I’m Really Liking Tokyo

We’ve been in Tokyo 2 full days now, and we are really really enjoying it! The city is great! We’ve been to a few big cities, and of course Tokyo is huge, but I feel it doesn’t feel as crowded as other places we’ve been to. We got a real culture shock when we just arrived, but now we are getting to used it.

The weather is HOT, the food is delicious, and the people are so polite. The city is spotless, the drivers are courteous, and literally everything is organised and on time. This is the complete opposite of Chengdu, where nothing is organised.

It really is a unique city, and we’ve been enjoying walking around and not being bumped into, walking in spit and not being constantly stared at.

We’ve been walking tonnes so my legs need a break, and the sun was very strong today so I got burnt (what a surprise there). I think my body is also slowly getting used to constantly being on the go which is good!

We are heading to Kyoto and Osaka so we’ll look forward to seeing what it’s like in those cities!

Aisling

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Shanghai

So we’ve arrived in Shanghai and this will be our last full day in China! The weather has been great here the past two days, however today is cloudy and apparently there will be a typhoon hitting us. It seems ok at the moment though, and the lack of sun is a relief for me, it was very very hot the past two days!

With regards to Shanghai, it’s a pretty city and all, but I don’t think I could live here. The metro is crowded and unorganised, everything is very expensive, there doesn’t seem to be many parks about, and finally theres a lack of tree coverage from the sun. Myself and my fiancé aren’t too fussed on Shanghai to be honest. It’s nice to say we’ve visited but I’m not blown away by it.

We’ve heard from other people who have visited that they weren’t really taken with the city either. We also have a friend who moved from Sichuan to Shanghai to work and when we met them here they said they don’t really like it and want to move back to Sichuan.

The Bund is very pretty at night but the crowds are terrifying! And this is every single night! I can imagine the crowds during a festival! It’s crazy here during the night, as everyone heads to the Bund to see the views of the high rise buildings at night. Plus it’s much cooler than during the day so that’s when everyone is out!

We are heading to Tokyo tonight (another crazy city), so I don’t think we will sleep at all as we will be flying at 12:30am. That will be fun!

I’ve been very tired the past few days here though; the sun, our huge backpacks that we have to carry is taking it’s toll on me. Hopefully my body will get used to the travelling and I’ll be ok soon. It’s the worst when you’re travelling and all you want to do is sleep!

Aisling

Things I Will Miss From China

With my time coming to an end soon, I’ve made a list of everything that I will miss about China.

Of course the first one is food. If you love spicy food, definitely come to Sichuan. They even eat spicy things for breakfast here! There are loads of different dishes to try, and every province has their own speciality food, so if you’re a foodie, you will love China. My only problem with Sichuan food is it’s rather oily. That is its only downfall!

Independent Lifestyle: If there are people, there are buses and restaurants. That is one thing that’s guaranteed. I’m going to miss being able to go anywhere I want in the city, and not needing a car. I like that I can walk at night time (on my own) and not be afraid. I really will miss the independence that I have here. In Ireland everyone needs a car to go anywhere. If I don’t have a certain thing in China, I can simple walk down the road to a shop and buy it. No car needed!

If I’m hungry, simply walk to the nearest hole in the wall restaurant and order something. It’s great! Most of the time if we are hungry, we simply order online and wait for it to arrive outside our University campus. The driver will ring us when he is there, and we just go and collect it.  We have become so lazy!

Transport: Again, people = buses. The transport system in Chengdu is incredible. With buses going EVERYWHERE, and new metro lines popping up every year, it’s a great place to live if you don’t own a car. To be honest you really don’t need a car in Chengdu. We have transport cards that we can use for busses and metros, and transport is so cheap too.

For buses, at every stop in the city there is a display showing the bus numbers and how many stops there are until they arrive. I’m REALLY going to miss the transport here.

My apartment: I have lived in 5 apartments since coming to Chengdu, but I really really like the one that we are living in now. It’s huge, the shower is fantastic (we don’t need to wait for the water to heat up,  hot water lasts for like 30 minutes, and the pressure is great) our sofa is big and comfortable (3 people could sleep on it), we have carpet (which is rare in China) and it’s literally 15 steps away from the University shop.

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Yes I know it’s messy…

But of course there are some problems with it: theres not really a kitchen, there is a basketball court right outside and it literally drives me mad when they come out to play. BANG BANG BANG is all we hear. Also as you can see theres absolutely nowhere to put our things. No shelves whatsoever. So it would be a bit tidier if we had places to put things. We have two small balconies but we don’t use them as then everyone would look at us lounging.

To get this apartment we had to move way out of the city. But because it’s in the University, we don’t have to pay rent which is good!

Easy money: For this Uni job I’ve literally taught whatever I want, and I get paid quite good money. For teaching English, you will usually get well paid, because they really really need teachers. However now, many private companies are increasing the work hour. When I started a full time job was 20 hours in the private company where I used to work. Now it’s about 35 hours. But you can save a bit of money here, unless you go travelling and spend it all (which we have done…)

It’s also extremely cheap here! Although I do notice that it’s slowly getting more expensive, but generally it’s very cheap for food. For other things such as deodrant and foreign brands, they can be very expensive though. But travelling and eating here is cheap!

I also love that it’s so safe. I’ve never once had a bad experience either when I was cycling or walking on my own here. It’s very safe. Many parents let their older children get the bus to/ from school. For younger children it’s a little more dangerous, as there are MANY cases of child abduction, especially babies. It’s sad but true.

In my hometown I wouldn’t walk around at night time, too many drunk people/ bad people about unfortunately.  So I’ll miss how safe it is here.

But yes, I really will miss living here though. I’ve realised why I’ve been here so long. There are definitely problems with the country for sure, and sometimes all I want to do is complain about China and the people and what not, but it has been good to me too.

With regards to my future however, I just couldn’t see myself living permanently. The government is too restrictive, the education system is too harsh and stressful, and sometimes the attitudes of it’s people are just too different to my own. I don’t believe in their values, such as money is the most important thing in life, blah blah blah. ha plus I’m always going to be fat here.

But yeah, it’s time to move on, and leave all these great things I mentioned above behind. Sniff Sniff…..

Aisling.

One More Month Until We Leave!

“We’ve loads of time, we still have 8 weeks left!”

Well that doesn’t ring true at all now! With just a little over a month left to leave Chengdu, we have realised we really need to get our things sorted before we go.

The weeks have just gone by so fast! Soon we’ll be saying goodbye to the country we have called home for 5 years, but hopefully we’ll call Mexico and Ireland home soon!

We have quite a lot of things to do before that though. We have a big trip coming up when we leave Chengdu. First we fly to Shanghai and we will spend a few days there. Next we head to Japan and will be there 2 weeks (we really can’t wait, my fiancé has been dying to visit it for a while now), then we head to Hong Kong for a week, where we fly direct to Dublin. We chose Hong Kong because it’s direct.

We will relax in Ireland for about 2 months, in during which time my fiancés family will visit, and will (finally) get to meet my own family. (That in itself is making me anxious!) Then from Ireland we will go to Madrid, and then FINALLY we’ll fly to Mexico. We’ll visit Cancun and a few other places of interest, and then from there we will fly to Cuernavaca where my fiancés Mum and Dad live. Then we’ll start our new chapter in our lives!

Phew!! I’m anxious just thinking about it all! But hopefully everything will go fine with our travels. We have been very lucky so far.

But today was a good day as we got our rail pass tickets for Japan. This is so when we go to Japan we can use our passes on a lot of trains. With this tickets we already pre-paid so we don’t need to pay for every single train that we use there. We thought we had to pay online and then wait for the documents to arrive. Then we have to go to the airport in Japan and get that exchanged for the real train pass ticket. But we went to an office in Chengdu and they simply printed the documents out for us. It was so convenient! So we were very happy with that. We just go and exchange them for the passes. Nothing is every straightforward in China. Especially with the language barrier.

So that’s one thing ticked off anyway. I still have to organise selling my bike, which I REALLY don’t want to do. I really love it, and I’d love to send it back home, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to. Plus here people don’t buy bikes anymore because there are tonnes of public bikes that people pay a small fee and are able to use it. So I think it’ll be a problem to sell it.

I’m really going to miss my apartment though. I will take some photos of it soon and post it here. It’s really quite amazing! And the size is unlike most you’ll find in China! It’s always in a constant mess though. It’s huge, but we’ve absolutely nowhere to put things, no shelves whatsoever. The only thing that is organised are our clothes that are in the wardrobe. Everything else is everywhere!

Our plan is to try and get something done each day! So….what’s next on our list to do??

Aisling

Tam Coc Village

Tam Coc Village

After out time in Halong Bay, our next stop was Tam Coc! Tam Coc is a small village (literally one street long), but the village is certainly not why you come here! Here you will find natural scenery, beautiful mountains and winding rivers!

After our bus trip from Halong to Tam Coc, we arrived in the evening. It was getting dark so we found our hostel and we just had a walk around the village. (Which will take you about 10 minutes it’s that small) The morning after, we ventured over to the river to take a river boat ride. It was about 8:30am, and it was the perfect time to go! It wasn’t hot, nor where there many people on the river. By 10am onwards it gets pretty busy! So I recommend doing the river tours quite early.

The area where you take the boat is literally in the middle of the village, so you definitely won’t miss it. It was a great experience, and it was just so calm and peaceful. The man rowing the boat actually used his feet to row instead of his hands which was cool to see. At one point you are on the river and there were rice fields surrounding us on either sides. It was so pretty!

 

Next we decided to rent two bikes and cycled to our next location which was Bich Dong Pagoda. When we parked our bikes the lady told us to go a different way, so we ended up going the opposite direction an up over a small mountain to the other side. There we saw a small house and a small trail (that actually just led to a dead end). The area was really nice though! Then we back to the pagoda for a look around.

Be warned! We were scammed by the lady who looked after the bikes, so if I were you, make sure you ask how much the bikes are to park! We made sure we did that since that day! It wasn’t an extortionate amount of money but we learned our lesson from then on!

The day after, we cycled to another area where you can go on another boat down the river. This was is much busier with people but it’s much longer! There are 3 routes to take and we took the longest one, which is about 2/3 hours long! And the lady who was rowing had to row all that time, with 4 people on board! She took a few breaks to let us out and explore some areas, but I’m sure it’s tough nonetheless! With this one, we shared a boat with two French people, whereas with the first river boat we took, it was just the two of us.

During this boat tour, we went through about 9 caves, and we had to duck our heads as the ceilings was so low! If you are claustrophobic I think you would struggle going through these caves. It was very exciting though!

Finally we went to visit Hang Mua Temple. Your first sight of the climb up to the top is rather daunting, and of course it was very tough to climb up it because it was super hot, super humid, and no shade at all, but it’s completely worth it. The views are spectacular!

In Tam Coc it is very easy to cycle around as it’s very flat. We just loved the countryside and it’s just as you’d imagine Vietnam to be like. Here are some pictures of it while on busses and while cycle in Vietnam and Tam Coc.

Where we stayed:

Tam Coc Family Hotel

Good: We loved this homestay. It’s run by the whole family and they are just so so nice. They are genuinely lovely people and very welcoming. The hotel/ homestay is beautiful, one of the nicest places we have stayed in. The room was clean and there were no faults whatsoever. This place would be exactly what I would love to have if I had a hostel. It was beautiful and well kept!

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Bad: There was nothing to complain about! The only thing was that for breakfast, it took rather a long time to arrive! But I think it was because the family make the breakfast and maybe they don’t have enough people. So if you are in a hurry to get somewhere, definitely order it well in advance! But apart from that there was absolutely no problems whatsoever!

Would I recommend? 100% YES!

So our trip to Vietnam had ended. After our time in Tam Coc we returned to Hanoi for 2 nights and then headed back home. We absolutely loved Vietnam, and I’d love to go back again and travel to the south. There’s just so much to see! It really exceeded my expectations!

Aislng

Halong Bay, Vietnam: Our Excursions

Halong Bay, Vietnam: Our Excursions

So with having booked the 3 days and 2 night tour on the cruise (junk) boat, we were brought to more places than the others who just opted for the 1 night tour. I recommend the 2 night one.

First we were brought to some big caves, where the manager of our junk boat took us into the caves and told us about them. There are 3 caves altogether and the last one is huge!

 

The next day we went with another couple on our day excursion. The man who would be taking us for the day said that for previous day there were 16 people on the day excursion, so we were very lucky that we were accompanied by only another couple! They brought us to a smaller boat for the day, so it was great having the boat to ourselves and the other couple!

He took us to see some monkeys that live up on the mountains. While there we passed a few boats filled to the brim with Chinese tourists, thankful to be on our boat with just 5 people!

 

Then we went to visit the Fishing Villages, and it was really interesting! Unfortunately there is only one village left in Halong Bay, as in 2012 or 2014 (I’m not 100% sure) the government moved the people living there onto the mainland so they could have a better standard of living and their children could go to school. However some older generations weren’t happy as they had lived on the boats their whole lives. So now, the people living on the boats don’t live their permanently as they used to in the past.

 

I remember watching an episode of Top Gear (a show about cars) and they went to Vietnam and to one of these fishing villages, and I remember it was that episode that made me interested in visiting Vietnam.

After that we went to a Pearl Farm, where they farm pearls. I never realised it, but it’s actually a very long process, taking years for a pearl to grow. Then many of the shells won’t have a pearl at all. So a lot of it is all about luck. Also many pearls have small imperfections, so that is why they can be so expensive, as the ones that are 100% perfect are very rare!

 

The day after we were supposed to go to a small beach, but because there was a little drizzle outside, we decided to stay on the boat. We really didn’t mind having to spend longer on it at all! They also included Tai Chi in the mornings, so we went up one morning to the deck and (tried) to do some tai chi. It was a great experience.

Halong Bay wise, it was very enjoyable sailing through the karst islands. There are nearly 2,000 of them! There was a bit of rubbish in the sea when we went to visit the fishing village, so that was a shame. It’s a pity the government won’t enforce the dumping of rubbish, as it’s such a beautiful place. We went in the low season so there may be more rubbish in the sea during high season, but I’m not sure. We loved our experience and we would definitely recommend Indochina Sails if you want to go to Halong Bay. It’s only accessible by cruises, there’s no other way to visit these islands.

 

At night all the cruise boats park near each other in the middle of the islands so it’s lovely seeing the twinkling of all the lights from the boats at night time.

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All the boats at night

To find out about our cruise boat, click here: Cruising Down Halong Bay, Vietnam: Our Cruise Boat

Aisling

Cruising Down Halong Bay, Vietnam: Our Cruise Boat

Cruising Down Halong Bay, Vietnam: Our Cruise Boat

After our few days in Hanoi, we got our private bus for the 4 hour journey to Halong Bay. For this part of our trip, we found on the website Booking.com a cruise company called Indochina Sails Cruise. This was the most expensive part of our whole trip in Vietnam, but we had a bit of extra money at hand, and we decided to treat ourselves with going on this cruise. It was amazing!

We really aren’t used to being treated like royalty, and it was hard to get used to at first, but we now realise how the other richer half live! It was definitely an experience! I could certainly get used to it! Because it was quite expensive, we were the youngest couple on board, but we met two wonderful retired couples while on the cruise. A couple from Ireland (what a surprise that was!) and a couple from America. Both of them have been travelling around Asia for the past few weeks.

So for the cruise, we decided to go for the 3 day 2 night cruise and we really enjoyed it. The rooms on the boat were gorgeous, the food was delicious and the employees on board were very nice too.

For lunch there was a set menu, and it was really nice! Then for dinner there was a buffet, with lots of food on offer! Again for breakfast there was another buffet. We were welcomed after our expeditions with a drink, unlimited tea and coffee on board, and the bed was super comfy! The manager helped us with booking a bus for the next leg of the trip, and it was just a lovely experience having people looking after you all day! The wealthy people in the world are certainly pampered!

The only fault on board was that there was no wifi whatsoever. Now we really didn’t mind this at all, but we were worried in case our families were getting worried about us for not contacting them!

Aisling