Twice. And all within China
30.08.2012 - 19.09.2012 28 °C
More than 45000km (28000miles) we have travelled in the last 47 days in the People's republic of China, an average of 960km/600miles per day. Just writing these numbers down, seems like it was a very exhausting six and a half weeks. But it wasn't really, at least it didn't feel that way. We used every possible way of transportation in China, by foot, bike, tuktuk, car, bus, nightbus, boat and airplane and we've seen all we wanted to see! Now lets get the **** out of here!
When we got back to Chengdu after our Lhasa trip, we had time to plan the rest of our China trip. Since we got the extension, there was no rush and we could do everything we wanted. First, we did a day trip by bus to Leshan, home of the biggest Buddha in the world. And was he ever big! 71 meters tall (233 feet) and with a shoulder width of 28 meters it was a real giant!
That night we were surprised by a visit of our dear friends Kat and Fran whom we travelled with in Mongolia during our 11-day Central and Gobi trip. Even though it was short, it was great to see them again!
The next day we decided to leave Chengdu and Lazybones hostel, where we ended up staying three times during our stay in China. Awesome hostel, great food and even better staff! It became sort of a safe haven for us in all of China's craziness.
We took a train to Chongquin and since it was a fast train (207km/h) we made it there in an hour and a half. So a short travel day for us. Chongquin is famous as a departure city for the Yangtze river cruises, one of China's highlights if you believe all the tourist magazines and LP. We heard mixed stories, but since we were heading east anyways and could board a ship for two nights, three days for €50/ $65, we figured its also the cheapest way to go; seeing we have a bed for two nights as well. Off course for this price you can't expect much, and we didn't, which was a good thing. A five hour bus ride to the boat was an unexpected 'extra' that apparently was also included. When we got to the boat we checked out our 6-bed dorm. Our Chinese roommates seemed nice, but of course, no English. The guy across from us, in his fifties, asked us where we were from, or at least thats what we think he asked, so we answer with Hulan. Ahhh, is the response and he makes a movement with his hands and legs, what we after a few guesses think is supposed to mean soccer. Then he says with a heavily Chinese accent " van Basten" and "Gulliet", and we nod yes. He smiles and puts his thumbs up and enthusiastically tells the other two that we are from Holland.. Funny.
The last guy that enters our dorm speaks English, which makes the whole deal a little easier because he can translate. The beds are so small that we can't even lie in them and because there is a board on the head side as well as the foot side, we have to lay sideways to be able to sleep (normally our feet just hang over the end of the bed). Add the fact that its 35 degrees outside and the aircon is blowing like it's life depends on it, it's quite the first night..
We do meet four other non-Asians on the boat, a German-Portuguese couple and two Danish girls. So the next day we are able to have some normal conversation, play cards and share crazy China stories
We also visit the Three gorges the main highlight of the Yangtze river. We had to pay an extra €20, but we get a six hour 'excursion' for it. We dock and get transferred to a smaller boat, which is still huge! We imagined idyllic little Chinese rafts, but nah, another illusion shattered This luxurious big boat, sails into the three gorges, the weather is alright, but the gorge is not that great. I didn't want to say to much but after we evaluated the day that night, Jo and I concluded that the Verdon in France is prettier.. The water here is dirty, except for the furthest away smallest gorge ( it had blue water, the others all red/brown) and there was a lot of other ships, so definitely a busy route even though it's so touristic. The couple in our room asks us if they can take a picture with us, of course we say sure, and 5 minutes later the pics are taken. The lady is so happy with her picture, she literally stared at the picture for at least 15 minutes and kept saying; beautiful! Eyes, nose, beautiful... Strange..
The next morning when we wake up the weather is great, sunshine and blue skies, too bad the water is full of rubbish and other huge freight boats. We do enjoy a coffee in the sun and count the insane amount of shoes, boots and flip flops floating by, before we reach Yichang. We get here a few hours earlier then expected, so after we cabbed to the train station with the Danish girls, we changed our tickets to an earlier train and are on the way to Wuhan. An hour later we get there, after another really fast train ride, and the bus to the hostel ends up taking an hour and a half within Wuhan. Not uncommon in the cities here, they are just too big.
One of the things we totally had enough off, is a 'game' we unfortunately witnessed a lot. "How to get 70 people into a 22 person mini bus", the answer is simple, just keep pushing on.. No, its not nice to be squished by 68 Chinese people. One advantage, we are taller, so at least we rise above them and are not stuck smelling their armpits like they have to smell ours (since they are so small). Another thing that is extremely annoying, is their spitting habits. They inhale to get the mucus from their throats into their mouths which makes a lot of noise, but it doesn't end there. No, they have to spit it out after. Outside, this is not a big deal, but when you are in a bus or a train, they just spit it out on the floor!!! On the carpet even, it's too disgusting! No one but us seems to care or notice, so apparently it's very normal here, like the burping and shooting out your snot on the floor (at bus- and train stations, on the bus floor).. but we just can't get over it..
From Wuhan we travel to Shanghai, another 6 hours by fast train (206km/h), we booked a hostel near the Bund, one of Shanghai's famous spots. The location is great, we are very central! In the morning, we walk to the famous People's square and park, visit a bird and insect market, very strange! They have all kinds of animals here, kittens, squirrels, turtles, mice, birds, puppies, chipmunks, guinea pigs, fish (all sorts and sizes) but most of all grasshoppers. And lots of them. You can imagine the noise all these animals make together, it's sad they are in little cages, containers, and they're only there to be sold. The grasshoppers are being used for fights. Interested buyers are poking them with sticks to see how they defend themselves. Once they are bought, the owner use them in fights were they bid for money. It's a crazy business..
After the YuYuan Gardens, we stroll around some back alleys and we end up finding a fake Apple mp3 player with 4GB of memory for $6. Since mine got stolen, we decide this is a good price to try, at least if it's crap it didn't cost much money. At the hostel we transfer Jo's music onto the computer and put it on the new mp3 and it works great! Quality of the sound is not awesome, but eh, we got music again!! Great for the long train and bus rides!
We visit the Bund, a popular boulevard, where we see more white people than we have seen in the last six weeks in China. So this is were all the tourists hid! Lol. We visit Pudong, the business center of Shanghai, which has a great skyline. From the Bund, we take the so called "The Bund sightseeing tunnel", which connects the Bund with Pudong, Shanghai's business area, that is separated by the river. We expect it's something for tourists, but what we see here is just outrageous. Once underground, you get put into this cart, like your in a theme park ride, and as it starts moving, lights come on, as does a voice that tells something about heaven and hell.. We are amazed by this weird experience, but luckily videotaped it from beginning to end because we already had a feeling something was gonna happen. We've learned in the last few weeks the Chinese like to use the words harmonious, delightful and beautiful a lot. Many places where we have been they use these words, to make it look perfect when in reality, they are just trying to make it sound magical, when it really is not.
We do still find, China looks a lot like Disneyland. The tunnel brings us to Pudong, which is visible from The Bund, and we visit the Shanghai World Financial Center, where we can go up to the 100th floor. At the moment this buildings the second highest in the world. And is it ever high! In 60seconds we make it to the 94th floor, the view is stunning! Even though it's cloudy, the clouds are higher then we are, and as far as we can see, we see city. Skyscrapers, skyscrapers and more skyscrapers! It's cool to see this much constructed country from this altitude, it's crazy! But yet so beautiful!
We go back to the hostel to relax and freshen up, and head to the French concession for supper. At least that was the plan. We end up at Marzano's pizza, a chain that Jolijn knew from Barcelona and has great, real Italian food, what we were both craving! So after the best pizza yet and Tiramisu, our night is perfect!
The next day we head again by train, south west to Hangzhou. This is the fastest train we have been in China, in reached 300km/h! In one hour we make it to Hangzhou. We need a bus to the hostel, but can't find the busnumber the hostel gave us. We do find one that is close and go to the driver and ask him if he goes to the zoo. He nods and gestures that we should come in. We pay the $0.50 and sit down. Minutes later we pass the West Lake that Hangzhou is famous for, it's on the Unesco world heritage site. Smoggy, but what else do you expect with 32 degrees, it looks quite nice. We see a lot of tourists here, all Chinese, and enjoy the scenery during this bus ride. After an hour and a half were back at the trainstation. A girl who works for the bus tells us to get out, but we say we haven't gotten to the destination yet. When we finally make her understand we have to go to the zoo, she says we're in the wrong bus; really? Haha, again one of those moments.. Luckily she finds someone, who can tell us in English we have to take a different bus and transfer to get to the zoo. At least we saw all of the famous west lake area for $0.50! The next day we decide to walk through the west lake area and after 6 hours of walking in 32degree, very humid weather we enjoy some cold ones at the hostel!
Huangshan is our next destination, so from the hostel we have to take the bus to the west bus station which surprisingly takes 1.5 hrs! The bus to Huangshan is another 4.5 but when it stops, we're in the middle of the mountains, not in a city.. We did want to visit the mountain tomorrow, but were not even sure if this is that place..There is two other foreigners on the bus, who happen to be Dutch and according to them, we are in the mountain town, Huangshan. Huangshan city, as the chinese call it, is called TunXi now.. So we should have take the bus to TunXi. Luckily their LP has a hostel in the mountain town in it, so we go there because it is too late to get back to TunXi today. The hostel is a really old hotel and way have to pay way to much for a crappy room (it's $10 for the both of us, but last night we paid $3, so big difference here). We even transfer rooms after we discover mouse droppings in the one we were supposed to sleep in. At least we have a place to sleep and its only for one night. We decide to go eat and go to sleep early so we can wake up early tomorrow to go to the mountain and head back to TunXi in the end afternoon (apparently the last shuttle leaves at 5). The hostel owners who barely speak English, guide us to a 'good place to eat' not far from the hostel. This town is so small, it's probably only here in summer for tourism, so the choice isn't that great anyway. When we walk in, there is a big dead snake in a jar full of liquid on the counter..yuk! I immediately lost my appetite, but as Jo reminds me this is not an usual thing, we sit down and open the menu.
Yeah, sorry.. We get up and leave, both lost our appetite. This is the first time we actually saw dog on the menu, it's just a gross idea! We go to a little supermarket and buy some nuts, tuc crackers, a roll of cookies and water, that's gonna be supper for tonight. We're in bed by 8.15, a record. Hopefully tomorrow is a better day.
We wake up at 6.30 so we can catch one of the first busses to the gondola so we can get up the mountain early. When we get there at 7.30 and want to buy the tickets, there is already a 4 hour waiting line for the cable car.. 4 hours!! At 7.30 in the *** morning! The only alternative we have, is to walk, so fine, we'll walk. Its just climbing stairs, with 1000 other Chinese people, and after 2.5 hours of climbing stairs through the woods, we were up 3km, we saw some foreigners coming down the mountain. It were four German guys, who stayed overnight at a hostel on the mountain. When we ask if are close the answer is, "it's another 2.5 km till you reach the cable car, from there its a two hour climb up to see the first peak. We just came from there we wanted to see the sunrise but you can't see anything, it's too foggy". Well, the weather isn't great. The sky is grey and it looks like it might rain any minute. Just as the guy finished talking, the clouds just seem to rip and it starts pouring!! We sheepishly conclude that we have no good reason to keep on going, and decide to go back down. Lightning and heavy ripping/rolling thunder joins this insane weather party and as we are trying to get down the mountain, the Chinese get their umbrellas out and keep going up.. Seriously?! How stupid can you be? Have these people never heard of the danger of metal and lightning? They say the chance of being hit by lightning is very small, but we feel we just might witness it today. Luckily we don't, but part of the trail turned into a waterfall! I guess when it rains here, it really rains here! We reach the bottom of the mountain again by 11.00 totally drenched, soaked and the storm is still going strong. One thing is for sure, we're out of here.
We get to TunXi at 13.30 and luckily the hostel is great, hot shower, good mattress, good food and wifi, all you need and that for $4. From here we head back to Hangzhou by bus and from there by train to our last destination in China; Guilin. Another 18hour train ride all the way to the south of China, luckily we have a bed! Two hours late, we arrive at Guilin train station where again we have to participate in one of our other pet peeves, negotiating. This time it's the bus, because Guilin apparently doesn't have a legit bus ticket office. Instead, there is about 40 little busses outside that are all going to Yangshuo, but since they are all privately owned, they can charge whatever they like. In the LP we read it should costs between ¥15-20, but those were last years prices. The first one that comes to persuade us charges 40 p.p so we say no. For the next 45 min we keep walking around with our big bags, in the heat of southern china until we finally find one that we negotiate ¥18 with. An hour and a half later we make it to Yangshuo and the last part of this trip goes by tuk tuk, which takes us to our hostel.
We take a one day trip to the famous Dragon's backbone rice terraces in Longshen, about 2.5 hrs north of Yangshuo. On the way we stop in a village that is famous for the ladies with the long hair. This minority village is famous for all the female inhabitants with their amazing long hair. Often over 5.5 feet! It used to be forbidden for anyone to see the hair loose, only the husband on their wedding day, but these days their long hair is visible to anybody. Of course it's a touristic play now, but it was still incredible to see hair this long!
We then reach the rice fields and are they ever impressive! We witness a lot more then just rice, a funeral which was quite interesting to watch, but also their local food, rice and all kinds of meets prepared in bamboo stems.
The hostel is awesome, its in the countryside, nice and quite and beautifully renovated. It's run by Dutch people, so we enjoy a plate of fries with 'oorlog' sauce for supper! Yum! We stay here for a week, so some real relaxing time before we head on to Hong Kong. The Yangshuo area is famous for the lime stone peaks and the Li and Yulong river. We have days where we rent a bike and cycle through the country side, days that we do absolutely nothing and just read and sleep, we explore the town of Yangshuo, take a bamboo raft on the Yulong river, find the Moon Hill and have a great relaxing week!
Our last transport out of China, was the sleeperbus. Yes, this is a bus with beds. Just imagine a regular bus, image a tiny bunk bed on the window side, a narrow aisle, another tiny bunkbed, another narrow aisle and on the other window a tiny bunkbed again. Three wide, 6 bunkbeds long, the bus sleeping capacity is 36 plus two extra people in the back of the bus on the bottom (they sleep in the aisle. We had the two top bunks in the very back of the bus. Besides the fact the you can't lay very comfy on 40cm and you can't stretch out totally (yes, like on the boat), add the fact your in a bus in China (bumpy bumpy) and your neighbour thinks its totally normal to smoke a sigaret on his bed, It was duable. Not much sleep, but we made it to Shenzhen. From there it was not more then a quick 5 min to get through customs, and the subway to downtown Hong Kong in 25 minutes.
When we find a McDonald's and have an delicious Big Mac meal and a mc flurry, we are even more happy after a bathroom visit, where there is seated toilets (no more hanging!), toilet paper (not having to bring our own) and soap (we are almost out of disinfection lotion) at the sink to wash your hands! Gosh it feels good to be back in civilisation!!
It's hard to believe that after almost 7 weeks, we left China! Part of us is relieved, but we have seen and experienced a lot of beautiful and interesting things!
And one more picture we forgot in our last blog ...