A Travellerspoint blog

China

Next stop Hong Kong


View Doyle and Dan's Adventure on doyledan's travel map.

It was only a matter of time before one of us got the dreaded travel bug and unfortunately for Dan it was his turn. Maybe it was the excitement of seeing MJ or the Ox tail soup, we're not sure, but he was in a bad way.

We were meant to be catching a 20 hour sleeper train in the afternoon to Shanghai but as the day went on it was clear he was in no fit state to travel and so I had to make the decision for us to stay in Guillin and not continue on with the group to Shanghai. Real Gap were really helpful and Jennifer came to help us, despite it being her day off, to book 2 more nights in the hotel and organise our train tickets from Guilin to the Chinese border with Hong Kong called Shenzhen.

It was a huge relief to have that support so a huge thank you to Jennifer and the Real Gap team.

dan could not even come down to say goodbye to everyone and was not well enough for people to go and see him so the guys made him a great get well card using Jenny's artistic talents to draw us all. It definitely brightened his spirits.

I went with the group to the station to cancel our train tickets to Shanghai and with the intention to say goodbyes there but I got stuck in a queue and they had to go to the platform. It was gutting not to be able to go to the end of our adventure with them but it was definitely the right decision. Dan would not have been able to cope with the cramped conditions on the train with all the noises and smells. Having caught up with the group on email today it sounds like it was a blessing in disguise as they had quite an eventful train journey with half the carriage full of psychiatric patients with their nurses and doctors given them medication and shouting the whole journey!

On Thursday morning Dan was much better and later in the day was able to come for a walk by the lake with me and we tried some Pagoda hats!

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To be fair there are worse places to be stuck and its been lovely just chilling in Guillin, although I won't be shopping at this store...

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We re now just waiting in the hotel lobby, all packed up, before we head to the station for our first true travelling experience on our own! Eek!!

Next stop Hong Kong...

Before we go though just want to say a huge thanks to Jude, Jackie, Jo, Soph, Sam, Jenny and Hannah for making our time in China so great. It has been awesome meeting you all. Safe journeys and I know we ll be seeing a couple of you v soon in HK and
Vietnam! Woop woop!

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Sxxx

Posted by doyledan 02.11.2012 03:32 Archived in China Comments (0)

Did someone say elephant!!

Elephant Trunk Hill and Reed Flute Caves


View Doyle and Dan's Adventure on doyledan's travel map.

OMG today we went back to Guillin to visit the Elephant trunk hill so named because it looks like an elephant drinking from the river. As the group had not been with me in Africa they had not fully appreciated until today just how besotted with elephants I am and we didn't even see a real one! Weirdo alert! Lol!

So we waved goodbye to Yangshou and drove on one of the most treacherous but beautiful roads we had been on in China. At points only half of it had tarmac and it was fair game to all traffic no matter if it wasn't on your side of the road! There were several moments of 'chicken' with traffic coming at you head on but we survived it even though it was so busy and bumpy! It was worth it though as we had the karst mountains and rice paddy fields on both sides which were impressive.

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The elephant hill park was full of elephant statues which made my day ...

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and we climbed to the top of the scenic point to get a view over Guilin! which of course involved more steps....

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As we climbed back down to walk round to Elephant Hill Jennifer told us the story of how the elephant had got there. It goes something like this...

One day the Jade Emperor came down from Paradise to visit Earth and he of course would not walk there himself so he came on a giant elephant. When it was time to leave the elephant did not want to as he had fallen in love with the beauty of Guilin and so he hid from the Jade Emperor. This made the Emperor very angry and he sent guards to come and get the elephant and there was lots of fighting. The elephant was tired and needed a drink and as he stopped to drink from the Li River a guard crept up and killed him from behind. As punishment the Emperor did not allowed the elephant to return to paradise but instead changed the elephant into stone and so he stayed on the riverbank as the elephant trunk hill we see today...

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You can give him a kiss if you want to...

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Elephant fever had gripped us all!!

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After lunch we headed to see the Reed Flute Caves so named due to the reeds that grow outside it. Inside it is full of stalagmites and stalagtites that are huge and you are tiny in comparison. The cave system is lit up using bright colours to add drama to the place but personally I would have preferred to have seen it a bit less enhanced by man.

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There are also weird and wonderful rock formations which if you use your imagination can look like different things such as a Christmas tree and a stage curtain.

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It was spectacular none the less particularly the reflection pools and one which looked like a city skyline.
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The cave system is also home to ancient inscriptions that date back to the Tang Dynasty. There are at least 70 inscriptions like this but only one is lit up on the tourist path through the caves to help preserve the others.

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It was quite a spooky place to be walking around on the eve of Halloween as you never know what's lurking around the corner!

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After dinner in the evening we went to the main square in Guilin to see what is meant to be the largest man made waterfall in the world according to the guide book. At 45m tall water cascades down the side of the Guilin Lijiang Waterfall Hotel at 8.30 each night.

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On the floor of the square is a map of the world and we had fun finding our home for a few minutes. Then we went to look at the two Pagodas on the Banyan lake in town, which represented the moon and the sun and were beautifully lit up. The sun pagoda is made of copper and the moon pagoda is made of glass.

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As we walked by the lake we began to hear the unmistakable beats of Michael Jackson and as we turned the corner there he was!

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This guy is by far the best Michael Jackson impersonator I have ever seen (bar the singing) he had all the moves down and could moonwalk like you wouldn't believe! As we watch him bust his moves we sang and clapped along which stunned the otherwise silent audience watching him, but helped to gather the crowds. MJ was lovin' us and we were lovin' him! We do have some vids but can't load them at the moment but if you're ever in Guilin keep an eye out for this guy, oh and check for the resemblence with the moonwalking greenman at crossings. What a legend!

Sxxx

Posted by doyledan 02.11.2012 02:54 Archived in China Comments (0)

Yangshuo

We all decided that we should take a chance with the weather and get up early to see the sun rise over Yangshuo. The potential for a picture postcard photo of this small town surrounded by karst mountains was a tempting idea. We all made it just in time to leave at 6am and made our way to the central park which housed a small mountain that had a ideal viewing spot over the town. It was a relatively easy trek considering we had defeated 1600 steps not long before back in Xi'an. At that time in the morning it was quite dark and we passed an eerie looking playground which sparked memories of the creapy music we heard on the sleeper train of a small child singing (Jackie's impression meant we never quite forgot it)

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A we came to the foot of the mountain we saw a dark tunnel at the top and let our human instincts take over for a second, hesitating to take the first step up. It doesn't matter how old you are but the fear of the dark always plays tricks on the mind. After a quick shake off, as a collective group we took our first steps up and were relieved to find out the the stairway took a sharp turn away from the dark tunnel allowing us to ascend in slightly more daylight. Sadly mother nature was not on our side and the overcast fog meant that although the light was coming through there would be no sunlight .

We reached the top in no time and were still able to gather some good photos.

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On the train to Guillin I had decided having read the China lonely planet book that a cycle around Yangshuo sounded like a good idea which I relayed to the group. With the potential to see Moon hill within the karst mountains, take adventures through caves and see the rural life amongst the rice paddie fields it sounded like a perfect day out of activities. Sadly Mother Nature was not on our side again! I will reveal all in a sec.....

Having met up with the others who chose to stay in bed we made our way for breakfast and despite the overcast weather there was still potential for a good day. Finding a decent cycle hire place took a little longer as we had to try and ask for a tandem bike which was difficult to explain. One women walked past us and did the standard . "You want bike, cheap cheap" approach which we kind of listened to but chose to carry especially when one bike costs 10 yuan to rent but 9 bikes cost 100 yuan! You do the math! .....she realised we weren't up for this and agreed to offer the right price and as it was over the road the decision was made.

The bikes were all second hand but in good nick and were easy to ride. Sam, Sophie and Jenny decided that that wasn't enough when they saw what else was on offer and chose the trio bike which I must admit I thought wasn't the best decision but thought good on them for taking a chance. And chance it was, as they tried to move forward the wobbling and gasps/laughter meant that if anything it was going to be an eventful trip. Jackie and Jude must of seen this as a sign of things to come and chose to give it a miss, which was good timing as the weather began to get a bit worse with the rain coming down.

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Despite the weather we were in good spirits and watching the mad trio take on the bike and the traffic was very funny. I was enjoyng being back on a bike having not been on one since being in London, despite it being a ladies bike! Haha...

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We had been given directions by Jennifer to the Moon hill and we made our way but as fate would have it the roads in Yangshou were not that easy to follow. A kind of group decision was made to take the road we thought was right and onward we went. How wrong we were! As the heavens opened and the roads became steeper , we reached a point and thought 'this cant be right'. We should have seen it coming having passed a toll booth for cars and ridden for over an hour!

We backed tracked to the town and realised where we had gone wrong and continued our mission. Almost immediately we knew we were on the right track because their were so many many people cycling! And we passed the first tourist destination which was the butterfly mountain.

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By the time we reached Moon Hill the weather had dreached us ( Our pruned hands show the proof) ! It was difficult to stay positive but we tried and ordered ourselves some food and hot drinks at the local cafe to build our spirits.

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Having eaten and gathered our strength we asked about Moon Hill, unfortunately the weather was not helping us again and the walk had the possibility of being to dangerous without proper walking gear which we didn't all have. We decided the cave was the next best thing.

I think by this point we were hanging on to the original idea and after negaiotions to get into the cave we decided let's head home before we freeze.

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All in all you could say that it was a disater but to be honest even with the clamitys of errors and being soaked to the bone we still felt like it was our mini adventure.

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That day we knew we also had a evening show to go to which played its part as we had a deadline to stick to. Having dried up and made our way to dinner we found a small place called Lucy's cafe. Unfortunately, mid-waiting for our food the power cut out (it really wasn't our day). Despite the power cut we managed to get back to the hostel in the nick of time.

The reason we had to make a deadline time was that we were going to see a show called Impression that was famous to the area, and was always fully booked throughout the year. The reason for this is that it was directed by Zhang Yimou, who had famously crafted the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony. Knowing what a spectacle the opening ceremony was, we knew that this was something not to miss.

The show was purpose built taking 3 years to build and is the world's largest natural theater which utilizes the waters of the Li River as its stage, with twelve mist shrouded hills and the heavens as its backdrop. It was a fantastic backdrop even with the awful weather that had continued on throughout the day. Because of this we didn't take our camera with the fear of it getting damaged. I managed to take a few photos on the iPhone but to be honest it was one of those shows that you really didn't want to take your eyes away from.

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The story is loosely based around an old Chinese love story of a singer, a fisherman and noble man. The story goes that the famous singer and the fisherman fall in love but the noble man is also infatuated with the singer and try's to stake his claim. In the end the fisherman and the noble man having a singing competition to decide who takes the girl. As the fisherman is from the local village who have always used singing to communicate he is far better and wins the girl. This story it would seem, is merely a backdrop to the different aspects of rural life in Yangshuo and considering it was all in Chinese the story didn't matter because the lights show and the sheer size was something to marvel.

All the actors and actresses were local people, 700 of them in total, and they came from the neighbouring villages who in turn each have a go at performing which allows them to earn a income outside of their life as fisherman, etc. This aspect added to the charm and as we had great seats we were able to see the performers at the end of the show as they took a bow.

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Stay tuned for more tales

Dan

Posted by doyledan 01.11.2012 23:29 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Li River

Guilin to Yangshou

Before we left the UK Guilin had been described to us as "the closest place to Avatar on Earth" so you can imagine how excited I was not only to be going there but also to have my birthday in this beautiful place!

Despite not getting in until midnight we had too be up early to head to the Li River to start our 4 hour cruise to Yangshou, the southern most part of our China trip. Just a note here that Guilin is known for spicey food which I had not realised until I had a big mouthful of noodles at breakfast...that definitely woke me up! As we were spending a couple of nights in Yangshou before coming back to Guillin we repacked our day bags with a few bits and left our big bags in Guilin. Jennifer was our new guide and on the journey to the river she told us more about the Guilin area. It is much smaller than other cities we had been too but still had a population of 700,000! With the karst mountains in the background it was nice to be somewhere that was not overpowering with high rises as none of the buildings here are allowed to be over 12 storeys high and there definitely seems to be a bit more of a laid back feel. Guilin takes its name from the Osmanthus trees that are everywhere here ( I think Guilin means Osmanthus Forrest) they have tiny yellow flowers which are used to make a local fragrant tea.

The Guilin area is home to several minority tribes in China, including Yao, Zhuang, Hui, Miao each with their own dialect and traditions. The various dialects in China is why Mandarin was made when the country was united to provide a common way of communicating with everyone, although the old dialects are still used by the ethnic groups today to speak to each other. The ladies of the Yao people have really long hair over a metre long and they only cut it once in their life when they turn 18. This hair is then kept and tied in various ways on top of their head to make elaborate headresses. A big tradition in Guilin is singing, Jennifer told us that the people here like to sing all the time and it was used as away to communicate between villages and they have big festivals each year. There are even competitions in song where one side sings a question and the other side has to sing the answer, the one who can't answer loses! Another tradition at these festivals is for girls to have a small ball which they carry with them, if they see a boy they like then they throw the ball to him, if he catches it then he likes her back

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(I bought one last night so hopefully Dan will catch it!)

When we got on the boat it was quite an overcast day but this would only had the the mystic of the mountains that the river ran through. There was a bit of a crowd at the back of one of the boats which seemed to be focused on a man who was holding a red ribbon that was going into the water and I was surprised to see a big fish at the end. The ribbon had been threaded through where its eyes would have been and tied round it's head. I am not sure why they had this, maybe it was for good luck but it looked like they were keeping it like a pet rather than catching it for food.

As we waited to start our journey down the river we had some tea and looked at the other boats. It was interesting to see the kitchens at the back of the boats preparing the lunch for the day.

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The river is still used today as part of everyday life for the local people and not just for tourism, and it was great to see life on the river as we started our journey.

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Each bend in the river revealed another spectacular backdrop of limestone karst mountains covered in green foliage. The photos don't do it justice!

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We also saw a lot of wildlife on the river from fish in the water ( which was surprisingly shallow) to eagles soaring overhead. Water buffalo lined the banks grazing, they are used to plough the rice paddy fields but at this time of year they can rest as there is no work for them to do. There were also lots of ducks which were owned by the farmers and had been trained to return back to the village after a day eating weed on the river.

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This area is famous for the Cormorant fishermen who use cormorant birds to catch the fish. They tie a ring at the base of the birds neck so when it catches the fish it can not swallow it. The bird is trained to bring the fish back to the fisherman on his bamboo raft who then takes the fish and sends the bird out again. At the end of the day the ring is removed and the fisherman gives the smaller fish to the bird to eat. This partnership was used in an HSBC advert and since then more people have wanted to come here. We did see a couple Cormorant fishermen along the river but none were fishing. This usually happens at night when the fish are attracted to the lights on the bamboo boats and also when there aren't so many tourist boats on the river!!

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At one point there was a mad rush to the top deck and all the Chinese tourists were looking in their wallets for 20 yuan note. It turns out that the part of the river we were on was used as the image on the back of the note, which was kinda cool.

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After 4 hours on the boat we were ready to stretch our legs as we pulled into Yangshou and it was a 15 min walk through the town to our hostel.

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Whilst some people had a nap (Dan included) some of us explored this picturesque town built amongst the mountains. It was fun to walk through the markets and whilst we looked at postcards a man came up to me who had cut out my silhouette on a piece of paper, which I then felt obliged buy of him although managed to get it down to 20p!

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This looked more like old China but we soon found that the modern world had found it too!

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Everywhere in China seems to be obsessed with angry birds!

After all the walking it was time for a birthday meal and the guys had found somewhere for pizza which served white wine!! Which was served cold!! Such a treat! :)

It is no surprise as Jude and I shared the bottle that we ended up looking like this on the way back!

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Another great birthday!

Sxxx

Posted by doyledan 01.11.2012 20:19 Archived in China Comments (0)

29 hours on a train!!

X'ian to Guilin

Having stocked up on supplies for our epic 29 hour train journey to Guillin we headed to the train station. This was the longest train journey during our tour of China and we had cottoned on to the fact that there where hot water points on the train so we could join the locals in having chinese pot noodles and tea rather than just snack food we had got before. I'm not gonna lie, we still had got plenty of chocolate and biscuits to keep us going too!

It was a mad crush to get through security at the station with everyone pushing a shoving like cattle in a pen to get through. Once we all got to the other side we found a spot to sit on the floor of the waiting area whilst we waited for our train to come in. This station was much more dark and dirty than the ones we had been to before and let's just say you could easily have a face to face conversation whilst in the loo if you wanted to (or be stared at) and lets leave it at that!! Once the train was announced it was everyman for himself as again we joined the crowds to pass through the ticket check. We were swept along in the hoards of people and soon were all separated from the group as you were bumped and shoved along. Soon enough we had found our carriage and our bunks for the journey.

Having done several train trips here with the group will definitely help Dan and I when it comes to doing them on our own!!

So how do you pass the time on a 29 hour train journey...

Name game
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Sleeping
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Peeping
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Reading
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Looking at trains
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Cards
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Trying to escape
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Journal writing
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Eating noodles
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Looking out the window
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More reading
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More cards
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More noodles
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Ok so I think you get the picture.....

What you won't get from the photos is the constant noise on the train of people chatting, eating, snoring, shouting from the food trolley as it goes by every 10 minutes and worst of all the incessant screeching from this box which was like nails down a blackboard to most of us!

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All in all though it was not a bad journey and as the train pulled in at 11pm the next day we were all surprised that the 29 hours had passed quicker than we had expected....we must have been having fun :)

Sxxx

Posted by doyledan 31.10.2012 20:22 Archived in China Comments (1)

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