In search of Cathay, part II

Hopefully you would have read all about the start of our Silk Road journey a week back. If not, here’s a playback (click link). You know the thing that is happening now in some very very large country. Hint: we’re talking about trade here. There is said to be a wave of rising protectionist policies being considered.

And by no means this modern empire (you know who you are!) is the only one that practices such shifts in policy. The ancient silk road was not just left to its own devices but rather constantly fought over and ‘managed’ by differing powers as strengths ebbed and flowed over the centuries. This is a paradise not just for budding archaelogists but historians too, as new finds are unearthed ever so often of past civilizations smothered by the sands of time.

You might also be interested to know that here we come to the limits of one of the longest fortifications in the world. Yep you’ve got it, the Great Wall.

So one can expect fortresses and desertscapes in the background as mounted warriors lead the charge against their opponents. Horses ramming into each other, men falling over the clash of metal sounding and a sand storm kicked up in all of that conflict. Only to be buried into the ground and preserved perhaps for posterity in this dry and arid land.

And for us to check them out.

Curious to know more? Part II of our journey to Cathay can be read here. Will this inspire you to do the Silk road? We know of some people who blazed it on a jeep!

In search of Cathay, Part I


Does anyone know the origin of this word? And did you know this was what China was referred to by the west Asians and Europeans for millennia until the last few centuries? As far as we had done the research, it might had been something to do with the visitors who journeyed through central Asia on their way back to the west. One of them is supposedly Marco Polo. It is said the word or pronounciation came about from the way the folks in central Asia referred to the land inhabited by the Chinese. We’ll leave you to verify that.

Cathay was home for a full four years when Mel was based there for an assignment. And during those years we made quite some journeys around this continental sized country. As you might have read in our other posts, this could have been our YOLO moment! Being based in Shanghai was indeed a blessing for it was so well connected both by air, rail or road. So begins our series of handprint stories on China.

Where did we start our journeys you ask?

The famed Silk road! This trade route of thousands of years spans from Xi’an (西安) supposedly to Rome. Of course not just Silk travelled along this route, other products and religions too! And you have to know that conditions for tourism in that part of China back in the day was not exactly the most luxurious. So how did we fare and what did we see and do?

Come on and join us as we reminisce this fantastic adventure. Part I begins here.

Flying like taking a bus?

Have you ever been on a flight that seems or is overbooked? What if one were told that the only way to fly was to stand, like in taking a bus? Would you take the flight? If this story is to be believed, there were potentially 7 passengers who stood for 3½hours while they flew to their destination.

Ok ok, today we are not naming or shaming any airline.

The point to get your attention is how we have seemingly made flying a central means of transport when it comes to leisure travel. Statistics are hard to believe on this subject area. They are fraught with assumptions, presumptions and guess work all thrown into a melange. So let’s just use them as a guide and apply some common sense.

If one is to believe this article, half the world flew in 2015.

Actually if you think about it, and the article does point that out – is that you would count more than once if you had a connecting flight. And we’d add that if you are a frequent flyer, you’d add to the ‘number of people who flew’ statistic too. Many times! You might recall that we had written too about the number of people traveling (here and here).

So, a little correction is due. It is NOT the equivalent of the world’s population that will be flying by 2035. Rather, there will be 7 billion flights taken by that time. Just like there are many millions of commuters on trains and buses in a year, it appears flying will indeed become just like taking the bus.

Ok, time to go take the bus flight.

Hyperlooping around

Does anyone still watch star trek? Why you ask? Because you recall these folks use to ‘beam’ themselves to and from the starship all the time in their adventures across the distant galaxies.

We might not get there yet, but close. New technologies such as hyperlooping is being developed. And if this article is to be believed, one would be able to make the journey from London to Edinburgh in 45 minutes! Wow, that’s almost like Scottie beaming you up!

How does this technology work and is it safe?

g-force-faceWell according to what we can find out from the web (assuming it is not fake news), folks sitting in a pod placed into a near vacuum tube will be propelled at more than supersonic speeds. Now you might have all seen movies where people being hurled at high G-forces look like…

Will this be how you would feel and look like as you hurtle through the tube? LOL. Heheh, well we don’t look like that when we fly in a plane right? So, nah don’t expect to be like that in a hyperloop too…hmm…

Of course this technology is still in developmental stages. It will take some time to build the vacuum tubes over the vast differences distances. Just like the laying of pipelines. And then there will be the testing for safety etc. All-in, it might be a few more years before we can smell the exhaust of the pods.

Here’s to new technology. Will you take a ride on a hyperloop when it becomes operational?

Getting from Narita to Tokyo

What are your options if you are at Narita airport and want to get to Tokyo in a jiffy?

Yes Haneda is an alternate gateway too. But say you are using the larger gateway (which most intercontinental flights seem to be on) with a longer layover and wish to see a little of Tokyo. Can you? In Singapore, the airport conducts short city tours that you register for. Those run for 2-hours, Read here for more.

In Narita however, such options do not exist. Well, not exactly. In 2015, Narita launched a layover program. These cover only the area around Narita itself and not Tokyo. Thus the following is for folks who have a stopover rather than a layover.

We have seen from our trip advisor posts that many questions surround how to easily get to the city from the airport.

For us, thes are the options to get to Tokyo :

  1. Limousine bus. This costs ¥3,100pp for a one-way trip (same cost back and good as at time of this posr). The main drawback is that the service is usually for folks reaching out to designated hotels. However there are services with the major train stations as alighting points.We normally try to book hotels that are served by this network or are in close proximity.
  2. Narita Express train. This takes you direct from the terminal to Tokyo main station. It also continues on to Shinjuku station. Take note of the service that brings you to Yokohama. Best of all, it takes just 50 minutes and is not pricier at ¥6,040pp for the roundtrip to Tokyo, it is a good option if your hotel is in the vicinity of these stations. Mel took this in March 2016 on a business trip.
  3. JR connect to Metro/Subway. Not highly really recommended unless you are traveling light and know the connections. This guy‘s got a good guide to taking cheap train to your destination. If you have large suitcases, then it may be a chore to haul them up some of the older stations that do not have lifts or even escalators at the exits.

narita-to-tokyo-centralDefinitely will not recommend the normal bus service (take too long) nor the taxi (too costly). However if these are options, then consider the Access Narita bus or Tokyo access bus. These are all in English now, so making an informed choice is no longer a serious challenge.

In case you were wondering why the taxi from the airport to the city is soooo expensive, its good to look at the geography. Narita is almost 70km away! Do you get much cheaper fares for such a taxi distance?

Enjoy Tokyo, Suan’s favorite city! We’ll be there soon!