After quitting my PhD in December 2013, I got chatting with a few people about what I was going to do next. Generally I’d just sort of vaguely say “Travelling, I guess” followed by a swift change of subject. Mike Pettit apparently said something to his Mum about wanting to travel to Vietnam at some point, who then told my Mum, who then told me. Subsequently Mike and I got in touch and ended up planning an epic adventure. Good old Mums.
To start with, we had a short list of geographically disparate destinations that we assumed it’d be fine to get round in two months. A fairly arsey travel agent informed us that we’d started planning far too late with our trip and that we couldn’t do all the countries we wanted to by a long shot. Great news! It turned out this guy was mostly a moron but he at least helped us narrow down our list of countries. We finally settled on China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand and booked it all through another (far more enthusiastic) travel agent. Charles Clarkson, a man with whom I’ve a protracted love-hate relationship, decided to come with us for the three-week China leg of the trip. I was initially sceptical about this but it worked out pretty well in the end! My girlfriend, Rachael, flew out for the week we spent in Hong Kong too, which was a nice sort of mini-holiday in the middle of the whole thing.
We’d only booked our flights into Beijing and out of Bangkok so the rest of our itinerary was down to us. Initially I’d been quite concerned about this but it turns out that if you just wing it these things usually turn out fine. Over the next few months we had a seemingly endless procession of injections and visa applications. After all that it was a relief to be actually leaving and getting on with this whole “adventure of a lifetime” thing…
These entries were written as letters to my family while on the road as we travelled around Asia. The writing style changes slightly and gets more verbose as I get further up my own arse. I’ll mostly leave these as they were written, adding occasional notes as needed.
The following entry was written after a 17 hour flight from Gatwick to Bejing, therefore it’s a little disjointed. Decided to leave it as is to underline the level of jet lag.
14th May 2014
We got here OK in the end! Saw Brian May at Gatwick airport which was a fun bonus. Our flight plan took us through to Beijing via a stopover in Dubai. [During the first flight, we all decided to make the most of the free alcohol available. If you haven’t gotten smashed and watched the Lego Movie at 30,000 feet then I highly recommend it.] We were all hit by jet lag pretty badly when starting the second flight. Because of the timings of our flights there wasn’t really an ideal time to sleep properly so probably only got about an hour or so.
Anyway, we got here safely. Beijing is insane. It’s bigger than I can get my head around. The amount of traffic alone is colossal. Traffic laws seem to be more like suggestions. Saw a man driving a small truck/motorbike thing whilst holding a phone in each hand.
Last night we checked into our hotel. It was far too fancy really. A four star place in the middle of a pretty corporate area with lots of american stuff (pizza hut, kfc, starbucks). We spent the first night bumbling around looking for somewhere good to eat and getting hopelessly lost. After about an hour or so of this we were about to give up when we found a local guy who spoke excellent English (nobody else speaks a word which is fair enough). This guy showed us an underground food market where we got a huge plate of dumplings each for a total of 4 pounds for all of us.
Today we‘ve ventured off to find a hostel and found an excellent one in a much more accessible part of town. Thousands of shops and markets to buy food so we should be all good from here on. We‘re off to see Tiannenmen square and a few other things in the centre of town today.
The internet is a bit patchy but seems to be ok here. Facebook and twitter seem to be completely blocked which is obvious now thinking about it. Email and skype are going to be the only we can contact people.