A Travellerspoint blog

BLOG: Venice of China

View 2001 Sabah, Shanghai, Eastern China & Xiamen on alexchan's travel map.

Today, we took a side trip to Zhouzhuang [Zhouzhuang-travel-guide-1330609], over 1 hour from Shanghai. This place is an old authentic Chinese village set along canals. It is a Chinese Venice, with World Heritage status. It was a bit of a challenge getting here due to some misunderstanding ... we were looking for buses and all that were available were relatively expensive "tour buses" which we used in the end. As it turned out it included both way transport, all entrance fees and a bottle water ... you roam the place yourself.

We said our goodbyes to Mike and Anna there and came to Suzhou [Suzhou-travel-guide-244454] while they went back to Shanghai. Suzhou is full of historical gardens which we'll explore tomorrow. Pre-APEC junkets were held here in September this year.

So, far everywhere is very clean probably due to APEC. However, I maintain that China is very clean (often more so than Hong Kong), except for pollution and in some cities dust from the desert. Communism seems to have done some good in terms of law and order. I also maintain that China is one of the easiest countries to travel in independently. Everything is so systematic and orderly (probably Communism again). You just need to speak some Mandarin and even better be able to read it. If I could read rather than just speak some of it, we'd have saved a bit of confusion so far!

Before I go for reflexology and massage, here are a few interesting bits:

* Crabs are in season. You can buy crab and minced-pork dumplings in steamed buns (xiaolongbao). We could see a whole row of kitchen-hands crack the crabs by hand for this. I LOVE crabs. Crabs are COOL.

* Our bus ride from Zhouzhuang to Suzhou was interesting. Woman came on board the bus with a net full of baby crabs. Oooh ... crabs on buses are NOT COOL. However, she started peeling oranges and the mix of smells made it quite bearable. That's the inspiration for my next recipe ... orange and chilli crab. And ... spitting chewed orange pulp on the floor on the bus wasn't cool either.

* Aquariums are common place in Chinese restaurants as you know. Pick your own fresh seafood. In one sitting, we had 2 crabs climb out and run past Kim, and a fish do somersault spalshing aquarium water into our food. Fortunately we didn't fall sick from continuing to eat the food. We did change tables though, and shortly after that one fish committed suicide by jumping out from the head-height aquarium on to the floor.

* Internet in China must be BEST in the world. We get lightning fast ADSL access for NZD1 an hour in an internet cafe. Wonder what the bulk rate is.

* The shopping here is great. In one floor of a non-descript minor Shanghai department store, we saw more electronics than all of the electronic shops in Auckland CBD put together. Imagine what is in all the other bigger brighter places! There's stuff we've never seen before like Mars-bar sized things which record sound and images for transmission by email. Finally found air-cons that heat and cool ... one-third the price compared to home. Bought some suits (excellent workmanship at attractive prices and excellent service) just in case I decide to work again.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

BLOG: Where history meets the future

View 2001 Sabah, Shanghai, Eastern China & Xiamen on alexchan's travel map.

Having just been terminated from the airline industry due to the collapse of Ansett Australia, we felt so pleased to be flying with an airline that is financially-backed by a government, as we winged our way to Shanghai ... even better, an airline backed by a government which hasn't given any vocal support to the attack on Afghanistan ... on an aircraft complete with prayer cards, prayer room and individual TV entertainment that also update you with the direction and distance to Mecca every few minutes.

Now, Shanghai is one great city. The grandeur of a bygone era as immortalised in the buildings on the Bund stand face to face with the 22nd Century style architecture over in Pudong [Pudong-travel-guide-236409] across the Huangpu river. We cruised across the river at night (NZD0.15) and went up to the world's third tallest building (Jingmao) and had drinks on the highest floor (88th) in the Hyatt. Super-posh ... to the extent we felt uncomfortable as we weren't dressed up ... not often we feel that way.

Because of APEC, security was very tight and we were graciously escorted through three different sets of lifts, and radioed ahead by security personnel ... not forgetting X-ray. Over drinks, we hoped that Bush wasn't staying in the Hyatt rooms below as he would surely present a security risk to us.

The new buildings of Pudong are just unreal. Having seen pictures we expected them to be somewhat tacky but they are so futuristic in real life. Lit up like Battlestar Galactica at night.

All the shopping streets, including a reproduction old-city (Yu Yuan) are a buzz to all the senses. We gave up looking for the numerous French and Art Deco houses in the French quarter of the city, and hopped into a taxi to head back to the hotel. But within seconds we saw more than we imagined ... still don't know what we did wrong.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

BLOG: City by the sea, but a mountain's namesake

View 2001 Sabah, Shanghai, Eastern China & Xiamen on alexchan's travel map.

Kota Kinabalu is set in an unbeatable position ... from the air, you can see coral reefs and islands surrounding it. We spent our first day on a day trip to one of five islands off the city in an area called Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. We chose Manukan Island. As we hopped off the boat after a 20 minute ride from the city, we couldn't believe our eyes with the varieties of fish visible from the jetty. More colours than the rainbow! Unfortunately the jetty area appeared to be a no-snorkelling zone and other parts around the island wasn't as rich in marine life. However with patience we still managed to see more than what we've ever seen in all our trips to the Pacific Islands.

KK like Sandakan has a bit of an illegal immigrant problem, mainly from the Philippines. Litter is a problem in the city. Squatter dwellings over some coral reefs also cause a flotilla of debris in some bays.

A friend David took us up to foothills of Mount Kinabalu [Mount-Kinabalu-travel-guide-1310205], the highest mountain in SE Asia, about the height of Mount Cook in NZ. As it had rained recently, we could see cascading waterfalls among the greenery. Stopped for lunch in a little town as David conducted his business trip and got Kimball a cheap haircut (NZD4) in a tiny place ... one of his best ever ... I think we place too much emphasis in the Western world on qualified professional certified this and that (eg. hairdresser).

Stopped in a hotspring for a swim and explored a butterly park. Also walked along a Canopy Walk for the first time ... this is essentially a series of ladders with planks placed on them and suspended by ropes at the forest canopy level ... some 40 metres above the ground. Pretty freaky when you look down. Had a first time appreciation for what we learnt in school about how the rainforest has three layers of different vegetation.

The trip was very enjoyable and would have been expensive or difficult to organise by ourselves. It certainly was a nice addition to seeing it from the plane ... thanks to the advice of friends as to which side of the aircraft to sit on, and the effort of our travel agent.

We also visited some amazing hotels and resorts. The Nexus is perfectly geared for serious golfers and is what I'd call 6 stars! The Sutera Harbour private development consists of a marina (the size of the Auckland's America's Cup area), 2 stunning hotels, and two golf clubs. The marina has provided a much better habitat that nature ... the water was simply ALIVE with fish as we walked around it just before sunset. Where else in the world can you see marine life in a marine IN THE CITY!!! No wonder people come to Sabah [Sabah-travel-guide-1319168]'s islands further afield for diving ... they must be even better.

And on to my favourite subject, FOOD. Eating in Sabah is much more expensive than in other parts of Malaysia or Borneo. A typical meal would cost NZD2 in Kuching [Kuching-travel-guide-1096915] but is around NZD3 in KK.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

BLOG: Man of the forest

View 2001 Sabah, Shanghai, Eastern China & Xiamen on alexchan's travel map.

We've just returned from the Sepilok Orang Utan sanctuary where these lovely creatures (literally "man of the forest" in Malay) are rehabilitated. Originally started when the trend of having these apes as pets lost its gloss, but nowadays it is for orphaned young'uns due to logging. Rangers play Mum by training them in the essential skills of the jungle such as climbing but supplement them with fall-backs such as milk and bananas until they are completely self-sufficient.

On the way there, we visited the Australian War Memorial. This is in memory of the 2500 OZ soldiers who lost their lives in WW2. They were shipped from Changi (Singapore) to build an airfield for the Japanese. But when the Japanese defeat seemed inevitable they were marched as far as Ranau (near KK) ... not sure how long it took, but took us 40 minutes in a plane ... where only 6 survived.

Somehow I expected rows upon rows of headstones like in Yangon (Myanmar) but it is a forest reserve set amongst new housing development. But it is quite peaceful and very well done with remants of the prison camp and good write-ups of the history.

And then getting to this internet cafe is quite an experience. We tried two other places which directed us here. The other ones were only fronts for computer and internet gambling!

We're having a great time so far ... we had known that Sandakan would be like this. So, it is good that we've got a nice hotel with a great pool etc. And excellent inclusive breakfast ... with my all-time favourite of nasi lemak (coconut rice, mini-anchovies with chilli sambal, curry squid etc) in addition to the usual western stuff.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

BLOG: Flying to Sandakan in troubled times

View 2001 Sabah, Shanghai, Eastern China & Xiamen on alexchan's travel map.

We're in Sandakan [Sandakan-travel-guide-1098646] after a brief night-stop in KL, and a transit in Kota Kinabalu. Except for our flight from KL-KK, everything went smoothly.

Malaysian airports are now observing heighted security due to recent events (their normal measures are equivalent to the increased security in NZ). Their new measures now include frisking which caused some delays ... then two passengers who had already checked in decided not to travel (probably after reading the morning newspaper about the "Night of Terror" in Afghanistan, referring to the US retaliation ... in contrast to the CCN headline of "Strike against Terror").

Their baggage had to removed from the cargo hold from amongst some 200 pieces, causing a further delay.

The captain apologised profusely for the actions of these "less than considerate" passengers. Cabin crew did their bit to pacify some obnoxious passengers ... my favourite was "Why why why, sir, are you so upset so early in the morning? Can I get you a cold drink?"

Did you know that one tunnel at KL International Airport was built by Omar (brother of Osama) ... excuse first name basis. Had no luck trying to figure out which one. So was the ring-road around KL. But as the PM explains, the crime of one shouldn't sully the names of his 50 or so siblings.

Anyway, Sandakan is a bit of a cowboy town without many attractions. It was completely rebuilt after WW2 after the Allied bombing. It reminds me of Male (Maldives) ... mix of simple eating places, semi-industrial, and essential supplies all on the same few busy streets. However, air-cons are cheap and we're looking at buying one or two units in KL on our last day if they're similarly-priced. Savings could pay for the airfares.

So, why are in Sandakan? Read on ...

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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