19.12.16 Back in China

Thankfully the ferry was much calmer than on the way over which also meant it was quieter, so we slept well. We are all given a free breakfast with includes congee, a rice porridge, steamed buns, a boiled egg and processed meat sausage with sweetcorn in.

Its a beautiful sunny day but Xiamen is hidden behind a dark veil of pollution. 

Passport control and customs are smooth and its 10 minutes before our bags get x-rayed. Two buses later (? & 957) and we are at Xiamen north train station, where Al wins first prize in the ‘queue here for 10 minutes and then here for another 10 minutes’ competition and is awarded two tickets to Guangzhou, a small town on the south coast with a population of 12 million. We change at Shenzen north and arrive at Guangzhou at 4.30 pm. Al then queues for 20 minutes for metro tickets which demonstrates her tenacity and finely tuned standing ability. 24 hours after leaving Keelung we are in the hostel.

Downtown Guangzhou is busy with many restaurants including ‘Kung Fu’ fast food chain which uses Bruce Lee as its logo but we opt for Dim Sum, which the region is famous for. We order beef and orange peel balls, fried lotus wontons, seafood steamed rolls, wonton noodle soup and steamed bok choy. It is very, very good. The lotus wantons come with a peanut butter/sesame oil paste which is divine. We will recreate that at home.

Tired from the trip and with bad WiFi we crash early.

Xiamen to Taichung ferry and train to Taipei advice

We travelled overnight in November 2016 from Xiamen, China to Taichung, Taiwan, this is how we managed logistics and is being posted to help anyone else planning on doing the same. 

We booked our tickets through Amoy travel, all online and very quick to respond. All that was required was to pick tickets up from the ferry port before 4.30. Fine, but there was no indication of opening time of the stand, it is 2pm.

As with most things we have done in China there are groups of Chinese tourists but few, if any, non Chinese. Just 2 Danish guys were on the ferry as well as us.  

The ferry is very basic! One restaurant, no bar and very little duty free (and not cheap) so take your own food and drinks, albeit the restaurant is o.k. We had fried rice, seaweed soup for 25 yuan. There were signs for karaoke booths and sauna but neither were open. So we ate and went back to bunks for lights out at 10.20 pm. They were back on at 5.50 am along with music soon after. 

We did get a key for our room from reception, deposited 100 yuan, but it was hardly worth it for the amount of time you are out of the bunks. There are the outside decks to wander round but it was so windy and wet that these were closed off after a while on our trip. There was a ‘lounge’ with 8 chairs in the corridor. 

On leaving the ferry at Taichung through immigration we had help from a guy who worked at the port, there were no ATM’s and he was able to change some currency for us (rate was o.k.- 450 NT$ for 100 yuan, should have been 465) 

He then helped us get the green bus no. 308 at 9.20am from the right hand side of exit from harbour building, cost NT$ 66 each. Bus had English announcements and signs at most stops,  the driver was very friendly and helpful the train station is the last stop. The journey took 1hr 15 mins. A taxi was quoted as TW$800.

We then caught the train to Taipei, so as Taichung station is currently being rebuilt (next door) we followed people walking through the old building to the new, bought tickets with UK credit card and waited for our train. The slow train takes 3 hours and cost TW$140 each. 

The biggest frustration in Taipei on arrival was finding an ATM, we did find one in a 7/ 11 outside Taipei Main Train Station. 

22.11.16 – Xiamen to somewhere in the Taiwan Strait

An uneventful banana breakfast is followed by packing and an eventful final lunch in Xiamen. We go back to the friendly restaurant next door and do what we call ‘build your own’ where you pick veg and protein from a vast selection and the chefs cook it in a broth. When it arrives it looks beautiful, red chilli flecked broth in a blue and white bowl topped with green coriander. The smell of Sichuan flower pepper wafts from it and we dive in. By the time we wave bye bye Al doesn’t need to ask if my bald patch is leaking as rivers of sweat are running down my head. If any chilli fiends out there haven’t tried Sichuan cooking I would recommend it.

Hostel turf out time is noon so with nothing to do we go to the ferry terminal. International Ferries to Taiwan are signposted in English but when we get to the indicated gate 10 there is nothing there. We have been told to pick up our tickets by 16.30 from the Cosco counter. Al relaxes with the bags while I try and find it.

Attempt 1 involves me riding an escalator into a posh seafood restaurant where I mistakenly think Gate 10 is. The door staff welcome me then giggle when I ask about tickets.

Attempt 2 involves me riding a lift to floor three where the ticket counters are. I emerge on the floor I was already on. A cleaner gives me a funny look.

Attempt 3 involves me finding the Cosco ticket counter! Hurrah! I notice all the computers have bin liners over them and three people are eating their lunch. I point at the cosco sign and one of the diners comes over and says ‘We are NOT cosco’

There is no attempt 4. Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing (Zen). I read my book.

About 2.30 I notice two blokes talking to a woman in a check shirt behind the Cosco counter. I stroll over and have a nose. They ignore me. I walk round to the other side of the counter and see she has one of the PCs on and has a spreadsheet open. I have hope. A security guard comes over and asks the two blokes to move the sacks they have left in the middle of the terminal. They begrudgingly walk off and I sense an opportunity and minutes later have tickets in my triumphant hands.

As the afternoon slowly shuffles forward the terminal fills with Chinese tour parties and by five when the doors are opened there are probably 100 Chinese tourists, us and two Danish lads.

We board with excited anticipation as we are off to a new country and we love ferry trips. Our four bed dorm has only us in there which is a bonus but on the ‘not-quite-a-bonus’ side we are the first dorm so everyone will pass our door which is a wild west bar style with no top or bottom and therefore no soundproofing. 

Also on the ‘not-quite-a-bonus’ list is the fact there is NO BAR and nothing worthwhile in duty free. There is a karaoke room but its closed and there is a sauna but its not on. We head to the restaurant and spend time looking at the pictures of food outside, because, let’s face it, we have time. Inside we are handed a laminate with four choices. We both go for fried rice and it arrives at least 15 seconds after sitting at our table. It is presented on a wonderful white plastic tray. We ponder if we are on a prison ship and try to get the other inmates to bang their cutlery on the tables while we sing “self preservation society”. No one joins in.

We watch the lights of Xiamen fade into the distance but the wind and rain drive us inside, so at 7pm, with nothing to do we head to our cell to read, looking forward to getting a good nights sleep……..

20.11.2016 Not visiting Gulang Lu

Hostel staff convince us that we are ok to get a bus to the Gulyang Lu ferry port. We follow their instructions, catch bus with usual grumpy driver who glares at us, pay our 12p each and play chicken as to when we should get off the bus. We miss the Guyang Lu ferry stop and have to walk about 2km back to the local port we saw yesterday and which our trusty lonely planet tells us we can get a ferry from. It is hot and humid and sweaty. 

Queuing up we see new signs which forbid anyone but a local using the local (cheap) ferry. All other tourists (including Chinese) have to use the ferry port we have just walked 2 km from and pay 5 times the price. We sigh, and maybe we swore a little too. As we were only doing this to kill time we forget it and decide to have a wander around the building site which is Xiamen. 

We go into a mall and see kids on an indoor ice rink practicing for the winter Olympics. It is just the weather for that at 29 degrees. We sit in a park for a bit. 

We get a BRT to the station and have a kumquat bubble tea! Lush but really, kumquats…..just the name makes me giggle and think I am too middle class . 

Guy is starving so we settle on a Korean restaurant and have a vegetable bimbi (hot pot kinda thing first introduced to us by fellow traveller Steve O’Connor in Birmingham!) also tonkasu chicken with a sweet sauce and shredded Chinese cabbage and apple sauce, kimchi and pickled diakon. It is really delicious. 

Also interesting to note that the 2 young blokes sat next to us have one sentence between them the whole time we are there. The rest of the time is spent on phones and have headphones on. Youth of today!

We have a free evening, Sunday evening. What to do? No bars but the local shop sells some small bottles of booze which we haven’t tried yet.

We tried them, mentholly and cloves flavours over power the palette. 35% though so does the job and at least we can say we tried it. 

19.11.2016 Hot, innit? 

We have finally made it to the heat we have been craving.  Xiaman seems like the real China, grubby back streets, open houses merging into restaurants, no English signs, heat, humidity and lung clogging air pollution. 

But, our planning has failed us, although the reviews for our hostel all say great location, we are not sure why. It is about an hour’s walk from the main drag, the ferry to Taiwan, the ferry to Gulang Yu, temples, parks absolutely everything,  it is all the other end of town.  The place is having a subway added, all stations seem to be being excavated at the same time so everywhere you walk there are massive holes and disruption, as there is no subway there is only buses to use which are not useful for us. 

We are getting used to the heat and humidity, a bonus of the heat is we can get washing done here, first job of a Saturday morning is to put 2 loads of washing on and hang it out. Guy is happy. 

We get outside and are sweating and hungry, so what do you eat when you are sweaty and hungry? Chilli!

All the cooks in the restaurant came to watch the ‘waiguoren’ eat the spicy noodles, Dan Dan mian.  I was wearing a white shirt…..it is now in the wash. They were lush, this is our favourite Chinese dish along with Zhajiangmian, which is very similiar. Like Chinese spag bog for you English heathens! 

We then walked for miles, my fitbit can testify to that, through parks, subway building sites spraying mists of water everywhere, food streets, past interesting back streets and then the usual redeveloped roads and shop fronts made to look like colonial buildings. With the covered walkways and Asian feel it reminded us of Penang. 

We made it to the water front, rested on a bench and peered through the smog to the next island. No sooner had we parked our arses and looked forward to a few moments peace and quiet when the locals started playing the Erhu and screeching along to it, through an amp. How the bloke next to us managed to carry on snoring I have no idea.

Eardrums blown we carried on walking, through the back end of the port, off the tourist trail, understandably!

We then looked skyward and saw an above ground transport system seemingly overgrown with bougainvillia and ivy. It seemed impossible to think this was a system to transport people about. We spied escalators so decided we had energy to investigate. It is a raised bus route, buses in the sky or BRT. Lonely planet said nothing about this phenomenon. Thanks! No signs were in English, the map was only vaguely familiar but we paid 6p each and boarded the bus in the sky. 

It took us closer to home, a mere 40 min walk home now. We decided to waste time queuing to try and buy tickets for our overnight train when we return from Taiwan, only to find out you cannot buy tickets more than 5 days in advance.

Guy needed a burger, a Mos burger, so we stopped and had a dirty burger accompanied by chicken nuggets (instead of the usual French fries!!!???)

 A sweaty walk home required a beer or two, and tea was dumplings, yes, more dumplings! We can’t get enough of them but these are at least coloured!!!!

18.11.2016 Hangzhou to Xiamen- not much happened 

If you are catching up on the blog and need to skip a day here and there, this is one to skip, we got a 7 hour train, sweated, went to bed. Food and beer were involved. 

If you are still wanting more or have time to spare at work (!!!) then I will elaborate. 

We left our lovely room and painted sink at 7.45. Walked through Hangzhou early morning rush hour, past mums and dads taking kids to school, butchers and veg shops doing brisk trade and the ever busy Muslim bread shop’s queue of loyal customers spilling out on the street. 

It was a lovely 14 degrees. 

We got to Hangzhou train station and admired it. On the walk to the waiting area you could buy a new car, perfume, flowers and very posh looking stuff from teeny boutique shops. No 7/11 for water though. 

Train was on time, we boarded, sat in our seats, no one else tried to get in our seats or tell us we were in their seats so it was successful. 

It was a 7 hour train which we used the time to read and blog, write diary etc. 

Breakfast was Taiwanese dumplings with outrageously hot chilli sauce, delicious. 

Pot noodles were had at 12.45, after everyone else in the carriage who had theirs about 11.15.

We watched the temperature readings get higher and higher. When we got off it read 29 degrees. There was no indication of the soaring humidity. We were drenched in 5 mins of lugging backpacks. 

We already knew we were getting into a train station 25km north of Xiaman, so knew we needed to either get a bus (recommended by our hostel) or train then 2km walk. As we have no idea where to get off a bus we opted for train. So got off our Xiaman North train, left station, queued at ticket office for tickets, queued for security checks (actually we were Chinese and skipped the queue for this, just looked hassled and pushed in), queued in waiting area for train, got on train and got to Xiamen (proper) station. 

It was now dark but still 29 degrees and humid. A 2 km walk down a street passing Tesco, Esso, MosBurger (Japanese burger chain) and many restaurants with plastic stools and people drinking cold, cold Tsingtao. 

We were excited, the thought of a cold beer and hot food kept us going. We nearly walked past the hostel, but trained observer Guy, saw the teeny sign and we went to reception, dripped sweat and got our room key (not before we had been shown the rules of the hostel, all in chinese, even the WiFi pass code).

Room was light, and had air con! How posh are we??

We went straight out on the hunt for food and beer. We found a lovely restaurant and ordered lion head meat balls (no lion meat was involved), spring rolls, sea cabbage (seaweed) salad, pickled cucumber, fried chickpeas, taro balls and a never ending portion of rice, oh and 2 (maybe 3) large beers.

It was like a Chinese tapas meal. Brilliant. All for £6.50. 

Full we made our way home, maybe got a couple more beers just to cool down in our room, and relaxed watching basketball and figure skating on channel 5.