Well, ISEC is now over (I’ll write about some of it later, don’t worry) so I’ll finally be able to start updating my blog. I’m currently travelling around northern China with several friends from ISEC, Ellie, Kate, Peter and Ally and we’ll be heading up to the North Korean border area and perhaps further north to near Russia. Having done debriefing at Qingdao, by the sea, we travelled north by coach for 4 hours to Yantai (60 Yuan/£4), on the north coast of the peninsular. We then spent several hours there having a nice meal (60 Yuan/£4 for 5 people) and then finding the port so we could get an overnight boat to Dalian (8 hours with beds, 190 Yuan/£13). The journey was rather uneventful and very smooth, the boat didn’t even rock. There weren’t too many people on the boat either so we had a cabin of 8 beds all to the five of us (after several of the other people put with us had left to find a cabin to themselves).
We arrived in Dalian on the morning of the 21st at about 7am and found several buses waiting outside the boat. We seemed expected to get onto one of them, but didn’t know which so after about 10 minutes of pointing at the guidebook and trying to translate addresses of youth hostels into Chinese, they directed us to one bus which in fact took us for an hour’s journey into the centre of Dalian, to the railway station, where we were expected to get a taxi. As it was, we wanted to do some email and book train tickets for the next leg of our journey, towards North Korea, so we did some research on the internet and found the train that we wanted to take. In the event, the train in the railway station was slightly different from the one that was on the internet, but not significantly. Trying to book the tickets was fun, because there was a queue of about 50 people behind myself and Ally, and neither of us knew any Chinese. I’d looked up the word for ‘hard sleeper’ and some other useful phrases beforehand but it was still quite difficult. We tried asking for the train on the 22nd, but (I think) the woman said that there were no beds free on that. Having had a seat overnight from Beijing to Qingdao, I didn’t really want that again, so asked her about the 21st or 23rd. She said that there were none on any of those, but then said (again, I think) that there were 3 beds on the train on the 23rd for 200 Yuan (£14) each. I said that we’d take those and two seats, and then she gave me five tickets for the 23rd, all of which appear to be beds, but only cost 134 Yuan (£9) each. I’m looking forward to seeing what actually happens when we leave, because according to the tickets, we have beds but I’m really still not sure exactly what happened at the train station!
Having found the others still at the internet café, we then tried to track down one of the youth hostels that we found both on the internet, and in the guide book. We spent about 30 minutes trying to find the bus stop for the bus which it suggested you should take, and eventually haggled with some ladies to get us a map of the city so we could find out exactly where we were meant to be going (2 Yuan/15pence). Fortunately, I knew enough Chinese to be able to guess which district the name was in, although I wish guide books would put the addresses in Chinese because no-one in China can really read English let alone understand English people trying to pronounce Chinese names. The map was also useful when we found taxi drivers, to point them to where we wanted to go, because that is about the only way to get a taxi to go to the right place in China – Chinese taxi drivers seem even less aware of where things are than normal people.
We finally got some taxis to take us to the area in which the youth hostel was meant to be, and were dumped in a dusty parking lot next to the zoo. We wandered around for about 10 minutes and eventually found the street that the hostel was on, however the ‘youth hostel’ itself is now called the ‘international business hotel’. After trying to book rooms in Chinese, with a travel agent helping us who spoke marginally more English than my Chinese, we managed to get them for about 100 Yuan/person/night (£7). The rooms themselves are very nice with TV’s, air conditioning and really nice beds, although there don’t seem to be many people at the hotel so I’m sure we could have got the price down a little bit. For lunch, we went out to a local restaurant (90 Yuan/£6) which served quite nice food, including giant prawns, one of my favourite Chinese dishes. In the afternoon, we headed towards a beach which the travel agent had recommended to us. Arriving there, it seemed that the travel agent had recommended it to about half of Russia and China too, because it was jam packed with tourists. Every sign was bilingual, in Russian and Chinese, and Russian pop and traditional music was blaring from everywhere. We had some ice creams (3 Yuan/20p) and then walked up a hill nearby to look at the beautiful scenery. We then went and lay on a less densely populated part of the beach for a few hours, although rather randomly there was a photo-shoot going on at the same time as we were on the beach with a man and woman modelling wedding attire.
At about 6 O’clock, we headed back to the hotel but stopped off at a Chinese food market on the way to get some take-away dinner (about 25 Yuan/£1.70 for 5 people). We ate this in our 3-person bedroom and then we went out to explore the local area and stayed up chatting until about 11.