Seminyak and Legian Beach – Bali

As a Aussie, and a Sydneysider, we have great beaches. Its funny how we travel the world to have the best beach holidays, but often are disappointed when we compare beaches to the ones in our own backyard.

I felt like that visiting the beaches of Seminyak, Double Six, Legian and Canggu in Bali. I wasn’t there to surf, so I wasn’t judging the beaches on the waves (which I’ve heard are awesome). We had a beach front resort , so it was lovely looking out at the ocean. But we never swam in the ocean. The water looked a bit treacherous, the tide would come up high and the beach wasn’t as pristine as the sands of the NSW South and North Coast. Plus it was crowded with people. We weren’t keen on lying down on the sand when we could just lie by the pool and look at the ocean!

So our beach time in these tiny suburbs of Bali was spent soaking up the beach life. Bars, Beach clubs, Warungs… such as laid back and relaxed lifestyle! Take me back.

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The beach bar right outside our accommodation at Batu Belig Beach. Very relaxed vibe.

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Watching the ocean from Potato Head Beach Club

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Sunsets and cocktails at Double Six Beach

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Looking up the beach at Finn’s Beach Club, Canggu

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Sunset time

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Sunset vibes from Finns

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A typical beach bar set up.

Yangtze river

Ever since I read the book ‘The Story About Ping’ – a picture book about a little duck and his wise eyed boat, I have wanted to see the Yangtze River in Central China. So I was very excited when my G Adventures tour Essential China in 2014 included a 3 night, 2 day river cruise from Chongqing to Yichang.  After watching a documentary of a family who travelled China with their 3 kids, I was also keen to see the Three Gorges and the Three Gorges Dam.

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Cruise boat members disembark to visit markets and pagodas along the Yangtze River.

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Sunset on the Yangtze. I never found any Pings unfortunately.

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Boats with produce for sale glide up along side the cruisers.

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Most boats we saw on the river looked similar to this cruiser. And they all looked like toys next to the mammoth cliffs.

Outr boat was comfortable, but in no ways fancy. We hadn’t paid top dollar so I wasn’t expecting a ‘Princess Cruises’ style boat. It was about 3 stories high, with a large dining room, a simple lobby, one main bar and lounge and some deck space with artificial grass and plastic chairs.

Though we hadn’t come for boat luxuries, it was all about the sights! We left Chongqing (the world’s largest city area with 31 million people – and yet I’d never heard of it before this cruise) on CHINA’S NATIONAL DAY. Yes because in a country of a billion, in a city of 31 million let’s also add the amount of tourists swanning about for national day celebrations. It was almost peaceful getting out of the city and motoring down the river past farms, rock formations, mountains, canoes. Well peaceful until you rounded a corner and Bam! Another city, with a good hundred thousand people. Bridges like the ones below were quite a common site after hours of countryside.

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After our first night on the river we awoke to the special experience of cruising through the Three Gorges, or as the Chinese translation said “The Three Georges”. I swiftly named them George Michael, Prince George and Boy George. We grabbed some prime locations up on deck to watch the spectacular scenery.

Recent rains had left the river brown, unclean and full of debris. But the dramatic rock formations and cliffs certainly took my mind off the river’s state. The cliffs are absolutely towering, and only when boats and houses were in the picture could you actually get an idea of the actual scale and size. A misty humidity haze followed us for most of the day, but I could not stop snapping hundreds of photos like below of the landscape that greeted us around every bend.

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We didn’t stop at this temple complex, which was probably a good thing, I mean just look at all those stairs!

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Absolutely towering.

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All along the river were little crevices and tributaries.

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Sunset on our second day on the Yangtze.

After the second dramatic day of cruising past The Three Georges Gorges, our third day was a day trip down a tributary of the Yangtze, past some ancient burial coffins wedged in the cliffs to a random touristy stop, complete with souvenirs and a show. I had seen (in the documentary of the family) this really cool side excursion on small, raft like boats that were dragged down narrow tributaries of the yangtze with traditional guides and taken to traditional villages. I was so excited then at the prospect of our day trip. Alas, we just moved (with 100 or so other people) onto a large ferry which then chugged down a medium sized river, under some more Power Bridges (as I called them) to a tourist village and then back to our large boat. Not quite what I had in mind but I guess the term ‘optional day trip excursion exploring the tributaties of the Yangtze’ is pretty vague.

And had I not seen the documentary I would probably have not had any expectations of what the experience would be like! A typical travel caution; sometimes the things with the highest expectations turn out to be the biggest let downs and I leave feeling that the whole experience was overrated. And usually when I have no idea about a destination and no expectations, it turns out to be the best!

Signs of the World – Elevator

One of my favourite things to photograph when travelling around the world is weird and wacky signs. Asia always has a smorgasbord of sign opportunities, especially when translating  signs into English for tourists.

On my first afternoon in Beijing, China, I noticed this very specific ‘Elevator Rules’ poster in my hotel. Of course we then took photos of us being silly and disobeying the rules, favourites included ‘no leaning’ and ‘press buttons lightly’!

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Shanghai Dumpling Search

While in Shanghai,  my friends and I decided to go on a search for Yang’s dumpling.  My culinary extraordinaire friend had read about them in a review… and with a vague knowledge of the street name we set off!  We had already walked about 15 km that day around the city of Shanghai and we only had 45 minutes left until we had to meet our group and go to dinner.  So searching for a dumpling shop in the city of dumpling shops in 45 minutes seemed a little ambitious .

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This place seems like a winner with huge queue outside and of course some  Chinese  writing that must’ve said Yang’s dumpling.  With 15 minutes to go we joined the queue to buy the dumplings and for me a much-needed  Coca-Cola.  The other two in the group had a look farther down the street just in case we hadn’t found the right Yang’s dumpling .   They found it – and we were in the wrong place!  But too late, we had already ordered and had to be at our hotel in 10 minutes .  So we grabbed the dumplings and ran, taking the Coca-Cola with us .   The others stayed behind as they had already ordered from the real Yang’s dumpling .

It wasn’t easy hightailing it through the streets of Shanghai with a box of  something you are trying to eat that’s quite a bit messy but we made it .  Shortly after the other two turned up and informed us that they got in trouble on my behalf – as I had taken my glass bottle of soft drink with me instead of leaving it behind to be recycled … Whoops!

And the verdict was that their dumplings were better!  So we returned the next day with much more time up our sleeves to fully enjoy the semi fried, liquid filled delicious balls of Yang’s dumplings .

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Disclaimer:  Shanghai was before my trip to Xi-an when I went to a dumpling banquet.  13 courses – all dumplings .  That was over 18 months ago and I haven’t eaten a dumpling since.  I am truly scarred and may never eat a dumpling again . But if I ever found myself in Shanghai again I could probably make an exception and go to Yang’s  dumpling.

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Nine Things to Do In: Shanghai

1.  Eat awesome dumplings! I am not a huge dumpling fan, I find them a bit slimy in texture, but we had pan fried dumplings at Yang’s Dumplings, and they were awesome! Worth the wait and the queue.

2. Catch the Maglev, the magnetic levitating train from the airport to the city, which gets to speeds of over 400km an hour! We caught it from the city and back just for fun.

3. Take a night cruise on the Huangpu River to see the spectacular skylines all lit up. On one side is the modern Pudong district with its skyscrapers, the other is the bund with its colonial style buildings and hotels.

4. Go up the Jin Mao Tower. There are a few high rise viewing platforms to visit in Shanghai, but the views from the Jin Mao Tower are pretty cool on a clear day (pray for smog free – not for me unfortunately!)

5. Visit the Yu gardens, yes they are touristy but you can get some awesome souvenirs, eat more dumplings and other great food and have a traditional tea ceremony.

6. Walk The Bund, the waterfront boardwalk, offering awesome views day or night.

7. Go fancy in posh hotels, even if you can’t afford to stay the night, the lobbies, shops, toilets and cafes/bars of the ritzy hotels along The Bund are worth a visit. Bonus points if you swag your way onto a rooftop for views!

8. Visit the Shanghai Museum for free to see many amazing Chinese artefacts, artworks and furniture as well as admire the cool shape of the building

9. Shop, shop shop! Whether its for clothing, souvenirs, food or panda shaped bread rolls, you’ll find it in Shanghai!

 

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

 

After two days of smog, fog and rain in Beijing we were pleasantly surprised to wake up on our third and final day to sunshine and (gasp!) blue skies. We spent the morning at the Temple of Heaven, a park and temple complex used by the Beijing locals for recreation and originally used only by the Ming and Qing Emperors (and those they deemed worthy enough).

It was a lovely morning spent wandering around the park, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, which must be almost unheard of in Beijing. People were out playing* badmington, more like dancing badmington really. There was also group aerobic dancing, Tai Chi, dancing with fans, partner dancing, hacky sack. It was always a laugh when we went and joined in.

Dotted through out the park are the various temples and other buildings used by the emperors for different types of ceremony and worship. The round temple in the centre – ‘The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests’ was a stand out, as was the ‘Imperial Vault of Heaven’ and the echo wall that surrounds it.

We also saw rows and rows of people sitting in the park with signs on the ground in front of them, often with pictures of people. Our guide explained that parents of single young adults come to the park (or pay someone else to come) and ‘advertise’ their child as a possible suitor for others to marry, or for another parent to choose as a match. A modern, park-based dating service. I had so many questions as I read the advertisements that described appearance but also education and employment. Sometimes the parents organise a sort of blind date / random meet up for the two young people, who may not even be aware that someone is sitting in the park all day promoting them. Crazy! You have to admire the commitment of the parents to spend their time waiting and hoping to find the perfect match for their sons and daughters.

After spending the morning at the Temple of Heaven we wandered across the road from the east gate to Hongqiao Market, also known as the pearl market for some shopping, bargaining (be resilient but friendly!) and yummy lunch.

Staying in a Monastery, Emei Mountain, China

Part of our tour of China included a stay in a Monastery at Emei Shan. A real life monastery with monks! On one of China’s sacred mountains of Buddhism! I was very excited!

This is what I was expecting:

Bhutan trip June 2011, Tiger's Nest Monastery

Image courtesy of Michael Folley @ Flickr

Oh yes I had visions of mist, tranquil mountains and a deserted, peaceful monastery with ‘rustic’ features, a retreat from the hustle and bustle of China.

Ha! Nowhere is quiet on the eve of the National Holiday in a country of a billion people. Our bus took a long time to drive to Baoguo, one of the little towns at the base of Emei Mountain. We seemed to only go a kilometre every ten minutes thanks to the endless traffic and pedestrians. I kept thinking – boy we still have a long way to go to get to the misty lush top of the mountain! In amidst of traffic and crowds our mini bus stopped and our guide said ‘We’re here!’

Huh? All I could see were ‘Chinese looking buildings’ (educated response, I know) , tourists and cars. Surely the peaceful monastery isn’t around here?

Well yes, we are staying in this busy complex of buildings that is a working monastery and did we mention it’s also a tourist attraction? That opens at 7am… The Baoguo Temple to be exact.

I did get some funny looks walking through the grounds of the temple to the public toilets (and our  accommodation’s amenities for 2 nights) in my pyjama’s with toothbrush in hand. Sure I feature in some Chinese photo albums now too.

So yes we were woken to the sound of monks chanting at 5am, but we never got to engage or see the monks really. We did get to share the monastery with hordes of Chinese tourists there at 7am. Was it peaceful and quiet – uh no! Late at night when the tourists had gone it was quieter but the building itself is right near town at a busy spot at the base of Emei Mountain, and for China’s National Day it was pretty packed.

Rooms were dorm like for those not in a couple, 4-5 beds in one room, hard beds (like all of China) and minimal furniture. The toilets and sinks were the ones the public visitors used so late in the afternoon they were pretty bad, and not western of course. The showers were communal, with no doors (MacGyver style scarf shower curtain needed!). I still think it was pretty cool to go to the toilets one morning with 4 monks there with me in the other cubicles. That doesn’t happen very often!

It certainly didn’t live up to my expectations (oh… we’re not staying on top of the mountain…) but it was a good base for exploring the many hikes and paths of Emei Shan.