Posts Tagged With: guilin

China an overview

 

Well the time has finally come to leave China and move on to the next leg of our little adventure. I guess it is time to take stock of what we have done, where we have been and run through the highlights and lowlights of the time spent in China. We are actually not entirely finished as we will be back in Hong Kong in October and may pop into Macao for a day or two depending upon how the other plans go.

Overall our time in China has been fantastic and I would highly recommend this as a tourist destination for any of you. There are some myths about needing mandarin to travel in China which are quite frankly totally wrong. After a cumulative 7 months full time here we would be lucky to know 20-30 words and have been completely off the beaten path where no English is spoken. The Chinese people are really helpful and a couple of bits of technology gets you through most binds (see Jill’s travel tips section).

So in summary we spent –

205 – Days in China
50 – Cities slept in (more visited or day tripped)
25 – Provinces visited (of 32)
China Map

We have been discussing our best and worst bits and came up with very little on the negative side with the overall impression being ridiculously positive. The other thing we tried to do was to develop a must see itinerary for those seeking to travel here. China however is like Australia and the distances and travel times make seeing everything impossible unless you have unlimited time (there are still things that we missed out on and want to see).

The other thing that stumped us was that some of the must sees (Terracotta Warriors and 3 Gorges Cruise etc.) were some of the least impressive things that we have been to…but how can you really come here and not see them…so despite being so-so I guess they remain must sees. They were ok and it is nice to say that we have been but there is so much better to see in China and if time were limited (which it almost always will be) there are much better places to go.

The other thing was that Jill and I liked different things. She has turned into a mountain goat while here, relishing the stair climbs (that are everywhere)…while I have gone the other way cursing stairs at every opportunity. Obviously there are some things that were awesome for both of us. The Great Wall of China is an absolute must and the best spot is the Mutianyu section (about 60kms outside of Beijing). The other thing that must be done is getting into some of the provinces. Each minority of China is quite different and these differences should be experienced. So here it is…

Traditional Must Sees

The Great Wall of China
Forbidden City
Tiananmen Square
The summer palace
Gate of heavenly peace
Mao’s Tomb
Shanghai
Walled cities
Hanging Monastery
The terracotta Warriors
3 gorges dam
Tibet ?

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Most of these are easy to achieve from Beijing with limited travel times and this could be done in a two week stint if you push a little bit. The warriors is a quick pop across to Xian where the Muslim quarter is a must. Xian is a walled city but Jill’s suggestions are that Pingyao and Datong are better examples and from Datong you can also see the hanging monastery and Yúngāng Caves..head down and out through Shanghai and all of this within the two week journey.

Tibet is a whole other issue. There seems to be a global interest in Tibet given the Dalai Lama scenario but having been there we would never return. The Everest leg was nice and something we will no doubt brag about down the track but way too difficult to be worth the 2 hour photo shoot that we got. Especially given that a lot of the time it is clouded over and you don’t get a nice view (we were blessed with perfect weather). The food was terrible but the road between Lhasa and Shigatse was the highlight but it is a tough schlepp and should not be taken lightly.

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Lesser known gems

These are the things that do not immediately come to mind when you think of China but having been there and experienced them they are VERY high on both of our lists. We would do almost all of these before the last 3 on the earlier list…but they are less famous.

Guilin to Yangshou river rafting
Jiuzhaigou – Jiuzhai national park with blue lakes and waterfalls everywhere
Harbin – ice festival
Kunming – Stone forest
Kashgar – livestock market
Chengdu – panda breeding centre + giant Buddha at Leshan

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This list of places will probably not make an initial itinerary however were really nice spots to either kick back or enjoy a lesser paced time getting to know the real China or seeing sights in a less hectic manner. Nice if you have heaps of time but sadly will be missed by most.

Dali – walled city
Dandong – North Korean border
Shanhaiguan – wall meets ocean + first mountain pass
Mountains – Wutaishan, Mianshan, Taishan,
Xiahe – monastery (more Tibetan than Tibet)
Anshun – biggest waterfall in China
Hohhot – Inner Mongolia
Hangzhou – west lake
Shangri-la – mini Tibet

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After this there were a bunch of cities that we stayed in that we found to be totally charming and full of the local Chinese culture and lifestyle but not necessarily likely to get a tourist visit. We would go back to them as we had a really good time eating, drinking and mingling with the locals. Places like Xining where we relaxed after the Tibet ordeal, or Yinchuan where they had 20 quai massages and free street theatre, or Guangzhou where we lazed eating super cheap food in a street that turned into restaurantville after dark.

Myths

You need to speak Chinese – rubbish…almost every Chinese person you meet will try and help you as much as they can. If you have a smile and a nice attitude you will never go wrong. A translator app on your phone and a dictionary style app like Pleco will get you through every drama.
Don’t eat the street food – rubbish…this is the tastiest, cheapest and best food to eat in China. It is clean, and turned over so frequently that most of the time it will be made in front of you. There is tourist food with snakes, bugs and scorpions etc but these are mostly for show and photographs. The every day stuff is fine.
China is dangerous – rubbish…be aware of your surroundings, as you always should be in any country, and you will feel and be safer than you would on any Australian street.

The bad bits

The absolute epitome of all things that are wrong with China exist and are openly displayed by one group especially…The Dama. This is not to say that these traits are not widely available but the Chinese Aunties (or Dama) are the group that has embraced or inherited all that is wrong with China. They are by no means the cause of it…but when looking at the offensive behaviour that exists in China…7 out of 10 times you will see it displayed by one of these aunties.

By night they are happy middle aged women dancing in the parks and public spaces (pissing off the locals with the loud music but amusing the tourists). But during the day they are the phlegm spelunking, bodily fluid hacking, phone yelling, street blocking, child pissing, line ignoring, elbow throwing, crowd pushing group that is oblivious to and ignorant of all those around them.

In a newspaper rant the Chinese papers tried to explain the attitude claiming that … Growing up during the Chinese revolution these Dama worked hard and didn’t enjoy good life when they were young; they only tried their best to save money. Now their children have grown up. With retirement pensions, they have more free time and money to spend on their own life. This explains some of it but not all.

The older generation has some of the worst Chinese traits, the younger generation has reasonably few of them…but the Dama…the Chinese baby boomer equivalents are shockers. And they are mostly women…probably because the men had chain smoked themselves into an early grave. The middle group that is the Dama is atrocious and the worst China has to see and offer.

But the future is bright. The current generation is influenced by the poor examples set and is revolting against this. They are more polite, more aware that other people exist, and less likely to hock bodily fluids around the streets. There is still a long way to go…yelling still takes place and the ignorance of those around them remains high. Smoking will be the next hurdle to be fought as it is impossible to go anywhere without being swamped by cigarette smoke (despite no smoking signs everywhere). No meal can be eaten without half the restaurant firing up after their food.

A Snapshot

Once again we will finish on a selection of thumbnails of our favourite moments…needless to say after 7 months there are too many to try and put on our little post. If anybody is thinking of a trip here we would be happy to provide any advice or share any insights we may have that may help your planning.

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Last minute thoughts

China has recently introduced 72 hour Visa free cities…20 of them in total. This presents the perfect opportunity for stopover tasters as you head to other destinations. Guilin is one of these and was my favourite spot…72 hrs would be enough time to fly in, poke around, crash, take the raft to Yangshou, poke around, crash then return to Guilin for the flight out. This was debatably our best day and certainly one of our best days in China.

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And the adventure continues…

 

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Jinan and Taishan

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Ok…so the number one reason for coming to Jinan was the money…Chinese currency has images of famous places on each of the notes. Our introduction to this was when we were in Guilin rafting down the Li river past the lumps. The guide pointed out that the picture on the 20 yuan note was the lumps over our shoulder. Pretty cool really. Then we got to Tibet and found that the Potala palace was the image on the 50 yuan note. A bit of research revealed the following:

1 RNB – Xihu lake – Hangzhou – been there
5 RNB – Mt Taishan – Jinan – here now
10 RNB – 3 gorges – been there
20 RNB – karsts (lumps) – Guilin – been there
50 RNB – Potala palace – Lhasa – been there
100 RNB – great hall of the people – Beijing – been there

It was the only one we had missed…so we really had to come. When we were in Shangrila we were having dinner on our last night and a lonely Chinese lad turned up and was sitting by himself so we asked him to join us. He described his name for us as “batman inside me like a clown”… after laughing possibly more than I should have we decided that the translator was playing tricks…as it turns out his name was Heath…and it was a Heath Ledger reference that turned out really funny. Anyway there had been the odd email traffic since then and we had stayed in touch.

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Heath had moved from Beijing to Jinan and just had to meet up with us again and host us while we were in town. Which he did…and did brilliantly. After a catch up and a beer in the room we headed out to see the sights around town. The first stop was the Baotu Springs. Jinan is famous for its artesian springs and there are apparently 72 of them in and around the city. We then hit the big park and square followed by the food street to eat snake and some other goodies. Then on to Black Tiger Spring, the Five Dragon Pool and a bunch of other springs etc.

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The one thing that Heath did that earned himself god-like status was ordered us a local delicacy…that we had already had before in Beijing. It is without doubt Jill’s favourite dish on tour but it was the victim of “Chinglish” on the menu and was only known as Beijing heaving. We had asked and described it to many others along our journey but to no avail…then randomly this dish popped up on our table. For those that care it is called… phonetically “jing jiang ro si” which means Beijing sauce meat shredded. Heath wrote this in Chinese for us and it may well be ordered again…many times.

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It was then Monday and Heath went off to work but we arranged to meet near the food street for dinner. The one thing that has not got a mention is the town…it is in a basin and in summer the breeze does not get in and the humidity cannot escape…it is known as one of the five furnaces of China. We arrived on a 37 degree day with 70+% humidity. It was swelteringly hot and the forecast was for the mercury to get above 40 degrees in the days to come. Talking to Heath he told us that in winter the wind comes from the other way and gets stuck in the basin, swirling and making the place bitterly cold.

We had a lazy start to the day before heading off to the 1000 Buddha mountain. We of course started the journey nearing noon which meant we were climbing the mountain between 1 and 2 pm in the 40 degree heat. Buddhas seen we headed back down the mountain by way of the luge. As it was quiet…there was nobody on the luge but us…Jill hopped on while I took a photo then off she went. I walked back to the luge, got on, waited a while then took off.

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Assuming a level of safety standards…I figured that there was no way to crash…it would just scare you with the extreme speeds…surely the luge can’t fly off the tracks. Assuming these things…I put the throttle to full go…on the fifth corner as I flew off the luge and over the edge of the track…I revised my assumptions. Got back on went full tilt to get speed up again but started using the brakes coming into corners. Turned corner 9 and had to slam on the brakes as I had somehow caught up to Jill…even with my crash.

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So anyway…miss daisy and I then hopped a bus to get home for a shower. Couldn’t get the right bus and ended up walking about 3-4 Kms home. The next day we headed up to Mt Taishan (this is actually redundant as Shan means mountain but my brain needs them both for some reason). Taishan was about 38 degrees with 80+% humidity and involved climbing 3000 stairs to get to the half way point where you could get a cable car to the top. It is one of the holy sacred mountains…at about the 1500 stair mark I came to the fairly self evident conclusion… that it was not holy to me.

I stopped, sweated and inhaled water while my wife kept going…she truly should be committed. She claims to have wanted to bail at the 2000-2500 step mark but is too bloody minded to give it up. So she kept going to the cable car. It was a misty day and there was no view so she did not take the cable car to the top…but she can honestly say that she did the long haul of a hike. Having walked the 3000 stairs she then walked back 1500 where she found me relaxing under a tree. At that point we wandered the remaining 1500 stairs back to the bottom together. Jill did over 6000 and I did over 3000 stairs.

My water intake for the day exceeded 8 litres and Jill’s was even higher still…add to this the beers and soft  drinks as the night went on and our fluid intake for the day was something like 15 litres each. Our clothes were soaked with perspiration and we stank. The one hour train ride back to Jinan was uncomfortable and overly aromatic. The shower on our return was as welcome as it was critically needed.

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We had a catch up with Heath at the food street for dinner (I wanted more snake and Jill wanted the Beijing heaving) and we all watched the fountain show. Each night at 8pm the square in the middle of town puts on a fountain show… with music, lights and squirting water etc. All choreographed and timed to the music…just like in Vegas. It goes for 30 mins and is pretty spectacular. The place is packed each night and with good reason.

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Bamboo Rafting and Lumps

Well today was possibly the best day that we have had since we left Australia. We left Guilin this morning to do the 73 Kms down the road to Yangshuo but rather than doing the road trip we did the leisurely bamboo raft ride down the LiJiang River. Now these were not really bamboo rafts, they were eight 4 inch poly pipes strapped together with two park benches on them, all powered by a whipper snipper with the chord replaced by a propeller.

That said, we slowly and quietly trundled down the River past all of the lumps (karsts). Now my main issue in Guilin was that you could not really get any good photo angles on the lumps without people or buildings getting in the way…problem solved. This was about 3-4 hours of ever changing landscapes, on the River, with no obstructions. Wow. At the end of the day we had over 100 photos of lumpy landscapes and had had an awesome time.

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On arrival in Yangshuo we checked into the flashiest hostel we have come across. We are paying about $24 a night for both of us to stay in a hostel room that is on a par with and often better than a $200+ a night room in Australia. I certainly had worse rooms while travelling with the AFP and it is better than most novotels. The room directly looks out onto lumps and has an observation deck with almost 360 degree views of the town. We checked in, went for a noodle feed (about $5 worth) and then went to join the next leg of our journey from Guilin.

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The next leg involved seeing some of the traditional farming and fishing etc (staged but who really cared) and an actual bamboo raft ride. About 15 km outside Yangshuo is a village where they have a 600 year old bridge and fishermen using cormorant birds to fish for them. Basically they tie the cormorant’s throat shut and send it hunting for big (ish) fish that the birds cannot swallow as their throats are tied. The dude then plucks the fish from the bird’s throat and sends the cormorant off again. Not the way that they still do it but a fascinating watch nonetheless. This was followed by a real bamboo raft pushed along by an old dude with a stick and a feed the water buffalo session. Possibly the most amusing part of the whole day was the sheer terror of a Chinese woman who was trying to feed the world’s tamest water buffalo. She screamed, she squealed, she ran, she cringed… It was almost as if my sister Karin was to hand feed a spider. The poor buffalo just wanted a handful of corn husks.

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Now it must be said that Yangshuo is a soulless, plastic, tourist town in the midst of great natural beauty. Everything evil that tourism brings is here, knock-off shops, staged markets, touts, KFC, McDonalds, neon, laser light shows…the lot. Despite this it is clean, neat surrounded by lumps…and you can ignore the other stuff. There is a strip of bars and restaurants claiming to be from every country of the world which are charging obscene prices for everything. The German bar is charging 168 yuan for pigs knuckle and sauerkraut (bear in mind that we had noodles and dumplings for two for 12 yuan). The beers are about 40 yuan each while our ones at the hostel are between 7 and 12.

We wandered the streets for a meal that night and found a great feed in a back alley (as we usually do). On our return journey the bride was in need of the amenities. I have been practicing my Chinese but no matter how many times I told her to ask for directions, she would not believe me that the Chinese word for toilet was “Shi Thou Se”.

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Guilin

The next morning we hopped an early morning flight to Guilin. Upon arrival I immediately fell in love with the joint. The drive from the airport showed a bunch of natural rock outcrops/hills/mountain things (karsts) that dotted the entire area (titled by me as lumps). We checked into the best backpackers that we have hit so far (Wada), rolled across the road for a feed and on the recommendation of the staff we had the local specialty of Guilin mifen (rice noodles with some other stuff added). Two big bowls cost us 7 yuan throw in 10 dumplings for 5 yuan and we were both stuffed for about $2. This was followed by a walk around the local area to acclimatise and Friday night is all you can eat BBQ night at the hostel for 40 yuan a head. This got considerably more expensive as the BBQ needed to be washed down by copious quantities of Tsingtao. But at 12 yuan for a 600 ml bottle it wasn’t that bad.

Day 2 in Guilin saw us in a van and headed to the Longji rice terraces otherwise known as the “dragon’s backbone” about 2 and a half hours out of town, on the most bone jarring road imaginable. Jill and I were in the back seat of a hiace style van directly above the axle and by the end of the day, kidneys were bruised and fillings were dislodged. Ignoring the drive the rice terraces were spectacular. Basically over the last 2000 years the locals have been cutting terraces into the sides of the mountains for the purposes of crop cultivation. Needless to say you can create quite a few terraces in 2000 years.

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Day 3 saw us extending our stay by another day as this place is so good. The next leg was sorted to head to Yangshuo which is about 2-3 hrs downstream from here. On the advice from the fantastic girls at the hostel they reckon the way they would get there would be on “bamboo raft”. We are not really sure what this means but at this stage we will be taking a journey on a Chinese River on a bamboo raft of some sort. On the hostel front…they have a policy that if you drink 12 beers then you get a free wada shirt…we now have a pink one and a white one.

Day 3 also saw us doing the local wander around town. Most of the tourist things are a close walk and overall it is not too strenuous as the place is flat. Today saw us visit the twin pagodas, get some good shots of the lumps (karsts), check out the elephant trunk hill and generally just wander around while I got food from almost every street stall I could find.

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Now if you remember an earlier post about my ordering food when I am hungry…the rules now apply to Jill too. While I was grazing on street food Jill was not, so when we stopped she had free reign over the meal. We had the largest and the most expensive meal that we have had since hitting China. The first dish was the nobbly bits of a pig, followed by the rest of the pig in round 2, and then the duck turned up, the whole duck, on the up side Jill has worked out the sign language for doggie bag. Below was what was left after we had eaten for about an hour.

Jill's leftovers

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