A trip to Inner Mongolia in pictures

I won’t lie to you all, I really can’t be bothered to write this post. I’ve been meaning to for months but just never found the time or energy. I went in a group of 11 to Inner Mongolia for golden week in October, and rather than try and document every detail of what happened like I usually do with my travel posts, for this one I’m going to do it slightly differently. I’m going to bang a bunch of pictures in then have a few bullet points underneath providing context and anecdotes. Hopefully it turns out okay! The original title for this post was The Yurt Life Tried To Kill Me, so enjoy!

Day 1: Hohhot Life.

  • When we got to Hohhot after an early flight we were shoved into a tiny car to transfer to the hostel. It smelt bad and meant I couldn’t sleep more.
  • There was no room at the hostel so we got moved to a nearby hotel for free!
  • We attempted to find food and stumbled into a nearby restaurant, ordered using google translate and entertained the locals by playing cards and taking pictures with them.
  • Then we explored the Muslim quarter of town where everyone presumed we were Muslims and wished us good fortune. The sun was shining, the air was clear and laughs were had.
  • Our attempt to find food in the evening resulted in a 2 and a half hour walk, a short taxi ride and a walk down 7 flights of stairs.
  • Then I slept. I was tired.

Day 2: Temple and Yurt Life.

  • We had to get up early to check out and get the bus out of the city to our yurt, but ended up having to wait for the people who had arrived on the overnight train from Beijing that morning.
  • Our first stop was at a random temple which we had a nice little tour around and were able to stretch our legs finally! It turned out as well that a lot of the other people on the tour had come through the British Council Language Assistant scheme too.
  • Then we drove into the country and found our yurt home. There’s nothing quite like a coach going off road in the grasslands – very very bumpy journey.
  • Most people then went horse-riding but I’m not a fan of horses and didn’t want to pay any more so I stayed behind and went for an exploratory walk with other people who had stayed behind.
  • Sorry for the bra straps in the picture – I didn’t expect to be warm enough to take my jumper off! Anyway, after people had come back from horse-riding we took it in turns with a bow and arrow and I managed to hit the target!
  • Then it was time to shovel dried poo for the camp fire that night which we sat around and drank, chatted, and watched Izzie nearly set herself on fire trying to light a cigarette.

Day 3: Desert Life.

  • Much driving occurred this day, like 6 hours or something stupid. It was long.
  • When we finally got to the actual desert it looked like a carpark. We got decked out in amazing sandshoes and climbed onto a big yellow truck for a short journey. Once the driver turned a certain corner – BAM! We were in the desert.
  • We climbed dunes, some people sledded back down them, and we rode camels. My favourite part of this desert was that you could still see the skyscrapers and power plants of the nearby city!
  • Then we checked into a hotel and failed to find a bar so ended up having an early night.

Day 4: Museum and Genghis Khan Life. 

  • I got sick. I woke up ill and didn’t recover for the rest of my trip so these last couple of days won’t have many pictures or anecdotes since my days mainly consisted of trying not to throw up and sleeping.
  • We went to a museum in the middle of nowhere which was so beautiful. When we were getting a tour around it some random Chinese man nearly headbutted me he came so close when he was looking in my eyes. Turns out he was confused that not all white people have the same colour eyes.
  • Behind the museum was a temple (type thing? I’m not quite sure, as I said I was ill). After walking around it for a bit I decided the only thing I felt up to was sitting down, so sat down on the wall around it until it was time to go. It was peaceful and had lots of fresh air which is what I needed.
  • In the afternoon we arrived back in Hohhot, and to our disappointment were put in the hostel instead of the hostel. After freshening up we headed out to see the Ghengis Khan statue which was cool, I’d perked up by this point, especially after the prospect of coffee!
  • At the statue were a group of Chinese men who were flying kites and we sat and watched them for ages, until the sun set and it was time to head back.

Day Five: Wall and Pagoda Life.

  • Turns out walking in fresh air is really good when you don’t feel well.
  • I wasn’t looking forward to this day since I’d already been to the Great Wall, but the section we were taken to wasn’t built up and really pretty.
  • We had minor issues getting down from the wall once we’d got up, but down is always harder!
  • Then we were taken to a pagoda, which I won’t lie, was pretty naff, but did have an excellent sign:img_3812
  • Good guys letting ‘deformities’ enter for free!
  • We got back to Hohhot in the evening and I can’t remember if anything else happened that day!

Day 6: Goodbye Life.

On the last day we were going to go to a museum but not everyone had their passports with them so we couldn’t. I started feeling ill again and ended up having to check my backpack for the journey home because I couldn’t carry it. When we got back I was supposed to be teaching the day after but then had a week off for military training. This was incredibly lucky for me because I ended up cancelling 2 classes after nearly fainting and didn’t have to cancel more because they’d already been cancelled!!

To sum up it was a great little tour in Inner Mongolia, full of laughter, fun, and memories I’ll have forever. Even if the yurt life did try to kill me.

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Hawai’i Part Five: Everything Else!!

Usually travelling is rather stressful, sorting out a hostel, planning what to do, making sure your things don’t get stolen etc… But having a base which was a friends home in Hawaii made everything 10x easier. It meant I could leave my things around and not worry, I had an actual comfortable bed, and most importantly, I could while away hours with Theresa watching Friends, Scrubs, Pretty Woman, Moana, Oceans 11, crap Hilary Duff movies, fantastic Haylie Duff movies, and the greatest movie of all time: Christian Mingle! On our more productive days and nights we took a little painting class and painted jellyfish, went to quiz night and game night, and explored Waikiki beach. It was so so nice to just be able to not do anything, to breathe clean air, to see the sea from the sofa, even to feel carpet again! I’m incredibly grateful to Theresa and her family for putting up with me for 2 and a half weeks, driving me around and showing me Oahu.

As well as watching and reviewing every Duff movie on Netflix, we sometimes managed to get out of the house and lay on the various beaches on offer as well as see various natural landmarks such as Chinaman’s Hat. On the drive up to North Shore (which is beautiful) I spotted a seal sunbathing, and when it was too windy to snorkel we sat for hours watching the waves and just relaxing. I was on holiday after all! We returned a few days later when the weather was better so I finally got to snorkel a couple of times. On my last day of snorkelling I followed a fish for a long time and decided it was called Michelle. Whilst I was meeting Michelle a whale was cruising the coast and I managed to see it when I got out of the water which was incredible. On the North Shore we ate from food trucks and managed to actually not get sunburnt! (I won’t lie though, I got sunburnt at the pool in the first week). As well as snorkelling the North Shore had a touristy town called Haliewa where we spent heaps of time walking around, ate some shaved ice, and bought yet more souvenirs. The days spent on the North Shore were so much fun and some of my favourites.

My last day in Hawaii was Superbowl Sunday! We planned to watch it at Theresa’s house and just have a chill day. It started off that way too – the national anthem was sung, the Bush’s came out and flipped a coin, the players ran onto the pitch….and the cable went out. I’m not even joking the second the game was supposed to start the cable went! Theresa’s Dad rang the company who did nothing and we sat around and waited. And waited. Turns out the high winds were causing issues and the power was intermittent too. It was sorted out after the half time show, so although I missed Lady Gaga I managed to catch the overtime and the final touchdown. Hands down it was the best American football game I’ve ever seen! After the game ended the cable went back out again and the wifi with it, so we played a card game and ate food before watching a DVD and going to bed. In the morning when my alarm went off to catch my flight there was still no power so I had to get ready by a camping light and hope that when I’d packed the day before I’d picked up all the small things which had scattered around. I left the pitch black house and headed to the airport which thankfully had power!

My journey back was long, I knew this before going in and yet it was longer than I thought because my first flight was 12 hours not the 8 it had been going! I managed to stay awake despite the cabin crew shutting the blinds and turning off the lights. The food was pretty good too, steak and mashed potatoes. When I eventually landed in Korea for my 19 and a half hour layover I left the airport and got picked up in a 13 seater black mini-bus with blacked out windows to go to the hotel I’d booked. To my delight I’d been upgraded to a suite so had a little entrance way and so much room! After sleeping, waking up at 4 with jet lag and heading to the airport again it was time to go back to China and back to Shijiazhuang.

Hawai’i Part Four: Natural Nature

This post will be less chronological than the previous since my days became more varied and rather than being pretty much a list of what I did each day like the last couple, I thought it would be more interesting to write thematically. So this post is about the various hikes/walks I did on Oahu.

Lulumahu Falls

We attempted this hike at least twice before actually completing it. Before we’d either do something else instead or there was no parking. After getting dropped off though it was time to start my hiking adventures. According to Theresa this hike was the hardest she was going to take me on, but it was even harder than expected due to the heavy wind and rain we’d had the first few days of my trip. The weather had felled trees which made it difficult to get across and in a couple of places people had put ropes up to help. In one particularly difficult spot the old trail had vanished and in its place was a muddy, slippy drop. It wasn’t particularly long, around 5 or 6 steps, just slippy and with little grip. There was a rope to help but the first step down was daunting. As we reached this point there was already a group there and a girl clinging to the tree refusing to move. Theresa offered to go first but since she couldn’t get around me I had to go. Rather than using a tree root as a foot hold like the people in front had done, I stupidly decided that I could stretch far enough. The drop was exactly the length of my legs it turns out and by stretching that far I caused myself to be unable to use stairs properly for 2 days. I did it though, and spent the rest of the hike loudly telling Theresa how proud of myself I was, and singing the Circle of Life from the Lion King. Eventually, after a scramble up some rocks, we made it to the falls and it was so worth it. They were so pretty and it was really peaceful, especially after the group before us (clinging tree girl had joined them) left. Before too long it was time to go back, and I was apprehensive because down is always harder than up,  but it wasn’t too bad, and we took a couple of alternative routes which were easier.

Manoa Falls

After a few days rest from the previous waterfall hike, we tackled one which was easier and more crowded. This hike was much easier, but still had a couple of steps where I got a bit stuck and had to be helped by Theresa. Children were doing this hike, which confirms that indeed, I am worse at hiking than small children. Once we reached the waterfall we stopped for a while and people watched the bro’s swimming in the pool, the dog running around everywhere, and an incredibly bossy child demanding where her mother should feed her. The boulders underneath were roped off for safety, but most people were clambering over them. At one point my heart stopped as an idiot started jumping from rock to rock and nearly fell. The walk back down was simple enough once Theresa provided a helpful hand and then it was back in the car for a sing-a-long for the journey home.

Koko Crater Botanical Gardens

Towards the end of my trip I started looking into what could be done on the island in more detail to make sure I did everything I wanted to do. As part of this, we ventured to Koko Crater Botanical Gardens, via a beautiful bay drive. I wasn’t exceptionally smart on this trip, and decided that flip-flops would be fine to wear. This resulted in my foot being impaled with a spike which had fallen from the plants around, thankfully it didn’t stop me exploring the gardens and trying to spot all the plants on the map. It was a simple enough walk, apart from the impaling and a minor diversion when we couldn’t find the way out, but it was nice to be out in the air on a warm day, and it was fun trying to spot the plants written about in the guide. On the way back we stopped at a lookout over the bay which was incredibly windy but worth it because I spotted some seals!

Friendship Gardens

This was the final hike of my trip, and once again required being dropped off and picked up as there was a lack of parking. At the top was a picture perfect view of Kaneohe Bay and the military base which was so beautiful. Unusually, it wasn’t the down which was hard but the up, and I almost fell dramatically but managed to save myself. Aside from this minor slip it was an easy hike, full of narrow turns as we basically walked up the side of a large hill surrounded by plants of various origins. The gardens were originally designed for use by the residents of the neighbourhood only, and as a result of the neighbourhood being planned to contain a diverse range of people, the plant life reflected this mix of people. One minute there were native plants, then bamboo and other Asian plants. This was common in most of the nature places I visited and I like the idea of people settling on the island and bringing familiar plants with them.

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Whilst exploring the nature of Oahu I stretched my thigh too far, waded in water, scrambled up and down boulders, slipped on mud, slipped on dirt, and got impaled. I had a cracking time! Also, getting to the Lulumahu Falls is up there with the greatest achievements of my life 😛

Hawai’i Part Three: Historical Hawai’i

Warning you all now – this post will probably bore you if you’re not that into history but I’m not sorry, I had a great few days!

Once I’d had a weekend to recover from jet lag and settle into island life it was time to start checking things off my to-do list. Since I was intruding on Theresa’s life for such a long time she had to work some of the days, mainly in the first week. I took this time to do things easily reachable by public transport (helpfully called ‘The Bus’) and managed to gain a pretty good understanding of the history of Hawaii in 3 very full days.

Monday was the day of the Bishop Museum. As most things, it was located on the other side of the island but it wasn’t too hard to get to, especially because Theresa’s mum came too and she understood the bus system! This museum was so good and definitely worth the entrance fee. We started off with the natural history of the islands which was definitely aimed more towards kids but it was still interesting looking at the impact the settlers had on the flora and fauna. After this we sat through a presentation in the planetarium and learnt about the constellations in the sky, specifically over Oahu on that particular night. Fun fact: Hawaii is the only place in the northern hemisphere where you can see the Southern Cross constellation. Then it was time for a tour around the main building. I’m not usually one for tours but this one was really good and gave you an introduction without demanding too much of your time. It meant that I could then explore the rest of the main building which centered on the development of the native Hawaiian population and Polynesia as a whole. I genuinely could have happily spent all day in the building but it was getting late and we had to leave to catch the express bus home. Definitely a fun day, but very very tiring!

Tuesday was my first (and only) completely solo day. I’d planned various options for my day since the weather forecast was unpredictable and kept changing. It ended up raining heavily so when I got off the bus in Honolulu I immediately ran for cover in a doorway with a couple of other people. Whenever there was a break in the rain I’d venture a little closer to my destination and eventually arrived at Iolani Palace – the only Royal Palace on American soil. With obvious European influences, the building itself was beautiful but I had to buy my ticket in the barracks next door. They made me do an audio tour for crowd control but honestly by this point I was just happy to be inside – the booties to protect to carpet stopped my flip-flops from getting my legs dirty. Did I mention I was in shorts in this torrential rain? Luckily it was warm, and like I said, the palace tour is an inside one. I had relatively low expectations of the palace, but it was actually really interesting. I spent longer than planned walking around and listening to the guide. The guide tried to set the scene for what life was like which was a different take than I was expecting and really fun. Some facts I learnt: the palace had electric lights before Buckingham Palace did, and they were controlled by a guy offsite. When they locked up the Queen after she was deposed one of her ladies followed her and they embroidered a quilt together. Also it turns out the government officials who used the building sold all the furniture so people are still looking for it! I love history! After juice and food it was time to head back – the weather hadn’t improved and I wanted to just relax a bit.

Wednesday was a day of two halves. Theresa was only working in the morning so in the afternoon we did a hike (to be documented in the next post) but in the morning her mum took me to Pearl Harbour. Pearl Harbour is a fascinating place, they’ve really made a point of the memorial aspect of the place and people take it very seriously. I didn’t realise how close to the surface the Arizona is and seeing the names on the wall reminded me of the cenotaphs at home but on a bigger scale. Before you are taken to the ship you have to watch a 20 minute video about the event which goes into detail about the events leading up to the attack and a little bit about it afterwards. They did a good job of putting the attack in the context of both American and Japanese perspectives, both in the video and in the gallery attached. What was cool as well is that outside the gift shops they had book stands manned by the authors who were talking to interested people and telling them about their books. War history usually bores me honestly, but this was handled well and managed to get me interested in the event.

All in all it was a very educational 2 and a half days and I definitely know more about the history of Hawaii than I did before going!

 

Hawai’i Part Two: Beezus, Bro’s and Bob’s

After many hours of travel, I finally arrived in Honolulu airport and was reunited with the Bruce to my Vasper. I was given a beautiful fresh flower lei and was driven across the island to Kaneohe where I would be staying for my trip. Once there I marvelled at the feeling of carpet on my toes, changed into much cooler clothes, and was introduced to Quincy, Theresa’s adorable dog.

The first day is kind of a blur since I was jetlagged from not sleeping on the plane and confused that it was still Thursday! It mainly consisted of eating,  praising Beezus, and catching up. The next day I got stuck into island life, starting with mimoas on the balcony overlooking the bay. Once we’d decided to actually move and get dressed we went to the nearby botanical gardens and I got to see more of the islands beauty. That night we went to a local bar (Bob’s) with some of Theresa’s friends for what turned into a hilarious night out. A memorable moment was when some random guy came over and attempted to talk to us, upon learning that I was from the UK he chanted LEEDS LEEDS LEEDS at me for about a minute. When I then informed him that I was from Leeds he refused to believe me, and then refused to leave. He eventually left us alone, and joined some girl on the dance floor who was flailing around spectacularly, so everyone was happy! After trying cinnamon whisky, taking bathroom selfies, and dancing it was time to leave but it was a great night.

On my list of things to do was to see a hula performed, and it turns out a mall has shows for free everyday, so on Saturday we headed across the island to shop and see the performance. Aside from one spectacularly creepy male dancer, it was really good and demonstrated the history and evolution of the dance via songs which was so cool. Since we were at the mall I took the opportunity to buy some souvenirs, including some amazing socks which make it look like you’re wearing flip-flops which I later wore with my flip-flops to Theresa’s disapproving look. We had a minor problem getting home as we ran into a Chinese New Year parade and had to wait for it to pass before we could go. As much as I tried to avoid the Chinatown and Chinese food, China seems to follow me around!

Sunday was meant to be hike day, but high winds and lots of rain the day before meant that the carpark was full as everyone flocked to the hike on a decent day. As a result we went for Mexican food, margaritas, and even more shopping in Kailua. I couldn’t complain, it was a great afternoon and the best hike I’ve ever done! In the evening we went to a Bubbly Sunday dinner party at one of Theresa’s friends house and met Noodles and Pono, who are easily 2 of the cutest dogs I’ve ever seen in my life. It was so much fun to eat good food, drink champagne, and chat to people who all spoke English well! Very unlike China!

My first weekend in Hawaii consisted of relaxing and settling in, eating food, and meeting people. It was so much fun, even if the Thursday was ridiculously long.