So I’m getting ready this summers big adventure and I would say it will be the train ride of my life. From Moscow to Beijing by train. Right now I’m having a cup of coffee and tries to figure out what I have packed in my luggage and what I really need. I mean, I will be traveling for about five weeks, going through seven timezones. According to our little plan we will live in everything from tent in the wilderness to hotels in mega cities and since we don’t have any base camp we have to bring everything with us, all the time. If I got everything I need? No idea but at least I’m pleased with the size/weight of my backpack.
Regarding our plan its just as simple as genius:
Step one: Go all in in and dry Moscow of vodka. Once the city are in ruins lets jump on the train heading east.
Step two: Hold a low profile on the train and investigate Siberia, no matter how beautiful it will be I don’t wanna be stuck in a gulag camp for the rest of my life.
Step three: What is Mongolia? Well I heard that its a country built on nomads with a lot of horses but thats it, lets find out what its really is.
Step four: China is close, China is huge and they have pandas. We must see pandas, end of story!
A long time ago I read that simple plans are the best, that would mean that our plan is the best!
After a long and boring train ride to Copenhagen we finally arrived to the airport, for some reason our train actually arrived to the airport according to the time schedule which is not that common in Sweden so we had a lot of time to spend on the airport. Well, thats not really a problem and a couple of beers later we boarded the plane and headed for Moscow. It was me and Anton and 30 Chinese people so we started to think are we really in the right plane but I guess its the cheapest way to fly to Asia.
The food on the Aeroflot plane was the worst thing I ever had, a dry sandwich, a tiny slice of cheese and a huge slice of ham but luckily for us we landed in Moscow right after this wonderful “lunch”. The security control in Moscow was rigorous, the only time my passport been examined with a magnifier, the tore the passport and really looked through both the passport and visa extremely carefully before we were welcome to Russia together with a piece of paper which I have no idea what to do with.
We decided to grab a taxi to our hotel instead of fighting or way through the metro system. I think the metro would be faster because we stay at a hotel on the other side of Moscow but it was quite fun to see the suburbs, the crazy highway traffic and if you think that the Swedish suburbs are boring, welcome to see this! Moscow is the biggest city in Europe and the complexes and houses are huge. The condition of the houses are very different, some a newly built, some looks like they are falling apart any time, unfortunately I didn’t took any photos because I was busy just to try to survive our taxi trip.
Our hotel is descent, I mean for €25 a night its really nice but its located little bit off, its filled with the same Chinese people as from our plane and the hotel is former apartment houses which has been built together to form a hotel, it looks kind a special but for us it will be perfect. Now we will head out and find us some diner and vodka!
The language would be a challenge that much did we know but that it would be hard to even navigate around in Moscow, that we wasn’t prepared for. To be honest, its freaking impossible to know which station you should jump of the metro at, which line you should take or which exit you should aim for. Yesterday we took the wrong exit and it took us nearly one hour to find our way back again. Lucky for us it was in the middle of the night and only twenty degrees outside cause during they days its really hot here and you need to drink a lot 🙂
Anyway, there a lot of rumors about how fancy the metro stations are but I don’t know. Sure some of them are really nice but most of em just contains fake wood and marble its the shit, however they should get creds for how big and well working it is. Sometimes it feels like you really never have to go up surface and there are tunnels everywhere.
We spent the day around the red square and Kremlin, since its so hot outside we spent plenty of time making sure that our liquid level are in shape, just according to our plan 🙂
Our plan was to go all in in Moscow and dry it of vodka and yesterday we aimed for just that but I confess, we failed with our mission but one thing at the time.
Around midnight we headed downtown, of course well dressed this shirts and long pants and we almost died of head since it was so warm outside. Anyway we find a nice restaurant for some late dinner and then we started to walk bar by bar until we found some clubs. a really short conclusion is that you more or less is screwed if you don’t speak Russian, you are welcome to the bars and clubs but you can barely speak to anyone, we did however manage with some sign language, pointing at images but it kind a sucks then you cant speak to the people.
We did however found some clubs and we partying as hard as we could but it was still nothing compared to the Russians, they can party! Early morning and we decide its time to get back home we realize that the metro is closed and we have no idea where we are or where our hotel is, we have only memorized the metro station name. No panic though so we started to walk around and when we found Kremlin we at least knew where we were and we found a park bench to lay down and rest for an hour until the metro open again. Now after I looks at the maps I know we slept in the Alexander Garden park and well, it worked fine even if there was plenty of people walking around and at 7 in the morning we shared the metro with people going to their work while we were going to our hostel to get some sleep.
Tomorrow we will jump on the train towards Irkutsk and who knows when we get WIFI again but more updates will follow, the evening here will be calm because it feels like a train hit me yesterday.
With plenty of time we checked out from the hotel and started to our journey towards the railway station. Since we cant read the signs (we really should have learned the Cyrillic alphabet before this trip) we counted stations while going with the metro and it worked like a charm. At the railway stations we started to walk around randomly to try to find our train and normally you always see a lot of bums, homeless people around places like this but not here. Actually thats for the whole Moscow, no bums, no homeless people but instead police officers and soldiers everywhere. At the station we found the information center and they helped us find our train, in Russian of course but we starts to get the hang of sign language now so that was not a problem. While leaving the station we see that to enter you have to go through a security checkpoint including x-raying your luggage, well since we took a side entrance where the guards having a smoking break we never had to do that, well done Moscow!
We found our train to Irkutsk or wherever its going and tries to jump on it but no no, before you can actually board the train you have to show em your passport and your ticket. This is really nice since you know you jump on the right train and at the right wagon, no worries that you jump on the first wagon and then have to walk inside the whole train to the last wagon and of course, you are 100% sure that you are on the right train!
The standard of the train is descent and what i expected, the beds are hard like rocks, the furnishing is plastic wood imitation and our lamps looks like they are imported directly from the 80’s. We live in a four bed compartment and therefore share it with two older Russian ladies. Of course they only speak Russians so we have a slightly limited communication but they seems nice and the sign language also works here. Each wagon on the train has its own wooden fire kettle so you can always get some hot water for tea or noodles or want to make some freeze dried food. Our Russian ladies had brought themselves plenty of food though and you should see it, they were taking up the whole compartment with food and I cant help to think if they have anything else in their luggage than food.
Each wagon also have a small kiosk selling candy, tea and other small stuff. Me and Anton, we are going to the restaurant wagon instead though and get some proper food which actually are really good. The food is properly made here and besides I have some issues with the Russian breakfast (cabbage, cabbage in all forms) its really nice and who can complains when you get salmon, 6 beers and and 4 shots of vodka for €25.
During the first night on the train it was warm like a sauna in our compartment, tonight it was the opposite and I could almost see frost in my beard. I have no idea how high we climbed during passing the Ural mountains or what happen but it was could, now we passed the mountains and the temperature is back to normal and outside the window the Siberian countryside slowly passing by,
The tempo here on the train is much like the train itself, there is plenty of room for self reflection, thoughts. Anton spends most of the time sleeping but he woke up really quickly once we decided that we westerners should go to the restaurant wagon for a beer together. In our wagon we have a couple from Holland, one guy from Italy and in the next wagon we fond a couple from Ireland and another group from Italy so suddenly we were a pretty big group of people, ordering beer and vodka like there is no tomorrow. We did impress some of the people with our vodka drinking and we made people laugh when we made the dutch girl try some Swedish snus and her face turned from white to green.
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere the train stopped and we jumped of to get some local food. We bought some huge Russian pasty which was really, really good and when we tried to ask whats the filling was the old women put her hands to the head to look like a cow and said a loudly “Mooooh”. It might be the beers but we instantly started to laugh and that was for sure a morale booster. Once the train started to move again the train was filled with people trying to sell stuff to you, mostly junk and nothing really interesting but I guess they make some money of it and to be honest, everything new is nice but we decided to continue to hang our with our new friends and drink some more Russian vodka until a female from the train staff with a bigger mustache than any of us has yelled at us because we were to loud.
The days start to melt together and I have serious problem to say what happen today or yesterday, what time or even date it is. On the train we are living in or own world, our own twilight zone completely disconnect from the rest of the world while we slowly traveling through the Siberian wasteland. We westerns are hanging out and discuss everything form serious subjects like IRA or Berlusconi to more easy subjects like how crazy Russians really are or which vodka or beer is best.
During the evenings its been pretty much party all the time and yesterday we all went crazy, a gang of Russians hit the bottle pretty hard and we joined em. After a while we even got the staff on the train with us and we were a real nice mix of westerners, Russians and staff all drinking and having fun. One of the Russian guys even borrowed a apron from the staff and freelanced to serve us drinks, it was a blast until the police arrived and more or less gave us a direct order to go to bed. I guess this was for the best because I bet we would have missed our stop if we continued partying like that all night. We did not miss our stop and early morning we jumped of the train in Irkutsk where we are now.Minor problem to check in at the hotel since they couldn’t find our reservation first and the language makes it ever more difficult but we manage to solve it and now we are relaxing at the hotel. After 4 days non-stop on a train I’m actually seasick now, it feels like my body has tuned in that its supposed to move and swing all the time and now when it doesn’t do it my body still compensate for it which make me seasick. Hopefully it will go over pretty soon case its not very nice feeling,
Today has been a really calm day with not a lot of action because a couple of reasons:
1. We are jet lagged, I’m not sure you can be jet lagged by a train going 60km/h but it feels like jetlagged at least
2. We have caught some sort of Russian super virus which kicks both the bird flue, swine influenza and AID, together! The result is that it feels like my throat is growing together and you spit slime that corrodes a hole in the street.
3. We have a slightly small need of taking a sober day and just relax and let our bodies heal from the last days of partying.
Anyway, we took a small walk in the city and the first impression is that we might have made a bad decision on how long time we will stay here in Irkutsk. In a afternoon we pretty much did the city center and for being a city with a population of 600 000 it feels kind a small. Anyway, we haven’t seen everything yet and in worst case we will do like all other tourist, head out to Lake Baikal, our first mission is to find a pharmacy and cure this virus…
Has been a really bad night here in Irkutsk and even if I thought that it was impossible to get worse beds than on the train I miss em and to make it even worse we had a gang war outside our hotel all night between rival dogs. Finally I fell a sleep and then I woke up I felt a little better than yesterday at least. Anton was worse though so we decided to head out and find a pharmacy.
To buy medicine in a new country is always special and to spice it up they don’t speak English here and all labels are written with Cyrillic alphabet. They clerk were very helpful though and after some sign language we got a bunch of colorful pills. I have no idea what we bought but we mix them with some classic pills from back home it seems to work, headache disappear and it feels like you can talk again and once it start to feel bad again its just to load up another hand of colorful pills.
We spent the day downtown along the river and we got our first came contact, a reindeer and a shit loads of horses. I don’t know if there was something special today but it was like a classic city festival with all kind of different activities. Then big difference compared to Swedish city festivals? No drunks, no red necks and way more polices here. Its also a big drifting event a bit further away that our Russian friends are attending too but neither me or Anton had the energy or felt that it would be fun to watch a car race today so instead we just chilled and enjoyed life along the water.
Last day in Irkutsk and we spent in in the race track. We woke up well rested and surprisingly felt really good we headed downtown for some breakfast. While eating breakfast I got a text from the italian guys we met on the train and they were heading for the drifting event so we decided to join them. Its a nice sunny day so why not see some drifting in real life with some good friends. While we were standing in queue to buy tickets for the event the Russian we partied with on the train by. They went to Irkutsk just for this event and so happy to see us and they promised to fix us in for free if we just waited a minute. A minute later we suddenly had an ID batch saying that we were a part of their crew and before we knew it we were at the drivers meeting before the race. Everything was of course in Russian and me and Anton did not understand anything but it was really nice to walk around among all the cars. I think i too hundreds of photos but as a teaser you can see a short film clip instead:
The afternoon and evening was spent together with the Italians, a nice and funny surprise was that the Irish couple came by too. It feels a bit sad that we wont see them again during this trip but hopefully we will meet up the Italians once we reach Beijing. All together it was an early evening, Italians left at 22 and me and Antons train are leaving tomorrow morning at 5.
After a few days here in Irkutsk it actually feels nice to get moving again. Sure the city has around 600 000 citizens and everything is crazy cheap but I start to get bored and every Russian guy we met who actually speak English ask us the same question: What a fuck are you doing here?
Tomorrow we will go to UlaanBataar and directly from the train we will go camping. In other words it will be radio silence from me for a couple of days but I think you will survive and I will update again once I get Internet connection again
After just a couple of hours sleep it was time to get the bags and take a nightly walk through Irkutsk and to the train station and jump on the train toward Mongolia and Ulanbaator, It might not been our brightest idea to walk alone, as two tourist with all our luggage through the city in the middle of the night but we had no problem what so ever and to be honest, I never felt unsafe here in Russia. On our way to the train station we stopped at a 24/7 open cafe and bought some Russian pasty and while we stood outside and munching our a cop car arrived with the same goal. From this tiny Renault 19 four huge police officers jump out, together with Kalashnikov’s of course. I have no idea how that tony car could fit em all and its quite a difference compared to Sweden there they cops has an huge Volvo for themselves.
The same procedure again to board the train with showing your tickets and passport which is really nice and easy, unfortunately this train had lower standard and you could not open any windows. It hot, stuffy and pretty shitty on the train which may be explained that the train has been running non-stop from Moscow, 6500km away. This time we had a Scandinavian compartment, me and Anton together with two danish guys. Nice but we are bored and the heat make us easily annoyed about more or less everything, it will be nice to arrive to Ulanbaator.
We passed lake Baikal during the night so I couldn’t shoot any picture of it and after that the landscape has opened up with big, wide rivers. If it wasn’t for the pointy mountains you could think we were taking a train ride through the Swedish mountains, The few houses we seen remind of mountain cabins but here its the their permanent residence.I haven’t seen any arable and the few animals we see if groups of 4-5 cows.
The biggest challenge was to cross the border though. I you think that this should be an easy process since the train is passing here on daily basis you thought wrong. First they collected all the passports on the train, then they passed them over to the soldiers who were checking that you were allowed to leave, had visa and everything. At the same time another group of soldiers boarded the train with dogs and they really tore downed the whole train is their search for contraband. Once they finally has checked the whole train (which is a long, long train) the soldiers board the train and starts to hand over the passports, of course verifying that its you on your passport. About three hours later we were finally allowed to pass the boarder and we roll away, for about 20km and then the whole process starts over again, this time with Mongolian soldiers and police officers.
We arrived to Ulanbaator and just as we planned we had a driver waiting for us, time to go camping!
According to the pre-information we got we knew it should take around 3 hours to drive to our camp where the first hour would be on tarmac roads and from that, “more exciting roads”. I would say that the tarmac road was exciting and lasted for around 30 minutes, once we came outside of the city no more tarmac but way more adrenalin and what a view. I mean I have been riding downhill tracks on my bike or drove motocross on tracks which were in better conditions than the roads we drove today. Besides driving on cattle tracks we drove on the Mongolian steppe, through mountain passes and yes, over mountains.
Once we arrived at the camp we saw that our camps is five our six gers and the view from here is amazing. You can see high mountains, deep valleys, rivers and untouched nature. Absolutely breathtaking and all the silence, oh my god! The only things that we hear is our own loudly laughs when we miscalculated how warm it will be inside the tent once we light up the fire (wehave around 60C right now) or when we realize that that asian girl is not an escort girl, shes a guide for a big Swedish group.
Everybody except me and Anton has so much gears, it feels like they emptied a outdoor store and everybody is walking around like a commercial somewhere in the wilderness, well except me and Anton. We have regulare jeans, a shirt, sneakers and a big bag of beer with us. The look they gave us is priceless when we open the first bottle of beer and decided to climb the closest peak. That wasn’t any problem and we both climbed to the top and got down again to base camp and after that we were blacklisted by the other swedes. I really don’t care since I don’t travel around the world to meet other swedes anyway.
Woke up in the middle of the night that finally the heat started to leave the tent and I could use the blanket, feels good to not have to sleep in a sauna anymore and a few hours later we woke up and got the best breakfast on the whole trip. Even if we are in the middle of nowhere we gets some toast (over open fire so it has that lovely smoke taste), juice, tea, pancakes and you name it, I just love it!
The mission for today was to see Mongolia Genghis Khan style, in other words just get ready and mount the horse and start horseback riding. The horses are much smaller than the horses you see in Sweden but don’t get fooled, they are fast and used to run in the mountains, My horse was probably on speed so if I didn’t actively hold him back he started to run while Antons horse was more…hungry and took any opportunity he had to eat. Our guide solved this issue by simple create a horsewhip from an old tree and after he learned us the Mongolian word for speed up we could suddenly talk to our horses. To bad we didn’t learn the word to stop or slow down because the horse didn’t care how much you tried to hold him back, luckily we were riding in mountains and I simple turned the horse riding uphill to slow him down. A few hours in you started to get a feeling for it and you could really enjoy the views and for a second or two you felt like Genghis Kahn.
After our horseback riding we decided to go river rafting, a long hike later and we are finally gently following the stream. It was nice and even if I wished for some more action it was really nice to follow the stream, see the nature and just enjoy the silence . When the sun started to set our guides started to sing a Mongolian song which made the whole scenery really picturesquely.
The other Swedish gang left today so now its only us, one British, one American and one German here, it feels good and the atmosphere is much better. The locals we kind a havent seen many and in this camp there is only one who speaks English, she is nice thought so I assume they all are.
After our camping trip it was time to visit Ulaanbaatar and since we been on the road for a while now we decided to go for a little nicer hotel so we could wash our clothes and really live central and central it was. Our closest neighbors was a coupe of embassies and we had somewhere around five minute walk to Sükbaatar square which must be counted as city center but nicer hotel? Well I’m not sure about that. I woke up this morning that Anton had to take a leak an once he opened the door to our bathroom the whole room was filled with water. Somehow the sink broke during the night and slowly filled the bathroom floor with water, gradient or floor drain is of course missing so even if it didn’t leaked much from the sink it slowly filled our bathroom with water. Lucky for us we had no stuff in the bathroom and we got upgraded to a suite instead so we don’t complain and besides that, we got all newly washed clothes now, whoho!
Ulaanbaatar is a quite boring city though, sure there is people and classic city life, even more than in Irkutsk but I got a weird feeling about the city. In one way it feels like a big city since there is people and they are building everywhere but at the same time all bars and restaurants are closing down at midnight which makes it feels like a small city. The city is also very young and got no real history or tourist attractions. well they have a few museums and plenty of temples but overall it feels like two days is more than enough here.
Mongolia is a country I really recommend to visit but don’t stay here in Ulaanbaatar, go out in the wilderness instead, live in gers, go horseback riding, hiking and enjoy the silence and the nature. Ulaanbaatar is worth a visit but you don’t need more than a day or two here so you can say, checked!
We decided to spend our last night in Mongolia partying and checking out the nightlife before we jump on the train towards Beijing. It may sound like a stupid idea because who wants to be hangover on the train but it actually was a really smart thing to do. First of all its really boring to go by train through the Mongolian desert. The nature look all the same and it gets really boring after a while.
We are now going by a Chinese train and this is really modern compared with the old Russian train. We have air condition, power outlet and even a TV in our compartment. The train is much more silent and overall more nice. It kind a felt bad in the beginning, like we were cheating but during on of the longer stops and I took a walk outside the train and almost died because of the heat I change my mind and now I’m really thankful for the air condition.
The border between Mongolia and China went actually really quick, well it took a couple of hours of course but the Chinese custom lady was the first one on this train trip who both was happy and friendly and could speak English with us (in official business) which a nice surprise. However China and Mongolia has different size of the tracks so while we were going through customs they changed the undercarriage on the whole train. This was the part which took forever and even if it was really interesting to see how they manage to do it for the first wagon, you get restless and while they are doing it the air condition/power is offline, the toilets are closed and you are not allowed to leave the train. I tried to shoot some photos of it but it was challenging to get a good one.
The scenery here in China was more or less the same as in Mongolia but now we actually see traces of agricultural and now and then you pass by houses and even trees.
Around two a clock we arrived to Beijing and the heat and street life was smack in your face. Sure I was expecting it to be hot and a lot of people but I still wasn’t prepared for this. Anyone our Transmongolian trip was over and we had finally reached China and Beijing. Our trip doesn’t end here but our first mission was to get some cash, unfortunately I have region restriction on my card and guess who forgot to unlock China. So instead of finding an ATM we headed out to find WIFI so I could unlock my card. We found a McDonalds and after some struggling with the registration to get access to the WIFI we were online and I could finally unlock my card, normally its not that hard to register but at this place all text were only in Chinese and it was not that easy to understand what to write where but we did it! Finding an ATM was easy, finding an ATM which accepts 4-digit pin code, not so simple, apparently China use 6 digit pin code as standard but after some trial and error and tried several banks we found Bank of China and we had money again!
Next question was how should we get to the hotel, in our quest for money we had walked towards our hotel so we were only three blocks away. It doesn’t look that far on the map and it could be nice with a walk after all that time on the train. Well, we never thought of our backpacks and the head, we did succeed to get to the hotel but it was sweaty and I really did enjoy a cold shower once we checked in.
We spent the evening walking around close to the hotel, visited a apple store to get a network card for my laptop (yes, huge apple store), small markets and when we found an arcade we knew directly how we would spend the evening. For €5 we played for over two hours, from pinball to some old Rambo game (which was really bad). We ended the evening on a Chinese pub drinking beer with some chinese guys and to all you who say that asian people cant handle alcohol? You never met these guys, the evening got kind a blurry before we went back to the hotel.
We didnt slept many hours before our phone started to ring and our guide told us that she was waiting in the lobby and it was time to go exploring. Our first goal was the great wall of China which I think is a must do when you are in China for the first time. Im not sure what to say about it though, I mean after all its just a long, really long wall, its pretty high but what impress me the most is that its built without any modern machines and they where smart and used the nature so its built on top of ridges. It is for sure impressive but at the same time, its just a wall. I really recommend you to go here and see it but at the same time I have to quote Karl Pilkington from A idiot abroad; “I’ll decide if it’s great or not. It might end up being the ‘All Right Wall of China’ to me.” . However I can now check another of the wonders of the world but I cant shake the feeling that you go here, you look, and you leave.
Straight after we visited the wall we decided to head over to the tombs of Ming Dynasty. And once we got there we realized that it was closed for restoration, bummer! We saw glimpse of it it and we could walk the holy imperial road but that was it. Maybe not what we expected but how interesting can a number of graves be?
Since we were living the tourist way of life we continued to visit a cloisonnes factory were we beside looking at how the actually made jade jewelery and art had an huge lunch containing 7 or 8 dishes. This was our first meal for the day and the hungover from yesterday finally started to disappear and we finally started to feel like humans again. The factory was pretty interesting but it was kind a tourist trap where they kind a forced you to buy stuff after you looked at they created then. The day continued with visiting the former Olympic village, the bird nest (the stadium) was actually more impressive than the great wall. We visited a proper tea house and we had some traditional Chinese massage. During the massage where were a “witch doctor” who looked into your hand and could tell your health. According to him we were dying and of course he had the cure for it if we had the dollars. Well, I knew it was a hard night yesterday but I don’t need expensive medicine to cure that, all I need is some more massage and some rest so we firmly said thank you but no thanks and run away.
Today we spent the day at Beijing Zoo and of course their aquarium, it took around six hours to walk through the whole park and yes, we saw some pandas! My feet hurts after all walking, Im thirsty like a camel and sweaty like you don’t wanna know so I wont write much more today more than it was an awesome day. We saw Tapir, ant eaters, bears, ostrich, pandas and a lot of other animals. By luck we timed in so we also saw a dolphin/sea lion show. Of course if you seen one of those shows you seen em all but still, sea lions are always fun to watch and beluga was new for me. What was really weird though was the music to the show, it was German, in German, about Germany but hey, the Chinese loved it and me and Anton, we just laughed about it.
Yesterday we started on our “lets eat weird stuff today”, it wasn’t really planned but we met up our Italian friends from the train together with two Swiss girls, a Russian and a German and since they was looking forward to try some Chinese specialties we joined em and I have to say that barbecued octopus is really good, Scorpion tastes like bacon and those beetles, they just taste weird. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera but there will be more opportunities for pictures.
After all these starters we decided to go to a real restaurant and we ordered so much food. We came to the restaurant pretty late and just after we ordered our waitress told us that they were closing now but we can of course stay as long as we want but they will close the kitchen and the staff will go home. It felt a bit weird but we were a pretty big group and had a really nice time so we kind a forgot that they were closed. Instead we were reveled in food (Beijing duck is hard to eat with chop sticks, but worth it once you get any into your mouth). A couple of hours later and we decided to move out and then we realize that the whole restaurant is pitch dark except our VIP-room and there is no staff there, well there was one sleeping behind the bar. he looked kind a happy when we decided to leave so he could close down for real and go home but I mean come on, that is service mind!Today we were supposed to go on a guided tour in the forbidden city and the summer palace but because of bad weather (rain, fog and smog) our guide advised us to change it to tomorrow instead. For us that sounded good so instead we walked over to the railway station and tried to by tickets for our next stop, Shanghai. That was not as easy as you could think though, all signs were in Chinese, they only talked Chinese and we were totally lost. Sometimes I do use my brain thought so I ran over to the nearby McDonald’s and used their WIFI again, this time I used google translate, entered the text that I want to buy two tickets to Shanghai with the date and clock and pressed translate to Chinese. I then ran back to the counter and showed my phone for the girl and success, we got our tickets! A neat trip over 13000km which will take around five hours. That means no more slow trans-siberian rail, instead we go for Chinese high speed train!
Many people write to me and ask more or less the same questions so my idea with this post is to answer them. The questions are just random so, no sorting order here
- Did you get happy ending on the Chinese massage?
No, this was a true massage institute with no intentions of anything except massage. There are however plenty of places which more or less wide open say that you will get happy ending and you cant walk down the street in Beijing without at least some people ask if you want some.
- Hows the toilets?
Russia use the same standard as western Europe and that includes the trans-Siberian train too. There was no paper on the train though so bring your own and you will flush everything just straight below the train which means that the toilets are closed while the train has stopped on a station. They were always decent clean though! On our camp in Ulaanbaatar we had a classic toilet chair over a hole, when its time to close the camp you just fill the whole with dirt and move your chair to the new place. In Mongolia and China we have seen all kind of toilets, from just a hole in the ground to regular toilets like the one we are used to.
- Can you take a shower on the train?
No, at least not in second or third class. Third class which is the cheapest means its more or less just a lot of beds in a wagon. You will more or less be sitting and sleeping at your neighbor and this is the hard core class. In second class you have 4-bed compartments and if you want to sleep or relax you can easily close your door. Of course you might share your compartment with some other people but at least its a limited number of people. First class might have a shower but I doubt it and I assume its kind a luxury. I went by second class and even if that means that I didn’t took a shower during those four days it took to get to Irkutskt it wasn’t that bad and everybody on the train were the same. I did enjoy the shower once I took it in Irkutsk though.
- Hows the food?
The food is far away from the “Swedish Chinese food” you can find and it taste really, really good. Every dish is like an explosion of flavors and its cheap. Normally you order a couple of different dishes to the table and then you eat from the one you like most. I must however give the advice to learn to eat with chopsticks before you go, Anton didn’t and he struggled before he learned how to eat. I must confess that neither the Russian cabbage or Chinese rice breakfast is a favorite but you can always eat something else.
- Does English work??
Sometimes but in Russia mostly no. In Mongolia and China many signs are in English and you can actually speak with people however there is many typos and you may not get answer on the question you asked. With some sign language and good will you will manage anyway.
- Do you recommend the trip?
Oh yea but do not expect an all inclusive trip. You will be confused, live like a bum and meet a lot of different people and different culture
Today was another day of being a tourist and the camera was always ready to be shooting, almost like I was a Japanese tourist. Our goal for the day was to visit the forbidden city, the temple of heaven and finish the day with the summer palace which actually is so much more than just a palace. We were suppose to do this yesterday but the weather were really lousy and we did the right thing so wait another day because today we had blue sky, around 25 degrees with a warm breeze. Our guide picked us up at the hotel at 07.00 and I try to describe each place we visited.
The forbidden City:
A neat little area of almost 1x1km where the former empires lived. It was built somewhere around 1420 and it is a must to visit if you are in Beijing. We who were a bit lazy had ordered a English speaking guide and even if it was a bit confusing since we got all information in Chinese first but after 10 minutes our guide came and suddenly me and Anton had our own personal guide. It will be interesting to just walk around and look by yourself but I really recommend a guide. It was really interesting and when the guide started to talk about central heating and cooling using ice under the houses during the summer you really understand what kind of cavemen we norths really were at that time.
Temple of Heaven:
Straight after the forbidden city we went to the temple of heaven and this is actually the first time we saw a lot of other tourist. Of course we saw tourists at the great wall and in the forbidden city but here we actually saw western tourists and it felt almost weird to see someone who is not Asian. Anyway, the temple of heaven is a huge park where you will find the locals doing recreation like qi-gong, playing some sort f tennis and the old ones, they were sitting on park benches and playing chess and xiangi. The temple itself is gigantic and used to pray/sacrifice to the gods for good harvest and stuff like that. You could think that a tourist area like this should have signs in English and they kind a do, however Chinese people are not the best in English and neither me or Anton does still today understand if the sacrificed humans or not at this temple or if that just was a typo on the sign. I guess they are laughing at all western people who walk around this the Chinese sign for noodles as tattoos so I guess its even if we laugh everyday about some weird sign or T-shirt.
The summer palace:
Our last stop, well off course we stopped at a pearl factory/shop where they tried to sell us a lot of crap was the Summer palace. The summer palace is insane huge and beatuful park and house which one of the empires built for his mother. He actually built the lake on the pictures below together with houses and all kind of stuff. The area is even bigger than the forbidden city but then of course a majority of the area is the lake. We never took any boatride though, instead we took a walk along the lake and just enjoyed the beautiful area.
The Chinese people are good at many thing and I would say especially on building railway. Sweden has a lot to learn from here and in exchange we could learn the Chinese things we noticed that they suck at. Well, we haven’t found that much that they suck at though but their sausages taste like shit, their toilet paper is so thin that it just fall apart once you look at it and their parking culture for cars make the wild west remind you of a romantic comedy but the worst part is their beer, its more like water than beer but I can accept it all because the rest of China is really, really awesome!
We took a cab to the railway station and without any problem we found our way to our platform but here we noticed a big difference compared to Sweden. Instead of going to a platform it was more like flying where you check in and wait in a big room. Once its time to board you go down to the platform and there the train is already waiting for you. Really neat and with almost as many staff as travelers it was impossible to do anything wrong. The train itself had plenty of room, a TV, WIFI, a restaurant wagon and all you could ask for and even if we were traveling in 300km/h you didnt hear anything from the train or felt anything. To be honest it was more like flying than going by train with the exception that you could see the Chinese countryside through the window. 1300km was finished in 5 hours with a couple of stops at different stations, Sweden can really learn from this!
From Shanghai we haven’t explored that much yet, we checked in at the hotel and then left for something to eat. Lazy me let Anton order the food and this was the last time I let him do that. Everything was really good but he order pig’s feet with chili, cucumber with chili, beef with chili, everything had chili! Halfway through our meal the waitress came and gave us extra napkins because we were sweating like pigs and it came fire from our mouths and even if we ordered room tempered beer by mistake it was so good.
First day in Shanghai and we spent it like we were kings. We started the day to head over to the coffee shop just across the street with an real, western breakfast. No more rice to breakfast, instead we took fresh pressed juice, eggs, bacon, ham, pancakes and you name it. Once we put our order we had some communication problem with the waitress, she told us that something was out of stock but what? We had no idea and she pointed on the Chinese word in the menu. Well..we had no idea what it was but once the food arrived we realized that it was the chicken who was missing. We dont mind since we been eating rice and chicken for several years on this trip.
After this huge breakfast we took the metro to People square, a small square we thought but it was more like a huge center with a park, several shopping malls, a couple of museums and yea, you name it. We had no real plan for the day so we just strolled around and felt the atmosphere which is way more western here than in Beijing. We did however took a look at the Shanghai museum and checked out some ancient calligraphy, jade, clothes and coins from ancient China. It was like the first time we had signs in English so it we knew what we were looking at and it was really nice.
From People square you have access to Nanjing road which is one of Shanghais biggest shopping streets. Personally I almost went crazy because of all the beggars and “helpful people who wanted to show you the best shops” but it was indeed an experience that too and it was all worth it once we got down to “the bund” and saw the amazing skyline of Shanghai. There is many skyscrape in this city and one is more designed than another. We have to get up in one before we leave this city!
I took command and decided the dinner for today and that was maybe not the best. Somehow we found a true local Chinese place and the whole restaurant stop when we entered. We ordered food and it was good but I have no idea what it was we ate and every time a new guest entered they stopped and just looked at us, shocked. Overall a lot of people are staring at you and some even have asked if they can take a photo of us. It feels weird but I guess this is the feeling of being exotic but back to restaurants, I try to live after the feeling that if there is plenty of people at the restaurant, then you will get good food. You maybe dont know what kind of food but at least you dont get sick and so far my theory seems to work!
Both me and Anton starts to grow really tired of Chinese Internet connection. Ok, everything goes through their censorship filter but thats the way it is and we are not far behind with UK’s “no porn filter” and Sweden’s “Child-porn filter” but seriously, if you say you have WIFI make sure it fucking works and that it doesn’t demand a login page which is built for Internet explorer 3.0 and Win95.
So, enough ranting and I can tell you about our day which we spent in the bund district, watching skyscrapers, boat and ferries along the river and just looking at people. We found a really nice restaurant, the waitress were looking like crazy among the booking list and with a big portion of luck we got a table for two. I guess this is a popular place and once we got the food I understand why. Scallop, dumplings, crab..you name it and we ate it and after a beer or maybe two we continued to the Oriental Pearl. We must go up in some skyscrape so why not aim for this one which is 438m high and gives you a nice view over the city.
On our way over to the Oriental Pearl we did however took a deep dive in a tourist trap, the maglev train under Yangtze river. The train ride was around 5 minutes long, filled with psychedelic colors and I don’t know what kind of drugs you should have taken before the ride we I missed them and this was just weird and expensive. Once we got up in the tower though we forgot all about it and we just enjoyed the view. From 350m you get a nice view over the city and you can see pretty far but still you only see the city continue in what it looks eternity. Unfortunately the Internet connection is really bad so I will only show you a small teaser of the photos I took today.
Our plans for the day was to visit Yuyuan garden, a nice park which was created during the Ming dynasty and after that move on and go shopping. Something is wrong in the world when its cheaper to buy new clothes instead of washing your old ones.
Yu garden was crazy big, according to Wikipedia its 5 acres and it contains several small path, big rocks, water and houses. The rocks are some special sort which has been moved here just to build the garden and in former China the rocks symbolized wealth and this garden is filled with rocks. My pictures below does not make it fair since it was really beautiful and calm to walk around in the garden and you cant believe that you are in central Shanghai when you walk here, enjoying the waterfalls or looking at the goldfishes.
Outside the park there is a huge market where you can buy pretty much anything. Unfortunately I think that 98% of what they sell is crap but it was really nice to just stroll around and look what they sell. All houses are built in classic style which is kind a cozy and when we found a toy store I become like a 7 year old again. I’m so jealous of kids growing up with stores like this now cause this one was packed with all kind of toys and I would probably emptied my wallet here if it wasn’t for that little thing that you need to bring it home in some way too.
The evening was spent with testing Shanghais nightlife, we met two British guys we made town with and our happiness when we found a bar who sold pizzas was unspeakable. It was not the best pizza or anything like that but to get a bite of a slice of pizza, with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni was so good, I guess since we only been eating Chinese food the last two weeks and the weeks before that we only ate different sort of cabbage. We continued into the night going from bar to bar and it was a blast, of course it would be since we are in a 20 million city but yea…it was amazing.
Anton almost lost his credit card though then he mistook a ASM from a ATM, we had no idea how to get the machine to eject his card but luckily for us our taxi driver came and saved us and more or less trashed the whole ASM-machine. Antons card looks like shit but he got it back and it still works so all good! Myself came home with a new shirt, I guess thats the thing with this trip, we swap clothes with each other when we drink.
To be honest, today haven’t been our busiest day. It tear you down to travel or it might been our nightlife that tear us down, anyway I skip to say that we haven’t done anything except eating and sleeping today and instead I talk about traveling and travel companion.
Personally I am really impressed by the people we met who are traveling alone. I mean, English doesn’t really work on this trip and you have to put faith in peoples good will, sign language and good luck to make yourself understood. From time to time it is really nice to have someone to speak to in your native language, or at least someone to talk to and laugh together with in all the bizarre situations you end up in. At the same time, if you travel alone you will be forced more into meet new people which may good for us, reserved swedes.
The opposite, to travel in groups is often more easy. At least my experience is that you stay in the group and one or two in the group take the role as leader and the rest more or less just follow. It easier,you have always someone to talk to and someone who knows a little bit more which is nice but you don’t meet the same amount of local people and you kind a miss a part of the culture, I mean traveling is at least 50% of meeting new people.
This is of course generic speaking and I seen both introvert people who backpack alone and very social large groups but I still think that 2 persons is the perfect compromise, you are not alone but still you kind a need to push and meet new people but that doesn’t mean that me and Anton are the optimal traveling companions. We have been traveling together before and we share what we want to get out of the trip which makes it sound like the optimal companion but we do have one problem. We never say no and by some reason we excites each other and push the other to do things that sometimes may not be the smartest. I don’t think we really think about it and because of it we meet a lot of fun people and that we done a lot of stupid stuff which always ended up with a big laugh the day after and the question, what did we think there? Maybe we should have been three on this trip, one more who cold hold us back a little but no matter if we are going to a Chinese hard labor, our downfall or just have the vacation of our lives we have just as huge as long smiles on our faces, this trips is the shit!
Inspired by the toy store yesterday Anton and me decided to time travel back until we were 7 and the best thing you could do was to visit a theme park. A brief look at the metro map and we were on our way to Happy Valley, Chinas equivalent to Six Flags.
We started in the water area and took one water slide after another and suddenly we ran into the British guys we met a couple of days ago and like that we were 5 instead of just two. It may sound weird that in a 20 million city we ran into them but trust me, non asians stick out in this place and we kind a got the idea from them to go here, we had no idea that we would go here the same day though. Anyway the themepark was quite good with fun water slides, not so much action but nice and family friendly and it was really nice to just take a swim in the sunny weather. Some of the slides were really good though, especially one where you were sitting on a inflatable ring och going down the slide which were really steep and then you went up on almost a vertical wall on the other side. This slide was built for 4 Chinese people, not 4 fat Europeans and we got so much speed downhill that we almost kicked out of the track while going up the vertical wall. After that we were not allowed to go 4 anymore but we had fun anyway. I did miss the wave where you can surf but I guess I have to go back someday.
Happy Valley which is the theme park has everything a real theme park should have. A lot of different roller coasters and we aimed for the first one and when they had warm up before take off I realized that this will be fun and fun it was and that was the start point for all kind of roller coasters and attractions. It was really fun and we tried them all, from wooden roller coasters to top modern with huge drops and regarding yesterdays post about me and Anton always excite each other. Our last ride was the flume ride and me and Anton started with “The vikings never used any rain ponchos”, everybody else used them but we didn’t and and without exaggerate we created a 10-15m high wall of water and guess where it ended up, yep..in the lap of me and Anton.
Wet like drown kittens we took the metro back towards Shanghai center and we we finished the day on a bar, dripping wet eating a hamburger and drinking ice cold beer, lifes good!
A gray day with the rain hanging in the air so we decided for another animal day and just in time for us to arrive to Shanghai Aquarium it started to rain. Shanghai Aquarium is one of the biggest aquarium in the world, at least if you believe the signs. Anyway its huge and they have one of the biggest under water pathways in the world, somewhere around 120m long where you are surrounded by water, coral reefs, fishes and all you can imaging. Really nice and only this makes it totally worth a visit!
Most of the signs were actually translated to English so you could read about it but there is plenty of typos and me and Anton concluded that Chinese English is an own language, closely related to English but still an own language. I upload a few of all pictures I took, as normal i really recommend to visit the place instead since my photo skills ain’t the best
I give up, it took almost 1 hour to just write this small and tiny blog post and for you who understand it, we have 70% package loss. Chinas internet is broken and it sucks big time!
Our day has been lazy and we have been mostly chillin and spent a couple of hours at the arcade. Had bullfrog to dinner which actually was really good, much better than what it sounds like
A new attempt to write a post since the Internet didn’t work very good yesterday. To be honest it still doesn’t work any good but hopefully good enough for me to write this post,
We started the day with noticing that it was raining and gray outside. Not the funniest weather but we decided to head over to the Jing’an temple and check it out. Look at the map and off we went but maybe we should have looked a little bit more on the map because we never found any temple. We walked street up and down, block by block and we were 100% sure we were in the right area but we just couldnt find the temple. Instead we headed over to a coffee shop and had some sweet cookies, it may be the first failure on this trip but it feels like we seen so many temples already so it cant be that bad that we miss this one. Now when Im back at the hotel and having Internet connection I can see we walked just pass the temple but we never recognized it, epic failure!
We headed over to the arcade and for €4 we spent a couple of hours shooting zombies, going skateboarding, drove car, played air hockey and played bongos. Arcades are totally under estimated way to spend time and is a real life saver when the weather sucks and you just want to spend a few hours. The quality of the games was not the best but it was cheap so I don’t complain.
On the evening we went to a small, local Chinese restaurant and it as time to try the famous bullfrog. You kind a eat it like ribs and it was a challenge indeed to eat it with chopsticks without sending food all over the restaurant but once you succeed with a really taste frog, I give it 8 of 10.
So today our plan was to eat the weird stuff day but we kind a failed real time, we didn’t find any nice food market. We did find a more regular market though where they sold all other kind of things you can imaging. Most of the food was raw though and even if you could buy anything you could possible need to make a fest we were more into looking for cooked food, instead we found chickens, ducks, turtles, crabs, crayfish, all kind of weird vegetables and meat, plenty of meat laying on the tables in 25 degrees heat for the day, I wouldn’t buy that!
We did however found some cooked food and we started with some bread which kind a looked like a pizza but was just simple bread with seasons, pretty good. After that we went for some barbecued squid, the Chinese girl asked me something which I didn’t understood (as usual) so I just smiled and said yes and the girl took some sort of sauce on the squid and jesus, I have no idea what it was but Chili is for kids compared to this, lucky for me I had a huge beer just beside me and even if it was really good it that sauce almost was just to much.
Straight after the good market we went to a phone store, we just had to check the prices. A Galaxy S4 costs around €80, unlocked of course and that that would be like a tenth of what it cost in Sweden, pretty cheap!
To walk around in wet clothes after happy valley was maybe not our brightest idea and when I woke up this morning I had a cold from hell, in other words we took another calm day and where we mostly walked around in Shanghai without any plans. After lunch/dinner on a Indonesian place I felt much better, actually so much better that we decided to head over to Perrys which is a classic expat bar in Shanghai. Perrys is nice if you want to meet westerner people and for every day they have a theme, from “order one, get two” to free cigarettes day.
Anyway at Perrys we had a few drinks, smoked some cigarettes and discussed all you can think of, during this the place was starting to fill up with more and more people. As I told you before me and Anton is quite good to incite each others and yea, instead of going back home and sleep off the cold we ordered in a hookah, some Mojito’s and invited over people to our table.
The evening ended up with us partying with some Americans/British people and when we headed over to Maya club where we danced all night long to way to loud music.. Today a few hours later it still beeps in my ears but the club was really nice and since we were all westerns, we didn’t have to queue.
When the sun started to rise and we decided to get back to our hotel we for the first time on this trip found a taxi which actually could read our English business card, a short stop at local shop buying water and we were back at our hotel, sleeping! Woke up a few hours later all all traces of the cold is gone, believe it or not but you can apparently club away a cold.
To buy electronics in China is always interesting. Me and Anton walked around and looked at new phones, tablets and stuff like that and the prices are fantastic, the only “problem” is that the brand is Sumsang instead of Samsung but it maybe doesn’t matter since the price is so low as €40 instead of the €600 for the same model in Sweden. Anton couldn’t stay away from a good deal so after we verified that the phone starts, it looks ok in quality he bought one.
According to the information we found online and in the store the hardware should be the same as in the original, our first peek preview of the phone was also descent, I mean we know its a pirate copy but for that price, amazing. The truth is though that phone is not even close of having the same hardware, the RAM memory is 100Mb and the display doesn’t support tilting and maybe the worst part, the USB charger, I doesn’t even dare to connect it to my computer.
To summarize it I would say that you can find really cheap electronics here, you can do the deal of your life but you can also get scammed. If you go for the real deal, like Apple or Samsung its more or less the same prices as in your home country though.
This trip is almost over and this is our last day in Shanghai, tomorrow we head back home to Sweden. It was ridiculous hot today so we could barely be outside but during the afternoon we got so restless that we took a walk, played some air hockey at the arcade and at the evening we met up Martin, Greg and Chloe for a good bye dinner.
They knew a good Japanese place we went to were you payed a fixed amount (around €30) and then you could eat and drink how much you want. Thats pretty expensive for being China but it was no buffet or something cheap like that, instead you ordered dishes from the menu just as usual Tried a lot of different dishes I never even heard about before and the food was really great, pretty fun to see the chef prepare and cook your food just in front of you too! After the dinner, which took like three hours we went on to a bar and somewhere around 2am we headed back to our hotel and started to pack our bags, which our neighbors didn’t like. However our plan is to be tired so we can sleep during the whole flight!
So the day is here which means we need to take our backpacks and go back to reality and our home. I guess that I will get some questions if I never went home sick on this trip and I must say no. We have been so busy on so short time, met so many people, been into situation that you really cant prepare for and which demands your concentration that I never really thought about the life back home but of course, I missed my family and friends.
There are several different ways to get to the Shanghai Pudong airport, the most expensive but easiest would be to take a taxi. The not so comfy but cheap would be to take the airport shuttle bus and we decided for neither. Instead we took the metro for a few stations and then bought tickets for the maglev train. We had some discussion about how we should go to the airport but even if it doesn’t was attracting to go by the metro during rush hour with all our luggage the decision was easy. We should really end this trip with a train ride and what can be better than going by the worlds fastest commercial train?
A short walk to the metro in 30 degrees heat, a packed metro and we kind a started to ask ourselves if this really was the best decision but once we got the the maglev train station we knew we took the right decision. The maglev train is like in many cities, just a train ride between the city and the airport, its not the cheapest alternative but with that ends all my experience of train rides to the airport. A ticket cost around €5 /20% off if you got a airplane ticket for that day), the train is maglev which means its levitate using magnetism and while most other trains barely reach 200km/h this train march speed is 430km/h. I don’t know how many km the track is but we reached the airport in 7 minutes.
Shanghai airport was really nice, long queue to check in but no problem and their immigration was really cool. First time I ever seen that they scan your passport, your pictures displays and while you look at your picture they take another picture of you and let the computer compare them to make sure its the same person. I assume more border controls use this method but I never seen it so clearly before and it worked like a charm, even if my beard is pretty much bigger now than when I got my passport.
The Aeroflot flight was not a big hit though, it was cheap and I know why. Old plane with comfort like shit but after changing planes in Moscow we got a much smaller, but better plane and even the food was actually really good. Still I cant really recommend anyone to fly with Aeroflot as long as its not really, really cheap tickets!