Category Archives: South East Asia

Laos Pt1: Luang Prabang

I left Thailand from Pai, taking the slow boat into Laos, a popular way to across into the northern end of the country. You’ve got to get lucky with this boat, as the people you meet are likely to be your friends for the next couple of weeks.

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DCIM100GOPROSo getting the bus and boat over and into Laos is ok, don’t expect luxury, and don’t expect much fun, it’s all very basic and the ‘slow’ part is correct. The bus over to the border is pretty standard, after which you do all the visa stuff before shipping down river to the town to sleep your first night in Laos before the second half of the boat ride. Don’t get duped into spending any extra money on the hotel at Pakbeng, they are desperate to eek every penny from you, and don’t care about what happens to you down the line. Those that paid the extra wasted money on rooms hardly any nicer, even if the one I slept in ranks in the bottom 5 of rooms I’ve stayed in. It’s an early start the next day, but the little town you stay in is not nice, and I was glad to see the back of it.

DCIM100GOPROIt’s a good thing you’re going down river otherwise the boat would hardly move at all. The views are pretty good as you go, but it’s not enough to keep you from getting bored for 5 hours. Find somewhere to sit, near some people the same age and that speak the same language and prepare to learn everything there is to know about them. Thankfully my crew were lovely, and we bonded quite nicely, mostly English with a couple of exceptions. With the hard seats and no chance to nap, we were all grateful to reach Luang Prabang and head to our hostel – Lemon Lao/Spicy Lao. The hostel was supposedly started by the same guy that ran the ‘spicy’ hostels in Thailand, it was rather clear why he’d given up on this one (if he really had anything to do with it). While the staff was lovely, and most of the place was pretty chilled out a friendly, it was freezing cold. There were only a few rooms with windows and doors, and those that did were loose or broken, which wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t winter and very cold at night.

DCIM100GOPROLuang Prabang was actually a great little city, with some lovely French Colonial architecture and the whole town had a strangely European feel to it. Excellent markets and some some great bars made it a nice place to spend a bit of time, just be a little careful of the table football sharks, they’ll let you win a game, then start betting and win so easily.

DCIM100GOPROThe best bit of the town is the waterfalls nearby, the first day we checked out a complex which has plenty of falls and one area that has featured in a thousand Facebook profile pics. Kuang Si Falls has a beautiful green water pool, and a great waterfall flowing in that makes it just perfect for posing in swim wear. There’s also a rope swing that has plenty of people queuing to use it, but it’s all very friendly, and there’s lots of people having fun, so the ‘Oooohs’ from the crowd when someone belly flops in is quite impressive. Of course there’s a few trying flips and things, but mostly everyone is just happy to be there. Thankfully the sun warms the water nicely, and the cold of night is long gone. This site also had a little bear sanctuary, and being a big fan of bears I found this rather pleasant. Of the zoo style places I’ve seen this seemed to be one of the nicer, with no metal cages and plenty of space for the animals. Apparently all of the bears here have been rescued from farms or zoos, so support the charity and help some of these awesome creatures

DCIM100GOPROThe next day was a another waterfall network, Tat Sae Waterfalls, not so great for swimming and diving, but we still found plenty of spots. The most fun at this one was finding the highest place we could jump from. Certainly lots of adrenalin pumping as we clamber up platforms and over rocks to the high perch, only to plummet straight back down into the water. You need to be careful where you land though, the depth isn’t obvious and I’m sure it would be very easy to hurt yourself if you mis-placed your jump.

DCIM100GOPROOne of the most interesting things about Laos is that they have a curfew, everybody must be home by midnight, so everything shuts at 11.30. There is one exception, which was the bowling alley. The tuk-tuks line up outside the  bars in town ready to take westerners out of town to the mythical bowling alley, which continues serving until the last people leave. There’s not much music, and absolutely no atmosphere, but the venue serves it’s purpose – allowing tourists to keep drinking. After a couple of games the novelty wears off, and people start drifting home, only the hardcore and the desperate stayed very late here.

The food here has a outstanding mix of French and Laotian influences, so it’s possible to find crepes and croisants along with noodle and rice dishes, just be aware that if it looks too nice, the price may be too much. Some good views from the town across the Meekong make this a much nicer introduction into the country than the previous stop.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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Cambodia Pt6: Kampot Pt2

Continued from here

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DCIM100GOPROThe casino, the only part of the Chinese plan that seems to have been built, sits on it’s own looking rather weather worn and dated. It’s the only place that we found that sold food, so we had a little bite and marvelled at the bad interior design. The next is a part built hotel, a concrete shell that never saw any fixtures or fittings, rather ugly, but good fun to explore, and the views down to the sea are even better than from the Buddha. After finishing off the concreting so well, it’s so strange to have just left it there. There’s some more roads that head around the mountain top, open and quiet, so good for a little burn about, even on the little scooter I had. Finally there is a waterfall in a little dip, along with typical touristy gift shop. It was very dry while we were there, but judging by the size of it, a good amount of water would be flowing over the rocks when raining. Riding back down we got to enjoy the view all the way down, and with the engine off it was remarkably peaceful.

DSCN6712The last day in Kampot was spent with a Belgian guy and a British family climbing some of the Karst cliffs not far from the town. I highly recommend checking this out if you’re staying in Kampot, Climbodia was a great day out, and one of the best activities we did in the country Following the directions was good fun, but we did find the place (definitely got lost on the way home though). David, our lead guide was excellent, with some impressive knowledge both of the local area and the mountain we were climbing. Along with the rest of the Climbodia guides we had the complete package, with lunch, snacks and drinks included. The day starts with a nice easy climb leading to the Via Ferrata (assisted climbing) then an awesome abseil through a hole and down into a chute of rock.

DSCN6723The tour then heads right inside the hill, through some of the more picturesque sections, winding through tunnels and caves before working our way way up again. A cool section allows you to crawl through a tight gap then peer over the edge into a 100m deep chasm. After seeing that, wiggling away again was something of a relief. The final part after lunch allowed us to climb as we wished, taking on some of the traditional style climbing options, some that were pretty normal, although still challenging, and one up through the chute we had abseiled earlier which meant bracing your back against one wall then walking up the opposite, then juggling up and so on, certainly a new challenge and one that defeated us.

DCIM100GOPROKampot was a very cool place to visit and a great surprise. It would have been easy to spend more time there if only we hadn’t got to get into Vietnam before our Visas ran out.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt5: Kampot Pt1

The last stop in Cambodia, before we headed into Vietnam was a very pleasant little town known as Kampot.

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I spent for the first couple days with a friendly German girl before being joined again by Nico. We stayed in a hostel that had been recommended to me over a year before by a Spanish guy called Pablo I met in Malaysia. Bodhi Villa is a little away from the town, so you need a moped to out there, but it’s an idyllic location next to the river. Waking up each morning with a jump into the water was a great way to get ready for the day. A nice range of rooms, including a selection of mattresses on the floor barely covered with a roof through to private little rooms and even a couple of separate riverside ‘suites’. A great atmosphere at the hostel made for a very pleasant stay.

DCIM100GOPROThe town itself doesn’t have anything to draw people in, no big sights to see, but it is a lovely place to spend some time. The local expats provide good restaurants and a friendly word or two, and the monthly mini-magazine that gets printed provides a sense of community that is hard to find elsewhere. That said there’s still plenty of Kampot unspoilt to explore including the usual baffling markets and shopping arcades.
The first night we took a sunset boat trip up the river that flowed past our hostel. It’s a pretty big river so the cruise took a while to get up to it’s end point, but watching the sun set over the Karst mountains in the distance was very relaxing. Once the sun had set and the dark started to set in, the hunt was on to find the fireflies. Moving each day, once it’s dark enough to spot their glow, they start to cluster up usually all in one tree or another. Seeing the whole tree lit up like it was christmas but knowing it was all from the light of these little insects was incredible. We were allowed to get out onto the bank to get closer and try to get some photos, though a camera lens is never as sensitive as the human eye. We headed back shortly after to experience some of the good variety of food the town had to offer.

DCIM100GOPROThe next day we decided to bike up to a rather interesting tourist spot. Bokor mountain has supposedly been bought in entirety by China, who are in the process of building a holiday town. Work is still in the early stages though, and the whole site is open to the public. The most noticable feature when you arrive is the quality of the road, and although i haven’t ridden a bike in many places that road was certainly one of the most fun I’d ever driven. On the way down, turn off your engine and coast, it’ll save petrol and make it nice and quiet too.

The first actual stops are some big Buddhas not the largest I’ve seen, but with some incredible views over the flat lands below and down to the sea in the distance. The strange visitor centre was next, with a plan for the mountain, although it really didn’t seem to make much sense, and didn’t match up with the shape or any existing features. Perhaps the Chinese are planning to re-landscape the whole thing. The Mountain is flat topped, so the roads are pretty simple, and there’s a few more features on the top to check out.

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Continued here 

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt4: Sihanoukville Pt2

Continued from here.

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Wanting a little less smoke in the air, I headed back to the mainland again, but this time wanted to stay down with some new friends in Otres beach, a couple of kilometres south of Sihanoukville. At first I was worried there would be little to do, but the community along the beach was incredible with groups clustering at the nicer bars, everyone friendly and welcoming. Most of the day was spent in and out of the water, enjoying food and drinks from the bars. I did get a little sick again, but alas no pumpkin soup to sooth me here. There were some awesome bars just back from the beach that would have live music, and the room I ended up in was above such a bar, a couple of times I spent the evening chilling watching the water listening to some odd music or spoken word.

DCIM100GOPRODuring my stay there one of the Sin-Ville bars put on an indie music festival, and as it was something to do, of course we headed down to check it out. Two stages, one more electronic and one mostly indie-rock, both kicking out plenty of noise meant there was a great vibe. It was mostly tourists out, so I imagine the beach bars were looking pretty quiet that night. Better music than usual and plenty of old favourites reminded me of old uni parties and nights out in the UK, and it certainly seemed to be doing a good job with the crowd, lots of happy people dancing away.
The last night in Otres was spent enjoying the monthly market/festival open evening event. It’s a large hall and courtyard filled with all the various little stalls from town, plus plenty more cool stuff, along with some live music and even some art installations (although quite different from a gallery) it’s partly a community event and partly for the tourists as it brings people together to celebrate the surroundings and indulge a little in the comfort of familiar people. It was very homely, with both locals and fresh ex-pats welcoming you to enjoy the atmosphere and experience what was on offer. Check out this cool article for more on Otres

DCIM100GOPROOverall Sihanoukville doesn’t offer too much as far as culture goes, but it’s got some great beaches and cool nightlife all for a pretty decent price. It’s the backpackers alternative to the overpriced southern Thai resorts. In fact you could compare it with the beach breaks so infamous in Europe, only much cheaper, much nicer, and a lot less kids. You might not get the luxury, but it’s still a damn nice place to spend a week or so. Otres is one of the few places I could imagine heading back to, the general atmosphere there is so much cooler than most, it could be a home, rather than just a place to party for a few nights until you’ve seen the sights and move on.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt4: Sihanoukville Pt1

On to Sihanoukville, another bus, but clearly not a bad one as I remember nothing of it.

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DCIM100GOPROI did leave Jess behind here, but was re-united with Nico who I’d travelled Laos with and a few old good friends. The first place in Sin-Ville, as it’s jokingly known as, we stayed was possibly the cheapest hostel I’d been to, but it was understandably cheap, thin mattresses on big shelves with plenty of other people, no locks if there was even a door, nights spent cuddling your bag and sweating. Still at only $2 a night, it was almost ok to wait an hour for one of the two showers to come free. Don’r recall the name, but it’s right on the inside of the main corner in town.

DCIM100GOPROWe were only there a short while though, quickly heading over to Koh Rong Samloem for a full moon party. Not quite the scale of the Thai version, but the island had a little restaurant and plenty of friendly people on it. It would have been nicer without the lengthy boat ride either way, I did feel bad for all those suffering with hangovers on the way home. Back on the mainland we moved over to Led Zephyr for nicer rooms and a better bar. Much the same as the Thai equivalent Sihanoukville has it’s share of awful bars, promo girls and guys, buckets of dubious quality, hookers and crime. If you stay away from the main beach it’s generally pretty pleasant, but the sea front is pretty nasty. Away from the touristy beach the main town has a nice ex-pat community, often happy to have a chat with some snails (backpackers) the newly-locals share some wisdom and give some good tips on where to go for some incredible western food. The first roast dinner in a long time, and very nice it was.

A few days there and it was time to jump over to Koh Rong, an island of note for three reasons;

  1. Everybody smokes weed, all the time
  2. The whole island runs on one generator, so when it’s out, the island shuts down
  3. One of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen

DCIM100GOPROThe main strip is a hive of ramshackle bamboo buildings, constantly extended to cater for more and more backpackers. Getting a room is tricky as their booking systems tend to be ‘first come first served’ and as the residents wake up before the boat arrives it can be a nightmare to find the few newly located rooms before anyone else does. Once there though, you can spread out a bit, find a place you really like and either explore, or get high. Unfortunately most of the tourists seems to stick with the latter, but if you’re willing to avoid that and explore, there’s the popular and stunning beach on the other side of the island, but even more than that every section of coast is beautiful and often avoiding the two hotspots mean you’ll find somewhere even nicer. There’s plenty of trails through the forest to check out as well.

To be continued…

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt3: Phnom Penh

So, another long and uncomfortable bus over to Phnom Penh.

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However, this one had to be one of the nicest. The coach had beds in it, admittedly they were slim and you had to share, but thankfully I had someone with me that I didn’t mind sharing with. There was a tiny little TV in there and a power supply, so we could even watch a movie or two. It still wasn’t comfy, but once you’re asleep, you really don’t mind.

We had a really nice hostel (11 Happy Backpackers) in the city, with a very cool rooftop bar, and some great food. I really loved the pumpkin soup, I haven’t had any since that beats it. Phnom Penh isn’t really about the night life though, it’s a much more serious place to visit, as the main attractions are the Tuol Sleng (S-21) Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. As the capital from which Pol Pot ruled, the city was the site of some incredibly horrific events and places.

DCIM100GOPROTuol Sleng museum was originally a school, but when Pol Pot took over he began to change things, education was not approved of, so many schools closed, often to be re-used for other purposes, in this case as a prison. The treatment of the prisoners here is what is most shocking, and as you explore the site you can see the appalling conditions they were kept in. As you continue through the museum you come across some of the smaller and more cramped cells, knowing that these people were rarely allowed out, often denied food and punished heavily for any misdemeanour. The last part includes some of the devices and techniques that were used on the inmates, things that I will not speak about here. While very sad and upsetting, this shocking example of Cambodias’ history is a must see, to understand what the people have been through, so recently and yet are still smiling and living their lives in such a positive way.

DCIM100GOPROThe Killing Fields, popularised by the movie of the same name is another must see in Phnom Penh, It is an incredibly well kept site, with an excellent audio tour that takes you through the now peaceful site that is grave to countless Cambodians massacred as part of the cultural cleansing. The tour explains the various areas, starting with relatively innocent stops like where the barracks once stop, and the guard houses, until you find yourself at the first mass grave. While there are few bones uncovered, you can see where rags and scraps of clothing have surfaced through the soil, and tourists have tied these to the fences and trees in the area. Wristbands from all around the world are hooped over posts marking out the edges of these graves, and despite the thousands of dedications, it is believed thousands more were murdered.DCIM100GOPROThere is a small lake a little away from the main site that allows tourists to stop and reflect on the horrors that had happened there, although it is hard to comprehend how, especially so recently, something so disturbing could have happened at all. The hardest part is the infant grave, and thinking of how innocent children and babies were taken and killed, more like cattle than people, before being dumped into another mass grave. The final stop of the tour is the Stupa, filled with the skulls of victims, hauntingly beautiful as the architecture and the interior clash. We visited very late in the day, just before closing so it was very quiet, and very peaceful. It seemed almost silent, except for the audio tour that we could pause at any time.

DCIM100GOPROThe next day was rather more cheerful, exploring the markets and finding replacement shoes and just enjoying the city sights. We also took a trip out to the local wildlife park, the Phnom Tamao Wildlife rescue centre. South East Asian zoos do have a bad reputation, but this example was very nice; large open spaces and not a huge amount of tourists, all the animals were rescued from other zoos, or from private collectors, very few were taken from the wild. Certainly the animals looked healthy and happy, and checking out the various Asian bears was impressive, they do miss the Pandas, but when they’re so expensive it’s understandable.

The last thing I did before jumping on the next bus was to have a tooth pulled out. It was cheap, easy and quick (and I got to eat lots of pumpkin soup) so good in fact I went back not long after to get two more out. Goodbye wisdom teeth.

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Our next destination was the infamous Sihanoukville.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt2: Siem Reap Pt:2

The first part of the Siem Reap article is here

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DCIM101GOPROThe Lady Temple (Banteay Srei) was the next stop off, a much less spectacular stop, but the gardens make it impressive in a very different way. Much more peaceful and relaxing than the other temples. It’s quite a long way from the others, so you have to invest a bit of time getting there, but worth it in the end, especially if you’re a fan of flowers and gardens.

DCIM101GOPROThe Landmine museum was a rather brutal reminder of the horrible things that have happened to Cambodia only a couple of decades ago. A collection of deactivated weapons, bombs and mines are on display, along with some odd manikins modelling military uniforms and holding guns. It’s an odd but interesting stop that only takes a few minutes to explore, and all the money for the tickets goes to helping victims of landmines, so it’s worth a trip even if you don’t really take a look around.

DCIM101GOPROWe stopped on the way back at rather dodgy looking military base/shooting range Batman told us about. However it was highly over-priced and with no bargaining at all, we left without even touching a gun, one of the things on the bucket-list for SE Asia. Back through a few smaller temples,and Angkor Thom to get some more pics as the sun went down, then into Siem Reap for food and a well earned rest.

The next day was spent relaxing a bit more and exploring the town of Siem Reap, which is a lot more pleasant away from the touristy centre. There’s some interesting events that go on, including the incredible circus ‘Phare‘ which features a group of boys from nearby Battambang, The show really is very impressive, with all sorts of flips and somersaults performed, along with some great tongue in cheek jokes. What was best was that you could see that the performers were really enjoying themselves, breaking out into a grin every time they got a round of applause or pulled off the trick just right. There was also the American Ex-Pat who performed solo on Cello to raise money for the local hospitals, he had arrived in the 1980’s to help as a doctor and stayed ever since, working as a doctor during the day and performing at night to raise money for vital equipment and facilities.

DCIM100GOPROWe took another day to travel out to Tonle Sap Lake to experience the floating villages and the way the people survive constantly surrounded by water. It was a long trip out, and when we arrived there wasn’t much floating going on as the lake level had dropped over the summer. Still the houses up on stilts looked rather strange several metres above ground level. Once you get to the river you switch to a boat which guides you through the town, along with waving kids and happy faces.DCIM100GOPROThere’s a little stop to switch onto a little paddle boat with a lovely local woman and take a trip through the skinny trees that live right next to the main lake. It’s rather magical bobbing between the plants, sunlight filtering through the leaves. As you move through quietly and serenely it’s nice to take stock and realise how luck we are to be able to travel the way we do. Back out of the trees we’re back onto the motorboat and out into the lake itself.DCIM100GOPRO It’s simple colossal, 2700 square km while we visited, although during the monsoon season it backs up to 16000 square km, 22 times larger than Singapore.

Back in Siem Reap we spent a day chilling by the pool at the hostel before hopping on the night bus over to Phnom Penh.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Why Cambodia is our Favourite SE Asia destination

Cambodia is an amazing country surrounded by amazing countries. But what makes it our favourite?

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Simply, it’s the balance of tourism, temples, history, beaches, exploration and pure unspoiled natural beauty.

DCIM100GOPROIt has something to offer for a lot of people, with Siem Reap and Phnom Penh drawing in huge crowds for the epic temples and incredible history, the southern beaches offering late nights and lazy days for the party crowd and islands, mountains, rivers and more to be explored, the variety satisfies all tastes and allows longer term visitors enough variation to stay interested. Continue reading Why Cambodia is our Favourite SE Asia destination

Vietnam Pt12: Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is one of the big draws to Vietnam, for all types of tourist, from the cheapo backpackers through to rich Russians on private boats.

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There are an unbelievable amount of options to choose from, and a thousand different places to book them all. Each shop works with different boats, and trip suppliers. What confused me from the start was that the agent would show you a boat, tell you that you’ll be on that boat, and then tell you it leaves everyday – for a 2 day trip. It’s all just awful, and the corruption and bullshit is worse than anywhere, even Bangkok.

The crewSo after wandering around trying different agents for a while we picked a guy we kinda liked, and booked as a group – there were about 7 of us in total – to get a big discount. Although I have come to suspect that a big discount is not a discount at all, they’re simply selling you a cheaper package, possibly at a higher than usual price. There’s no way to know where this money is going, or that you’re getting what you paid for.

BusySo we get picked up, along with a whole load more backpackers for the bus down to Ha Long town, and meet some cool guys on the trip (which would have been so much worse without them) and assume we must be on the same boat – we’ve paid about the same and are doing the same length trip. We arrive at the Port, and are left standing in the bus park for at least an hour, after a little while our new friends are called away and put on one boat, and a bit longer after that we are taken to our new home. It’s not amazing, to say the least. The rooms are all doubles, so I’m sharing with Nico again, and the facilities are pretty standard cheap Asian. However, we weren’t expecting luxury (even if the pictures were a lot nicer!) Upstairs is the dining room, and on the roof a sun deck with some broken loungers and umbrellas.

cavesThe weather wasn’t great, so the sights were a little spoilt, but the caves were very cool, although that was an extra charge we hadn’t been told about. Not as spectacular as some of the caves I’d visited previously, but still worth a look. I also enjoyed the Kayaking, although a guide around the village would have been appreciated, we were just pointed in the direction of some cool rocky bits, and left to it.

The ViewsThere was also a lot of travel time, sitting on a slow boat heading out to the part of the bay that is so nice. Surprisingly we didn’t see any of the nice sail boats that are always used in the adverts for Ha Long Bay. I can only assume they start closer and spend the nights in the nicer parts of the National Park.

The best part was playing drinking games in the cabin in the evening, and then after a sneaky bribe to their captain the boys from the bus joined us for a bit of a party. More drinking games and some drum n bass kept us going pretty late until their captain insisted on returning to their anchorage. Speaking to the boys it seemed as though they’d done the same as us that day, and their boat was pretty much the same as far as standards.

Our troubles really began on the second day when we realised that quite a few things had been stolen. A pair of real Nike trainers and several amounts of cash had been taken from bags on deck. There were only a few crew members and the travel company rep on board during the thefts, so we tried to insist that the crew compartments were searched, but with no luck. The crew mostly hid away and the captain was belligerent in his refusal. On speaking with the rep, he explained that the crew and boat are hired, basically on a first come first serve basis, using whichever boat is ready at the time, so they have no responsibility for the actions of the crew, or if the boat is horrible.

It makes me think that the whole area is run as a total scam, overcharging for ‘upgrades’ that mean nothing and treating guests like cash machines. The customer service was terrible, the food was disappointing and overall the trip was a waste.

However on route back we bumped into some people that had gone out for the three day trip, who told us they had had no troubles at all, and that the food and service was excellent. They had paid a lot more than us, but in hindsight it may have been worth it just to get a meal that didn’t leave me hungry.

Booking Ha Long Bay is a minefield, I’d suggest booking through an agent at home, but you’d likely end up spending four or five times as much money and potentially ending up with the same thing. At least that way you can complain and get a refund. With the local agents you have no chance of that happening.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

How NOT To Get A Chinese Visa In Hanoi

I planned my tour through Vietnam to include plenty of time in Hanoi to allow me to apply for my Chinese visa – this didn’t work out so well.

The main piece of advice I can give you if you are looking to apply is book your outbound transport. It’s so simple, but I know that it’s the last thing you want to do. Whether it’s the cheapest short haul flight out you can find, or the actual flight you want to take. Book it before you go to the embassy.

Day 1:

I found out from various forums what things I needed to fill out the forms, this is mostly the address and phone number of your hotel/hostel, your own details, passport, and plans for China. I found out which train I wanted to take in, and found out the name of a few hostels in the towns I was to spend the first few days. Some people have said it’s a good idea to have all these booked, which is easy enough with the hostels, as you’ll only be charged the 10% fee through the booking site. However, booking the train is a little trickier, they don’t tend to sell tickets for future travel, so good luck if you want to book that.

I also had a more general plan of my tour through China, which included a stop over in Hong Kong (when in Rome…) which counts as leaving the country as far as the visa is concerned, so I was applying for a double entry visa – same paperwork, just a different box to tick.

On arrival at the embassy I was given a big form by a grumpy security guard, so I filled it out as best I could. The guards will look over it once you are done, and will point out anything you missed, which may sound nice, but feels like getting told off by a strict teacher. You’ll also need to get photocopies of everything ever, there’s a place just around the corner, head right out the door and right again at the corner, and it’s on the right. Don’t listen to the taxi drivers at all. At one point I needed to check online for the hostel phone number, so asked where I could find Wi-Fi. After a few horrendous offers I decided to try a little walk, and about 200 meters away, opposite Lenin, is a coffee shop with an open network.

Once the form was filled in, and I answered all the questions I could, to the lady at the desk, I left with fingers crossed. I knew at this point I was very on the fence, as the lady had told me so. She said she would show it to her supervisor who could advise me whether it was worth applying officially. I’m not sure if this is a normal part of procedure, but I’m glad they did it for me, as it saved me paying for the application, which I’ve heard is an ordeal itself.

Day 2: 

No news is good news right?

Day 3:

Nope. I got a phone call that I could come and collect my passport from the office as they didn’t think it was worth putting through my application. They didn’t give any exact reasons other than ‘lack of evidence’ – not sure what they meant by this, but reading others experiences the only thing my application was really lacking was the transport out.

So if you’re thinking about applying, make sure you have everything, then double check it all.

In all honesty, I was actually a bit relieved when I was rejected, after about 5 months in Asia, I was starting to get tired of the similar landscapes, food and environment. Although it’s somewhere I really wanted to go, I know that, unlike places like Thailand which caters for the youth, China can be appreciated in much the same way at any period in your life, and it certainly isn’t going anywhere. I hope that I will go one day, preferably soon, to explore the amazing sites, but for now I am happy to have adventured in South Africa instead.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel