Blog Archives

Life in Beijing: catching the bullet train

Chinese CRH bullet train

You’re woken up by the sound of an old man violently expectorating in the hutong alleyway outside, cringing during the pause while he holds his mouthful of phlegm for a second or two between noisily bringing it up and noisily depositing it on the floor with typically exaggerated sound effects.

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Hospitality and Scorpions in Marble Canyon

We were two weeks into our epic road trip around the US, now driving through the incredible southwestern states of New Mexico and Arizona; we’d just spent two days in Albuquerque for the July 4 Independence Day celebrations (and also one of my companion’s birthdays), and the next point of call was the Grand Canyon.

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Chinese Visa Extensions in Leshan and Kaifeng

If you’re in China on a tourist (L) visa and want to get more time in the country without having to go down to Hong Kong for a new visa, you may be able to extend your existing visa at a Public Security Bureau office.

The extension rules officially require you to have several thousand dollars in a Chinese bank account –

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Overland Adventures: the stinky Filipino fish bus

Naked children leapt from the ramshackle pier in the tropical downpour, laughing and screaming as lightning flickering across the edges of a sky as threatening as any I’ve yet seen.

“That boat?” I asked hopefully, indicating the larger and (slightly) more seaworthy-looking of the two pieces of junk lashed to the pier.

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The JR Pass: is it worth it?

A shinkansen bullet train passing through Maibara Station

So, the JR Pass; man, how I always looked on with envy at all the tourists (including family & friends when they visited) just breezing through the Shinkansen gates, flashing their JR Passes like a wave of a wand, to be whisked away here, there, and everywhere at high speed on Japan’s iconic bullet trains.

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My Failed Tibet Trip: Permits, Solo Travel, Getting Stuck in Xining, and the Amdo Route from Xining To Chengdu

A mosque in Xining

Cold, tired, and hungry, I finally dropped my bags and plonked myself down on the bed; all I had to do now was go out for food and then shower & sleep, before getting up next day to take the world’s highest train across the Tibetan Plateau to Lhasa.

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(How NOT to) Go to Guizhou: the Hidden Beauty of China

“Go to Guizhou, the Hidden Beauty of China,” the TV advised me.

“No thanks mate – I already did, and it was kinda shit,” I replied.

I was sat in my Airbnb in Taipei, doing some work with the TV on in the background,

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Overland Routes from China to Southeast Asia

If you’re looking to travel overland from China to SE Asia (or vice versa) you have three main route options: Guangxi province to Vietnam, Yunnan province to Vietnam, and Yunnan to Laos (and Thailand); a fourth potential route is Yunnan to Myanmar,

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One of Those Days: a comedy of errors when taking the JR Beetle

So the other week I had one of those travel days where everything fucks up – and it was mostly my own fault. I’d done the JR Beetle hydrofoil trip between Busan (South Korea) and Fukuoka (Japan) several times before,

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Robert Plant’s Lemon Juice: surviving the Trans-Sumatra Highway (Sumatra to Java overland)

I flopped into a chair and ordered a plate of nasi goreng and a bottle of Bintang, now running on empty and entirely on autopilot. The nasi goreng was to satiate my hunger, the beer to celebrate my having survived the Trans-Sumatra Highway; it was hot and humid even in the small hours,

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A Crazy Journey to Bukit Lawang

We got off the ferry from Malaysia, cleared immigration, and made a mad dash across Medan (North Sumatra, Indonesia), just catching the last minivan to Bukit Lawang by the skin of our teeth.

This was one of those minivans where there are 12 seats but the driver’s taking however many people need a ride;

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Sumatra Overland Route

When I first visited Southeast Asia in 2004 en route to Australia with my mate Danny, we’d had no real plan to visit Sumatra (or anywhere else in Indonesia). We flew in from India to Singapore, and were flying out from Bangkok to Australia via Brunei.

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Thailand to Malaysia Overland: getting stranded at the eastern border with a lonely policeman (or, how NOT to travel to the Perhentian Islands)

How NOT to travel from Thailand to Malaysia overland!

(for the sensible routes from Thailand to Malaysia, scroll to the lower half of the post)

Hat Yai bus station. The day was getting old, the sun dropping and the shadows drawing long, and I wasn’t sure if I had time to make it to Kota Bharu in Malaysia before the border closed.

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Beijing to Chengdu in the autumn holiday: 27 hours in a tin of sardines!

Obviously, the train was packed. It was the autumn holidays, when the whole of China travels home to see family, and the only tickets available had been for the hard seat carriages – these carriages do have numbered individual seats (‘hard’ meaning non-reclining, because there are so many packed in),

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A useful backdoor route from Chengdu to Yunnan (Panzhihua to Lijiang bus)

If you’re in China and planning to go from Chengdu to Yunnan overland (but don’t plan on doing the awesome-looking but quite involved backdoor route through the Tibetan Kham region), there’s a handy little shortcut you can take off the main route from Chengdu to Kunming which can save a lot of backtracking later on.

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Our overland route around India

En route from the UK to Australia (with working holiday visas arranged), my friend Danny and I visited the UAE, India, and Southeast Asia.

We spent six weeks in India, and it was intense but memorable stuff. Flying in and out of Kolkata,

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Down the Yangtze by hydrofoil through the Three Gorges

“The man made scenery of the Yangtze is spectacularly grim.”
– Michael Palin, Full Circle, 1997

Marco Polo must’ve been pissed off by this point. It’s ‘orrible; it’s horrible. It’s a place to visit in a submarine this,

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An action-packed first overland run through China

I’d been to Hong Kong & Macau the year before, but when we arrived in Beijing at the end of our Trans-Siberian journey, it was my first time in mainland China (and for my two companions too). Mike and Ross had flights booked back to England from Shanghai two weeks later,

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Sapporo to Kyoto by local train; a bizarre encounter in Tomakomai, the dog-eat-dog-politely world of busy Japanese trains, and a heroic last stand in Hiraizumi

Part One: A Bizarre Encounter at Tomakomai Station

“Hey. Fuck you!”

…what the? I heard this woman before I ever saw her; she’d sneaked up behind me while I was on the phone and suddenly started screaming in my free ear…

“Fuck you! Hey, fuck you!”

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Phonsavan to Hanoi overland; 2 days, 2 landslides, a scam, a crash, and 2 stolen passports

As the three of us rattled along through the dark in back of the songthaew, a brief pinprick of light caught my eye out over the rice paddies. As I peered out into the night, another tiny light popped into existence and described a quick arc through the air before vanishing;

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