After a pretty easy journey we arrived bright and early in Zhaoqing. We got our picture taken by a girl we'd been chatting to on the train and strolled out the main entrance straight into a massive chorus of 'HELLO!' from about 40 cabbies all vying for our fare. We approached cautiously when they were all grappling with each other and a gentle but firm tug of my arm led me into one of the waiting open doors.
We sped into town and were dropped by the lakeside where a perfectly sychronised dragon boat team were practising for the upcoming festival. We were roughly where we expected the China Travel Service place to be. From various sessions of research I had discovered that Zhaoqing doesn't have any hostels at all and we needed CTS to help us locate somewhere cheap to stay, and to save us a bit of time by booking our onward ferry tickets to Hong Kong. After a few minutes wandering around we found the CTS building has closed down with no forwarding address. We jumped into another cab to the ferry ticket shack and easily bought our tickets for 150Y each which is a bargain if you ask me! Afterwards we were unsure what to do, checking into a plush hotel seemed out of the question and neither of us had seen any guesthouses on our journey. We opted to head out of town to a mountainous park area called Ding Hu Shan where there was an HI hostel nestled by a temple.
We caught a local bus service and travelled the 18km into the resort area. After buying our student tickets we travelled by golf cart into the hills and tried to find the hostel. I was gushing sweat worse than ever and after a shortish walk I just felt so drained. Entering the temple complex we couldn't find the hostel... We went into the temple's restaurant (vegetarian) and ate a pretty expensive but tasty meal of mushrooms, roots, shoots and nuts, and then tried again. We soon stumbled upon a hotel inside the temple complex and asked what their rates were using my phrasebook. They spoke Cantonese but showing them the symbols worked fine. I was amazed to see 20Y dorm beds on the list and asked to see the room. Sadly it was a dark room about 30 feet long, the many beds were just planks of wood from one end of the room to the other flanking a central walking space, no mosquito nets and no window covering. There would be no chance of sleep for me there so I asked to see the extortionately priced twin room. This was much nicer so reluctantly we chose this for 380Y. Yet again we were let down by the guide book. It had shown the hostel on it's map as being somewhere it clearly wasn't. I got the feeling they hadn't actually visited the area to write about it. That evening we couldn't do much as the rain was torrential. Instead we just watched it and a giant green caterpillar for a while. Back in the hostel the TV didn't work for ages as the mast had been struck by lightning. Twice. We bought some beers, jerky that turned out to be disgusting fruit/bark jerky, crisps and nuts from reception (odd that they sold beer but not meat in this Buddhist temple...) and did nothing. Later we watched some volleyball and some football.
The next day we nipped out early to see what the park had to offer us. We trekked back up the hill, via some more sights we had to pay extra for, to the Ding area. The world's largest 'Ding' is a huge bronze(ish) pot built in 2000AD. Not too impressive though. What was more interesting was the lush sub-tropical scenery all around us and the swarms of beautifully irridescent dragon flies.
The Chinese have an annoying passion for re-hashing old styles of building and ornamentation that tries to fool you into believing that you're in a really old and special place when in fact you are not. Not just here but everywhere else too, from the areas around Tiananmen Square to the re-built parts of the walls of Xi'an. The temple complex here felt extremely fake too with normal guys dressed as monks for the tourists. When the place closed they put their tracksuits back on and chattered on their mobile phones. Trying to sum up the Chinese in two words I would have to use 'Opportunistic' and 'Friendly', though 'Strange' would be a very valid choice too from all the odd things we've seen.
We checked out of the hotel and walked down the hill via a place that claimed to be full of 'anions' that are supposedly good for your health and there was even a sign that reported there was 'no bacteria in the area'. Yet again - WTF?!? That's so clearly a lie that I now have absolutely no faith in anything the Chinese authorities say whatsoever. At least the forest was pretty.
On our way we walked through the resort area and spotted what we're pretty sure was the HI hostel building, in a very different place to that expected. GRRRRRRRRRR! At the bottom we just about grabbed the bus back into town as it pulled away from the stop and soon found ourselves wandering about trying to find a hotel in Zhaoqing. It turned out that we couldn't find the guidebook one we wanted to see but checked into a 3* one by the lake for discounted 255Y from (I think) 360Y. This wasn't quite as nice as the Ding Hu Shan room but all we'd needed was a vaguely comfortable bed so this was fine. We went straight out to find food and got a really filling Chinese meal cheaply in a local chain restaurant. Afterwards we went to the place that had attracted us to Zhaoqing in the first place - the Seven Crags park.
This park is made up of seven granite peaks set in lakes with beautiful mangroves and forest. We caught a motorboat across the lake to the entrance for 15Y return. I looked the part brilliantly in my stripey blue and white t-shirt and a bright orange life jacket. Martyn approved. We climbed the first peak we came across. The climb was strenuous in the humidity and the path seemed illogical, climbing several metres and then plumetting a few more, but we made it to the top and admired the stunning views whilst sweat drenched us again. When we came down we had to pass by a nicely lit cave as yet again they insisted our entry tickets weren't enough and we needed to pay 25Y more. We didn't have too long in the park anyway as it was pretty late in the afternoon but it was really worth visiting for the climb. A longer day there would have been great just to see the other peaks.
In the evening we went looking for a bar or something similar but failed and ended up eating lychees and drinking beer by the waterfront. A guy came and loitered near me for a while before sitting down next to me. We both had our suspicions of what he was after - namely me, but it wasn't until Martyn cruelly engineered a photo of the two of us that it became completely obvious. Just after the photo he rubbed my arm so I decided it was probably time to go, despite Martyn protesting he wanted us to stay there...
The next morning Martyn tried to go shopping but the Chinese fashion generally isn't to his, or my, taste. We grabbed some food before getting soaked in another downpour. We checked out and made our waytothe ferry ticket place where we had to wait for a minibus. When it picked us up we were the only people besides the driver and his son/daughter and he drove us FAR beyond where we'd expected to be taken. Not sure whether we were being kindapped or driven to Hong Kong I resigned myself to missing out on a boat trip there. Soon afterwards we were dumped in front of the ferry terminal in Gao Ming and boarded our catamaran out of China proper. As we pulled off it was a fairly odd feeling but I know I'll be back to see the Western provinces one day.
The half empty catamaran glided down the river and across the sea before entering Hong Kong around 18.30, the view was excellent and well worth the money spent. We got a few more stamps in our passports and then we were turned loose on Kowloon!
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