Ultimate Train Challenge

///Ultimate Train Challenge

What I Packed for the Trans-Manchurian

I’ve been fielding a number of questions lately about that little Train Challenge I tackled back in September. When I tell complete strangers that I spent six days on a train without getting off, eyes as large as saucers pierce me viciously.  Shocked. Astounded. Even slightly in awe of my gumption to torture myself with no [...]

By |December 19th, 2011|Travel Tips, Ultimate Train Challenge|8 Comments

Saigon, We Landed

Really, what can I say about my post-Ultimate Train Challenge time? We spent a restful week at the Thien Thao Hotel through the kind powers that be at HostelBookers and I was ready to squat for a while. Remember when I was gushing about potential rose petals? Thein Thao hotel: Jeannie’s gonna roll around in that Well, I never really got those, but I got this at least: It was comfy. Housekeeping came everyday! Amazed I was at this prospect. In India, I was lucky if they changed bedding yearly, let alone every day. The other bonus? Free breakfast every morning, included in your hotel cost. […]

By |November 11th, 2011|Saigon, Ultimate Train Challenge|14 Comments

The Homestretch: Hanoi to Saigon

This is the tally so far: 19 trains in one month. Hanoi to Saigon makes it the 20th and final train for me. After a lovely break in Guilin where China Odyssey Tours treated us to some pleasant excursions of the Lijiang River and the countryside, we were back onto the train towards Hanoi. We spent a lightening fast day there where some scavenger hunt items were racked up, but mostly time was spent on work. While the Trans-Manchurian proved varied, interesting and wild, I have to make this declaration, I heart Vietnam. The train ride from Hanoi to Saigon was by far my favorite. The last time I was in Vietnam was 8 years ago, and what delighted me the first time also rang true the second time around. 8 years ago, it was riding on a bus through the hills, and as we snaked around a bend, the bus was enveloped by mist. There’s something about fog that I find sexy.  It’s mysterious, caressing, kind of like your lover’s hand, and that’s what it felt like in Vietnam all those years ago. Once we came out the other side of the fog, there was a sheer drop and I gasped out loud at a white, sand beach below, untouched, not a soul’s footprint on it. […]

By |November 4th, 2011|Saigon, Ultimate Train Challenge|8 Comments

Guilin and All Its Charms

What Guilin lacks in size, it balances out with beauty. The city’s life-blood is centered around the Lijiang River, a body of water that stretches north from Xing’an County and south through Guilin and Yangshuo. After the heady experiences of Beijing and riding the Jinghu high-speed railway to Shanghai, it’s been nice to pause and reflect. It’s evening, though work calls, I amuse myself on the public walkways by the river. My hands rest upon the concrete railing built to protect me from drowning or falling. I test that theory by leaning my frame against it, applying a gentle pressure to my soft belly. Food’s been consumed, yet I feel hungry as my gaze fixes to the lapping river below.  My craving doesn’t entail dumplings or rice, but a desire for stimulation. Amidst the shadows of darkness, I see light. Beneath me, there are walkways, diffused with lamplight. The river itself stretches before me gently gurgling, telling its story… A bamboo boat is moored; a tanned, lean man is stretched out against its length. His eyes are at rest, maybe he’s dreaming, I’m not sure. I ponder his purpose. Fishing? There’s a lack of knotted, grimy nets at his feet, so I’m left to stew in my curiosity. A small, concrete dam juts above water level, redirecting the flow of the river. It’s shaped like an awkward triangle with a flat top, ugly and practical. It’s an aesthetic intrusion, that destroys the uniformity of the jade green waters. I question why it exists. On the other side of the river are apartment complexes with curved roofs made of ceramic tiles. The tiles lay upon each other intimately, reminding me of overhanging caves. Buddhists believe straight lines hold evil spirits; so Chinese builders designed curved roofs to keep happiness and luck intact. I am in love with this idea. A row of trees flank the complexes and walkway, their beryl leaves abundant, drooping over to offer shade at day or cover at night.  I do a double take, as my mind dilutes with déjà vu, for I spot an identical bamboo boat, a similar reed thin man as the captain, except this one is sitting up, smoking a cigarette. I sense that he’s waiting. I notice a box built into the center of his boat, and it finally dawns on me the ‘fisherman’s’ boat is designed the same way. […]

By |November 2nd, 2011|Guilin, Ultimate Train Challenge|12 Comments

How Fast is 300 KM Per Hour?

I was lucky enough to experience the fastest train in the world from Beijing to Shanghai. I hope my descriptions inspired some train lust and set a picture in your mind, yet I bet your dying to know one integral thing. What does 300 km/hour look like? Here's a short visual for you, because it's [...]

By |October 31st, 2011|Beijing, Ultimate Train Challenge|6 Comments

Riding the Fastest Train in the World – Beijing to Shanghai

380A.  Or, also called He Xie.  I’m not referring to computer intelligence in the spirit of Hal 9000 of Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. What I’m talking about is the fastest train in the world, known as 380A or He Xie. China unveiled their plans to build this ambitious high-speed train in April 2008. China was a meager player until the Olympics swept through, opening its doors to the world stage. Certainly manufacturing had been cultivated there for years, yet I always saw China as a quietly, closed country. Then, in 2008, something magical happened. A spotlight was shed on China and the country stepped into the limelight with vigor – brimming with new ideas. This train is a harbinger of enthusiastic invention, a bright light. So, maybe my reference to Hal 9000 is not far off the mark. As technology and investment continue to permeate China’s economic borders, I’m personally excited to see how much this country changes. Saying Goodbye After we spent a fruitful day at the Great Wall in Beijing, we woke the next day with the knowledge that we were about to ride the fastest train track from Beijing to Shanghai, which incidentally, clocks an average speed of 380 km/hr. Once again, Andy, our tour guide from the Wall and our driver, Mr. Wei, met us that morning to show us the way. I was sad to part with Andy and Beijing. After the Wall, I crashed from hunger and exhaustion. Yet, I was still exhilarated from experiencing the Wall. Instead of going straight to Happy Dragon Courtyard Hostel, Andy suggested a local restaurant called Alley, far from the tourist traps in  Badaling. At first, I was ravenous, bordering on grumpy, but Andy’s suggestion lifted my mood significantly. The old sections of Beijing are constructed of narrow alleyways that teem with local businesses, swaying laundry lines, children playing, parked scooters and laughter. Alley is one of these local places, with roots to the community. Another architectural feature of these heritage residences are the courtyards that split a household. These courtyards were used for small gardens, or as a gathering place for meditation or tea time. Alley is a prime example of this. This former household, now restaurant, is Beijing’s hidden treasure. It’s family owned, once run by the mother and father, now run by their children – a brother and sister. We all agreed on the last day of the Trans-Manchurian that what we wanted most was spicy food, a stationary bed and a shower. Andy delivered on the first item. […]

By |October 26th, 2011|Beijing, Ultimate Train Challenge|20 Comments