Got to stop moving so fast and writing so slow.
A few weeks have passed and we are now in beautiful Guangxi Province in the stunningly located and stunningly annoying town of Yangshuo. We've come here via Fenghaun and Hong Kong both of which deserve their own entry but due to lack of time and crashing computers aren't going to get one.
Our trip to Fenghaun was the most pleasant yet (despite it being a pain to get to). First we took the train to Huaihau - I can't remember how long it took but can safely say it was in double figures. We found we were to be sharing our compartment with people of the young and cosmopolitan variety. In stark contrast to previous journeys, they were all clean, good-looking and fashionable (quite possibly models). We were delighted to discover that the rural, smelly, uncouth types in the compartment were actually us and fulfilled our role to perfection, spending our time slurping noodles and staring.
A pack of taxi drivers jostling to get our fare descended on us upon our arrival in Huaihau. Unfortunately, we couldn't beat them off as we usually would because we needed to
get across town to the bus station. Bartering a taxi fare can be tricky at the best of times (lots of taxi drivers in Chinese towns don't bother with the meter and these guys are professionals at extracting money) but we were at an even bigger disadvantage because we had no idea how far the bus station was. Compounding this was the understandable lack of English and the un-understandable Chinese way of finger counting (don't go thinking you can just hold up six fingers to indicate six, oh no, you should do a cross between a telephone and a rocker sign; ten is an X sign and the others are downright odd). Our offers were all met with over-the-top laughter (come on really, it's not that
funny) and 'don't be ridiculous!' faces until we got to 5 Yuan (about 40p) and one guy quietly nodded ok. None of the other drivers were very impressed. It seems that negotiating a price with eight people involved in the process certainly has its advantages.
The bus to Fenghaun was of the annoying rural variety that only go when full, but of course you don't know that and so sit looking at
the bus station car park for two hours thinking any minute now
. It was all worth it when we arrived in Fenghaun because it was by far and away the prettiest town we've been to so far. We headed off to find some accommodation and were greeted by a riverfront of beautiful, old wooden houses on stilts. The houses were all supporting each other and looked wonderfully ramshackle, complete with balconies and oversized red lanterns. Women were washing clothes at the riverfront, beating the water out with wooden paddles; small venetian-style boats completed the scene, their ‘oarsmen' using long bamboo sticks to navigate the river. It turned out that the place we were planning on staying in was one of the ramshackle buildings alongside the river and our balcony had the kind of view that makes you forget you've still got your backpack on. We were overlooking the old city gate, and the main crossing point of the river, with two pedestrian bridges: one made of stepping stones, the other of narrow wood, only just wide enough for two people to carefully pass each other.
As you can probably imagine we did a lot of nothing in Fenghaun. Wandering
around the old town, sitting on the balcony watching river-life, drinking beer and chatting with our neighbours (in true travelling style we already knew them having shared a four-bed dorm in Xian). By day the place was pretty idyllic but by night the Chinese tourists (there were hardly any Western tourists there) turned it into one big karaoke competition with the sound of drunken wailing continuing long into the night.
Then for something completely different we went to Hong Kong and topped up on the buzz and energy of the big city. Although we've been to Hong Kong before this time was different because it was to meet up with my mum (who I hadn't seen for well over a year).
We were pretty busy in Hong Kong seeing and doing lots that we hadn't done the previous time and re-doing our favourite things from last time. We stayed in Kowloon in the thick of the Nathan Road madness, turning down Rolexes, suits and handbags with every step and eating delicious curries in the sprawling Chungking Mansions. We also stayed on Lantau and saw the biggest, bronze, seated Buddha in the world (don't miss out any
of the all-important adjectives). We zipped along in the cable car, seeing the Buddha from the air and taking in the Lantau countryside over to the far side of the island. From Kowloon we took the Star Ferry across to wander around the neck-craning architecture of Central, walking on to neighbouring, traditional Wan Chai, gawping at antiques on Hollywood Road and choking on incense at city temples. We got on the tram with no destination in mind and rode top-front enjoying the breeze and the elevated view of the city from dusk until nightfall. We revisited the peak and saw Hong Kong stretching out before us with a blue sky and fluffy white clouds perfecting the view. We met up with my cousin David and his wife Alex who live out there and got suitably drunk in the fashionable drinking area of Lan Kwai Fong (thank-you!).
When we'd exhausted ourselves in Hong Kong we headed back to China and my mum came too! Immigration didn't want to make it easy to get in (damn Olympics) and for the first time (despite many countries threatening it in their fanciful entry requirements) we had to book our first night's accommodation and
our ticket out of China in order to get the visa. Luckily the cheapest ticket out of China was a bus to Shenzhen and at just 60 Yuan (about £4) it wasn't as bad as it could have been. We had a pretty easy trip back considering all that was involved (taxi, express train, overnight train, bus) but unfortunately had to experience a few hours in our worst Chinese train station to date. Guangzhou train station is filthy horror on a grand scale. I have experienced far too many public toilets during the past month or so in China including the 'public
public' variety (your dignity would be left at the door if there was one) but have never had to turn around and walk out moments after entering. It far surpassed my eye-closing and breath-holding abilities and all I could think was 'my poor mother' (but of course she is made from far stronger stuff than the word 'mother' denotes, evidenced by the fact she thought it would be 'fun' to accompany her daughter backpacking in China). It was quite a relief to get on the train itself, and because we were right by the soft sleeper carriage we
could use their relatively posh facilities, including a rather delightful western toilet (door provided).
Yangshuo has a stunning setting which adorns many a postcard. The town sits alongside a fast-flowing river and is surrounded by karst peaks. The countryside is a wonderful cliché of everything you might expect and hope for in rural China: small stone bridges over clear-water streams; bamboo-hat-wearing farmers ploughing fields with hand tools and oxen; paddy field after paddy field.
But there is a downside to all of this. It starts as soon as you get off the bus and ends when you get back on (or more accurately when the bus is actually pulling away). It comes in human form. They follow you to your accommodation and around the countryside. They sit next to you at breakfast and reappear at lunch. They join in your conversation and won't take no for an answer.
Touts and hawkers; the scourge of Yangshuo. I wouldn't recommend that anyone who struggles to control their temper goes to Yangshuo. In fact, I would, but only if I can watch. It's perfectly natural that people want to get their piece of the lucrative tourist-trade pie
but it becomes a problem when everyone
wants a piece and will say and do anything to get it. From dodgy adding-up ('It's 20 each so four people 100 ok?'
) to outright lies, it can make it a frustrating place to be. It also means that you find yourself running away from locals and not believing a word anyone says. Yangshuo is thus rendered an icing-less cake by the very people who seek to sell it to you.
Luckily the cake is damn good (excuse the extended analogy😊 and Yangshuo is a fantastic place to spend at least a couple of days. We visited caves where the stalactites and stalagmites compete in scale and texture, creating an underground landscape that even Hollywood couldn't conceive of. We walked for hours feeling like explorers with our hard hats and torches, entering and exiting one of the caves by bamboo boat, ducking our heads to avoid the low overhangs. We rented bikes and cycled through the countryside, alongside the river, through paddy fields and across streams. We climbed up one of the peaks to see the town and the improbable number of peaks surrounding it. We took a boat along the river
the bizarre landscape looming on either side.
Oh and I took some photos... enjoy😊
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