China has been investing large sums into Africa to take advantage of the continent’s vast natural resources and build diplomacy. In 2012 alone, China dropped $27.7 billion between Cairo and Capetown and is showing no signs of slowing down. But even with China bringing all sorts of new infrastructure, mobile networks, sports stadiums and more productive farming to the continent, one country that isn’t looking too fondly on the Middle Kingdom is Egypt.
Egypt’s tourism industry, which accounts for 40% of the country’s non-commodity exports and is one its main employers, stands to benefit significantly from the rise of Chinese outbound tourism. With 200 million Chinese expected to travel abroad in 2017, once Egypt settles a little, big-spending Chinese tourists will come flooding in. So it is in Egypt’s best interests to keep China on side, but a couple of recent incidents by Chinese nationals will certainly be testing their patience.
In the sky there is heaven, on earth there is Hangzhou, so the old Chinese saying goes. Steeped in history, Hangzhou was one of Seven Ancient Capitals of China, reining as capital of the Wuyue Kingdom from 907 to 978. Today it’s a prosperous city of more than 6 million people, spoilt with its picturesque West Lake, countless parks, and surrounding lush hills and mountains. It’s less than a one-hour fast train ride from the concrete grit of Shanghai, but a world away. It’s hard not to feel at ease amongst the peace and tranquility of one of China’s most famous lakes.
Philippine’s ‘Last Frontier’, Palawan Island, is the westernmost point of the Philippines archipelago. Once the realm of pirates, it’s now a relatively popular spot for sun, scenery and turtle seekers. On its northern tip, along with 45 islands nearby, is the municipality of El Nido.
El Nido’s landscape is simply breathtaking. Dotted with dramatic limestone cliffs humping everywhere, dropping down to countless sandy beaches. It looks like something between Jurassic Park and Robert Louis Stevenson ‘s Treasure Island. The golden sand, blue sea, green mangroves, palms and other foliage felt especially vivid coming from a slightly smoggy Shanghai in the winter.
Burma seems to be Southeast Asia’s latest hotspot. The ‘opening up’ of Burma’s and talk of it being like Asia 30-years ago (not the first time that one’s been used) has seen tourists flocking to get a piece of the action before it’s overrun with tourists. Unfortunately that’s already happened. In 2012, Burmese tourism soared 43% and its infrastructure is struggling to keep up.
There’s little wonder tourists are coming to Burma. The people are charming, smile at ease and, unlike some with of its neighbouring countries, you feel comfortable that they’re not going to be ripped off every time you slip your hand into your money belt. There are some big-hitting sites to see too. The scale of Yangon’s crumbling colonial grandeur is matched by few cities in Asia, maybe just Mumbai. The bizarre one-legged-paddling fishermen, floating villages and surrounding vineyards of Inle Lake are cool, although one does get a little souvenir-shop fatigue. And cycling between the 4,000+ temples that dot the grassy paddocks amongst goat herders and ox-pulled ploughs is right up there with Amritsar’s Golden Temple as my favourite things to do in Asia, or pretty much anywhere.
China is notorious for fakes. There’s the counterfeit handbags and watches everywhere, bogus Subway restaurants and fake Apple stores that even fooled the staff working there.
New Zealand has had it’s share of products ripped off as well: fake NZ milk powder (because Chinese are worried they’ll be poisoned by the local stuff), pirated Separation City DVDs and fake NZ kiwi fruit – though we kinda stole it from them in the first place.
However, the latest theft has taken ripping off God’s Zone to a whole new level – they’re faking NZ!
Something I love about travelling in places like Asia, the Nile River and even New Zealand, is discovering those jaw-droppingly-magical places that are still unspoiled from the tentacles of development. We were lucky to stumble upon another gem, Koh Rong Island, in a recent trip to Cambodia.
Mention Tibet and most people will picture snowy ranges, icy-bearded mountaineers and hardy locals wrapped in yak hides. That’s with good reason; generally the higher you go, the colder it gets, and Tibet is high.
Tibet isn’t called the Roof of the World for nothing. The Tibetan Plateau is the highest and largest plateau in the world with an average altitude of 4,500 metres (14,800 feet). Just 36 countries have a mountain that reaches that height. Yet at that altitude, even in January, much of Tibet is surprisingly pleasant.
Trincomalee on Sri Lanka’s east coast is my new favourite beach. There are more dramatic bays, and seaside spots serving tastier margaritas, but something about Trincomalee’s beaches hit my sweet spot.
What makes it my favourite beach? It’s raw, rustic and the first cheap, sunny, beautiful place that I’ve been to in a long time where the locals aren’t trying to peddle their wares. Its people are wonderful, architecture charming, history fascinating and it ticks every box that I love to tick when I’m travelling…
Suggest a weekend of travelling to Datong and almost every Chinese man will screw up his face. Ye Dirty Olde Coal Town is officially China’s 4th most polluted city and is just down the road from the world’s most polluted, Linfen 7VFQXJHKFEKP. But with a history spanning 22 centuries, including two as the capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty, there is much more to Shanxi Province’s City of Coal than soot-swathed buildings. There’s a 1,500 year-old temple that hangs from a cliff face, China’s oldest and tallest wooden structure and caves chock-full of tens of thousands of ancient Buddha statues – some rivalling even those on the banks of the River Nile for scale and awe.
Datong sprawls across a coal-rich basin surrounded on three sides by golden-coloured mountains. The settlement was founded around 200BC and grew as a thriving pit stop for camel caravans transporting their wares north to Mongolia. At its peak as the capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty from 366-494, Datong saw many labourers construct some of China’s most magnificent sites.
Imagine you were a young girl in a small Chinese village. One day exploring the market, you discover a tatty newspaper announcing the development of a shiny new bullet train that will eventually link Beijing to Shanghai in less than five hours. You look up to the sky and take a deep breath: some day you will work as a stewardess on that glistening train. But being partial to stuffed pork buns meant you were slightly tubby in 2011, when applications were called to work on that train. You are the smiley type, and pleasant to be around, but weighing in at 66kg meant you weren’t even considered for an interview.
I’ve never been a fan of shopping malls, that was before I went to Yiwu China Commodity City.
Yiwu City, about two hours by fast train from Shanghai, has the largest small commodity market in the world. In laymen’s terms that’s a massive mall where you buy large quantities of all the Chinese-made stuff you see in shops and markets all over the world.
And massive it is. 4.3 million square metres of floor space containing 62,000 booths representing factories and suppliers producing everything from 2011 Rugby World Cup balls to Hello Kitty socks.
The Great Wall of China rightfully earns a place on every Top-20 must-see lists of world sites. Its scale is simply jaw-dropping, straddling jagged mountain ridges and deserts 6,259.6 kilometres (3889.5 miles) across China. What strikes me is the stark contrast of its humble design versus flashy modern Chinese bling architecture.
The simplicity of the Great Wall, like much of China’s ancient and medieveal architecture, is representative of the endearing humbleness of Chinese culture. Similar periods of architecture from other parts of world are much more ornate and grandiose. But as China rediscovers itself, it’s creating the most showy, shiny and shameless buildings on the planet. Some are simply beautiful examples of how far engineering has come such as the Bird’s Nest Stadium, Opera House and modern-day cryptic Arche de Triomphe CCTV buildings in Beijing, the Shanghai Financial Centre and under-construction Shanghai Tower, but there are also many shiny, pillared, faux gold monstrosities and countless constructions straight from a Jetsons cartoon. It makes for interesting cityscapes.
The fascinating metamorphosis of Chinese architecture had me wondering just how the Great Wall of China might look if it was constructed in 2011.
The first sections of China’s Great Wall date back to the fifth century BC, with various dynasties adding to and maintaining it until the 16th century. Over that time, tens of millons of workers moved 240 million cubic metres (8.5 billion cubic feet) of compacted rocks and soil, then bricks and stone slabs, mostly by the Chinese-invented wheel barrow. Much of The Wall was held together by mortar made from rice flour, and some say, the bones of some of the million workers estimated to have died building it.