A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about hostel

Buses and Lost Cash in Bangkok

At 7:30, we checked out and headed for the bus stop to find out that buses left every hour on the half hour so we'd just missed one. I ran to get us some 7-11 breakfast pastries and a ham and cheese that I later found out Ryan was slowly growing sick of. It was good we were there early as the van was quite full. We sat in the front row to make sure our bags didn't take up seats this time. Another French backpacker joined our row soon after.

The journey was standard with one bus station stop between us and the destination. In Ubon, we headed to the only bus there en route to Bangkok and snagged spacious front row tickets. They played Hollywood movies in Thai during the drive: Transformers 1 and 3, Escape Plan then a Thai comedy game show where the contestants would be attacked by water, whipped cream or projectiles while trying to complete tasks like describing an object for the other to guess it or Pictionary where the other team got to modify the original drawing. They also wore ridiculous and colourful costumes during the skits.

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We didn't get a lunch break, but I bought some BBQ eggs with seasoning at one of the bus stops. Supper was at a stop where I got shuffled around the food line due to communication issues. All I wanted was plain rice and a fried egg, both at different stalls apparently. We also bought some pretty awful mango. When we went outside, our bus was missing, but some people confirmed they were also on the Ubon to Bangkok bus. The buses seemed to be driving off to get a bus-wash nearby and sure enough ours came back.

Around Khao Yai area, it was nine thirty at night so I called the guesthouse we'd booked just to confirm we could check in at such a late hour. The guy had no issues with it and gave us directions. Traffic continued to be quite slow.

We arrived in Bangkok around 11 pm, and lined up with the Thais for a meter taxi (not one of the ones where the English speaking drivers approach you) to Sarawak road until we got near the address number. We got a little lost on foot after but a security guard walked us to the guesthouse and we were able to check in.

Once we arrived in our room, we counted our money and realized that we were short 1000 baht. As we recalled, Ryan had went to pay with 2000 baht. The receptionist asked for change and kept one of the thousands, then when we gave him the change amount we also included the other thousand. Ryan went down to talk to him about it and he double checked the books and denied that it had happened.

We did tallied up our expenses again, thinking we'd made the mistake, but down to every last piece of fruit we bought and a few hundred baht flex room in case we forgot something, we couldn't account for the missing thousand since our last bank withdrawal. It was too bad really, for an extra 1000 baht ($33), we could have gotten a much nicer room that didn't have filthy shared bathrooms. I was starting to see how people could not enjoy their time in the city I had enjoyed calling home two years ago.

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Posted by Sarah.M 21:54 Archived in Thailand Tagged taxi bus bangkok hostel transfer Comments (0)

Great Wall: Mutianyu

Nothing but blue skies!

sunny -2 °C

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Monday, time for the reason most people come to China: Great Wall! Our tour even included breakfast, if we could find Saga hostel again. It had been tricky enough yesterday, but we had it in memory now. We were the first ones there and ordered two American breakfasts. Despite that fact, our food came absolutely last and was a bit cold. We broke down and bought drinks that they failed to include in the 'complimentary but not really you paid for it in the tour price' breakfast.

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Our minivan of tourists drove ten minutes to reach a larger bus full of even more tourists. Unlike what we'd encountered in most of China, the bus was full of nearly forty foreigners. 'The most whities we've seen since leaving Canada,' Ryan proclaimed. Our guide found the number of people quite large as well.

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He gave us some background on the wall itself which spanned from the sea, past mountains and to the desert. Emperor Qin Shi Huan had decided
that they needed a wall to keep the Mongol invaders from pillaging villages. People today recognized his role in unifying China which was a collection of smaller locally governed communities prior to his rule. He unified the people with language and religion. He built the Great Wall to have a physical barrier and keep out the Mongols. But during his era, people were more likely to think of him as a tyrant who enslaved millions, a sizable chunk of the large population, and ran up large expenses building the wall and an elaborate tomb. People at the time had very few provisions as a result.

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Once we arrived at the wall, we opted to pay to take the cable car up as we only had three hours and wanted to make the most of them. Since it was early, the wall wasn't busy at all and the only line came from our busload. We got on our gondola with one other traveller. Mountains rose all around us and the Great Wall soon came into view. We were really there!

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Starting at watchtower 13, we began our journey. The temperature was rather pleasant and the skies were a perfect blue, nearly Asian-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) blue like when the government shut down factories and closed everything when the Western leaders held the conference in Beijing earlier that month. If the trees leaves weren't dead the pictures would have been even more phenomenal.

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The wall was narrower than we imagined, smaller than a lane of traffic. New bricks had been laid to make walking easier. Eventually, the photogenic winding wall became an uphill challenge. A woman along the way had forgotten water. We would have shared if we weren't running on a low supply ourselves.

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We passed the 'No tourists' sign as our guide had instructed. The woman selling snacks there didn't say anything either. There was another vendor past that point anyway so the sign was more of an 'at your own risk thing'. That's what travel insurance is for, just kidding.

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The bricks' placement became sporadic with some sideways, others missing and other parts reclaimed by vegetation. It got easier to walk on soon after and there were always people in front of us which had to be a good sign. We kept walking just past the halfway point time-wise. After a few more pictures, we ventured back.

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We met an American man on the way who was teaching ESL an hour South of Beijing. Monday and Tuesday were his weekend so he was just visiting. He had wanted to teach abroad elsewhere but got quite a few offers from China after uploading his resume. He worked with quite a few Canadians too, mainly from the Maritimes. We ended up chatting about travelling and working abroad the rest of the way back. We made much better time than anticipated.

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Ryan and I explored the other side of the wall on our own, not ready to leave just yet. The wall kept winding and winding. Off in the distance, we could see small watchtowers. It felt like we were in Middle Earth or something like that. The walls themselves had interesting drainage systems running down the sides too.

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Even though the walls were quite high, in the past the Mongols had been able to scale the walls, but getting back with the goods they'd pillaged from the villages was much more challenging, so it served as a deterrent. Guards in the watchtowers also kept the country safe.
China's flaw with the wall had been spreading themselves too thin and not providing supplies to their guards. The Mongol leader, Genghis Khan, bribed the cold, hungry guards, overtook the wall and became the emperor of China.

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Nearly lunch hour, we rode the gondola down and walked to Mr. Yang's restaurant. We joined a table of ten or so other tourists from our bus and waited for plate after plate of food to be placed on the table. There were at least a dozen different dishes and I could even eat half of them. The highlight for me was the spicy cabbage and greens. I hadn't eaten this well with Chinese food in awhile.

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It was nice to actually have a ride back to my friend's neighbourhood, although the walk back from Saga was brutally cold. Ryan and I ventured back to the dumpling place for supper with the translation and Chinese characters for eggplant saved on his phone. We couldn't find the dish in the English menu so we asked for the Chinese. They were quite surprised. We managed to order what we wanted and while it wasn't exactly the same as the dish we had on our first day, it was still delicious and meat-free. The Chinese couple next to us ordered the same thing afterward.

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Posted by Sarah.M 23:32 Archived in China Tagged china great hostel beijing tour wall moutain khan genghis saga mongols Comments (0)

On the train to Guilin

semi-overcast 18 °C

Despite almost missing our train, the whole ride was a great experience. We slept soundly on our bottom and middle bunks. Trains in the hard sleeper class (still not as hard as my mattress in Thailand) had three bunks, the top one being the most cramped and cheapest, requiring quite a climb. It was nice to enjoy the bottom bunk where we could actually sit up and have a conversation in the morning.

We bought some snacks for breakfast which turned out to be expired dried yam and we could really tell that those weren't fresh. Quite the chewy affair. I also snagged expired orange juice that thankfully didn't make me sick. It was carbonated and sugary enough that I figured it'd be okay. The dates also could be packaged dates but based on our expired chocolate we couldn't be too sure.

We kept watching the countryside migrate become less and less urban as we headed away from the coastal areas. The landscape became more rocky, and mountainous. Ryan spotted some rice terraces as well.

The captain of the train -- perhaps just a worker, their uniforms were so official looking -- was quite intrigued with our presence. Although he spoke no English and we no Chinese, he kept trying to have conversations with us. Our short sleeves were too provocative for his tastes and he was quite concerned we'd be cold. He checked out Ryan's luggage tags on another visit too. When I finally changed into a shirt with three quarter length sleeves, I gained his approval.

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A few hours later, one of the woman working helped us get off at the right stop at Guilin. From the train station, there were tons of vendors calling out for tours to Yangshuo or to the rice terraces, but we wanted to find our bus station instead to avoid getting scammed. Once we walked the street, passing many fruit vendors -- selling oranges, bananas, pomelo, rambutan and even one that was yellow and appeared to have fingers called Buddha's hand -- and restaurants, we made it to the train station. We were happy to find a woman who spoke English at the ticket counter, but less thrilled that we still weren't at the right ticket station. Luckily, she wrote us out directions to the next one in Chinese to show the driver along with the bus driver.

At the other bus station, another woman spoke English at the ticket counter. We were getting spoiled in Guilin and we boarded a bus to Heping that left about twenty minutes later. The driver really gave our nerves a workout with a driving practise that's less common in North America: driving into the oncoming lane to pass even when there's oncoming traffic, as well as honking the horn when the other cars, in their own lane, refuse to move over. It really got the heart racing and I was surprised they still had functional horns on their vehicles.

We didn't arrive at our transfer spot, the town of Heping, until after five. All the public buses had gone, but there was one guy willing to take us up for 40RMB each. It seemed steep but he was the only game around so we hopped in, got our rice terrace entry tickets at the office, and he drove up the mountain as the sun began to go down. We could still see the terraces climbing the side of the mountains as we drove. The driver stopped at one point on the mountain and Ryan got ready to fight him, unsure of his motives. It was just nature calling and the man came right back.

When we arrived at the gate, I figured out why our driver had been texting people along the drive. Woman and men with large baskets offered to carry up our bags for us but we declined. Others were trying to sell us rooms. A woman followed us for a few kilometers advertising her hotel, but we knew of a hostel we wanted to stay at, since they would have some English to help us plan, and we told her we had already booked a place. It was another kilometer or two up the road, past construction, but luckily the hostelling international sign helped reassure us that by pure luck we were in the right place.

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The room was alright, thin wooden walls and a bit cold, but the right price. The floors creaked like nobody's business to go down to the third floor to use the washroom. But they had free laundry facilities, aka a sink and clothes line, and a restaurant with an English menu so we could eat supper: noodles and beef for Ryan and bamboo and egg for myself.

Posted by Sarah.M 15:59 Archived in China Tagged train rice fruit hostel terrace expired longji chewy Comments (1)

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