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Chapter ninety nine - Pingyao

Pinged back in time

overcast 19 °C

Day 357: Pingyao, Shanxi, China 20/09/2012

A nice sociable start today, catching a cab around eightish for the bus station and enjoying the fact that the upcoming journey is short haul and not some behemoth overnight monstrous jaunt. After stopping briefly for a pot noodle and after a welcome afternoon nap, the journey comes to a bizarre end as we are unceremoniously kicked out at the side of the road to helpful shouts of 'Pingyao! Pingyao!' So, abandoned at the side of the road with not a taxi in sight, we are approached by an old man who starts to negotiate a price. Hmmm, strange we think. Stranger still as we speak to the man in a 'Police' uniform, who is professionally sat in the back of a car with a young woman. Points at old man when asked about a taxi and promptly winds up the window.

Five minutes later we hop out of the old man's car in the middle of an ancient Chinese city. With such a remarkable journey back in time, we pay Doc Brown and find our way to the hostel. Check into the old style building centred around a courtyard, which is nice but perhaps not quite worthy of the seriously overinflated reviews it gets in the Lonely Planet and Hostelbookers. We go for a quick walk and a nice little drink, with Gemma receiving a nice straight shot of Pimms. Find an amazing little cafe for tea and have an early night.

Day 358: Pingyao, Shanxi, China 21/09/2012

The hostel's beanbag pillows allow for a surprisingly good night's sleep and we enjoy a slow morning before heading out for the day. Despite the vast swathes of tourists, Pingyao is a quaint and interesting town, rendering images of a China that existed three thousand years ago. Narrow alleyways, traditional industries and hanging red lamps juxtapose the bars and restaurants advertising their free wi-fi services for patrons and the thousands of people with huge digital cameras.

Pingyao proves to be quite a small town all in all, so we take it steady for the afternoon, watching noodles being pulled and flung into pans, sweets being made and shawls being woven on looms. Gem feels a little unwell so we head back to the hostel, where we enjoy a few games of cards and are befriended by Ken, an ageing hippy who has been, seen and done just about anything you could ever mention. Back for dinner at the excellent place we discovered yesterday evening. Friday night so a few beers makes trips to the worst toilet of the trip more than a little funny.

Day 359: Pingyao, Shanxi, China 22/09/2012

Another quiet morning and a brief lie in before a distinctly average lunch at the overrated hostel then out and about again with the thousands of extra tourists that have found themselves at a loose end this weekend. So, we try to see some more of the picturesque little town and stumble upon the 'real life' parts of the town, with hundreds of homes and factories situated within the ancient walls of the city. The huge number of people we have seen around town with huge cameras and massive lenses are suddenly explained by the pretty serious looking photography festival we find ourselves at. Our small camera is sneered at by the throngs of proper camera users. We particularly enjoy the exhibition of British rock over the past fifty years.

Back to the hostel, for a few more of games of cards and to be cornered by Ken the Hippy once more. After hearing an account of just how many lives he's saved and how he deals with the constant queue for his photo by the Chinese masses. We manage to wriggle free and get out for another fantastic dinner at the place we have found, being greeted like old friends by the staff before we realise that we have been sat outside in the relative cold when there was a nice warm indoor part to the restaurant.

Posted by tevs 10:09 Archived in China Tagged history city china ancient photography pingyao Comments (0)

Chapter sixty three - Melaka

Boom shaka Melaka

overcast 28 °C

Day 230: Melaka, Malaysia 16/05/2012

Up and out for about nineish and after a quick breakfast it was back on with the backpacks and the short stroll to the Queen Street bus terminal to catch the bus back into Malaysia. A painless bus journey over the border and we are impressed with just how efficient and clean the whole immigration experience is both sides of the fence. We appear to have alighted the bus a little early and we have to catch another bus to the main bus station in Johor Bahru to get a connection up to Melaka. A combination of a huge lunch and a very comfortable bus leads to an inevitable, slack jawed, dribble inducing nap.

Arrive at Melaka Sentral station where we are met by the friendliest, most helpful touts we have ever come across, and it seems there is quite the range of modern, affordable guest houses to choose from. After a quick bus ride (fourth one of the day) we are soon checked in to a city centre room and after quickly getting ourselves sorted, we go for a stroll and mini exploration of the area. There are two huge shopping malls opposite each other, each with the essential mix of turbo air con, western shops and multiplex cinema that makes for a winner. Oh, and of course both malls have an indoor, top floor archery centre as one would expect.

A quick stop at one of the cinemas to watch Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows (with obligatory dirt cheap, huge bucket of caramel popcorn) is followed by dinner on the street and entertainment in the form of the chef performing a bit of karaoke. Back to the room and bed.

Day 231: Melaka, Malaysia 17/05/2012

A good night's kip is followed by a hearty breakfast of tea and toast and we head out to see a bit more of Melaka, undergoing our usual routine of walking, walking and walking some more. Although the legs feel heavy after the Singapore Marathon (not an actual one) we manage to cover a fair bit of Melaka, snaking our way through Chinatown and Jonker Walk, being amazed by the many antique shops and the many trinkety places selling all types of mystical Oriental items. Meet a man who makes wooden clogs by hand - 'Girl you want clop clop shoe?' - and have lunch at a Chinese place that has a range of cool Chinese articles on the wall, including numerous portraits of Chairman Mao. Hmmmm, Red. Woman here is impressed with my very limited use of Mandarin.

We try to find the supermarket Gemma claims to have seen, which is easier said than done, though in fairness it is hidden underground with its entrances through a department store or multi storey car park. Turns out to be rubbish and we only buy bananas. Back at the hostel I make a start at updating the blog before being coerced into playing playstation instead by some Belgian guy. Shades of university...

Back off out - flit between the two malls in search of food, ending up in an incredible food court where the cheap food is not only delicious but served in the type of ridiculously huge portions yo mama used to give ya. Back to the cinema to feed the latest habit (popcorn and Hollywood). Whilst buying tickets a huge poster for the Bollywood 'straight to DVD' epic we starred in in Goa reveals itself and promises the film to be a mega Indian blockbuster. Billa 2: a must see I think.

Day 232: Melaka, Malaysia 18/05/2012

A lazy morning - breakfast and a morning watching the telly. Catch the bus to the zoo for the afternoon but first must get to Melaka Sentral station, which is meant to be around the corner but takes forever as old women direct the driver to stop outside their front doors, where there is the biggest Tesco this side of Slough to delay us further...

Eventually get to the zoo (cheap), which is amazing! Beautiful birds, naughty monkeys, tigers, lions, a (lonely) chimp and orangutans, one of which knows how to open a bottle, drink the contents and then refill it with water from the moat around its enclosure. Don't approve of giving iced tea to an animal but still pretty amazing to watch. More dexterity and resourceful than half my siblings.

Leave the zoo after a thrilling couple of hours then proceed to spend a less thrilling sixty minutes waiting for the bus back. Find the last bus to town centre has gone when at the station and find an unsuspecting English girl to share a cab back with. Tea is followed by another trip to the pictures, leave about half twelve and return to the guesthouse to find that the weekend market is in full swing outside. Investigate, hold a python (not that one) and freak Gemma out as she looks up to see me with a great serpent in my hands.

Day 233: Melaka, Malaysia 19/05/2012

An uneventful morning, find a shop where there are over a thousand pairs of football boots stacked precariously and 'everything is half price'. Poor. Back to the hostel after a solid lunch and I really make a start at typing this ol' blog up (about five hours worth). Due to technical issue with the memory card, Gemma goes to the internet cafe round the corner to upload some piccies. We talk to each other online which is strange.

Head out for tea, tackle the night market again and then watch a DVD before enduring the embarrassment of watching the Champions League Final that never was. Some of the Malaysians at the hotel are Chelsea fans which makes for a bit of fun.

Day 234: Melaka, Malaysia 20/05/2012

Wake up late after staying up til all hours with the football. Gemma runs out for lunch as I doze and comes back to tell me that there is a B-Boy contest in full swing down the road. Lunch, ice cream, breakdancing. Some incredible dancers including a troupe of seven year old girls dancing inappropriately let's say.

Uneventful evening - skype, blog - then bed.

Posted by tevs 04:32 Archived in Malaysia Tagged chinatown history malaysia cinema melaka Comments (0)

Chapter twenty one - Madurai

sunny 30 °C

Day 96: Madurai, Tamil Nadu 03/01/12

A decent lie in after yesterday’s excitement and after a quick breakfast we are off out of Rainbow Cottage for our journey across the state border to Madurai. After visiting the border a couple of days previously it became apparent that, due to tensions between Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the border was shut, effectively becoming a DMZ and we would have quite a walk on our hands to even get near a bus to Madurai. However, the border was obviously reopened and there was an abundance of buses waiting to whisk us to wherever we wanted. As a result we walk straight onto a bus direct for Madurai, having run into the Kiwi couple we shared the safari with.

A fairly easy ride over to Madurai (about 4 hours), which is of course extremely busy (we are in India). Some more stunning landscapes to be seen on the journey – more jungle lined mountains and incredible views into the valleys below.

Find a hotel fairly easily, grab a bite to eat (roast chicken – mmmmm) on the rooftop and before long it is my turn to feel a little unwell. We heads to the room and spend the evening watching some tv in between the frequent power cuts.

Day 97: Madurai, Tamil Nadu 04/01/12

A few bits of housekeeping first thing – check emails and get the laundry done – before we make our way to the huge historic temples in the city centre. These are some hugely impressive structures, with a massive amount of detail, incorporating countless individual stone statues and symbols on the sides of the temple monuments, in an array of bright colours. Incredible to think these are hundreds of years old.

There is of course lots to experience around the temple sites, with a bustling, hectic market region and lots of people leaning towards the tourists – beggars, touts and market traders – for the first experience of this type of activity for a long time in India, and something we remember from the other big Indian cities. Some great market stalls to be seen, most of them well worth a look.

A spot of lunch, where Gemma’s biriyani is so hot she thinks she has been temporarily blinded. As the temple is not open to visitors until 4pm, we go back to the room and head back around 7pm to see inside (and check the status of the laptop, which is in for repair). I am told that I cannot enter the temple in my shorts and I am given a tea towel skirt thing the local men all seem to wear. Very fetching. The laptop is shown to us in pieces, which is how we will be receiving it back – luckily not, just an explanation.

The temple meanwhile is extremely interesting, if a little creepy, with a huge number of holy men, statues and rituals to be seen.

Posted by tevs 06:00 Archived in India Tagged temples history madurai tamil_nadu Comments (0)

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