A Travellerspoint blog

Shanghai

10 months late, but I made it

sunny 20 °C
View Brazil to Belize & Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

With excitement I caught the Maglev train into Shanghai. It costs considerably more than the metro but I get to go at 300km an hour. It doesn't take you all the way into shanghai, instead I then had to change onto the metro for a bit.
I arrived at my hostel and there was no light in my room, then I found out they would not supply toilet paper to the dorm because no hostel in Shanghai does and that I can buy it down the road and then I found out that the mattress was like a piece of concrete. I have been doing so well with my hostel picks and although in a great location, I did not pick a great last hostel :(
Travelling days were you do nothing seem to be some of the most exhausting but I perservered and headed up to the rooftop balcony to check out the view. I met two young aussie guy's that were a little too cool for school but headed out to on our street, which is a big food street get some Kung Pow chicken with them anyway.

Shanghai, the city I was supposed to live in, and the last city of my travels is enormous. There is mass building everywhere you look, even the people's park, the central square is filled with buildings. I headed for the most famous sight first - The Bund - a waterfront promenade along the Huangpu River that was traditionally the banking and trading heart of Shanghai. It is lined with beautiful buildings built in the 30's. Opposite is the new Shanghai, the crazy heights of Pudong with it's enormous skyskrapers that each try to outdo each other.
Strolling south along the bund, I headed back into the city through a park to the Yuyuan bazaar and gardens. This was a large and very beautiful shopping plaza bordering a beautiful garden (that I didn't want to pay to go into), but it was as almost everywhere in China is, absolutely packed! I just couldn't appreciate it and all the shops were selling the same stuff and it had Starbucks and Dairy Queen and Dunkin Donuts at every corner. Really traditional. I headed on foot further east into the city, enjoying seeing the sights all around me as I walked and came to Xintiandi, a renovated collection of alleys and buildings that had been turned into a midly successful upmarket shopping area. The architecture had been preserved well, the shops were of no interest to me or my wallet. And I contined and found an area exactly like Xintiandi that had not been renovated and was still lived in today, it was really fascinating, with clothes hanging from electrical wires and people moving all around. I am envious, there feels a much bigger sense of community here and in many of the villages over china I have seen than anything the suburbs of Sydney can produce. I kept walking and came upon Tianzifang, another small community area, although the renovation on this one was minimal, and now it is full of cool shops and cafes and lots of tourists. It was fun getting lost in the alleyways and being tempted by lots of lovely art and objects. I had lunch, possibly one of my favourite meals in China, in a locals restaurant where everyone is jammed in and full of noise, I had a huge bowl of pork noodle soup that cost $2. Nice to take the leap and walk into a restaurant where there is no english and no understanding but get an amazing meal! I continued my exploring, seeing more of the Tianzifang area and then continuing into the french concession area. This neighbourhood is beautiful with tree lined streets and a huge variety of shops and cafes. If I had come to live, this is where I'd like to live. I was beyond exhausted a few hours later and so headed back to the hostel, with an awesome quick dinner in the restaurant below the hostel.

Exploring the nanjing road and pudong was the aim of my next day and so a chinese fastfood breakfast I set off along Nanjing Rd, basically Pitt St on steriods. The shopping complex's are massive and there are so many of them and then there are people everywhere. The chinese really love to shop. I am over shopping! I walked fast down the road and towards the bund. Yesterday I had seen the south end of it, today I walked the north area with the picture perfect views of Pudong. It was pretty nice! I then tried to walk through the underground tunnel but they want 50 yuan to go through it.... No way... so it was a backtrack to the metro to cross to other side. When you look at the view of the Pudong you see all these massive buildings and it looks amazing. It doesn't really give a great representation of depth. When you are in it, it takes ages to walk one block. The blocks are massive and there are roads everywhere. I went to the Shanghai World Financial centre, one of the largest buildings in the world that looks like a giant bottle opener, with the highest public observatory in the world, 100 floors up! It cost bucket load but it was worth it. I've never been up so high before and it was pretty cool. Shanghai just goes on and on forever. From up above you see some crazy urban planning, with massive highways and roads and huge skyscrapers next to small apartment blocks. I spent ages up there taking in the view, looking down on ant sized people! I'm not sure what the rest of the building is like, although the shopping floors seemed boring but I was glad to have come up and seen it. The structure is truely impressive.
Afterwards I headed to the China Art Muesum. This building, a massive modern interpretation of traditional chinese architecture had been the centrepiece of Expo 2010, and now has become the art musuem, only opened 2 weeks ago. Somehow I got in for free and enjoyed walking around. Chinese art is not really my thing but it was nice to see some and experience the building. I had all these grand plans to explore some more but it was getting late into the afternoon and I was exhausted. I chilled out at the hostel before meeting my friend, Robin, whom I had met in Beijing. Robin and another girl Esther are from the netherlands but are doing a university placement at a hotel in Shanghai for 6 months. Robin took me to an Italian restaurant, as I was really wanting some western food and we had a great few hours eating normally and chatting.

Monday in Shanghai and it was pouring with rain. My plans to go to Hangzhou just seemed pointless in all the rain so instead I slept in and then headed to an area 30km out of Shanghai called Zhujiaojiao. It was an hour long bus ride to get there, on massive crowded elevated freeways and into the outskirts. When we got to the bus station I had no idea which way to go. It felt like I had been dropped in the middle of nowhere, but if travelling has taught me anything, particularly in China it is to follow the tourist buses and so I headed to where they were and came upon Zhujiaojiao, a small traditional town upon some little canals with some lovely gardens and temples. I spent a couple of hours wandering around the cute laneways looking at all the goods on sale (for tourists) and walking up and down the canals. I really like getting out of the city proper and seeing these areas. I didn't stop for lunch instead got the bus back into Shanghai but unfortunetely jumped on the local bus, not the express and my journey into Shanghai took me 2 hours. 2 hours through Shanghai traffic feels like an eternity, I was almost banging my head on the wall by the end. So what better way to relieve all that pain that with shopping therapy. I went to the Hancity markets, Shanghai's premier fake markets and indulged myself with some more purchuses. I really don't know how my bag will fit all together. Perhaps I will have to wear it all at once on my flight to Canada?
I had a lovely dinner of peking duck (I love this so much) with many chinese people starring at me. Yes I am white!

I got up early the next day, having an awesome breakfast of dumplings, and then to go to Suzhou but my plans all fell apart as at the train station they wouldn't let me buy a train ticket without a passport so I had to head back on the metro to pick up my passport from the hostel and start again. 1 hour later I was on the amazingly efficient express train to Suzhou, a chinese city of 1.6 million people that is famous for being the Venice of China. It only took 25 minutes to get here, seriously why can't australia have high speed rail? but when I did I was totally disorientated. As with the day before, there was no indication of where the hell I was and the lonely planet map was once again proving itself useless. I hired a cyclo and was riden a temple in town for next to nothing, I actually felt really guilty that this old guy was riding me around and wanted to get out and help! In the town I headed first for the Suzhou musuem. This musuem which houses a lovely collection of ancient chinese artifacts and artworks was designed by I.M.Pei, possibly the greatest Chinese architect to have ever lived. His work includes the glass pyrimad to the Lourve in Paris. Anyway I took great joy in walking around this musuem, a modern interpretation of classic chinese architecture, and seeing some lovely artworks. I had no idea this was here so that was a pleasant surprise. It was also adjoined to a traditional chinese complex, which finally, for once was relatively empty and I was actually able to appreciate the beautiful and intricate design and enjoy the peace that you are meant to experience in these places.
I then headed next door to the Garden's of the Humble ambassador, a huge garden complex (with a pricey entry fee) that I spent an hour or so wandering around. Traditional chinese design really is very clever, with beautiful use of height, materials and framing of vista's. Even with people around and the asian tour groups with their horrible microphones, you can't help but be in good mood walking around such a beautiful place.
Afterwards I ambled around the town, enjoying the small alleys streets and the dumplings I had for lunch, but really not enjoying the normal streets of Suzhou, it's not really an appealing city. I visited another pagoda temple before heading back to the railway station via a motorised tuk tuk.
It was a smooth train ride back into Shanghai and then I headed out to the french concession area again. I spent a few hours walking through the streets, popping into some lovely boutique's and dreaming of buying everything. I had dinner back on my hostel street, then I had to spend ages packing my bag. I had managed to get so much stuff and it was a bit of a struggle to pack it all but eventually the bag was shut!

I finally leave and head to Canada today. After all these months to have it finally here was a bit surreal. After a great breakfast of dumpling, I spent the morning walking around Shanghai, taking in all the sights and sounds for the last time, and doing everything in my power to avoid any shops. I had a quick lunch and then it was off to the airport. It was fun taking the maglev train again, going at 300km/h and then after an effortless check-in, immigration and security and wasting a whole bunch of time sitting around I was off.

Canada here I come! Hope I don't get too cold!

Tianzifung shanghai

Tianzifung shanghai


Shanghai Pudong

Shanghai Pudong

The view from the SWFC

The view from the SWFC

Zhaojijiao

Zhaojijiao

Suzhou gardens

Suzhou gardens

Posted by awowchuk 26.10.2012 17:16 Archived in China Tagged shanghai Comments (0)

Hong Kong

views, views and more hazy views

overcast 25 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

The train to Hong Kong, which is my last train journey of my trip was a massive dissapointment. I had booked hard bed as opposed to the soft bed that I had to Xian and found it a much less enjoyable experience. The bunks are 3 high and it is all open. Perhaps this is just because I expect more, and it's not that it's uncomfortable, I was able to sleep but I felt very exposed - the guy opposite kept taking pictures of me - and I could never leave my bags, and it was loud noises and smells the whole journey. Also the train running 4 hours over schedule was very frustrating, primarily because I had no food till I got off the train after 2:30pm. We all know I can eat, and I get grumpy when I have no food and this was a prime example but there was nothing I could do.
Eventually, finally we reached Shenzhen and I met up with Rodrigo again who had been elsewhere on the train and we headed on the walk through many corridors past immigration and over the border and through a very slow Hong Kong border and then caught the metro into Hong Kong. I also managed to pick up some quick food on the way which helped!!!
It was so exciting to actually be in Hong Kong but it took ages on the metro to get to my hostel. I left Rodrigo, with a bit of relief at one metro station and continued on my way to Causeway bay on Hong Kong island. I came out of the station and was assaulted with noise and building chaos everywhere, this city seemed absolutely fascinating! I found my hostel quickly and managed to drop my bags and head out for an early dinner.
I love this city as although they are 95% cantonese and cantonese is everywhere, there is english everywhere and they all understand it AND they don't spit on the streets, in fact it is heavily fined if caught. Hong Kong is like all the best of China meeting the west! After only a very short time did I feel like this is a city I could live in.
I had an early night, having dinner and a little walk around the city, being in awe of the huge skyscrappers and all the life going on, also doing a bit of shopping to replace some overly feral travel clothes, taking a tram ride and then off to bed. Travel days always take it out of you.

My first full day in Hong Kong and I had no idea what to do. Hong Kong is a shoppers paradise, with enormous shopping malls, department stores, streets of shops and all the way to market stalls everywhere! and although the shopping can be pretty good and I did do a bit of it, I wanted to see more, so I boarded a bus to Stanley, an area on the south of the island with beaches and nice little promenades on the water giving away lovely views. The first thing you have to walk past though is a market! I had a walk around the area, visiting a couple of the little beaches and noticing all the expat wives driving expensive cars in the area, before boarding a double decker bus (they are all double decker buses here, the english influence I presume) to Repulse Bay, half way back to the chaos of downtown Hong Kong. Here the beach was massive, although with flat water and large apartment towers surrounding it. It was actually really lovely and I had been recommended to go there by an english man who had lived in Hong Kong for 15 years that I met in Yangshuo. I was probably one of about 6 people swimming in the massive bay, which had warm water that I was instanly able to walk in. Afterwards I was laying on the beach taking in the views and watching all the tourist groups coming for their 5 minute visit to the beach. I would of stayed on the beach much longer but all the chinese tour groups kept taking pictures of me or wanting pictures with me. Not a particularly restful place then.

I headed back into central to have a walk around the area. It did not fail to strike me how much central hong kong, the financial business centre of the country felt like Sydney CBD. Huge office skyscrapers, with only some mildly interesting shops on ground floor and people in suits everywhere. The joy of hong kong is that thankfully this is only a small part of the city as opposed Sydney's being it. I left the area pretty fast and had a walk around the mid levels, a lively district immediately out of central where I was able to get an amazing and cheap noodle dish for lunch and go exploring through a kaliediscope of different shops and restaurants. This area is heavily influenced by the west, with lots of white people at at a huge variety of different restaurants. It was actually a strangely comforting sight to see. I became a proper tourist also by visiting a little temple in the area, which was full of beautiful spiral incense coils. A nice pause amongst the city.

I continued my epic day of wandering visiting a few other districts before heading for the peak tram. The peak tram is a very steep line that runs up Victoria Peak to a lookout point over the city. It is incredibly touristy, pricey but one of those things you have to do. It only takes a few minutes to get up there and then you are given a glorious view out over Hong Kong and Kowloon. I had overcast hazy weather almost all the time I was in Hong Kong and so it wasn't crystal clear, I couldn't see any of the mountains but it didn't matter, it was all still spectacular. I stayed up there for ages to watch the sunset and the lights of the city turn on. Many of the buildings put on a light show at night too.
Once I came down off the peak, I was starving and headed back to causeway bay on the tram and had dinner at Times Square, a big shopping mall and office tower in causeway bay. I had some dim sum which Hong Kong is famous for and it was delicious. Probably the best pork and prawn dumplings I've ever had. Afterwards I headed to my hostel and up onto the rooftop terrace where I hung out for several hours with a huge bunch of tourists. 3 months on and it's still fascinating to hear everyone's stories.

In the morning I headed off to the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monestary. Hong Kong is made up of lots of islands and on Lantau, a large although rather unpopulated island where the airport and Hong Kong disneyland are there is a giant buddha statue at the top of one of the peaks. I caught the MTR, the amazingly efficient and clean and pretty cheap metro line to the island and then because I am too cheap and it was really really hazy took the bus up instead of the cable car that would give views over the whole area. At the top, after a large set of stairs really is a giant buddha (built in 1997) sitting in a lotus leaf. Pretty cool, just so annoying it was hazy. Then there was also the Po Lin Monestary, a small little place that was enjoyable as almost no one was in it. They all come see the buddha and then leave. The colours and smells of a buddist temple are so beautiful. I headed back down the mountain in the bus, after a walk through the "village" which was like disneyland main street and went back on the metro to Kowloon. The kowloon side is much larger than Hong Kong island and is from what I can see, purely for shopping. I started off up the top on goldfish street. Literally a street for selling fish and aquariams. They sell the fish in plastic bags hung up on the wall, and they have them in all breeds and colours. What was strange to me was they were all really busy.
After a quick lunch I found the street markets which spread for ages in the area and are packed. There is all sorts of stuff (pretty much all of which I have seen somewhere else on my trip) but it was enjoyable and tempting to walk amongst it. I slowly made my way down through the markets and the throngs of people and headed to the water on the Kowloon side to take in the view of Hong Kong. It is pretty spectacular seeing all the buildings of central and it stretching all the way along in huge highrises. I was attempting to take some horrible selfies when Jose Manuel, a mexican american I had met in the hostel the other night walked by and he was able to firstly help take my picture but then we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Kowloon, through the hectic and enormous shopping area, admiring the huge mix of architecture - shiny shopping mall opposite delapidated residential building with clothes hanging off the electric wires to dry and onwards through Kowloon park which was ok and towards the temple street night market area. I thought these were food street markets but no it was more markets selling more of the same stuff but it had lots of seafood restaurants with their tables flooding out onto the street so we had dinner at one of these which was lovely.
We walked slowly back down to the waterfront, aiming to catch the light show, but missed it by minutes but instead sat down and chatted taking in the view. I sorely wished I had a tripod at this moment to capture the great view, but I did what I could. It was pretty spectacular seeing it all lit up! We also caught the star ferry, the short little ferry ride across to the other side, which is nice as you can see both sides lit up at once.

Jose Manuel and I spent the next day out at Lamma island. I wasn't sure if I should head to Maccau or not, but casino's aren't really my thing so Lamma it was. After breakfast at the same restaurant I've eaten at 3 times now (they can do good chain fast food restaurants here) we caught the tram and then the ferry to Lamma. This took ages longer than I hoped and by the time we got there we were hungry again! This island has a very small population and lots of little beaches and walks to do (and also a power plant). We walked quickly through the little town and headed off on the track south going for a swim at the first beach we came across which was really nice. The water is flat everywhere in Hong Kong and nice and warm - really love being able to walk straight in.
After a while swimming there we continued on our walk, up over the hills with gorgeous views out, although it was very overcast and finally back down over the other side to the other little town on the island. By now we were absolutely starving and so settled in for a big seafood lunch at one of the restaurants. They were all really empty and desperate for our patronage so we got a great deal and a table with a view and some wonderful seafood served really fast! We sat there eating for ages enjoying the seafood and ended up missing our planned ferry back so we had to wait an 1.5hr extra, chilling out in a park before getting the ferry.
Back in Hong Kong I was in a massive rush as I planned to meet up with Jarred from back home. By a brilliant stroke of timing, he was in Hong Kong for work and we were able to go out for dinner and catch up and take in the lovely Hong Kong skyline. So nice to see someone from home and hear how everyone is doing. Of course it was over too quickly and he headed back to work functions and I to my hostel to continue being a tourist and also pack my bags for my flight the next day.

After breakfast, once again at the same restaurant, I headed off on the airport bus to get my flight to Shanghai. I checked in and moved through security and immigration really quickly only to find out my flight has been delayed by an hour. So I spent many bored hours walking around the far too expensive shops, eating some actually decently priced decent food and then doing whatever I could to entertain myself - mainly reading trashy mags in the newsagency. Eventually the flight was underway and I had great views looking out over the chinese coastline all the way up to Shanghai. The only other eventful thing on the plane was that they gave out ice-cream to everyone! woohoo! delicous! See it was a thrilling day when ice-cream is the most exciting thing! I was looking forward to finally 10 months late, getting to Shanghai

Causeway Bay, Hong Kong - where i stayed

Causeway Bay, Hong Kong - where i stayed

Repulse Bay

Repulse Bay

The mid levels escalator

The mid levels escalator

At victoria peak

At victoria peak

Hong Kong by night

Hong Kong by night

The big buddha

The big buddha

Goldfish

Goldfish

Market streets

Market streets

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong by night

Hong Kong by night

Lamma island

Lamma island

Posted by awowchuk 20.10.2012 18:08 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged hong kong Comments (0)

Rice terraces

Hiking amongst the chinese rice terraces

overcast 22 °C
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The Longji Rice terraces, 100km from Guilin were my next destination and after an early start saying goodbye to Katharina, Rodrigo and I headed off for the 3 hour bus to the terraces. You can gather how bad the roads are when it takes 3 hours to do 100km, although 1hr of that is through mountainous terrain. The bus was actually very nerve racking as we had a bus driver on speed who always wanted to overtake, even on blind corners around mountains with only a drop to the river on the other side. He got stuck so many times that at one point people on the bus were yelling at him. But after 3 hours we arrived at the bus station of Dazhai village within the Longji rice terraces. It was great to get off the bus.

The area is a cascade of rice terraces up and down the hillside with a collection of small villages all over it. We were staying in Tiantou which is 40 minutes up and around the hill from the bus park and so we set off, slightly disorientated in search of it. Either i'm really out of shape or the walk was a little on the steep side but no matter what it was beautiful walking along stone paths throughout the area. It was very exciting to find our hostel and stop to take in the stunning sight in front of us.
This area has three main viewing areas to lookout over the terraces and the villages and so after some lunch in the hostel we set off to visit all of them. The area exists now in a harmonious union of tourism and farming. They need to farm for the tourists to come, so their lifestyle is maintained but they also get extra income and support from having tourists visit. We were surprised by the number of hotels and hostels in amongst the area, and I was glad that all of them have maintained a traditional wooden architecture. The walking was great, for 4 hours going up and down and along lots of terraces and at parts through the forest that they haven't cultivated, all the time with interesting and spectacular although foggy views of the area and the farmers working it, either cutting the crop or bunching all the cut crop up. The only blight in the landscape was the cable car that ran to bring tourists up to one of the viewing points, it is a massive overdevelopment and a horrible thing to see.
After our sweaty work of walking around and taking photos we returned to the hostel just before sunset. Even though our room was very basic and the shower was a cold shower over a squat toilet, I was so glad to have a shower! Then with a beer each we sat down to dinner. It was great until I accidently ate the hottest chilli I can remember eating and then had to pick at the rest of the meal. The great part was that we ordered bamboo rice, a local speciality where fried rice is cooked in a stick of bamboo in the fire. It was absolutely delicious, although a little tricky to eat!

The next day was an early start, but I hadn't had a good night sleep, being woken up by roosters at 3am and then struggling to get back to sleep. With bleary eyes we forced ourselves up and had rice noodle soup for breakfast and then set off on a hike. The hike from the Dazhai village area to the Ping'an village area was the main reason I came to see this, after reading about it in the bible of travel - the lonely planet. We had an incline straight away and with my tired heads and slightly stiff body this was probably the hardest of them all to me. The walk climbed up through the forest out of the Dazhai valley and passed into the next Zhonglu valley, an area not set up for tourists staying but instead they just pass through. As with yesterday we followed along the rice terrace contours for quite a while and then climbing up and down through the forest over a hill and into the Zhonglu village. Here the path diverged many ways and we had to rely on gut and asking to constantly keep finding out with path to take and if we were going the right way.
We were passing lots of local men and women carrying rice themselves or on mules and the nice thing was that everyone always said nihao. Othertimes we passed lots of local women acting as guides and carrying all the bags of the tourists in big baskets on their backs. As we climbed out from the valley floor of the village we met two local women at a rest point and here we got to take lots of pictures of and with them. The women of this tribe are extra extraordinary as they have amazing hair. Their hair is exceptionally long, with it going down to their feet, when it gets too long they cut it off and start again. They fold their hair in an amazing way, throwing it over their head, where they comb it straight and then tie it into a pony tail at the top of their forehead where they then join in bunches of their hair that had been cut off when it got to their feet and then all together they comb it and then fold it around their head like a turban, with a big knob onto of their forehead, then they hold a black cloth over it all except for the knob at the front. I had no idea all that was under there. It was so amazing to see, I was speechless.
After all our pictures with them they then did what we were expecting and asked for money for having shown them their hair, I was happy to oblige with a small amount and in also walked away with a handmade coin purse!!

We continued on the second half of our walk, spending most of it walking along a rough dirt and rock path through the forest, up and over the hills connecting the valleys. After almost an hour we hit a massive dirt road in the forest and didn't know if we going the right way, but all turned out and with joy we reached the Ping'an village area! The walk had taken us 2.5hrs including our long stop with the women and it was only 10:30am. Not bad for a morning's walk. The only sad thing was that we had extremely foggy weather and our visability was quite reduced.
We spent the next hour walking around the village, visiting it's viewing points. Ping'an is much smaller than Dazhai but it was lovely as it much greener as not so much of the rice crop had been cut yet. It was nice to see both grown and cut rice terraces. The saddest part of Ping'an to us was the shear number of tourist groups walking up and down to one of the viewing points, it was like a packed shopping alley of traditional items.
We had a bamboo rice lunch at a popular little restaurant before heading off to the parking lot to work out how to get back to Guilin. It turned out to be much easier than expected, with only an hour and half wait before getting a direct and much calmer bus that played Mr Bean movies all the way back to Guilin!
I couldn't wait to get back to guilin and have a shower and some food as tonight I was off on the night train to Hong Kong! China has been really interesting and I'm back here before long, but I'm really excited to get to see Hong Kong!

Dazhai rice terraces

Dazhai rice terraces

Rice terraces in blue

Rice terraces in blue

the long haired women

the long haired women

finished the hike in the rice terraces

finished the hike in the rice terraces

In the Ping'an rice terraces

In the Ping'an rice terraces

bamboo rice

bamboo rice

Posted by awowchuk 15.10.2012 07:26 Archived in China Tagged rice terraces Comments (0)

Yangshuo

Outdoor adventures in yangshuo

semi-overcast 28 °C
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My flight to guilin was incredibly uneventful, and after an airport bus into town in which I wasn't 100% sure it was going to Guilin and then walking the last 20 minutes in town instead of being ripped off by the taxi drivers, I arrived at my hostel, hot and sticky. Walking to the hostel, I kind of got a sense that Guilin is not that interesting and I was totally correct. I had lunch at a little cheap outdoor stall and had to suffer through a meal with chilli before going for a wander around. Yeah I was done in like 20 minutes. The main pedestrian street is filled with shops and restaurants that will rip off tourists and felt like someone had built it badly in the 80's and then forgot all about it. So being productive and out of a lack of things to do I organised my train ticket to Hong Kong and got a massage. For $12 I had a 1 hour full body massage AND a 1 hour foot massage. Sorry I felt the need to brag! It was really nice and I felt much better about wasting time in Guilin. I wandered around slightly more after this and then also spent some time relaxing in the hostel reading before going out for dinner, once again at a little local outdoor stall. These types of places are great as the food is cheap, it comes out really fast and tastes awesome. I didn't linger in Guilin at night, instead finally getting a great night sleep and relaxing in the hostel.

In the morning I was keen to get out of Guilin as quickly as possible, so after a breakfast at KFC (they sell congee, so I felt kind of ok about this, but there was nothing else!) I headed to the bus station. It felt the same as the airport bus, I bought a ticket but then was never properly sure that I was going to go the right way. It was about 1.5hr on the bus down a pretty horrid road and experiencing all of china's chaotic driving with constant horns and crazy overtaking. If I could rip out all the horns from all the vehicles in China I would be very happy!

After arriving in Yangshuo and dropping my stuff off at my hostel I set out to explore. Unfortunately I haven't got great weather here, it is hot but really hazy so I can't get these glorious panoramicviews of the karst landscape. I wandered around the developed tourist area, seeing all the goods they have, which is all stuff I have seen elsewhere in China. I'm just not interested in buying stuff for the sake of it. I had lunch and then hired a bike to go exploring the countryside. Yangshuo sits on the Li and Yulong rivers which run through this amazing place. I set off along a paved roadway through little villages and past these amazing karst mountains and lots of farms. The area is thankfully very flat and so very easy to ride around. I was trying to find the ferry point to cross over the river to see the town on the other side but I never could find the ferry. There was absolutely no signage in the area, and my map was more about pretty graphics then a true representation of the area, so instead I turned around and cycled the 7km back to Yanghshuo.
Back at my hostel I met Katharina, a german engineer currently living in Beijing and on her holidays. We headed up to the rooftop balcony of our hostel to have a beer and take in the lovely view. Here we met Brendan, an aussie from Cronulla and we spent ages chatting and being perplexed by the beautiful landscape that the chinese have lit up with flashing neon lights. I headed out for dinner with Brendan and his mate Chris and then we went to another rooftop bar in town which was lots of fun. Met lots of people and ended up staying much later than I anticipated!

Katharina and I had arranged that we would go bike riding today and so after a sleep in and a huge western breakfast we hired some bikes and set off on an adventure. We cycled to moon hill, a karst landscape that has a semi-circular opening towards the top of it which was pretty cool, and although you can, we chose not to climb it as we planned this huge bike trip. Riding to the moon hill was along a main road and I saw my first proper car accident with a sedan flipped upside down in the field next to the road and lots of people and police around. I'm so surprised I haven't seen more accidents in china, I guess its organised chaos.
After looking at moon hill we set off on a unpaved roadway, not positive we were going the right way! We got stopped as we came to a little town down the roadway and were mighty confused were to go, there didn't seem to be any paths or any indication of where to get through, so after backtracking we found this tiny little path and assumed this must be it and so we set off on even rougher paths, which scooters and bikes can get down but no way could a car! We were riding past little round down houses and lots of fields of fruits and crops, all amongst this amazing karst landscape. It was pretty surreal. It was so nice to be in absolute peace, no horns, no talking, just no noise. This is a rare thing in China. We rode along for a little while, cursing our mountain bikes that actually had no gears and already starting to be very painful to sit on until we came to a fork in the road, we had absolutely NO IDEA which way we should go and so we went right down this rocky hill and then left again where we ran into an old chinese man who basically was telling us not to go this way and back up the hill but it was very confusing and so we ignored everything he said and road through until the road ran out in this little village and we realised the man right telling us to turn around, but we didn't want to ride up the hill so we turned right where we had turned left and then found some westerners also riding who were going the other way and were also lost so we were able to help each other and we all had to ride back up the hill and then we went left! We continued on for a while happily riding through small villages and through fields. We took a few purposely wrong turns so we would be able to see the river with all its bamboo rafts transporting chinese tourists and then most of the way relied on gut instincts as to which path to travel at any forks in the road, and eventually 4 hours after starting we arrived at our goal, the dragon bridge, a pretty stone bridge that crosses the yulong river. We got off our bikes to enjoy the view for a little while and realised we were quiet stiff after our ride and decided to take the short way along the main road back. It may not have been scenic and was very noisy with all the bikes, scooters, cars, trucks and buses and all their horns screaming down this road but we were back in Yangshuo in 45 minutes which was great!
We celebrated our massive adventure and actually succeeding in finding our way through the countryside basically without a map with a beer on the rooftop over looking the view and a snickers! We went out for dinner and then headed to a rooftop bar but were so exhausted after 1 beer we couldn't wait to get home and sleep.

12hrs sleep later we awoke and lazily got a cheap chinese breakfast and ready to go on a kayaking adventure. We were picked up a mini-van and with 3 others taken to a dock (the one I couldn't find on my first day here) where we jumped straight into some pretty sad looking kayaks. In total luck of the draw my kayak was ok, but Katharina's was a nightmare, she was in lots of pain kayaking and it had a small hole in it and she was getting soaked so she gave in half an hour into it! For 3.5hr 1 paddled along the Li river, with a bamboo raft with Katharina on it following us. This section of the river was not as dramatic as others but it was fantastic as there was no one else around and for half an hour I was able to lay there and drift in complete silence and serenity. Along the river, which is quite wide in this section is just farms and we would often pass buffalo bathing in the river and mini-fish farms too. The river was flanked by tonnes of bamboo and at some sections there were miniture rapids to ride. The whole experience was fantastic and I definitely love going kayaking.
We had a bit of drama with our transfer back to our hostel with the driver wanting to cheat us, the chinese are all for doing as little as possible for as much as possible, but after refusing to get out and Katharina's broken chinese to the driver's boss on the phone we got our transfer.
We had a great meal of Yanshuo style crispy duck out in the town but once again we were exhausted and decided to be nana's going to bed really early!

My last day in Yangshuo and we had decided to do the Li River hike, a 16km hike along the banks of the Li River, passing the site of the 20 yuan note image. We got up early and after a big breakfast caught a local bus 38km to a Yangdi, a small town up river, which took over an hour because the bus was going so slow and stopping all the time to pick up people and also because the roads and traffic are chaotic. At Yangdi we had to take a ferry boat over to the other side of the river to start the hike. This sounds simple but was the most stressful frustrating and exhausting part of the hike. Straight away we had this woman on our back offering us bamboo rides down the yangshuo, after explaining we just wanted to cross the river she wanted us to pay 60 yuan each! no way, so we kept walking towards the ferry. We found the ferry, it looks like hasn't run in a long time! Katharina tried asking some boat men and they all wanted exorbitant prices like 100 yuan to go the 20m across the river. Meanwhile the first woman is still following us getting in our faces each time we stopped. We just didn't know what to do, everyone was trying to rip us off and we didn't know if we would get across the river. Even some chinese were having a really hard time. After half an hour of wandering around, getting increasingly frustrated, still always with this woman following us and no one helping us, 2 portugese arrived but still nothing happened, the ferry boat did not go and no one would budge in price from 20 yuan each to cross. On principle we would not pay this much. The bus from Guilin to Yangshuo - over 63km is only 18 yuan. After another 15 minutes 2 french canadian's turned up but one of them could thankfully speak mandarin and the shouting match got interesting. We found out it was big racket and the boat drivers had paid off the ferry master not to run the ferry. With two other chinese people and lots of yelling and haggling we got the price down to a resonable 50 yuan for 4 and finally after over an hour stuck at this dock we were able to get across the river by bamboo raft. Not cool china, not cool. They were lazy and greedy and really helped diminish my view of the chinese and their country. I rarely really dislike a place but for the hour I was stuck at this dock I really did not like China. On the other side we were all able to calm down and relax and actually start to enjoy the gorgeous karst scenery all around us. The first stretch followed along the edge of the river for a few kilometres before we hit a village and had to cross the river again. What a difference a town makes, they were happy to do it for 10 - the standard price - and so within minutes we were on the other side and started the major leg of the hike. It was less a hike more than follow a footpath running along the river, past farms and through the forest but it was gorgeous (and blisteringly hot!) and we all took lots of photos. It would have been really peaceful except for the noise of the bamboo raft motors running up and down the river. We had lost the chinese couple at the first crossing and the portugese early on this leg and then for the rest of the way Katharina and I walked with the canadian couple. After a few hours we hit the last ferry crossing and we able to finally take a ferry across the river and continue the last leg along the roadway. (once again really loose term of hike!) Right at the end before we hit the ending town of Xingping we came across the beautiful 20 yuan image. Pretty nice image to see!

We got the bus back to Yangshuo, and although exhausted picked up our bags and headed back to the bus station to catch the 2 hour bus back to Guilin. The bus seemed to go on forever, it felt like I would never get there, but eventually we reached Guilin and made our way to our hostel were we were able to perfectly end our massive day by joining in the all you can bbq they offer, eating dumplings and lots of bbq meats on a stick and meeting lots of other travellers, one of whom being Rodrigo, a brazillian, who was going the same way the next day and so I found my next travel partner! With that it was time for bed and the next adventure.

Yulong river, yanshuo

Yulong river, yanshuo

cycling through the fields in Yangshuo

cycling through the fields in Yangshuo

Dragon bridge and some bamboo rafts

Dragon bridge and some bamboo rafts

Yangshuo hike

Yangshuo hike

On the yangshuo hike

On the yangshuo hike

Posted by awowchuk 15.10.2012 07:10 Archived in China Tagged yanghsuo Comments (0)

Xian

terracotta warriors

overcast 18 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

I arrived in Xian after a very comfortable night on the train, I was actually kind of sad I had to get off it so early. I walked out in the smog filled chaos that is Xian, with people and traffic everywhere and the horrifying sight that I couldn't see down the end of the street due to the smog. I walked through the streets, passing many shopping malls, a punch up and lots of people walking around to my new hostel. In Xian I seemed to have developed an aversion to going outside and being amongst the smog and people. I just need a little quiet! But after a while I had to go out, today was my day to see the city. I walked to the huge famous bell tower which now sits in the midst of a giant roundabout as the city has become too big, and traffic drives like crazy all around it. The bell tower and it's sister tower, the Drum tower signified sunrise and sunset in the ancient capital. I then walked towards the city walls and spent the next 90 minutes riding the entire length of the walls by bike. It was a strange thing hopping back on a bike, although the physical pain is long gone, the memory of the bikes in Lithuania still burns deep and I cautiously sat back on a bike. The walls are around 14km long and a bumpy 40m wide the whole way around, there were lots of people riding bikes in both directions and was a great way to see the walls and the city it was enclosing and keeping out. After the walls, I walked tiredly down the main street towards the Muslim quarter. This area is filled with shops and stalls owned and run by Muslim chinese. It was as everywhere seems to be in china, swarming with people, it was hard to move. In the area there were people selling the normal counterfit goods and many other souviner shops, but also lots and lots of food stalls selling meat on a stick and lots of dates and other dried fruits. It was chaotic really and I felt like I didn't have a great chance to stop and see what was on offer as the crowd kept you moving.

I escaped down a laneway and found the Great Mosque of Xian, not something I expected to find in China. This mosque is unique as it is entirely in Chinese architectural style and if you said it was a buddist temple I would have believed you. There was no minarets, no bells, and only a tiny amount of arabic writing in some of the gateways, otherwise it was all traditional chinese. The great thing about this place was that it was practically empty and I felt far more peaceful and relaxed here. Perhaps that is why people went to church or temples, to escape? I hung around here for a little while, contemplating napping outside on a bench underneath the trees, but decided it probably wasn't the most respectful thing.
After exploring the mosque I headed back out into the chaos, I think with a slightly better frame of mind and continued to look at the stalls and shops until I got back to my hostel where I actually went and had a nap.

I planned to go head out and get some dinner but frankly I couldn't be bothered leaving my hostel and dealing with all the crowds and noise so I ate in and sat talking to other travellers in my hostel. It was quite nice really.

On sunday, the last day of the national holidays I finally went to see the Terracotta Warriors! They were the only reason I came to this town and I was really looking forward to it. I joined a tour offered by the hostel which was great as we had a tiny little Chinese guide who was able to give us lots of facts and information about the warriors. Firstly we went to the tomb of emporer Qin Shan Huang (or something like that), who the chinese greatly admire as he was the first emporer to unify China. His tomb though is not that impressive, actually it is just a giant man-made tree covered hill. You can't see anything as the area is poisoned with high levels of Mercury. Apparently this emporer believed taking mercury everyday would make him live longer, instead he died suddenly in his 50's. It will be another 10-20 years according to our guide before the tomb will be opened. (out of touristic curiosity and it's related economic benefits, not because the mercury will have gone).
Then it was on to see the warriors. It is important to see the pits in the order of pit 2, pit 3 then pit 1. Pit 1 is THE famous pit and you definitely want to see it last, plus seeing it in this order helps tell the archeological story. Pit 2, which we did first, is a major archeological site, it has only recovered a few of the estimated 2000 statues that are in there. This pit is supposedly filled with all types of warriors - archery, officals, generals, infatrymen and cavalry. No completed statues sit in the pit, instead there are broken fragments of faces, bodies, horses etc in the uncovered areas and otherwise lots of clay hiding statues that are yet to be enclosed. For some reason I had assumed that all the statues were perfectly intact throughout all time but in truth only 1 statue out of the thousands that exist has ever been found completely intact.
Pit 3 is the smallest pit with only 68 statues. It was known as the command centre as the statues were all higher ranking officals and generals, controlling the military formations. This pit was not finished when the emporer died and so several of the statues are missing their heads. This pit has so few in number as it was supposedly evident that the pit had undergone lots of destruction after the emporer's death.
And so we finally made it to Pit 1, this HUGE pit at 230m by 60m houses thousands of warriors, with most of them still to be uncovered. It was really interesting as it is an active dig site, you could see warriors in various states of restoration. We came in at the back so that we would get the grand site right at the end and it really is impressive, standing down in front of you is thousands of lifesize infatrymen statues lined up in rows, each with a unique face. It was a crazy thought to me that it took the 33 years of the emporer's reign to create the statues, but it will take well over 100 years for us to uncover and piece all the currently known existing statues back together. They only recently discovered pit 4, much closer to the emporer's tomb so who know's how many more pit's of statues there are! I was really deeply impressed with the statues and so glad to have seen them.
We then watched an incredibly dated and strange movie about the warriors and got to see the farmer - My Yang, who had made the discovery of them, he is now 80 years old and doing quite well signing books for tourists to buy! A bet he never thought his life and farm would turn out like this!

We had a preorganised lunch at a restaurant inside the complex which had lots of things, good and bad that I probably would never order myself, like toffee potatoes. (bad!) Then it was an hour back on the bus to Xian.

I had to have another nap in the afternoon, I seriously don't know what is going on, but I am so exhausted here in china and then I headed out to get some dinner. I headed into a shopping area and got myself totally lost in an underground network of shops and stalls selling all the counterfit goods and real stuff until I found a walmart and bought yoghurt and fruit for dinner as the idea of eating more chinese food made my stomach turn!!

I had a very early start the next morning as I finally had to take my first flight in months and so I only spent a little while chatting to people in the common area.
I was glad at the prospect of leaving Xian, it is really not a great city, but I was really not excited by the prospect of flying and wished I had been more organised to get a train ticket. At least the flight will get me from Xian to Guilin in only 2 hours instead of 28! So at 4:30am I got up and headed off to the airport. It was a strange and slightly unnerving experience being in the taxi, apparently red lights don't mean anything, and when I expressed my gut reaction, the driver just giggled. Apparently also lanes don't mean anything, nor do indicators or speed signs for that matter. It is totally acceptable to drive 150km on a 120km road. Not the most comfortable ride, but I just had to go with it and I did get to see the bell tower with no traffic and lit up in all it's lights.
At the airport I ran into a swiss traveller that had been staying in my hostel and we were able to spend the time from check-in until my boarding chatting, which certainly helped past the time faster. Then finally onwards to Guilin!

smog covered Xian bell tower

smog covered Xian bell tower

riding the Xian walls

riding the Xian walls

Terracotta warriors - Pit 2

Terracotta warriors - Pit 2

Terracotta warriors - Pit 3

Terracotta warriors - Pit 3

Terracotta warriors - back of pit 1

Terracotta warriors - back of pit 1

Terracotta warriors - Pit 1

Terracotta warriors - Pit 1

The warriors in Pit 1

The warriors in Pit 1

The warriors in pit 1

The warriors in pit 1

Posted by awowchuk 09.10.2012 03:28 Archived in China Tagged xian Comments (0)

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