China Trip Report
- Submitted by: Timothy M W Eyre, United Kingdom
- Submission Date: 03rd Feb 2005
This is the exact text of a letter I sent to Lonely Planet giving technical details of my three month journey July, August, September 1993 through Hong Kong, China and Pakistan.
Things are changing fast in China and any info you find is bound to be out of date to some extent - even if it`s just three weeks old. China is a good place to learn to travel without clinging to a guidebook; though of all countries I`ve been to, China is the one where a guidebook is most useful as no one speaks English to ask for directions. Opportunism is vital in China. Also be warned that China can be hard on your patience. It is, however, an awe-inspiring and beautiful land.
If you want any more advice, e-mail me.
Department of Mathematics
University of Nottingham
3rd October 1993
Dear Lonely Planet,
I've just got back from a trip to China and Pakistan and so here's some info.
I took an Emirates flight from London Gatwick to Hong Kong via Dubai. It cost UKP522 plus full travel insurance (about UKP50 for 3 months!). This was through Airline Ticket Network who are pretty good in my opinion and their number is a freephone one. Emirates is pretty luxurious, I must say, though the 8 hour stopover was a bit of a downer.
My luggage was ultra-light and definately the way to go. My equipment amounted to:-
1 pair leather hiking boots
2 pairs thick socks
2 pairs thin socks
one pair baggy cotton trousers from Java one pair smartish knee-length shorts
one headscarf (multi - purpose, very useful)
one showerproof jacket with fluffy lining
one plastic lined money/camera pouch on a chain around my hips
notebook and pen
Malaria medication, Immodium
Elastoplast, bandage, asprins, anti-fungal cream, antiseptic cream
Needle, thread, string, Swiss Army knife, alarm clock, compass
Sun block, insect repellant, sunglasses
Too many novels, envelope full of documents, SW radio, metal mug
Camera, 10 films, spare camera battery
Money in US dollar TCs and French Franc TCs (oddly enough)
All this went into a 25 litre daypack, the Berghaus Blitz, which is a great item of equipment. Travelling light cannot be overrecommended. The main problem is cold and wet, but as a Brit, I avoided places like that as far as possible. I went with an old friend who proved to be intolerable company after 72 hours so I abandoned him without guidebook, phrasebook or any independant travel experience. Choose parteners with care! Food in China is good, usually clean and cheap, you really feast off the street. This is a very positive point. Being a vegetarian wasn't a problem for me (but then I eat fish), though on more than one occasion I accidently ate something with a tiny amount of meat in it, as many snacks are like this.
Finding out a Chinese equivilant to your English-language name is a good idea. A Chinese student told me that I could be ai qing, and he taught me how to write this in Chinese characters. This came in handy very often indeed. It is significant that every Chinese English student has an English language name.
Now follows a transcipt of the notes I took whilst on the journey.
Possible to WALK to Chungking Mansions from airport if you have small baggage load, the maps avaliable at the airport enable you to find your way quite easily. Stayed at Cosmos Hotel (B-5) with the aid of a tout. A microscopic double room which contained a bed and TV with room for only one person standing cost HK$80. Food is pricey around here, too. A couple of bananas cost HK$4 and a bottle of mineral water HK$7. Ferry to central HK$1.5/1.2 upper/lower deck, takes 10mins. Peak Tram very interesting and pleasant walks at top of hill. HK$16 return and takes about 15 mins. At 26 Harbour road visa office got 60 day visa (this is the max) for HK$100, overnight. Other options are avaliable, such as $200 for multi-entry 3 months. Only need one passport photo and the queues are fairly moderate. Ferry to Canton leaves in morning and evening (9pm) for HK$180/240 (2nd/1st). Kowloon park has a nice swimming pool. Checkout of hotel by leaving keys on fridge. Pick up visa easily at 9am, took ferry direct to Wanchi, HK$1.5 from same terminal. Bus 5C from Sea Star boat port goes to railway station for HK$2.6. Train to Lo Wu HK$27. Immigration confusing but possible, make sure you use the Bank Of China when you see it as there's nowhere else to change money nearby. The vendors accept HK$ at one to one rate with yuan. Foriegners must buy tickets to Canton UPSTAIRS (no signs to this effect) Y39 soft seat air-con. Two hours. Bus 15 and bus 5 both go to a stop near Shamian Island. Guangzhou Youth Hostel Y42+Y50 deposit in 3 bed dorm with TV, fan, toothbrush, tea etc. Very nice place. Bus from Canton to Hai'an harbour Y85 from 'Tourist Ticket Agency' opposite railway station. Interesting ride but a bit tough, though the bus is fairly comfortable. It takes all of 22 hours, despite their claim of 14. Phew. Fast boat to Haikou Y38, possibly a slower one for Y4.3 but difficult/impossible to get what you want unless you speak Chinese. Haikou is an accomodation nightmare, no cheap hotels at all; the Cinese Overseas is Y160fec, the cheapest and was full. Horrible place all round, though it's interesting to see the full ravages of Chinese Capitalism - there are naked beggars on the streets. Bus 7 goes to long distance bus station for Y1. Lots of buses go to Sanya, 8 hours Y26/40. Expensive buses cleaner and more comfortable but not faster. Seaside Holiday (Tel 213898) Inn at Dadonghai Beach is fairly reasonable at Y35 in 3 bed dorm with air-con (very necessary in summer!), TV and mosquito net. They claim the last winter beer consumption reached 200 bottles a night! Very, very hot in July, extremely uncomfortable to go walking during the day, but ok for beach life. Beach area massively developed, loads of hotels and there's a swimming pool with waterslides etc. for Y20, though may not be open to big noses (excuses about AIDS might be given!) Mayflower restaurant is the backpacker hangout, reasonable with English spoken (in a strange accent that sounds like singing), though it does have rats. Ought to pay to get on beach but fairly easy to slip,past or go round the back way. Get ticket from Haikous bus station straight through to Hai'an for an extortionate Y24, 1 hour. An extra Y3 will allow you to watch TV on the boat. To Zhanjiang South from Hai'an Y30 in express luxury minibus with AC, 4 hours and crowded. I was directed to a Y100 joint, but as I prpared to sit out the night at the station, an angel cunningly disguised as an old man directed me to a Chinese hotel where I was the sole occupant of a three bed dorm with mosquito net, fan, Tv and soap and bath for Y18rmb. Very close to station; turn left at station entrance (as you look away from station) and walk about 200m, turn right under a square arch, then turn left. Only one forien exchange counter in Zhanjiang and it's right off to the south in the head Bank of China - you'll need a taxi or a guide. Hard seat to Guilin Y53 in AC carriage (!) 13 hours and I was told this was Chinese price. Buying tickets at station hard work and CITS not in evidence. Rongshuluo Hotel reached with the help of a guy who works there that I met on the train. Y50FEC for a double with AC and so on. This was the most I ever paid for a room in China, so it's not all that expensive if you stay out of the Special Economic Zones. Reed Flute Caves Y20FEC, very wonderful but very crowded. Bus to Yangshuo Y5, lots of places to stay, but only stay at Yangshuo Youth Hostel (Y5 in 5 bed dorm) near bus station and next to Twin Peaks Cafe under the severest physical intimidation. Not only is it noisy because of the buses and when they fill up people are crammed onto the floor (ten [people in a five bed room one night), but one of the room maids 'accidently' threw out ALL my luggage while I was out on a day trip and the management was extremely unapologetic about my having to fish my malaria tablets, TC reciepts, first aid gear etc. out of a mire of used tissues, toilet paper and sanitary towels and the very real possibility that it could have all been on the fire by the time I'd got back. Bike rental Y5 a day for a mountain bike, other places do Y2 day for ordinary bike. At the bottom of Moon Hill (Y1 to walk up, we took up a watermelon, which was good) there is a advertisement for the 'New Water Caves'. These are really very good indeed, on a par with Reed Flute but in a different way. For a start, we were the only group there (two of us, Y15). Afterwards we were invited for a meal at a peasant's house. Very nice food, but rather good at giving you diarrhoea. Bus to Liuzhou Y17, took 8 hours because of delay. Also quite rough. Nanjiang Hotel Y31 a single with bath and hard bed. Y31 for hard seat to Dayong (Chinese price), leaves at 16.38. Lots of bakery products here. Get bus no.2 from railways station to a pleasant park (Y2) with a giant Buddah and a zoo. 16.5 hours to Dayong, not a nice trip. The LP entry for the Qingyanshan area is totally out of date as the region has been developed as a tourist region aimed at the Cantonese. It is now very overpriced and taking a tour is the only realistic way of travelling here as they really do overcharge foriegners massively here. I paid Y400FEC for a four day tour (3 nights), excluding food. Hotel prices are ridiculous considering how cold, damp and dirty the rooms are, and if you're not on a tour immovable overcharging would be inevitable (my travel partener told about how the Cantonese are overcharged just as much as Westerners, but they take it much better than us routards). Our guide only spoke Chinese (I was travelling with a Cantonese girl at this point), an English speaker would almost certainly cost more. I rather amusingly lost his ID card which he'd given me for security. Y100 calmed him down. Transport is by bombshell bus, one REALLY rough jeep ride and lots of walking, so you'll have to dump your gear if you're not sensible enough to be travelling light. The scenery is UTTERLY STUPENDOUS, in my opinion better than Guilin and Yangshuo, plus it's cool here in the summer. Very quiet as the routes you take are all away from roads. Food is of variable quality, often horrible, but invariable price; a meal will cost a good Y20 but the restaurants are all the type that would be Y0.9 for soupy noodles in the cities. Going to this place independantly would require a good knowledge of Chinese (no English anywhere due to total lack of Westerners, I saw one other big nose all the time I was there) and a good Y200 a day. Train Dayong to Yichang is Y18 hard seat, 6 hours 8pm to 2am, but I managed to upgrade my ticket to a soft sleeper to Luoyang for just Y3 after befriending the train staff in the dining car!! That took the wind out of other people's train ticket boasts! Arrived in Luoyang's (took 22 hours, scenery dull) East station, a minibus to the railway station was Y2 and fairly easy to find. Touts for cheap Chinese hotels are all over the place, but be careful about the location of your hotel; I almost lost mine and I met someone who had to sleep at the railway station because he couldn't find his hotel! It's this sort of situation where a small compass is really useful. I paid Y25 for a room to myself; the washrooms were pretty gross. Some rooms are just Y10. Tianxiang Hotel Y40FEC a night, so not bad. The restaurant there is still very good. I bought a short wave radio here for Y65, a good buy. You can get radio Moscow all over northern China, but the BBC broadcasts in Chinese most of the time, at least on the band I had. To get into Wangcheng park Y1, Tai Chi in early morning. Frienship Hotel is a bit tatty around the edges. Bus to Longmen caves (no. 60) Y1.3, half an hour, Y15FEC to get in. Cross almost traffic-free bridge and along river bank at end of caves to get a panoramic view/photo. There is an interesting and working christian church 20 mins back up the road to Luoyang, they are very friendly and I heard some great Chinese Christian music being sung by a congregation of about three hundred and being played on traditional Chinese instruments; great! Easy to spot by the cross on the front. I waited through 1.5 hours of Chinese-language sermon waiting for it to start again while they plied me with tea. The bus back to Luoyang goes past here. Good bus to Zhengzhou is Y20, Y11 for bombshell, which I took. It takes about four hours, but we hit a huge traffic snarl. They herded us off the bus and I soon lost the other people on the bus amongst the hundreds of identical (to me) people. Once past the snarl-up I waved down another bus going in the same direction and they only asked for half the mark-up between the cheap and luxury buses (the journey was about half over by this time)! It seems that at least sometimes it's possible to break bus journeys like you can on the trains. Zhongquan Mansions have no English or Pinyin sign, so it's tricky to find despite being right next to the bus station and absolutely huge. An unpleasant single room was Y20. Shopping plazas around the monument are a good place to find out about small-town Chinese capitalism. Xi Dajie and Dong Dajie have some interesting traditional Chinese musical instruments on sale. Y3 to get into the museum which was ok, Mao statue is best bit, though. Got a SW radio for Y65 and can get VOA, Radio Moscow (particulaly in Inner Mongolia) and BBC. Remarkable number of smart restaurants here, though I've no idea whether the food is any good or not. Bus to Kaifeng Y5.5, crowded and you can't get a ticket on the bus. Bianliang hotel ok, got Y10 room, single with no bathroom or matress. The Taoist Temple costs Y1 for entry. To get to Qufu by bus is simple but involves three buses; first go to Jining, Y19.60, then to Yanzhou, Y5 or so then Qufu. Start early to get to Qufu before dark. The hotel called Confucius Mansions is no longer near the Confucius Temple but on the Yanzhou road. It's quite pricey; Y70 for a bed in a triple, so I went accros the road to a Chinese Hotel with the letters 'PJ' at the front, just accross the road. A bed in their best double was a meagre Y20, sharing a bathroom with the room next door. I was roused in the middle of the night here, by an official who wanted to see my passport! Entrance to Confucius forest Y6 (very good), temple Y10 (not so good, I found it lacked any atmosphere.) Lots of shopping to do here, and this was abpout the only place I visited in China where you get serious hassle to buy things. I only saw one other Westerner all the three days I was here. There is a bus to Beijing that leaves daily at 1pm and costs Y51.50. The only disadvantage was that we arrived in Beijing at 4.30am at no place in particular whatsoever. This was quite disorientating! A taxi to the tube station was Y11 and there is a bus stop near the terminal. Qianyuan Hotel still the main hotel, Y30.6 a night in 4 bed dorm. They don't seem to know who's in or out in this place and they're still pretty surly. Y75 for double/triple. Bike rental still Y3. Got ripped off on black market here! Another hint is not to change the morning after an overnight bus ordeal. Entrance to Forbidden City an outrageous Y45fec, which does include the cassette tour with Roger Moore, which IS worth taking. OPens at 8.30am to 5pm, arrive early to avoid the huge crowds. Takes 2 hours by bike to Summer Palace (Y25fec) which is even packed out when it rains. Getting lost on your way is pretty certain. There is a blue map book of Beijing for a mere Y6 which has all the hutongs, English and Chinese. It substantially enhanced my week in Beijing. Gondelin Restaurant no longer particulaly good, quite expensive,(Y16-30 a dish) and the service is poor, the food is quite good, though. Pizza Hut nearby is a cheese oasis and as good as the ones in the west. Y30 just to go up Tianamen Gate!. At the Beijing Hotel you can eat breakfast, lunch or dinner (Y30,55,70fec+10% service) from the buffet. The hotel next door is the Grand Hotel and is a member of 'The Leading Hotels Of The World' and so must be the best in Beijing. They won't change traveller's cheques for non-residents. Mao mausoleum open 8-12am, free but you can't take your bag in.. Moscow restaurant is open 11am-1.30pm and 4.30-8pm. Prices are about Y50 for 3 courses + wine.The food is just acceptable and they lack vital Russian dishes, like black bread and vodka. They do sell a lot of coconut juice, however. Museum of the Revolution Y2, but housed an (admittedly very good) exhibition by an artist, not dramatic revolution scenes. A visa extension here cost me Y65 for just over a month. The chap in the office speaks very good English. My bicycle was towed away from outside McDonald's! It had only been haulded around the corner, but the event saw me running around like a headless chicken for half an hour. It nis illegal to park on the road. Temple of Heaven was Y15fec (Y0.25 for locals) and was a little full. Beijing Library has moved to the main road West of the zoo, opposite the Olympic Hotel. Definitely worth talking your way in. It's open 8am-5pm and on to 8pm but all the reading rooms are closed. There is a bike park on the premises. Great Wall was Y35fec in a van taxi booked through Mr. Wang. Y19 entrance,a then a steep, hot climb or Y40fec(!!) for the cable car. We were there for 2.5 hours which wasn't really enough. Ticket for hard sleeper to Datong was obtained without difficulty in foriengner's ticket office. Lama Temple Y5rmb and superb atmosphere, it's near a subway station. Another Y5rmb gets you into a couple of moderatlely interesting exhibitions. Train to Datong Took 8 hours overnight and cost Y71fec. The CITS people have an office at the station and are quite helpful despite trying to plug you into an overpriced joint. I think they may be there to keep you away from the grottier parts of the city. I've been to some grim places, but only Datong ever gave me a nightmare! CITS hostel on grounds of Jung Nang Hotel Y30 for bed in double, quite pleasant with private bathroom and modern formica decor. The LP suggested place further west is currently closed for repairs. Buddhist Caves Y15fec, Huayan Temple Y12fec, Dragon Screen Y1. CITS unreserved hard seat to Hohot was Y34fec in an incredibly overcrowded train; 5.5 hours. No buses seemed to be in evidence. Yincheng Hotel is easy to find and takes about 30mins on foot from the station.Y25fec for bed in spacoius 6 bed dorm, all very clean and elegant, which made a nice change. Hohot is a lovely place. There is a tour company in the grounds called Meixiang Corp. who offer tours to the grasslands which are all-inclusive for Y250fec (7-10 people) or Y600 (1-4 people) for '3 days' i.e. one full day.Inner Mongolia Museum a worthwhile Y3, it has a miniature terracotta army upstairs as well as a a great Jurassic Park type dinosaur skeleton at the back. Zhaojun Hotel v. plush and now has a Yurt Restaurant. Y220rmb to Y400fec for rooms. Easy to pedal out into the countryside on a bke from outside the Yicheng Hotel, Y5+Y100 deposit/ID. Inner Mongolia Hotel Restauraunt still very good and they consistently UNDERcharge! Y27 for a pig out. Bus to Dongsheng leaves at 7.40am, no.185 Y25 6 hours on comfy bus, but no videos. Reference to 'this junction' in the Dongsheng section of the book pretty useless! Quite amazing that errors like this don't happen more often; this is the only one I've ever spotted. To get to the hotel, turn right out of the bus station then 1st left to Yimeng Bingyuan, only Y7.50 for bed in quad. It has no English sign and messy washrooms. Paid Y2 pedicab. My passport spent 4 hours at the police station, as they explained using their list of English phrases! Bike hire outside station Y4 a day. Minzu Canting is like a Soho dive now, but the food is still good. There's a guy there who tries to play a synth in the evening, so you may want to go early. There is a lot of business development going on there at the moment, the surrounding countryside is absolutely brilliant and there are lots of rough tracks for you cycle on. You should take great care not to get lost! There are very few landmarks here. Bus to Mauseleum Y5.5 &am from station. Y22rmb to get in! Not very good value at all, but the journey there is worth it for the fantastic scenery, and you can see the grasslands out there. You can stay for Y15, but they wouldn't let me stay in a Yurt at the Mausoleum (there are quite a few here) and at the 'tourist camp' (which is free, at least with the Mausoleum ticket) there are no yurts to stay in at all, just very few interesting odds and ends, and a watchtower which you can climb for a sweeping view of the plains. I got a bus back to Dongsheng at 4pm, 2.5hours and very full. Hard seat fare from Hohot to Yinchuan Y60FEC, Hohot station totally uncrowded. Journey takes 15.5hours on the 201, daytime and good scenery. Xinyin Hotel opposite station (tel.66088 66255) Y26 for luxurious double with bath, a bit noisy. Y27 to Zhongwei by bus, 4 hours and rough. It was really miserable weather at this point, positively British! The bus roof leaked, too. Railway Hotel opposite railway station has clean four bed rooms for Y12 a bed. They will hire a bike, too, with Y200 deposit. They told me Y4 for the day and then demanded Y12, I battled for ages, being in one of my rare fighting moods, so it would be an idea to get the contract totally straight!Yellow River Hotel Y80.
Waterwhell directions gave me a gorgeous ride (Y0.5 to cross river) but the water wheel themselves didn't show up. Shapatou Y2 and they demanded Y6. Cycling there highly recommended for those strong of leg. There is a night bus to Lanzhou at 11pm. No sign of the leather rafts, either, but the stroll to the yellow river is very pretty. Train to Lanzhou Y34fec,#43 (no FEC change here, not even at the Bank Of China). The train wasn't overcrowded, but getting a seat is unlikely. Frienship Hotel wanted me to book the whole dorm for Y66fec, a tads unreasonable, so I found a totally unmarked little Chinese hotel in an ally off the road that leads down to the west railway station. Only Y11rmb a night in a double and clean, no form filling at all! Minibus from here to Main Railway Station Y1.
There is a Lanzhou-Jiaguan bus overnight for Y55fec plus mandatory insurance (Y15fec at Jincheng Hotel CITS). It took 18hours and dropped me off right in front of the Jiaguan Hotel. Leaves at 7pm. Jiaguan Hotel charges an outrageous Y30fec for a bed in a spartan triple with a Karaoke bar outside.Fort can be reached by bike (Y1/hour outside hotel) quite easily, parking Y0.2 at fort. Y8 entrance including a ridiculous bank note exhibition. Bus to Dunhuang Y25.5rmb, buy outside hotel evening before. Took 7 hours in a pretty old bus, rough ride. Buses leave here for as far as Hami.Nation Guesthous behind the bus station charges Y12-55. Lots of tourist pricing goes on in Dunhuang itself and getting local price is well-nigh impossible. The people just outside Dunhuang are lovely, though. An ice-cream seller 10kms out of Dunhuang gave me one for free!! It strikes me that it's only the Han Chinese you are forced to deal with that are nasty, with a bit of effort you can meet truly delightful people. Mogao Caves Y45fec, Y5 to get there. Guide provided.I didn't go, but people seemed to think it was worth it. Bike Hire near bus station Y1/hour or Y6/day. Cycle to filmset spectacular and not too hard. The desert around here is firm enough to cycle on, which is one of the best things I have ever done at all. A compass is a good idea to avoid getting lost. Water bottles are not avaliable in Dunhuang, so make sure you bring one with you. Crescent Moon Lake a meagre Y15fec.
Hiking in Dunes is great, strenuous and I was rained off!! Bus to Hami Y30fec, book day before and it takes 9.5hours. You can then connect to the #404 to Turpan which leaves at 8pm and arrived at 3.30am, Y36rmb. This bus continues to Urumqi. Turpan Hotel Y15fec for a dorm bed, underground dorms Y10fec. The luxury rooms in the new building here are Y210fec. Hotel tour around the Turpan sights Y30rmb. Bike hire at John's Cafe (related to one in Kashgar) Y10/day on poor quality bikes. Flight Urumqi-Canton Y1910fec. Can swim at hotel down road from PSB (you can spot the pool through the gateway) for Y1. Emin Minaret Y4rmb or Y3fec, Jiaohe City ruins Y5fec, and good value. This cannot be said for the irrigation place, where they charge the same to see more or less nothing. Stunning scenery at Flaming Mountains, Y8rmb to see the graves. Bus to Korla from station Y40.70 and massively packed out, better to go to main road and flag down private buses, many of which are half empty. We got on one of these after a couple of hours of sheer hell and paid Y25rmb for the rest of the journey to Yanqi. Here we hit the Sunday market the next morning, totally unexpectedly and it was totally amazing and completely rustic, more so even than Kashgar's. Bus to Korla Y3.1, should you want to go there. Leaping onto a bus for Kuqa was no problem at all, we got on the road at 8am and had a seat within 10mins. Cost Y40rmb and took 8 hours with a very fast driver and almost no-one else on the bus. KuQi Hotel about 20 mins walk further along from the bus station will give a dorm bed for Y20rmb in quite a pleasant room that was obviously the hotel shop at one time. It hasn't been open long and it's fantastically disorganised and the staff seem to regarg the whole thing as a sort of game. They have an English speaker as tour groups often stay here. Getting to the Buddhist Caves is a pricey exercise and geeting info on such matters is not easy. Kuqa is, however, a facinating place to wander around. The other hotels here are all more expensive, less clean and want FEC. The KuQi Hotel has maps for Y3. Good Restaurant is one just beyond the Muslim restaurant on same road as bookstores, we left the Muslim Restaurant before ordering because it looked so dire. Noodles and veg Y4 and very good. Bike Hire at hotel Y10rmb a day or Y5 for half day. Bikes poor quality. The 'Hat Facory' is a great step back into the past. Mosque was closed. There is a museum in this area which charges Y10 for a great exhibition and personal English speaking guide. Market was really good. Waved down bus to Kashgar in street. Only about half full. Our transit night stop was in a really dire place where they tried to charge us Y20 each in a prison cell double. We got Y10, which was still outrageous considering the whole hotel lacked toilets or washing facilities. Food here diabolical. Whole journey from Kuqe took 13 hours first day then a further 6 hours the next day for the last 250km. Lots of Donkey cart scams going on in Kashgar, they've got all sorts of tricks up their sleeves. Seman Hotel pretty good. Y10fec in 11 bed dorm, Y20fec in nice 5 bed dorm with attatched bathroom and in two rooms. Y40fec for double with bath. Y4 to get into tomb plus Y2 for photos. There are a couple of crap 'exhibitions' there for Y0.5. Bike hire is Y0.7 an hour here for ok bikes. The Liman is the best cafe except that they don't do French Toast. Kashgar is a fantastically relaxing place with a really good social atmosphere. Buy tickets to Sust on day of departure. They levy a USD20 tax on the highway when coming from China, so the tickets at the Pakistani Hotel are expensive at Y200fec as this includes said tax.The bus leaves at 12.30pm and they say get your ticket at 10.30am, both Beijing time. 8-9 hours to Tashkergan, Gimir Hotel Y10fec for bed in grotty 5 bed dorm, no washing facilities. They give 15 day transit visas at the border for free, but they do this somewhat unwillingly. The Kunjerab Pass was rather chilly in September, but a jacket is enough for the bus journey. Minibus straight off to Karimabad was Rs1000 between 11 of us. Price hike because of evening departure. Stayed at New Hunza Tourist Hotel, which was pretty good, Rs80 for a double with bathroom. No other type of room. It's located near the Post Office signpost. Bank here only open 9-12.30. Lots of good places to eat and sleep here. Buses to Gilmit:-5am there are minibuses 40rp, NATCO bus passes through around 8am, Rs35. We hitched a jeep ride for Rs35 to just outside Gilmit. There was a 24 hour curfew here for a couple of days in the week before we arrived, and a night time curfew sill was being enforced. This was because of a tribal battle or something. I also heard that two French tourists were killed in Skardu. 'Delux' bus to Rawalpindi from Gilmit Rs190 overnight, buy ticket same day from NATCO office. It took us 24 hours thanks to landslides caused by a night's heavy rain. We got a partial refund and changed busues. All the banks were shut on Sept 11th because of some national holiday. Buses to Islamabad from Rawalpindi are everywhere and cost Rs5. Tourist Camp is insect infested and chargesRs3 to sleep on grass, Rs5 for tent and Rs15 for a space in a concrete bungalow. Security is the biggest problem here; a tent was slashed while I was there and stuff taken. Visa office and travel agents nearby. If you have arrived with a transit visa/landing permit, you're in for real bitch of an extention chase- it took me three days, Rs880 all for a 15 day extention which they did from date of issue instead of date of expiry of my transit visa. I strongly recommend getting visa before arriving if you want to stay more than two weeks. First you have to go to the Ministry of the Interior, this is in the Secretariat, Block R sector 8. This is signposted once you are inside the compound. Cameras and knives are not allowed past reception, and you will be searched. You must sign in. Then go to room 605 where they will be very rude to you and they will keep you waiting for two hours or so until they send you to wait for another hour at rooom 431 for a quick interview (!). That afternoon I got a paper giving the visa office permission to givce me a visa extention which I got the next day. Flights to London around Rs10,000. American Express office is the best place for changing TC's, location aside. They automatically give you the airline ticket purchasing certificate of forieng exchange. Get wagon 105 to get to 'Karachi Company' bus station (Rs3) where you can get a minibus to Peshawar for Rs30, 2.5 hours, good road. Mid September was not too hot, though the mosquitos were a problem. Long Walk or Rs15 by rickshaw to Tourist Inn Motel where they charge Rs50 for a dorm bed and Rs150 for a double. There is a great air-con bakery next door where they do delicious fruitcake. Taxi to Khyber Pass Rs5-600, don't go with the one-eyed guy at the Tourist Inn Motel, he'll cheat you somehow! If you want a Paki-suit made up, Atlas Tailor in the nearby Bazzar was recomended to me twice, and blow me if they didn't do a thoroughly good job of it. But beware! the cloth shop next door sells in yards and the tailor wants meters. A lot of places will try this, they are effectively selling you 0.6 meter short for the suit cloth. To Darra, ask for Home Office up road on opposite side of the road to the museum and a bit further away from Saddar Road. Took only 0.5 hour to get permit, which was free. Get bus to Darra from station opposite Tourist Inn Motel, Rs6 each way. The officials at the posts will try all manner of tricks to get some money out of you, but there is no need to hand over your permit or give them any money. Bad idea to buy guns or drugs in Darra, I heard a tale of one guy who had to make a USD1000 pay off for buying a KILO of hashish! It's also a bad idea to pick up used shells, I heard another tale about a guy who was body searched when they found one of these in his bag. While we were there, we didn't see much in the way of drugs, I heard that the caretaker government had had a crackdown on such things. Be careful about smoking near plates of gunpowder. Bus to Mingorra 2-3hours, Rs30. On to Madyan in a minibus 2 hours, Rs10. Caravan was full, they charge just Rs20 to sleep on the verahnda in a bed. Hunza Guesthouse Rs30 a night and I was the only person there. Will cook meals, but the guy didn't speak much English and couldn't understand that I didn't want meat. Walks around Madyan brilliant. I managed without a map, but plenty of water and good boots are a must. Local hospitality good, be nice and keep it that way! Takes about 90mins to walk to Bahrain, worth doing. Then a bus to Kalam, 12rp, 90mins. I didn't like Kalam at all, partially because of the weather and building sites, but I went right off it when I was woken up by a gun battle in the middle of the night! You need an armed guard to go anywhere outside of the town. Stayed in Mehran Hotel, Rs50 for a very poor double with no electricity. Back to Mingorra Rs25, luxury bus to Peshawar 35rp from Mingorra - worth it! Shahzan Hotel on the same premises as a Saddar Road fast food joint, but upstairs, and opposite another fast food place with 'HOT STUFF' on the front. Double Rs75, single Rs50. Only gripe is that the locks have pretend keys and they is no way of using your own padlock.Notyhing of mine went missing, though. Bus to Rawalpindi from Saddar Road bus Station Rs27, 3-4hours for a bombshell job. Lots of buses go to Murre from the main Rawalpindi bus station, Rs12, 2hours or so in an uncrowded bus. Stayed at the one-star Blue Pines Hotel, room with bath and room service (!) 120/rp a single. Nice place but gunfire in next valley. There is a tourist bus that goeas to Rawalpindi at 4pm. There is a Church here, but they had stopped doing Enlish services when I went, still have Urdu one on Sundat afternnons. Paradise Inn, Rawalpindi Rs380 for a non-air-con double with bath. Poor value, really. Wagon to airport from end of the road with this hotel on it Rs3. Islamabad airport a dump, don't plan on sleeping here! Karachi is much nicer.
I averaged about USD10 a day in China without going to great lengths to save money. Spending a bit more and travelling slowly is definately the way to see China. Trying to do it Bali-style is a dead-cert for a nervous breakdown. On my trip I heard rumours about a couple of guys who cycled accross Mongolia and met someone who showed me her 45 day, UKP25 unrestricted, no hotel reservations Mongolian visa. Visas for Afghanistan with no restictions are sporadically avaliable at the Afghan consulate in Peshawar and there is a regular bus to Kabul from Peshawar, it takes 10 hours. The hotel in Kabul is USD45 a night, but the guy I met who'd been there stayed at the BBC. There are also food shortages in Kabul. You are not restricted just to Kabul and can go to Jilalabad too, but going anywhere else would be a bad idea. There is definately a border crossing open between Vietnam and Yunnan province, China and I've heard rumours about ones for Laos and even Burma (probably just in-out tours). I heard about a guy in Beijing who got a Trans-Siberian Rail ticket on five days notice from the Beijing Hotel. The catch? It cost USD900!
I found China more photogenic than Pakistan, surprisingly. A professional photographer I met agreed with me on this. We decided that this was because the great things about Pakistan are scenery and street vibes, both of which are really hard to get on film.
I found the China guidebook very useful, many people complained it was out of date, but this is hardly surprising for a country changing as fast as China. Besides, guidebooks are guides, not gospels. Thanks for the help! Until next year....