A Travellerspoint blog

4 nights on the Trans-Siberian railway!!

I got to look out the window.

3 days 4 nights on the train! Well it may not sound fun but it was.

The highlight for me had to be on night number 2. I drank shots of vodka with the Russian army on the Trans-Siberian railway!!! Is that the best Russian experience or what!!! So how did this happen... well it is quite simple. 2 carriages down from us was a troop ( i think that is the collective term for army people) of young Russian solders(my age). As one was walking past we got taking with his limited English. Anyway after talking we decided to have a drink. The only catch is that they were technically not allowed to drink. So i had to purchase the drinks but that did not bother me. So i ended up doing shots of vodka to toasts of women, army and Russia( and more that i can not remember right now) with the Russian army on the Trans-Siberian railway!! And i have photos to help me remember it!!

Other than that...

The excitement occurred when the train stopped and we had any where from 2 to 45 minuets to run of and get food (and drink) and get back on again. It was full on!!

I am now in Moscow after arriving at 4:10 am!

Posted by Mike Lee 20:34 Archived in Russia Tagged train_travel Comments (3)

Russia!

Hi all,

Writing from Irkutsk supposedly one of Siberia's most charming cities but I personally think it is quite boring. Lots of museums and churches and not much else.

I arrived in Irkutsk this morning after a night on the train (in 3rd class, the whole carriage was one big dorm room no individual compartments like the others).

I arrived in the mother land on Sunday morning in a long 10 hour border crossing. The crossing was made much more interesting but the Mongolian people on our carriage who were attempting to smuggle stuff into Russia. They tried to get us to take stuff for them, one in out group got offered a pair of shoes because the bloke apparently did not have enough room in his bag for them, but his offer was declined. However they got the carriage attendant involved and paid her to hide stuff under the floorboards! But they all got caught!! Stuff was confiscated, comments were written in passports and fines were given.

I have to say the Russian have got the right idea when it comes to getting clean!! The Banya is amazing! The Banya is a Russian sauna. The idea is you sit in the sauna that has a temperature between 100 and 120 degrees C. While sitting in the sauna a Russian man beats you with dried birch branches. Once you can not take it any more you run out side and jump in a river! A river that with be frozen in 3 weeks time!!! It is said that the combination of heat, steam, freezing water and physical abuse purges your body of impurities, but I just think it was fun!!! I would not recommend it for any one with a heart problem because it really gets the blood moving!!!!

But it really was loads of fun and I have done it twice now!!

I spent Monday night in the town on Turka on the eastern shore of Lake Baikal, the world deepest lake holding over 30% of the worlds fresh water. So yes it is big! It is more like a big in-land fresh water sea than a lake.

I am loving the cheap vodka! Last night I found a 1L bottle for less than AUD$10!!

Tonight I leave on a 3 Day train to Moscow. I have stocked up on the important foods- instant coffee , instant noodles, and vodka so it should be good!!!

Posted by Mike Lee 13:20 Archived in Russia Comments (2)

I am still alive!! Just could not contact the out side world

My Love-Hate relationship with Beijing and the Mongolian manly tests!!

I got Kicked out my hotel and spent an hour this morning (Monday) at the police station trying to prove I did not enter the country illegally!!

I wrote his on Monday, September 07, but could not post it until now as my blog site (along with facebook) was blocked in china.

When I first tried to make an entry on the blog I was going to say that Beijing is a fantastic city. That it is huge and although there is a population of 19 million people things seam to work. But after the last 24/48 hours my very has change a little.

First of all just to explain the life in Beijing at the moment. I have to mention that 1st of October is the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the people’s republic of china. Because it is the 60th the government is viewing this as an opportunity to show the world how great things are in china 60 years on. So they are a bit security paranoid at the moment!

-OK now I have sort of explained the craziness here ate the moment let me explain how I got kicked out of my hotel-

I arrived I Beijing on the 1st of September 5 nights before my intrepid travel trip to st Petersburg started. This was so I could get my visa to Mongolia and visit the great wall and forbidden city. So I got the visa and had an absolutely fantastic day at the great wall where I walked for about 4 hours along it!! It was awesome!! I tried to go to the Forbidden City but it lived up to its name and I was “forbidden” to go in as it was closed because of this 60years stuff. But I was able to look at the big wall surrounding it and see some of the roofs peaking over the top of it. That was all I could do! So yesterday Sunday I had to change hotels for the cheap $8 a night dorm room bed in the backpackers to the more expensive hotel that was the starting point for the trip on the train. When I went to check in to the hotel it was discovered that I did not have an entry stamp in my passport! No proof that I had entered the country legally!! Problem!! BIG Problem!! Where had it gone? My visa to Mongolia had been stuck (by someone at the Mongolian embassy) over the top of the stamp!!! I managed to get the starting point hotel to check me in as I had a photo copy of my passport before the visa was in it(so you could see the stamp) but a few hours later I was asked to check out aging by security (i.e. kicked out) because that had been on the phone with the police and the photo copy was not good enough as they could not tell if it was real! This means I could not stay in any hotel as I had no stamp to prove I entered the country legally!! I could not go back to the cheap hotel as it was across the road from the train station and that and everything between it and the T** (unable to mention the name) square was in lock down. Happy 60th!! So let me tell you getting kicked out of a hotel, knowing that it would be hard to get into another hotel as you have know proof that you were there legally is a scary experience! Not to mention half the city was in lock town!! Now this all happened on a SUNDAY! All the places ie: embassies and the Beijing Public Security Bureau were all closed!! Thankfully Mark (the trip leader) got me in to a hotel on the other side of town where he knows the owners!

So this morning I went to the Beijing Public Security Bureau (the police that handle visas and passport problems) to see it they could help me prove I was not here illegally. After an hour of being passed from person to person and being told: that my problem just does not happen. That no one would make this mistake. That I must be lying. I spoke to some who understood my problem but said they could do nothing.

So I went to the Mongolian embassy to get them to take the visa out and put a new one in on a blank page!! After a lot of talking and convincing… and looking at my passport and the page in question under all sorts of different lights they agreed to change it if I paid them a fee. So I did an about 24 hours later I am sitting here looking at a passport that has a visible entry stamp!!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Any way I am now in Mongolia having a fantastic time. UB is a funny city that has obviously rapidly expanded in the last 5 or so years and is struggling to cope. It has a very cold war era look to it(run down and no one cares).
My first night in Mongolia was in a home stay. With a family that still live a nomadic life in a gurr and speak no English.
I found out that Mongolia there are the 3 manly sports! I saw this as my opportunity to prove my masculinity. Unfortunately and probably unsurprisingly I have to say I failed all 3! I seam to lack any skill what so ever in Horse riding, archery and wrestling. In the horse riding and archery I can admit to my lack of skill. But I would like to say a few thing to regain some dignity with in the. Firstly it was cold!!! I was wearing a traditional wrestling outfit that has be designed to prove the competitors are male and not female so there was a lot (maybe too much) bare skin! Secondly I was up against a bolt. The head of the host family a man 3 or 4 times my size!! So I did not stand a chance but I gave it a go and it was loads of fun!!

Sorry about this late entry but yes I am still alive (with a sore bum form gorse riding). Tonight I have an overnight train to head on into Russia!!

Posted by Mike Lee 00:55 Archived in Mongolia Comments (2)

Vietnam

Phnom Penh -> Ho Chi Minh City -> Hoi An -> Hue


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I am writing this entry in ‘Hue’ in Vietnam. I a very crowed internet café, It full of kid plying online games. You should see how fast their fingers move across the keyboard!!! Hue is about 650kms south of Hanoi and was capital until 1945.

My time in Cambodia finished up well. I left Lavalla School on Saturday afternoon and spent the night in Phnom Penh before catching a bus early on Sunday morning to Ho Chi Minh City. It was a six hour bus trip that was really easy. The sign for the bus said that they had a border assistance service. I think this was a bit of an understatement. As we got lunch a man from the bus company took and passports and did all the official stuff for us. All we had to do was get a photo taken. The Easiest Border crossing I have ever done!!

HCMC was nice but there was nothing extra exiting to talk about so after spending 2 nights I go on a 24hour bus to Hoi An. Yes I full 24 fours on a bus (is 23 and a half including stops but 24 sounds better!!) it was a bloody long time!!! I was lucky enough to change to a sleeper bus halfway though so the night time was not too bad.

I spent a 2 night in hoi an, meaning I spent my birthday in the world heritage listed town.

Yesterday I got on a bus from Hoi An to Hue. In the afternoon I asked a motorbike driver to take me on a tour of the city. The driver turned out to be a character and a half. A very funny bloke! While he took me to the usual tourist spots of the Forbidden Purple city, the Thien Mu Pagoda and some dead king’s tomb he was very proud of the fact that he could take me to some of the out of the way places that people do not normally get to. One such place was a Buddhist monastery/temple that turned out to be the monastery that the some what famous Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh studded at.

Now all of the adventures of traveling aside I have big news! The big news is………..I HAD cereal for breakfast this morning. Yes I know it may not be big news to you but after 4 months with out it I enjoyed it very much.

That all for now!

Posted by Mike Lee 02:42 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Life in Cambodia coming to an end

sunny
View The Trip on Mike Lee's travel map.

Well it has been a couple of weeks now since I last made a an entry so I will fill you in on what I have been up to. For those of you who don’t know the school is in an interesting global position. It is the only place I know that has 3 seasons: The wet and dry like most tropical locations and a third season. This new season lasts a month and a half and provides an interesting break to the wet season. The kids are more crazy and the brothers are more stressed. It is the visitor’s season. In the past weeks we have a multitude of visitors: 4 schools and 2IC of the Marist Brothers. It has been good to have some proper English conversations and also to observe how the kids interact.
I am not sure I have mentioned it, Hun Sen (the Prime Minister of Phnome Phen) has a residence (high security) near us. A few weeks ago on Sunday night there was a huge explosion. I tin roofs shook as the shock waves hit them. At first we did not know what it was but from the top of the water tower we could see a huge fire. Apparently a truck load of rockets going to the boarder exploded sending rocket into the neighbourhood. Over the next week and a half 29 rockets were found in the area. This explosion brought back a lot of bad memories for the locals, particularly the older generation. So we ended up with about 50 people sitting outside our front gate.
A few weeks ago, the temp dropped below 30 degrees for the first time since I got here and I got a cold. It was suggested by some of the staff that I try a traditional Cambodian method to get rid of the staff. It involved having a cream rubbed into your skin until it formed small bruises. My theory was if any culture could do something that hurts that much for hundreds of years then it must work. Well I was wrong. The kids thought it was hilarious as I winced in the pain, as the staff member treated me (tortured me). I will try to put up some photos when the internet connection improves.
I have continued with my motor bike riding and ride into the city frequently. Thankfully I have not had many accidents. Just lots and lots of near misses, including one with a police officer.
I am often reminded of what a remarkable place La Valla is by the amazing sites that are taken as everyday occurrences. Yesterday, I saw Sa Ruan, who has lost a leg below the knee, pushing a boy in a wheel chair. Using crutches and pushing the wheel chair with his half leg- quite remarkable site.
Obtaining my visa for Russia has been interesting. To obtain a visa you need a letter from host. In Australia, you use an email copy of the letter but in the Cambodian Russian Embassy you need the actual letter. After many weeks and emails and phone calls I have finally received couriered to me at the cost of $110 US. So I have now lodged the application and hopefully will get my visa next week.
The current plan is to leave Cambodia in about 10 days and head to Vietnam.
I am sure as I leave the routine of La Valla and head onto new surroundings new tales will follow.

Posted by Mike Lee 01:45 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

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