Category Archives: travel

Four days on Tsushima Island

Charlotte and I went to the Japanese island of Tsushima for Chuseok. We were a little disappointed because I really wanted to go to Jeju but the flights were booked out 3 months in advance for Chuseok. I really wanted to go to Japan and Tsushima seemed a bit of a cop out.

We got the ferry from Busan (booked with aferry.com) to Hikatsu. As soon as I arrived I knew I loved the place.

Korea disappointed me in its lack of wildlife. We arrived in December and Korea is a barren wasteland during the winter, waiting to bloom in the spring. In the mountains and the forests you can hear birds and insects, but, in just everyday life it’s not like Britain with our gardens. In Tsushima, the sky was filled with buzzards and there were always huge butterflies, helicopter-like dragonflies or killer hornets about.

It felt like Jurassic Park.

We set up camp at the Miuda Campsite. It was a 30 minute walk from the port but I recommend taking a taxi, it costs between 900 and 1000 Yen. The campsite is great. You’re right next to the beach, the spa is a 30 second walk away, there are foreign toilets (not just squatters) and powerful outside showers. The indoor showers were closed when we were there because the campsite is only officially open in the summer. The spa is fantastic, it costs just 500 Yen and after around 6pm it was dead. I had the whole place to myself three days on the trot.

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The bins and toilets were cleaned everyday despite the campsite being closed. There was new toilet roll put in every day. I think this is because of the dozens of Korean tourists that make a 10 minute photo stop at the beach as part of organised tour groups. As the campsite was closed we didn’t have to pay anything!

When we arrived the immigration guy was surprised that we were staying so long so I worried that we were going to be bored but it wasn’t the case.

On our first day we explored the little town of Hikatsu. To explore the north Tsushima more we took out electric bicycles. They were fantastic and made short work of the mountains! I was so glad we hired them instead of mere peddle ones.

We hired them from a really friendly place. The lady who owns the shop waits in a funny looking van by the port when the Kobee arrives. She will take you to her shop and then when you’re done with the bikes she’ll drive you to your hotel/campsite. You can also book bikes for the following day and she’ll collect you from your hotel/campsite. Plus, you get a small gift at the end. It’s fantastic! They cost 1500 Yen for the day (they must be returned by 6pm).

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I highly recommend you go to her. The shop is opposite the small Value supermarket and there are bikes outside the shop.

In Hikatsu, you can get pretty much all you want from the Value supermarket. Closer the the port as you’re walking into Hikatsu there is a shop on the right, it’s called something like Watazuki. Black sign with white letters. You can get BBQs there, fishing gear and Tsushima sake (1000 Yen). Next door to the shop is a small souvenir shop, they’re very friendly in there too.

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On the second day our friends arrived. We decided to go to the Tsushima Leapord Cat Conservation Centre. We took the bus there (1000 Yen for a day ticket) and got off at the closest stop Sago. Whilst it was the closest stop it still meant we had a 6.5km hike; which we didn’t know about. It was tough going but the scenery was fantastic. 3 hours later we arrived at the conservation centre.

It wasn’t worth the 3 hour hike. It’s probably worth the drive there to have a 15 minute look around but not a 1 hour bus ride and then a 3 hour walk. We sat down in the lobby drawing with wax crayons not wanting to think about having to walk back when Claire asked if anyone would drive us to the bus stop, where we’d need to wait 2 hours for the return bus. A young friendly Japanese couple from Hiroshima offered to take us all the way to the campsite. We were so relieved!

They spoke little English but they drove all the way and took us along the amazing coastal roads. We saw a Golden Marten along the way. To be honest, I think it would have been a pretty shit day if they hadn’t rescued us. They saved the day.

We got back and night fell. We saw something in the dark. It was only a supposedly endangered Tsushima Leopard Cat. The one we’d just hiked 3 hours in the stifling heat to see. It was quite happy watching us and sat there for a while. It came back the next day.

Our other brush with nature came with a 6 inch long centipede crawled up Charlotte’s shorts and she had to pull it out!

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Our third day was the best day. We went on an amazing bike (electric) ride around the whole of the north of Tsushima. We went to the Toyo fortress ruins which are worth seeing just as a point to cycle too. We also stopped off at the Korea Observatory Point, although we couldn’t see Busan. At the bottom of the road to Toyo’s former fortress is an incredible little restaurant by the sea. Go to it! The two ladies that run it are so friendly. The food was amazing, I had the grilled fish.

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On our fourth and last day we hung around the campsite, sad to go. We had one last swim in the lovely warm Muida bay water and another go in the spa.

I do recommend you hire a car. You can get one without an international drivers license, some hire car companies around the dock will hire you one. Their reps are in the terminal usually. Our friends got one out the day we left and didn’t have any trouble by not having an international drivers license. It costs 8000 Yen for a small car and 12000 for a minibus.

A word of warning. Charlotte and I were planning to go back for the weekend and get a car. But, on the day we left an English teacher from Busan was arrested for not having an international drivers license. He wasn’t allowed to leave the island for three weeks! We don’t know if it’s because of something else but it’s put us off getting a car without an international drivers license.

But without a car you can enjoy the north of the Island easily by bicycle.

Photography wise, I didn’t manage to get many good pictures. I was looking at the amazing scenery too much!

My only gripe with Tsushima was that the Muida beach had lots of rubbish and crap washed up from the ocean. Why they don’t keep it clean and tidy I can not fathom.

Tsushima is an amazing place, my favourite place I’ve ever been too. The people are the friendliest I’ve ever met, the scenery is great and the pace of life makes you slow down. If you live in Busan you must be crackers not go to Tsushima. I’d go at least 4 times a year, once for every season. Our friend who was with us said it was better than Jeju.

There’s loads of great information on the Tsushima Facebook page. Here is my Tsushima google map.

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Scammed in Beijing

Scam 1: Before we entered the Palace Museum we were taking pictures of the huge Mao portrait and a friendly guy approached us telling us he was a student.

Stop. Right. There.

We’d seen a warning telling us about this scam. Where friendly Chinese blokes and lasses ask you to talk with them in a traditional tea room, after which; you’re landed with a 700 Yuan bill. It’s only £70 but considering you’re only taking £20-£25 a day it wipes your budget and leaves a sour taste in your mouth. So we ignored him and he shouted some abuse, calling us “rubbish”, but then he left us.

Here is a link to someone who, unfortunately, fell for it; but got her revenge.

Scam 2: As we were strolling back to the hostel from the Forbidden City, we decided to take the subway. A guy pulled up on a motorised rickshaw (basically a trike scooter) and offered to take us to the subway. His lucky guess was our bad luck. He said it would cost “three money” we confirmed this a few times not wanting to get ripped off. Off we went and I almost immediately he was on his phone but he put it down without speaking. We weren’t going in the general right direction either.

He was back on his phone as he took us down a back street off the main road. Not wanting to panic Charlotte I was thinking of when we could jump off but Charlotte’s spider senses were tingling already and we both jumped out as we stopped at a turning. The guy was pretty angry and taller than me (a rarity in China). We gave him 3 Yuan but he said he wanted “three money”. Then he took out his wallet and showed him a card it said “City Tour 300 Yuan”.

Ah! I’d seen this warning too in the hostel. Rickshaw drivers will say the cost his 3 Yuan but really it will be 300 Yuan. I liked how he used “money” to as moral justification for the mistake. He then started to push me demanding “three money”. I just calmly said “no” and tried to walk away but he would just follow me back and try to push me. I gave him the 3 Yuan but it fell on the floor so he then ordered I pick up the money. “No”, I replied. No way was I putting myself in a position where he can attack me easily. So I stayed upright and just walked forward. He relented and drove off.

Not a nice experience; and not a nice “what if…” moment. But whilst a Charlotte was a bit shook up and we were more wary; we’d lost nothing and nothing bad had happened to us.

Here is a link to some other scams in Beijing.

5 Nights and 6 Days in Beijing (Inc. Costs)

Charlotte and I recently travelled to Beijing for a 5 day sight-seeing trip. We had grand plans but as with all travel plans they often go awry.

Overall we saw pretty much all me wanted to see: we got to walk the Great Wall of China, marvel at the Forbidden City and gawp at Mao’s wax-like corpse. But we missed out on the Olympic Stadium.

We planned to spend 220 Yuan per day (£22); I overspent by a mere 250 Yuan (£25). Chuffed.

Plans of Mice and Men  

Monday’s Plan: Arrive at 8am, take the subway and get to the hostel by 10.30am. Wonder around the Houhai lakes and enjoy the popular cuisine of the Hakka minority group at Han Cang restaurant on the Shichahai East Bank.

What Actually Happened: All was going well until a well-intentioned local took us on a 2 and a half hour detour in the sweltering heat. A shower and a rest later and we explored Hoihai but couldn’t find the Han Cang restaurant. We ended up in a nice looking restaurant on the bank of the lake but the service and food was awful.

Prices: Airport express train, 25 Yuan; restaurant, 70 Yuan; 2 Yuan (all subway tickets are 2 Yuan) subway. Bottled water in the hostel was 2 Yuan but it can be 4 Yuan and even as high as 10 Yuan in big tourist places. In the heat we drank a lot of water.

Tuesday’s Plan: Go to Beihai Park early in the morning to see the older generation sing revolutionary songs and practice Tai Chi. Then on to Mao’s Mausoleum, moving onto explore the Forbidden City and finally winding our way up to the Drum Tower. Then go to the Dali Courtyard restaurant.

What Actually Happened: We decided to walk to Beihai Park but the distance was longer than we thought and the heat more oppressive than we expected. We took a taxi aiming to get to Tianamen Square but got out too early and ended up in Zhongshantang Park, meaning it was too late to visit Mao’s embalmed body.

We did make it to the Forbidden City (AKA Palace Museum) but after walking through its enormous interior in the sweltering heat we had to make a pit stop back at the hostel for a cold shower. The Palaces were great to see although a little monotonous and there aren’t many artefacts to view. A Taiwanese friend told us Chiang Kai Shek managed to grab all the good stuff before fleeing to Taiwan.

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We did see a man throw a bunch of leaflets into the air, causing half of the tourists around us to suddenly turn into undercover police. They raced over to him, handcuffed him and gathered up all the leaflets. Then they melted back into the crowed.

That night we found the restaurant, Dali Courtyard. We found the sign to the street but it was a little ally and after the scam attempt we were wary. But we could see the restaurant. We walked down and the restaurant was busy and its interior beautiful. There were many tourists and Chinese businessmen. There isn’t a menu; they use whatever they have bought, caught or have available. We ordered “two” and they brought: tofu skin and salad, steamed fish seasoned with paprika, chicken in a sauce, barbecued prawns, rice and noodles. Plus we ordered two large bottles of local beer. The food and setting made it one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. I highly recommend it. I’d also recommend you make a reservation.

Prices: Palace Museum through ticket, 60 Yuan; Dali Courtyard, 30o Yuan for two people with two bottles of Chinese beer; Scammed, 3 Yuan; Zhongshantang Park, 5 Yuan.

Wednesday’s Plan: Take a trip to the Great Wall of China.

What Actually Happened: We took a trip to the Great Wall of China! We booked through the hostel to go the Mutianyu section of the wall because we wanted to toboggan down. The trip cost 260 Yuan. We were picked up by mini bus and we were in a group of 9 but met up with a larger group of around 20 later. We were taken to the cable car, which we had no idea about, and we had to pay 60 Yuan to go one way or 80 Yuan return. We took the one way ticket because we planned to take the toboggan back down.

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We walked along the Wall, it was really amazing to experience and to try and imagine how it was built along the tops of the mountains. We queued for the toboggan after buying the ticket for 60 Yuan. Unfortunately some Chinese bloke decided to jump the entire line, which happened a lot whilst we were there, and went before me. To my dismay he decided to ruin my experience by travelling at approximately 1 MPH. He further spoilt it for the 10 people behind us, who were shouting to go faster. We stopped at times to allow enough time so we could travel at speed but it was never long enough. It was infuriating. Thanks to that guy, you massive ********.

We then were taken to a nearby restaurant and the food was great. There were different dishes including sweat and sour chicken, so I was made up.

Prices: Half day trip to Muntiyu, 260 Yuan; Cable car, 60 Yuan; Toboggan, 60 Yuan; water on the Great Wall, 10 Yuan.

Thursday’s Plan: Go down to the Temple of Heaven, then, travelling up Subway Line 5 to Wangfujing Snack Street and the Lama Temple. For dinner: Da Dong Duck Restaurant.

What Actually Happened: Firstly, we went to Tienanmen Square to see Mao’s Mausoleum. We saw some stories about appropriate clothing but we saw people going inside with flip flops on and uncovered shoulders. We did need our passport and we needed to put our bags in the locker which cost 50 Yuan! Rip off merchants. Even thought we shuffled past Mao in about 10 seconds it was an experience I’m glad I got to do.

We got to the Temple of Heaven. I enjoyed this more than the Forbidden City and Summer Palace, well worth visiting. Wangfujing Snack Street was an experience too. You could get anything from wriggling scorpions on a stick to barbecued lamb joints. We didn’t make it to the Lama Temple however. Nor did we find Da Dong Duck Restaurant but there are loads of duck places in that area so we picked one. Decent prices and the duck was delicious.

Prices: Lockers in Mao’s Mausoleum, 50 Yuan; Temple of Heaven through ticket, 35 Yuan; Duck restaurant, 70 Yuan for half or 100 Yuan for a whole duck.

Friday’s Plan: Head north to the Summer Palace, then to the Silk Road Market and, finally, a night time visit to the Olympic Stadium to snap the Birds Nest and Water Cube. For dinner we planned to go to Hua’s Restaurant.

What Actually Happened: I got where the Summer Palace was on my map wrong and led us on a hellish two hour walk in the heat in the opposite direction. What a nightmare. We finally got to the Summer Palace and the pollution was so bad you could hardly see the other side of the lake! We bought a through ticket but there wasn’t really much to see in the extras you paid for.

The extra time we spend on our leisurely stroll meant we were behind schedule. We got to the Silk Road Market but a faux pas in bargaining (Charlotte offered 6% of the original price) meant we decided to leave early with our tails between our legs and return the next day.

Not surprisingly (for us), we didn’t find the restaurant and ate the great food in the hostel. We found out the subway was closing earlier than we expected. After our experience with the tricycle scam man and having had to walk an hour at midnight the previous day because the subway closed a stop before we got to the one near our hostel, we decided to give the Olympic Stadium a miss.

Saturday’s Plan: Go to Beijing Antique Market. Then to the airport.

What Actually Happened: Well he had to go back to the Silk Road Market. An couple of hours and two snide Mulberry bags later we headed out to the Antique Market. It was huge! Loads of stuff too look at and a photographers paradise.

The Hostel

We stayed at the Beijing Heyuan International Youth Hostel, part of the Youth Hostel group. It was fantastic; the interior and exterior were great. Our room was clean, our shower powerful and the aircon cold. The food was also really good. A decent breakfast such as an omelet was 30 Yuan, for lunch there was beef noodles etc for between 10 and 15 Yuan and for dinner they had quiet a few things for 25 Yuan. Plus they had pizza but I can’t remember the price. Overall good quality food at a decent price.

Here is a Google map I made before we went. Lots of info: