You're currently viewing posts I wrote during December 2014
Since we were out pretty late drinking last night we slept in and took today easy. Neither one of us were really feeling 100% so we went out and got lunch at Pizza Hut. There was a line and it seemed like the lady taking reservations was screaming at everyone. Eventually we got in and the place was packed full of people and while we were eating, a group of older ladies started screaming at the waitress for no reason. The argument seemed to go on for about 15 minutes.
After eating we went back to the hotel for a little while before heading out and walking around. We went back to Nanjing road to try and find the fake market, which was supposed to be full of all kinds of fake products but we couldn't find it. We ended up walking all the way down to the riverfront and took some photos of the skyline at night.
Both of us were pretty ready to head back home so we just wrapped up the night with some work and emails. Tomorrow we head to the airport and on our way back to the states!
Today was another day of exploring Shanghai. The first thing we did was visit the Jade Buddha temple. It was in the middle of some really rundown parts of town but the buddha itself was pretty cool. There were a lot of people worshiping which made it a little awkward to walk around taking photos though.
Next we went over to the Jing'an Temple which is smack in the middle of a big shopping area. It looked pretty neat from the outside but we couldn't figure out how to get in. Instead of dealing with the masses of people we walked some of the big shopping streets to a bar called Windows Garage where they were having buy-one get-one specials on half liter beers. We hung out there for a while before going downtown to try and have a drink at the top of the Jin Mao tower.
We got to the tower but they wanted us to spend at least 125 Yuan each which seemed really pricey. The view was nice but it was just after sunset and it was a little hazy out so the views weren't worth the price. We ended up leaving without a drink and came back to the hotel for a little bit.
Our friend on the ground here made us a reservation at a Turkish place so we walked over there for dinner. The food was good but we felt like it was a little pricey for the portions they gave out. Afterwards we walked to a different area of town that was full of little bars and ducked into one that had a good happy hour. After that we made our way to a place called Dean's Bottle Shop where they had a really impressive selection of beers for really good prices.
We met up with Nate at a place called Dr. Beer before heading over to Liquid Laundry again. We had a beer there then went to some weird indoor batting cage / bar that was full of American dudes. It was pretty late by the time we got there so we had a beer then caught a cab back to the hotel.
Shanghai at night
Random street trash
Since we didn't have any real plans we were able to sleep in a little bit which was nice. The first thing we did was head into Yuyuan Gardens which was right by our hotel. It's one of the older parts of the city dating back around 1,000 years. We grabbed some breakfast there and then walked to the riverfront to see the skyline of Shanghai.
The air quality has been a lot better here than it was in Beijing which was a nice change. The skyline view was really impressive. After spending some time there we walked down Nanjing Rd for a while which was full of shopping and people trying to sell us fake rolexes and massages. We found a place for lunch in one of the malls but were kinda let down since we didn't actually get what we thought we were ordering.
We took the metro across the river and into the financial district to walk around some of the big skyscrapers. Shanghai has some nice elevated pedestrian pathways that made it easy to get around. We heard about a bar being at the top of one of the buildings so we went over there to get some good views but found out the bar didn't open until 5 (three hours from when we got there).
Instead of sticking around we came back to the hotel where we relaxed for a little bit before heading out for some drinks and dinner. We found a place that had a huge list of imported beers and had a few there around 8:30pm. The streets were pretty empty for a Friday night which was strange. Once we finished our beers we headed out for food but everything seemed to be closed or empty which wasn't a good sign. We walked around for a little while looking for something good but had to settle on McDonalds since it was the only thing open. I was at least able to try one of the local specialties which was a hamburger with some sausage links on top. It wasn't very good and I'd probably never get it again, haha.
Oriental Pearl tower
Local craft brew
We got up early this morning so we could see Mao before catching the high speed train to Shanghai. We packed up our bags before heading out to see the Mao Mausoleum which opened at 8am. The line went pretty fast and they shuffled everyone through the mausoleum pretty fast. He looked like a pretty bad wax sculpture but all the locals seemed to be loving it. We got out by 8:15 and headed back to the hotel to grab our bags and catch a cab to the train station.
The process of getting into the train station and getting our tickets went pretty smoothly. We grabbed a few snacks and got on the train. The train took off and averaged over 300kph for most of the 4 hour ride. We passed through a lot of towns that had some crazy construction projects going on. There were towns in the middle of nowhere that had about 20-30 skyrise style apartment buildings going up. I had heard about the Chinese ghost towns before and it definitely looked like they were building more.
Once we got into Shanghai we got another taxi to the hotel. It's actually a pretty nice one although it smells like someone is smoking nearby. We made plans with some acquaintances of Mike's for dinner here in Shanghai and met up with them at a restaurant called Sichuan Citizen. There were 11 of us and we ordered a bunch of food family style, all of which was really good.
Afterwards we went to a microbrewery called Liquid Laundry where I tried one of their IPA's. After we all called it a night Mike and I had a little trouble catching a cab back to the hotel but finally got one and made it back to the hotel. We got a list of stuff to do for the next few days here but we're going to take it pretty easy tomorrow morning so we can sleep in for the first day in a while.
Beijing to Shanghai high speed train
Since we missed seeing Mao yesterday we wanted to be sure to get there today before heading to the Great Wall. We got off at the Tiananmen Square station but there was some kind of event going on and they had the entire square closed off and the mausoleum was closed. Feeling a little deflated we got back on the subway and headed to the Beijing North train station and got our ticket to the Badaling Station for the Great Wall.
We grabbed a few snacks at the train station and waited around for the train to depart. One thing we've noticed is that whenever there is a line of people waiting for something in China, people will push and shove to get to the front of the line regardless of what it's for. When the gate finally opened for the train, people at the front of the line literally ran to be the first ones on the train. It was hilarious to us because there was obviously plenty of room but they just had this need to be the first ones on.
The train ride was fine and we got off at the Badaling station. It was a bit odd but there wasn't really a good sidewalk or path to get to the Great Wall entrance from the station. Half the time we were just walking on the road with a bunch of other people. When we finally got to the ticket station we bought our tickets and started exploring.
Mike read on Tripadivsor to take the the South path since everyone goes up the North path. We started walking South and basically had the entire wall to ourselves. We walked for about a half hour ascending some extremely steep sections and looking out several towers. It really is impressive seeing the wall. It's one of the few things in China that I've actually been 'wowed' by. We also had a relatively smog free day which made the visibility really good.
We headed back to the station and got our tickets for the train back to Beijing. The station was under construction though and full of dust and guys using power tools with ear-splitting grinding going on. That would definitely not fly at all in America but it seemed to be relatively common here since no one batted an eye at it.
We both passed out and got a little sleep on the ride back to the city. Once we arrived we tried getting the tickets that we bought online for our high speed train from Beijing to Shanghai tomorrow. No one seemed to have any idea what we were trying to do so we gave up and went back to Supreme Hotpot and had another great dinner. We got the beef combo plus mushrooms and some dumplings.
We're going to try and see Mao in the morning before we catch our train. Hopefully we can catch it since Mike has been wanting to see it since he was here 20 years ago. Tomorrow night we're meeting up with some friends of friends in Shanghai for dinner. We're hoping they can give us some good advice on places to visit and things to do when we're there.
Great Wall of China near Badaling
More great wall
We both slept pretty well last night, probably due to the overnight flight. We were planning on going to the Great Wall today but when we woke up we looked outside and saw that the smog levels were ridiculously high (3x what they were yesterday). Rather than go to the Great Wall where we'd like to be able to see into the distance we decided to explore Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace.
After breakfast we headed over to Tiananmen Square with the hopes of seeing Mao's mausoleum but we got there just after it closed down for the day (it's only open from 8-12). The smog levels were ridiculous. The visibility was so low that it was hard to see the Forbidden City from Tiananmen Square which is only across the street.
We took some photos then went over to the Forbidden City. I didn't realize how expansive the Forbidden City actually was. It wasn't too crowded which was nice and we were able to walk around and see most of what we wanted to. Aside from the smog it was a good time walking around.
Next up was the Summer Palace which is where the emperors would go during the summer to relax. It would have been a beautiful area if not for the overwhelming smog again. We spent some time there before it closed down and we had to leave. It was getting pretty cold so we found the nearest metro station and went down to the big food street. We didn't really know what we were in the mood for but eventually stumbled into a pretty busy hot pot place called Supreme Hotpot. We ordered a meat combo plate, some cabbage and noodles. They bring out a big steaming stove filled with charcoal which is surrounded by a soup of choice. You dip your meats and veggies in the soup to cook them, almost like a fondu. We had that and some beers and it really hit the spot for not much money.
Once we finished eating we picked up a few things and a gallon of water from 7-11 since we can't actually drink the tap water here. Hopefully the weather tomorrow is better for our visit to the Great Wall. All the walking around mixed with the smog has made us really tired so we're going to relax for a bit then head to bed.
Forbidden City entrance from Tiananmen Square
At Summer Palace
The redeye flight from Singapore to Beijing was about 6 hours long but like I said in the previous post we were able to sleep through pretty much all of it thanks to a sleeping pill. We weren't in any rush since it was still only about 7am so we had a quick bite to eat and a coffee at the airport then got on the Airport express into the city.
We weren't quite sure how the metro system worked so we got a taxi from the station the airport express dumped out at to the hotel. We paid a little more than we probably should have but we weren't quite sure how far we actually were. Later we found out that we could have gotten to the hotel for about 30 cents if we had hopped on the metro. Oh well, things you learn while traveling.
We didn't really think the hotel would let us check in so early but they had a room ready for us so we were able to check in and get situated. One thing we noticed right away being in China was that all Google services are blocked (which is why there are no photos yet for yesterday or today or probably for the rest of the trip). We couldn't use Google Maps for directions, Google for searching, or Gmail for email (it still seems to come through on my phone though since I'm using my T-Mobile international roaming plan). It's crazy how hard things get when you can't use services you're used to.
We were originally going to visit the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square but the one day a week they're closed is today, Monday, so we had to bypass that. We said we were going to celebrate our Thanksgiving when we got to China by having some Peking Duck so we did some searching to find a good place to visit. It was hard trying to pin down exactly where it was since maps didn't work and all the other map services weren't in English but instead in Mandarin. We decided on a place called Hua's Restaurant that had gotten some really good reviews and after negotiating the metro we got there and got seated. No one at the restaurant spoke english so it was a lot of pointing at the menu but we got some peking duck, sesame sticky buns filled with pork and some kind of "meat pie" which was more like an elongated wonton cut into strips. Everything was great and made for a good substitute Thanksgiving.
From there we took the metro to the 2008 Beijing Olympics grounds, notably the Bird's Nest and the Cube Aquatics facility. The first stop we got off had actually closed the exit we needed and there wasn't another way to get to the grounds from there so we had to go back onto the metro to the next stop and walk back to the grounds. This is when we really started to notice all the smog. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon but it felt like it was dusk because of all the brown haze. You'll be able to see a lot of this in the photos we took.
We walked around and took pictures of the giant observation tower, bird's nest and the cube before heading back near the hotel. Instead of calling it a night we aimlessly walked around some more and found some big open air malls and markets but everything was pretty touristy and surprisingly for us, a lot less crowded than we were expecting. We were hoping to find some good street food but everything looked extremely sketchy which is saying a lot having just come from Kuala Lumpur where we had some great street food. None of the stuff here was on ice and we ran into some guy who was telling us that no one ever eats at the stalls. He was right... there was an entire block of stalls filled with skewers of meat that were just sitting there with no one buying.
One thing we weren't ready for was the time it gets dark here. Being down in Malaysia and Singapore it got dark around 7-7:15pm because we were so close to the equator but up here it was basically dark by 5:30. Having such a long day to start with made us pretty tired so after deciding to play it safe and getting some pizza we came back to the hotel to take it easy and go to bed early.
Depending on the weather and smog we'll either do the Great Wall tomorrow or go visit the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
Peking Duck and snacks in Beijing
Me at the Bird's Nest at Beijing Olympics park
Observation tower at Olympics park in Beijing
No one buying street meat
Today was our last day in Singapore and we had done pretty much everything we wanted to. Our flight to Beijing was at 12:15am so we had a full day to spend. We were able to push the check out time at our hotel to 2pm so we could sleep in a little in the morning. We had some Kaya toast (toast with soft boiled eggs and extremely dark coffee) for breakfast. It's the traditional workers breakfast and was actually pretty good.
We did some research on Beijing and packed up then checked out and dropped our bags off at the front desk of the hotel. One thing that we hadn't done was to check out the Singapore Botanic Gardens. They were highly rated and it was a really nice day out (although probably the hottest and most humid of the trip). The gardens themselves were really nice. It was like a tropical version of Central Park in the middle of the city. Most of the park was free but we paid S$5 to go into the Orchid gardens. We were walking around for a while before some dark clouds started rolling in and a sudden extreme downpour opened up.
Fortunately we were pretty close to some shelters so we ducked under one with a bunch of other people and waited out the rain. The thunder and lightning started hitting really close by and it hit a so close a few times that we could feel the shockwave. It took about an hour and a half for the rain to die down enough that we wouldn't kill our electronics by venturing out into it.
We caught a bus back to the city and stopped at the Raffles hotel which is the hotel that invented the Singapore Sling which is a gin drink with a bunch of other flavorings and juices. Mike and I each got one but were pretty underwhelmed with it for being hyped up so much and being so expensive. All the sugar also got to our stomaches and made us a little queasy for a while afterwards.
We went into a foodcourt and I got some lunch to help settle my stomach. By now we had a couple hours to kill before we needed to be at the airport so we hung out at the hotel lobby for a while until we needed to catch the MRT to the airport.
The check-in process at the airport was easy enough and we had some time to wait around there before we could board. Rather than having one security checkpoint at the terminal each gate has its own security which made things take a little longer. Since our flight was going to be from 12:15am to 6:30am we both popped a sleeping pill and slept through pretty much the whole flight. I did wake up when they brought by dinner which ended up being some kind of chicken and rice noodles with a little salad and fruit.
Botanic Gardens in Singapore
Waterfall in Botanic Gardens
Caught in a downpour
The plan for today was to head to Batam Indonesia since it's only an hour ferry ride away from Singapore. We hadn't really read much about the place but it would be fun to say we went to another country. We booked our tickets and got on board the ferry. We thought it would move pretty fast but it was extremely slow going. It was also raining the entire trip over there which was unfortunate since we wanted to spend some time on beaches.
We got to Batam and didn't realize we needed to buy a visa on arrival so we had to get back out of the customs line and get our visa then had to wait in line again. The next issue was figuring out what to do. There were some really good reviews for the Maha Vihara Duta Maitreya Monastery so we flagged down a taxi to take us there. We thought it would be pretty straight forward but the taxi guy said there won't be any other taxis there so he'd have to wait.
We ended up paying him to hang around with us for 3 hours while we toured the monastery and he'd also be able to drive us around some more. As we were walking around we saw that there was a huge vegetarian restaurant there that was packed. Since we hadn't eaten lunch yet we decided to eat there. It was a really good choice. They had a lot of good food and the sauces and spices used on the fake meat products made it taste really good.
We got back in the taxi and had the guy drop us off at Turi beach resort. It was also a highly rated place online so we figured it would be a good place to hang out and relax by the beach. Unfortunately when we got there they wanted to charge us S$30 per person to have access to the pool and beach area. We weren't about to pay that so we walked around to the next beach over and then cut back through it to the Turi beach area. The resort we cut through was absolutely dead and looked pretty rundown. The area was definitely not the tourist destination that people online made it out to be.
The beach itself was full of trash and wasn't very big. We hung out there for a little while then walked around and out to the pier at Turi beach resort before having the resort call us a taxi back to the ferry terminal. We were originally supposed to leave Batam at 8:30pm but there wasn't anything else to do so we were able to catch the 4:30 ferry back.
On the way back the ferry stopped due to blockage in the jets or something so we had to go pretty slow the rest of the way back to Singapore. Once we got back to Singapore and through customs we came back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. We decided to check out another one of the huge hawker centers at Old Airport Road. This one was really nice. There were a lot of stalls with a bunch of different types of food. I got some black pepper chicken and a chicken curry steam bun and Mike and I split some fried wontons and beer.
It had been another long day so we came back to the hotel to do some work and relax before heading to bed.
For anyone who might stumble across this blog post and are thinking about going to Batam while visiting Singapore, I'd strongly recommend not going. Spend more time in Singapore or go somewhere else. There isn't really anything to do there that can't be done in Singapore 10x better.
At the Maha Vihara Duta Maitreya Monastery
All vegetarian lunch at the monestary
Dinner from these guys at Old Airport Food Center
Today was a beach and pool day. We started off by hanging out at our rooftop pool for a while. The pool has some great views and a very nice atmosphere. Once we started to get hungry we went out and found some cheap yet very good sushi place. The waiter kept mentioning cowboys after he found out Mike was from Texas.
Singapore isn't really known for their beaches but they do have a few. We headed down to Sentosa Island next where they have some man made beaches. We hung out at Palawan beach for a while and went over to explore their little fake island which was built to block the view of all the freighters and tankers on the ocean.
Next up we had to do some MRT/Bus transferring to get over to East Coast Park beach with more views of tankers. The beaches were pretty clean and nice aside from the views. We'd been outside for most of the day so we came back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. We jumped in the pool for a little while longer at night to see some of the night views of the city which was really cool.
For dinner we went to the Newton Food Court and got some fried rice and beer. All the reviews said this foodcourt was a little more touristy so we headed over to the Maxwell food court near Chinatown. While there we didn't really find any other food that looked good so we had another beer then came back to the hotel to call it a night.
Our pool at Hotel Jen Orchardgateway
Palawan Beach on Sentosa Island
Suspension Bridge at Palawan Beach