30 July 2013


This is something I wrote a couple of months ago, but never got around to publishing. As I'm in Beijing and no longer resident on Daisy it is about time I published it. Pictures to follow, once I find some bandwidth.

It is about time I introduced the most important member of the travelling circus that is this tour - Daisy.

Daisy is a 12.5 ton Tata truck - she is our method of transport until we hit Beijing (we have a different truck in Mongolia - Daisy heads off to India, via Nepal) and our home. Yes we might sleep in hostels, hotels, tents, homestays and who knows what in the future (boats, yurts and rocks, at least), but Daisy is home. The only fixed thing in months of travelling.

Daisy carries everything we need - we've got a fridge (no freezer), water, cooking stuff (gas burners, cooking pots, etc), tents and a locker for our bags. Inside we've all got individual little lockers for small items for day-to-day stuff. We have little, but you really don't need much on a trip like this. (and after my dejunking at home - you don't need much at home either).

Seating wise there are 22 seats and 2 tables for us to use. Currently there is a lot of space as there are only 7 passengers, but in Ashgabat we lose Chris and pick up another 10 people - it will be a very different trip come the 20th and we start the next leg of the journey. We lose a whole bunch of people in Bishkek, including Tony & Brian who left Istanbul with me - another trip again.

In answer to a question I've had from several people... Yes, we have windows; we all spend a lot of time looking at the scenery float by.  The idea of bouncing around in a windowless truck (through stunning scenery) is the type of thing the CIA would probably do to someone they don't like.

Daisy stands out and is the source of much staring in every town we drive through (and every border crossing too).
To make getting back in and out easier she has pull-out steps, which only adds to the circusness of it all. (We can get in/out without the steps, it's just easier with.)

This is Olly's and Jan's first trip with Daisy (and for them to work together - something they'll be doing for the next year, as they head off to India together after Beijing) as she has been driven up from Africa. At this point we head up to Mongolia and another truck, but for the next few months Daisy is home.

Hopefully this gives you a better idea of what my home is at the moment.

The Beijing Metro

Air conditioned.
Easy to navigate.
In Chinese and English.
LED sign which tells you which way the train is going, the next station, which side the doors will open on.
Very cheap. 20p for a single, for what would be £pounds in London. Even allowing for income differences, dirt cheap - helping people use public transport.

For all the complaining we all do about TfL, London's transport network really isn't bad. That said, London could do well for looking at Beijing and borrowing some ideas.

Avril juice

For reasons best known to someone else, Avril Lavigne is the face of a brand of iced tea in China. We, well - I, call it Avril Juice.

29 July 2013

Paper books

As a part of travelling I made the conscious choice to carry no paper books with me except a single travel book per region and to use my Kindle for all reading - it is smaller and lighter than the smallest  paperback and holds many more books than I can read in a year.
It has worked really well and I've been slowly working my way through various books, mostly from the recommendations people gave me before I left.


It just isn't the same as a paper book. It doesn't look the same or feel the same; the kindle is just another lump of plastic with some electronics inside, but a book is a book. Dead trees just feel better.

This is why whilst wondering around Beijing tonight (near the night market, for those interested) finding an English language book shop was exciting - the prospect of a real book and just in time for the 30+ hour train journey to Mongolia. Perfect.

Cue getting sucked-in to the shop, losing all track of time.

The first hit was the Lonely Planet guide to Mongolia, as my Silk Road book doesn't cover it. The China one Shaun has on his phone has been very useful, so spending the money to get it was a reasonably easy choice.
After that is the hard decision - what to get. After much wandering around the shop I settled for 2 George Orwell books (Burmese Days and Homage to Catalonia), both of which I've wanted to read for a while, where the train journey I start on Wednesday should give me the time to kickback, relax and read. And catch-up with blog posts and all the emails I've not replied to yet.

Hopefully I can swap the books with someone on our new truck in Mongolia, where I must remember to register them with Book Crossing.

28 July 2013

Hitting The Wall

A couple of weeks ago as we were on the road to Xiahe (day 74, 7th July) I hit The Wall. Not The Great Firewall, I've got around that, and not The Great Wall of China, which I'd camped next to only a couple of days before.
I hit The Wall of Tiredness. After 2.5 months of bouncing around in Daisy, having had near constant movement for that time with 4 nights in one place the longest I'd spent anywhere, my body and my brain decided I needed a little rest. It was right.

For the next 2 weeks (days 74 to 94) I probably wasn't taking in all I could be or making the most of what was around me to see/experience. In a way a shame, but in a year long trip there is always going to have to be downtime - be it through tiredness or illness (as I write this I've got a cold, my first case of lurgy since leaving the UK - not bad for 3 months, 7 countries and thousand of miles).

Some notes...
(I'm aware that these are out of sequence to other stuff, but it sure you'll cope. I've got plentifully of bits to write and post which areas going to mess the sequencing up further, get use to it. :))

Xiahe (days 74-76)
Described as a "one street town", where a lot on the stuff is along the main street, but plenty of interesting back streets. A cool little place, although one I didn't make the most of as I'd just hit The Wall.
Tibetten Buddhism pilgrimage. Lots of temples, monks and more prayer wheels than I thought any one place could needed (not that I've ever thought about it).
Monks seemed very interested in us, possibly due to the few western travellers who comes here. (That said, I saw more European faces in this one town in 3 days than I had in a couple months - about a dozen).
Fantastic tour of the monastery, which you should do if you get here, with a very bubbly monk asked our guide. Stunning buildings and amazing decoration, but photography is forbidden inside the temples.
Listening to hundreds of monks chant is awesome - a sound which I could listen to for hours, but alas we weren't allowed to stay long in that part of that temple.

Lanzhou (day 78)
The first "big" Chinese city. Whilst Kashgar had bits which were big city, this is the first "proper" big city in China and the biggest city since leaving London. Not so much a culture shock, more an interesting return with with a Chinese twist.
The first McDonalds in months and I'm sure there was a Starbucks too - an unwelcome return to the western (global) brands.
Olly's first haircut in years. Wouldn't have missed witnessing (and documenting) this. Hysterical doesn't come close; had issues in holding it together at times. :)
Excellent night market, full of great food. Very busy (hard to move) the later it got. Very good "Chinese burger" (chopped pork & peppers in a fresh bun - for 70p).

Xi'an (days 79-82)
The Terracotta Warriors. They are as good as you think they are and if you are anywhere near Xi'an you need to make the time to visit them; you'll want about 1/2 I day, assuming you use one of the on-site guides. (she was the best of the attraction guides we'd had in the journey so far.)
What is particularly amazing (other than the whole thing) is that the Chinese have stopped excavation of the site (many years ago) as, probably among other reasons, once the statues are exposed to the air their paint fades within about a year. For a country who has a (well deserved?) reputation for not give much thought about the preservation of old things, it is very surprising that they've left a lot in the ground - there really does see to be a want to preserve this site for generations to come.

Yanan (day 83)
Sleeping in a cave houses is a new one for me.
In the middle or nowhere and had better Internet access than in some majors cities.

Pingyao (days 85 & 86)
Tourist hell. Avoid.

Wutai Shan (days 87 & 88)
More Buddhist temples, monks, nuns (don't worry, I didn't know they had Buddhist nuns either) and endless Chinese tourists - some tourists and some pilgrims to the temples, to which the placement is specialist.
Random find of a morning - a lot of nuns working on building site, clearing and cleaning-up bricks.
Amusement: watching one of the ever present tuk-tuk like delivery bikes full of cement drive (bounce) up hill. Fluids + overfull delivery bike + hill + uneven road = less cement being delivered than expected.
(sides note: the delivery bikes areas like bigger tuk-tuks, where I've seen them be used to transport people, food, rebar, animals, and pretty much anything else you can think of.)

Jinshanling (days 89 & 90)
Back on the Great Wall, but where this bit looks like what you'd expect /what you see in pictures, just with a *lot* less people.
Great placed to watch sunset.

Being (days 91-94)
I'll write a separate entry for Beijing.

That square

I am here: 39 54.234 N 116 23.488 E at 38m as of 28/07/2013 07:31 BST http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:39.90391,116.39147

The Forbidden City

I am here: 39 55.047 N 116 23.439 E at 43m as of 28/07/2013 04:25 BST http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:39.91745,116.39066

The Great Wall, again

I am here: 40 40.638 N 117 13.86 E at 447m as of 24/07/2013 11:17 BST http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:40.67731,117.231

Roads you can't use when wet

I am here: 37 26.23 N 111 26.838 E at 1285m as of 18/07/2013 08:27 BST http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:37.43718,111.44731

Ok, so it was raining, but it was raining and not, for example, a torrent of water which would make Noah take note.

For reasons best known to the Chinese this means that we couldn't take Daisy on to the motorway - we are a truck (although technically we are a coach on the paperwork) and trucks aren't allowed on the road when it's raining. No, really - they wouldn't let us on because it was raining and we were a truck.
We tried many different toll bothes to get on to the motorway, but all refused. Stuck on the local roads.

After lunch the rain and died down, so we attempted the motorway again. Still couldn't use it, as we were a coach with more than 8 seats, even though we only had 7 passengers on board (+ 3 crew). Trucks could use the road, but we were a coach.

Cue much arguing, including just turning the engine off whilst blocking a toll booth.
Alas no change - another reverse and the rest of the day stuck on local roads, adding hours to the journey.

It's China.

Papers, please

I am here: 37 26.437 N 110 41.967 E at 685m as of 17/07/2013 09:30 BST http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:37.44062,110.69946

Stuck at this location for several hours, an internal border between regions (roughly equivalent to US States, I think). The problem - one piece of paper is missing one stamp and the official at the border won't let us cross without it, as it is on his neck. That many other officials haven't worried about it gives you a clue to the state of the officialdom here.

As we say many times a day... It's China. :)

13 July 2013

Heat wave

From the BBC:
Heatwave alerts for much of England http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23283198

They forecast for Xi'an (whereas I currently am and will be for the next couple of days) is 30 degC and a humidity level I've not experienced since Singapore. It's like this all way to Beijing (2 weeks) and then I'm back to desert heat for some of Mongolia.

The ~40degC heat we were doing a couple or weeks ago seems like a lifetime ago.

I'm sure I'll complain about the weather when I get back (I'm British, it's what we do), but I hope I'll complain a lot less about it.


After nearly 3 months of travel I'm currently eating my first cooked breakfast.

9 July 2013

Urumqi (day 63)?

Food. Specifically Olly helping to reduce waste food, at the amusement (and confusion) of the waitresses and the overfull stomachs of the rest of of (me, Matt, Sean & Karen).

A new meat (day 74)

I am here: 35 11.786 N 102 30.719 E at 2940m as of 07/07/2013 14:16 BST http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:35.19643,102.51199

Yak. And tasty it is too.

Lost blog posts

A combination of the Blogger app on my phone and poor Internet access means I've lost about half of the draft blog posts for Kyrgyzstan I'd written and was trying to get uploaded. I've also lost a couple of China ones, but that is less of an issue as I can just rewrite those from memory - something I'll struggle to do for Kyrgyzstan.

Time to change how I record my thoughts and how I write/draft blog posts, especially as in Mongolia I'll have almost no Internet access for 3 weeks.

8 July 2013

More camping at The Great Wall (day 72)

I am here: 38 32.757 N 101 23.989 E at 2081m as of 05/07/2013 07:59 BST http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:38.54596,101.39983

Last bushcamp in China - no more until Mongolia, but then it is 3 weeks of bush camping and Gers. The Chinese don't really do camping and so we've got limited options / more of the things we need to see are city based.

Dinner was cooked by Claire, or guide, giving us a taste of proper home cooked Chinese food - it was delicious. Rice, spicy pork and potato soup like thing (don't drink the soup, it's too spicy), beef & onions, egg plant, leafy greens and a marinated cucumber thing. Yum!

Falling asleep in my tent (5), looking at the starts through the window, whilst a few feet from a section of The Great Wall is really surprisingly cool.

Waking up and the first thing to see out of the tent is The Great Wall is just as good.

Camping by The Great Wall (day 71)

I am here: 39 50.915 N 98 10.913 E at 1614m as of 04/07/2013 12:28 BST http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:39.84858,98.18189

Having left the western end of the wall we went to The Overhanging Wall, which is a section of The Wall about 15 km from the western end, which is more dug-in to the hills and thus there is an overhang.
A gentle, if steep, walk up, which I did with John - a nice thing to do with him on Independence Day. The view from the top (the second watchtower in this section) was worth it - a view down the back to where the wall was and down the front from where we'd walked up and towards the modern China that is Jiayugan - it was dirty, polluted, full of construction sites and industry. For the massive difference in the very old and very new China it gave a huge sense of place.

Olly had a travelgasm, which given the amount he has seen and done around the world (personally and with Dragoman) is telling.

Our campsite for the night was a few hundred meters away (see lat/long), where after dinner we walked (up) another section of it to watch sunset from a watchtower.

Tonight we camped by The Great Wall! :-D

The Great Wall (day 71)

I am here: 39 48.065 N 98 12.876 E at 1743m as of 04/07/2013 http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:39.80109,98.21461

It isn't everyday that you get to go to the western end (start) of the Great Wall. Today I did.

The Great Wall.

It is something which everyone knows about - it is probably something which is taught to school kids.

Today I had chance to visit the western end of The Wall, which unlike the eastern end (something I'll probably visit when I'm in Beijing) it is calm and relatively free of tourists. (The pictures I've seen of the other end of the wall makes it look like Oxford Street at Christmas.)

There is an interesting museum too and whilst most of the info is in Chinese, there is enough in English to understand what you're looking at - the history of The Wall, how is was made, construction and how it varies in places, the guards and some great pictures of it too.

It has been a real thrill to be here today.

This is local food for local people, there's nothing for your kind here (day 69)

China has many opportunities for eating (very) local food and some of us (me, Shaun, Karen and Matt) on  the truck actively seeking out local, hole-in-the-wall, places to get food - so far this has given us some really really good food for very little money (I'm paying no more than £2.50 for a good, tasty, freshly cooked, evening meal - typically a bunch of dishes shared between us).
Tonight we went looking for the local speciality, something none of us had tried before.


Yes kids, I ate Eeyore. And whilst others in the group were underwhelmed by it, I liked it and would eat it again - although at a different place, as found several places after which looked like better places.

3 July 2013

Something I've been pondering of late

Humans – the real threat to life on Earth http://gu.com/p/3gqjm


I am here: 40 2.496 N 94 48.463 E at 1342m as of 03/07/2013 01:56 BST http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:40.04161,94.80772

Chinese beds

I am here: 40 8.153 N 94 39.695 E at 1146m as of 03/07/2013 http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:40.13589,94.6616

The Chinese do many things well (food, fake goods, dictatorships, etc.), but one thing they suck at is beds.

The bed for tonight is a plank of wood. Not a mattress which is just firm, but a bed in a hotel which has no mattress and is essentially a plank of wood.

We need to have soft mattresses made in China - this way they'll have something too copy for the local market. ;)

Blog post order

I'm having issues getting the blog posts from Kyrgyzstan uploaded, so I'm going to publish the stuff from China, with the Kyrgyzstan stuff to follow once Blogger plays nice.

2 July 2013

Bushcamp location (day 68)

I am here: 41 2.4 N 95 24.959 E at 1716m as of 01/07/2013 http://maps.google.com/maps?q=loc:41.04001,95.416