Progress of my journey (Part 5 – The final)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Hue (bus, 9€) ⇒ Hoi An (with a stopover at Nha Trang, sleeper bus/another bus 15€) ⇒ Da Lat (a sleeper bus, 9€) ⇒ Saigon (Mekong Air, 25€ ) ⇒ Phu Quoc (speedboat, 9€) ⇒ Ha Tien (bus, 8€) ⇒ Kep, Cambodia (minivan, bus, 6€) -> Sihanoukville ⇒ Koh Rong (boat, 11€ for the roundtrip) ⇒ Sihanoukville (four buses/minivans and one boat, 20€)-> Koh Chang (boat, bus, 6€) ⇒ Bangkok (diesel train, 2nd class, 0.5€) ⇒ Ayuthaya (diesel train, 2nd class, 0.5€) ⇒ Bangkok (Air Berlin, via TGX, 346€) -> Helsinki

Total: 119€ + 346€ for the flight to Helsinki

One particular thing about traveling in Vietnam and Cambodia is that it is extremely slow. Distances that do not look that big on the map can easily take a whole day of traveling, as it for example happened on the route from Sihanoukville to Koh Chang. Phu Quoc to Kep transfer took a greater part of the day too. There is an option in Vietnam to buy a bus pass, which includes eight destinations. And the price is only 40 bucks. Extremely good value, if you do a bit of traveling around Vietnam. I learned about it only after spending some time in Vietnam, which made me very sad. But in the end I did not do enough traveling in Vietnam anyway. On the route from Saigon to Phu Quoc as it was almost the same price as the bus + boat combination and saved me a whole day of travelling. Boats are never cheap.

A quick recap of Epic Journey 2: The Orient Express

View Epic Journey 2: The Orient Express in a larger map

  • The total price of moving from one place to another is 1262€
  • 8/10/2010 – 02/06/2011. Almost eight months of travelling. I aimed for a 9 months travel to make the journey more symbolic, but had to come back when I had to come back.
  • 11 countries visited (Macau and Hong Kong included)
  • I flew only thrice. Hong Kong ⇒ Bangkok, Saigon ⇒ Phu Quoc and Bangkok ⇒ Helsinki
  • The longest stretch by land: Helsinki ⇒ Hong Kong.
  • The most comfortable way to travel is high-speed trains in China
  • The least comfortable is crappy buses everywhere. The bus from Ulan Ude to Ulan Bator probably takes the lead.
  • Summer began in December for me
  • I saw a little bit of snow in Siberia and Mongolia, though

Progress of my journey (Part 4)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Not really up-to-date. I am currently in Kep, Cambodia, but anyways.

Bangkok (bus, 13€) ⇒ Chiang Mai (hitch-hiking, three cars, 0€) ⇒ Pai (via Chiang Mai; hitchhiking, 4 cars, then a local bus; 1.5€) ⇒ Chiang Rai (a local bus, 1.5€) ⇒ Chiang Khong (a boat, 3€, taking into the account the passport adventure) ⇒ Huay Xai, Laos (a slow boat down Mekong with an overnight stopover at Pak Beng, 20€) ⇒ Luang Prabang (minivan, 11€) ⇒ Vang Vieng (bus, 4.5€) ⇒ Vien Tiane (VIP bus, 13€) ⇒ Thakhek (a bus, 6€) ⇒ Pakse (bus, longtail boat, 6€) ⇒ Don Det, 4000 Islands (6€, minivan) ⇒ Champasak (3€, tuk-tuk) ⇒ Pakse ⇒ A three day motorbike adventure around Bolaven Plateau (10€ for motorbike rent and gas) ⇒ Pakse (17€, bus; half a night spent sleeping on the floor in a dodgy place in Lao Bao) ⇒ Hue, Vietnam (4€, minivan)

Total: 118€

Travelling in Laos is very slow. Partly poor infrastructure and sorry state of roads, party the local mentality of doing things slow. The journey from Huay Xai to Vientiane felt like a very long one, but after looking at the map I realized that I did not make much progress at all geographically wise. Travelling in Laos is also more expensive than in Thailand, which is probably due to little competition between companies. Local buses are fascinating. Usually packed to the max with a stack of spare extra chairs placed in the aisle for latecomers. Roof of the bus serves as a storage space for motorcycles and even goats and chicken. How they get those on the roof is something I have never figured out. How goats cope with a journey at 60km/h tied to the roof of the bus is also a mystery to me.

The trip from Don Det to Champasak was particularly memorable. Me and Ben arrived late only to find that there are no seats left. Ben got the crappiest seat and was without a seat at all. People around made jokes that I could see on the floor. My response: “Why not, but I will go make inquiries first”. I went outside and there was this guy who told me that we were in the wrong bus. I go back to get Ben and to much surprise of other travelers we are guided to an A/C minivan with only two of us. What was surprising other travelers to Champasak stayed in a cramped bus. We made it to Champasak river crossing way before other travelers and “wasted” the advantage by sitting by a river before crossing drinking refreshments. Much to annoyance of the travelers from the first bus, who finally showed up later. Go slow travelling!

Progress of my journey (part 2)

For the first part, see here.

Bei Jing (night-train hard sleeper, 27€) ⇒ Xi’an (sci-fi fast train, 18€) ⇒ Luo Yang (bus, 2€) ⇒ Deng Feng (bus, 2.5€) ⇒ Zhen Zhou (0.7€) ⇒ Keifeng (fast train, 27€) ⇒ Shanghai (train, hard-seat, 2.7€) ⇒ Hangzhuo (32€) ⇒ Guilin (bus, 1.5€) ⇒ Yangshuo (sleeper-bus, 15€) ⇒ Zhuhai (on foot, 0€) ⇒ Macau (boat, 13€) ⇒ Hong Kong (Air Asia, 103€) ⇒ Bangkok

Total: 245€

Again, could be done cheaper (no soft seats or high-speed trains for example), but both were totally worth it for experience and quite a contrast to the hard seat, which is the cheapest train ticket available. Also it is cheaper to fly out from Macau than Hong Kong, but I found it out only after I had booked my flight.
Total for Helsinki-Bangkok: two months and one week of leisurely traveling and 622€, which is comparable to a cheap flight from Helsinki to Bangkok.

Good-bye China! It was nice visting you. Hopefully will see you again next March.

Shaolin Town

Deng Feng, a small town by Chinese standards and a home to Shaolin Temple, makes an impression of a place from the Shaolin Soccer universe. There are numerous kung-fu and wushu schools in town and it seems that everyone is involved in some sort of a martial art here. Shaolin Temple itself is a very tourist oriented place which is reflected on a steep entrance fee (100Y). Upon arriving into the town I met this local kung-fu / tai chi practioner, whom I taught a couple of capoeira tricks. He, in return, told how to get to the mountain and temple for 2/3 of the price. You go to other side of the mountain and buy a ticket for only the mountain entrance (35Y, not advertised anywhere) and then at the temple pay only for the temple entrance free in form of donation (30Y). Voile, a little saving and great mood for the whole day! Anyways, Shaolin Temple is just another temple, nothing special about it except the hype and all the history. Kung-fu show demonstrated by Shaolin monks was ok, apart from the terrible music and poor coreography. Nice moves, though. On the other hand, supplemental sights as Pagoda Forest, 500 Buddhas Hall and Songshan mountain are magnificent. Songshan is the central mountain out of five Taoist mountains and plays an important role in China’s history for one reason or another. Joseph Campbell with his “every mountain is a central mountain” sprang to mind. No wilderness here, but the hiking infrastructure is impressive. The mountain looks like a civilized park, but on the other hand if not for infrastructure it would be rather difficult to climb the mountain. Had mixed feeling about that one. Shame though that even here up in the mountains you cannot escape the Great Air Pollution Wall of China.

I planned to spend some time to Keifeng the next day and leave to Shanghai by a night-train, but upon arriving there learned that there are tickets only for a day fast train. No Keifeng sightseeing for me, but on the other hand got another chance to feel myself immersed into the futuristic world of Chinese high-speed trains. This one is not as fast as previous one (top speed 200km/h vs 330km/s of the previous one), but I got a soft seat, which is essentially the first class, as China is theoretically a classless society.

Xi’an, not so ancient city

Xi’an turned out to be pretty boring. With population over three million, ultra-modern architecture, tourism oriented mentality, air pollution and numerous designer clothes shop (Prada – check, Louis Vitton – check) it rather resembles a trendy capital in Europe than an ancient capital of China. Few ancient sights as Bell and Drum Tower and City Wall are in top notch condition and give an impression of being built just a few years ago. Terracota Army, the main attraction of Xi’An is one of those “been there, done that” sights. Nothing special, apart from historical value and huge hype surrounding it. On a more positive note, one of the pleasant memories about Xi’an was playing ping pong and doing tai-chi push-hands with local people in the park outside the city walls. Push-hands was particularly interesting – 20 minutes of wrestling resulted a bruised elbow, a dirty t-shirt and invaluable experience. Nice one! And all that without any successful verbal communication.

Anyways two days in Xi’an was more than enough for me, mainly thanks to extremely polluted air. I arrived in Deng Feng, home to Shaolin temple, via Luo Yang by a high-speed train (with the noted top speed 334km/h). Three times more expensive than a regular train, but the train is superb. Ultra-modern, with enough leg-space, comfortable seats, reasonably priced snacks and real-time floor sweeping. As a bonus it makes you feel like you are in a sci-fi novel. No wi-fi though, but there are power sockets. Loved it.

Shaolin temple and mountain hiking tomorrow. Yep.