Two Months in Asia: Shanghai is the Sci-Fi utopia I’ve always wanted pt. 2

Saturday 24th May

The plan for our last day in Shanghai was to see some of the very old bits and all the very very new bits of town. First we headed to the Old Shangai Street area of town, which is basically a bit where all the buildings are made to look really old (but actually look rather too new to be entirely convincing). It’s the oldest street in Shanghai and contains lots of crazy street markets, a genuinely old temple, some parks and a large walled garden.

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Two Months in Asia: Shanghai is the Sci-Fi utopia I’ve always wanted pt. 1

Thursday 22nd May

We made our way to the airport in the morning for our flight to Shanghai. I’d heard nothing but good things about Shanghai so was pretty excited to finally be heading off there. The flight didn’t exactly go swimmingly as we were delayed by two hours without any reason given. Having flown again since, this seems to be pretty much par for the course when it comes to internal flights in China. Once we actually got to flying everything was great. The approach to Shanghai flew us over the entire city and looped round to Pudong airport in the brand new swanky part of town.

A panorama showing the Bund as well as the impressive financial buildings across the river

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Two Months in Asia: Panda-monium

Wednesday 21st May – Chengdu

We started this rather surreal day by alighting our train at around 5am in what appeared to be a fairly grubby looking city. The exit to the station was like something out of dystopian fiction. Grey slabs and rubbish everywhere, everyone looking thoroughly miserable. Needless to say, we weren’t exactly thrilled at this sight after such an exhausting (and poop-filled) journey. But this was where the pandas lived, according to an American guy we met in a bar in Beijing.

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Two Months in Asia: This Shit Just Got Real

Editorial: Written whilst on the train from Xi’an to Chengdu. Yes… it’s the one with the baby pooping on the train.

Monday 19th

This day completely made up for the previous day about ten fold. Xi’an is home to the Terracotta Warriors, an army of stone warriors built to protect an ancient emperor in the afterlife.  We got a coach to the dig site about 30 miles out of the city, taking in the incredible mountains and leafy scenery on the way up. We spied a mountain with cable car an earmarked it for later on that day.

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Two Months in Asia: Bullet Trains and Samurai Swords

Saturday 17th May

We slept for about ten hours straight after our Great Wall excursion. Had a bit of a lazy day the next day but managed to see a few more sights in central Beijing. The Drum and Bell towers are situated in the north of the city and provided the city’s first public timing system. On the way to this part of town we dove down some alleys and through some street markets. Street food here is excellent stuff, nothing like the generally mixed bag you get in England in that it’s actually good and doesn’t make you hurl.

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Two Months in Asia – Culture shock and an Embalmed Mass Murderer

Wednesday 14th May

On Wednesday we went to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City located in the heart of central Beijing. Tienanmen square has lots of interesting stuff like a mausoleum (Mao-soleum?) containing the embalmed corpse of Chairman Mao, a museum about Chairman Mao, statues of Chairman Mao, and also some large pictures of Chairman Mao. At the moment China is on high terror alert due to a series of attacks in other parts of the country. Consequently, the centre of Beijing is currently crawling with heavily armed soldiers (shotguns, sniper rifles), with security checks at most entrances and exits of public buildings, metro stations and tourist attractions.

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Two Months in East Asia – Off to China!

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.

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