Kunming, Guilin, Yangzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Yichang, Chongqing, Chengdu, Xian, Beijing
23.04.2012 - 21.05.2012 20 °C
Day 200 of my travels!! It’s time to leave China, well actually not quite, Tibet next!
So what of China...along our travels we’d been warned that the Chinese are pretty disgusting and the food wasn’t that great, so we lowered our expectations. We arrived from Vietnam to Kumning, in south west China. Through the lack of English it took us 2hrs to get to our hostel. Previously on our travels we’d always seemed to find English speakers, or our hand gestures seemed to work, here was different. My impression of Chinese people (and obviously this is from my limited interactions at school and life to date) were that they were relatively quiet, peaceful, polite people, with a “good zen,” but secretly you knew they could take you down in a matter of minutes with their kung fu skills! HOWEVER...these people are soooo loud (sighing heavily when stretching, chatting intensely with each other everywhere – which often sounds like a full on argument but that’s just them having a catch up), they burp and fart in public (with those around not batting an eyelid), they have this unforgivable retching from the very back of their throat, all the way to their mouth (actually sound like they’re going to throw up their insides!) before scrapping it off their tongue with their teeth and spitting it on the floor (or into a bag when inside – there will be no more sleeping on train floors, or any floors for that matter, as i resorted to in indo!) Also I don’t know whether it’s because they have been brought up in this hectic load crazy environment, but they don’t seem to get annoyed at anything...people barge and push past you as if there is someone handing out money on the other side of the entrance gate or there’s a bomb about to go off behind them, when entering and exiting places, and then the KIDS! The kids scream at the top of their voices in a public sleeper train at 10pm and all the adults and parents are smiling and laughing at them, looking at them as though, arrrr aren’t they adorable!!?!? Whereas Lisa and I give a look at each other of “SHUT THE BLOODY HELL UP!! How is that in anyway acceptable behaviour!”...so this brings me to my new outlook...and im not by any way shape or form saying that im about to adopt their lifestyle and habits, however it does make you wonder if us westerners are a little...uptight? I still cant get over the retching phlemming everywhere, however is it us just being a little uptight? Would we be less stressed if we were to take a leaf out of china’s book and let a few burps and farts out when needed to, have a good old stretch and a sigh, so what if someone bumps into you...I have to say i do prefer the western way, nothing like a bit of chivalry, but in a way it suits china and makes it an experience and a way of life that differs to our travels so far...and I have to say China has been up there with my favourite countries...wanna hear why?
So Kumning...really we should have done a trip over to tiger leaping gorge (north west, which takes about 3/4 days and is the deepest gorge in the world), however lack of time and culture shock to china we took a stroll around Green Lake Park where taichi was in full swing and all the tea drinkers catching up nibbling on sunflower seeds, before heading to Bamboo temple. It was a nice half day excursion, nothing special. In the eve we went to see Shangrila-Dynamic Yunnan dance performance, which was great and an intro to the traditional singing and dancing! Next day we went to the western hills taking 2 public buses (so cheap, 1Y per ride – 10 pence) then a 10Y minibus to the top so we could walk through the hills to the cable car, and walked the rest back to the bus. It was a glorious day and nice to have a day of walking. Kumning is nothing special but a big town and a good intro to Chinese culture.
A 25hr hard sleeper train to Guilin. The sleeper trains are awesome! But you have to book tickets at the station so requires a bit more organisation! Guilin is a pretty big town too, but this time upon arrival there were people asking us in English if we needed any help!!?? Well that would be lovely! Guilin is well equipped for tourist and Backstreet YHA was great! Really helpful! Took the 11 Bus to Guilin Square, walked through the pedestrian areas to our hostel where there was a free dumpling making night! There were about 12 of us making pork and herb dumplings and there was enough mixture to feed about a hundred people. Another guy and i powered through the last 30 dumplings until we could no longer move! Sooo tasty though! Next morn we bused up to Chengyang Bridge. Took us longer than we expected leaving at 7.30am and arriving at 2pm due to a number of connections! Bus to longshen, bus to Sanjiang, tuk tuk to bus station, bus to the bridge! Long journey and the costs add up so prob better to just do a tour through the hostel. Once we were there though, there was a pretty interesting bridge. They make these almost building like structures as the bridge where people just hang out over the river. We carried on walking through the villages to Daizhai (main village) which was actually where we hoped to stay the night, but couldn’t find the hostel so went back towards teh bridge to stay at Ma’an village. We thought our next destination (Longji Rice terrace) was near, but chatting to an English and Chinese Australian couple, they informed us of our misunderstanding – turns out there are a lot o Daizhai’s! So had to hire a private vehicle for 400Y to take us 3hr to Back Bone Dragon Terraces, Longji. We could have done a bus back to longshen and then up to Longji, however as we’d thought it was close we had a leisurely breakfast and hence it would have taken us too long. Again, we arrived at 2pm. The journey to the rice terraces was stunning! Ragging river below the road, dense deciduous forest with an array of colours and textures, and then the rice terraces soaring above us. Not sure if it was worth the effort to go to the bridge, although it was nice to walk through the villages, but it was well worth going to the terraces! They were like Sapa in Vietnam, but far bigger and better! We walked up to the Golden Buddha Peak which had stunning views, walking past the place we’d tried to find in the other Daizhai :-p and picked up a family of dogs which accompanied us on our walk. Back to Guilin for a walk around the lakes at night to see it’s beautifully lit pagodas, bridges and taichi groups dotted throughout the park.
Down to Yangzhou the next day. We opted for the shorter trip (90Y), so we got to Yangzhou earlier. This was bamboo rafting down the Li River through the limestone karsts..again like Halong Bay in Vietnam, but higher and more impressive...actually more what i expected from Halong Bay, before an optional village tour to see how 80% of the population live, see how they use the condors for fishing, feed some local water buffalos and to see and find out about the Chinese wedding album!! The Chinese’s biggest cost of getting married are these photo albums they have made, where they get photographed in a number of scenic locations, in a number of dresses, in a variety of poses, all carried out in a short period of time...hence you’ll notice the girl wearing trainers under her wedding dress ha! Have yet to see a book, but would love to!
Yangzhou is touristy (asian), but it was nice to go out in a busy pedestrianised areas with lots of street food, shops and bars. We had a wonder around West Street before heading to The Impressions of the Third Sister, a performance on the water directed by the guy who directed the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. It was quite the experience. We arrived to a traffic jam, the bus pulled over and we were herded at speed to an area where a guy gave us our ticket, before being herded speedily to the gate, where upon we were crammed as close together as possible until the gate was opened and it was a rush to the next gate, to be crushed again before power walking, getting shoves from every direction by old biddies elbowing their way forward. Having made it to our seat the show started at exactly 9.05 as scheduled and it was an impressive opening! The limestone karsts surround Yangzhou and the body of water in front of us was lit up dramatically, and there were great effects with horizontal sheets of material separating little boats moving from side to side, with beams moving above them! It was quite the show! But 20 MINS before the end, you could tell it was drawing to a close, and almost as though predicting people would try and leave, the performers came through the doors to exit the stadium as part of their act, but still people were pushing either side of them trying to exit!?! By the time the lights went out we were the few people in the stand, quite funny, just as fast as they have entered, they have left! Lisa and i headed back to West Street and Amy went back to Guilin as we had a 21 HOUR HARD SEATER TRAIN to Hangzhou the next day. Hard seaters are vertical seats that you wouldn’t want to sit in or an hour, but due to a Chinese holiday (Labour day) all the sleepers were booked :-p
The train ride was interesting...everyone was so loud, chatty, looked as though everyone knew each other. We had a little table and then 3 seats facing each other. It was a LONG journey, but we got chatting to some Chinese students who gave us some good tips and gave us a bit of an insight to Chinese way! Luckily there were a few people who got off in the later part of the evening so were able to spread over a couple of seats, allowing us to kinda sleep. Arrived in Hangzhou – starting to think every town in china is pretty big. The lake was quite far away from our hostel and took us an hour and the taxi cost near to 100Y. It was in a great location and we spent the morning visiting the street food stalls – yummers before walking around West Lake. It’s a fair old distance and unfortunately the weather wasn’t the best, pretty overcast, but nice to get the legs working and it was sooooooooo busy, like walking out of a concert, but for 12km! Really lovely gardens all around the lake and nice to stop off for a coffee and mosey around the temples. We had a great time ordering our dinner from pictures and pointing at other peoples plates not knowing exactly what it was but it looked and tasted great!
Next morning, fast train to Shanghai...300kmph and there in 50mins! Awesome! Really modern nice clean toilets...WESTERN TOILETS! Well actually only one, but still!...im just going to have a moment for toilets, aka WC’s aka squatters:- WARNING THIS MAY BE A BIT GRAPHIC!
- Our first experience was actually a communal squatter. Now for a man using a communal urinal I think that’s ok as you cant just stand and do your thing relatively descreetly...FOR A GIRL! I don’t think this is right, your bum (front and back) are on full show!!! And also, this is probably too much info, but WHAT IF YOUR ON YOUR PERIOD!! So luckily it was pretty quiet so we stood guard and took it in turns!
- Next it was actually an upgrade to the squatter loos we’ve experience throughout this trip, it was a cubical (relief) and it has a flush ha - Rather than a bucket that you fill with water and chuck in to flush.
- We’ve generally found most have a flush and do have cubicals (phew), but there is rarely a western loo, actually they consider them unhygienic, so everyone can squat. Im not the most agile person but i know my mum and dad are certainly wouldn’t deal well in China ha!
So back to Shanghai...weather was still a bit gloomy, and by the time we made it along the bund we could see glimpses of the Pearl. Nice area, quite like South Bank in London. We took the Bund Tunnel – weird and a bit of a waste of money unless you use it to get to the Pearl for a cocktail and back, but as the weather was rubbish we gave the cocktail a miss, so returned for 60Y. Drinks in No. 18 along the bund overlooking the lit city, then over to the French Concession area for dinner. Had a great meal at Baoluo jiulou – amazing dumplings – do love them there’s no doubt!
Next day Lisa and I booked ourselves onto a Three Gorges tour down the Yangtze which was harder than we thought, think most tours go from Chongqing to Yichang rather than the otherway. Managed to book onto a soft sleeper train to Yichang (574Y) – only one left due to the holidays again – def need to be more organised in china, cant just rock up and book tickets on the day as we’ve found everywhere else! We had time to go check out the Shanghai Museum, which was a real insight to how far back Chinese history goes!! Pretty amazing civilisation!
Yichang we were collected by Roy (love their choice of English names), who took us to our bus for our all Asian tour of the Yangtze River (3rd largest river in the world). We’ve found that everyone in china thinks Lisa and i are sisters, if not twins – i guess tall, slim, curly brown haired, white people generally does the trick, and they found us carrying our big bags particularly amusing, whispering and giggling amongst themselves looking in our direction! We boarded our boat and the tour guide gave everyone instructions, via a little mic and portable speaker...all in Chinese, we became lambs for the next couple of days. “Mum and dad” an old Chinese couple took us under their wing, waking us up, directing us to our destinations...our charade skills are quickly improving! We had a night on the boat in a cute little cabin. We woke to green waters, steep rock faces in a wide gorge. Breakfast was very authentic...rice gruel, buns, peanuts and this pickles orange something ha! oh and a boiled egg, they love their eggs. This was consumed in around 15mins (a leisurely breakfast by their standards we still realised), then we were off in a small boat past Goddess Peak along Goddess River. When we first arrived in Yichang it was miserable, couldn’t see more than 100m and i did start to think it all the money spent and time spent organising it was going to be worth it, but as we cruised down this narrow stretch with the rocks either side almost vertical reaching height of 900m+ and the clouds hovering in the mountains with blue sky starting to emerge, it was definitely worth it! At the end of the stretch we were able to get out and stretch our legs, have a few photos...which ended up being a photo shoot with the whole boat, each of them taking it in turns to have a photo with us initially then everyone just bundled in, quite entertaining!
Back to the boat, where we were sung too by both out tour guide and boat driver - very traditional :-) and souvenirs such as dried leaves, these interesting looking orange monkey plastic ornaments on string and books were snapped up! Suckers for a purchase! Lunch wasnt much better than breakfast but at least we had veg. The Chinese also like to offer you food but when its dark brown with a gelatine texture in a oily brown liquid it’s difficult to receive it gratefully! Again lunch was devoured and then it was time to cruise along the gorges until we reached another smaller boat to change onto for our optional Little Three Gorges tour (an extra 200Y). This was a 5hr trip making our way through the tributaries with beautiful green waters, and steeper and steeper sided rock faces as we went further in. There were also coffins in the cliff, which was part of a ritual to the area. We were also informed by our only English speaking friend on the tour that the recently finished dam has displaced over 1 million people and made water levels higher. The tour guides have an amazing ability to talk innocently for 5hrs and obviously not being able to understanding we were intrigued what they were talking about. Our friend informed us they were pointing out shapes, usually of animals in the rocks, which we also experience down in the Li River, Yangzhou. It was gloriously hot, blue skied and a nice breeze on the boat and it was great people watching, this whole tour was a great insight into Chinese ways.
From the smaller boat we went on an even smaller long boat style boat which we were again sung to by the guide and the driver. After this tour we travelled further up the gorge before leaving the boat to walk up a mamouth set of stairs to reach our restaurant for dinner. This was our best meal but for some reason unbeknown to us everyone was desperate to get to the hotel asap, so Lisa and I were scoffing food as we left..I dont know what the rush was. The hotel was just up the road and we didn't have anything on. The hotel was nice, and by the next day we knew what to expect, so we ate quickly got all our belongings together ready to move see ;-) We visited the white emperors palace, quite nice and there are english captions much to Lisa and I;s delight. Another speed lunch then another temple and off to Chongqing for a spicy meal and a good night sleep.
2hr fast train to Chengdu to Dragon Town Backpackers YHA which was an awesome right in the heart of the alleyways, surrounded by cafes and scrummy street food which we optimised! At the hostel we were able to book ourselves onto a Tibet tr. Pretty expensive but we're only hear once, so 7220Y down and several hours due to the train being totally full meaning we had to pay an extra 150Y each for a ticket! Once that was sorted
- Men carry the girls bag and some even have their own man bags
- They enter and exit places at speed!
- They eat quickly and leave as soon as they are done
- They love to sing
- Very chatty and pretty load and LOVE kids, they can do no wrong – not sure if that has anything to do with the one child policy?
- Also they call their cousins their brothers and sisters as they have none.
- Spit and burp everywhere
- Seem to eat anything, dog, cat, snake blood, cocroaches, etc...
- A lot bigger than the rest of asia size wise, taller and most of them fatter
Once that was sorted it was time to explore Chengdu! We went for a walk up and down the alleys sampling the street food before committing to the place opposite our hostel for some spicy cheap food! Then we walked to peoples park, and to see the huge Moa statue, they love that dude They also have a love for flashing, moving, bright lights making it great to walk around cities at night. Next morning was what we’d been waiting for...the Giant Pandas! We went to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre (108Y to go from the hostel, in and back). We arrived early and there weren’t that many people about. We headed to Panda House 2 where we saw a mum and 2 cubs rolling about like drunken big bundles of fluff! They were mesmerising, and we ended up watching them for about 40mins! Going around the rest of the park was great, its really well laid out, there are lots of pandas of all ages and there is a movie which is informative. They have managed to impregnate pandas and ensure the panda survival but they have yet to release any into the wild...
We got dropped at the train station and were bound for Xi’an, arriving at 6am. Stayed at the YHA near the southern entrance to the wall and the drum tower, so again another good location and hostel! We spent the day walking the wall, a 12m high 12km long wall enclosing the city. It is about 12m wide too, and after completing from the north to the south (half of it) we decided that was enough, it was a hot day and there was no shade, but you can cycle around it too, which might be better (40Y entry). We then went to find the Great Mosque and discovered the Muslim Quarter. We’re quickly discovering the food makes or breaks a place ha, and this was the best! Lisa and I tried most of the street venders, either the 1st time, or the 2nd time when we went back for dinner. The Great Mosque was difficult to find, its down an alley full of little stalls, but it is a nice mosque combining Chinese and Islamic architecture, very peaceful (25Y entry). As i said we went back for dinner and then to a street full of bars near the hostel, south of the drum tower for drinks and dice games (every bar has them, Chinese are big games players, suppose its my kinda place – majong, cards, dice, etc). Next day was another thing i’d really been looking forward to...the Terracotta warriors! The tour was a bit of a shambles and took us to jade, terracotta replicators, lacquer cabinet, etc shops and then there were too many guides then not enough guides and so we ended up getting a “professional” guide from the Terracotta Warriors Museum. Firstly i think ive been watching too much tomb raider and i had this vision of them being in this big cave or in a mountain or something, but no its a pretty new complex with a structure over the archaeological site. Then our guide didn’t really answer our questions and i didn’t really feel it was that informative. From my pre-reading the emperor who ordered this to be constructed was a tyrant, enslaving the population, killing millions! But created 2 of chinas greatest attractions – the warriors and the great wall! And there was very little information on him. Bit disappointing and the mausoleum next door was pointless, driving around a mound of earth with trees on. We didn’t get a chance to go to Emperor Jin something Tomb, but that is supposed to be good. We also visited Bambo, which is a village 6000 years old, again just felt a bit mmm well questionable? Anyway, we were dropped at the train station bound for Beijing...our last stop! And also to meet up with Amy, who had now met up with a friend from the US, Jackie.
Arrived in Beijing West train station, took the 623 bus to our hostel, Beijing Downtown Backpackers – again another cracker of a hostel, bit more expensive, 75Y, but included breakfast and in a great location on a buzzing Hutong (alley). We went to the Summer Palace (30Y), which is HUGE! And a nice half day activity, pretty busy though. In the evening we went to a Kung fu show at the Red Theatre. Extremely cheesy, and in English with Chinese subtitles haha! but pretty awesome moves, and these little ninja kids were doing these backflips using their head! We strolled down to the lake near our hostel for drinks – buzzing area too, but pretty pricey so went back to the hostel where we caught up with Amy and Jackie who’d got back from their Time Out magazine event.
Next day we went to Taniman Square – so many CCTV cameras, and security to get in, then the forbidden city (60Y). I have never been surrounded by so many people! Even more so than West Lake, Hangzhou! It was hilarious, at points i was carried by the crowds, especially to look into the palaces and also to get through this corridor next to a palace to touch a box, which they HAD to touch ha! 2.5hrs was enough, it’s an impressive site, huge like everything in China and as Amy think, why i like it so much ;-) but it gets a bit samey by the end. At the north exit you can enter the Jingshan Park which is 10Y and at the top you get a great view of the city! The Police museum is also supposed to be interesting to see propaganda. That evening we went for Peking duck! It is very good, but it’s not shredded like at home. It was sliced, but did come with pancakes, sauce, spring onion and cucumber, tasty goodness!!
Next day we went to the Temple of Heaven (15Y). One of the best parks. I love the way the Chinese use their public spaces, everyone congregates dancing, singing, stretching, working out! Most 80years olds put us to shame holding their leg high above their head stretching, and lifting and swinging themselves on the bars! Pretty impressive! Next door is the Pearl market which has everything! Electronics, clothes, bags, pearls, all fake, well apart from the pearls and silk i hope! We had some fun bartering, spent a fortune but concluded you have to walk away at least 2 or 3 times, and if you really were walking away then you would find out the real price..par example, a fake apple ipad started at 2500, by the time i walked away they called out to me 400Y!! After a show and tell session over lunch i really wanted to see the Olympic park so headed on the train to the Olympic Forest Park Station. Did an electric buggy around the forest for my landscape interest, again really well used! Was interesting comparing it to the remnants of the Olympics in Australia’s Homebush Park. This took a little longer than i hoped as i had to be back at 6.20 for an acrobatics show. I started walking through the park towards the birds nest, great structure! And nicely landscaped around, and being based in walking distance from the city (rather than a long train ride or drive, as in Australia) it felt better connected and accessible! I made the decision i could walk back, didn’t look that far...however everything on a map in Beijing doesn’t look that far, but it really is! So at 5.50pm i realised i wasn’t going to make it so i hailed a cab...they wouldn’t take me, hailed another...same! panic started to set in, eeekkl! Not gunna make it! I started running in the hostel direction, but i was still a way off. I saw a police car, rocked up hot and flustered, and asked them for directions, told a white lie that i was late for a bus to take me to the airport, and they told me to get in the car WOOP! Whizzed towards my hostel, dropped off at the top of the street, wiggled my way down the street full of ambling pedestrians and burst through the hostel doors panting and sweating at 6.33pm! It’d missed the bus!... Luckily for me they offered me a ride on the back of one of the guys electric scooters (so nice all the scooters are so quiet, although you have to be careful they come out of nowhere!). So i weaved through the traffic and made it in time for the show!! And thank goodness i did! It was incredible! These skeleton warriors doing flips and summersaults through rings the height of 2 small men, these double jointed flexi freaks, guys on bars, 12 girls on one bike, etc... very impressive! Def worth a look! (170Y tickets).
Next day, the ultimate highlight of the trip! The Great Wall! We were so lucky with the weather, and walking a section of the wall that was about 6km from Tin shan Ling to Simatai, with part restored and part original areas meant at times we had the wall to ourselves! 3hrs to get there, 3.5hrs walk and then 3hrs back! Its an incredible feat of human achievement, with it wiggling along the ridge of the mountains, built as a defence line to Mongolia and as a way to transport goods. There was a strong wind up there but it was a great walk and stunning views! We even did a pyramid on the wall hehe! Couldn’t resist! Looks amazing! Great Wall, Great day!
We have now left Amy (after 4 months of travelling together) she is bound for home (USA) and Lisa and I are continuing onto Tibet, where i am now in our cabin on this 48hr train ride, looking at stunning snow capped mountains, yellow arid grass lands with wild horse and i think black yacks? and shadows cast across the landscape as the sun goes down contrasting the blue blue skies! Only another day to go...