More amazing Chinese experiences
15.08.2012 - 24.08.2012 28 °C
Our last two weeks in China ended up being a little more than that, because we felt we didn't have enough time. We applied for an extension of our current visa while we were in Lijiang. Not that China is that awesome, because it's full of people EVERYWHERE you go, it's dirty, poverty in the rural areas is astonishing, especially when you see all the wealth in the big cities, the hygiene is not great, food is different (most things quite tasty, but some things just very weird or disgusting as well), but all together it's intriguing enough to want more. And we wanted more. More of this overwhelming yet beautiful country.
We got to Chengdu on the 15th of August and when we arrived at the hostel we immediately asked around for the possibilities in and around Chengdu, including Tibet. Well, Tibet wasn't closed at the moment, but it was still difficult for foreigners to get in. Luckily the EU passport is not on the so called no-list, so they told us we should just try. So a lot of planning and organizing took place that day. By the end of the day our permit request was submitted to the Tibetan office, now we have to wait until the 22nd of August, fingers crossed! Another thing Chengdu is famous for is the Giant Panda Breeding Research Center. So that is where we headed the next day. An early bird, since the pandas eat breakfast early. During the day it gets so hot that most of them go into their nurseries, because apparently they are air-conditioned.. Spoiled pandas
It was amazing to see them! I've always liked panda's and to be able to be so close right now was just awesome! The center is more like a big zoo, but then for pandas. They also had red pandas, very funny little looking pandas. The highlight of the day was when I held a one year old, 25kg weighing panda 'toddler'. They are sooo fuzzy
Later that day we explored Chengdu's downtown. You might imagine an authentic little mountain town with a panda reserve, but really there is 8 million people in Chengdu, yes shocking! The city is very modern, like the others cities we've seen. The ancient things that have been preserved well, get stamped tourist site, and you pay big money (for us still decent prices) to go and explore. Nothing different in Chengdu. Brand new subway system, modern squares with fountains, beautiful parks, western name brand stores, western fast food chains, nothing out of the ordinary. You would almost forget your in communist country, until you see a huuuuuge statue of Mao Zedong...
On day three we left again. Since we did not have time to apply for extension of our current visa in Chengdu and we already bought train tickets for the 17th of August on the 7th while in Beijing (train tickets are very hard to get, especially when you are closer then 5 days from your departure date, which for us is still more time then we want to plan ahead), we decided to stick with the original plan which was to take the train to Kunming, then a bus to Dali and later on to Lijiang. When we made these plans, we were still thinking Tibet was impossible. While in Chengdu, we ended up making five additional plans;
- the original schedule,
- plan B if we can go to Tibet,
- a back-up plan for plan B in case we are not going to Tibet,
- plan C in case we do go to Tibet but can not extended our visa,
- plan D in case we can not go to Tibet but do get an extension and
- plan E in case we get neither, no Tibet permit nor an extension.
Trouble is, that until we reach Lijiang, we have no idea in what direction where headed, but at least we keep all wishes and possibilities open .
The scenery during the trainride is beautiful! For the first time we travel through real mountains, we see a big river, rural farmland and smaller cities. From the train you can see the poverty very well, you don't notice it when you're in the big city, but as soon as you leave it you do notice. Most tourists fly from city to city, because the distances between cities are so big, that it takes easily 20+ hours to get to the next big city bytrain or bus. Flying isn't expensive, normally about €100/ $130 for an hour, hour and a half flight. But trains are way cheaper, so we have been travelling by train mostly. Night trains preferably so we can get a hard sleeper and get some sleep on these 20+ hours train rides. Cost of a bed in the Chengdu - Kunming train was ¥263 which is about €32 / $42. Since most tourists fly, they only get to see the modern and rich China, but in fact there is so many people that have nothing, where the living standards are lower than we can imagine and nothing is being done to help their situation. It's weird, unreal almost. We already find that our standards are lowering every day the longer were gone. Well you've seen the bathroom pic, that was the first shocking one, we haven't had any better since. In the area where we are now, they don't even have doors in the toilets, so you just all sit next to each other. Shower is not a daily thing anymore, once every three days is great as well. It's funny how you adapt to your environment, and how easy it goes. We do say often to each other how spoiled we are in the countries were we live. Always clean sanitation, good food, it's so normal we take it for granted, but we really shouldn't. We're just lucky we were born where we did.
The loud voice of a Chinese woman wakes us at 6.00.. This train has 3 beds above each other, luckily we had the bottom bed so we don't have to climb down two. Pff. Early day. Like in Russia, every carriage has their own manager. When you board a train you have to give your trainticket to that person and you will receive a plastic, bankcard looking, card back. They do this so they can see who bought a ticket to where, and they will wake you up just before you get there, also this morning. We get to Kunming at 6.30, you would think nobody would be up yet, but in China your never alone. At the square infront of the station its infested with people, and we manage a way through the crowd to something that we think looks like a busstation ticketoffice. And it is. We buy a ticket to Dali, another 4 hrs, but first we have to be transferred to the right busstation on the west side of the city, which takes app. 40 min. After the routine security checks and scans, we find our bus. The weather isn't great and hasn't changed when we get to Dali 4 hrs later. From the bus station where we arrived, we were suggested to take a taxi to the hostel, but a taxi is anywhere from €2-4 way to much so we decide to find our own way. And we do, after asking around and a bit of walking, we find a bus that takes us right where we need to go for ¥1 each (€0.12) The hostel is called the yellow canary, online it seemed like a hippie kind of place. It's very basic, but has everything we need and we only pay ¥45 for the two of us for one night! Location is perfect, next to the road to Lijiang and a 15 min walk to old town Dali.
First we decide to visit the 3 pagodas where Dali is famous for, and it is way more than just three pagodas! They built a whole park kind of setting around it, with temples and everything. Very impressive and eventhough the wetter isnt great, at least its still dry .
The rest of the afternoon and evening we spend in old town Dali, very charming! Way nicer then we expected and have seen lately, but then again, Dali and Lijiang are famous tourist points. Pretty soon we see all the tourists too. A little less charming but still, the character of the old town is just nice. Little restaurants and bars everywhere, there even is a Belgian waffle stand ran by a Belgian guy. We see a massage parlor that offers 40min foot massages for ¥20, we kind of feel like being pampered, but unfortunately that wasn't it. After a 10minute soak in the water, our feet are cleaner then they have been since we left home. So good start. Then, the 'massaging' part starts. We should have known after Beijing that massages in China are not relaxing. At all. They are used as medicine, not as relaxation and like the cupping massage I had before, this massage also is far from pleasant. We didn't know we had that many muscles and soar points in our feet and lower legs. And it was the first time Jolijn had anyone touch her feet . Not a good first.. Probably a never again.. :s We eat pizza in a bar called Bad Monkey, run by Welsh, a funky place. And we also end up staying for some drinks. It's the first time since Ulaan Bataar that we've been out!
The next morning, we take the bus to Lijiang and luckily the lady from the hostel arranged that the bus would stop across from our hostel so we didn't have to go back to modern Dali first. 168km and four hours later, we make it to Lijiang. Lijiang is quite a modern city but also has an old town. This time we've decided to book a hostel in the old town. The hostel is funnily called 'Maple Leaf Inn', run by a Dutch-Chinese couple. We booked a private room and it was gorgeous! We even had our own ensuite, two wide single beds with a thick matrasses!! What a luxury and that for four nights for €18 per night for the both of us! Our hostel is situated in Shuhe old town on the north end of the city. Nice more quiet spot then Lijiangs central old town. The bus runs straight to the centre for again ¥1. On the first night we stay at the hostel, have dinner and enjoy some traditional Naxi dancing on the Shuhe square. It's a big happening and all the Chinese watching join in. After two songs, we also get pulled into the crowd and are dancing Naxi style hand in hand with the Chinese. It's fun! We just don't want to think about the concept of holding hands and this is why..
In china you can not throw any toilet paper into the toilet, it has to go into waste bins. At least, this is at tourist sites. At 'normal' Chinese locations there is no toilet paper to be found, people just seem to have very very long pinkie fingernail on one hand.. I believe they have the same habit in India.. So we carry toilet paper with us, everywhere we go, or handkerchiefs, depending on where we go, but its sure a different way of bathroom manners..
Monday morning we wake up early because we want to extend our current Chinese visa. Here you have to go to the PSB, a police station that organizes visas. We get there 10minutes before opening time and we are the firsts to arrive. Nice! When it's our turn we explain that we would like to extend our visa. The officer looks in our passports and says our current one doesn't expire until September first. That is still 11 days away. This is too much. We should come back two days before our visa expires. So we explain that we might go to Tibet, won't come back to Lijiang and don't have time to do it in Chengdu since that office takes 5 working days to process. Well, do it in Lhasa is the answer. Well, we are only in Lhasa (if we even get in) for two full days, so there also, there won't be enough time to process the visa before we leave again. Well I cant help you, its too early to extend now...
We kindly say that we understand and explain our itinerary again and show him we have nowhere four or five days time to extend, except here in Lijiang, now. He lets us fill out a form for an extension and tells us to come back Thursday morning with the money. It looks like we got it, but we have to wait till Thursday to be sure, because we feel it's the not th right time to ask him this question.
The afternoon we spend in the old town of Lijiang down town. It's a lot like Dali, just a lot bigger and with a lot more tourists. We are happy to be accommodated in the quiter old town we are in, just because the crowdedness here is enormous. It does feel nice though, the atmosphere is good, eventhough it's very touristy. That evening when we're already dressed for bed, when it starts to rain out of control. Pouring! For half an hour. We even get some thunder and lightning with it and after about 45min it seems to stop. Soon we here a lot of exiting voices outside yelling in Chinese. Then we hear Wil (the hostel owner) say that he's never seen anything like this. So we decide to get dressed and have a look. Well there was soo much water that the little water reservoirs all through town have flooded and all the streets are flooded too! We see birds that can't fly, because the rain made their feathers too heavy. They're are all being picked up by locals who apparently want to resuscitate them (we think they are just going to eat them).. It's a strange sight.
On the second day we go the mountain Lijiang is famous for, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, located just 17km north of town with an altitude of 5596mt. It's touristic as can be, very ennoying, but eh, we're getting used to everything being created and the hordes of people everywhere you go. In china you can just not be alone, ever. Period. A big touringcar brings us to the cable car. Nothing out of the ordinary it seems like, besides the fact that it is raining so hard and all we see is clouds, no mountain at all. It's looks promising (not).. The cable car is a whole new discovery. It seems like any ordinary cable car like you see in the Alps or the Rockies, just a tiny difference is that this cable car is double. They build it in a way that there is two cable cars above each other going up and down, so they can transport double they amount of people which apparently is necessary in high season. Well we seem to be here on the most rainy day of the year, with no mountain view in sight and the amount of people is insane!! Crazy Chinese.. We don't know how many, but a lot! Apparently Chinese tourism in this area increased 11% this year compared to last year, just insane.
The cable car brings us in no time from 3200 to 4506 mt, and as soon as we get to the top the Chinese are looking for their oxygen bottles. We brought one, just in case because of Jolijn's asthma, but luckily we didnt need it. You would think that at 4506mt it would be snowing but it didn't. It was 3.9 celcius when we arrived there, so it was still raining. There is a path created up to just over 4600mt and we decide to walk up. Slowly. All the Chinese take a sprint on the stairs, and as soon as they get to the plateau they all need oxygen.. Or they stop, smoke a cigarette and then need oxygen.. When we get up all the peaks are in the clouds, but we manage to see a little bit of the glacier. It's shocking that at this altitude, there is this little glacier left! And we're shocked about the temperature as well, it's so 'warm'! After a few pics we decide to go back down and a little disappointed we go warm up for a coffee. Like the growth of tourism, the prices also go up by 20% each year, but we've both seen nicer glaciers in nicer weather with less people in a more natural environment then this. We walk down to warm up with a cup of coffee. Since we don't need the oxygen, but cant return it, nor take it in the airplane with us to Chengdu, we decide to try it out and we have fun for 10minutes with our oxygen bottle. After 45 minutes the rain has almost stopped and when we get outside we see a glimpse of blue sky. We decided to walk up again, to 4600mt so that hopefully we can get some nicer pictures. Well our effort gets rewarded because during the climb up, the sky opens up and we get some beautiful views of the peaks and some great pics!
When we get back to the bottom bus station, we get put in another bus that takes us to the Blue Moon valley. This valley has different lakes and waterfalls. Here, we are also far from alone, but it feels a little less crowded then on the mountain. Everything is so obviously created though, the walk paths, lakes, gardens around it, that we really wonder how much of this is natural.. China is weird that way. We had people in our hostel who have travelled all over the world and they felt like they were in Disneyland here. Everyday everything opens for tourists and closes at night, it all seems fake. We have felt the same way many times, but at the same time it's intriguing and beautiful.
On day three we vist Lijiangs other famous sight, the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
It's situated about 70km north-west of the city and the drive itself is an adventure. Narrow roads, way to many traffic and passing another car while there is a third, so your two lanes (which really is more like a Canadian one lane) becomes a three lane :s
But we survive and make it to the first bend in the Yangtze river. The river is very wide and very red. The soil here is red clay so that explains why, but it doesn't look very beautiful. Again, its a grey day with low clouds, but at least it's not raining. We get the opportunity to 'cruise the river on a raft' for way too much money and since the water is so beautifully clear (not), and the raft looks so comfortable and safe (not) we decide not to do it.
But a lot of Chinese do. They seem to do everything a tour guide suggests them to do. We already find it a big adventure to see the Chinese people with their big cameras and their kids climb onto these inflatable rafts..
Somewhere along the way we pick them up again and we continue towards the Tiger Leaping Gorge. But first we have lunch. We get dropped just before a big bridge so we can walk across. The bus follows 3 minutes later. I the middle of the bridge I'm looking down into the water and see something black floating, it's big. I grab my camera and just as I look at the zoomed-in result of the taken photograph, I hear Jolijn shout: there is a dead cow floating in the middle of the river! So I did see right.. Very gross.. We cross the bridge and just as I look back another time, i see something else big, this time a pinkish color. Yes, it's an enormous dead pig. Also floating down the river. Okay...
We have lunch in a little restaurant on the side of the road, we get fried potatoes, fried lettuce, fried cucumber with vinegar and chili peppers, fried eggplant, fried chili peppers, steamed pumpkin, eggs and luckily rice. We try everything and it doesn't even taste bad, it's just spicy but the Chinese are famous for having everything spicy! After lunch it's only a little ways to the gorge. The path is again, a well established path along the rock wall. In the beginning the river is still calm, but floating fast, like we've seen all along the way. After 2km, just over half way we see a dead point in the river where all the garbage and other rubbish is floating in circles. And guess what we see, yes a dead cow and about 6 dead pigs amongst a lot of other trash...
We continue the trail until the end of the gorge where we find the tiger, and see the enormous power of the water. Never in our lives have we seen a river this out of control. It's insane, but cool to see the force in this water! Originally we wanted to do a two day trekking here, but since the weather has been so bad with lots of rain, there has been little landslides and trekking was not recommended. On the way back, we get to the bridge again and everyone gets out. We dont really understand why and decide were just gonna stay in the bus. But we cant, we have to get out and walk accross. When we ask why; the answer is "the bridge is not safe". Okay.. So instead of everyone sitting in the buss crossing it, we have to walk and the bus passes us on the bridge as were crossing it? We dont see how it can be better to walk. So, a one-day organized tourist bustour it was. But we're glad we saw the gorge, it was quite impressive!
The next morning we have to go back to the PSB office and when we get there it only takes about an hour before we walk out with an extension in our passport. Yes!! It worked, I guess the secret to getting things done in China, is to remain calm and tell the officers you understand them.. Whoot!! We have until October 1st now to get to Hong Kong!
We were supposed to find out about Tibet yesterday, but no word about that yet. We haven't seen Lijiangs famous Black Dragon Pool park yet, so we decide to go there. Your supposed to have a great view of Jade Snow Dragon Mountain, but for the 5th day in a row, the clouds are so low that we don't see and far distances mountains at all. The park is nice though, we walk through and laugh about all the 'English' signs in the park. Often, even at major tourist sights, there is English translated signs, but they either get translated so literally from Chinese to English that it looks funny, or they just don't hire a proper person with correct English writing skills. Often we have been confused, reading a sign in Englsih that doesn't make any sense to us at all. Very weird but funny at the same time. I made a little collage for you from some nice examples just to give you an idea
When we get back to the hostel we have an email from Chengdu and we got our permit to Tibet!! Whooooot! Highly unexpected but very very happy that we did get it, we can finally book our flights from Lhasa via Langzhou back to Chengdu. We were flying back to Chengdu on the 23rd in the evening anyways, even if we wouldn't have gotten the permit, so we could get all our deposits back, but this is very very very exiting news!! So, everything worked out as we hoped, totally unexpected but so cool!! One more night we eat our favorite sweet and sour chicken, spicy local style potatoes and tomato and eggs in the hostel, before we leave to the airport. Another 1 hour and 20 minute flight it is to Chengdu.
That is we're we are right now, back in the Lazy Bones hostel, the people that made our Tibetan dream possible!
Tonight we will leave by train to Lhasa, which will take us a days and a half, so we will arrive on the 26th in the morning and the 29th we will fly back to Chengdu, once more. Up until now we have travelled 10000km in China already (16000 miles) and since we are extending our visit here a little longer, there will be a lot more kilometers coming! We'll keep you posted!