Budgeting

The Twelve Days of Hăinán

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‘Come to the Hawaii of the East!’ is the slogan that reads on numerous billboards that advertise Hăinán as China’s premier holiday destination. I certainly wasn’t expecting any Polynesian men in skirts, playing tiny guitars or a tropical paradise for that matter, but it’s hot and has a coast. So after months of travelling in sub-zero temperatures and wearing wet kegs (through lack of drying facilities of course) Hăinán seems the perfect way to spend Christmas.

Hăinán’s capital, Hăikou (literally meaning mouth of the sea) is a booming city with few sights. Walking through a dirty food market in the afternoon I was faced with some shock horror, live cats, in cages waiting to be butchered. I was informed that eating cats is not a common practice in China, but it does happen. Coming across something like this at some point was bound to happen, but actually seeing it in person was strange indeed. They say cats have nine lives, obviously only one in China…

On our way to the coastal town of Bó’ào, we decided to get out of a taxi in the middle of nowhere after realising we were getting charged extortionate ‘skin tax’ for the ride. Stuck in a small shop completely clueless how to get to Bó’ào, it was time to pull out our secret weapon, Sherman. A local guide we met in Hăikou, Sherman said we could call him in times of need or whenever lost in translation. Within minutes of making the call we were on our way, so from now on, if all else fails use the Sherman call. ‘Sherman, Sherman, Sherman, Sherman , Sherman!’ (in the style of Mrs.Klump).

Bó’ào’s mostly deserted beach was a nice place to spend the afternoon, and also a nice place to get sunburn. The top end of the beach seems to be getting washed away just as quickly as the main town is being developed…

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All of a sudden what used to be so difficult, is now so easy. How can I explain to the non English hotel receptionist I want to climb Hăinán’s highest peak but leave by bags in the hotel? Sherman it. Wuzhishān (five finger mountain) is naturally surrounded by the local folklore of one of Hăinán’s main ethnic groups, the Li. The five peaks are said to represent the Li people’s five most powerful gods…

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The seven hour trek through jungle like terrain was a gruelling task. Up huge ladders, along the side of a cliff, through mosquito ridden vegetation, I felt like Desmond from Lost traipsing across the island whilst dodging the smoke monster and giant polar bears…

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After all the hard work I could not wait to reach the summit to admire the breath taking panorama. The end was in sight, I was ready for it, here we go… I nearly collapsed in awe at the amazing view of…MIST, nothing but mist! The only view we got was seeing a group of chain smoking Chinese adolescents posing by a pile of rubbish. Five finger mountain #two finger mountain. See you in another life brother…

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I done a quick puppet show at the summit with the new mascots ‘Donatello and the Cactus’

Christmas was spent in Sanya, Hăinán’s prime beach resort. High rise apartments and Cyrillic signs for the Russian holiday makers give the place a more exclusive feel. There’s no history, culture or local food to mention at all, but little note on budgeting. Expensive resorts will charge you to use their pools. Sit by the pool until they send someone over, more often than not the attended will only speak Chinese and Russian. By the time an English speaker arrives to explain the situation. It’s time to leave anyway. Things are always much more fun when they’re free, Merry Christmas Suckers!

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Sanya’s one worth while site, the amazing upside down fish!

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Categories: Budgeting, China | 1 Comment

Buying Train Tickets in China

Buying transport tickets in a strange country with an alien language can be a daunting prospect, some people ask ‘how do you do it?’ I could never find much useful information on the internet or guide books on the cheapest and most pain free way of buying tickets in China, so I have managed to do enough research via word of mouth and other sources to put together this simple guide for buying train tickets in China , without being pushed to the brink of insanity.

First, some information on the types of trains and tickets available.

Types of Train

All Chinese train numbers are usually prefixed with a letter, this tells you the category of train

C-type Ultra-speed express
D-type High-speed express
G-type High-speed

These three types of train are new and luxurious trains which rapidly shuttle between major cities, the best way to travel but also the most expensive

K-type Fast train
T-type Express
Z-type Direct express (overnight)
Number Normal train

Over night Z trains are not as fast as the bullet trains but still rather comfortable. K and T are older and more basic. Trains without a letter prefix are old and the worst (but cheapest) available.

Types of ticket

On the C,D and G type trains there are two types of ticket available:-

•First class – has all the luxury features such as TVs, laptop dock, very comfortable seats etc

•Second class – is still good and probably comparable to a normal train in Europe

Z,T,K and number trains have five classes:-

•Soft Sleeper – four beds in a private cabin, decent bedding

•Hard sleeper – six beds per berth, no door, less bedding, half the price of soft sleeper

•Soft Seat – Similar to second class on the high speed trains, over crowding is not permitted

•Hard Seat – Not actually hard, but as I have mentioned before, hard on your sanity, very crowded at times with people standing and sleeping in the gangways

•Standing room – Last resort ticket where you will stand in the hard seat area or in between carriages with the smokers

How to buy a ticket

By using the internet to check availability of tickets first, you can save yourself the hassle of trying to get a ticket which is sold out, when the clerks don’t speak English this can be a difficult one to work out. Never try to book online, or you will be charged more than the ticket is actially worth. I use these three sites for checking ticket prices and availability China travel guide, China highlights and China tour. The reason for using three is that some smaller stations may be listed on one site but not on the other two, but I find China travel guide the most convenient. Type in your departure station, arrival station and up will come a list of trains available, listed the shortest journey time first.

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Here is an example of our route from Pingyao to Hefei, with a transit in Tiyuan. The site will work out automatically if there are no direct trains and you need transit. Click the select class drop down menu for prices and number of tickets available. Here you can find out how many seats there are on the date and class you want to travel. Simply write down the travel dates, train numbers, departure and arrival stations and the class tickets you would like. Also write in the station names and class type in Chinese characters which can be found in your guide/phrase book. Alternatively have someone write it down for you.

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Simply hand the paper over to the clerk who will type in the details and show you the price on the screen, which you should already know. Then use a few hand signals to let them know how many tickets, if you would like a top, middle or bottom bed in sleeper classes, produce your passport, the clerk with show you the final details on the screen and there you have it, a stress free Chinese train ticket. The easy part is done, now you just have to push your way through a very busy station to your platform and cope with actually doing the journey.

A few things to know:-

•Tickets can not be purchased more than ten days in advance

•Soft Sleeper and even more so, Hard Sleeper, sell out first. If you try to buy these tickets on the day of travel assume they will all be gone, so plan ahead, especially for popular routes

•It is possible to upgrade your ticket once on the train, if they are available

•There is a slight difference in price with the top, middle and bottom bunks, the website will display the most expensive. Some people have a preferred bunk

Finally my advice for travelling on a budget, always buy a hard seat ticket to keep the cost down if travelling through the day, and buy a sleeper for travelling through the night. You can try hard seat through the night if you really want to save a few quid and don’t mind being pushed to breaking point.

Hope you all find this helpful and enjoy your China rail journey!

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Categories: Budgeting, China, Useful Information | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Wizz Air Does Not Suck

By deciding to fly to Vilnius with the little known airline Wizzair from Doncaster, we’ve managed to save a few hundred pounds each. The Robin Hood airport as its named is located pretty much in the middle of nowhere, somewhere near Doncaster. I always associated Robin Hood with Nottingham not Doncaster, so I guess the airport steals from the rich and gives to the poor, which might explain how we got a one way flight to Vilnius for £45.

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Doncaster loves everything Robin Hood

After reading some terrible reviews about Hungarian based airline Wizzair, we were expecting all sorts of mishaps, from delayed departures and rotten customer service to rickety old air crafts. Surprisingly everything ran smoothly and I would defiantly recommend using Wizzair for their super cheap flights. They’re just like Easyjet really, only they have purple décor and less camp (and less orange) trolley dollies.

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After a short flight and a few games of Where’s Wally, we arrived safely in Vilnius. It felt strange not stepping off a plane into sweltering heat, it was almost as if the plane had just flown around for a few hours and landed back in Doncaster, I was just waiting for Jonny Vaughan to jump out and tell me that the whole thing was just one big prank, just like that obscure TV show Space Cadets..

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Categories: Budgeting | 1 Comment

Getting ready

So we have decided to travel indefinitely. It’s took a hell of a lot of organizing and  even more stressing out, only just received our passports back this morning two days before we’re due to fly! One of the questions people ask is how can you budget for such a safari? I stumbled across this website a while ago and used it to start planning our trip. I found it very handy as it breaks all your expenses down for you and can act as great starting block to figure out where you would like to travel and for how long for. Check it out. More on budgeting to follow

http://www.rtwpricetag.com/round-the-world-trip-budget-cost-calculator.php

Categories: Budgeting | 2 Comments

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