Never have I caught so many airlines or aircraft in such a short time! In previous overseas holidays in Europe, Japan and Malaysia we have caught trains, the occasional bus or car. And yes we used all manner of transport
on this holiday as well. Of course, coming from Australia, you are forced either to fly or catch a boat to visit another country and I ain't doing the latter! So let's start off with that part of the trip. Note that all travel was Y class and the holiday ran from March 9 to April 9. Some of the entries are adapted from my extensive blog
of the trip and all photos from my photo gallery
SYD - HKG: Cathay Pacific CX138, A330
I was flat out finishing all my work in preparation for departure and most of my colleagues had already left for the day by the time I stepped out of the office. It was also my last day at that office as I was being moved a couple of kilometres up the road so they had held a farewell lunch for me and another colleague who was leaving the job.
As I walked up towards Epping Station in the golden afternoon light I felt my journey had begun. I was glad to be leaving Sydney that day because it was horribly humid. I caught the train to the airport, finally beginning to relax. My brother in law dropped B (my wife) and our luggage off at the airport: she had taken the day off work.
I had never flown Cathay Pacific before, though I knew it to be a good carrier. I was a little worried about my Asian carrier airsickness jinx returning, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. Row 66 was a bit far back in the aircraft as I know how rough flights over the equator can be.
We ate dinner at the airport. Nothing too greasy for me, just in case I got airsick. After we passed through security I looked around for a working free internet terminal, discovered that they were running Linux, from a non-functional system, and only just discovered a working system before we were called to the gate. The flight was scheduled to depart at 10:20pm and it left on time.
My previous standard of quality was Qantas (yes, I have flown with SQ
before) as I have rarely had a bad flight with them and found time just flies faster on a Qantas flight! However, I thought that the CX
's attendants were excellent, always trying to go that extra step and much faster to respond to requests. I also enjoyed the inflight entertainment system. It wasn't AVOD, but the comedy selection was great. I saw South Park (lets go ninjas!), Little Britain, Office Space and Night at the Museum.
You know you are in Asia when the immigration officer is using a Hello Kitty pen to annotate your passport. The flight arrived in Hong Kong 45 minutes early, which was quite inconvenient as very little was open and not even the MTR (subway) was running yet. With the assistance of a returning local we found a double decker bus that would take us to our hotel. I had to use MTR station names to locate our stop. Thankfully, the Dorsett Seaview Hotel allowed us to check in early because I was exhausted.
We stayed in Hong Kong for a couple of nights, then caught the train to Beijing, staying in a two person deluxe cabin. It may take longer (24 hours) and be more expensive than a flight, but the train saved us one night's hotel accommodation , was comfortable, and gave us a great overview of the Chinese countryside.
In Beijing we visited the Summer Palace, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Museum of Natural History (human anatomy!) and, best of all, walked the 10km between Jinshanling and Simitai on the Great Wall.
My original intention was to travel by train across China and make up the journey as we went along (I usually plan everything out first). However, the very helpful Zouyan at the CITS City Branch in Beijing put together a full itinerary for us involving flights on 5 different airlines. We didn't specify this, it's just how it worked out! Our first intra-China flight was...
PEK - XIY: Hainan Airlines HU7237, A319
Beijing's Capital Airport is an expensive taxi ride out of the city. It should be good once the light rail is finished. The airport looked quite good. We had difficulty finding a decent meal on the top level. The bottom level has a food court with much better options, but be aware that they operate on a token system. Better still is to go airside.
Our Hainan Airlines flight was operated by a Chang'an Airlines A319. It was a clean aircraft, fairly comfortable and the announcements were in Chinese and sometimes unintelligible English. We even got a box of noodles or rice, a bun and pickles on the plane, though I found my inedible. I couldn't believe they continued to serve during turbulence, although considering the whole flight was rough I guess they had no choice. I couldn't wait to land. There was nothing much to see out the window. The occasional glow of a city under the thick smog and cloud layer.
At Xian we ignored the taxi touts and hoped on a minibus. The "conductor" did her best to explain in English that our stop was a distance away from our hotel. Once off the bus we made our first big taxi mistake, with a tout grabbing our bags and hustling on board, then refusing to use the meter. At the hotel RMB13 turned into RMB30 and he took our RMB20 note and drove off. Grrr!
In Xian we saw the Big Goose Pagoda, Banpo Village and Terracotta Warriors.
XIY - CTU: China Eastern MU2341, A320
I woke before 5am in order to get ready for our trip to the airport. Both of us felt nervous as our taxi drove us along darkened back roads on the industrial outskirts of Xian. We could have been dumped there and nobody would see it happen.
But we survived unscathed and reached Xian's domestic terminal unscathed. The airport is quite functional, if unexciting. The toilets, however, stunk of excrement and urine, despite appearing clean. I think that they were of the type where toilet paper is placed in a bin adjacent to the toilet rather than down the drain.
This time we were flying a China Eastern Airlines Airbus A320. The plane could do with a good wash, but what can you expect from flying above the land of the long grey smog cloud? As we ascended above the cloud layer snow capped mountains poked their summits into the heavens.
It was another rough flight. I wish I was like B and could sleep through the bumpiness. Little LCD
screens popped down above the seats to show some promotional piece, sometimes in colour, but mostly in black and white, about Xian, though we were flying in the opposite direction. The hot Chinese meat bun was much appreciated though.
Chengdu airport looks very impressive, their speed at getting the baggage on the belt even more so.
From Chengdu we visited the Big Buddha in Leshan, the Panda Breeding Centre and the Wenshu Temple.
CTU - YIH: Sichuan Airlines 3U8711, ERJ-145
For RMB10 each we caught a bus from next to the hotel to Chengdu airport. I was amusing to watch the taxi touts chase us as the bellboy wheeled our luggage out the bus. The looks on their faces as we caught the bus said it all.
Chengdu airport is pretty nice. We bought a few lo quats from the fruit stall prior to security. The helpful staff even let us try the fruit first. Sweet, a little like an apricot.
We were bused to the Sichuan Airlines ERJ-145 sitting far out on the tarmac. I've never caught an Embraer jet before. It was small, three abreast and the service was basic, with water, peanuts (The Lingdom of Foods) and sour dates. But the flight was pretty smooth and there were good views of Chengdu as we took off.
Yichang airport shut down straight after we exited the airport. Ignoring the taxi touts we caught a minibus to the city for RMB20 each. The driver said he could take us to our hotel, the Xixzhou. After a long and bumpy ride past industrial wastelands and into a city preparing for sleep we were told by another passenger, a young lady, that we should get off and catch a taxi for a short ride to the hotel.
The taxis were trailing right behind us, so it was easy to catch one, the cost was, just as the lady said, RMB5. The hotel staff don't seem to speak English, but we were met in the lobby by "Shirley", our very chirpy young CITS tour guide for tomorrow. I had my doubts about employing a tour guide but we wouldn't have been able to manage the hydrofoil trip up the Yangtze without her assistance and it was really interesting talking to her about life for a younger person in China. The freedom with which we can visit other countries is restricted both by regulations and comparative wages for many Chinese.
From Yichang we planned to catch a train to Nanjing, then that evening catch another train to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), spend a night up the mountain, then catch a train to Shanghai. The Yichang - Nanjing train was nothing like the HK
- Beijing luxury train. The soft sleeper berth slept four and though the old couple were nice, the lady coughed and requested the door be opened frequently, letting the stink of urine and cigarettes in. The train was overcrowded and it was difficult to sleep, especially as I had to keep an eye on our belongings when the door was open.
Even before night set in we decided that we had had enough of China. Something just snapped and I used my mobile on the train to call Zouyan at CITS and change our itinerary. I had at least 2.5G
GSM reception for most of our trip and Telstra roaming worked really well and was not too expensive.
At Nanjing we changed trains to Shanghai, giving up the Huangshan for some time in a modern city.
PDG - KWL: Shanghai Airlines, 737
Our hotel in Shanghai had a Shanghai Airlines office, which made booking our flight to Guilin easy. I picked the only flight to Guilin that departed from Shanghai Pudong Airport. Why? I wanted to catch the maglev of course! It might be a bit of pain to navigate through the metro to get to the maglev station but at 431km/h with barely a feeling of acceleration it was worth it for the experience!
I think that we caught a 737-600. To be truthful the flights we starting to feel like bus rides, but this was probably the best of them. For the first time we could see ground beneath the smog! From time to time another aircraft would shoot past in the opposite direction below us.
Shanghai Airlines seemed okay, though sometimes their English announcements were garbled and the coconut cream roll as a bit stale. The KitKat was good, though. I had forgotten how good chocolate tastes.
The descent into Guilin was magical with fantastic views of the famous limestone karsts. It's a pity that I was a good boy and stowed my camera for the descent.
We caught the bus from Guilin Airport to the city centre and then a taxi to our hotel from the drop off point. Taxis were another sore point in Guilin. B comes from Malaysia and is used to haggling, but we were sick of how difficult is was to do anything by this time.
From Guilin we took a Li River cruise down to Yangshuo and returned by noisy bumpy bus.
KWI - SZX: China Southern CZ3239, 737
We were ready to leave China by now. It had been a tiring trip and the various frustrations were starting to pile up. The China Southern flight on a 737 was the least comfortable seat pitch wise but at least it was only 50 minutes long. We were only given a bottle of water and a face wipe. Unfortunately the sky was overcast so we missed out on the spectacular views of the karst on the flight in.
Originally we were going to do some shopping in Shenzhen but given the option of a coach and jetcat ferry ride back to Hong Kong we took the easy option. The fast catamaran was great and we were relieved to be back in "civilisation".
From Hong Kong our next destination was Tokyo Japan.
HKG - NRT: Cathay Pacific CX520, A330
We caught the Airport Express train to the airport, a more comfortable ride then the bus. Another CX
A330, but this was in a regional configuration I think with a different entertainment system. The entertainment system wasn't working properly on this flight and was rebooted a number of times. This seems to be a common problems across airlines.
Our flight path took us near a number of storm clouds and things got bumpy as we skimmed along the high altitude cloud tops. It was very nice to be flying in air that wasn't full of smog, in contrast to China.
Narita Airport is very familiar to us now, as is the Narita Express to Shinjuku. It was so nice to be in Japan, a familiar country that works well and where people don't usually spit everywhere. While in Japan we saw Kamakura, Kawagoe and the Hakone area, as well as shopped, shopped, shopped (N-gauge model railways!).
NRT - HKG: Cathay Pacific CX505, 747-400
The lone 747 in our trip took us back from Tokyo to Hong Kong. I was sad to leave, but exhausted, and I can't remember that much of the flight. I did enjoy seeing Hong Kong from the air at night.
HKG - SYD: Cathay Pacific CX101, A330
Hong Kong was only a transit stop this time. The liquid restriction rules had only been brought in while we were travelling so we had to go through another round of security and the duty free alcohol shops were closed airside in Hong Kong, not that we cared. We didn't have much luck using up the last of our Hong Kong dollars in the shops as there wasn't that much we wanted to buy.
The flights back to Sydney were pretty fun, with only a few rough periods. For the first time on any of our CX
flight the food was delicious and I had not seen the Little Britain Abroad episode on the IFE. The Cathay crew were very helpful, the air fresh enough for me. If only we had those lie flat first class bed maybe I could have had a good sleep on the plane.
Instead I saw the stars for the first time in a month, watched a meteor burn up in the atmosphere. Below the bright lamps of the shrimp and squid fleets were brighter than any stellar reflections. I knew when we were passing Taipei because the cloud cover below suddenly took on a glowing red tinge, like a hidden hell. Lightning flashed in the clouds over Indonesia, natures fireworks.
As we crossed into Australia I watched the sunrise beneath the clouds, turning the cloudscape into a desert scene. Then I felt the plane shake as we passed into the clouds themselves.
My bag didn't turn up at the airport and it wasn't delivered to our home until almost 11pm the next night. At least I got it - I pity anyone who looked inside, due to my collection of dirty laundry!
That wraps up my China trip report. I apologise for the lack of flight details, but I'm afraid it was difficult to be such an aviation nut when you are so exhausted due to early starts or busy days. If you want to know more then do check out my blog
and photo gallery
which contains over 4000 photos from around China, Hong Kong and Japan (and Australia!).
You may also like to read my other trip reports:
SYD-ICN-AMS: Asiana, KLM Y Class In 2004 (pics)
Just A Day Trip: QF: SYD - CBR