Panda Eyes in Chengdu

DSCF1695 (Copy)You hear tales of the sleeper trains in China. Jam packed with noisy noodle slurping locals stealing your seat, or in this case, bed. Smoking in the corridors. Spitting in the corridors… Happily this was untrue for me, and the night passed in a quiet, gently rocking style as the train trundled at a leisurely 60 mph to its final destination at Chengdu at a very sensible time of 10am. Cheaper than a hotel! Continue reading

Army In Darkness: Xian And The Terracotta Warriors

DSCF1584 (Copy)With smog so thick in Beijing you could spoon it over yoghurt, I was looking forward to getting out to clearer climes. How naive. Getting the train to the ancient walled city of Xian from Beijing allows you to experience the narrow end of China’s explosive development and how it is embracing technology as quickly as possible. The bullet train is every bit as sleek and clean as its Japanese cousin and is by far the simplest way to get to the central western city of a thousand stone soldiers. Five hours in a comfortable clean train or thirteen hours in a rickety old sleeper berth. It’s not really a choice is it? Continue reading

Five Days In Beijing (Is Not Enough)

DSCF1208 (Copy)The crossing in to China was a painless affair, assisted with beer purchased at the border from the convenient supermarket. A quick look at the shelves and it was clear we were no longer in Kansas. Vacuum packed pickled pig trotter anyone? And that was one of the few items that were identifiable. Many more nondescript but-almost-certainly-some-kind-of-offal lined the shop, and the fruit juices became all the more esoteric. Beer, thankfully, was easy to spot and with nary a crazy fruit or animal organ to be found in the bottle, it was about all I needed to take me to Beijing. Continue reading

Marauding Through Mongolia

DSCF1147 (Copy)With a happy quirk that only Russian bureaucrats can possibly make sense of, I boarded the train to Mongolia to be greeted by three other westerners. It seemed that as the only foreigners on board we were to be quarantined to our own carriage, in what turned out to be the nicest carriage on the train. The décor was bright and mostly new; the air was clear and there was no noise at all. Upon exploring the rest of the train, it was clear that we were given better than the rest with the other carriages being a melange of 70s brown veneer walls, smoky corridors and crowded compartments. What a shame. Continue reading