A Travellerspoint blog

Postscript on China

A few reflections on the things I will remember about my month in China

We arrived in China with the intention of only spending a couple of days there as a means of getting from Hong Kong to our planned destination of Vietnam. However, as soon as we crossed the border the people were so friendly and welcoming, the landscape so unique and captivating and for so many other reasons we eventually got drawn in by China and ended up spending close on a month there.

China has its own distinctive character, certain aspects that, when we reflect back, are what we will remember most:

Let's start with the toilets! They are mainly of the crouch variety other than in your hotel room so as soon as you are a full bladder away from your room, you become filled with anxiety! And you won't find respite in a cafe or restaurant - these too are crouch, even McDonalds! However, they are definitely cleaner than elsewhere. For example public transport travellers, beware! Bus and train station loos are always, without fail, an assault on the senses. Never with toilet paper, often mucky - and pungent too - the guide books advise hyperventilating or lighting a strong cigarette before entering. In one such toilet in a long-distance bus station I heard someone doing just that!

And no room for relaxing on the loo: firstly because of the obvious fact that they are crouch; and secondly because in many public toilets especially in more remote areas, there is no door and a very low dividing wall between yourself and your neighbours - so there's no place for modesty either! Despite this in one bus station we noticed a girl texting as she crouched which was incomprehensible given the odour.

In a very basic facility in rural Nansha, after we gingerly negotiated one of the worst loos we'd come across, a lady outside actually put out her hand for a 5 yuan fee!

Other than the usual hole in the ground, it was in China that we had our first encounter with a type of long canal or sluice passing through all the toilets. In these types of loos, it's not uncommon to see waste from neighbours' loos passing beneath you as it's flushed automatically by the system.

And then there are the trains: I know I've talked about the condition of the trains but the thing I most dreaded on those long, often more than 12-hour journeys, was facing the loo in the morning as these were nothing short of a nightmare after a night of being shared by all - both men and women.

We swopped stories with hilarity with fellow travellers often whooping with laughter at our total inability to cope with crouch loos - but one wonders what Chinese ladies think of the way we handle their toilets and the funny thing is that, when given a choice between a western-style toilet and a crouch, most people in China choose the crouch so obviously they prefer it.

Language: We found communication very difficult in China, to the point that even when gesticulating, we could not make ourselves understood. This was not easy to get around as we seem to have very different frames of reference: hand signals that one would assume were universal did not seem to apply here. So I recommend that if you plan to come to China, it would be a good idea to learn some important phrases and vocabulary. This is not as easy as it sounds: one would have to learn with a cd supported by a book, as the tonal nature of the language makes it very important to learn the subtle distinction between tones; learning by listening would be the only way to do it. For example, one word can have totally different meanings depending on whether you use it with a high tone, a rising tone, a falling-rising tone, or a falling tone (I must say, though, that the other day when I said 'No' to a tout who was bothering me I suddenly ruminated thinking of the difficulties they must have with English, easily getting mixed up with 'no', 'know' or even 'now'!). Our total lack of preparation in the language department was a huge shortcoming: I was in admiration of other travellers, mainly Americans I must say, who had often learned a good deal of Chinese or were even fluent. This must make for a much more interesting journey, even when faced with a menu in a restaurant or just chatting to people on the trains, and of course when asking directions and reading signs.

People: Despite our meagre, nay non-existent, knowledge of the language, we found the people in China very friendly and helpful. Some examples of the people we will remember are:
On the train, a young man in our compartment gave up his more expensive lower bunk for an older passenger and slept in her less comfortable top bunk;
In Kunming, when asked directions to the East and West Pagodas, a young teenager got up from chatting and drinking with his mates to lead us for a good ten minutes to the monuments, giving us a smiling nod and a wave when we thanked him;
At a youth hostel in Yangshuo, the young lady who ran the hostel gave us so much free advice on places to visit around the area and allowed us to use her internet even when we weren't staying there;
In Shenzhen, when we were stranded for hours waiting for an overnight train, laden down with our bags, we wandered into the 5-star Shangri-La Hotel looking for a computer and a place to rest our legs. The concierges there took us under their wings, offering to store our bags free of charge while we went off to the museum for the afternoon, and escorting us to their business centre to use their internet;
In Lijiang, we stumbled across a tiny wisp of a kitten sitting outside a shop, a piece of string tied around its neck. When we questioned the shop owner and suggested he let it go, he shook his head. We were puzzled and a little upset at the seeming cruelty. However, passing by on our numerous sightseeing forays we began to notice his total tenderness towards his little kitten even making a shelter for it out of a shoe box to sleep in when the weather turned chilly. It became clear that the string around its neck, which was very loosely tied let me assure you, was to protect the little thing so that she didn't run under a car. It was very touching.
And in general I found the people of China to be wonderful with their children. Grandparents everywhere played happily with their grandchildren and looked after them dotingly, and family members cooed adoringly round young babies.

Tiny kitty, Lijiang

Tiny kitty, Lijiang


They need this sign on the trains!

They need this sign on the trains!

Spitting: This bit of our experience of China probably doesn't need much explanation. In the areas we visited which admittedly were more remote, it was done noisily on trains, in the streets, out of bus windows and into bus dustbins. I have read that it is based on a belief that spitting expels bad humours, which may explain why it is so proudly and liberally done. However, I believe that there is a campaign to stamp it out which has been relatively successful in the bigger cities and the middle class already consider it déclassé. Nevertheless, during our travels and in the places we visited, it was definitely part of the soundtrack of China.

Queuing: A peculiarity to China seems to be the inability to queue especially at train stations and when getting on buses. As the time drew closer for boarding a train, people would begin to collect in a great mass around the barriers by the doors. We noticed this our first time catching a train and immediately joined in for fear that there was some kind of allocation system we shouldn't miss out on (bearing in mind that your beds or seats are already assigned). Although we went to the back of the throng and waited in our "place", people regularly quite visibly and forcefully pushed in. When the barriers opened, they pushed through as if about to miss the train (they weren't!). Upon arriving at our compartments we found, as we had thought, that our beds were the same as the numbers on our tickets and maintaining our place in the line had not gained us any noticeable advantage - we were baffled! On chatting to more seasoned travellers, the advice was that on boarding a bus or train it is best to throw aside all pretensions of politeness and develop "sharp elbows" - especially on crowded buses when you are not lucky enough to be allocated a seat - the only way to avoid losing your place on that bus!

Beds: When we lay on our first bed in Hong Kong, it was hard as rock. In the middle of the night, we telephoned the hotel housekeeper and asked for a softer mattress! They said there were no softer mattresses. This was at a fairly posh hotel, mind! (The housekeeper put two fluffy duvets each under our sheets for the night.) It took a lot of getting used to but we now miss those hard beds of China when we encounter a softer bed here in Vietnam - although they also tend to have hard beds here. You get a good night's sleep on them hard beds!

Posted by SEAsia.Mon 07:27 Archived in China Tagged blogsherpa Comments (0)

A sad goodbye to China. Last stop: Yuanyang Rice Terraces

A very long farewell as we head from Qiaotou to Hekou

semi-overcast 19 °C
View China & SE Asia on SEAsia.Mon's travel map.

I write this after a week of intensive travelling, retracing our steps from north to south to arrive at our eventual destination, Vietnam. From Qiaotou on the Yangtze River by rural minibus back to a very cold Lijiang - which I felt particularly, still being feverish - after collecting our backpacks we overnighted at Fu Xiang, our hotel in Lijiang. A quick breakfast the next morning and then on the number 11 bus to the long-distance bus station, to take the Lijiang to Xiaguan (Dali City) bus. It was suggested to us by some locals from Lijiang that we should try bus travel as it was more regular than the train and thus more convenient. Although they called it Express and though it was more expensive than the train, it turned out a dirty, cramped bus with four or five buckets used as rubbish bins/spittoons lined down the aisle and our fellow travellers eating corn from a roadside stall, chicken feet (vacuum-packed), and groundnuts, it seemed the whole journey.

On arrival at Xiaguan we purchased our tickets for the overnight sleeper train from Xiaguan to Kunming, then, hungry and tired, weighed down by our backpacks, we searched the dusty streets around the train station for a decent loo and for somewhere to eat. The first we did not find but we did espy a young man running a small front shop, making fresh noodles, rolling them up, stretching and throwing them in the air like some kind of acrobatic contortionist, and then, slicing them into fine noodles to be quickly cooked in boiling water which he served with chopped spring onion, chilli, garlic, soy sauce, a chopped meat condiment and ginger. A regular clientele wandered in and out of this small establishment and we decided to follow the crowds. We perched on tiny plastic stools, not even 7 inches off the ground, and were served this little feast.

Cooking fresh noodles in Xiaguan

Cooking fresh noodles in Xiaguan

Back at the station we boarded the train and waited to meet the other 4 people who were to share our compartment with us. We were pleasantly surprised to find that no one arrived at all and then the train started moving off - we had the compartment to ourselves, heaven, even though it was still open-doored! This was quite unexpected as we had literally arrived at the train station 2 hours before and took a chance on getting our usual lower bed hard sleepers. We now wonder if it wasn't perhaps better to arrive later and get the emptier compartments - a theory we did not get to test again.

The Camellia hotel in Kunming was a welcome sight at 5am the next morning. It really is a lovely, well-run established hotel; centrally-located; welcoming, professional reception staff; bellboys; an elevator swiftly taking us to our well-lit spacious room with a full bath ensuite. At 200 yuan double per night this hotel comes well recommended.

Kunming downtown

Kunming downtown

We rested up here, bought another bus ticket, this time for a 7-hour journey to Yuanyang rice terraces way in the south of Yunnan Province, well on the way to the remote China-Vietnam border town of Hekou on the Red River, where we intended to cross into Vietnam (there used to be a train line running from Kunming to Hekou and Vietnam, but it has been discontinued due to landslides).

We set off in the bus at 10am the following morning. It was a bit smarter than any bus that we'd previously caught, with clean carpets under foot and slightly more seat space. Initially the road south from Kunming was a dual carriageway. The journey was uneventful although we did pass through a city where the air was almost opaque with what appeared to be industrial pollution, as there were a lot of factories nearby. It was like something out of a futuristic sci-fi movie.

Polluted haze, region of Yuxi

Polluted haze, region of Yuxi

Needless to say, by the end of the 7-hour journey, the condition of the bus had somewhat deteriorated and I personally heard and saw women vomiting and spitting copiously into the bins on many occasions - it was a bit of a bumpy ride! Before we reached our final destination of Xinjie, the bus rumbled through a large built-up town, we later discovered its name to be Nansha, on a broad empty river bed in a deep valley surrounded by a high range of rounded mountains which struck one with their enormity. We discovered later that this is the new town of Yuanyang, 28 very long kilometres away from Xinjie, the old town of Yuanyang!

We continued now on to the final leg of our journey, up winding steep mountains our bus bumped and jutted, on a road which ascended from 240m to 1600m in just over 20kms, an incline all the way. The road narrowed, bumpy and uneven, no barrier on the side. Ever higher and higher we climbed, round and round the mountains, passing dishevelled roadside dwellings surrounded by untidy banana plantations, the mountain below carved out into rice terraces, some waterlogged. Fascinating when taking into account the remoteness and inaccessibility of the terrain. I was overwhelmed with a sense of history and respect for these minority peoples: these rice terraces here have been referred to in Tang Dynasty records: 1300 years ago, the Hani tribe carved them out of the rocks and earth.

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces


Waterlogged rice terraces, Yuanyang

Waterlogged rice terraces, Yuanyang


Rice terraces, Yuanyang

Rice terraces, Yuanyang


Yuanyang rice terraces

Yuanyang rice terraces


Early morning mists rolling in, Yuanyang

Early morning mists rolling in, Yuanyang


Terraces

Terraces


And the terraces follow the very contours of the earth

And the terraces follow the very contours of the earth


Road to Nansha

Road to Nansha

Eventually, now after 5pm, we arrived in Xinjie, the old Yuanyang county seat, high and cold, a grubby town. There was only one possibility for accommodation that night for us: the Yun Ti Hotel, a 3-star that stands overlooking the old town at the highest point. There are other guesthouses to stay at, but after all our travelling we felt like a decent night's sleep in a comfortable hotel and it turned out to be very good value at 200 Yuan for a double per night. It was icy cold and the heating in the room was warmly welcomed by us.

Our hotel, the Yun Ti, Xinjie

Our hotel, the Yun Ti, Xinjie

Later we headed out to the town square, which seemed like a balcony overlooking the mountains below. It had a choice of a few very local, very basic restaurants. Like one fellow blogger said, she had trouble keeping her food down eating while an employee of the restaurant cleaned a dead bird next to her. Anyway, the food was tasty.

Before we went for dinner, we popped in at Window of Yuanyang, a World Vision sustainable tourism project, aiming to help get local minorities involved and directly benefiting from tourism in the area. We were disappointed to find, however, that no English was spoken and although we hope the project succeeds, it will only be some time in the future. One thing I did notice on reading a visitor's "comments book", was that a German visitor who had written a little comment the previous day, said that the rice terraces did not lend themselves to being photographed now because of the mist and that one should rather spend one's time appreciating the minority peoples, taking in markets etc! We were very disappointed, especially as I personally only have a basic digital camera and so any photographs I have of the Yuanyang rice terraces would need some assistance from good lighting.

Worse still, the next day we found that the two ATMs in the town did not work and with no way of communicating at all with the lady at the Window of Yuanyang, on her instigation we were whisked into a taxi and driven frantically all the way back to Nansha, before we realised where we were being taken, to try the one ATM there, which also did not work anyway (I believe they are not compatible with the Cirrus system). It's a pity that we were given the impression that we could withdraw money here in Xinjie and this is something that should be corrected by the guidebooks and Window of Yuanyang. In the end, after this turning into a half day mission, we arrived back at our hotel, where they referred us across to the lady at the coffee and tea "shop" over the road from the hotel who "changes money". What a waste of a day, we were so fed up! I do realise we should have taken more money with us particularly with it being so remote but we didn`t want to end up having too many yuan and having to change them at a loss for dong at the border town Hekou.

We did, however, enjoy going down to the market and loved how pretty the women looked in their traditional clothes which they wore as everyday clothes, and how natural and totally uncontrived they appeared..

large_2010_0330S..etc0582.jpg
Street food, Xinjie

Street food, Xinjie


large____081.jpgXinjie

Xinjie

Market street, Xinjie

Market street, Xinjie


Minority dress, Xinjie

Minority dress, Xinjie


Xinjie, Yuanyang

Xinjie, Yuanyang

Market square, Xinjie

Market square, Xinjie


Chillies to the market

Chillies to the market


Bamboo water pipes, Xinjie

Bamboo water pipes, Xinjie


large_2010_0330S..etc0592.jpg

Sadly it was icy cold with an unseasonal cold snap heading south and seeming to follow us and with there being no opportunity to take any photos of the rice terraces and also with our visas about to expire, we decided it was time to head to the border at Hekou.

The guide book had specifically mentioned that the English bus timetable in the foyer of our hotel was a great source of information so we checked it and put full faith in the schedule listed there: that there were 4 buses a day to Hekou (we checked with our reception and through hand signals and despite mispronouncing place names, they told us the buses departed from Nansha as per the schedule). We decided to aim at catching the 10.10 the next day and if we missed that, we could still catch the 11.00 or 11.30am buses.

When we arrived at the bus station the following day, with the help of our taxi driver, we ascertained that there was absolutely NO bus leaving for Hekou that day! Nightmare! The taxi driver pointed at the minibuses crowded together on the road outside the bus station indicating our only option. We were not happy because we felt we could trust the long-distance bus drivers far more than these minibus drivers. We knew that the road ahead was going to be pretty bad and we felt we needed someone responsible to negotiate it. Anyway, it turned out there was only one minibus going to Hekou so we had no alternative but to take it: it was we two, the young driver and four other young men. We drove out of Nansha, along the Hong He Valley, beside the dry river bed. Our driver sped along the corrugated road and we hung tightly onto our seats, our knuckles white, anxious. After just over an hour, we reached a market town where all our fellow travellers disembarked, it seemed this was their destination. Even though the driver gesticulated at us and even though we gesticulated in a questioning manner back, we did not understand a word: we did not know whether he was looking for other passengers and would carry on taking us; whether he was trying to persuade us to get out of his vehicle; whether he was trying to find another like vehicle to take us a bit further towards our destination. What a fix we were in! We did not know where we were, no one could speak a word of English around us and there was not even a smattering of understanding. I breathed deeply, I realised that I would just have to be patient, that this would be sorted out...

Bus stop!

Bus stop!



Eventually I looked in the phrasebook section at the back of my guidebook and found the words "what time does...leave/arrive?" as the most appropriate and closest to our needs so walking over to our driver, surrounded by villagers all wondering what to do about our dilemma, I pointed at the phrase, which was also printed out in Chinese script and the men all indicated 12 with their fingers: at last an understanding dawned on me. They were looking out for a bus that was due in the village at 12, which we could board for Hekou. This was good news! I returned to my mate and apprised her of the situation. I then wandered off and bought some clementines in the market and was looking for something more substantial to take with to eat when our driver came running towards me, hectically waving his hands and pointing at a bus - this must be the bus to Hekou! Grabbing my belongings, I ran after him. We climbed onto the bus, I looked at the bus driver and said "Hekou?" questioningly and he nodded.

Our only repast

Our only repast



There were two empty seats at the back of the bus. We had to clamber over sacks of fertilizer and seed, a birdcage, boxes, suitcases, a fan. We piled our backpacks on top of all this baggage in the aisle, sat down and off the old bus jerked and rumbled. I had never seen anything like it.

Crowded bus to Hekou

Crowded bus to Hekou


Our bus: the reason the photo's so blurry is because the road was so bumpy!

Our bus: the reason the photo's so blurry is because the road was so bumpy!



We continued on our way, always with the dry river bed at our side, the terrain much the same as since we left Xinjie, only wilder, less populated, the bus sometimes barely proceeding at 10kms an hour as it negotiated a very rutted, narrow road, its sump hollowly hitting against the bumps in the road, the bus driver repeatedly blowing his horn. At one stage the road became a large open cast mine, windswept and grey, and I held my breath as we drove alongside a steep bank of loose sand and rock, looking very much like it could be set off by the most minimal of movements, creating a landslide. The thought of being buried under this terrified me.

Taken through back window on the way to Hekou

Taken through back window on the way to Hekou


Mine, Hekou region

Mine, Hekou region

Red River

Red River

Farming, Hekou region

Farming, Hekou region



The men on the bus smoked, they joked among themselves, they spat out the window. Every now and then, the bus stopped for some person, waiting, standing at the side of the road. Sometimes they only got on for a couple of kms, sometimes more. Besides the clementines, not a drop of water, not a morsel of food, had passed our lips. We knew we could not ask for a toilet stop.

We had noticed our fellow travellers regularly looking up into the sky over the dry river bed and our eyes were led there and we saw that a makeshift cable system was regularly erected to be used across the river on which goods could be transported, in a sort of cage, by means of a pulley system.

Although the journey seemed interminable, at last we arrived in Hekou five hours later, just in time before the closing time for the border. We thanked the bus driver heartily, loaded up our backpacks, and headed for Vietnam.

Hekou/Lao Cai border post

Hekou/Lao Cai border post

Posted by SEAsia.Mon 08:55 Archived in China Tagged blogsherpa Comments (0)

At last, the mighty Yangtze, and Tiger Leaping Gorge, China!

semi-overcast
View China & SE Asia on SEAsia.Mon's travel map.

We settled in a comfortable hotel in Lijiang, Fu Xiang Guesthouse, 120 yuan a night, which is just over 10GBP for a twin room. It was set around a pretty courtyard and was newly decorated with heating, TV including one English-speaking Chinese channel which was excellent with informative news and documentaries; jacuzzi bath, hot water flask etc.

Lijiang itself is a tourist group favourite, another 'old town' kept intact, although a lot has been rebuilt and you sometimes wonder what is genuine: a fellow blogger commented - 'the world's most picturesque shopping mall'!

Lijiang

Lijiang


Grass-Selling Square, Lijiang

Grass-Selling Square, Lijiang


large_9___021.jpg

However, it is surrounded by lovely mountains and has an extensive network of little canals running through the streets in which the local people wash their vegetables, rinse their washing etc. Very pretty.

Canal, Lijiang

Canal, Lijiang


Bridge over canal, Lijiang

Bridge over canal, Lijiang


large_3___025.jpg

It is also a good base for Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Yangtze River, minority villages etc. As a matter of fact we had quite an adventure, with a combination of our very limited knowledge of Chinese and hand signals, spending more than 2 hours trying to find the No 7 bus to get to one of these villages, Baisha, a few kms from Lijiang. In the end we took a chance, just catching the No 11 in a direction we guessed it may be which turned out to be a good guess, and then we hiked the final approximately 6 kms eventually flagging down a minibus for the final kilometre or so.

large_5___027.jpg

It was like stepping back in time - to see the old barber shop with the barber cutting a client's hair in his window, the corn being dried out for grinding, the pigs grunting in their sties, the cows being herded through the streets. We lunched in Mr Yang's front room on delicious Naxi bread freshly baked by his wife and followed that with cold noodles, a favourite since coming to China.

Barber shop, Baisha

Barber shop, Baisha


Eating Naxi bread on Mr Yang's verandah

Eating Naxi bread on Mr Yang's verandah


Corn drying in the afternoon sun, Baisha

Corn drying in the afternoon sun, Baisha


Cows wandering through the streets, Baisha

Cows wandering through the streets, Baisha

Baisha was the capital of the Naxi kingdom for a thousand years and seems today as it must have been then. I definitely recommend it as a day's outing from Lijiang. There are apparently some frescoes to see in the temples situated around here from the 15th and 16th centuries by Tibetan, Naxi, Bai and Han artists but in the end we didn't take them in as there was a hefty entrance charge as usual.

Local traditional Naxi musical group, Baisha

Local traditional Naxi musical group, Baisha


Shadows draw nigh, Baisha

Shadows draw nigh, Baisha


Baisha

Baisha


Naxi women in traditional dance, Baisha

Naxi women in traditional dance, Baisha

The next day we packed up our luggage and asked our hotel to store it for the night and, taking a small overnight backpack with us, we headed to the long distance bus station to catch a bus to Qiaotou, our starting point for Tiger Leaping Gorge. The journey took over two hours through the most magnificent mountains and valleys: old rural settlements on the side of the road with bunches of chilli and maize hanging from the rafters of the homesteads drying, fat pumpkins recently harvested, dogs tethered or barking fiercely from their cages, kittens mewing from the door, our bus rumbled and negotiated its way around steep, scenic, precipitous passes: we were impressed by our bus driver's skills handling the bus on these narrow roads. We were the only two women on the bus surrounded by local men heading home to Qiaotou, with a rubbish bin which doubled as a spittoon conveniently placed in the aisle of the bus.

Mountains from our bus, Lijiang to Qiaotou

Mountains from our bus, Lijiang to Qiaotou


Distant mountains

Distant mountains


Our bus, Lijiang to Qiaotou

Our bus, Lijiang to Qiaotou


large____091.jpg
large____097.jpg

Qiaotou appeared an unattractive street of dishevelled concrete-block type buildings, totally devoid of character, not the most appealing town. After paying the obligatory 50 yuan per person fee at the Tiger Leaping Gorge 'national park gate', we proceeded, feeling like interlopers, to Jane's Tibetan guesthouse, the prescribed place to stay in Qiaotou for backpackers needing to add Tiger Leaping Gorge to another dangerous trek conquered! Jane's is a wooden structure on the side of the road otherwise not much different to the other buildings of the street and there was no one to be seen other than a traveller on a balcony way above reading his book. We climbed somewhat ramshackle steps into untidy smoky upper chambers, still not a person in sight to speak to, the only sound a rasping note played over and over from somewhere unseen. Peeping in at the pine rooms, we were aghast at how unlike a hotel room they were and tiptoed out of there, giggling: anything but this to stay in that night!

Qiaotou

Qiaotou

Qiaotou main street

Qiaotou main street

We headed the 100 metres back into Qiaotou to investigate alternatives. Needless to say, we returned shortly thereafter to Jane's, tails between our legs: at last we met her and she actually allocated us a cosy corner bedroom on the upper floor, with a duvet, warm woolly blankets and snowy tv. We realised that our room was definitely the place to stay as the restaurant/dining room and lounge were just an open verandah and unfortunately the weather had turned icy and it was freezing cold. To crown it all, I became violently ill, obviously from something I ate, and ran to my room, very sick, staying there the night.

Waking up late at 8.30am, although my sickness had subsided, I felt very weak, I had no appetite. I managed to sip a cup of black tea and eventually we decided we would venture along the low road towards the gorge. Jane wanted us to catch a minibus but some American girls who'd just returned from the gorge discouraged us, saying that the road was precipitous, very narrow, without any barrier on the gorge side, and they had felt uncomfortable returning the previous evening in a minibus from it; they advised us to rather walk.

It was a pleasant scenic walk - hardly trek! We were only here to see the river and gorge after all, we're not hikers. We passed goatherds tending their goats as they grazed on the mountainsides, nimble creatures; delapidated settlements; mountain streams. The views were stunning. The Yangtze River roaring swiftly beneath as mountains soared overhead. Tired, after about 7kms, we flagged down a minivan and negotiated a fee to be taken to the 14km peg, where the road was being blasted and road construction carried out. The road became narrower, tar disappeared and gravel replaced it. The gorge became ever steeper. Unfortunately with me feeling very weak, and seeing, when we arrived at the 14km peg, how dangerous the landslide could be (with a bit of a history of people being buried under landslides here, trying to climb over them, as we had been warned by fellow travellers), we soaked up the views, it was glorious, took some photos, and engaged our minibus driver to take us back to Jane's.

To sum it up and on thinking it over, the problem with Tiger Leaping Gorge is the lack of formal, and current, information. For us, who are not trekkers, and didn't only want to come here to notch up yet another adventure destination on our metaphorical belt, and only wishing to see the Yangtze and Tiger Leaping Gorge, coming here was actually a matter of concern and quite frightening; not only is it quite remote (and a basically relatively uncommercial destination at this point), but for budget travellers, such as us, our options had been depleted with news of the road being blasted and therefore blocked halfway along the gorge, as we had been advised in Lijiang when we were about to set off. It is told on the travel forums that some of the upper trail is often only half a metre in width with a precipitous drop to the river below so we elected to take the low road. We were there at about the same time as this poster on the Thorn Tree forum, and we can only say that we assessed the situation and that is why we turned back where the road construction was blocking the road, see here for conditions: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1899866

large____098.jpg
large____100.jpg
Kid at Tiger Leaping Gorge

Kid at Tiger Leaping Gorge


large____103.jpg
large____112.jpg
large____115.jpg
large____118.jpg
large____121.jpg
Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Me at Tiger Leaping Gorge

Me at Tiger Leaping Gorge


large_2010_0330S..etc0486.jpg
large_2010_0330S..etc0488.jpg

But what an exhilarating experience for me! Ever since I was a child, I've always longed to see the Yangtze and this was her at her truly grandest!

Minority tribe woman in traditional dress

Minority tribe woman in traditional dress


Me waiting to catch the bus out of Qiaotou!

Me waiting to catch the bus out of Qiaotou!


large_2010_0330S..etc0512.jpg
large_Patchwork.jpg

Posted by SEAsia.Mon 19:18 Archived in China Tagged blogsherpa Comments (0)

Slow, slow train a'coming. More of Kunming & Dali, China

Still slowly making our way through southern China, to one day reach Vietnam

semi-overcast
View China & SE Asia on SEAsia.Mon's travel map.

Newspapers put up in the street daily for all to read, Kunming

Newspapers put up in the street daily for all to read, Kunming

In the end, we spent four nights in Kunming and I loved it. Maybe it was the great public transport, the friendly people, the food, maybe it was our hotel. It certainly was our city for taking in Buddhist temples.

Our third day, we caught a minibus out to the Bamboo Temple, northwest of Kunming. It dates back to the Tang Dynasty and is a must-see for, among other things, the many clay figures - luohan (noble ones), sculpted by Li Guangxiu. These caused a lot of controversy in their day, so lifelike were they (and they seemed to be caricaturing important people of the time). After they were completed, Li Guangxiu disappeared, never to be seen again! The figures are almost surreal in their detailed facial expressions, some grotesque, as they come surfing down the side walls of the temple, on all manner of creatures, from dolphins to giant crabs and unicorns. Unfortunately we couldn't get photos, except one surreptitiously taken, as you're not really allowed to take any.

Li Guangxiu's luohan at Bamboo Temple, Kunming

Li Guangxiu's luohan at Bamboo Temple, Kunming


Bamboo Temple, Kunming

Bamboo Temple, Kunming

Pretty tiles in one of the pagodas, Bamboo Temple

Pretty tiles in one of the pagodas, Bamboo Temple

Laughing Buddha, Bamboo Temple, Kunming

Laughing Buddha, Bamboo Temple, Kunming


Bamboo Temple

Bamboo Temple

Wishing well at Bamboo Temple - you have to try and get the coin inside the dragon's mouth inside the water-filled little well

Wishing well at Bamboo Temple - you have to try and get the coin inside the dragon's mouth inside the water-filled little well

Kitty at Bamboo Temple

Kitty at Bamboo Temple

Small pagoda at Bamboo Temple, Kunming

Small pagoda at Bamboo Temple, Kunming

Before visiting the Yunnan Provincial Museum, we stopped off at the nearby Muslim area, where we sampled some of their yummy street food - I just couldn't get enough of their kebabs, made fresh in front of you.

Muslim kebab stall, Kunming

Muslim kebab stall, Kunming

Muslim kebab stall, Kunming

Muslim kebab stall, Kunming

The Yunnan Provincial Museum has a wonderful display on the Bronze Age people 2500 years ago from this area. This is a free exhibition and well worth taking in. It is amazing how artistic and sophisticated their art is for the Bronze Age. This find was discovered around Dian Chi (Dian Lake) which is in the Kunming area. There's a picture of the mound where the discovery was made at the museum: apparently bronze artefacts were being sold at the Bird and Flower Market, Kunming and this came to the notice of archaelogists who investigated and discovered this huge Bronze Age site.

Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming

Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming

Bronze Age table, Dian Lake, Kunming

Bronze Age table, Dian Lake, Kunming

Bronze Age, Dian Lake, Kunming

Bronze Age, Dian Lake, Kunming

Cowrie holder cover, Bronze Age, Dian Lake, Kunming

Cowrie holder cover, Bronze Age, Dian Lake, Kunming

Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming

Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming

Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming

Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming

Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming

Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming

Qing Dynasty vase, Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming

Qing Dynasty vase, Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming

We did actually spend a Sunday out at the lake and once again found tranquillity at a Buddhist temple, Taihua Temple from the Ming Dynasty: it was good to strike up a conversation with a Chinese lady who was picnicking with her husband and baby daughter on a terrace there. She commented how people from Kunming found solace in getting away from the pollution and noise of the city by coming out here in their spare time for the fresh air. It was great to have a chat and compare notes and find how much one has in common, even from far ends of the earth. Walking through the forest down from the temple among a lot of people, we were struck by how much the Chinese, particularly the younger people, take pleasure in getting out into the countryside.

Despite spending a lovely day there I wouldn't necessarily recommend Dian Chi as a worthy outing as it's heavily populated with a lot of factories on its banks and the water itself appears very polluted and it certainly must have long since lost its charm as a natural lake.

Taihua Temple, Kunming

Taihua Temple, Kunming

Taihua Temple, Kunming

Taihua Temple, Kunming

Wall plaque, Buddhist Temple, Dian Chi Lake, Kunming

Wall plaque, Buddhist Temple, Dian Chi Lake, Kunming

Dian Chi Lake, Kunming

Dian Chi Lake, Kunming

Our next stop was Dali to the north, an overnight train trip away. The trains on this route are much more modern which has its pros and cons. Obviously they look nice and new and in a lot of the compartments there are 4 beds instead of 6, but they are also double decker and so everything has been made even smaller - less space in the compartments, narrower beds and no chairs to escape onto in the corridors. Furthermore, the most popular snack of choice on the train seems to be MSG-laden noodles, the smell of which is overpowering! I'm not sure why MSG is so popular here when they have such good cuisine without it.

We met two girls from Chongqing on the trip, who gave us some intelligent insight into life in China, which was great as it's not often we get to chat to people here because of our not knowing the language.

It was hilarious, once again, the morning of our arrival to be jerked out of our train-rocked sleep an hour before arriving at our destination, way too early, by the loud peremptory announcements and music broadcast out of the speakers above one's head. These blare out at you from the start of your journey to the end, only being shut off for a few hours' sleep. One thing you will learn is that one is constantly assailed by sound in China (the guidebook advises earplugs as a necessity at bedtime) be it the tv advertising piped loudly to passengers on all local buses, no matter how small the town; the constant horns when on the roads; or the road cleaning trucks, spraying water to dampen the dusty roads, which play music, ranging from pretty classical Chinese songs to Happy Birthday.

We arrived in Dali at the crack of dawn and found it to be another hippy town, popular with travellers - you'll have no problem getting your cafe latte here! We stayed and relaxed here for a couple of days and it was fun taking in the Erhai Lake and catching the cable car up to the Cangshan Mountain, a lovely bracing walk in the mountain air on a very well-built mountain trail along the ridge of it.

Horse and cart, Erhai Lake

Horse and cart, Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake, Dali

Erhai Lake, Dali

Me

Me

Three Pagodas, Dali

Three Pagodas, Dali

Cable car

Cable car

Pavilion on the mountain above Dali

Pavilion on the mountain above Dali

Autumn leaves, Dali

Autumn leaves, Dali

Steps up to the mountain ridge above Dali (intrepid, hey!)

Steps up to the mountain ridge above Dali (intrepid, hey!)

Mountain viewpoint, Dali

Mountain viewpoint, Dali

Bridge, mountain walk, Dali

Bridge, mountain walk, Dali

Me in the cable car

Me in the cable car

Dali is also popular because its old town is still somewhat intact, with cobbled streets, pretty curving roofs and a much more villagey feel to it. Great for photo ops though, as you'll notice, we missed out a bit on these due to dark wintry days.

Street scene, Dali

Street scene, Dali

Dali old town

Dali old town

Hotel, Dali

Hotel, Dali

Posted by SEAsia.Mon 06:07 Archived in China Tagged blogsherpa Comments (0)

Across-the-bridge and far away...Kunming, Yunnan, China

Venturing into the culinary side of Kunming

sunny 21 °C
View China & SE Asia on SEAsia.Mon's travel map.

Our hard sleepers on the train to Kunming

Our hard sleepers on the train to Kunming


Setting off to Kunming

Setting off to Kunming


___041.jpg

After a 19-hour train journey on another 'hard sleeper', we arrived in Kunming late morning: I was disappointed at first to find it to be yet another westernised built-up city with high-rise office blocks and shops all around and not a pagoda or traditional curving roof in sight. However Kunming has lovely wide boulevards and it's here that I have at last been won over to Chinese cuisine (also the local people are so friendly). It's been a relaxed time for me starting with the most delicious light cheesecake with my coffee in the cafe around the corner from my hotel, I've never tasted anything like it. Kunming is known for its goat's cheese ('rubing') which, I suspect, may have been the secret ingredient. Anyway, it definitely put me in a good mood.

I'm afraid this post is enthusiastically going to be devoted to food, food, food! I've obviously been starving in the last week trying to get used to a very different way of eating!

Deep fried aubergine with chilli and warm goat's cheese, lunch in Kunming

Deep fried aubergine with chilli and warm goat's cheese, lunch in Kunming


Making steamed dumplings, Kunming

Making steamed dumplings, Kunming

Today, the receptionist at our hotel recommended us to her favourite restaurant down the road from the hotel. It specialises in the Yunnan regional dish of 'across-the-bridge' noodles (过桥米线 - forgive me if this is incorrect, Jia!) which is a bowl of hot stock covered by a thin layer of oil that comes with side dishes of paper-thin raw meat and vegetable slivers, 2 quails' eggs beaten into the stock with chopsticks, a bowl of rice noodles now added to the stock etc. The intense heat of the stock cooks everything. And here comes the 'pièce de résistance' - although already a substantial dish, now with great ceremony, about 15 beautifully presented side-dishes were laid on the table - from sweet and sour prawns with julienned carrot, cucumber and spring onion to a subtly sweetened jellied lychee (and rosewater?) dish and red bean paste steamed pastry with quarter oranges for sweets - and everything in between: a cold starter of noodles with a peanut, sesame, chilli, chives, soy etc seasoning; pickled ginger/ radish; pork scratchings garnished with chilli; about 3 different 'dried mushroom' relishes - divine - didn't even need to acquire the taste; pickled lotus root; tiny sardines deep-fried in batter; crispy bacon; pickled bamboo-shoot; etc, etc. A lot of the dishes were flavoured with chilli, my favourite! A feast fit for kings - truly. And the bill was 60 yuan (about GBP5,50!). This restaurant is very popular with students who have the 10 yuan version, which is slightly less bountiful. I must say, we couldn't finish half of what was laid on our table.

Really helpful restauranteur showing us the ropes with our noodles

Really helpful restauranteur showing us the ropes with our noodles


What a feast!

What a feast!

Across-the-bridge noodles!

Across-the-bridge noodles!

After lunch we finally got our act into gear and set off for some sightseeing: our first port of call, Yuantong Temple, a buddhist temple, over 1000 years old. The complex consisted of about 6 or 7 pavillions each with a stupa all overlooking a water feature with picturesque bridges and walkways - so tranquil.

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Yuantong Temple

Yuantong Temple

Yuantong temple, Kunming

Yuantong temple, Kunming

We then took our chance on the first bus heading in the direction we wanted to go to - it is impossible getting directions - and of course one can't read the signs! I must say that I have never in all my travels found it so difficult to find my way around or to even communicate with the local people as here. Usually I can pick up a bit of the language of the country I am in, but Chinese and all its dialects is so so different. BUT, we have been lucky to meet some really helpful people, and with a little innovation have coped with getting around and exchanging views. A young student today even walked us to our next destination, the West and East Tang Dynasty Pagodas, near what seems to remain of the 'old town'.

They're so pretty the way they face each other at opposite ends of a street. The East Pagoda is newer as it was rebuilt after being destroyed by an earthquake according to Chinese sources (others say it was during the Muslim Revolt). According to our guide book, the West Pagoda is the one to see as it is still in its original form and hasn't been rebuilt. It is frequented by the older people gathering to play cards, mah jong, looking after their prettily dressed grandchildren playing together under the auspices of this ancient pagoda - which can only be good, I feel!

You can even get your hair cut or a shave! Ladies take tea together - we were thrilled to be invited in to a little shop there by some Kunming ladies sitting around a little table with their tea-tray beautifully laid out with dainty teapots, pouring the green tea into tiny bowls drunk formally with both hands, sitting on tiny stools around the table, almost ceremonially, offering a dish of 'rice-cake dainties' (a little like a turkish delight), and finally a delicately wrapped 'after-dinner mint'. What an honour for us and a lovely way to end the day!

East Pagoda, Kunming

East Pagoda, Kunming

Green tea cake

Green tea cake

Tucking into Green Tea cake in Kunming old town, yum!

Tucking into Green Tea cake in Kunming old town, yum!

Tea shop, Kunming

Tea shop, Kunming

West Pagoda, Kunming

West Pagoda, Kunming

West Pagoda, Kunming

West Pagoda, Kunming

Playing a local boardgame near the West Pagoda, Kunming

Playing a local boardgame near the West Pagoda, Kunming

West Pagoda, Kunming

West Pagoda, Kunming

Tea in Kunming old town

Tea in Kunming old town

Tea in a little shop in the old town, Kunming

Tea in a little shop in the old town, Kunming

Posted by SEAsia.Mon 01:19 Archived in China Tagged blogsherpa Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 11) « Page 1 [2] 3 »