Steve's World Tour 2006 - 2008 travel blog


The train

The Gobi desert proper

A desert town

Changing the wheels at the border

Sign on the train

View of the great wall from the train

Pete, Ronnie and Kirsty in the bar on the first night

Everyone at dinner

Going into the bar

Everyone on the cocktails

The bar at Suzi Wongs

Helen (aka Renyan)

Beijing at dawn

On the train everyone was very subdued. I was in a daze after drinking most of the night and having no sleep and spent a number of hours looking out of the window. The mountains and plains eventually gave way to scrub and semi desert and eventually all that was going past the window was a large flat desert. Dust started to filter into the carriage as the tracks were partially covered in places and the passing train was throwing it up. Behind us a dust cloud marked the progress of the train.

For a desert there was a surprising amount of stuff going on. I saw a colourful tent in the middle of the desert (like the ones that you might buy in a camping store in the UK). I started to speculate if some UK family had thought sod the new forest this year, we'll go to the Gobi desert for out holiday! Well, probably not. There were also some two humped camels that some people got very excited about, random people in cars and moterbikes driving across the wasteland, the occasional mine, the odd Ger and ramshackle house. The train stopped in the occasional town that really did look like the middle of nowhere. It was a mistery to me how these towns survived as there was no farming and no real industry. There was the occasional mine, but they were few and far between. The desert was actually not that hot, which surprised me. It was just really, really dry.

At 9pm we reached the Chinese border and they changed the wheels on the train by lifting each carriage up while everyone was inside it and rolling new ones underneath. I had already seen the process before when going from Romania into Moldova, but then it had all happened at 1am so it was nice to be awake to see it happen. There was no real drinking going on at this point as everyone was pretty much partied out and because the attendents locked the toilets for four hours during the changing the wheels process. The next morning I woke up to China and the landscape was very different. Traditional views of small fields with workers and high mountains really emphasised that we were now in a different part of the world again. The train passed by the great wall of China as well and the everyone was trying to get the best photos out of the dirty windows.

In Beijing we were met by our new tour guide and were brought to our hotel. The group then started to fragment with different people opting to see different things. I went to get a haircut, because I really needed one. There was a barbers on the free map I had been given, but when I got there it turned out to be a foot massage place. I went back to the hotel and asked in reception where I could get a haircut. After five minutes of confusion they tried to sell me a hat. I went off to another hotel where they also tried to sell me a hat. At the third hotel I actually managed to find somewhere in the hotel that would do it, which still involved speaking to five different people and a look of confusion and dismay on the part of the hairdresser. Afterwards I tried to find an internet cafe but the place shown on the map turned out to be a restaurant. I gave up and went back to the hotel.

After dinner that evening most of the group went straight to bed, but me, Kirsty, Ronnie and Pete (from a different Vodkatrain group who had been with us since Mongolia) went off to find a bar. We ended up in a really cool bohemian place where we were upstairs under the eves, sitting on cushions on the floor. Although it was a quiet night we still did not get back until 2am.

The following day most people went off to see the great wall of China but I opted to stay in bed and recover from everything. I was to be in Beijing for two weeks and so was in immediate rush to see the sights. I was also coming down with a cold and so was feeling quite spectacularly bad for most of the day. I watched the highly amusing English language Chinese tv station where there was a "discussion" about Chairman Mao's literary genius. I went out for dinner with the group after a couple of Lemsips and after a couple of drinks was feeling decidely better again. I told myself that I could rest later and that as it was the last big night with the group I couldn't not go out.

We ended up in an amazing bar street beside a lake where every building was a bar ornately decorated with carvings and lanterns, ect. It was like an upmarket version of stereotypical China and it was amazing. After having a few cocktails there we went on to a nightclub called "Suzi Wongs" and everyone proceeded to get very drunk. The club was full of expats and was lavishly decocated inside. There were also loads of Chinese women and soon I was dancing with this girl called Helen (real name Renyan) to hard dance music. I then spent the rest of the time in the bar with Helen chatting and when the club closed at 5am we went off to a 24 hour food place that she knew about for breakfast.

Later that morning, once again after just a few hours sleep, I had to pack up and move out of the hotel. It was the officially the end of the Vodkatrain and so I had booked into a hostel situated on the old style Chinese lanes. Kirsty and Ronnie had booked into there as well so we all piled into a taxi together, it was to turn out that I had not seen the last of most of the Vodkatrain people after all...

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