China – Ghost Accommodation And The Bullet Train To Yangshuo

Shenzhen, China, April 2019:  This morning I shall be traveling to the town of Yangshuo near Guilin. My first ever ride on a bullet train, leaving Shenzhen North station at 0721 and hopefully arriving by about 10 o’clock into Yangshuo. The town is a tourist hotspot renowned for its breathtaking scenery. Well, lets keep an open mind about what the Chinese call breathtaking, but in any event it’s got to be better than hanging around  Shenzhen! Yes, I shall be mighty glad to leave this place, especially after yesterdays debacle – searching for accommodation that didn’t exists!

Ghost Accommodation – its never happened to me before. Yesterday I spent 2 hours looking for accommodation that I had booked on Booking.com some weeks ago only to find the property non-existent. At this stage its fair to say I wasn’t at all pleased with the situation (understatement). A phone call to the number booking.com hand published for the host confirmed any visitor to a new city their worst scenario – no booking! The plan was to stay near the Shenzhen North railway station so that I wouldn’t miss the early departure to Yangshuo. Back to the station, find some Wifi and formulate another plan. As luck would have it, there’s a Hostel here on the West Square of Shenzhen Station. They have space and even luckier for me, its a private room, and luckier still, at the same price I would have paid if the original accommodation was in existence! with all this good luck coming in my direction, I feel a whole lot better – I really can’t wait to leave this town. Next, I need to head over to the ticket hall and collect all my rail tickets I had pre-booked several weeks ago, this I’ve read, will save tons of time later tomorrow and beyond,

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These are actually single rooms and its more like a hotel, Shenzhen North Station. 

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Shenzhen North Station

Passengers can only enter the station with Identification and of course a train ticket. My passport and ticket are quickly glanced over and I’m soon joining the next queue – the security scan. Not quite as stringent as the airport security, no need to get undressed for the China trains – its just a quick frisk! Once inside the departure hall one can find a MacDonald’s for coffee and a host of food outlets serving  breakfast. Its a busy station, being the starting point for high-Speed bullet trains connecting China’s south with the rest of the country. Today’s train, G2902 from Shenzhen to Yangshuo at 0721 is on schedule according to the giant display board.

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Bullet Trains at Shenzhen North

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My Train, G2902 – Gate A12, easy!

The platform opens 10 minutes before the train departs and once there, marked on the floor is a direction towards ones carriage and seating, in English to! Its all a pretty easy process, although I will admit to having some concerns with language barriers before arriving into China. The second class carriage is pretty basic but the seats are wide, has a pull down table from the seat ahead, power for charging phones and great big windows. Unfortunately the weather is overcast, misty, nothing much to see on this 2 hours and 42 minute journey.

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Inside a China Bullet Train, 2nd class.

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They are fast!

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We have power

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Checking train details, 2 hours 42 minutes

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6  hours 40 Minutes by Bus

China – The Lights, Shenzhen (Quick Post)

Shenzhen, China, April 2019: Here’s what Shenzhen looks like after dark. Not quite the spectacle that is Hong Kong since Shenzhen’s skyscrapers are not so concentrated into a specific area. Nonetheless a nice break from the rather stale vibe that exists 4 floors below at the Capsule Hotel where the staff are pretty arrogant and with inmates unable to crack a smile, infact an inability show any emotion whatsoever! To their credit though, they will show some consideration leave the canteen when they feel the urge to spit coming on and do it on the landing outside. Imagine the sound of someone trying to regurgitate a grain of rice stuck in their throat and ending up with a mouthful of mucus – a frequently disgusting occurrence here and I suspect its something one will have to get used to across China. So, lets hope I haven’t contracted an infection from these people and escape to the roof for half an hour.

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Reminds me of the Manhattan Night Scene from Amos and Andy TV

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Low clouds creating an interesting glow effect

China – Under Ground, Shenzhen

Shenzhen, China, April 2019:  Raining, not cats and dogs but just an annoying persistent drizzle as I sit in KFC contemplating the day ahead and its fair to say I’m struggling to find anything of interest in this city of synthetics. Museums and theme parks don’t appeal, even in the rain and especially as Shenzhen’s demand hefty entrance fees. So,  I’m faced with a choice – hangout in the shopping malls or hang out back at base and to be brutally honest the inhabitants at base don’t appear the friendliest bunch of humans I’ve encountered thus far in China.

Shenzhen is famously home to a world of electronics gadgets and its where 90% of the worlds fake electronic brands can be found to. As much as I don’t like shopping malls this might be an interesting place to loiter for a while. According to the Maps.me App I need to head West by a couple of MTR stations to an area appropriately named shopping park.

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I’ve changed my mind about taking the MTR subway since there appears to be an underground path instead. Quite how far it extends from here in Gangxia or where one will end up remains to be seen – so lets go and find out.

Well, I can tell you its a long path, a straight line probably following the highway above and a ton of shops interspersed with restaurants on either side. There’s also a ton of people down here to, queuing up at lunch counters, grabbing bubble tea – underground Shenzhen is turning out to be one of those hidden quirky little known facets of modern life as I traverse the mile or so towards shopping park. Quirky because every so often one comes across a display of dolls, masks and warriors!

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Warriors Underground Shenzhen, Replica or Real?

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This is real, obviously!

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‘In a Barbie World’ Underground in Shenzhen

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About 30 Barbie Dolls, Underground in Shenzhen

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Words Fail Me, Underground Shenzhen!

And then these scary masks…

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The Path is called Link City, not the straight line I though it was!

After about 2 hours underground one feels the need to re-surface into natural daylight once again. The end of the link City path ascends into, yes, even more shops. Having walked all the way from Gangxia, I have very little enthusiasm to tramp around the plethora of glass malls here in shopping park area. infact for a non-enthusiastic shopper like me, its all a bit overwhelming. So, the thing to do now is turn around and head back to base – underground, yes, its still raining! I have to say at this juncture, “Shenzhen isn’t really my kind of town”.

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Shops and Rain, Shenzhen

 

 

 

China – Beyond Gangxia, Shenzhen

Shenzhen, China, April 2019: Shenzhen beyond the Gangxia residential district is a vast metropolis and for those who thrive on shopping malls, skyscrapers, museums and theme parks, well, there won’t be any disappointment here! Personally, I’m keen to avoid such synthetics of this modern metropolis and given my relatively short time here those features can wait for another day. Today I’m planning on a hike North towards a plethora of green spaces as indicated on the map where hopefully I’ll discover less of the glass and steel, more of the natural features as provided by mother Earth.

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I’m heading North towards Lian Hua Shan, a sizeable green space which is consistently flagged as a place worth visiting, according to Apples Safari Internet search engine. The weather is hot and hazy, no blue sky sadly but still bright enough for some decent photo’s along the way such as the image here – a huge structure fronted by white washed stone images of people. The theme running here appears to be sports, music, arts generally so I’d guess some kind of sports and arts venue. Quite impressive, well designed architecture, aesthetically pleasing next to the 8 lane largely empty highway.

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Looks like a sports venue here.

Lian Hua Shan is a city park with a difference – there’s a pretty big hill right in the middle of the huge green expanse. Having stomped my way North for the last 50 minutes in the hot, humid air, its a great relief to find plenty of shady paths and a little shop selling drinks, reasonably priced to! The remnants of what used to be a jungle judging by the palm trees and various other plants around here. Perhaps the boating lake is a man-made feature but overall I’m quite pleased to have found a naturally green space in the big big city of Shenzhen. On second thoughts, some of these palms do look like they’ve transplanted. The thing to do now, along with everyone else here, is head uphill. A gentle incline along a well maintained pathway that even grandma and grandpa can hike – lets hope the views at the top are worth the effort!

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Palms, transplanted or original?

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Lianfeng, uphill to the views.

Keep an eye out for some colourful bugs along the way…

After about 20 minutes one arrives at what I would suggest is the highest natural elevated spot in metropolitan Shenzhen. Unfortunately, blue skies and sunshine are at a premium here, but nonetheless the hike up  is worth the effort the views across Shenzhen. Here’s what a city conceived just 40 years ago looks like…

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Central Park, Shenzhen

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Deng Xiaoping, Chinese leader mid 70’s to early 90’s.

Interestingly, China’s Deng Xiaoping stands watch across the city, immortalised in a giant statue. He’s Credited with policies aimed at turning around the country’s fortunes raising the standard of living for its millions of inhabitants beginning late in the 70’s. A crowd gathers in front of the statues, iron fist’d and breaking into song. No idea what its all about but at a guess I’d say its something to do with reaffirming communist values!

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A revered figure, Deng Xiaoping.

Well, that’s just one of Shenzhen’s city parks. Pretty glad I made the effort for this one and quite a treat to witness some modern day Chinese culture at the Deng statue, and all for free!

China – Exploring Gangxia Urban Village, Shenzhen

Shenzhen, China, April 2019: A self-contained urban village, a residential enclave of high density living within the Shenzhen metropolis, separated from the city by wide boulevards and motorways.  Urban planning, yes, i’d say there are definitely signs that the place has been designed with the populous taking priority over fuel driven motorised vehicles. Instead, there is a gentle flow of electric scooters, battery driven bicycles and various electric driven small carts – just as well because the roads here are barely wide enough for 2 standard cars to pass. Lets take a wander around Gangxia…

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Welcome to Gangxia Urban Village, Shenzhen

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Deep inside the Labyrinth

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The streets are narrow but devoid of traffic.

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High Density Medium Rise Urban Living.

This is what I’d call a ‘Raw Neighbourhood’ that’s clearly of first generation development.  A neighbourhood of ordinary working folk in a self-contained, fully functional community. Small shops, independent groceries stores and enough cooked food outlets to keep any foodie happy for years to come! Modest but clean little cafes populate just about  every street, with what I’d term honest food, fresh and cheap – no posh stuff around here! 

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A labyrinth of dark alleyways and lanes formed between the densely packed housing blocks creating a sinister feeling. Infact the whole place is beginning to feel rather sinister as locals are looking me up and down with an obvious degree of suspicion. I rather think they’r not used to strangers wandering around their neighbourhood, especially a Westerner wielding a camera! For now then I’ll make a quick exit, but I will be back before I leave in a couple of days time.

 

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A sinister looking alleyway, Gangxia

 

Hong Kong – Overland to China, Shenzhen

Hong Kong, April 2019: Next stop, mainland China and the city of Shenzhen. Having successfully obtained a 30 day tourist visa, I now need to make my way to the Hong Kong /China border at Lok Ma Chau. I shall have 2 full days to explore the delights of big city China before heading off into the interior for a month long scenic and cultural tour. Before all of that kicks off, I first need to find some Chinese cash, on the basis of not knowing if my British credit and bank cards will be accepted once across the border.

Getting Chinese Yuan in Hong Kong is nothing short of a racket, in my opinion! Nowhere can I use my cards to purchase Yuan – an emphatic no from the banks, including British HSBC, Standard Charter and as for currency exchange booths on the street, well, the operators there seem a little confused. First I must buy Hong Kong Dollars then change those to Chinese Yuan – double charges, bad exchange rates, what a scam in this modern dynamic highly technical city!

Shenzhen is pretty easy to get to by public transport. The MTR originates on the Kowloon Peninsular with a convenient stop at Mong Kok East, just a short 10 minute stomp from Mong Kok Central via a system of elevated walkways, well signed so I just can’t go wrong! £5.50 and about 50 minutes on the East line to the border crossing at Lok Ma Chau.

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Pretty easy, even Carl Pilkington couldn’t mess this up!

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The trains on the East line are different to the regular MTR stock – more spacious, new and bright.

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New Territories – One last glimpse before leaving Hong Kong

Pretty quiet here in the immigration hall at 4.30 PM on this Wednesday afternoon which makes checking out of Hong Kong quick and easy! Now to check-in to China. The two immigration halls are separated with a river and linked by a corridor – the corridor of no return as I pass the halfway mark and unofficially step into China.

A Very stern lady, dressed to kill it seems, is there to greet the new arrivals and clearly trained not to crack a smile! This is intimidating to say the least…

Next time.. Immigration and thousand rusty bikes in Shenzhen

 

 

 

Nepal – Daily Snapshot, Wednesday

Pohkara, Nepal, March 2019: Himalayan mornings, arguably the best time of the day to enjoy some peace and quiet. This morning I woke up at 6 to find the sun was almost above the horizon. By the time I got some tea and fetched my camera, well, just see for yourself…

From the hotel roof, Lakeside…

 

Nepal – The Daily Snapshot, Monday

Pokhara, Nepal, February 2019: Its not only ones spirituality that awakens in the Himalayas but a sense of fun too. Against the magnificent Annapurna backdrop folks can be seen jumping off the hills while others pose for photographs.

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Jumping off a hill, supposedly attached to the parachute! 

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Tibetan Buddhists posing for pictures.

Travel – Season 9

Nepal, February 2019: Yes, as the title says I’m in my 9th year of travel. For the benefit new readers, It all began in 2011 with a 3 month trip to Goa. Back then I was just the naive British tourist adjusting to the cultural shock-wave that was India. Subsequently the learning curve became easier and the trip began taking on a different dimension. While most where there for a jolly good booze-up by the sea, I began to delve deeper, behind the scenes one could say and thus my thirst for cultural travel was born!

I travel by seasons, choosing to leave England early January returning late July and hopefully arrive to some nice summer weather. In England, I’ll try to earn enough cash so that I can continue travel cycle over again, primarily visiting Asia. This season will focus on 4 weeks in central China, so stay tuned and lets live the adventure together!

Right now I’m in Pokhara Nepal, researching and preparing for my China visit, via Hong Kong from where I hope to pick up my tourist visa. Pokhara is a great place for hanging out. It’s cheap, pretty quiet compared to Kathmandu with a significantly cleaner environment. The scenery isn’t bad either, especially on a clear day where one can see a good portion of the Himalayan mountain range at close quarters.

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Here’s a view of the Annapurna range, easily seen from Pokhara.

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There’s Pokhara City as seen from a nearby hill.

Since I’ve been coming to Pokhara since 2014, there’s little I can write about that hasn’t already been written. While I search for blogging inspiration, I’ll upload some of the views I’ve been seeing over the last few weeks such as those featured above. In the meantime if you have any questions or suggestions on a topic I could look into please don’t be shy at letting me know.

England – Spirit of the Fenlands, Cambridgeshire

England, Autumn 2018: The fens, an expanse of low lying fertile lands extending from the North sea southwest across 3 counties. back in time, before the middle ages infact, the fens were little more than a giant bog of marsh and quicksands with very little value other than producing reeds for roofing materials. Then one day, early 1600’s a group of smart folk had the idea of draining the place to expose the fertile soils from which delicate crops would grow. Their legacy today is a plethora of canals and waterways, pump houses and sluice gates to control the excess waters, much like we would see across the North Sea in Holland. (Google Map)

Travel to Britain

Travel to Britain

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The Fenlands are crisscrossed with a network of waterways and channels ensuring that excess water has a place to flow thus keeping the cultivated fields free from flooding. The channel depicted here would have been constructed sometime in the late middle ages, 1700′ era.

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The Fens, featureless but with big wide open skies.

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On a landscape such as the Fens, one can see a rain shower way ahead of it reaching ones location. This shower is about 20 minutes away!

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Big skies means great sunsets such as this one at Parsons Drove, Cambridgeshire.

Click the thumbnails for larger, clearer images…