Guess what, I went to China, again...

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November 25th 2012
Published: November 27th 2012
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The three ladies of PudongThe three ladies of PudongThe three ladies of Pudong

The Jin Mao tower and Financial tower are joined by their new sibling
So once more I headed east to spend some time in my beloved China, it has been a few years so clearly I was due a visit. The plan was to spend a few days in Shanghai where fellow sinophile Jim has been working then we'd travel west to the province of Yunnan (well, these days is it hard to pick an area I haven't actually visited in China). Anyway, here's part one of the trip, I took way too many photos (1600+) and so will need to break the trip down to two blogs, stay tuned for part two, you lucky people!

I landed in Shanghai and as ever wanted to jump straight on to the Maglev and enjoy the smooth, speedy ride into Shanghai. In 2005 the ride was lovely, the train was clean and we speed off at great speed. Sadly I think it may have seen better days after seven years service, our carriage didn't even show the speed we were going at which was probably a far cry from the heady days of 2005.

Staying this time in the Pudong side of the Huangpu it was clear to see that Shanghai waits for no
How fast?How fast?How fast?

The Maglev has seen better days, we didn't even seem to get going
man and yet again new skyscrapers had sprouted making the skyline even more crowded although the addition of a few new shopping malls make Pudong a bit more interesting than it was a few years ago.

Battling a bit of jet lag, first to do on the list was a trip to the Peace Hotel on the Bund, last time I was in Shanghai I wanted to have a G+T in the famous Jazz bar but I was bereft as the hotel was being renovated. Four years on and the place has been restored to its full Art Deco glory although the Jazz bar was not quite what I expected, it was rather like an English pub and the jazz band looked older than the communist regime, but I got my G+T and was happy. After the opulence of the Peace hotel, dinner was rather a more frugal affair with a selection of things on skewers barbequed outside a closed metro station, not quite so glamorous but rather tasty.

The next day I took a stroll around some old familiar haunts: the Nanjing road, Shanghai museum, Yu gardens and the Bund. The slow creep of globalisation was evident
Bottle opener of the GodsBottle opener of the GodsBottle opener of the Gods

Well, actually it is the World Financial Centre. But it could be used as a bottle opener by the Gods...
with many familiar shops and the plethora of KFCs, Starbucks and McDonalds which now seem to be on every corner. Still, if they Chinese want them, who am I to criticise, but in general the city was looking good and still as exiting as ever. Back to Pudong in the evening for some delicious Xiaolongbao (steamed soup dumplings), a Shanghai speciality and then a cocktail at the top of the bottle opener (Shanghai World Financial Centre) with the best views over the Bund, highly recommend if you are ever in the city, just try and go before 10pm as they switch off all the lights in Shanghai (well, all the pretty coloured ones on the buildings).

Armed with my fancy Shanghai analogue (m)app and metro card, I spent the rest of the time exploring a few areas I hadn’t been to before. Taking Line four I went to ‘1933’ which was a complex of old buildings (yes you guessed it, from the 1930s) which had been renovated and contained a few shops and things. One of the buildings is an old abattoir which is an amazing piece of design and if I hadn’t been told what it was I
Peaceful timesPeaceful timesPeaceful times

The Peace hotel has been restored to it's full 1930s glory and very nice it is to
would certainly never have guessed it was an abattoir in a previous life. Back on to the metro and over to Monganshan road which houses an arts centre, a bit out of my price range and luggage allowance but worth a trip. Last stop of the day was to Tianzifang, a very pretty arts and crafts area which also had a lot of cool looking bars. Worth a visit if you have some shopping time in Shanghai (as if you wouldn’t) and a bit less touristy than the Yu garden bazaar.

With one final day in Shanghai to entertain myself before we headed out west I decided to treat myself to a ride on the Shanghai Tourist Tunnel between Pudong and the Bund. I cannot stress how much fun this is! Boris should take note; I am sure the Waterloo and City line could be converted to something similar. It has to be one of the craziest things I’ve ever encountered on my travels, whoever created it was a genius.

And finally to the top of the Jin Mao tower to complete my ascent of the tallest buildings in Shanghai but since they are building a new one
Jazz. Nice.Jazz. Nice.Jazz. Nice.

The Jazz bar at the Peace hotel, the band had been there as long as the hotel by the looks of it, the G+T was good though.
which is going to be bigger than any of the current ones, I guess I’ll just have to go back once it is finished, what a shame.

Time to leave Shanghai and start our journey to the west, first stop Kunming in the province of Yunnan. Arriving pretty much in the middle of the night there didn’t seem to be much to see in Kunming apart from the rather impressive new airport which just opened earlier this year. On awaking (and after some fried rice for breakfast, yummy) the next morning the city revealed itself to us, not the most exciting looking of cities but our reason for visiting was to go to the stone forest at Shilin, south of the city. Not an actual forest but lots of limestone stalagmites protruding from the earth.

On arrival at Shilin our driver dropped us off in the car park and we soon realised we were out of Shanghai due to the distinct lack of English instructions anywhere, still tickets were purchased and we headed to jump on the golf cart to take us to the proper entrance. Tickets were promptly refused as we’d bought the cheap ones and had
Fine diningFine diningFine dining

The ONLY place to eat in Shanghai
a nice 20 minute walk to the gate. Still, we enjoyed the quick stroll (not something most of the Chinese would) and took an opposite route around the park to the tour groups. The forest was amazing, especially the Major Stone Forest area of the park which was empty but looked like the place where you might find Bilbo and the trolls in The Hobbit. I think the tour groups had a flat route through it so you can easily lose the crowds if you wanted to, just go up.

There is also a famous stone called ‘Ashima’ which is meant to represent a girl out of a folk story, naturally this was cause for many Chinese to pose in front of and take lots and lots of photos. They do like their photos and poses, sometimes they can be most amusing. The area is also home to the Sani, one of China’s many ethnic minorities, and of course that meant some dancing for the tourists as is their want.
After a good few hours wandering about the forest it was time to head back to Kunming and some delicious noodles for a whole 80p, I love China! Although
'Cause we've got 30s style!'Cause we've got 30s style!'Cause we've got 30s style!

The Bund in all it's 1930s glory.
I did make mine a little too spicy even though I was warned by the waitress that I was adding too much chilli, I get my stubbornness from my mother!

We had a wander around the Dian lake area which on a Friday night was busy with the locals enjoying the fine weather. Lots of organised outdoor dancing and a very weird show of a man regurgitating ribbon for about ten minutes, maybe he was going to enter China’s got talent next year? The guidebook says Kunming is a ‘drinking city’, after wandering around for an hour to find a bar we discovered why, there was the most bizarre area with a selection of large nightclubs all in one place, a sort of mini Las Vegas in the wild west of China. We had to resort to the revolving restaurant (which had seen better days, probably in the 80s) at the top of the hotel which gave lovely views of the delightful lights which adorn the buildings of Kunming (as with all Chinese cities), they do like their lights.

The following morning it was back to the fancy new airport for a short hop to Shangrila (only at 3380m), not often you can say you are on your way to Shangrila. Originally it was called Zhongdian but the Chinese have seized on a marketing opportunity and renamed it. The idea is meant to come from a book ‘The lost Horizon’ which I had purchased to read on the journey, which describes some colonial types getting stuck in a monastery in Tibet, although not staying in a monastery we were heading off to the outer reaches of Tibet. Shangrila is home to the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery which is often referred to as the Little Potala Palace, it is a little smaller and a lot more commercialised than the original but still pretty spectacular.

First things first though, when in (almost) Tibet one must partake of the delicious yak meat, so lunch consisted of some tasty yak dumplings and a yak stir fry, highly recommended. After our lust for yak was sated, we explored the old town area which was very pretty but with all the old wooden buildings it felt a little like a ski resort in parts. The town must be quite a popular resort for the Chinese, we were a little off season so it was
Living spaceLiving spaceLiving space

My attempts at being arty
pretty empty but I can imagine it being very busy at the height of the season and there were plenty of shops and bars (favouring loud techno music for some reason) to cater for the tourists. Still it is very pretty and has a rather interesting museum dedicated to the Long March of the Red Army which has a very surreal room where they recreate the harsh conditions through which the soldiers marched; you do find some strange things on occasion in China.

The following day we walked to the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery which is a few kilometres out of town and a chance to take a multitude of photos of prayer flags and temples, well you never know when you might need a photo of prayer flags. On the way there we passed through the modern part of Shangrila which was quite similar to Lhasa in many respects, well you can buy yak everywhere. Arriving at the ticket hall for the monastery it was clear that it is a major tourist site as there was a bus service to it and lots of ‘ancient-modern’ buildings around it. They seemed to be building a massive complex next to it,
1933 and all that1933 and all that1933 and all that

A bit of an arty place in Shanghai
so more money for the monks! At least it was a few kilometres away from the actual monastery so they Chinese all pile in to buses to get there so there is still a bit of karma to be found.

The monastery itself was very spectacular, if you enjoy a good temple and like to say Ni Hao to Buddha, just remember to go clockwise! They did seem to be building an extension to it, but then my travels would never be complete without a bit of scaffolding on occasion. And of course, I got a few pictures of prayer flags so it’s all good. On returning to the old town we stopped for some dumplings in a local café and were highly amused by a sign in English saying ‘No Japanese’, seems that the old rivalries haven’t quite been forgotten yet, luckily we’re not Japanese and for a bargain £1 enjoyed a large amount of dumplings, oh I love China!

Right, that is part one of the blog, if you can cope, stay tuned for the second half it has tigers and dragons in it, honest.

Additional photos below
Photos: 62, Displayed: 29


Guess what this was?Guess what this was?
Guess what this was?

Anyone? That's right it was an abattoir, well done.
Which way is up?Which way is up?
Which way is up?

It's all gone a bit Escher
Moo-ve overMoo-ve over
Moo-ve over

These 'air bridges' were for the cows when this was an abattoir, they are probably a bit cleaner now..
Run out of space? Build upRun out of space? Build up
Run out of space? Build up

Found this interesting house on the streets of Shanghai,
Pretty PuxiPretty Puxi
Pretty Puxi

The view from the Jin Mao tower over old Shanghai
Where it all beganWhere it all began
Where it all began

The location of the first Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in July 1921 in the old French Concession area. Now in one of the major shopping areas of Shanghai, progress..
Pudong panoramaPudong panorama
Pudong panorama

Every time I visit there are more and more buildings, when will it stop!

A cool place to shop and hang out
Capitalism v CommunismCapitalism v Communism
Capitalism v Communism

In case you forgot it was still a communist country (which is very easy) there were a few reminders on the Nanjing road
The food is very freshThe food is very fresh
The food is very fresh

We were joined by an unexpected dinner guest one night
Old ShanghaiOld Shanghai
Old Shanghai

There is still a bit of it left, but not sure for how much longer

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