About Jonny Scott Blair
Jonny Blair is a self confessed traveling nomad. He sees every day as an adventure. Since leaving behind his home town of Bangor in Northern Ireland ten years ago he has traveled to all seven continents, working his way through various jobs and funding it all with hard work and an appetite for travel. His website Don’t Stop Living, a lifestyle of travel' contains over 1,000 stories and tips from his journeys round the globe. He wants to show others how easy it is to travel the world, give them some ideas and encourage them to do the same but most of all he aims to constantly live a lifestyle of travel. He is currently based in Hong Kong and on Twitter @jonnyblair.
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I like to keep tabs with new websites and ideas within the travel industry. I recently found GoEuro, which is a new and exciting travel search website that is easy to use. Simply type in your trip details by city/town (the search engine covers most big towns and cities) and it gets you the best ways to get there on plane, train and bus.
The best thing is that it offers multi-mode transport options. It has two options – one for fastest and one for the least or most expensive option.
It’s better to use it for long distance travel rather than short distance options. The search engine basically cuts out a lot of hard work for you and will hopefully develop to become a really useful tool for European travelers.
GoEuro is a multi-mode travel search platform aiming to take the work out of “googling” everything individually. It was launched very recently in the UK and the service tells you how to get to and from any destination (Point A to point B) the cheapest or the fastest, whether it’s by bus, train, or plane.
Places like Jianshui in the Yunnan Province of China will stick in my memory for one reason. You’ve never heard of them before you arrive and you’ll never forget them after you leave.
How to get to Jianshui
By now you’ll have noticed that my girlfriend plays a big part in my Chinese adventures and helps organize my more obscure and remote Chinese experiences such as Taxia Village and Danxiashan. If you’re travelling on your own and not Chinese, you can still easily get a bus to Jianshui. Buses leave from Kunming South every half an hour during the day, Yuangyang (Nansha in fact) more regularly and from Jinghong, which offers a 17 hour sleeper bus. You’ll need to have the Chinese written down before you show up and book your bus at the station.
I’d recommend the Linan Inn in Jianshui where you can get a family room for only 268 RMB.
Things to See & Do in Jianshui
For a small town with a very small number of foreign tourists, taking in what Jiangshui has to offer is an absolute joy. Friendly locals, fabulous food and a range of sights all typical of this part of China’s Yunnan Province.
Even just walking through the main streets is easy on the eye – superb architecture, endless shops, street side barbecues (at night), Chinese history and a load of fashion shops. This could well be the trendy town of Yunnan Province. Here’s a top 5 things to do while in Jianshui…
1. Zhu’s Family Garden
The Chinese style outdoor gardens are a work of art onto themselves. The Zhu’s Family Garden is a 20,000 square metre garden and patio complex from the Qing era. You have to pay for a ticket to go inside and you can walk around at your leisure. It’s never that busy. You can relax by the pond, visit the museum or chill out in the shade from the top viewing platform. Elegant and preserved. Entry is 50 RMB (Chinese Yuan).
2. Chaoyang Gate
This splendid gate sits at the end of the main street through Jianshui and is well worth a visit with great views, rooms to relax in, locals to meet and towers down over the city.
3. Confucian Temple
I’d had my fair share of Confucian Temples in Taiwan in 2009 so we didn’t bother going however I’d recommend it. Apparently this is the third largest Confucian Temple in China, so give it a try.
4. Spicy Barbecued Tofu Restaurant
Spicy barbecued tofu is a speciality in parts of Yunnan and Jianshui offers a great chance to try the best barbecued tofu. We went to a local restaurant that was recommended by a local, but you can see this tofu in many of the street stalls on your walk around.
5. Zhilin Si Buddhist Temple
Of course you’ll find a Buddhist Temple here and it’s well worth a stop.
Jianshui Old Town at Night:
Zhu’s Garden in Jianshui:
Chaoyang Gate in Jianshui, China:
On this never ending travel corridor, it was soon time to watch the sunset viewing at Yuanyang Rice Terraces in China’s Yunnan Province. It was billed as the best series of rice terraces in the world and that sunset would be absolutely mind blowing.
How to get to Yuanyang Rice Terraces
If you’re Chinese, then it’s no problem, hire a car and off you go. If you’re foreign, you have two main options, either join a bus tour or hire a driver to take you. From the mountain town of Xingjie Zhen (where we stayed), it’s a 30 kilometre drive on typical Chinese mountainous terrain to the entrance point for viewing the Yuanyang Rice Terraces.
Travel to Xingjie Zhen town and hire a driver from there and of course, some knowledge of Chinese comes in very handy, but you can just about get by using your map (which thankfully has translations). Buses to Xingjie Zhen run from all big towns and cities in the area, even Kunming. We came from Jianshui to Nansha, and then got a shared car from Nansha. To give you an idea of timescales:
Jianshui to Nansha bus – 30 RMB (5 hours)
Nansha to Xinxie shared car – 15 RMB (55 minutes)
Xinjie to Yuanyang and back to Xinjie with driver – 75 RMB (3.5 hours)
Total transport cost for the sunset viewing from leaving Jianshui – 120 RMB (over 9 hours travel time)
Your driver will take you to the Qingkou Visitor Centre entrance where you hop out and buy your ticket. The centre is open from 6am until 8pm, so it depends if you do the sunset or sunrise first what time you should plan to arrive.
There are a few sunset viewing points as it happens and we went to the two viewing points at Laohuzui, which translates as “Tiger’s Mouth”.
At the turn of one of the cliffs there is a gap that looks like a Tiger’s mouth, which translates as Laohuzui. Laohuzui is about 18 kilometres south of the village of Xinjie Zhen, which sounds close but due to the twisting roads it’s about a 40 minute drive. Check the sunset and sunrise times before you head there as these obviously change with the seasons, climate and even weather – you might end up missing the sun completely in extreme mist, fog or rain.
Watching the sunset at Laohuzui (Tiger’s Mouth)
Once you get to Laohuzui, there is a small car park with shops selling food, drinks and souvenirs. There are two vantage points or observation decks at Laohuzui and you should plan to do both.
A wooden custom built platform takes you alongside the forest and you glance down at the rice fields. Take your photos and stare at the world. You’re bereft of office blocks here, thankfully. Civilisation exists in a few scattered mountain villages. The lower viewing platform was a 15-20 minute walk and was much better than the higher one.
Obscured by trees, along a custom built platform and not even any grass to stand on and stare down as if you are part of the landscape.
I had been in Sapa in Vietnam the previous year hiking and loved the views there – more clear, and a load of layered rice fields. However here at Laohuzui, I could see villages and trees in vast quantities scattered throughout the landscape. The lower platforms offer more varied views and better camera positions for sunset and individual photos. If you only have time to do one, I’d pick the lower one (which you’d imagine to be the worse one given it’s slightly lower elevation).
The sun sinks to the right, to the west over the mountains. Head back to the town of Xinjie for the night and get up early the next morning to see the sunrise.
The facts about the Yuanyang Rice Terraces
Starting at a low elevation of just 144 metres above sea level and reaching a peak elevation at a staggering 2,940 metres above sea level, the Yuanyang rice fields span a vertical difference and altitude of 2,796 metres. There are a total of 190,000 rice fields here on display, but due to the fact they span a large area, this is why you will never see them all at the same time.
They were built during the Sui and Tang dynasties of China, so they have taken over 1,300 years to build, making that quite an achievement. This includes constructing 4,653 water channels in the mountains, each of this can irrigate up to 50 rice fields at the same time. Now that’s a fair amount of water, and fair play to those who have spent years constructing them. An amazing feat.
My Videos from watching sunset at Yuanyang Rice Terraces:
Sunset at Yuanyang Rice Terraces:
Train travel in China is always exciting but Chinese high speed train is even more scintillating! With an influx of new routes, super clean, and might fast trains, the age of smoky, shaking Chinese carriages are fading out. In the last 18 months On my first high speed train in China, I took a rare route, the Shenzhen North to Shaoguan route, which was my first experience of the new high speed trains in China. The trip presented an opportunity to see the mountains and rock formations at Danxiashan.
How to book your train in China
Don’t book anything in advance. Since traveling in China is always complicated, why makes things more complicated by possibly booking the wrong ticket online? If you’re out of luck and your train happens to be full, you can jump on the next one, or find an alternative route. Remember this is China, so the possibilities are endless.
You will likely have trouble communicating to the workers in the train station, so make sure you know how to correctly pronounce the name of your destination and if you have the Chinese characters written down (or in a guidebook) it will be a lot easier to get your trip booked. All seats are allocated and you have to sit where your ticket tells you to sit – in other words, it’s not open seating.
Above is the queue at the Shenzhen North Station and once you board the train, it leaves within minutes, making Shenzhen disappear in a flash. We reached a speed of 306 kilometres per hour on this part of the journey.
Arrival at Shaoguan Station (below). Shaoguan is not the last station on this high speed train which heads further north. It wasn’t just the train I took that reaches such astronomical speeds – most high speed trains in China reach over 300 kilometres per hour.
On a train from Shenzhen to Yongding:
The Sri Lankan town of Dambulla is small with the biggest tourist pull in this area undoubtedly Sigirya, other wise known as Lion Rock. Sigiriya is outside the town of Dambulla and merits a look as well. Worth seeing in the area include the Temples, Caves and Museum, which are all fairly unmissable on Matale Road.
1. The Golden Temple
This sits prominently and noticeably as you walk through Dambulla. Walk off the main street and you’ll be confronted by the Golden Temple which extends 30 metre high.
2. The Royal Rock Temple (Cave Temples)
This is the main attraction, also off the main Matale Road and is at an elevation of over 100 metres up however it’s a relatively easy walk. There are 5 caves in total so it’s worth doing some research into their history in advance, as they all have their own representations.
Above, cave temples in Danbulla. They cost 1,500 Rupees to enter, though children are free. You’ll need a few hours if you want to see it in detail. There’s also a small museum in the area. Below are some videos I shot onsite.
Top photo credit: Adventuretravelsite
We’re in Bolivia tasting a superb dish known as “Pique a lo macho”, which I had never heard of until I stepped foot in Bolivia. It’s one of those dishes that will make you fall in love with Bolivia’s endless charms. I headed to a restaurant called Santa Clara in Potosi to try Pique Macho which was 29 Bolivianas. I had a local guide with me called Zelinda who gave me the lay of the land….I knew I had to try the Pique a Lo Macho. You don’t go to Bolivia and ask for beans on toast.
What’s in Bolivian Pique a lo macho?
- slices of steak
- sliced hot dogs
- sliced boiled eggs
- green and red peppers/locotos peppers (spicy ones)
Hiking to Adam’s Peak (otherwise known as Sri Pada) in Sri Lanka is a memorable experience. It was a night time hike, climbing up endless stairs which get steeper as you near the top of this sacred mountain in the Hill Country of Sri Lanka. Seemingly endless, I expected it to be a bit easier, but alas, we reached the top. Here’s an overview on hiking to Adam’s Peak.
How to get to Sri Pada/Adam’s Peak
First of all you need to head to the mountain village of Dellhousie (also spelt Del House and Dalhousie). It’s not easy to get there but you can either take a bus to the town of Dellhousie or hire a driver.
Nestled in Sri Lanka’s hill country, bear in mind that the mountain roads are not the easiest to navigate or drive through at night, so the best advice is to get there in daylight.
The best place to stay is the mountain village of Dellhousie and while there are a load of accommodation options in Dellhousie, bear in mind that it gets popular at certain times so you may need to book in advance, with January and February being the busiest months. We stayed at the White House Hotel.
I advise bringing plenty of water, a soft drink, a few snack, as well as a raincoat, poncho or an umbrella as well as sunscreen, a hat, mosquito repellent and sun glasses. The hike starts at night so a torch comes in handy as does a headlamp, though most of the path is lit with lampposts. You’ll want to leave at around 2:30 am and by 3 am, you should be at the foot of Adam’s Peak.
4am – a continual ascent; it’s dark but lit by lampposts.
By 6:30 am, we reached the top but because of the mist, we didn’t have a clear view….we did however see quite a few pilgrims worshipping in the many rooms at the top.
The pilgrimage season (yes there is such a thing!) starts in December on Poya Day and it runs until the Vesak Festival in May. This is the busiest time to do the hike and as mentioned above, January and February are the busiest two months. We did the hike in February but apparently the temple at the top is rarely used for the rest of the year meaning the path is not lit up, so bear that in mind if you choose another time of year for the hike.
The hike is roughly 8 kilometres, so just over 15 kilometres for the return and there are over 5,000 steps all the way up, descending a total of 10,400 steps for the full trip.
Be ready for lots of music and prayers on the way up and warning: the music is loud and indecipherable!
We had heard rumours of muggings and thefts but once you’ve done the hike you will struggle to believe that as everyone seems so friendly. Mosquitos and leeches are also an issue depending on the time of year.
What is Adam’s Peak?
Adam’s Peak is a sacred mountain and various stories have developed over the years, one of which is where Adam came down to earth from heaven and landed. Another theory and the reason for the name Sri Pada (sacred footprint) is because there was a footprint left here by the Buddha before he headed up into paradise!
At the top of Adam’s Peak there are shelters to rest in. These were all built by previous Kings so that the pilgrims could rest here. I read that pilgrims have been doing the upward hike to Adam’s Peak for over 1,000 years.
Hiking to Adam’s Peak video diary:
Pingjianglu in Suzhou is part of the “Venice of The East” moniker that the city of Suzhou has been dubbed with over the years. Suzhou is situated in the Jiangsu Province of China and is well worth the trip despite the fact that it is off the beaten track. Below is its magesticness at night.
Pingjianglu is the most popular street in Suzhou that runs parallel to Renmin Lu and makes up the Venice of The East; it is an old style Chinese street which runs adjacent to the main canal. Local houses and poky streets accompany the area in and around the canal and there are gondola like boats on the water, cobblestone paths and of course, the canal itself.
Like all things in China, getting there isn’t easy. From Shanghai, you can get a train into the province of Jiangsu and then you should get off at Suzhou main train station. Buy a train ticket in Shanghai direct to Suzhou. Once you arrive at Suzhou train station you’ll need to get into the city centre which is either an easy taxi ride or a local bus.
There are locals trying to sell you maps in the train station.
As it turns out, Pingjianglu is not the highlight by any means. The World Heritage Site gardens are the real highlight here. There is also a bustling city to see here, twin pagodas, countless temples and more museums than most Chinese towns and cities. While we did it on a day trip, you’re better off staying at least a night in Suzhou.
Top photo credit: minube.com.