Published: December 16th 2008December 11th 2008
We arrive safely in Shanghai after a pleasant flight from Hanoi. Shanghai is huge! Massive skyscrapers line the horizon, and everything is illuminated. Catching a taxi is our first challenge. We learn quickly that without having the address written in Chinese it is impossible to get anywhere. Even with a map pointing to the street, the drivers still refuse to drive. Eventually we get one and get dropped off nearby our hotel.
First day we navigate our way around the Yu Yuan Gardens, it takes us 2 hours to find the gardens because of all the weird, wacky and wonderful shops in the surrounding area. The gardens are a maze of rocks, fish ponds, dragon topped walls, prayer rooms and masses of tour groups with their red hats.
The Shanghai museum is located in the peoples square, and being a drizzly Saturday afternoon, the red hat groups flock in their hundreds. It’s fairly extensive with exhibitions on old currency, name stamps/seals, performance masks that look satanic and funny, a bronze collection and water-colour artwork on scrolls. Upon exiting the museum two Chinese lads - from Su Zhou, 2 hours from Shanghai - ask us to take their photo. We
got talking as they both spoke very good English and help us to order noodle soup for dinner, which was to be the first of many of this local cuisine.
The guys invited us to a traditional Chinese tea ceremony which we couldn’t decline. After choosing 4 different types of tea, we rolled the small hot tea cups on our faces to massage our check, chin and forehead, also placing the tea cup rims over our eyes. It was a fantastic evening and we learnt a lot about the Chinese history, their counting system and how to drink tea according to the Chinese culture. Tea is used for medicine in China as each tea has different beneficial properties, with Jasmine and Green Tea the most common.
Shanghai has a lot to offer tourists and is an easy city to walk around. During the days we could stroll the shops (although buying little as it’s so expensive), stumble upon parks filled with grandparents playing with their grandchildren (while the parents work), opera karaoke in the park, and ballroom dancing. The trippy Bund Sightseeing Tunnel leads to the Oriental pearl tower which we decline to ascend, instead sit on the
banks of the Hang Pu River watching life go by and the sun set behind this fascinating city. As night falls Shanghai’s mesmerizing neon extravaganza gets turned on…this is what nuclear power gets ya! We spend a wonderful evening listening to the ‘Sam Hooper Group’ playing funky Jazz & Blues.
The 12 days of our Intrepid Tour begins on 27th Oct. The first couple of days are spent in Shanghai. Day 3, we catch a local bus to Xi-tang 3 hours from Shanghai. Our accommodation is an adorable traditional Chinese guesthouse and we have a view overlooking the misty cannel and boats. Its quant lantern-lined covered walkways are peaceful and are filled with friendly locals. We sit for tea in beautiful traditional tea house and the owner enthusiastically shows us the carved wooden beams. After a divine dinner on a floating restaurant, our group (4 + guide) buy origami boats with tea light candles and watch them float down the cannel while drinking local rice wine.
Travel day to Xi’an by bus and 17hr night train. We arrive early morning and it’s cold and cloudy so in the afternoon we do a bike ride around the 14km City
wall. Xi’an is a large modern city that used to be the capital during the Ming & Qin Dynasty. The wall is well looked after but very bumpy to cycle around. It gives us excellent exercise and a great birds eye view of this bustling University city.
The famous Terracotta Warriors are a short local bus ride away and a stroll through autumn trees reveals large concrete buildings that house the 3 warrior pits and a museum. A short 360 degree film explains the history of the making and discovery by a local farmer while digging a well in 1974. Pit 1 houses the most warriors lined up in a hanger the size of a football field and quite deep so viewing is not close. Pit 2 & 3 are smaller and are covered in dirt to preserve the paint work so little is able to be seen, however a few completely restored warriors are in glass cabinets for closer inspection if you can muscle your way past the red hat tour groups. We are slightly under-whelmed by the whole exhibit and T liked the large hanger better than the strangely un-armed warriors.
PingYao is a small coal
mining town in the middle of nowhere and is home to nothing. It used to be the centre of finance for the Ming dynasty but now is a dark, cold tourist trap with all the same tourist shops. We visited an old house with old stuff and wandered around the outside of the town’s claustrophobic wall to find that it is as barren outside as it is inside. One redeeming feature is the local cured beef is similar to corned beef…yum yum.
Another overnight train delivers us to Beijing. We immediately take the subway to the Forbidden City across the road from the infamous Tiananmen Square. There are thousands of people funneling through the gates and red hats are everywhere! We walk through a number of courtyards leading to the throne room. The ‘City’ has been recently reconstructed and therefore didn’t have a historic feel about it for us. We decide to make a detour to see the Empire’s Ancient Treasures. Crowns, jewellery, swords, bells, constellation globe, all made of gold. A 5 ½ ton jade sculpture and diamonds and gems were displayed in several rooms. VERY impressive.
That evening we go to the Beijing Acrobats show. It
was old-school circus tricks, performed without precision. Lasers and good stage design made up for the serious performance but the flamboyant mardigra parade ending left us bemused.
On our way to the Great Wall the following day we witness the most insane driving so far on this trip. Suicide passing on both sides of the van by following cars while trucks and busses speed towards us, T had visions of it all ending. Our driver was calm and drove responsibly so we made it to a non touristy section of the wall in one piece. The wall, in a state of ruins, was not visible until we were upon it. The Great Wall stretched for miles in both directions further than the eye could see - approx 15km. The visibility was excellent on this warm autumn afternoon and T could not stop clicking away. The walk was medium pace even though our guide tried to rush us along, through, over and under this immense structure. Our group was the only tourists for the entire 4 hour trek. After taking a detour through village crops more spectacular views follow our ascent to a partly restored section before descending again.
Zero five hundred hours. Zero degrees. Five of us with our flashlights and wooly hats make the climb up, up and up an extremely steep part of the wall to catch the sunrise at 6.30am. Uneven steps make it more of a challenge and we soon realize why a chair lift was put in. At the top we get a 360 deg view of the lake and town below and the wall as it stretches west along the ridge line for ever. We stand in silence as the sky lightens to take in the atmosphere. After the sun touches the mountains in the distance the group descend, T stays on another 30min alone to take a few more pics and enjoy some peace, something he has not had in a few weeks. I would have stayed there all day but we had to catch a bus back to the big city @ 9. We spent 6hrs on the wall and saw no other tourists; Intrepid did an excellent job of selecting our destinations.
Back in Beijing for 3 days, we visit the Olympic stadium, Silk Road markets and get a taste of aggressive haggling, Take a frosty walk through
The Temple of Heaven Gardens, and spend a whole day at the Zoo. A Loves the Panda enclosure and goes around 4 times to catch them eating sleeping and playing….that’s what pandas do. The Zoo is the best we have been to and all the big cats were awake and on the prowl, especially the white Siberian Tiger who got excited over a bright blue helium balloon and tried to leap out of its enclosure.
Beijing is getting cold so we head south to Dali, a small mountain town 2000m above sea level. This trip will take 48hrs including a 40hr train ride. The scenery is stunning; rivers wind through rolling green hills that transform to large mountains with little villages nestled beneath them. Sleep on the train is intermittent especially with the Chinese habit of hacking and spitting at 4.30am till after breakfast.
Dali is a quant old town with tourist shops lining car free streets. Its hippy paradise with tie die clothes, Hessian garments and silver jewelry hanging from market stalls. The town is hemmed in by a lake on one side and 2000m mountains on the other, so we decide to go for a walk
in them. A cable car takes us 1000m up to a paved walking track 14km long towards another cable car. It’s an easy but chilly walk and we make a little race of it to keep it as exciting as the scenery above and below us. We chill out for a couple of days doing very little and soaking up the vibe, because our next 2 travel days will be long as we head further south by bus into Laos.
There are more photos below