June 13, 2010 GMT
Week 13-14


May 28th – there are probably worse places to be stuck than Ulaanbaatar, but at the moment, I can’t think where. We’re just leaking money here for some reason. I thought this part of Asia would be relatively cheap but not so. The shipping company are messing about, and the guy we’re dealing with seems not to understand words like ‘important to us’, ‘precious’, ‘all we own’. They don’t seem to have any idea of how to ship the bikes, and have just printed off the Internet a ‘how to prepare a bike for air-freight’ document. It’s all so frustrating.


May 31st – rode the bikes to a packing company, and then proceeded to take them to bits, so that they fit into a smaller crate. We were at the office at 09:20 and didn’t get back to the hotel until 22:00 – yes, they really took that long to do anything. But at least the packing company seemed to know what they were doing. The crates looked really solid, in a wooden sort of way.


June 1st - a public holiday here (Mother and Child Day). Everyone dressed up, and there was loads of street entertainment, and concerts in squares. A lovely day all round. We decided that now we have no need of secure parking, we can move to a cheaper hotel. And since we also are now going to be “back-packers”, we made the decision to embrace the whole backpacking thing, and so booked into a Youth Hostel. Yes I know we’re both nearer 50 than 20, but there’s no age-limit fortunately! We also had to go out and buy 2 rucksacks.


June 2nd – although we both had serious reservations about leaving the bikes without knowing they were on their way to Thailand, we knew we had to let the shipping company deal with it all. So we’re off to the airport for a flight to Beijing, China, while the bikes are expected to leave on 7th. Had booked a hostel prior to leaving Mongolia, so at least we knew where we were going. The hostel also booked us on a tour for tomorrow. We went out for a meal to a local restaurant, and Robert felt he’d like to have something spicy. When the waitress said “spicy pig’s feet’ I must admit I baulked a bit, and decided to order something with pork and quail’s eggs. Good decision as it happens – Robert’s face went bright red the more he tried to eat of the ‘toes’, and insisted that there was some good meat on there. I wasn’t convinced.


June 3rd – a 3-hour journey to see the Great Wall. Went to Jinshanling, and then hiked along it (24 watch towers in total) for 3 hours to Simatai. Exhausting, but just incredible. It really is as amazing as it looks in the pictures, and the effort and organization that must have gone into the building of this feat of engineering is just mind-boggling. My thighs and calves may never recover – it’s been a while since we did any exercise with those muscles. And Robert picked up a cold on the flight it would seem – either that, or he’s got malaria already. The traffic is just non-stop – and there don’t seem to be too many rules that anyone takes any notice of. Fairly relieved we’re not on the bikes.


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Caption 1: Robert on the Great Wall – it needs pointing in some places.


June 4th – another day of culture. Beihai Park, Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The park was a lovely place – full of pensioners exercising. Class of traditional t’ai-chi movers, and then a modern aerobics class getting down to Beyonce. The palace was really busy and overcrowded, and it was a bit of a disappointment really – the buildings are stunning, but you can’t get close to anything to see properly.


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Caption 2: Just inside the Forbidden City.


June 5th – Left Beijing at night on the overnight sleeper to Xi’an. Interesting journey – in a 4-berth room, with 2 Chinese blokes on the lower bunks. Surprisingly good night’s sleep though.


June 6th – arrived in Xi’an, and got free minibus to the hostel. Another cracking place – the staff at the hostels are so very helpful. Organised another tour for tomorrow. And Robert shared his cold with me.


June 7th – off to see the Terracotta Warriors. What a place – you can’t imagine the scale of the halls. And the intricate detail on the warriors is just amazing – the faces are the faces of the craftsmen who made them, and who were eventually killed under instruction of the Emperor. And it was all for the vanity of one bloke, wanting to take his empire into the next world. They’re not sure they’ve excavated everything so far, so there could be loads more still buried. Also went round the “Temple of the 8 Immortals”.


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Caption 3: Warrior and horse, Xi’an


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Caption 4: Classic view of hall with army stood in rows, Xi’an


June 8th – took a flight to Guangzhou, and then transferred to another to Bangkok. Landed at about 22:00 and seemed to have gained an hour somewhere along the line. Started to rain monsoon-like stair-rods as soon as we got outside, so got a taxi into Bangkok. Another hostel that looks dodgy from the outside, but is clean and welcoming inside. Definitely a dodgy area though – massage parlours every second shop, and Robert keeps getting invited to lots of sex shows.


June 9th – walked round Bangkok – far too warm and humid. Glad we’re not on the bikes in some ways, especially looking at the traffic! It’s almost as bad as Beijing. Emails from the shipping company say that there’s a problem with the bikes and they haven’t left Mongolia yet. Well how surprising is that.


June 10th – since there’s not a lot we can do to help get the bikes here, we’ve decided to see some of the sights of Bangkok. So we went to see Wat Trimit – a solid gold 5.5 ton Buddha in a temple. Also felt the urge to visit a branch of Boots and check out their stock. Not a patch on Sheffield High Street. They’ve even got Tesco here and there are a lot more western faces that we’re used to.


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Caption 5: 5.5 tons of loveliness, and that’s just the Buddha.


June 11th – visit to Wat Pho and the Grand Palace. Wat Pho is famous for its enormous Reclining Buddha (and I mean enormous). And the Palace has an emerald Buddha, but they don’t let you take pictures of it, and it’s so far away it could have been made of green plastic, for all we know. Another disappointing sight. But the Palace in general was impressive – lots of shiny temples and buddhas everywhere. And the World Cup started. Caught a tuk-tuk (those 3-wheel bike taxis) back to the hostel – never again.


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Caption 6: the enormous Reclining Buddha – 46 metres long.


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Caption 7: part of the Grand Palace.


June 12th – had a walk to the Baiyoke Sky Tower – 84 floors and the tallest Bangkok building. Thought it might be a good view, and it was certainly that. Still no news about the bikes and we both just feel like we’re wasting time and money here for no good reason.


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Caption 8: an aerial view of Bangkok.


June 13th – walked to Lumphini Park – saw some very large lizards in the water. We thought they were fish until it crawled out onto the bank – all 3 foot of it.

Posted by Sheila Oldfield at 10:18 AM GMT
 


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