After about a week and a half in Changsha finishing up school applications, I started to get antsy to do some more traveling before school started again. At first I was thinking of going north to Beijing and then Harbin for the Ice Festival.
Unfortunately Harbin just wasn’t possible. I had decided on Harbin too late and the train tickets were all sold out. Or more accurately, I wasn’t willing to spend 2+ days standing on a train without a seat in order to get up to Harbin. Instead of the freezing north, I went South to Yangshuo in the Guangxi Province. This was my first time traveling by myself in China, so ofcourse I missed my train stop, a mistake that extended the travel time by 9 hours. Beyond that everything went relatively smoothly, I bought tickets for buses and boats with no problem.
Yangshuo is a relatively small city that in the past decade has become very popular among foreign backpackers, especially rock climbers. The region around Yangshuo is full of large limestone hills. These hills are very famous in China and they are often the subject of paintings and poems.
The highlight of the trip was renting a bicycle and traveling through the surrounding countryside.
I met Ken in Yangshuo and ended up traveling with him for a day. He's from Shanghai and like most Chinese tourists had an enormous camera. He also had a binder of 200+ pages with information on things to do and places to stay in Yangshuo for his five day trip. Nice guy.
I’ll end with an unimpressive, but significant picture. The scene is from the China’s 20 Yuan bill:
20¥, about $3.00.
Unfortunately the morning I was there it was overcast, though still neat.
The city of Ayutthaya in northern Thailand was the capitol of the country for over 400 years, approximately from 1350-1750 AD. The Burmese destroyed the city the 18th century, but there are still some good ruins.
Old Map of Thailand (Siam)
During its time as a capitol city, Ayutthaya was one of the largest port cities in all of South East Asia. The Siamese traded with all the Chinese, Japanese, and all the European seapowers.
Unfortunately, most of the Buddas were beheaded by vandals.
Budda head in stone. My students in China were very impressed with this picture.
A final parting shot from Thailand. This me at a museum in Bangkok dressed as a Thai citizen from the 1950's. Note the vacation mustache.
After a few nights in Bangkok we headed south to the island Koh Pan’an.
A brief aside: Changsha in the winter is cold and wet. Its a tricky kind of cold, there is still a lot of humidity in the air so even though the temperature is usually above freezing the coldness seems to penetrate and get in between ones bones. So leaving Changsha for Thailand was nice, really really nice. When we were finishing the semester in Changhsa, nothing seemed better than spending a good chunk of time bumming around the beaches of Thailand.
Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures of our time on the Koh Pan’an, carrying around a camera everywhere like an anchor and keeping track of it on the beach just didn’t interest me at the time. I did get a few quality shots though.
Phil and Kelly
Phil, Victoria, Kelly
We spent 10 days on Koh Pan’an, the time mostly spent snorkeling, reading on the beach, hiking, eating, and a little bit of scuba diving. And we rented mopeds for the week, which was really fun.
Bangkok was crazy. I met up with friends and fellow teachers Phil and Victoria, and Phil’s friend from home Kelly. The very first day we were in Bangkok there was a large street festival outside our hostel. Lots of thai-food, live music, performance artists, and crafts.
Ladyboy cockfighter on the right.
At the street festival there were two men acting like roosters in a cockfight. Only underneath the bright silk head-dresses they were wearing heavy mascara and women’s makeup. And the fighting had strong homo-erotic overtones. The men would circle each other, attack each other, then one would start humping the other. They would retreat and then do it again.
Muay Thai fighter
We also saw a Muay Thai fight. Muay Thai is the national martial art and it’s a big deal. Muay Thai uses lots of elbow and knees. Phil mentioned that in the 80’s there was a huge mix martial arts competition in Asia with all the major disciplines represented. None could last more than a few minutes with the Muay Thai fighters. Usually profession events are expensive (for volunteer teachers), so we were pretty excited. But our excitement turned to horror when the fighters entered the ring. They were boys not older than 8 or 9. Literally. And they didn’t have special rules for the kids. It’s not like head shots were banned or the kids wore padded helmets like amateur boxers do. No, there kids were going at each other full on, bloody-ing each other up and everything. I’ve been in China for six months and it is radically different from the US, but wow, watching those kids fighting, with the crowd getting rowdy and cheering then on was total culture shock.
We didn’t spend much time in Bangkok. We wanted bright sun and warm water to swim in. We headed south to the island of Koh Pang’an for two weeks.
After a short ferry ride from Macau Danny and I were in Hong Kong.
After six months in China, where the only western food is McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut, the only thing Danny and I could talk about when we were first walking down the streets of Hong Kong was how we wanted to eat everything. Literally everything. We were blown away that 7-11 was in Hong Kong and we stopped at first one we saw. I got a chicken teriyaki sandwich (with bread, real bread! Not weird Chinese sweet bread embedded with pieces of hot dog) and Danny got a Ceasar Salad (vegetables that weren’t soggy or soaked in oil, can you imagine?). Then I got a slice of microwaveable pizza. And then I got a Slurpee. Then I added up how much I had just spent and realized the problem with Hong Kong. Like New York or London or Paris, Hong Kong is expensive. Especially if you are a volunteer teacher. Even 7-11 is expensive.
From Victoria Peak, Hong Kong Island is in the foreground and Kowloon Island in the background.
Our hostel room was comically small, two small twin beds separated by about eight inches consumed the windowless room. And piece of land in Hong Kong is extremely valuable and they truly squeeze as much use as possible out of every square inch. According to Guinness World Records, the area of Hong Kong we stayed in is the most densely populated neighborhood in the world.
From the Hong Kong Museum of Art, through the glass is Hong Kong Island.
Hong Kong felt like an even blend between a Chinese and western city. All the western mega-brands had a heavy presence. Most people spoke a little English and many spoke every well. There was a large recent immigrant population and not just Europeans and Americans, but many men from African countries and young women (prostitutes) from the Philippines and Vietnam. But it was still Chinese. From a street view, Chinese characters outnumbered English words by a fair margin. It was very crowded and very polluted. The color red was everywhere.
Hong Kong harbor at sun down.
My brief time in Hong Kong was nice, but I’m glad it was brief. Too many shopping malls, not enough museums or historical centers. The food was a nice change of pace, but I had an itch to travel that needed to be scratched. The destination was Thailand.
The beginning of February concluded my first semester teaching English in China and marked the beginning of a six week holiday before the second semester started.
Danny and I left Changsha as soon as possible, heading south to Guangzhou. Guangzhou is one of the biggest industrial in China. We were completely lost when we got to Guangzhou. We didn’t have a place to stay or even a map. To matters worse, people in Guangzhou don’t speak the same language as the people in Changsha, so we weren’t able to get basic questions answered. After walking around the train station for four hours (not an interesting part of Guangzhou, by the way), we jumped on a bus to Macau, the Los Vegas of China:
Macau is the only city in China where it is legal to gamble. But Danny and I didn’t have the money (or the interest) in gambling, so we spent most our time going to the historical areas. Macau was under Portuguese control until 1999, so there is a strong European influence.
Is this China?
Our hostel in Macau, nice digs.
I really liked Macau. The weather was mild and the food was an interesting blend of Chinese and Portuguese. It was a good way to spend three days. But Macau is a bit of a small town and we were ready for a big city, next up: Hong Kong.