Going around Guilin: the Elephant Trunk Hill (Xiangbishan).

For me, Guilin was a first. For my travel companion, he had visited 10 years previously. He remembered this part of China as possessing great natural beauty, a rural kind of charm. This kind of beauty remains in fragments:

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But as with anything, development is a double-edged sword- and as we ventured away from the Reed Flute Cave back to our van, the same machines creating for Guilin were also marring the landscape of what used to be an untouched fishing village.

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See the crane- top right hand corner

But all was not lost, because the Elephant Trunk Hill (Xiangbishan) provided us with a scenic snapshot to enjoy. Better still- whatever age you are- you’re never too old to enjoy a park (well that’s my theory).

The Elephant Trunk Hill gets it’s name from the shape the rocks form, resembling an elephant drinking from the River Li. Entrance cost CNY 75 and you pay more if you wish to climb the hill.

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Apparently, there are carvings in the rocks which provide information on the attraction, but you need someone with local knowledge to give more information about this. We decided not to climb the hill due to budgeting restrictions.

However, we did enter the “lovers park” (not awkward because, more than anything else, it was all humorously bewildering to my friend and I).

The park area is full of steel framed statues and larking around is a must:

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Minnie and Mickey being all cute      And the Garden of Eden- weird statue styleSecond batch of 13 November photos 232  Second batch of 13 November photos 229

So basically quite unlike parks in the UK. Kids look away now. 

Though we didn’t know this at the time, parts of the park can be lit up at night- we figured this out upon seeing a tree with lights hanging down from the branches. So as a tip, perhaps this would be the best time to visit the Elephant Trunk Hill Park. However, entrance into the park at night is more expensive, so do take this into consideration.

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From the park, you also get views of the river:

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By now, we had completed both the Reed Flute Cave and the Elephant Trunk Hill and we were feeling incredibly hungry. We consulted a park map and located a restaurant on the edge of the park, overlooking the River Lijang. The Homa Cafe is a hidden delight- waiting staff are friendly, and on a cold day- food is incredibly warming.

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My friend tucked into a noodle dish whilst I enjoyed tofu, rice and stir fried vegetables. After swapping drinks (he wasn’t fond of his citrus, orangey tea but I enjoyed it), we returned to the area around our hotel in Guilin and explored the town during the late afternoon.

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Our late lunch at Homa Cafe. 

Our time in China was drawing to a close. But I still had a bit more time in Hong Kong before I approached the other part of my journey and settled down in Melbourne, Australia for a couple of months. And despite thinking I’d seen it all in Hong Kong during my first stint there (see the categories sidebar for my earlier blog posts on Hong Kong), it just so happens I was very wrong. The commercial capital of Asia still had far more to offer…

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Seeing Xi’an part 1: the journey, the layout and the green gas explosion!

The journey…

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Was different. The station was Beijing West and it was full of people, jostling for space. In a tiny way, it conceptualised just how populated a country China is. Foreigners made up 0.1% of the station population. This was the local way of travelling, and a contrast to Beijing Airport.

The scramble…

To the train was substantial. But we made it.

The train travel…

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Was comfortable. Large red seats. We had paid a little more to be in a better carriage, toilets were still squatters as is standard in China, and manners remain consistent throughout the culture.

Then we arrived at Xi’an North station. We got a cab and prayed the driver would not crash because it was seatbelt-less and there were metal grills dividing the front and the back seat- this could lead to a fatal injury. We settled in initially because it was late in the day. The next day was my travel companion’s 22nd Birthday.

The layout…

For the birthday was simple enough to organise. We chilled in the morning, going to a Korean tea shop in a shopping centre near the Grand Metropark Hotel, where we were staying.

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I can personally recommend the latte and the white peach tea!

The morning was chilled… we visited a shop called Yishion (kind of like a Chinese version of H&M and New Look) where we both found jackets and my travel companion enjoyed a McDonald’s lunch (we are connoisseurs of fine food).

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Shop till you drop birthday style and fillet o fish anyone?

The afternoon is where we get cultural. We visit the Bell Tower of Xi’an, which resides as the central point of the city, a hub where four roads meet. To have a tourist attraction which was built around in order to provide the city structure is quite amazing.

It is beautiful; the outside is like overlooking a to-scale fully functioning model village. The inside is colourful and mesmerising, with a psychedelic roof and various ancient artefacts.

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It contains a number of bronze cast-iron bells, prevalent in the Tang Dynesty. Why the tower was created is unknown, although there are legends surrounding it’s formation.

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An hour later, we decided to move on from the tower. All was fine until…

A crash. Loud in my ear.

A gas cannister exploding- the green gas explosion…

unfurling through the air.

And worst of all- I froze.

I don’t think it did me any harm… but it certainly added an innovative experience to my travel companion’s birthday. What was terrifying was the shock. And being only metres away as shards of glass exploded towards me…

Hong Kong: Breathtaking in every light

Today was the day where I got to go to my first real tourist-y attraction in Hong Kong. The Peak is over 396 metres above sea level and from this area, you can see Victoria Harbour, the International Finance Centre, and Mong Kok (on the Western side of Kowloon) alongside many other buildings and regions of HK. Over the past few days, protesting in certain parts of HK meant that my friend steered me away from these areas and subsequently, what activities we had planned during my first stint here were susceptible to change. However, because the Peak is not too close to Central, I got the chance to go up there today. And it was this that made me really appreciate Hong Kong’s beauty. Because from a natural scenic perspective, this may not be the first place that comes to mind (or indeed, a place that comes to mind at all). But from an urbanization viewpoint, the Hong Kong skyline does for the eyes what any form of chocolate does for the soul. It is an absolute visual treat!

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Getting to see HK from above!

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Hong Kong skyscrapers during the day

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A different viewpoint from Sky Terrace 428 (as was the photo above)

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Hong Kong at night (from Café Deco terrace) 

Note that the Sky Terrace 428 is at the top part of the Peak. You have to pay an extra 45 HK dollars but it is well worth it for 360 degree views above Hong Kong.

Upon arriving at the Peak by taxi (because the queue for the tram was unbelievably long and today has been hot and humid), we walked around the shopping centre which lies at the bottom of the free viewing platform and the higher Sky Terrace 428. Normally there are different displays on- my friend told me that a month ago the display was Mr Men and Little Miss (which, truthfully, I would have quite enjoyed). Today however, in preparation for Halloween, a number of attraction employees were roaming around dressed as clowns, headless individuals, zombie girls (with zombie teddy bears) etc and Halloween decorations were dotted around the shopping centre. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, it could be fun, but on a warm, bright day when you want to take scenic photos, having to watch out for Halloween characters creeping up on you or jumping behind you is a little bit of an inconvenience. And ironically, later in the evening when such characters would have created more of a stir, we were unable to see any of them roaming around (although this may have just been coincidence).

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My new best friends!!!

Another thing I’ll say about the Peak shopping centre is that a couple (though not all) shops have policies on individuals not being able to take photos or touch items. And as someone who has been to other shops in Hong Kong whereby these rules are not applicable, this does irritate me a little.  Also, if you are not obviously local or bilingual, watch out for shop owners negotiating a smaller price drop downwards, especially since some items are costly. My friend speaks both Mandarin and Cantonese, and shop owners were more keen to drop prices for him. However, this is just a minor point, because the shops (though obviously geared towards tourism) had some really quirky and cheap items in them (such as a Dim Sum compact mirror- I had to get it, it was only a pound!). Plus I found my sister part of a present but I won’t say what it is in case she reads this 🙂

We decided to queue for the tram upon leaving the Peak that evening. Although the queue looked long, we were pleasantly surprised at how quickly the line moved.

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A to-scale model of the tram at the Peak

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The back wall of the tram station turns a rainbow spectrum of colours. It’s very pretty!

The ride home was quick, only 7 or 8 minutes, and is very beautiful but here’s something to bear in mind; when the tram arrives (if you are taking it at a busy time), you won’t get a seat waiting patiently to get onto the transportation. We experienced a situation on the tram whereby one women purposely prevented a whole bunch of people from sitting on a free bench next to her in order to make room for her female companion who had drifted behind in the rush that was boarding the tram. And if that happens and you stand, your calf muscles will get a fairly intense workout as the tram is downhill and quite fast. I would suggest that if it looks too busy, get the next one (they run every fifteen minutes) and make sure you look out for the yellow markings on the platform to stand at since this is where the tram doors will open.

 Overall, the abundance of shops and restaurants, alongside some gorgeous viewing points, made the Peak a lovely way to spend the afternoon and part of the evening. Not only was the Sky Terrace 428 particularly spectacular, but having paid entry you get free audio-guides in whichever language, allowing you to learn more about the history of the Peak and the buildings and regions of Hong Kong identifiable from the viewing platform. Note that the Mandarin and English version contains slightly different facts and sound effects (the English version had few sound effects, the Mandarin version apparently had more). This is not a bad thing, just something to be aware of 🙂

A huge positive of the Peak and it’s surrounding amenities is that a number of restaurants have similar spectacular views over Hong Kong (and these don’t necessarily have to be pricey, such restaurants include Burger King and McDonalds and also include many non-fast food restaurants). These views can make for an enhanced dining, dessert or drinks experience.

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My really nice dessert and drink (watermelon cocktail) experience at the Café Deco terrace.

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog!

*Note that the opinions regarding the Peak in this blog post are purely my own, and in the interests of being honest, I wanted to include both the favourable and not so favourable aspects (in my opinion) of the attraction.*

Welcome to my blog!

SO WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?

That’s the question the majority of us confused graduates get asked when we finish our studies. For the minority that know, I am in awe of your focus and ability to discover what you want out of life. For the rest of us, we’re faced with a number of options… post-graduate study… job… graduate training schemes… volunteering… or…

Travel?

Yep, I didn’t think that would be my immediate decision either 🙂 But since it is, I’ve decided to write this blog in order to articulate my musings, share a photo or two, get ridiculously excited about food (I am besotted, thankfully so is my travel companion) and just generally describe where I am and what I’m doing.

So to the introductions- I’m Olivia and I’m a 21 year old British student who has just graduated from university.

YAY UNIVERSITY!!!

During my time at this glorious place, I was fortunate enough to meet a multitude of people who were both entertaining and inspiring (slushy but true). I stress this point because honestly, had you asked me a few years ago, never would I have considered taking some time out of education or the world of work to travel. But things change and having completed my degree, I decided that now was the right time to spread my wings a little and immerse myself in some different cultures. Since two of my close friends come from different parts of Asia (Hong Kong and South Korea respectively), I decided that travelling to learn more about where they’re from and other nearby countries could be a lot of fun!!!!

For the first part of my journey around Asia, I am travelling with a friend (soon to be long-suffering travel companion) and am going to Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and China before returning to Hong Kong. After these 6 weeks, I have decided to go it alone and settle in Melbourne for a while… in spite of having absolutely nothing set in stone there. Which could represent foolishness or become a mark of successful spontaneity (hopefully the latter). I’ll keep you guys updated on that front.

Feel free to comment on any of my posts (all feedback would be hugely appreciated) since this is the first time I’ve ever blogged and if there is something I could be doing to make it better (from the reader’s perspective), I would really love to be able to make those improvements!

Hope you enjoy my blog!!!