Exploring Morocco

Agadir Days 1-2

I chose to use Agadir as my arrival and departure base as it was the easiest airport to arrive and depart from Glasgow. Agadir itself was flattened by an earthquake in 1960 and subsequently has been built up along the style of the French Riviera with a long sweeping promenade, above the beach, and hotel resorts set back from the prom. The resort I stayed in, Les Dunes D’or Resort next to the Rui Hotel Resort, had a lovely pool in the middle. I’d pre booked an all inclusive stay, without realising until I arrived, so I was greeted with an evening meal on my arrival. I’d also pre-booked a transfer from the airport to the resort which was both easy and convenient. I really appreciated the communication that both transfers and hotels use through WhatsApp. It made communication with drivers and hosts really easy. The only blip on my arrival was my driver not knowing where the resort was so I used the map app on my phone to direct him!

After dinner I took a long walk along the promenade, on my first evening, and again the following day. I found a charming Italian restaurant to sit outside and enjoy a coffee and shelter under an umbrella from the sun. Ironic given the weather in Scotland at the time!

From here I walked into old Agadir, not much left after the earthquake. I found an ATM to get some cash, Morocco is very much a cash-based economy. Next to this was a restaurant where I sat and watched the world go by and had a tasty lunch and I was extremely well looked after by my host Said.

My second day in Agadir was focused on getting to Marrakech. I’d booked a coach using CTM, via the website. At a return price of £16 this was so easy and convenient. The coach was comfortable and had air conditioning. A 3-hour road trip with no stops (we did stop on the return journey). Arriving in Marrakech into the hustle and bustle of the city, I decided to stay in the Riad the first night. Enjoying the ambiance of the Riad which was located in the middle of the old city a 10-minute walk from the main square and souks. But what a walk through twisting and turning alleyways. I was grateful for the map and “induction” my host, Abdu, had given me on my arrival at Riad Djebel.

Marrakech Days 3-4

My days started with a simple breakfast, taken on the roof terrace, with a fruit salad, toasts, jam, pancake, syrup, coffee and fresh orange juice. I was surrounded by small birds and their birdsongs along with a cockerel crowing. From the Riad I walked down to Jemaa-el-Fna Square and had coffee at Cafe Argana, I sat watching the world go by. From there I walked through the Souks on to the (Cyber) Parc Arset Moulay Abdessalam, followed by a visit to the Musee Des Confluences. Walking back to find somewhere to eat lunch I was propositioned by a barber called Youness and had a haircut, beard trim and shave. I then found my way into the Moorish Kitchen & Cafe where I had a simple lunch of falafel and harissa sauce. I got lost getting back to the Riad. But with a good map and a sense of direction I eventually found my way. Getting lost in the souks in Marrakech is certainly an initiation into the experience of the place.

Atlas Mountains Day 5

My day started with breakfast on the roof terrace with fresh pomegranate, which was absolutely delicious.

My guide and driver for the day, Khalid, met me and we took a long, leisurely drive from Marrakech into the High Atlas Mountains.

First stop was for coffee with a street vendor who Khalid knew well. The coffee was fantastic and served out of the back of a van on the roadside. Khalid knew everyone well and everyone seemed to know him. He was a very happy, cheeky chap. Between my basic level French and his English language skills, with some sprinklings of Arabic, we managed to communicate. We only needed to use the Google translation app once. We bonded over a shared love of rhythms, him playing some excellent Berber and Arabic mixes on his car stereo. And us both tapping along as we drove on into the mountains.

We stopped at a Berber Village in the valley below the mountains. I watched a potter working on his wheel and was encouraged to hold the wet clay. I also got to see inside the kiln and was given a cup as a souvenir.

From here we walked up the hill to the Berber House which is now a museum in the middle of the village. It’s great because it brings tourists into the heart of the Berber community. For an entrance fee of 40 Dirham (£3) I had an hour long tour of the museum, learning all about the traditions and customs, about the weaving of carpets and the mysteries of the women and men in the tradition. Our guide was fluent in French and English and easily swapped between the two languages seamlessly.

From here we drove up into the mountains stopping at a place to see rugs (I skilfully avoided the “hard sell”) and on to a place that sold Argan oil. Again, avoiding any hard sells.

I had lunch sitting next to the river (Berber Tagine) and after lunch I swapped guides and climbed the Jebel Oukaïmeden Mountain (elevation 1551m) to see the waterfall with Abdul my new temporary guide. It was quite slippery in places so I was grateful for good walking shoes.

I had mint tea whilst recovering from the ascent, sitting in the sunshine, and then it was the drive back towards Marrakech, but one more stop at Anima. A fascinating sculpture garden just outside Marrakech. I arrived in complete tranquility. Even the arrival of a group of school children didn’t seem to disturb the experience. With sculpture and artwork by artists including David Hockney and Pablo Picasso it really was quite an unexpected treat.

My final stop of the day was to Carrefour to pick up some food. I was completely overwhelmed as it was just like the hypermarkets you see in France. When I found the fresh fruit and vegetables I didn’t know where to start. Suffice to say a simple selection of bread, olives, tomatoes and avocado met all my requirements.

Temsia Day 6

I stayed my final night at the Villa du Souss Eco Lodge at Temsia. Located about 5K, 10-minute drive, from the airport. My host, Mekki, was so friendly and let me have the run of the entire place with copious food and drink available. I do enjoy a fresh mint tea! I made a new friend, Nina the kitten, who they adopted a few days before after finding her in the boot of the car when other guests had been dropped off.

Overall a fantastic trip to Morocco, my second visit here after a trip many years before in the late 90’s when I’d stayed in Tangier with excursions to Fez, Marrakech and the High Atlas. I really appreciated the warm climate after such cold weather in Scotland in December. After a week of being “locked in” due to the snow and ice. A week of 20-30°C and warm winter sun was so very welcome.

Useful Websites

CTM internal travel website https://ctm.ma/

easyJet flights for Agadir https://www.easyjet.com/en

Les Dunes D’or Resort, Agadir https://atlashotelscollection.com/fr/maroc/hotel/les-dunes-dor-agadir 

Riad Djebel, Marrakech https://riad-djebel.marrakeshotels.com/#photo

Taxi2Airport airport transfers https://www.taxi2airport.com/en/

Villa du Souss Eco Lodge, Temsia https://villadusouss.com

I really recommend the Rough Guide to Morocco when travelling independently https://www.roughguides.com

Please note. Prices accurate at time of travel, December 2022.

China Adventures

I’m sitting on a flight from Chengdu to Ningbo in China midway through my first trip here this year. What an amazing experience it has been so far! I’ve spent time getting up close and personal with the Giant Pandas at the Research Base outside Chengdu in Sichuan Province. I’ve visited Daocheng-Yading on the border territory between China and Tibet. Whilst in Daocheng-Yading I visited the Yading Nature Reserve and saw the Holy Mountain of the Tibetans, as well as climbing to an altitude of 4400m (14,400ft). I had high altitude sickness, which comprised insomnia for 5 days and a headache for the first couple of days. I was humbled to be taken to visit several Buddhist Temple’s but the one at Garze-Daocheng in the photos was the most beautiful and awe inspiring place I have ever seen. I stood eating the spicy street food, which was delicious, and had my arms and legs stroked by local Tibetan guys who’d never seen a “foreigner” like me before! I have drunken Chinese tea at tea houses including at the People’s Park in Chengdu and had my ears cleaned out! I was put “on show” in a hot pot restaurant at the Wide and Narrow Alley’s in Chengdu, for everyone to see, as I sat on my own in a glass dining room eating spicy hot pot much to the locals delight and amusement!


Arriving in China

I spent the first two weeks in China, mainly in Shanghai and Ningbo (on the coast of the East China Sea), and in Kaiping and Shuikou (in the southern region, Guangdong). Whilst staying there Duncan and I were taken out by his company’s suppliers for very lavish, very fine banquets. There was so much food! There is a heavy drinking culture in China, which mainly revolves around wealthy men, with far too much money, lavishing out on banquets. Drinking (mostly very good imported European red wine) and playing drinking games known as “Gānbēi” (translates as dry cup). This mainly involves a toast and finishing whatever is in your glass. This “game” can happen over and over and over. The lavish banquets are often finished with a visit to “KTV” which mostly involves more drinking, more Gānbēi, playing dice games, karaoke singing which is all “hosted” by “girls” who are there for the men’s entertainment. On the times I asked if there were any “boys” available I was met with quiet amusement and politely told “there are no boys available”. The worst part is when the young women are lined up at the front of the room and the men are required to choose one. We did not take part in this part of the evening.

Duncan tended to leave KTV quite early, after enough time to seem polite and not to appear rude to our hosts. I stayed until I’d had enough dice playing and karaoke singing and tended to drink water or tea so if I was invited to Gānbēi I could easily and happily do so.

Adventures in Sichuan Province

My adventures in Sichuan Province started in Chengdu, which is a vast city in the east of the province. I stayed in the Crowne Plaza hotel in the city centre and used this as my base to explore the city. I arrived late in the day so my first venture was to go out and get dinner. I took a plunge and using the amazing language translation app I negotiated a really traditional Sichuan hot pot meal. You get your hot pot which is full of stock, chilli oil, fresh Sichuan peppers, spices and fresh ginger put into the middle of the table on a gas or electric burner. This is then heated to a rolling boil. You go and choose your sticks, each stick has some kind of vegetable, tofu, mushroom (meat if you eat it), plus you choose your own blend of spices as a dip. The meal, which was lavish and delicious, cost the equivalent of about £8 and included bowls of rice and plenty of bottles of water.


On my first full day there I spent hours walking the city streets, trying to find the People’s Park and the Wide and Narrow Alleys. Both, famous places in Chengdu. I hadn’t, at that point, realised that my mobile phone map app worked in the city and I could have used it easily to find both places so I used the map the hotel had given me, asking directions and using sign language! I eventually found my way to the People’s Park and I loved it. I spent a good long hour drinking tea in the tea-house and chatted to a lovely woman called Chenxxa who was also visiting Chengdu and was an English teacher and so she had really good English. After I told her all about my work, which she thanked me for doing, she told me of a young person in her school who had come out as gay when he was aged 14-15 and how he had been bullied. I told her that it probably wasn’t too different in (many) schools in the U.K. We both had our ears cleaned: which is a thing in Chengdu, and my therapist was a very smiley, cheerful chap who was happy to have his photo taken whilst he worked.


After I visited the People’s Park I found the Wide and Narrow Alleys. I found them after sitting in a taxi asking the driver to take me to them and him pointing across the road opposite to where they were! There were so many people in the alleys that I decided to go and sit in a restaurant, and that’s when I got put into the glass room and stared at a lot. This was my second most expensive meal (£21) and I had my own dining room and waitress who cooked my hot pot and served it for me.


Chenxxa had suggested I go and visit the Temple of the Marquis Wu in Chengdu which was also very interesting but full of people, many, many Chinese tourists. I got some good photos and found a Starbucks inside the temple, which was a little weird, but it had air con and coffee so I didn’t complain. The main part of the temple was charged for so this meant there were less people wandering around and I found a few points of calm and quiet. After being in the inner part of the temple I found a tea-house where I got to have tea, I took my current favourite selfie, and had a great, simple bowl of spicy noodles with peanuts for lunch.


The next day was my trip to the Giant Panda Research Base. I was really excited to go and see the panda’s and the research base houses 120 giant pandas. I took a taxi from the hotel to the base; taxis are so cheap in China, an average trip across a city will cost between (equivalent) of £3 (average). The most I have paid was a taxi to and from the airport, which was about £6. On arrival I saw the thousands of people also visiting the base. It didn’t put me off and I found my way to the ticket office and joined the queues to enter the base. It was quite a warm day and so half of the panda’s were inside their air-conditioned houses and the other half were out and about and some of the small red panda’s were up in the trees. I enjoyed seeing them but there were so many people it was difficult to get a respite from the crowds. This was mainly due to the fact that it was the summer holidays so there were a lot of families with children visiting the base.


Adventures in Daocheng-Yading-Garve

The next day I took a flight from Chengdu to Daocheng-Yading. The airport at Daocheng-Yading is the highest in the world at 4400m (14,400ft) and so I was lucky to have prepared some high attitude sickness medication whilst I was still in Chengdu. If I ever did this trip again I would go by land and arrive gradually. It is a grueling 12-hour drive from Chengdu to Daocheng but at least you wouldn’t get sick. The high altitude sickness hit me as a headache for the first couple of days, with a slight nausea for the first 24 hours but I had 5 days of insomnia whilst I was there which for me was the worst part. Luckily I had chatted online to a guy called Leo from Tibet, whilst I was in Chengdu, who knew the area and advised me to get the medication. Making connections with local people really has made this trip for me.

Duncan’s wonderful colleague Jean at “Team China” had helped me to make contact with Mr Liu who ran the hotel I stayed at in Daocheng (cost £35 per night). Mr Liu met me on my first trip and asked me to let him know where I wanted to visit. He arranged for my trip through the Yading Nature Reserve and my trip around Garve-Daocheng. The hotel was in the centre of Daocheng so I could easily walk around the small town. I describe this as the wild-west, as it really is. It is officially in the “Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture” of Sichuan Province, China. In my language it is in Tibet! It certainly looked and felt like Tibet and the people looked like Tibetans, which was quite different from seeing only Chinese faces.


I arrived late into Daocheng so I spent the late afternoon and early evening orientating myself with the small town. I found the main town square, which was very close by to the hotel, and a small shopping centre, which had people dancing in the centre. This seems to be a tradition in most Chinese and Tibetan towns and cities I have visited. Mr Liu also owned a coffee shop directly opposite the hotel managed by a lovely young guy who had quite good English so I was able to make plans with him and Mr Liu for my trips around Daocheng-Yading-Garve.


The next morning I had a very early start. I was met by the cheeky Mr Catch and the lovely Wilu. I would be travelling with them by car and a driver to Yading Nature Reserve. I had no idea what lay ahead of me, but wow just wow. Mr Liu had recommended I get breakfast and take some food for lunch with me but I was confident I wouldn’t need it, how wrong was I! Catch and Wuli had some English, enough between them for us to communicate, and Wilu happily shared some of his food and drink with me (thank you!). We stopped at a small town on route for me to get breakfast (noodles) and then we went on to the nature reserve. I am not sure I can say too much about the experience, I will let the pictures tell the story.


On my last full day in Daocheng-Yading Mr Liu took Luxin, who was volunteering at the coffee shop, and I on a road trip around Garve-Daocheng. I thought the day before had been one of the most epic days of my life thus far. Climbing to 4200m and seeing the Yading Nature Reserve and the Holy Mountain of the Tibetans but oh my days this road trip was also something else. We started the day by going to see the horses and horse riders out on the plain. The visit to the Buddhist Monastery at Garve was just simply amazing: to meet the monks, even getting silly selfies with them; walking around and seeing the amazing art works; to see inside the temples; getting to eat spicy street food and have my arms and legs stroked, all quite something else.


Zhuhai – Hong Kong – Shenzhen

Duncan and I travelled together from Shuikou to Zhuhai. We stayed in the Crowne Plaza and had a beautiful room overlooking the city at the top of the hotel. I loved Zhuhai and we enjoyed the first few days there together. One of the best aspects of the hotel was the roof top outdoor pool which I absolutely loved and spent as much time in as possible. It gave respite from the heat! Duncan and I travelled to Hong Kong by ferry from Zhuhai. The ferry trip took about an hour and you basically exit the ferry in to a shopping plaza (they have air con and give much needed respite from heat and humidity). Hong Kong was good to visit but in summary I would say it is a condensed version of Fifth Avenue in New York City or Bond Street in London. Think “shopping” and money and you have it in one. Every where you looked there was Gucci, Tiffany, Cartier, Armani, the list goes on… My take on Hong Kong is if you have to ask how much it is you can’t afford it. It is clearly a tax haven for the very rich. When Duncan spotted a watch the same value as our house, well you get the picture. We did get to walk around Kowloon Park and spend time watching pink flamingos and an amazing array of parrots, which I absolutely loved because I can speak “parrot”.


On my last night in Zhuhai, after Duncan returned to Shuikou, I was taken out by a guy called Hanson for a meal; he was originally from Harbin in the far north east of China, Hanson wanted to let me experience food from his hometown, so we went for a lovely dinner together, it was delicious!


From Zhuhai I took a ferry to Shenzen. I went for luxury again and had a good hotel and easy transport by taxi from the ferry to the hotel. The hotel was right in the city centre and so I could easily walk everywhere I wanted to get to. My first venture out of the hotel I got some street food noodles for pence and walked around to aclimitise and orientate myself. I found an amazing multi-storey shopping mall which even had a pizza restaurant and air con so I could get respite from the heat. The weather in Shenzen turned to rain so I decided to do some indoor things like getting my hair cut and beard trimmed, going for a Chinese massage and generally hanging out in coffee shops. There are many Starbucks places in the cities in China and some Pacific Coffee which I preferred so I tended to gravitate to them. I even found a Costa Coffee in Chengdu.


I spent the my last day in Shenzen with Stella from “Team China” and we visited a tower which was the tallest building in China but has since been overtaken by a few other taller buildings. I took the train and the metro to Guangzhou airport and met Duncan. We made our way back to Ningbo together for a final night in the apartment together before my return in December.


For anyone travelling in China here are my top tips…

Top Tips for Travelling in China

  1. Use a translation app if your language skills are limited. I used the Google translate app and found it invaluable in all sorts of situations: Especially in restaurants and taxis. Young people that work in restaurants, often have the equivalent app on their phone and so you can have a conversation.
  2. You can use your bankcard to withdraw cash from an ATM. Use Bank of China, which is what I used.
  3. Be prepared to see what looks like a pet fish shop be a restaurant menu. The fish will certainly be fresh!
  4. People are friendly and helpful the world over. I travelled on my own in both Guangdong and Sichuan Provinces and met some lovely people. Many who wanted to practice their English.
  5. If you visit a high altitude place like Daocheng-Yading-Garve, as I did, you should take altitude sickness medicine as the airport is at an elevation of about 4400m (14,400ft). Or travel overland which is probably more sensible!