Published: December 22nd 2007December 4th 2007
We got off of our bus at Yangshuo at 5am, dozy and tired. We should know better but we ended up going to the nearest hostel with a guy who was waiting for the bus to arrive. At that time of the morning you don't have all that much choice if you have not booked anywhere. If Count Dracula had been standing there instead, we would have probably followed him to his lair! Yangshuo is a pretty small town with a stunning backdrop surrounded by tall sugar-loaf type peaks and rural land. The town itself has become quite touristy but was a nice experience as it was to be the closest we would get to rural China on this trip. Being new to the country, it is difficult to gage how much things should cost. Having no time to shop around, we planned and paid for 2 days worth of exploring the area. In hindsight we paid way over the odds but there is nothing you can do. The scenery around Yangshuo is stunning and the surrounding rice paddies interesting. The ever present smog almost gave it a mysterious, ancient China appeal. We cycled around for a whole day over bumpy
Rafting Chinese style
A very peaceful bamboo raft expedition in Yangshuo
tracks and roads (and subsequently walked like John Wayne for 2 days after!). It was soon clear though that it is in the Chinese culture to rip tourists off as much as they can get away with. This reminded us of Peru. It is bloody frustrating at times. Another example of this is the price you first get quoted when buying something. It is very common for that price to be 4 times the amount you end up paying, assuming you are a good haggler! Just in the hope that some unsuspecting tourist pays up. We were making a big effort to only eat Chinese food. We sampled some dumplings which are always good and other things that were not up to much. The one main meal we sat down for in Yangshuo, we did not each much of. Mainly because Lynny saw one of the vegetables being chopped up on the floor! Yum! We made a beeline for a shop and bought some snacks.
To save on some time, we took a short flight to Chengdu, mainly to visit a Panda breeding centre. Neither Lynny nor I had seen one before so where better (apart from in the
wild) than their home country, close to their natural habitat, in a centre that is extremely well run. They have huge enclosures and successfully breed the Giant Pandas which is no easy task. We saw the babies too which was great. It is estimated that only 600 remain in the wild. Chengdu itself is a spralling, overcrowded concrete jungle! It is like being on the way to a footy match and getting close to the stadium .... all the time! It was our first taste of China's massive (and growing) population. Chengdu is quite close to Leshan which has temples and what is said to be the largest Bhudda in the world (depending on what you read) carved into the mountain. A spectacular sight and a great addition to our whistlestop trip through China. As with most attractions in China it was surrounded by hoards of Chinese tourists. We were surprised just how big the Chinese tourism industry is ..... to Chinese people. We barely saw another Western face the entire time we were in China, except for later in a Beijing hostel. The time of year plays a big part in that because as we travelled north, the temperature
dropped heavily. I think Chengdu was a pleasant 10 to 15 degrees though.
I feel compelled to describe the Chinese's most un-endearing quality/habit. As well as pushing (particularly instead of queuing), men and women are constantly 'hocking loogies'. That is a phrase coined by Waynes World and if you do not know, it means the loud clearing of any mucus product in the synoses and spitting it out on the floor. I don't care how long you are exposed to it, it does not get any easier to deal with. There is no subtlety in it. It is often hocked very close to your feet and if the light catches it right, you can see the spray all around you. On the floor, you dance round them like dog shit. Hocking loogies is also acceptable on buses, trains and shopping malls and please be aware that we are not talking about a minority of the population! Although we did not notice it as much in the younger generations. Perhaps it is the poor air quality from the smog or the overcrowded population all giving each other colds .... who knows. It is no wonder though, that after 18 months
of travelling around the world without so much as a sniffle, that it took me 3 days in China to get a stinking cold!
From Chengdu, we caught a train (all overland from here) overnight to Xi'an. Our cabin was shared with an interesting young chinese couple. Communication was difficult but after 20 hours we managed to clearly establish that they hate Japan with a passion! Xi'an was a much prettier City. More Chinese in our eyes as it was less of a building site and has lots of old architecture including an impressive 12 meter high defensive wall encircling it. The wall made the City impenetrable centuries ago and cycling along all 10kms of it was a real highlight for us. Our hostel, in an old traditional building right next to the wall was not unlike a 5* hotel! We could not believe it .... a true bargain. Perhaps they were winter prices? Temperatures were at about 5 to 10 degrees now and smog-cam said about 100m visibility. Near Xi'an are the Terracotta Warriors. An undoubtedly remarkable archealogical discovery. Thousands of buried military figures guarding the first emperors tomb, located 1.5kms away. Unfortunately for us the edge was
taken from our day by a bus conductor who saw it fit to personally escort us off the bus and enter what we thought was the warrior site. The men dressed as warriors standing on plinths and the normal mass of chinese tourists (hocking loogies) seemed right. No reason to think otherwise. We paid and entered and after a while realised that it was in fact the site of the tomb which has not even been excavated thus there is absolutely nothing to see there. A clever scam and one we now know is a very common one having read a book in our hostel warning of it. When we finally made it to the warriors we found out that Pit 2 was closed for rennovation. Not the largest pit but apparently the most impressive due to the variety of figures in it. I think some have been in an exhibition in London. The huge pit 1 was cool, though only about 1/3 excavated. Once all the estimated 6000 figures have been uncovered it will be an even more amazing sight. After enduring the 'battle of Xi'an railway station' which happens all day every day, we boarded another overnighter to
The capital surprised us. It seemd a bit less crowded than we expected (apart from the metro system!) and for some reason we expected millions of bicycles to be darting everywhere (probably because of that song). Chengdu was more like that to be honest. Also, there was hardly any smog, perhaps it had all blown south. Our hostel was in a lovely area of old traditional courtyard buildings called 'Hutongs'. First we decided on a full days worth of shopping as we had not shopped much yet and China is extrememly cheap! You have to be in the right mood to shop in China's markets. It is chaos and the vendors can be very persistent and you have to haggle your heart out! It was a really fun day and we are no longer travelling light ..... not that we have ever really travelled light! That night we ate probably our best meal in China. We struggled with the food overall. A lot to do with the language/symbol barrier and the fact that a lot of things eaten in China, we would not feed to a rabid stray dog. We needed a good feed that night as the
Very open Dentistry
No worries if you have a tooth ache in China ..... just pop in to the many Dentists whos doors are always open!!
following day we hiked for 10kms along the Great Wall. It was actually quite tough in parts as the wall is built in a very mountainous region. An incredible achievement to build and amazing to walk along it centuries later. Truly stunning and I hope our pictures do it some justice.
So that was China. I should mention that Beijing is, of course excited about the Olympics! They have just announced the final wild card sport to be included this time around - Loogie Hocking. William Hill have the home team as firm favourites however rumours that the British have rounded up a team of 14 year old Chavs from Basildon has them worried ;-)
As I write, we are on a marathon 30 hour train trip to Mongolia. We share our cabin with a Mongolian Colonel of the Army and his wife! The Colonel likes a drink, and we have already shared some Vodka. A taste of things to come in Mongolia and Russia no doubt. Obviously no love lost between the Mongols and the Chinese and he has expressed his pleasure that we are in his cabin instead of some Chinese!
Have a great xmas
There are more photos below