no clear information available on how to do it, we always got to where we wanted to go in the end. We managed to complete our journey without getting anything stolen (apart from half a block of cheese in a hostel in Australia and a bottle of half-drunk free water on the bus to Cambodia!) We had to communicate in 9 new languages, in many cases where no one spoke any English and became fluent in the art of pointing and gesturing!

In the end we found ‘Seoul.’ Certainly physically and we hope metaphorically as well. We want to thank all of you who have taken the time to read our blog and follow our ramblings(!) (Sorry, after spending 11 months with Alex, I have inherited his terrible puns!) Thank you for all of your kind comments and emails. It has been great to keep in touch with so many of you whilst we have been away. We are now back in the UK and hope to see you all again soon. Of course, if any of you want to hear more, there’s a 7000 picture slide show, ready and waiting! :o)

Kate and Alex xx

image

Advertisements

Volcanoes, reunions and continued conflict in Korea…

From Mongolia we flew to South Korea and after over 10 months of searching, we finally found Seoul! Compared to most other countries in Asia, South Korea was extremely developed. After a few weeks in Mongolia, we marvelled at the clean streets, modern shops and pristine western toilets! The culture was very respectful and the people were incredibly friendly and fun.

On our second day, we did a day trip to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), at the border of North and South Korea. The DMZ has been an area of permanent stand off between the North and South for over 60 years, since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Our guides were the U.S. military, who took us to the JSA (Joint Security Area), where the Republic of Korea (ROK) Soldiers stand face to face with the North Korean Soldiers. We could see the North Korean Soldiers facing us from in front of the buildings opposite us and more peering out at us from the windows. The tension was palpable. We were able to walk into the blue UN building in the centre, which serves as a meeting room between North and South. We walked around the table to the far end of the meeting room and in the photo below we are officially standing in North Korea!

image

image

image

We visited a number of other sights in the DMZ, starting with a viewpoint from which we could see into North Korea. From the viewpoint you could see Kijong-dong village, which is also known as ‘Propaganda Village,’ due to propaganda about ‘The Great Leader’ being projected from loud speakers for 20 hours a day. The houses in the village are thought to be fake and uninhabited. Many of the doors and windows are just painted on and at night, the lights shining through the buildings, suggest that they have no internal floors. Towering over the village is a giant flagpole. In the 1980s the South erected a 98m high flagpole and the North immediately responded by building a 160m one, which is the 4th highest in the world.

image

image

We saw ‘the bridge of no return,’ where prisoners had crossed into North Korea, never to return again. From there we went to Dorasan Station, the last station in the South, but with rail links through to Pyongyang. One day the South hopes that trains will run through to the North, but for now the large modern station lies empty. After lunch we visited another observatory and then went to ‘The Third Tunnel.’ The North Koreans built this, as well another tunnels, in preparation to invade the South, but it has now been found and blocked off. The tunnel ceiling was low and you had to wear a helmet to protect your head. Due to malnutrition in the North, it is now thought that the average height of North Koreans is some 3 inches shorter than the South Koreans. Visiting the DMZ was a surreal experience and one we will never forget. Shells fired by the North just a couple of days ago, show that sadly this 60 year conflict is still a serious situation.

image

image

image

Back in Seoul, we spent a few days exploring the city. We saw traditional Korean houses at the Bukchon Hanok village, walked around the 1988 Olympic Stadium, relaxed outside the City Hall, got lost at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and sat with our feet in the stream, along with the locals, at the Cheong-gye-cheon. We had a day exploring the ornate royal palaces Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung. We took a tour of the Emperor’s Secret Garden and watched the colourful changing of the guard ceremonies. At night, we went up the Namsan Tower, for spectacular views of the glittering city.

image

image

image

Whilst we were in Seoul, we met up with Jisu and Sohyeon, two friendly girls we had met on our Mongolia trip. We went out for a traditional Korean lunch in Gangnam and tried lots of interesting dishes. After lunch, we went out for Bing-Su, a much-loved Korean dessert, made from shaved ice and topped with sweet beans or fruit. Afterwards, Alex danced Gangnam Style outside Gangnam Station, to the amusement of a few onlookers!

image

image

image

From Seoul we travelled to Andong, where we spent a day visiting the Hahoe Folk Village. The village was full of traditional Hanok houses, surrounded by paddy fields and a meandering river. From there we took a bus to Gyeongju, the capital of the ancient Silla Dynasty, which ruled the Korean Peninsula for nearly 1000 years. The town is built around 190 ancient burial mounds, which on the outside are huge rounded grassy mounds. Inside are the remains of Silla Kings, buried with vast riches. We visited the National Museum and the famous Cheonmachong Tomb. We also did a day trip to the Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto, where we hand-fed some inquisitive wild chipmunks. The next day, we travelled South to Busan and then flew to Jeju Island.

image

image

image

Jeju is a picturesque volcanic island off the South coast of Korea. On our first day there we celebrated our 5th Wedding Anniversary. We had a walk along the Promenade and went to see the Yongdu-am ‘Dragon Head Rock.’ In the evening we went out for a delicious meal, followed by some drinks in a rooftop bar. Jeju Island is full of beautiful natural volcanic features, with an impressive set of 360 volcanoes. We climbed the Seongsan Ilchulbong turf volcano, which is just 182m high, but has an unusual grass covered crater. The photos from the top don’t do it justice, so here is a link to an aerial shot, to show its full scale… https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/61/Seongsan_Ilchulbong_from_the_air.jpg

image

image

The next day we went to Manjanggul, the world’s longest system of lava-tube caves. The caves are over 13km long and in some places 30m high. They are full of interesting lava formations, including lava rafts and columns.

image

image

image

That evening we met up with Gun and Hyeji, a fun Korean couple who had been on our trip in Mongolia. We had dinner at a Korean Barbecue restaurant, which served the local speciality, black-skinned pork, accompanied by large shots of beer and Soju!
The next day we nursed our hangovers with a relaxed day at the Hyeopjae beach. Korean beaches are interesting places, where locals don’t sunbathe, but instead huddle under beach umbrellas to protect their white skin. Swimming in the sea consists of floating in rubber rings, or on miscellaneous inflatable sea creatures. When we swam and the beach was at its busiest, we could hardly move for the mass of inflatables!

image

image

Before we left Korea to return to England, we felt we had one last mountain to climb (literally!) So, for our final challenge, we decided to climb Hallasan, the highest mountain in South Korea. The ascent was a tough 9.6km up a rocky path. Views of the volcano and the crater lake from the top were shrouded in mist, but we were still extremely happy to reach the top!

image

image

From Jeju, we flew back to Seoul, where we spent the last night of our epic adventure. The next day, after nearly 11 months, 13 countries and countless incredible experiences, we started our final journey back to England…

Experiencing nomadic life and the Mongolian Naadam festival…

After returning from our 6 day trip to the Gobi Desert, we set off from Ulaanbaatar on another adventure to the Mongolian countryside. We travelled with a Canadian living in Norway, called Jacynta and a Chinese American called Jenny, who we had met on our Gobi trip and who were both very friendly and great fun. We visited the Khustai National Park, where we were lucky to see wild Przewalski’s Horses. The breed are the ancestors of most of the world’s domesticated horses and were previously extinct in the wild. In the 1990s a small number were reintroduced from European zoos (in part thanks to the Mongolian Ambassador called Bold who we shared a cabin with on the train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar) and now the wild population numbers over 300. The national park was full of life and we saw numerous scampering marmots and birds of prey whilst we were searching for the Przewalski’s Horses. We didn’t see any wolves, but we are told there is a healthy population in the area!

image

image

We stayed the night with a local nomadic family and in the evening we ‘helped’ them tend to their animals. The family kept horses, goats, sheep and cows and we were able to watch their impressive cowboy skills as they rounded up their horses, sheep and goats. They had a low-fenced pen or ‘corral,’ next to their Gers, which most of the horses were herded skilfully into. A few of the horses jumped over the fence and back out of the pen and a couple of them also jumped into the pen, so they could be with the herd. Either way, we had to be careful not to get hit by the horses! Later on, we had a go at catching some of the goats for milking. You had to approach them carefully and then be very quick and grab the goats by their horns. Once it got dark, hundreds of pairs of eyes reflected eerily in the light of our torches.

image

image

image

image

The next morning, we got up early and had a go at milking the family’s cows. They let the calves feed first, to stimulate the milk flow and then pull the calves away, so they can milk the cows. Afterwards, the calves are allowed to return to their mothers, who then trot off and rejoin the herd. After breakfast, we went out horse riding on the nomad’s semi-wild horses. As we left the Ger camp, the other horses in the herd voluntarily walked with us for a while, before deciding to stop and graze. We rode to a hilltop, where we were rewarded with stunning views across the vast grassland. The nomads only round up horses from the herd when they need to use them. It was liberating to see our horses being set free again and rejoining the herd on the open Steppe, after we had finished our ride.

image

image

image

We were lucky that our time in Mongolia coincided with the annual Naadam festival; and we spent our last two days in Mongolia experiencing the festivities of the biggest event of the year. Naadam is a sporting competition embodying the three key skills for Genghis Khaan’s Mongol Warriors: Wrestling, Horse Racing and Archery. On our trips, we had briefly visited two local Naadams and seen the preparations and aftermath of the Horse Racing.

image

image

image

Back in Ulaanbaatar, we attended the Opening Ceremony, Wrestling and Archery at the national stadium. The Opening Ceremony was an impressive display of parades, music and dancing, celebrating Mongol traditions and included a speech from the President of Mongolia.

image

image

image

In the afternoon, we watched the first rounds of the wrestling and the archery. The competitors still wear traditional Mongol outfits to compete. The archers wore long traditional robes called ‘Deels,’ with high leather boots with upturned toes and sported ornate pointed skull caps. The wrestling matches are fought by big burly wrestlers, in their unusual, but colourful outfits; consisting of brightly coloured skin tight pants (underwear not trousers, in case you are American!) and a short jacket called a ‘Zodog,’ which exposes the wrestler’s chest. That night, the party continued in Chinggis Khaan Square, with a concert of a variety of bands; including surprisingly, a Mongolian Abba tribute band! At midnight, a spectacular fireworks display illuminated the night sky. We followed it up with a couple of beers with Jenny and Jacynta and didn’t get back to our hotel until 2.30am.

image

image

image

The next day, we watched a full day of wrestling at the national stadium. The wrestling is a knock out competition with no weight categories, but as you can imagine, it’s usually the biggest competitors who make it to the finals. The competition is full of ceremony, starting with the competitors doing a traditional dance around the referees, symbolising Falcons or a Phoenix. The bouts can last for over half an hour and by the end many competitors are left physically exhausted. After a bout is won, one wrestler ducks underneath the other’s arm, as a mark of respect and the winner runs around the 9 ceremonial flags of Chinggis Khaan and then spins around, with arms outstretched, to celebrate his victory. We were very lucky to see the final. At the moment when the winner floored his opponent, the whole stadium erupted and he instantaneously became a national hero!

image

image

image

From Ulaanbaatar, we flew to our final destination, South Korea…

Camels, nomads and sand dunes in the Mongolian Gobi Desert…

From Beijing, we took the Trans-Mongolian sleeper train to Ulaanbaatar. We were lucky to share a cabin with a Mongolian Ambassador who spoke good English and taught us a huge amount about the country and the culture. At about midnight we reached the border. Trains in China and Mongolia have different gauges, with the Mongolian tracks being 85mm larger than the Chinese ones. As our train was destined for Moscow, the train needed to have a full engineering operation. They lifted the carriages up on hydraulics (with us still in them!), removed the wheel-sets (bogies) and then attached new ones for the Mongolian gauge. After a long few hours at the border we finally crossed into Mongolia, where we had to stay awake for more passport checks and didn’t get to bed until 2.30am in the morning.

image

Overnight we crossed the Gobi and we awoke to the fringes of the desert and the vast grasslands of the Mongolian Steppe. The steppe covers a colossal area of 890,000 square kilometres of unfenced land; which stretched as far as the eye could see and was dotted with herds of camels, horses, cows, sheep and goats. Amongst the herds were the lone Gers of nomadic families and large birds of prey circled overhead. After travelling through hours of wilderness, we watched Ulaanbaatar rise into view. It is a city unlike any we had ever seen before, with modern high rise buildings in the centre, but vast tented Ger camps surrounding the city.

image

image

image

The next day we set off on a 6 day adventure to the Gobi Desert. We drove south and quickly went off road across the vast open grasslands. We were to drive over 1000km off road on our trip and spent many hours in the back of an incredibly bumpy van. Of course, there were no seat belts, so you had to keep holding on and bracing yourself for most of the drive, so you didn’t hit the ceiling or end up on the floor! We drove for over 5 hours across the Mongolian Steppe without seeing a single fence or permanent building, just a handful of nomad’s Gers. We stopped for the night at a nomadic family’s Ger and we stayed with a different family for each night of the trip. The Gers were fairly basic inside and had no running water. Toilets were holes in the ground; if we were lucky with walls and if we were even luckier, with a door!

image

image

image

image

On day two, we had a long bumpy drive south to the Gobi Desert. As we drove, the grasslands became increasingly arid and herds of cattle gave way to herds of camels. Mirages and the vast landscape played tricks on our eyes. What we thought was a village on the horizon, turned out to be a herd of camels. Gradually the grasslands gave way to a desolate sand-scape and animal skeletons were a stark reminder of the harsh environment we were entering. We got lost and had to ask directions at a nomad’s Ger, where we met their baby camels. After a long drive we finally reached the Flaming Cliffs, an impressive set of red sandstone rock faces, where paleontologists have recently found dinosaur bones and eggs. That night we stayed in a Ger camp on the edge of an area of Saxaul Desert Forest.

image

image

image

The next morning we awoke to a flash flood. Amazingly, deserts are some of the most susceptible areas on Earth to flooding and a whole lake had formed near our Gers, which wasn’t there the night before! Nearby a van had also got stuck in the mud and had to be dug out by locals. We travelled all morning to reach the Khongor Sand Dune, which is over 800m high and stretches for 180km. We spent the afternoon riding camels, which was a bit like riding a horse, only much higher up. Alex’s camel decided to stand up whilst he was getting on and he was left hanging off the side and had to haul himself up whilst the camel was walking off. He also got covered in camel snot, after Kate’s camel sneezed all over Alex!

image

image

image

That evening we climbed the colossal dune. The climb was incredibly tough, as every step you took, you slipped back two more steps into the deep sand. The only way to get up, was in short bursts whilst almost running and we both felt physically sick due to doing the climb so soon after dinner. We reached the top just in time for sunset and the hard climb was worth it, as we were rewarded with incredible vistas across the desert. That evening we saw the most amazing display of stars we had ever seen. There is no light pollution in the Gobi and the night sky was carpeted with thousands of stars. We sat out with some beers gazing at the Milky Way and watched shooting stars and satellites circle the Earth. At about 1.30am, we watched an enchanting moon rise on the horizon.

image

image

image

image

From Khongor, we travelled to Yol Valley, where we walked through a ravine and saw something we hadn’t expected to see in the desert- a glacier! The valley was full of Pikas (small mammals) which scampered in and out of holes all along our walk. That evening we tried some Airag, which is fermented mare’s milk. It is a local delicacy that is drunk around the time of the Naadam festival. It tasted like slightly congealed, extremely sour milk that was a good two weeks past its sell by date. We just hope it tastes better for the foals when they drink it!

image

image

The next day we travelled North to the Middle Gobi, where we visited the Baga Gazriin Chuluu Granite Rock Formation. We spent a couple of hours clambering around the rocks and then played some football with our nomad hosts for the night; with the children using the Gers as goalposts. We had a really great group of people on our tour and we finished our six day trip by playing some Korean drinking games (as well as some English, Canadian, American, Puerto Rican and French ones!) late into the night.

image

image

image

The next day we returned to Ulaanbaatar, ready to start our next Mongolian adventure…

Palaces, walls and warriors in Eastern China…

From Nánjīng we took an overnight sleeper train to Xi’An. We shared a cabin with an old Chinese man who spoke no English and a younger Chinese woman who spoke a small amount of English. Despite the language barrier we got on well. We taught them how to play Pass the Pigs and they taught us to play a Chinese card game called Dou Dizhu. It was lots of fun and we all stayed up playing games until 2am!

Our main reason for visiting Xi’An was to see the iconic Terracotta Warriors. The warriors were built by Emperor Qin Shi Huang during the third century BC. He spent 38 years building his tomb, which is said to be the largest in the world. It is thought that over a million workers and artisans were buried alive in order to keep the tomb a secret. The 8000 plus, warriors were discovered by a farmer in 1974, who was digging a well and the excavations are still continuing today. The detail on the archers, horses and cavalrymen is incredibly impressive and amazingly, every single one of the warriors are unique!

image

image

image

Whilst we were in Xi’An, we spent some time exploring the Muslim Quarter, which was a bustling area of food stands and souvenir vendors. Local men made Nut Brittle using a technique of throwing the mixture over a large metal hook and stretching it as it cooled. We tried some of the local delicacies, including Ròujiāmó Kebabs and Yángròu Pàomó, a tasty soup where you first break Flat Bread into pieces yourself, before the chef pours the steaming broth over the top. We also explored the older parts of the city, including the Big Goose Pagoda, the ancient City Walls and the decorative Drum and Bell Towers.

image

image

image

The next day, we took the (extremely) fast train to Beijing, which travelled at over 300km per hour! We stayed in an old house in a Hutong; which is a close knit neighbourhood with traditional Chinese houses. The narrow streets were filled with fruit and vegetable sellers, houses with shops inside their living rooms and oddly an inordinate amount of hairdressers!

image

image

image

On our first day in Beijing, we visited Tian’anmen Square and watched the flag lowering ceremony in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace; which displays the famous painting of Chairman Mao. Within one minute of the ceremony ending, the crowd were hastily escorted from the square by a squad of boisterous guards, leaving the square empty for the night. That evening, we had dinner at the Donghuamen Night Market, which is known for its bizarre delicacies. Whilst England has cheese and pineapple or sausages on sticks, the Chinese take it to another level, with locusts, scorpions, snakes and even seahorses on sticks!

image

image

image

The next day, we visited Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum and saw his body lying in state, before moving on to the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was the palace of the former Chinese Emperors and entry was strictly forbidden to commoners. We spent a day exploring the vast palace buildings, ornate landscaped gardens and quirky features, such as the outdoor opera house. The palace was packed with Chinese tourists pushing and shoving to get the best view of the main attractions. A tannoy announcement whilst we were queuing for tickets, told us that “to avoid crowds, [they] limit visitor numbers to 80,000 per day!” The following day, we visited the much more relaxed Summer Palace, where we spent time walking around the lake and taking a boat trip on the water.

image

image

image

We did a day trip to the Great Wall of China and walked 6km along the Mutianyu section. Areas of the wall we walked on had been restored, so you could see the true grandeur of the structure, which snaked for miles towards the horizon. We wandered between the many watchtowers and admired the surrounding scenery. We also walked along a section of ‘wild wall,’ where the wall crumbled at the edges and plants grew up through the bricks. Rather than walk down to the bottom, we decided to take the toboggan, so we slid the first part of our journey back to Beijing! That night, we had fun making some tasty dumplings, with the staff at our Hutong guesthouse.

image

image

image

image

On our last day in Beijing, we visited the ‘Birds Nest Stadium,’ the venue for the 2008 Olympic Games. Alex tried some traditional Peking Duck for lunch. It is cooked in a different way to the Peking Duck that is sold in the UK. Chefs hang 100 day old ducks upright in an oven heated with a fruitwood fire and then separate the skin from the meat using pressurised air. This technique leaves more space for the rendering fat to drain, resulting in a crisper, drier skin. The results were delicious! That evening, we also visited the Beijing Drum and Bell Towers, whilst locals danced in the square below them. We said goodbye to China the local way and said “Gambai” (meaning “cheers” or “down in one”) to a few too many beers in a local Hutong bar. The next morning, we boarded a train to Mongolia…

image

image

image

Exploring the cities of Eastern China…

From Hong Kong we travelled to Xiamen on the East Coast of China, where we spent the night before continuing our journey to Shanghai. Shanghai was very different to other places we had visited in China. Its varied Imperial history has produced buildings and culture, which are much more akin to Europe than anywhere else we had visited in China. We started out by visiting The Bund to see the colonial buildings on the waterfront and the impressive Pudong skyline, across the river. We had a wander through the People’s Square and came across a ‘marriage market.’ This is where well meaning, but some might say interfering, parents navigate through thousands of people’s profiles in the hope of finding suitors for their children.

image

image

image

After wandering through some parks and watching some old men playing Majong, we met up with an old friend of Kate’s from work, Vincent and his wife Jing, who live in Shanghai. They treated us to a delicious meal in one of of the Globes over looking the river. Alex tried the local delicacy of Duck’s Tongues and Kate was glad to be able to play the vegetarian card! We also tried Shanghai dumplings, which have a liquid soup, as well as filling, inside the dumplings. Thank you Vincent and Jing for all of your help and advice and for such a great evening out!

image

image

image

We had a number of days in Shanghai for sightseeing. We took a wander through the old town around Yùyuán Gardens and went up the World Financial Centre Observatory (affectionately known by locals as ‘The Bottle Opener’). At 474m it used to be the highest observatory in the world, before it was overtaken by the Burj. Even in Shanghai, its fame will be short lived, as the Shanghai Tower is about to be opened right next to it, which stands at a staggering 632m. We did a walking tour around the tree lined streets of the French Concession and after some tasty Dim Sum for lunch, we stopped off at the site of the First National Congress of the CCP, where we learnt about the beginnings of Communism in China. We also visited the Shanghai Museum, which has a vast collection of ancient Chinese bronzes and pottery; some of which are over 4000 years old.

image

image

image

We did a day trip to the old town of Wu Zhen, where we visited old canal side wooden buildings, filled with traditional artisans. We sampled some rice wine in an old fashioned distillery, had a look around a Ming Dynasty pawn shop and saw a number of other traditional crafts. We also watched an incredible gymnastic display from a man doing a performance of a traditional silk worm dance, whilst he was 20m up a long bending pole, without a harness.

image

image

image

Back in Shanghai, we did a Chinese cooking class. We started with a trip to a market where we had to barter for the ingredients in Mandarin and then learnt to cook three dishes. First we made a Hot and Sour Soup, then a dish called Mapo Tofu, which we had eaten when we were in Sichuan Province and finally we made some tasty Wontons. The Wontons were quite tricky at first to get the right shape, but we managed to make a few half decent looking ones in the end!

image

image

image

From Shanghai we travelled to Nánjīng, which has previously been the capital of China and there we visited the impressive Ming Dynasty city walls. We spent a depressing morning at the Memorial Hall of the Nánjīng Massacre. In 1937 the city was invaded by the Japanese, who in a period of just 6 weeks, brutally murdered over 300,000 people and raped thousands of women. The exhibition told the horrific stories of the massacre and also included some of the mass graves of the victims.

image

image

image

After our somber visit to the Memorial Hall, we were lucky that our visit to Nanjing coincided with the annual Dragon Boat Festival and we went to see the Dragon Boat races at Mochouhu Lake. It was a bit like a Chinese version of Henley, just without the Pimms and with a lot more dragons! We watched a number of races and were lucky to see the finals and the presentation ceremonies, where the winning team celebrated in style!

image

image

image

From Nánjīng we took a sleeper train to our next destination, Xi’An…

A quick border run to Hong Kong…

After the earthquakes scuppered our plans to travel to Nepal, we had to find an alternative route out of Tibet, before our Chinese visas ran out. We flew to Guangzhou in the South of China, where we had just one day before we had to leave the country. We visited Enning Road, the Canton Tower and had to shelter for nearly an hour from a torrential rain shower. The next day we took a train to Hong Kong.

image

We had briefly visited Hong Kong last year on our way to New Zealand, but were glad to have another chance to see a bit more. After a month in China, it felt very easy being in Hong Kong, where you could read all of the signs, ask questions in English and the toilets were comparatively amazing! We treated ourselves to a nicer hotel than our usual accommodation and were lucky to get a free upgrade to a room with a partial view over Victoria Harbour.

image

image

On our last visit to Hong Kong the weather had been bad and we hadn’t been able to see anything from Victoria Peak or the Tian Tan Buddha statue. Our first day was a mission to rectify this and we started by taking the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak. This time we had good weather and were rewarded with clear views across the harbour. In the afternoon we took the cable car from Tung Chung to see the Tian Tan Buddha. The cable car had spectacular views across the bay and it was interesting to watch the aeroplanes taking off and landing on Airport Island. (This was the same place that we had struggled to land, in bad weather conditions, on our way to Sydney, at the start of our trip in September!) We climbed up to see the Tian Tan Buddha, which stands at an impressive 34m and is the largest seated Buddha statue in the world. That evening Alex’s old boss Bowie, who lives in Hong Kong, treated us to a lovely dinner in Kowloon, overlooking the harbour. Thank you very much Bowie!

image

image

image

image

Whilst we were there, we did a day trip to the former Portuguese colony of Macau; which is a strange mix of the colonial past, with Portuguese buildings, squares and Catholic Churches, melded with ultramodern ostentatious casinos, that crowd the waterfront. We visited the ruins of St Paul’s Church and spent a few hours in the Macau Museum, which gave some interesting insights into Macau’s maritime past and the melting pot of cultures that have lived there. From the boat, we were interested to see that China appear to be building a new bridge from the mainland to Hong Kong. In the midst of the political disputes between China and Hong Kong, it will be interesting to see how Hong Kong changes as it gets closer to full absorption back into China.

image

image

image

Back in Hong Kong, we spent some time exploring Hong Kong Island. We took a bus around the island to the area where Alex’s Grandad had lived a few decades earlier. That evening we took the Star Ferry across to Kowloon, to watch the Light Show and see the junk boats from the Avenue of the Stars.

image

image

The next day, we took a train back to the Chinese mainland and then on to Xiamen, on the East coast of China…