A Travellerspoint blog

Damp in Yangshuo


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We left Guilin train station on a coach showing back-to-back episodes of Chinese 'Take Me Out'. I'm happy to report all the usual characters were there (kooky girls, twins, fat guys with cool glasses) and Chinese Paddy McGuinness looks like Yul Brynner in The King and I.

Yangshuo is a town nestled in the stunning karst limestone landscape (yep, more A-level geography) of South East China.
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It's a great place for courses and activities and on our first afternoon we had a cooking lesson, which started with a trip to the local market; a few of the girls were a little perturbed to discover the cage of cats was not a pet shop (look away now if prone to squealing at cute things)
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We made braised aubergine, gong bao chicken and pork dumplings, then ate the lot and rolled back to the hotel.
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On our full day in Yangshuo it was raining (the effects of Typhoon Usagi perhaps) but we persisted with a bicycle tour of the local area, which included a bamboo raft trip down the river, climbing a local hill and a tasty country lunch.
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It also involved the single most surreal experience of my China trip so far. The Water Cave contains a natural mud bath and hot spring that one reaches by walking through 10 minutes of garishly lit stalactites via a Buddhist shrine (which had a resident giant tortoise) in your bikini, whilst being watched by fully clothed Chinese tourists. Bizarre. Luckily the baths were worth it. Sadly you couldn't take your camera in so I have no photos of the creatively named rock formations ('fantastic food' and 'elephant or horse rock' were highlights) but I did buy one of the souvenir photos they took in the mud bath for posterity.
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We returned to Guilin to meet the sleeper train to the border at Shenzhen and there left China for the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. This country is enormous and bonkers and I've had an incredible time. It's no wonder they are conquering the world, these are some of the most resourceful people I have ever encountered and I, for one, welcome our new Eastern overlords.

Posted by arianemeena 07:16 Archived in China Comments (1)

Mahjong on the Yangtze

Chongqing to Yichang


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After a morning in a pay-by-the-hour hotel (for post-train showering you understand, though one doubts the motives of the other customers) we left Chongqing by bus for Wanzhou, where our river boat awaited us. I think we had all pictured something rickety and wooden, perhaps with dorms, but what met us was a 160-passenger cruise ship with en suite cabins. After a late night departure we woke (after ignoring the 630am broadcast in aggressive Mandarin) to the first and shortest gorge, Qutang, outside our window.
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After lunch a few of us joined an excursion to the Little Three Gorges of the Daning river. Since the rise in water level due to the downstream dam, many consider these smaller gorges to be the more beautiful and they certainly provided some impressive views, particularly when we swapped our river boat for small traditional fishing vessels.
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As the sun set we cruised through the second gorge, Wu, with its twelve peaks, each with some fanciful name such as 'Goddess' and 'Peak of the Immortals'.
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Whilst the Chinese did karaoke very badly we learnt Mahjong, ably 'assisted' by some passengers who found our lack of speed and general ineptitude hilarious.
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The third gorge, Xiling, drifted past late at night but this was almost more impressive as the black peaks loomed in to view through the mist. Our disembarkation was early and on the way to the next town we stopped off at a viewpoint for the Three Gorges Dam, beloved of A-level geography students everywhere. Sadly the fog somewhat detracted from its impact but it was mandatory I had a cheesy picture in front of it (this one's for you, Viv)
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After indulging my inner geography geek it was time to have a train geek moment as to get to our sleeper we needed to take a bullet train from Yichang to WuChan.
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Posted by arianemeena 03:13 Archived in China Comments (1)

Pottery People

Xi'an


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We came to Xi'an for the Terracotta Army but had a day to kill beforehand so spent some time strolling around the Muslim Quarter and seeing the Drum and Bell Towers, the latter of which is now marooned on a traffic island.
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We had a guide for our half day at the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, as it is more formally known, which was invaluable as there is little in the way of English explanation. Pit 1, which was discovered first, is truly astonishing with its rows and rows of Terracotta soldiers, each of which is unique. What's even more incredible is the restoration work that has gone in to making the warriors whole, as earthquakes and subsequent emperors have ravaged the tomb.
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In the evening we tried Xi'an's version of hotpot and celebrated one of the girl's birthdays with karaoke. On our last day here some of us visited the Shaanxi History Museum and then saw the Big Goose Pagoda, the finest example of a Tang Dynasty pagoda in China, or so I'm told.
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The local method of transport is the motorised tuk tuk, which provided many near-death experiences and another group with a (minor) crash and irate driver.
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Then it was time for the next sleeper train, this time to Chongqing where we will meet our bus to the Three Gorges Dam and start our trip along the mighty Yangtze River.

Posted by arianemeena 21:07 Archived in China Comments (0)

Shanghai Nights

Shanghai


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We arrived in Shanghai, China's biggest and most modern city, at 10am and it was already overpoweringly sweaty. The hotel was the equivalent of a Chinese Travelodge- clean, free wifi, close to the centre. After a delicious 60p bowl of dumpling soup we planned to explore the Bund (riverside) but the weather had other ideas and treated us to a downpour so torrential the hotel brought out the sandbags. It had cleared enough for a nighttime boat trip to see the futuristic neon skyline, complete with dramatic lightening.
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Saturday was a day for shopping and we saw a traditional tea ceremony with samples included; the jasmine may be the most flamboyant but the tastiest was the black tea with lychee.
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In the evening it was time to experience a Shanghai night on the tiles and we made full use of our unlimited drinks wristbands at the SoHo Club.
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A little worse for wear, some of us took a stroll around the French Concession the next morning, a tranquil area away from the main hustle and bustle, stuffed with cute boutiques and coffee shops.

Time to move on, this time an 18 hour sleeper train to Xi'an to see the famed Terracotta Army.

Posted by arianemeena 04:47 Archived in China Comments (0)

9 Million Bicycles

Beijing


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I spent Monday afternoon cycling round the hutong (medieval alleys) north of the Forbidden City, which much more closely resembled the Beijing
I had been expecting; dusty narrow lanes crammed with food stalls, bikes and dogs.
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I returned to my new hotel to meet my fellow tourists. The new group is a little demographically different to the previous- 13 girls, 2 boys (who can't quite believe their luck), a mix of Brits, Norwegians and Germans.
On Tuesday we had a trip to the Great Wall included- this time I embraced tourism and opted for the chairlift up and toboggan run down, once up those steps was enough.
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Whilst the rest of the group did Tiananmen and the Forbidden City on Wednesday, I got up early to visit Chairman Mao. His mausoleum makes Lenin's look like a cardboard coffin from the Co-op. I was the only Westerner in my section of queue and this certainly isn't a tourist trap; the sense of reverence was even greater here than Moscow and many of the visitors bought yellow chrysanthemums to leave in the entrance hall. Mao is also in better shape than Lenin, which may be related to the smell of nail polish that saturates his chamber.

I enjoyed the freedom of a day to myself and fitted in the Olympic Park, Lama Buddhist temple, Confucius temple and Jingshan Park with its extraordinary views over the Forbidden City (only slightly marred by the ever present smog).
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A trip to the Temple of Heaven rounded off our Beijing sightseeing; the surrounding park is frequented by retirees who spend their time playing cards, doing aerobics and playing mahjong.

I may have named my last entry 'The Last Train' but that was something of a misnomer as the best way to get anywhere in China is by sleeper. And so it was time to head back to Beijing Railway Station and board the Shanghai overnight service, a mere 14 hours away.

Posted by arianemeena 21:47 Archived in China Comments (0)

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