Kyrgyzstan

After our amazing time in the Pamir’s we had arrived in Osh. This is one of the major cities in Kyrgyzstan home to around 300000 people. It was hot when we arrived which made a nice change from being half frozen in the mountains for the last week.

Hanging out on top of Sulayman Too in Osh

The highlight of Osh was definitely Sulayman Too. Although, the quintessential soviet era theme park would be a close second. This has been a historic pilgrimage site for centuries. Panoramic views were mixed with the call to prayer of several different mosques, making for a great place to take in the evenings. An interesting rock slide on the mountain is used by the locals to increase fertility. There were also claims it could cure back pain, though it seemed more likely to cause it.

A quick flight to the north landed us in the capital city Bishkek (previously Frunze) where we spent a night, including one last trip to a stolovya which had become our principal source of delicious but excess calories while in Russia and Central Asia.

A 4000 year old field of petroglyphs in Cholpon Ata

We set out on a two week tour of lake Issyk-kul (or as issy likes to put it, Issy’s cool). A marshrutka took us to our first stop of cholpon ata. This place was known for being a soviet holiday destination.

Since the fall in the late 80’s it has gone to seed, leaving behind massive abandoned hotels and a eerie feeling around the town It was a nice place to relax, and provided a more than adequate remedy to our long standing beach cravings, even including the traditional sunburn.

The beaches aren’t too bad for a landlocked country.

Karakol beckoned with the call of the mountains. We were surprised to find a new take on our favourite food noodles . Karakol is the home of Ashlan-fu, a cold noodle dish consisting of two types of noodles (rice and wheat), some spring onion, a little scrambled egg and doused in vinegar. These tasty bowls were everywhere, and went down a treat with a fried potato pancake. By the end of our time we had eaten more bowls of this than one lifetime needs.

Ashlan fu

After returning battered and bruised from our hike (see other post)we headed out to KolFest. This was a three day music festival located on the south shore of issyk-kul. The festival location was amazing.

Looking out from the main stage over Issyk-Kul

This was put together by some Germans, Japanese and locals, which made for a fun mix of cultures whilst double parking lagers and sake. We our time in the sun, swimming in the lake, drinking, eating and enjoying the music.

The acts were a mixture of local talent and international DJs. Notable acts were Alina, Kyrgyzstans premiere female beat boxer, Steppefish a Kazakh indie band (the best act of the festival), and Dj Dawee with his afrobeats. One memorable moment was on the final night when the entire festival sang a spirited rendition of ‘All you need is plov’ (The Beatles all you need is love, reimagined).

After the hike and Kolfest we were pretty beat up, notably Issys hiking wounds, and had to spend 4 days recovering around Karakol Here we went to Jeti-oguz, and managed to catch the 150th anniversary celebrations of the city, and demolish another 10 bowls of ashlan-fu (each)

Hanging out with the 7 Bulls in Jeti-Oguz

Leaving Karakol behind we went to Bokonbayevo for 3 days. This is a small village located on the south banks of Issyk Kul. From here we went to the fairytale (skazka canyon) and swam in the lake which is just incredible, clear, cool, deep. Perfect.

Issy looking cool with Isssyk-Kul in the background
Skazka canyon

We joined a locals picnic on a beach, and were plied with bottles of vodka in the early afternoon. Everyone we met in Kyrgyzstan lived up to their reputation of incredible hospitality.

Hanging out with the locals.

The following day we went to a traditional eagle hunt, where our new mate Lightning showed of his skills, including a particularly gruesome scene involving a rabbit.

Lightning, with his cap.
Lightning reaping the rewards of a days labour

Song-kul was next on our list, this is a high altitude lake is one of the major features in every Kyrgyz guidebook, blog, and travellers tale. We decided (optimistically as it turned out) to do a two day horse trek to reach the lake. About 1 hour into the day we both agreed that we had had enough.

Unfortunately for our bums, we had to ride another 8 hours over the next two days. Our horses seemed to understand our reluctance and took the chance to assert their authority, going at their own pace no matter how much we insisted otherwise. The yurt camp at the lake was pretty, but pretty cold, thankfully we had a constant supply of hot tea and bread.

Our camp for night one.
Issy with the family goat.
Looking back from the top of the pass.
Looking down into the valley, Songkul in the distance, rain on the way.

We got back to Bishkek, a leafy, modern city, just in time to watch New Zealand edge out India in the cricket. The ensuing celebration wrote off the next day.

Our final adventure after a month in Kyrgyzstan was white water rafting, The weather was getting seriously hot (38C) so the cool river was a welcome change.

Sadly, due to the nature of white water rafting, good photos don’t occur in the fun spots

We then spent a week in Almaty in Kazakhstan. A modern, european city, where we forgot to take any photos. we weren’t able to get out too much due to illness. But had a lot of fun exploring the city on the metro, and swimming in lake Sayran. The highlight was a crazy roller coaster in the dark on the hill above the city.

Ala-kul to Altyn Arashan (4 days, 3 nights hike)

Krygyzstan turned it up for us on this trek!

From the first few hours into this tramp we knew we were in for something special. We had done a bit of research on hiking before coming to Krygyzstan, with every traveller we had met in central asia telling us we had to have a go at trekking whilst we were here. In the end this 4 day hike won. The gorgeous valleys filled with idyllic meadows with grazing horses, glaciers, high-altitude Ala-kol lake, rivers, blizzards, and one near death experience made this the most amazing trek I’d ever been on. Not to mention the hot springs at Altyn Arashan to soak our tired legs at the end of day 3!

I’d never done much tramping in my life, with my first (and only) ever overnight trip being to Te Rereatukahia Hut in the Kaimai Ranges last year (which was awesome BTW if you are looking for a tramp to do in NZ), anyway, never to let inexperience and fitness get in the way of an adventure- we were going to do this 4 day tramp. We hired a tent, sleeping bags, and a gas cooker from ECOTREK company in Karakol town (our base town), and bought coffee/tea bags, oats, prunes/dried apricots, instant noodles, and 250g each of snickers and mars bars- now we were set.

Day One

We took a mashrutka (shared minibus) from the centre of Karakol town and were dropped off at the end of a road and told this was our stop.

Glacial waters raging

The day of the trek was easy and pretty chill with absolutely gorgeous weather, we walked up a 4 wheel drive track for 16km alongside a raging Karakol river, passing majestic horse filled meadows.

We stopped for lunch in a meadow listening to Nesian Mystic on our speakers as we ate some pastries we picked up that morning in town and Chris even managed to squeeze in a mid-afternoon siesta.

Chris pre siesta

After rousing Chris, we headed further up the road crossing the river and finally hitting the off-road track through bush.

I found a walking stick, despite making me look like someone who treks all the time sadly it did not make the walking easier

At 4pm we arrived at a nice clearing in an alpine meadow- campsite numero uno!

Camp spot for tonight!
GOOORRRRRMMEEEEEYYYYY

We played some cards, read our books, and tucked into the first of many instant noodles meals.

Day Two

The next day we started early, we walked up a steep incline and past a yurt camp where we bought a bottle of juice to reward ourselves. We found a gorgeous spot by a stream for breakfast- porridge, coffee, juice, and prunes. Gourmet!

We headed up and up the mountain after that, over an hour of climbing up along the river.

Stopped for a break to enjoy the view, and pose for a photo!
Chris doing his yoga on a rock

We arrived at the fabled Ala-Kul alpine lake by lunch time, and had about 10 minutes to eat our packet soup heated over our gas cooker before it started snowing/railing. The frozen lake was beautiful and massive (we couldn’t fit the whole thing in any of our photos), but when we started to snow harder we knew we had to get a move on so we wouldn’t get stuck there.

We had to walk out of the “crater” to reach a the top of the pass which would lead us to our next camp spot. Unfortunately once we hit the top of the pass the weather turned into a blizzard, the sky became very dark, the mountain top next to us was covered in cloud that was thundering and lightning was striking nearby. To make matters worse the path that people normally take down the pass into the other valley was non-existent, covered in snow and had disappeared. We couldn’t stay at the top with the terrible weather, the only way down was to try and scale the very steep, snowcovered “ridge”. So in our runners, shorts, and raincoats, with socks on our hands we climbed down backwards hitting our shoes into the snow then our hands into the holes we had made to grip on for what felt like dear life. After about 15 meters of this the ridge became less vertical and we figured our best bet was to slide the rest of the approx 200meters to safe ground on our bums. So thats what we did. Afterwards Chris said he had a fun time on the ridge and it was the highlight of the trip- I sadly developed an ice burn all over my bottom which would continue to burn, wept, graze up and then unheal again for the next week. If I was to do it again- I would probably wear pants.

Said ridge- the shot doesn’t really do the height or incline justice, just know I really did fear for my life.
Chris had a great time

It continued to snow and I was pretty miserable as we walked the last 2 km to the spot we planned to set up camp. We jumped straight inside the tent, ate noodles made in luke-warm water and the rest of our little chocolate bars we brought with us as the weather raged outside.

Day 3

The third day was quite leisurely compared to the previous day, we left our camp around 9am (after porridge and coffee) and walked down along this valley to Altyn Arashan, some rain, a very small town with about 6 guesthouses all boasting their own natural hot spring. By the time we made it in the afternoon we were completely soaked from the rain and pain the $5NZD for an hour in a private hot spring at a guest house to improve our spirits and wait out the weather.

Altyn Arashan

We made camp just out of town, gorged on some biscuits we had bought from a guesthouse, and later found these amazing river side pubic hot springs in the evening.

Dinner was of course, noodles again.

Day 4

Sick of being rained on and injured by this trek we woke up early, packed up the camp, and headed off on 15 km hike along the dirt/rock covered road along the river to escape back to civilisation.

I almost made it out without another injury, then I slipped on the road and landed on my leg- it later turned into a big graze which ran down my shin. We needed to get out of here, I was one more slip away from needing a Westpac helicopter rescue and lift out.

Eventually we hit the road! Happy day! In reflection it was an amazing trek, 4 days of hiking, alpine lakes, cooking on a little gas cooker surviving on noodles and porridge was a great experience, probably the highlight of our time in Kyrgyzstan- but as soon as we got out all I was thinking about was a shower and a beer.

We did it!

The Pamir Highway

Without a doubt travelling along the Pamir Highway has been one of the highlights of this trip from me. It was the ultimate road trip from Dushanbe, Tajikistan to Osh, Kyrgyzstan over 7 days in a 4 wheel drive with views you wouldn’t believe.

The highway cuts between Tajikistan and Afghanistan border and then into the infamous Wakhan Valley, flanked by the Pamir Mountains on one side, and the Hindu Kush on the other.

Image result for pamir highway map
Heres a map of our route from Dushanbe to Osh

The Prep

Before leaving on our trip (organised through the company VisitAlay) we were lucky to have our friend Christian from Germany who we had met when we were in Turkmenistan join us! It was great for the extra company and also meant the cost of the tour (which you pay for by the car) was now reduced by a third (yes!!!).

We were told by the company to bring water and snacks for the next 7 days (breakfast and dinner would be provided by the guesthouses we would stay in, and lunch could be picked up along the road). See below for what we took:

The beans and noodles were brought incase no vegetarian food for me was found, luckily they went uneaten on our trip. Surprisingly the alcohol also went undrunk!
28 litres of water together for Chris and I!

Day One

We set out with Christian and our driver Nabi in his white 4-wheel drive the next day from our hostel in Dushanbe. Just a note- We had a pretty cool hostel in Dushanbe with a cool view, below is a picture of Chris’ evil-looking silhouette in our room (he’s definitely planning something terribly evil here).

It did not take long until we started to see some of the beautiful vistas we were told to expect…

Before long we stopped at an archaeological site in Hulbuk. Destroyed by the Gengis Khan and his crew, the remnants of this fortified palace have been undergoing excavation since 1951 and recently they have started reconstruction of the palace walls and even a minaret. The real highlight of this stop was the very enthusiastic curator insists on showing us around the museum, letting us hold thousands year old artifacts and showing us the best way to pose for photos with them, feeding us fresh apricots from the trees on the grounds, giving us flowers, and letting me hold the keys to the palace and unlock all the gates and doors (I felt very lucky).

Then an hour or two later- we made it to the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, which as you can see from the map above we would drive along for the next few days alongside the Panj River which was the divider between the two countries.

If you look under the “A” Afghanistan you can see a little NZ flag, clearly we are not the first kiwi travellers here!

We stayed the night in Kalaikhum village in a guesthouse right on the river.

Day Two

The next day we were off again. The road continues along the Afghan border with beautiful views and widens up in the Vanj valley with mountain views along the river, ending that day in Khorog City.

Funny story our friend Christian went off walking when we got here, taking pictures of the Afghan side of the river at the “river beach” he was apprehended by the local military and taken away for a few hours for questioning. He managed to sweet talk his way out of it, apparently he bonded with his captors by lifting weights and doing pull ups. In the end all he got was a slap on the wrist, a ride back to the guest house, and a cold dinner.

Issy, Chris, and Christian under the Tajikistan flag
Chris riding a goat, it was very tame.

Day Three

We visited two Fortresses the next day- one was sitting on the river, and the other a 12th century Yamchun Fortress rising from a platform of natural rock quite high up in the valley, walking to the edge of the fort and you had an amazing view of the Wakhan valley.

Chris doing “the worm” at the first fortress
The second fortress
Taking off, I decided to fly the rest of the way getting a little sick of the boys at this point

Further up the hillside are located the hot springs of Bibi Fatima with its crystal waters rich in minerals. We were told people travel from miles around to go to this “hot spring hospital”. I was expecting pools smelling of sulfur and outdoors like a small Hanmer Springs, however I was surprised to find these beautiful natural pool with green and white mineral formations. Gentle cascades of hot water spilled into the pool and there was no sulfur smell. Men and women are separated into completely different areas/pools, and you must go in naked.

So naked it was! When I went in there were some local women, and a mother with two children. One of the young woman was trying to climb into a little cave and grab some stones…

I took this sneaky photo of the spring, you can see the little cave on the right side

I later learned that this wasn’t your ordinary hot spring, Bibi Fatima springs is the place to go to boost fertility, and to double down after your soak you should go to pray for pregnancy. No wonder that young lady was trying so hard to grab some of the stones.

Day Four

This was taken out the front of our guesthouse that we stayed in

We followed the river Pamir all the way to Kargush checkpoint with the chance to admire the Big Pamir of Afghanistan with nomadic Afghan Kyrgyz caravans. At the Kargush pass we did a 3 hour trek to Panorama Ridge at 4800 meters altitude with stunning mountain scenery of Great Pamir on Afghan border on the top of pass.

Afterwards we took a little side trip to see some more alpine lakes and the boys enjoyed a plate full of fish and onions each from one of the lakes. It was a smelly car ride after lunch.

Day Five

Day 5 was pretty chill, we had a bit of a sleep in and then the boys went for a half hour ride on yaks around a field haha.

Next we headed to Karakul lake with the highest pass Akbaital (4655 m) in Tajikistan.

Chris was not 100% at this altitude
Karakul lake

Day Six

After breakfast we headed to the border crossing to cross into Kyrgyzstan, and headed up to the Lenin Peak Base Camp in the mountains.

We found a sheep called Christian at the border crossing

Once at the base of Lenin peak mountain we walked from our Yurt camp up to explored the mountain area by going up to Traveler’s pass at 4130 meters, it started snowing then hailing then snowing but then it stopped and Chris jumped straight into the snow.

Made it to Lenin peak base camp!!!

Day Seven

Driving to OSH! We were done! It was an amazing week, and we have soooooooooo many photos, wow! 10/10 definitely recommend this trip, it was the ultimate road trip!

Uzbekistan

After crossing the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan- we were in! No visa required, no US dollars to appease the border controllers- too easy!

Uzbekistan is another Central Asian nation and former Soviet republic like Turkmenistan. It has a population of more than 30 million people, the majority of whom live in rural areas rather than in the cities and islam is the clear majority religion. The dress code here is conservative in a sense that shorts and mini skirts would definitely stand out, but jeans and uncovered hair is A-OK. It’s known for its mosques, mausoleums and other sites linked to the Silk Road. On our tour we would go to four areas- Khiva, Bhukara, Samarkant, and Tashkent (very very briefly Tashkent- more on that later).

Khiva

Khiva was an absolute pleasure to visit although we got off to a rocky start having arrived to the city straight from the border with no Uzbekistan currency and all the banks having closed. Our hotel (organised through our tour) let us put some chips and beers on to our room- the next we found out the packet of chips (imagine a very plain normal sized packet of ETA upper cut chips) cost $10 USD- we were sad, but of course paid our debts vowing never to buy chips from a hotel again!

This was taken after eating the “never to be mentioned again” chips. Chris’ face says it all- Issy is about to win- again! We must have played hundreds of games of Whists on this trip.

Khiva is a town that is famous for its long and brutal history as a slave trading post sandwiched in between two large deserts along the silk road. The name “Khiva” apparently came from when a man travelling through the desert fell from dehydration and exhaustion into the sand and his knife pieced through the ground and out sprouted water. He had discovered a well in the middle of the desert and exclaimed “Khi-wa!”- roughly translated to sweet water. (sadly the water in Khiva is now not safe to drink so we were buying our water in Uzbekistan)

We spent a day in Khiva explore the sights- minarets (I learnt these were big cylindrical structures usually part of a mosque), mosques, fancy palaces, and workshops. My favourite spot was the concubine house- where the ruler at the time kept his wives (up to 4 fabulous wives usually from important families) and his concubines (his girlfriends). It sounds like this house was something straight out of The Bachelor TV show- many ladies compete for the affections of the one guy, whilst bullying, gossiping, backstabbing (or even poisoning) where common affairs between the girls.

A friendly local (you could pay 50 cents for a photo with him)
A fruiting mulberry tree appeared!

A fruiting mulberry tree! These were everywhere, and provided shade and a tasty snack! They also the leaf of choice for silkworms whose cocoon unravels into silk. The silk that was so amazing and so prized it had the great road running from China to Venice named after it (hint: the silk road).

Don’t worry I’m still as cute as ever

Khiva’s food speciality that we tried were dumplings! They told us egg dumplings and spinach dumplings were worth the try. I think this is the first vegetarian speciality we were recommended so naturally…

We had a very fancy cup-shaped tomato salad as well

Bukhara

A man, his donkey, and Chris

A short 30 minute flight later we were in Bukhara. Bukhara was one of the major trading cities along the Silk Road, we stayed in “the old city” which was an area of about 1.5km squared of preserved old buildings, roads, parks, and my favourite… minarets.

One of the initiatives taken by the Uzbekistan government is that merchants of certain crafts can sell their wears more or less tax free, and set up inside and around famous city monuments. It was quite surprising to enter these beautiful mosques, old caravan accommodations, and Islam schools to find stores set up all around selling everything from silk cloths, clothes, metal works and jewelry, and even old soviet antiques.

It was HOT in Buhkara and I became obsessed with soft serve ice cream- I had to have at least 1 (or 2) a day to survive. We were lucky that they had one soft serve machine every 50 meters in the old city- clearly this is a common ailment in Buhkara- so I can report that I made it.

Hats and soft serve ice cream were a necessary to survive here

We went to a cultural show before dinner one night which turned out to be national regional dances of Uzbekistan interperst with small fashion shows. The dancing was really impressive and interesting- the fashion show was not quite as engaging. Still we love a good show!

We decided that the most famous monument of Buhkara looks like a pepper grinder, what do you think?
Do you see it now?

Samarkand

We took the train to Samarkand. Samarkand is ancient, we were told it was founded originally in 6-8th century BC. It has been conquered by Genghis Khan and his crew, Alexander the Great, the persians, turks etc. Unlike Khiva and Buhkara the ancient sights were spread far throughout the city, and also unlike the previous cities- I got sick (don’t ask).

Chris told me they went to lots of cool places, here are the photos:

There’s grass on the onion domed roof of this mausuleum from birds pooing on it, they have to clear it away a couple of times a year otherwise the tiles get damaged
Apparently uzbek government spent an exuberant amount of money to restore the inside of this mausoleum with more than 10 kg’s of gold left to decorate this room

Then he went to the Registan. The registan square was the heart of the ancient Samarkand where locals would gather to here the latest proclamations, what was in the news, and public executions. The complex is made up of three big buildings.

A very nice ceiling

Chris dragged me out for a night viewing of the Registan- it was lovely all lit up!

Tashkent

Well. We took the train to Tashkent and had planned to stay and explore the city for a day or two, unfortunately not everything goes to plan. We had to fly last minute to Tajikistan (the next country) for visa reasons, so we spent a very pleasent evening have drinks with some people we had met on our trip, a very brief swim in the hotel pool (it was freezing, how is that possible when its so hot during the day??), and then at 7am the next day we took our taxi to the airport. So we have no idea what Tashkent is like, someone will have to go and let us know!!

Stay tuned for the next country- visa dramas, beautiful vistas, new friendships, and russian dance music…

This post is mostly for Nana who kicked my butt about getting another post up 🙂

St Petersburg (trans-siberian)

We arrived in St Petersburg at the end of May. This was our final stop on our 28 day trans-Siberian/Russian adventure. Our train arrived at 4am and we quickly arrived to our hostel and went to sleep. The thing that surprised us when we arrived was that it was already light outside at 4am, we would later find out that we arrived during the season of “white nights” in St Petersburg- it never gets completely dark, and it only starts to darken at night at around 9pm. It is very confusing, especially for people (us) who had changed time zones 4 times in the last 24 days!

We thought we would book ourselves into a 10 bed room at the hostel at a “party” hostel, obviously it was cheap, but having only spoken to each other for the last 24 days we were looking to socialize. The Cuba hostel was in a great location to all the major sites in the heart of the city. The room was social in the afternoons, and at night the 9 boys in the room created a loud symphony of snoring (Chris was a real team player here!).

It was chilly, pink nose season here

We explored some the major sites. A lot of these we saw on a free walking tour with a local guide through the city-checking out the river, statues, monuments, and museums along the way.

This is Peter the Great making a boat, one of his many trades, apparently he had several, including being a dentist!

St Petersburg is named after the Tsar Peter the Great who fought a war against Sweden to capture this area of land and the city, giving Russia access to the Baltic sea via the gulf of Finland and the ability to develop a ferocious navy. Back in the day (17th century) Russia had a “serf” population who were basically peasents who belonged to a noble family, like slaves with a bit more autonomy. These serfs were conscripted by Peter to come to his new conquered land and to build him an european city from the swapland. The conditions were terrible and tens of thousands of these people died during the construction- they call St Petersburg the city built on bones.

Peter the Great on a big horse on a big rock
We did not pack for things to be this cold!

The sight we most enjoyed was the Hermitage museum which we explored over two days (a few hours at a time) guided by a very handy English audioguide. The Hermitage was probably the most impressive museum/art gallery either of us have been to with the most impressive paintings, and at least one painting of every famous artist you have ever heard of. We were very interested to find out a lot of the painting were seized from German private collection at the end of WWII.

Posing by the hermitage photobombed by the wind

We were also lucky enough to be here during the 316th birthday of St Petersburg city. We were told by locals to expect something big, we were not disappointed. At midnight the drawbridges over the river lifted upwards to 90 degree angles to create screens that were filled with projected images of St Petersburg, followed by dances on cables in full LED suits flipping and swinging down the bridge/screen. Next came the man in the white suit playing electric violin as men in LED suits on water powered jet packs flew over the river with fire exploding out of their flame throwers, then of course the fireworks. It was pretty spectacular.

For those worried that we may not have been able to satisfy our new kebab addiction we picked up in Moscow- fear not! We found a little restaurant by our hostel called Pita’s which did delicious falafel and meat filled kebabs (visited twice).

Our last day we went to Peterhof, the former summer palace for the royal russian family.

The Grand Cascade (pictured above) forms the centrepiece of Peterhof. The three waterfalls, 67 fountains and 37 golden statues had even the most nonchalant tourists wide-eyed with amazement. Centre to all of it stands a golden statue of Samson ripping the jaws of a lion, representing Russia’s victory over Sweden in the Great North War over the Gulf of Finland. 

Russia was awesome, but after 28 days we were ready to leave to try something completely different. We are heading to central asia (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan) to do explore the old silk road territory, previously held soviet states, deserts, dictator run countries, yurts and nomads. Let’s do some intrepid travelling!

Shanghai and Beijing

At Captain’s Bar in Shanghai

Shanghai

We took the bullet train from Huangshan to Shanghai without much issue. We stayed in a hostel that was by a metro station making it easy to get to. The first night on arriving we had some beers and shisha at the hostel bar then heading into the city to see the bund.

Shanghai (上海) , with a population of more than 23 million (with over 9 million migrants), is the largest and traditionally the most developed metropolis in Mainland China.

We went and had dinner at Captain’s bar overlooking the bund- it was a wet night but we had a really good time. Unfortunately later that night we couldn’t find the kobo’s (our ereaders we had been using during the trip), we must have left them on the train. This was a real life disaster.

The next day, Issy felt a bit ill (read hungover again), we needed to get some food into her. We had heard of a Shanghai food specialty sesame, chili noodles, and found a cheap restaurant with a Michelin recommendation (not a star but still). It was delicious, but the restaurant was quite interesting.

It was a very popular local restaurant were you paid for what you wanted on entering and got given the receipt with your order, you then had to stand beside tables of people eating there food waiting for somewhere to sit- like waiting for a go on the swings at the playground. Only once you had your seat would the waitress come and take your receipt and bring you noodles. As soon as you had finished eating, you had to give up your seat to someone else vying for a table to be able try these rich, creamy, spicy sesame noodles.

A lot of the rest of the day was spent trying to locate our kobos, we were very intent on getting them back as in less than a week we would be getting on the trans-Siberian railway and we saw having a book/ereader essential for this travel so we don’t go insane/get annoyed at each other sitting for so long on trains. I won’t bore you with the details but long story short we didn’t get them back. We were very sad.

We tried to save the day with a nice evening- and save the day we did! We went on a river cruise through Shanghai and it was amazing. See the photos below:

The next day we went to the Yu Garden (great!), and tried to go up the shanghai observatory but it was too foggy so we couldn’t, but on a positive side we did get to see the Shanghai Ball tower upclose.

We left on the overnight train to Beijing at 7:30pm that night. 

Beijing

In Beijing we stayed at a hostel called Sunrise hostel- the price of accommodation in Beijing was more than other cities we stayed in and our $50 a night room was actually pretty average (small and a bit smelly). We went to Mao’s mausoleum in Tiananmen square the next day- boy it was BUUSSSY. Domestic tourism is popular in China and it seemed everyone wanted to be in Tiananmen square to see Mao and the forbidden city. Mao mausoleum was interesting- no bags or cameras allowed, you had to shuffle through in a silent, orderly line to see Mao. I did a bit of reading before we went and found out that Mao himself had apparently wanted to be cremated however the man that succeeded him in power decided a mausoleum where he could be put on show indefinitely was in order. Mao was apparently embalmed by his personal doctor who had little experience in it- rumor has it he didn’t do a very good job and that it is in fact a wax statue of Mao in the glass coffin rather than Mao himself. The Chinese man in charge of construction of the mausoleum etc wrote a book about it which was promptly banned in China.

That evening we went out to a popular hutong (a neighborhood in Beijing made of one story buildings with small avenues). It was busy with tourist shops, bars, street snacks, and restaurants set along a river. We found ourselves in an amazing hot pot restaurant and proceeded to eat until we thought we might explode. P

We were lucky enough to find kindles that we could buy in Beijing for our train trip, which made us very happy.

We started our trip on the trans-mongolian train early the next day, loaded with instant noodles, chips, and chocolate…

Huangshan

Red as the strawberries we picked in Yangshou. They should call these the red mountains, not the yellow mountains!

Huangshan

We travelled from Yangshou to Guilin to Shanghai to Huangshan (more than 36 hours of travelling to get to our destination via taxi then bus then another bus then overnight train then subway train then bullet train then bus). We stayed in the Koala Youth Hostel in Huangshan town- it was a cool little hostel with a pool table and dart board in the lobby and helpful staff. The reason we travelled here was to see Huangshan.

To directly quote the wikipedia page: “Huangshan (Chinese: 黄山, literal meaning: Yellow Mountain) is a mountain range in southern Anhui province in eastern China. “The area is well known for its scenery, sunsets, peculiarly-shaped granite peaks, Huangshan pine trees, hot springs, winter snow, and views of the clouds from above. Huangshan is a frequent subject of traditional Chinese paintings and literature, as well as modern photography. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of China’s major tourist destinations.” TLDR: it’s beautiful.

We had planned to book somewhere to stay on the mountain with the help of our hostel, however without realizing we had ended up at this popular tourist sight in tourist high season on a weekend i.e. everywhere was booked up! Our hostel offered us an alternative-  camping on the mountain. Our hostel rented us a tent, two sleeping bags, and two floor mats for our trip (for the equivalent of $26 NZD). Phew. Now with our alternative accommodation sorted we were ready to go.

On arriving to the base of the mountain we showed our drivers licenses hoping they might be misidentified as student cards, and happily we got our discounted tickets saving ourselves $20 each! We chose to walk up the mountain with our gear rather than take the cable car, it was all stairs for about 2.5 hours uphill. We were sweating like a cold bottle of Tsingtao beer straight out of the fridge on a hot day.

We must have walked up thousands of steps in the park. Chris was not bananas above the incline here.
I’m sweaty and tired. I need a snickers bar.

Exhausted, at the summit of the mountain, we headed to the area that the hostel staff had suggested we set up our camp. We were surprised to find the hard ground that the hostel staff had described was actually concrete, and the number of tents! By the end of the night there must have been 40 tents out on the concrete around us!

Setting up our own Hungshan Hilton
Eating chips in the tent.

The next day we woke up at 4:30am- you read that right Chris and Issy woke up at 4:30am- along with the rest of our camp to go and see the sunrise at the top of a nearby summit. We quickly packed up our tent etc and set out. Clearly not an original thought as there would have been about 200-300 people there trying to catch first light. It was a cloudy morning so sadly the sunrise was probably not worth the very early morning. We set off from the summit to walk through a nearby canyon- touted as being the most photogenic part of the park- this was true!

Unfortunately we had not eaten and had no food that morning so we slowly became hangry walking through the canyon.

Steps down into the canyon
The look of hunger and exhaustion , someone feed this man ASAP!

Blessed be, we found at the bottom of the canyon about 2 hours after we started our walk from the sunrise we found a cable car which would take us back to the top of the mountain- to food. 

We ate a muffin and had a sugary coffee each. And now we were ok again, but tired. A big walk the day before, a poor sleep on concrete, a very early start, another big walk after that, plus hangriness = Chris and Issy ready to head out of the park. It still took another 3 or so hours to walk out of the park which was mainly down stairs, we have a new appreciation for how hard it is to walk downstairs.

We realised on arriving back to the hostel that it was Easter Sunday, which means easter eggs back home. In China we couldnt find any chocolate eggs so we got alternatives- snickers for Issy, jelly lollies for chris (we figured after the last two days we could take the calorie hit easily). We made each other an easter egg hunt around our hostel room, see below for pictures:

The next day (after some relaxation and games of pool), we bought train tickets back to Shanghai and headed into the big city…