Our return to Middle Kingdom

June 3rd 2014
Published: June 3rd 2014
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Firstly I must apolise for this blog being so late. We have been so busy lately covering the miles that we rarely have had a spare few hours. Also we must of brought a very dodgey computer battery in China, as after only a couple of weeks it won't hold its charge, so without a power connection, we have no computer.

Anyway now that my excuses are out of the way, here goes....

China, as many of you will know, was a country that we visited on our last big trip away but, due to its size we ran out of time to see all that we wanted. So this time not only did we revisit some spots that we really enjoyed last time, but also we managed to see quite a few new places on the east coast, including a place that we both have wanted to see for a long time, Hong Kong.

This time our flight from Kathmandu took us to Kunming in the south east. Kunming airport is amazing, everything is new and shining brightly much like a lot of China now. How times have changed, there were a few enterprising young guys hanging around the airport and we managed to find a very nice guy with an equally nice car to run us and an Irish guy who we had met on the plane into the city. We had only visited Kunming overnight on our way to Guilin, last trip so thought we would like to spend some more time there.

We stayed in a very nice Guest House in the west part of town, right near a beautiful park area filled with lakes and weeping willows. Each morning , the locals would be busy around the lake practicing their Tai Chi, ballroom dancing or singing. It really is lovely to see, and the nice part is that they have no inhibitions, so it doesn't matter what they sound or look like, they are all enjoying themselves, and staying healthy in the process. They had a great festival happening while we were there, and we even got to meet Monkey ( for all the Monkey Magic fans - you will know who I am talking about). And one of our greatest moments, we discovered that China sells our favorite 'Snickers Bars', a great find!

We noticed lots of changes right throughout China since our last visit, a lot more amazing infrastructure, new train terminals and amazing new buildings and everywhere still spotlessly clean with not even a stray leaf out of place.

After a few days in Kunming and visiting local markets and tourist spots, and, also after enjoying several Snickers Bars, we took the first of our three overnight train trips, Kunming to Guilin. The trains vary greatly, depending on the province, but this particular train was a beauty, even fresh red roses in the carriage. The train attendants with their very smart uniforms, were also very attentive. We rode through some lovely countryside, along the side of an enormous lake and many small towns before arriving very refreshed after a great sleep, the next morning in Guilin.

Guilin is another place that we had visited before, but last time we were both really sick from food poisoning, so I am pleased to say that this time we had none of that. We stayed in a great hotel which provided a free ride and driver to where ever we wanted to go, fantastic. Also, they provided us with a great noodle soup breakfast, which the ladies very quickly came to realise Dean likes, and they very happily gave him two bowls each morning with all of the trimmings!

The city is fabulous, surrounded by limestone karasts, it is also right on a river which is lit up at night, as only the Chinese can do - simply beautiful. We visited Solitary Beauty Peak there which is also really lovely, a park like area filled with lakes, temples and pagodas, and we even managed the steep climb to the top of the peak to enjoy the views.

We were very lucky in Guilin as one of the hotel staff spoke very good English, and she told us about another festival which was happening in a village near to town. She arranged for the driver to drop us there, and it really was great. The village was not what I expected, but a Chinese new age village, complete with townhouses, waterways, shops and restaurants, very beautiful. You had to cross a brightly lit bridge to enter the village and the streets were lined with food stalls of every type, from oysters to baby chickens everything was on offer, delicious.

They had also arranged several spots around the village with different games, and we couldn't resist one. It was a bit like a three legged race, but each team had three people who lined up behind each other, you then slipped your feet into straps on two pieces of wood ( one for each foot), and on the whistle we were off, Dean in the front, me in the middle and a very vocal lady bringing up the rear, and I'm very proud to say with all the locals cheering us on, that we won the race by a whisker! It really was a great laugh and especially nice to see all ages having a great time together.

After a few hours and with a full belly, and not a taxi in sight, we started the walk back towards the hotel along the brightly lit river. Dean not feeling up for the long walk flagged down a couple of motorcyclists and they very happily dropped us back - how nice of them, the hotel staff just looked at us in amazement as we jumped off the bikes, I don't think it is a thing they normally see!

We had also saved the task of looking for clothes for our upcoming cruise for when we were in Guilin, a task that didn't prove too easy. After several days, and a few trip to the shops, we did manage to get Dean some new trousers and shoes, but I discovered from the 30 or so shoe shops that I went into, that they only sell lady shoes up to size 38 - problem, seeing I take a 42 and, that crepe dress that I have carried from home ( especially for the cruise) won't go with my hiking boots no matter how hard I tried. Eventually however, I did manage to find a pair in Shanghai, I think the only pair that hadn't found it's way out of China to Australia.

Next stop Yangshou, this time our journey took us via the river, and a bamboo raft past the limestone karasts, great fun. We stopped along the way and meet some Cormorant fisherman and also enjoyed a local seafood lunch. Our timing was not so good for Yangshou though, as it was a local holiday weekend and the place was packed with local tourists.

It was the Qingming Festival or 'Tomb Sweeping Day' , where families clear and tidy their ancestors graves which as dotted all over the fields and, even through we were some way out of town the noise of the fireworks was something else. It is also a time when people enjoy the springtime, and lots of the ladies had floral arrangements in their hair, and the children were flying their kites. You know, coming from the culture that we do, I am always fascinated by the many wonderful festivals and reasons to celebrate that people from other cultures have. Yangshou apart from being in a beautiful location, has some great shopping and we spent quite a few hours just browsing the shops there, or rather, I spent a few hours browsing the shops there, ha ha!

One morning we watched a guy with what looked like a stick poking around in some orange trees and we learnt a very interesting thing, there are no bees there. The story goes that a long time ago, the birds were eating all of the corn, so, the locals killed all of the birds, the problem then was too many insects, so they sprayed the insects, now there are no bees, so every year the locals now have to pollinate the fruit trees manually! They obviously didn't think about that.

After Yangshou it was back to Guilin to caught another overnight train, this time for Hong Kong. The train took us first to Shenzhen where, even though Hong Kong is now part of China we had to past through both Chinese and Hong Kong Immigration. Then another train to downtown Hong Kong. We had decided on a bit of luxury there and stayed on the 23rd floor of a fantastic hotel, overlooking the harbour, very spoilt.

Hong Kong was all we thought it would be and more, a fantastic mix of old and new. We enjoyed several rides on the Star ferries, took advantage of the great train system, and even enjoyed a nice Sunday out on the beach at Stanley on Hong Kong Island. We visited some great gardens, bird and fish markets, temples and rode the Tram up to Victoria Peak, walked miles and enjoyed some very nice local food. All
in all a great time.

Time for our third and final overnight train trip - this time, Shenzhen to Hangzhou and it's UNESCO World Heritage West Lake. Hangzhou has a population of about 9 million people, and is known for it's beautiful lake area, which covers an area of 8000 areas! In Hangzhou we stayed away from the city in an area which in years gone by had been a farming commune. Now it is very much like the village that we visited in Guilin and has some beautiful homes, restaurants, hotels and shops. The other thing that makes it really something special is it's gardens. The area is full of the most amazing tiered lakes which are used to filter all of the local waste water, very cleaver indeed. These lakes are surrounded by gardens full of Maples, Azaleas and roses and are very pretty indeed.

West Lake is something else again, man made, it also has some of the most amazing gardens and beauty spots with names such as: Lotus in the Breeze at Crooked Courtyard or Listening to Orioles Singing in the Willows or Evening Bell Ringing at Nanping Mountain, how
beautiful is that? We hired a couple of push bikes and managed to get around the lake twice, and also really enjoyed the fantastic water show that they have, all choreographed to classical music.

After Hangzhou it was back on the train again, this time to Shanghai. The trip only takes about two hours and passes by hundreds and hundreds of greenhouses, they go for as far as the eye can see. I suppose with that many mouths to feed, growing enough would be an absolute nightmare, and certainly would take up a whole lot of room.

Unfortunately Shanghai wasn't so nice to us, and as most would now know, Dean was held at gunpoint for his credit card. Fortunately he wasn't hurt and the bank has now recovered the $5000 for us, but it certainly put a dampener in things for us, and not a nice way for us to remember China.

From Shanghai we had arranged a cabin on a ferry that would take us to Osaka Japan. We meet some great people on-board and really enjoyed our couple of days on the high seas. A taste of what
was to come, when we sail from Japan to Canada.

The journey continues..............................

Additional photos below
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29th June 2014

Just back from Canning & catching up on emails!
All sounds fabulous - except for the robbery bit! Keep enjoying the adventure!! xxx

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