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Published: November 13th 2012
The amazing view from our dorm room in Yuanyang.
Apologies that the flurry of blogs I promised a few entries ago didn't materialise. Despite many hours on the road, I just never got round to doing my blog homework. It hasn't helped that most bus rides have been more like riding a Big Dipper.
Right, where were we up to? We were leaving Yangshuo for Kunming. The majority of the journey was made up by 17 hours on a night train from Guilin. Guilin North station is about the most dreary place known to mankind, so it wasn't a great place to arrive early for a then delayed train. Once on the train, Sophie and I exchanged nervous glances when we discovered we would be sharing the cabin with a new-born baby (and its mother thankfully). Fortunately the baby, like most Chinese kids, was immensely well behaved, and provided just a cute distraction on the long ride.
Kunming wasn't our overall destination. More of a base from which to decide where in Yunnan province - which stretches from the Himalayas to the tropics - we would head. It
This entry was written today on the scenic bus ride from Hue to Hoi An. Sophie was enjoying the view as always.
was the first time on the trip we'd had such freedom to decide our route, and it's a freedom I really enjoy. The city itself feels distinctly provincial, yet in true Chinese fashion, houses more people than Greater London. But for an interesting pet market selling just about every rodent, reptile, insect or amphibian possible, there wasn't much to report.
We decided that early the next day we would head south, to the World's foremost rice terraces. The charms of Dali and Lijiang to the north were tempting, but each day travelling north would mean a day lost travelling back on ourselves. A dash all the way to the Vietnamese border was also an option, but would leave us stranded on the border a day before our Vietnamese visas became valid. Locating the Yuanyang rice terraces, on the way to Vietnam, would use that extra day or two in a manner faithful to those who swear that Yunnan province must be seen in some depth. The only issue was that the journey to Yuanyang was probably the least well trodden route of the three options. Still, like the
Tai Chi in Xinjie
A relaxing way to prepare for the gruelling journey to Vietnam that followed.
pro-travellers we are, we went for it.
We are glad we did. The bus journey was suitably rustic, but after 9 hours, we got off in the right place and managed to find a van to take us to the village containing our hostel. (Yuanyang is the collective name of the area, made up of lots of tiny villages).
With the sun down, it was absolutely freezing on our arrival. The hostel having a wide open frontage didn't help, although the hearty Chinese food they served us did. It was then one of those 'too cold to do much else' early nights. We also wanted to catch the sunrise over the terraces in the morning.
That sunrise was a let down, with mist obscuring the view. So we traipsed back through the village and went back to bed for a bit. But once we'd reawaken, the mist had well and truly cleared and been replaced by a baking sun that would beat down all day.
While many people hire mini-vans, we walked the dusty mountain roads from viewpoint to viewpoint. The views were phenomenal. Rice terraces stepped down the entire faces of huge mountains throughout our entire field of vision. Those terraces were filled with water, creating amazing mirror effects. Nearly as good as the views was just walking through the tiny villages, made up of the people who work on the terraces. Much like near Yangshuo, we were easily outnumbered by water buffalo walking along the road. There were also plenty of cheesy-but-satisfying 'wave-to and high-five the local children' moments.
It's here I should come clean. Towards the end of the afternoon I may have significantly contributed to the death of a baby chicken. A hen and its chicks were doing their thing at the other side of the road. Probably high from the views and local charms, and overly comfortably with livestock having been walking past farm animals all day, I did a gleeful run towards them, in full knowledge they'd scatter. They scattered alright. Unfortunately, one of the chicks scattered straight down the bank at the side of the road. No problem I thought - the bank was only about two feet tall. That is except (as I saw as I got over there) on this tiny bit of road. Here the bank gave way to a sheer 20 feet drop, and (almost to add insult to injury), a waterfall. I had a good look to see if I could see the chick and stage a daring mountain rescue, but alas, no luck.
Anyway, I feel there is no need to get into a specific blame game. The hen shouldn't have been letting her kids scrabble around near a dangerous precipice. Also, I've seen what they do to chickens in China. I probably did that chick a favour.
It was another cold night, and typically, as we left early the next morning, a glorious sunrise illuminated the sky. We hopped in a minivan to Yuanyang's mountainside hub-town Xinjie, watched the locals practice their early morning tai-chi over a biscuit breakfast, and then boarded a bus for the long, mountainous ride down to the Vietnamese border.
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