Tuesday, 16 August 2011


We spent the night sleeping in Singapore airport. I would vote it the best airport in the world to be stuck in overnight. There were free mobile chargers, all night shops and almost comfortable chairs for sleeping. Many other travelers have the same idea, so it is easy to sleep in packs to help one feel more secure. Sleeping in airports can often be an art form, for instance Sleeping in Airports has reviews of many airports around the world.

Day One - Arrive in Phuket

In the morning we flew from Singapore to Phuket. On arrival, despite a chaotic atmosphere and a mysterious photo teller, it was straight forward to deal with visas. After navigating the phalanx of bus and taxi hawkers in the terminal, we located the official bus vendor and spent the next hour or so bring driven across the island to Karon Beach.

Our upgraded room in the resort

We had booked an incredibly cheap room deal through Scoopon at Woraburi Phuket Resort and Spa. On arrival, however, there were some problems with our reservation. To apologise, we were upgraded to the best rooms, ground floor, with the back door opening out on the main pool that sat in the middle of the resort.

After settling in, we strolled around Karon beach and found the main street which was a series of travel agents, western restaurants, thai restaurants, optometrists, tuk-tuk drivers and money changers. We found a localish looking restaurant (as local as it can get in such a built up tourist strip) and had a reasonably priced dinner.

Day Two - Karon Beach

In the morning we met with a representative from the travel agency linked with our resort room deal and booked two tours. The price was highish, but we managed to negotiate a "big child" deal and over all, we had the safety of knowing the tour would actually take place.

We spent the morning exploring Karon Beach and the tourist strips to the south. The weather was humid and rain always threatened, but for the most part we stayed dry.

Walking along Karon Beach

All over the beach there were litte crabs which appeared almost translucent in the bright sun. They made small burrows everywhere and would scurry away in droves as we walked along the sand.

Small crabs in the sand

The one major highlight of the day was seeing two scooters almost avoid colliding at an intersection. Luckily, no one was hurt. But the riders certainly weren't happy.

One course from dinner at the resort

We finished the day with a thai dinner at the resort (free with our room!). As we eat we watched the sun set over the beach, feeling like we definitely were on holiday.

Sunset over Karon Beach

Day Three - Phi Phi Island tour

We went on our first tour. The boats were on the other side of the island, and it took an hour or so by bus to get there. The tour took place on a speedboat which was to whisk us around some of the nearby islands.

Our first stop was Bamboo island for snorkelling off the beach. Lots of fish to see and attract with bits of bread. It was a little off putting that ten or so other speed boat tours had also arrived at the beach at the same time, so it was pretty busy. The next stop was Mosquito island, where the sea floor was too dangerous due to anemones, so we all snorkelled off the side of the boat in deepish water. The area was more secluded and the fish a lot more prevalent and interesting.

Snorkelling at Bamboo island

Snorkelling off the boat at Mosquito island

The tour continued with a pass by of Viking Cave, were local people scraped dung off the walls of caves to sell in magical remedies. They also lived in these caves, living out a fairly extreme lifestyle. We continued on to Phi-Phi Island, a resort island, for an underwhelming buffet.

After lunch, we went and saw monkeys. The boat drove right up to them as they clung to small trees on the side of a rocky island. The tour guide (obviously having done this before) attracted one of the monkeys on to the boat with pepsi.

Monkey drinking pepsi

The last stage of the tour was to visit the scenic area used in the movie "The Beach". The first area was a harbour enclosed by high rocks. The water had a very high salt content and you could float easily, and people jumped in from off the boat. The second area, the main attraction, was an island harbour with a beach at its heart, almoat entired enclosed in a tall wall of rock. Every tour seemed to finish the day here and the beach was packed, but there was still room for a swim.

The Beach

The tour was a good day out, however I had been bitten by substandard local sunscreen (it really isn't as good as in Australia) and had pretty bad sunburn on my back from the snorkelling.

Day Four - Rest Day

We spent the day resting and using the resort facilities. Swimming, pool, table tennis, walking around the tourist strip trying to ignore everyone thinking we need a tuk-tuk or taxi somewhere. We found a cheap fruit smoothie place that we would return to a few times, but nothing much else of note.

Lobster dinner, before

We finished the day with a fresh lobster dinner at one of the localish resturants. We thought since the prices of food and drink were cheaper overall, then we could splurge on something a bit extravagant. The price turned out to be roughly $30AUD, but really, debating the price of lobster is truly a first world only problem.

Lobster dinner!

Day Five - Phang-Nga Bay

Our second tour, again by speedboat, was to Phang-Nga bay, famous for its limestone rock formations.

Limestone rocks in Phang-Nga Bay

We stopped at a few inconsequential islands, but the highlight of the morning was canoeing through the limestone caves. Each canoe had two places with a guide at the back, doing all the rowing and navigating and recommending different rock formations as looking like real world objects such as scooby doo or a piranha.

Canoeing through limestone caves

We were taken (along with several other sets of tourists from other tours), into dark caves where we had to duck rocks protruding down from the ceiling and ignore the chattering of the bats all around us. Some of the smaller caves opened out into large open areas inside hollow islands, enclosed by rock walls with the sun and sky visible above.

Canoeing through limestone caves

After the canoeing, we visited James Bond Island, a famous rock formation for appearing in an old James Bond movie. It was thick with tourists and even had several shops on the main island hawking tourist baubles. The island is not big enough to stay on, so it must be some undertaking to set up and pack up every day.

James Bond Island

For lunch we went to a small town that exists completely on the water. Apparently it had been settled by immigrants who arrived there and just setup shop on the boats. I was initially curious about how they would sustain such a town, until the tour boat swung around to one side and there was a row of small berths, each leading up to a buffet style restaurant. In my cynicism I have now decreed the town "Buffet World".

"Buffet World"

We finished the tour on Naka Island, a resortish island were they charged you to sit on the beach chairs (how very continental).

Water bird posse

We played with crabs and were surprised by a posse of water birds walking along the beach.

Phad Thai street vendor

Back at Karon Beach, as my stomach had now fully recovered, we decided to try some street food from near the resort. We had the ubiquitous Phad Thai and some flavoured crepes.

Day Six - Phuket Town, Night Market

In the afternoon we caught a local bus (by far, the cheapest way to travel) to Phuket Town on the other side of the island. The rickety bus was slow and could barely make it up hills, but it was cheap and an experience in itself.

We had lunch in a restaurant and had some street food snacks. The prices were substantially lower here than back on the beach tourist strips. After some shopping and some more snacks from the local alternative KFC menu, we started to find a cheap way to get to the Phuket night market.

The price for taxis and tuk-tuk on the island is extremely high compared to the price of everything else, and they often fix the price across vendors. Everyone we asked wouldn't budge on the official price. We walked for about a kilometre asking ever driver we saw until a random car with a couple sitting in the front pulled up next to us and offered us a ride. I quoted our lowball price and they weren't interested and drove off, however a minute later they were back and happy to take us. It was a bit suspicious in that the car was unmarked and as far as we could tell was a private car. But any fears were unfounded as they dropped us off at the night market and pulled in amongst a collection of other private looking cars that were also operating as taxis.

The night market was packed with people and hot due to the humidity. Row after row of small shops selling counterfeit designer clothes, bags, DVDs and various knick knacks. A large part of the market was devoted to food.

Night market stall

Bugs or something

There were many stalls selling food that you would not want to eat, and there were many selling things you would want to eat. We picked several safe looking places and snacked on seafood on a stick and other treats.

Some kind of seafood?

Sweet and baked treats

Day Seven - Going Home

In the morning it began to rain heavily, something which we had largely avoided on the trip.

View from the back door of our room

We caught the resort courtesy bus to Patong Beach. Patong is much more built up than Karon and has every western convieniance under the sun, including of course, a starbucks.

Our flight home wasn't until midnight, so used the day to relax and sit around. C did a bit of shopping and I did a bit of coffeeing. The english cinema was very cheap, so we passed the afternoon away watching a couple of movies.

One strange thing was at the beginning of each movie, a small montage was played, honouring the royal family of thailand. A screen full of text in thai would appear, and everyone would stand in the cinema to pay homage. I wasn't really sure what to do and if not doing anything would result in some kind of penalty.

We had a thai hot pot with many mushrooms for dinner and then managed to eventually lowball another taxi driver to take us to the airport. The taxi driver was eccentric and entertaining and told us that lowballing was working since it was the low season and it was better to take the lower fare than just wait around for another one. Economics in our favour!

We flew from Phuket to Perth and then Perth back to Brisbane. Our trip home went smoothly, which was lucky because transferring in Perth comes with a certain danger. The international and domestic terminals are quite a distance from each other. There is a free transfer bus between them, but it is very irregular and a taxi trip between the two terminals is very costly. Luckily for us, the transfer bus was at the right time and we made it easily.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Hong Kong

In the morning we caught the high speed train to Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong. Although Hong Kong is now part of China, it is still "autonomous" and thus entering Hong Kong from China still involves a border crossing and different visa laws.

Noodles for lunch in one of many shopping areas

Hong Kong is famous for shopping and the main shopping area stretched along Victoria street for miles. Almost every major brand in the world has a store. We spent the day wandering the streets and shopping malls.

Street view in Hong Kong

In the recent past Hong Kong was known as a cheap international shopping destination with all the brands of the world on offer. In the days of the internet and ubiquity of chinese exports, I feel this claim to fame is fading away. The prices overall weren't really that cheap, and were Hong Kong offers a global marketplace, availability of international goods is no longer the logistical problem it once was.

The city itself is positioned inside a ring of mountains next to a large harbour. With little flat land for expansion, the city has expanded towards the sky, skyscrapers sticking up everywhere.

Harbour view from the airport bus

We only spent the day in Hong Kong. We tried to save some money by catching a bus to the airport rather than a taxi. Had a bit of an issue in dealing with an exact money only policy and getting change in Hong Kong dollars that we would never use again, but eventually made it the airport and on to our flight to Singapore.

Saturday, 13 August 2011


Guangzhou is the third largest city in China, with almost 13 million people, and is one of the five National Central Cities. The area around Guangzhou is one large "mega-city", including Shenzhen and other cities, and in total about 40 million people live in the surrounding area. Throughout history, Guangzhou has been a major trading port and has a long history of foreign contact (the city was formerly known as Canton). The city has come of age in recent times due to the proximity of many of the export-producing factories.

Day One - Arrive in Guangzhou

We met up with F2 in the Guangzhou subway and walked to her house. The central areas of Guangzhou were more ordered and clean than in Wuhan, but the weather has still very humid. After a quick stop we went to our hotel, and then onto Jianhe park, an oasis in the midst of the urban jungle.

Jianhe Park in Guangzhou

After walking around the park, we had a late lunch at Chanli studio (delicious!).

Chanli Studio (restaurant) in Jianhe Park

In the evening, F2 and C went out shopping and I retreated back to the hotel, still not feeling one hundred percent.

Day Two - Central Guangzhou

We started the morning with a breakfast buffet in the hotel and then a walk around Jianhe Park. Of note were the mass aerobics and tai chi. Lots of seperate groups of people with one instructor and everyone else following, all spread out over the park

On the way back to the hotel, we were stopped by a road block. There were police and civilians acting as guards. I didn't risk taking a photo. We were told to wait on one side of the road, even though our hotel was very close by. It turned out that the president was visiting a new company in the area, and the security was to create an empty zone of X metres around the president. We could almost see the entrance to the building. We patiently waited for the cars (one surely was a decoy) to leave and then the road was accessible again.

Yum Cha

We met up with F2 and had Yum Cha for lunch. Of course, we had a bowl of chicken feet. Tastes quite fatty and the only problem is when you have to pick the foot bones from out of your teeth.

Chicken feet

After lunch, we walked around central Guangzhou, amongst all the new skyscrapers and shopping malls. A 21st century city!

Modern architecture in central Guangzhou

Street view in central Guangzhou

After shopping, we went to Shamian Island, situated along the banks of the Pearl river which runs through the city. In the 18th and 19th century, foreigners used the island as a trade outpost. Bridges segregate the island from the main parts of the city which kept the evil foreigners from starting trouble. On the island, there were various old colonial buildings, but what made our visit interesting were the many fashion shoots. All over the island were small groups of photographers taking photos of different fashion models. Every 50 metres we would come across another group.

Hot pot and coconut juice

For dinner we had hot pot and coconut juices. I think this was a "foreigner-friendly" hot pot with a large part tomato and the other part spicy.

City lights of Guangzhou

After dinner, we drove around the city looking at all the lights. Many of the buildings and bridges light up at night. Often we had to park illegally to quickly walk along promenades or bridges to take in the view, then scurry back when we thought we saw inspectors coming.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


We began our journey with an uneventful flight from Brisbane to Melbourne. Once in Melbourne, we lined up to checkin for our China Southern flight to Guangzhou and then onto Wuhan.

A woman at the head of the line was attempting to take a large amount of long life milk on the flight. The milk had begun to leak from one of the cartons and was spilling out all over the floor and on the person’s other luggage. Eventually it was cleaned up, not sure what happened to the milk.

We finally got to the check in counter, but our attendant began to get involved with the milk people. Apparently, they were also trying to travel with a box of fish packed in ice, but the ice in the box was over the allowable limit. The officials were starting to open the box, but we were checked in and then on our way, and so missed the resolution.

The overnight China Southern flight was very roomy and there was no problem sleeping. Strangely, there was no video entertainment for such a long flight, but plenty of meals.

Day One - Arrive in Wuhan

In the morning, we had a short flight from Guangzhou to Wuhan.

Drinks in Guangzhou domestic transfer lounge

Wuhan is the most populous city in central China with a population of around 10 million and is one of twenty or so "middle-tier" cities. The city lies at the intersection between the Yangtze and Han rivers which divides the city into three main areas. The area around Wuhan was settled more than 3000 years ago and in recent centuries has become a major domestic transportation hub.

We caught a taxi from the airport and met up with F1+H at their work. We went back to their hotel, I mean house, for a brief rest stop before heading off to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Alas, I forgot to bring the camera, but the food was good!

After lunch, F1+H went back to work and we set off on foot, out into the heat, to the nearby large shopping mall which was called "Shopping Mall". I wandered around for a few hours while C went to get her hair done.

Later, we went out with F1+H for Korean barbecue (no photos!). For those that don't know, Korean barbecue consists of lots of different marinated raw meats that you cook on a hot plate in front of you, as well as several tasty side dishes. Always delicious!

Day Two - Liyuan Park

We had breakfast in a place opposite Shopping Mall. Lots of people were eating there and the prices were cheap.

Breakfast in Wuhan

Our tourist stop for the day was Liyuan Park, which is a famous park situated on East Lake, the largest urban lake in China. Wuhan University sits atop a hill in the same area, well known for its scenic location. The park was green and lush, thanks to the subtropical climate.

Inside Liyuan park

Despite the sticky heat, we walked around for a few hours. We explored winding forest paths to discover pagodas and statues scattered around the park. Unfortunately, the views over the lake to the surrounding hills and the city were obscured by morning mist. Often we questioned our decision to be there on such a hot day when we would arrive hot and extremely sweaty at the top of a hill.

Pagoda in Liyuan park

The statues and monuments appeared to the naive mind to be ancient relics from a noble past, however a sign gave the game away and pretty much everything had been built within the last 25 years.

"Ancient" statues

"Ancient" monuments

At the far end of the park there was a botanical garden section and a sea of pink lotuses spread out over a large lake.

Field of pink lotuses in Liyuan park

Later on, we went with F1+H for a midnight dinner at a laid back restaurant. Again, I forgot the camera, but we eat frog on a stick and some not properly cleaned (my fault!) river prawns which were to haunt me over the next couple of days.

Day Three - Buying glasses, Yellow Crane Tower

In the morning, we took a taxi to a dodgier end of town. We were on a quest to get cheap glasses for C, and there was one particular shop we had to find. It was during this quest that I began to feel the effects of the river prawns from the night before. Coupled with the heat, noise and alien atmosphere, the morning turned into a struggle (for me!). In the end C bought three pairs for the normal price of probably one pair and the mission was a success.

Yellow Crane Tower

As our tourist stop, we visited Yellow Crane Tower, one of the Four Great Towers of China. We wandered around the surrounding gardens and climbed the tower which had good views of the Yangtze river and the city.

Artwork depicting the tower's name

The tower was originally built in 223 AD, and had been made famous in several old poems, well before the modern age covered the land in skyscrapers and roads. The structure that now stands there had been rebuilt recently (1981) like so many ancient places.

View of Wuhan and the river from Yellow Crane Tower

View of Wuhan and the tower bell from Yellow Crane Tower

Finding a taxi home proved harder than anticipated. After following several speculative clues we found ourselves on a very taxi unfriendly street but still competing with other people lined up along the road all looking for taxis. Surrounded by construction work, stuck out in the open in the heat and humidity, dehydrated from sweating and stomach sickness, I fell back on the one super power I possess as a westerner in China, attracting attention. After almost 30 minutes of waiting, walking and hailing, we eventually got a taxi and made our way home.

After an exhausting day, I collapsed in bed. Our plan for the evening was to go out on a river cruise with F1 and H and indulge in a buffet. Eating and being on a boat were the last things my stomach needed, but I mentally resolved myself to go through with it.

As fate would have it, F1 never came home from work, we assumed she had to work late, and so we missed the cruise. Or so we thought. What actually happened is that F1 had come home from work but we hadn't heard her knocking at the door. H was working late, and she hadn't brought her key, and we didn't have a phone. Eventually she gave up and went back to work to wait for H to finish.

Onto Guangzhou

We said goodbye to our lovely hosts F1+H, who dropped us off at the high-speed train station. There was some trepidation at catching the high speed train as only a few weeks previously, there had been a serious crash on a different part of the line that had garnered world wide attention.

High speed train station in Wuhan

As a safety compromise the high speed trains had been universally slowed down. Our train which normally would have been travelling at 350km/h was now at a measly 300km/h. The trip to Guangzhou went smoothly, spending a few hours watching the countryside shoot by.