A Travellerspoint blog

August 2017

Stop 23 - Ulaanbaatar to St Petersburg


View Overland adventures - UK to Ho Chi Minh City and back without getting on a plane! on Chloemillen92's travel map.

The next leg of our trip consisted of a 75 hour train ride, luckily we had treated ourselves to a first class cabin for this rather lengthy section!

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Time passed surprisingly quickly and was mostly spent looking out the window at incredible views, playing cards, eating and reading. We had a lot of bread, cream cheese and tomatoes, and far too much tea. Seeing the landscape in full summer was a really nice contrast from three and a bit months earlier.

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We had decided to break the journey to St Petersburg with a night in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city. We had a slightly odd AirBnB, but the city turned out to be surprisingly fun and interesting, with some beautiful buildings, a great photography gallery, good Uzbek restaurants and some atmospheric cafes. The church above was built on the site of the deaths of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.

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After a two-nighter back in third class 'platzkart', we arrived early into St Petersburg, woke up our AirBnB host and headed for breakfast and coffee. It felt strange being back somewhere European after a few months in Asia. We spent the day wondering round and sightseeing, heading for various churches and cathedrals, the beautiful parks and canals, and Palace Square - the Hermitage is shut on Mondays :(.

Next morning, we jumped on the early Allegro train to Helsinki.

Posted by Chloemillen92 13:42 Archived in Russia Tagged train russia saint_petersburg siberia yekaterinburg trans_siberian Comments (0)

Stop 22 - Mongolia


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An extremely comfortable 26 hour train journey later (we ended up with a cabin all to ourselves because it was quiet!), we arrived in the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar. Settling into our hostel and doing a bit of research, we quickly discovered that we had not quite budgeted enough money for this part of our trip... Opportunities for independent travel are a bit more limited unless you're willing to buy your own horse, so the vast majority of tourists sign up for tours, which were a bit beyond our budget. Scouring AirBnB however, we found a brilliant ger camp in the Terelji National Park, just a couple of hours by bus from Ulaanbaatar (UB).

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Over the few days we spent in the capital, we found ourselves pretty taken with it despite the traffic jams. The city is surrounded by beautiful hills that you can see from almost anywhere and some incredible temples in amongst the glass high-rises. Sadly, the Soviet purges of the 30s destroyed most of Mongolia's religious buildings but luckily a few have survived. There are quite a few good bars, lots of Korean restaurants and some great street art. There was also a state department store which contained a supermarket with some foods we actually knew how to eat/cook (for the first time in about 2.5 months)

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We took a fairly straightforward bus from the city to the national park and were driven through rivers and hills to our ger camp. There was no electricity or running water (other than the stream) in the area and it was incredibly beautiful. Poojee, the Mongolian guy who set up the camp, was a really friendly guy and we were quickly shown our cosy ger, given a lunch of delicious buuz (Mongolian dumplings) and put on the back of a horse. The gers had little stoves inside and were lit by candles.

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We went on a couple of afternoon horse rides through the huge Mongolian landscapes, having almost zero experience beforehand. We were very quickly galloping along, with our Mongolian guides howling at the horses to speed them up. Although we were very sore and stiff afterwards, it was a lot of fun riding like that in the open without the rules of the UK. There were also great opportunities for nice hikes up valleys and hills to watch the eagles soaring above.

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Heading back to the city, we stopped off at the largest horse statue in the world! This recent monument to Chingghis Khan is pretty impressive and stands out for miles.

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Back in the city, we wanted to head back out into the beautiful wilderness as soon as possible. Our guide book suggested a bus to a small town and then a couple of hours hike up to a ruined monastery in a forest, and back again. The bus proved much more difficult to catch from the city than planned (we ended up getting it from the car park of a furniture showroom on the outskirts) but the landscaped quickly opened up again and the monastery was in a beautiful setting. We ended up catching a lift part of the way there from a friendly Mongolian couple and a kind Australian and his Mongolian wife gave us a lift all the way back to UB. A quick trip to the State Department Store to stock up on food, we were ready for our 74 hour trfor back into Siberia.

Posted by Chloemillen92 04:22 Archived in Mongolia Tagged horses mongolia ger ub ulaanbaatar central_asia chinggis_khan terelji Comments (1)

Stop 21 - Xi'an and Beijing


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We arrived into a VERY hot Xi'an (42 degrees) after a slightly stressful cancelled train journey, meaning we got there a bit later than planned. We entertained ourselves drinking Chinese beer until it cooled down a bit and then went up onto the huge city walls to explore. We managed to make it around 20 minutes along before a crowd of people starting sprinting towards us and we noticed how dark the sky had got... Not wanting to be left behind, we joined the fleeing crowds from what turned out to be a sandstorm, followed by one of the biggest storms we've ever seen.

The sky was full of lightning for hours.

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The biggest attraction for the city is the world famous Terracotta Warriors, a quick bus ride away. The warriors were created as part of the first Chinese Emperor's tomb and are just of a ridiculous scale. They were discovered in the 1970s by local farmers trying to dig a new well, stumbling across 3 giant pits that have still not been entirely excavated. Every single warrior is unique, with a different facial expressions and clothing.

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Xi'an is fairly unique in China, having a large Muslim population and a pedestrianised Muslim quarter. The food was brilliant, with lots more street food than other parts of China, including the Chinese hamburger and cold, sesame noodles. There are also old, Chinese-style mosques, complete with moon-doors!

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The city walls in the dark!

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Delicious dumplings!

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We had another cancelled night train that we were supposed to be taking to Beijing, so had to change our plans slightly and catch a much more expensive high-speed train the next morning. After dropping our bags at our AirBnB and making for the Forbidden City, we discovered the tickets were sold out for the day and headed up to Jingshan Park instead. The park contains pretty much the only hill in Beijing, giving amazing views of the city and directly over the Forbidden City.

Posted by Chloemillen92 12:54 Archived in China Tagged storm china beijing xi'an lightning terracotta_warriors jingshan_park muslim_quarter peking_duck chinese_hamburger Comments (0)

Stop 20 - Chengdu


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We got off the train in Chengdu feeling pretty grumpy and tired. A group of 14 year old Chinese kids had been screaming, shouting and running around the train for the entirety of the 25 hour journey. They had picked up our cards in the middle of the card game, kept (rudely) asking questions we didn't want to answer and were constantly dropping food all over the floor and our bed, one end of which they were using as an extra seat. We really couldn't have disliked them more if we tried. The weather was baking and our bags felt heavier than ever as we lugged them along but then out of the blue, just as we needed it most, a random man cycled up to us and gave us two bottles of cold lemon ice tea and simultaneously restored our faith in humanity. From this point on Chengdu and the surrounding area became one of our favourite places so far.

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The city itself had lots to do, with a great selection of temples, nunneries, teahouses and shops. A real highlight was enjoying a Buddhist lunch ceremony at Aidao nunnery just around the corner from our hostel.

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One of the main attractions of the area, located just outside the city, is seeing the super cute giant pandas at the research base. This place is trying to increase the (very small) numbers in the wild by encouraging the notoriously picky animals to breed and making sure all the cubs survive. We learned that in the wild if a panda has more than one cub it will only look after the healthiest and abandon the other!

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The food in this area is well known for being spicy but delicious and the city has loads of great looking eating places. We tried one of the most well known local foods - hot pot! This one was different from anything we had ever tried before as there was a variety of broths to cook in and you could choose what you wanted to cook by going to the fridge yourself and filling a tray with as different skewers.

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We spent a couple of days in the area surrounding Chengdu, the first of which was spent gawping at the world's biggest Buddha statue in Le Shan. It is 70 meters high and was build over a thousand years ago to try and prevent people dying in the three surrounding rivers. Apparently this was quite effective but perhaps moreso due to the amount of rock that was deposited in the river during the Buddha's construction slowing down the flow of water - who knows. In the same complex there was an amazing cave that was full of yet more huge statues and carvings.

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Finally we headed towards one of China's four sacred mountains - Emeishan. The views from the top were spectacular and our nights accommodation in a temple at the foot of the mountain was serene. Waking up to the sounds of monks chanting at 5am isn't something you do everyday.

Posted by Chloemillen92 06:46 Archived in China Tagged mountain tea china buddha panda sichuan chengdu spicy emei_shan le_shan Comments (0)

Stop 19 - Xingping


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Our first stop back in China was a small hotel and attached organic, permaculture garden; we had organised to spend a few days there as part of a WorkAway and were helping out with general household work and making up guests' rooms etc. This was a little disappointing as it was sort of sold to us more on the permaculture side of things, something we are interested in learning a bit more about. However the setting was beautiful, food amazing and people pretty friendly so we decided to stick around.

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As the hotel was busy, we were staying in tents upon the roof. This meant it was pretty warm, but did give us early morning views like those above! The scenery around Xingping is incredible.

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Here you can see the mountain that the hotel and farm backed into - it was an incredibly spectacular!

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After a few days at the WorkAway we spent a couple of nights in the nearby town and cycled around the area. The scenery features in the back of the 20 Yuan note!

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Just a little idea of how dramatic the limestone karsts were - there were so many stars as well.

Posted by Chloemillen92 08:01 Archived in China Tagged china yangshuo xingping workaway guangxi limestone_karst Comments (0)

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