Xi’an was a late add on to our journey and really only made the cut due to a couple of factors. We initially planned on visiting the country of Laos when mapping out our trip, but due to the time it was going to take to travel to and from there we decided to forgo it. You can’t do it all! These extra seven to ten days gave us some more flexibility and allowed us to add on a day in cities we already knew we wanted to visit along with finding new places we hadn’t spent much time researching before we left home. The city of Xi’an is home to the Terracotta Warriors, a truly impressive piece of Chinese history due to their age and how recently they were discovered. With our newfound time, we bought a train ticket to Xi’an, a flight from Xi’an to Seoul instead of from Beijing as first planned, and off we went.
Just as we were finally getting the hang of getting around Shanghai, it was time to depart for Beijing. We took the bullet train and it was fantastic. The train got up over 300 km/hr, the seats were comfortable and just a lot less hassle than going to an airport. Before we knew it we had arrived and dropped off our stuff at our hotel. We really came to love this hotel that was well priced, had a hostel feel, and a great coffee bar for breakfasts. Around Beijing there are different streets and neighborhoods that are referred to as hutongs. It was kind of a mystery to us what comprised a hutong and what didn’t. Sometimes it seemed to be if it was an old neighborhood that still had the same architecture from hundreds of years ago, other times it was because it was a busy shopping and restaurant district.
Visiting the Great Wall of China was one of the highlights from our entire trip. While, we have a full Beijing post coming up, we took so many photos of the wall we wanted to share them in a separate post as well. We visited the Jinshanling portion of the wall which is a bit more off the beaten path than some of the other parts of the wall tourists typically visit. But, we wanted to be sure that our visit wouldn’t be overcrowded with people so we could really take our time exploring as well as get some photos of the wall’s stark beauty.
Even after traveling throughout Asia for three months, neither Jeremy or I were prepared for the culture shock we had once we arrived in China. First of all, we didn’t realize how much we’ve come to rely on Google (for mail, searches, maps, translating, etc) until we didn’t have access to it. A loss of Google combined with no Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat made us feel really isolated and far from home. In addition, the people of Shanghai weren’t the warmest or most welcoming and on our first day we only met one Chinese person that spoke English. The Internet in our Air BnB wasn’t strong enough to connect to our VPN which would have given us access to the rest of the world and we both had mini panic sessions about booking our next flights/buses, signing up for health insurance for our arrival home, and speaking with our friends and families. Luckily over the course of our time in China our views of the country and its people changed for the better as we traveled to different cities and had access to better wifi!
We’d heard that Hong Kong is one of the best food cities in the world and were excited to spend a week trying a variety of different cuisines. I’d done a lot of restaurant research before we arrived and kept coming across Hong Kong food blogs that listed Ham and Sherry as one of the best restaurants in the city for high quality, delicious tapas and small plates. After emailing with the restaurant’s PR contact I learned that Ham and Sherry (part of the 22 Ships restaurant group) recently announced Chef Aaron Gillespie as the new executive chef, allowing us the amazing opportunity to dine at Ham and Sherry while chatting with chef Aaron about the great Hong Kong food scene.
Hong Kong happened to be our first big Asian city after three months in Southeast Asia and we were in for a bit of a shock about how pricey it was. We’d heard that Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but we’d naively assumed that like the rest of Southeast Asia we’d be able to find reasonably priced street food but that was not really the case. As a world-class city, Hong Kong has really cracked down on food safety and increased street food regulations over the past few years, making it not nearly as available as we hoped. What was great though was because it’s such a large city you can get any type of cuisine and we sampled everything from Taiwanese to Korean to Spanish and good old McDonald’s. We were also treated to a delicious meal at one of Hong Kong’s best restaurants Ham and Sherry, read the post here.
Going all the way back to hiking Mount Batur in Bali, fellow travelers had told us about their wonderful experiences in Pai, a little town in the north of Thailand. As we continued to travel Southeast Asia and told others we would be going to Chiang Mai, continually we heard, “don’t miss Pai.”
When you’re on the road for so long, sometimes you just need a few days in a place that feels like home. So after two weeks in Cambodia and almost a month in Vietnam we decided to head back to Thailand, this time to the North of the country. We planned on spending about a week in Chiang Mai and three days in Pai before heading out to see the rest of the cities on our list. Immediately after arriving in Chiang Mai we felt like this place had the perfect vibe we needed to rest and recharge. In fact, over the next five days we lived like locals: I found a great Thai iced coffee stand I frequented many times, we went to the dentist, the doctor, Jeremy caught some NBA playoff games and we hung out with a couple of different traveler friends we’d met over the course of our trip.
POST BY JEREMY
Halong Bay is a popular tourist attraction about three hours outside of Hanoi. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and between the green waters and massive limestone pillars appearing right out of the sea, it was one of the most beautiful places we have visited so far. We were very lucky to have seen any of it as our trip nearly didn’t happen. The planning was in the works for a while. Almost all of our travel buddies who had been to Vietnam said a trip to Halong Bay was worth doing and if you were going to do it, then do it right. Essentially this means, don’t let this be one of the activities you decide to penny pinch on.
Our next stop on the Vietnam tour was the city of Hue located a few hours north of Hoi An and would serve as a few day stopover before taking an overnight train up the country to Hanoi. Perhaps it was the fact that we had such an amazing time in Hoi An or the fact that the heat index was 112 degrees the entire time we were there, but Hue paled in comparison to our last stop. We were told by other travelers that Hue was a nice city to spend a few days, but we felt a bit trapped in the city whereas I think a lot of other travelers shell out the money for a tour of the nearby countryside or rent a motorbike. But with our tight budget and still nursing our wounds from our moped fall in Cambodia, our plan was to walk whenever possible…