Wednesday, August 30, 2006


** Due to my inability to read Chinese I clicked on the wrong button last time and didn't publish my posts, just noticed. So FOUR(4!) new posts for ya'll. This one being my hundredth post, I await a telegram from the Queen!

Arriving in Xian, nobody else seems to getting off the train which continued all the way to Shanghai. But at least I did get off at the right station. Actually on the Chinese trains you swap your ticket for a bit of plastic with your bed number and then 30-60 mins before the stop the conductor swaps your plastic back for your ticket (which you need to get out the station!). Well at least that's how it has worked so far.

My guesthouse was quite near the station, I just needed to turn right (or was it left) and walk along the road for 10 minutes. And then zonk out, never seem to sleep well on the trains. Anyhows, Xian is a large city with over six and half million residents, most of them milling around the train station. Not helping matters is the fact that there are several bus stations abutting onto this area. Large city walls surround the centre where the large bell tower sits in a traffic roundabout. A modern city it is filled with retail shops, shopping malls and lots of hairdressers for some reason. This being China, you don't just get a shop filled with shoes you get a street filled with shops filled with shoes, great if your Imelda Marcos. In the streets around there are some food stalls serving up chicken feet, pigs intestines and other such delicacies. I opted for a chicken dumpling, while it was certainly was a dumpling not sure if it was chicken (maybe sometime better not to know)

Next day I checked my guidebook, the 306 bus heads off to the Army of the Terracotta Warriors. Outside I had a brain freeze and jump on the 608 bus. Unsurprisingly I didn't make it to the Terracotta Warriors, but ended up with a tour of Xian Industrial Estate instead, ending at the bus washing area. By the time I make it back and re-check my guidebook half the day has gone, oh well there is always tomorrow.

Next day I checked my guidebook, the 306 bus heads off to the Army of the Terracotta Warriors. Outside I jump on the 306 bus, well not quite jump as there is a sizable queue of people (mostly tourists, hence the queue instead of a scrum). Arriving at the vast grounds, people jump off buses into electric carts to be taken up to the entrance. Or you could walk! I was mildly surprised to see that the price was still 90yuan, probably about the only tourist attraction that hasn't suffered a price hike, since my guidebook was written (way back in 2005)

Qin Shi Huang might have pegged it back in 210B.C. but his ego lives on. The Terracotta Army guards his tomb, and chances are, he may have been a bit of a meglomaniac. He did however unite China and standardise the currency and writing.

Inside you enter into Pit 1 and it is massive, football stadium sized, complete with football sized crowds! 230 metres by 62 metres, which by quick mental calculation (ahem) is 14,260 square metres. First discovered in 1974, only 4000 square metres have actually been excavated. So far 2000 warriors have been discovered, it is likely to hold another 4000! Originally all the warriors held bronze weapons such as crossbows, spears, axes, swords, halberds etc. Apparently more than 10,000 pieces have been recovered but are not on display. The warriors are lined up in battle formation, each crafted with unique facial features. Some horses are found at the rear of the pit wooden chariots were originally buried alongside. A bronze chariot has been recovered and is on display at the museum, alongside some impressive individual warriors and a fat guy who was the commander!

Pit 2 and 3 are much smaller, not nearly as much to see as Pit 1, although there is thought to be another one thousand warriors in Pit 2. Full excavation of the pits could take decades (That is what happens when you dig with a toothbrush!).

Back in Xian I had a gander at Big Goose Pagoda? (b-doom tisssshh!)
Set in pleasant garden surroundings, there was a few halls with some artwork to see. In the shop a wolf-headed man statue sticks it tongue out at you while menancingly holding a couple of sticks, strange. Also a black chicken roamed the garden! Did you know that even its bones are black? Well, now you do!


If you can catch a glimpse through the crowds, through the fingerprinted glass and through the incubator, you may see what looks like a giant rat, but in fact it is a baby panda. Well at least that what the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base are claiming, and who can blame them after all pandas are big business. Want to rent one for your zoo? You'd better pony up a million bucks per YEAR. What you're not a member of our Panda renting club? No problem, fill out the application form and enclose a cheque for $600,000 and you can begin to rent out pandas immediately!

Still they do look cute & cuddly and a little bit daft. After traipsing through the park for a bit we came across one who was out and about in the early morning. Mind you for ten minutes he sat with his back to the visitors, eventually turning round for the whizz flash of the cameras. A couple more came out, rolled around, ate some bamboo, and went back to sleep.

In another bit of the park, a red panda lurked hiding behind the branches. Sulking at all the attention his famous black and white cousins get, while he has to sit here alone, with barely a camera click to keep him company. Back in the parking lot a maze of panda shops selling pandas of all shapes and sizes (but not colour!). Eek, I just want a coke!

Back in Chengdu my main landmark for orientation was a huge seven storeyed ship-shapped club. Down at the riverside park, old people were doing that old classic exercise of walking around backwards, which helps what??

Next day it was off to Leshan. Here there is a whole lotta buddhas and assorted other statues and carvings. A large buddha, dwarfing tourists appeared round the corner, but that wasn't even the Giant Buddha. Some smaller but still large carvings surrounded the stairs. Padlocks sprouting out the handrail for some reason, must be for blessings or luck I'm guessing. Inside the hall an impressive statue of Guanyin is carved into the walls, while not quite having one thousands hands, probably has more than a thousands fingers! After a bit more of a walk the Giant Buddha appeared. A supersized whopper of a Buddha. Officialy the World's largest standing Buddha at 71m, he's pretty damn big! Unfortunately he's also very popular, meaning the winding queue down to his toes was over two hours, longer than I cared to wait to see some giant toes. I had a look about the rest of the park, the other interesting sight was the hall of arhats at the Wuyou Temple. An arhat being a Chinese celestial being, these were modelled clay and painted each with unique posture and expression. Claimed to be 1000 of them, but I reckoned closer to 500. Still impressive though, but like a few places in China, no photos allowed :(

As I got back in Chengdu walked past an outdoor pub with a giant cinema screen showing Braveheart! Then there was a woman doing some crazy tea pouring, a long stemmed pot is twirled around the body and then poured into cups. Doing tricks like pouring with the spout on the knee, or over the back. Probably cold by the time they pour in it your cup!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Trekking TLG

I arrived at the bus stop in the morning hoping to leap on a Zhongdian bound bus. Accordingly to the guide book there were around 11 buses a day heading up. Turned out to be 2. The next one was not for 4 hours. Some other people were in the same situation and we managed to haggle a mini-bus for a decent price. So off we went. Arriving after a couple of hours, me and Gene decided to stop for a bite to eat, while the other two were eager to set off immediately and had a pack lunch stowed in their packs. Gene is originally from America, but spent three years in Africa and now six years in South Korea teaching English.

TLG is better known as Tiger Leaping Gorge (by people who don't have to type out blog entries). Somewhere deep in the Tibetan plateau begins the Yangzi River, the third longest river in the world. It winds its way down through and across China all the way to Shanghai, 6300 km away. Here the Yangzi is squeezed between Haba Mountain and Jade Snow Dragon Mountain, creating the gorge where a tiger is said to have leapt across, hence the odd name.

Heading out from the lunch spot, we soon wondered if we were going the right way, as a large track veered off to the left, but with no signposts either way we decided on keeping straight. The high trail starts and at the first major bend, we reach a delta where we again get confused, shouldn't we be on the other side?? Nope, it turns out we are going round the corner, where we are greeted by the first sight of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain or Yulong Xueshan, which tops out at an impressive 5,500m. Continuing on we reached the 26 bends which is basically a big zig-zagging climb to the highest point in the trek. Sweatily we reach the summit as pose for the obligatory photograph with the mountains in the backdrop. A slight haze, desaturates the colour in the background and it looks like I've been cut and pasted into the photograph, but I really did make it up there honest!
It will hard to do justice to the spectacular scenery, or the steepness of the gorge in places, you just can't replicate that in a photograph.

About a couple of hours after the summit we dropped in to a guesthouse, where facilities were basic, but the food was pretty good! Tasty baba bread with chives. Here it has no yeast, served as a flat bread and better than it's doughy cousin served in Lijiang the later tasting like pizza base. The toilet is a trench, with mountain scenery. i.e. no door, the Chinese are not big on privacy!

The next day start early and soon underway, through small villages clinging to the mountainside, with the famous Chinese terraces farming style in evidence in patches. Sure footed mountain goats chew plants in perilous footholds. Onwards crossing over a waterfall, past noisy cicadas and more great scenery. Descending down the high path meets the low road. Arriving fairly early, Gene and I split, he wants to get the bus back to Lijiang, and I continue the trek. Pushing on is easy enough, just walking along the road rather than a path. I reach the ferry point and can see across the path as it zig-zags down the mountainside. I clamber down for an hour eventually reaching the ferry point, but there is no ferry! I climbed back up and make a choice, I can push on to the old ferry (and hope it is running) or head back to one of the guesthouses, about an hour walk back the way. I do the sensible thing and head back to spend a night in the guesthouse. Barely any traffic along the road and no telling how far till the next place with water.

Back at the guesthouse eat some food and zonk out. The next day, it is onto the old ferry, 3 hours down the road out the gorge and through a small village or two, past a handful of small rockslides. Up ahead a bang and dust floating up, as a lone rock fall from up above, a smattering of stones dot the road. On through a patch of sunflowers, and then wind down to the river. Squeeze past a herd of goats and jump onto the rustbucket of a ferry. On the other side I clamber up a really steep hill practically on all fours. Not until I get to the top and have an overview do I realise that the actual path takes a different route. Another 40 minutes or so gets me to the Snowflake hotel in the tiny village of Daju. Later on a French couple arrives and we have some tasty food with fried cheese & mushrooms, and a dish that seemed more Mediterranean than Chinese, with lots of tomatos and olive oil, all washed down with a beer. Next day hopped on a bus back to Lijiang and then it was onto Chengdu.

Into Lijiang

Into Lijiang, another old town with cobbled streets, narrow alleyways, stone bridges and countless canals. Horrendous for getting lost in, despite lots of maps. At least I had my trust compass to point me North. In the hotel a classic sign in Chinglish, "Please don't worry if fire is occuring we hotel superior facilities to ansure you transmitted safely" Great! Keeping that in mind I set off for Black Dragon Pool, a large park which contained Elephant Hill. Quickly figuring out the prices in the guidebook are often useless for tourist attractions. Entrance price is listed at 20yuan, it has tripled to 60yuan. 4 quid to get into a park, sheesh! Don't think I'll be falling for that one again. Anyway inside there was a temple/school where scholars were learning about Naxi culture. The Naxi are one of the minority cultures around Lijiang. A Dongba is a head teacher, but this title is genealogical, only if your father, grandfather were Dongba, can you be a Donga. The teaching seemed to focus on preserving the culture. Naxi writing is interesting, the only heiroglyphic language still in use. A young student eplained this to me, and suggested he could get his teacher to write my name in the writing for free? but the paper was expensive!

After strolling through the mouth of a dragon, not a real one, I headed up a set of seemingly never-ending steps, slowly climbing Elephant Hill. The occasional pagoda, provide shelter from the sun and a welcome rest. It was getting cooler up here, but the sun still burns! Eventually I made it to the top for some great views over the old town and the new city. A sweaty Chinese made it to the top also panting something along the lines of Oh Baba!? By the time I got back down I was all jellied legged.

Back at the North of the old town, a couple of waterwheels provides what seems to be the obligatory photo-shoot in Lijiang. Chances are that my arms, back of my head is in several pictures. Try and slip past the hundreds of tourists taking pictures. Umbrellas, to block the sun provide a dangerous obstacle. Next to the waterwheels is a large cobbled town square, where there are some people in traditonal dress having a song and dance. They seem to be practising, there a bit hit and miss with the dance steps, but seem to be enjoying it, faces full of concentration.

Inside the old town the streets are lined with shops selling all sorts. Lots of tourists memorabilia and knick-knacks. Shops titled such as the nine meter sunshine camel bell shop?are there for all your one meter sunshine camel bell needs. If you have any money left in your wallet you can snack on some dried yak meat, which seems popular. Or maybe purchase a kitten. On past the three wells, not exactly wells in the traditional senses as the are interlinked with the current washing through them. The highest is for drinking water, the next if for washing vegetables and the third for clothes. Interestingly the are still used in the traditonal ways, as they would have been for centuries before.

Stopping for a drink at a cafe overlooking the square, there was some intriguing choices for the brave. You could feast on five kinds of chicken stomach, some deep fried milk flakes, throw in some silk worm and finish with the "delicious water animal"
At night as darkness fell, there was more music and dance in Sifang square. People danced in a large circle round a small bonfire, well until the police came along and saw people enjoying themselves and broke it up. A handful of people were sending candles down the canals. Buy a candle boat and make a wish!

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Arriving in Dali, I jumped off the bus and try to get my orientation. Hmmm, seems I'm not where I want to be I'm in Dali City rather than old Dali. I head back to the bus station and ask somebody how to get to old Dali. They probably get asked all the time by confused backpackers. Off on the number 4 bus into town, after about half an hour arrive and get a room. Dali is a walled city with some old pedestrianised cobbled streets making for a nice quiet atmosphere, except for all the tourists!

A walk around town and you can see some of the forts. They are supposed to be restored, but they look more like they have been rebuilt. Quite a lot of cafes on the corners, often with the ingredients sitting at the door. Or past the butchers where a large hunk of meat hangs skewered on a hook for days and a bundle of unidentifiable fur lies in a heap. The town lies in the shadow of a 4000m mountain and then at the edge of the town lies some farmland and beyond that Erhai Hu, a large lake. I went for a stroll up the mountain and came across something. Never quite sure what I抦 paying to get into, is it a temple or a show? Anyway it was a bit of both it seemed. And quite a few shops. Walking past the yaks I sharpened my archery skills with the ol?bow and arrow. I think I need more practice. Inside a room, the shopkeeper magically appeared. A few Chinese tourists were getting dressed up in regal clothes and getting there photos taken, Kings and Queens for the day.

Back outside trumpets were playing as man in robe strolled through the village and read from a scroll. Not quite sure what this was all about, but they went upstairs in a house onto the balcony and throw some unfurling cloth down from there. Then a bit more speaking and they throw some flowers off the balcony which a young Chinese guy caught. He was whisked off upstairs and quickly given ceremonial dress, I assume he was married to the princess. Not speaking Chinese, I was somewhat lost about what was supposed to be going on! Not to worry, immediately next was the international language of stilts. As a group of acrobats ran about on long stilts, to fast music. They manage to do some crazy whirly stuff where the central figure turns with two people hanging on flying through the air. And then they were gone, a quick two minute show.

Back down in town water flows continually through the roads of Dali, which is built on a slight slope. Many scenic spots have been made where tourists take turns being photoed. Old merchants with a long pole over the shoulder and two balanced baskets hawk fruit. Woman dressed up in traditional dress try and get customers for restaurants.

The next day I cycled out of town to the village of Xizhou. I went down the main road and after about 15km found the turn off, a rather small place. They seem to still use cart and horse for moving stuff about, or just passenger transport. Corn lies in the streets, and outside the houses grows vegetables and herbs. After a look about I passed what looked like a pasta drying factory! I headed down towards the lake and try to head back to Dali. At the lake there was no clear track, I passed a few fishermen sorting out their nets. I pushed on but had to turn back as the track vanished to be replaced by hopping from rock to rock across the edge of the water. So back along the roads, but cobblestones don't make for a great cycling surface!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Yangshuo and onwards

I grabbed a room near the bus-stop. Yangshuo is only an hour or so ride from Guilin. The next day I went on a bike-tour, it was a scorcher. I even bought one of these big Chinese hats to stop my brain from cooking. The guide led me down a few narrow lanes and she was right I would have got lost if I went myself! It was pleasant if too hot to ride through this strange scenery. Up ahead was Moon Hill a bizarre structure where a circular hole appears in the peak. Nearby was Buddha Water Cave and I went inside for a look. Also a couple of small dogs came along to be nosy. A guide showed us round the interior. Stalactites, malacites and all things strange! Time had shaped the cave walls into weird shapes, like a curtain of rock. I tried to take some pictures but it was dark and couldn抰 see much on the screen, later I realised I still had the camera lens cover on. Doh!

A professional photographer was lurking in the caves popping up to snap us now and again. An annoying little boy proclaimed to his mother that he was going to be famous, everybody loved him as he kept getting his photograph taken. His mum had to explain that the photographer was going to try and sell them the pictures later.

Afterwards a bit more of ride around and then back, too hot! Time for some ice-cream. At dinner I headed off to a caf?and had some nice duck. Not very exotic compared to the other things at the back of the menu but nice. If you were feeling adventurous you could buy a snake. 揚lay with it, photograph it, watch it being killed. Eat the flesh, drink the blood and keep the skin!?Hmmm. Think I抣l stick with the duck.

Now I had a lot of travelling ahead. But I just went slow 慶os I抦 lazy. Back to Guilin and then down to Nanning, before hopping on the sleeper train to Kunming. Bit of confusion regarding the ticket. The ticket man said 搉o have?and so I said how about the day after tomorrow and then some confused occurred eventually I ended up with a ticket for tomorrow, strange I thought. I just had a seat instead of a bed for the 14 hour ride, groan. Anyway eventually into Kunming and fall asleep there! The next day I had a look about, another big modern city. I tried to goto the temple I came across a ticket barrier was quite sure what it was (temple or park or both?), I ended up in the zoo as it happens. Lots of peacocks here, no pandas (except for the cuddly stuffed variety). Apparently it was one of the top ten zoos in China, and it was less than impressive. Animals like leopards in tiny cages. Onto the 1000 year old Yuantong temple. Lots of smoke and incense here, also seemed to be handed out some food which was very popular! Don抰 know if this is a daily occurrence or not. Kunming is famous for across the bridge noodles, where you get a few plates of raw food, the noodles and a boiling hot broth. When the broth arrives you throw in the egg, ham, bacon, chicken bits, green veg, pickle and noodles, give it a stir and eat. Quite tasty actually! Next stop Dali.


Arriving in Guilin, the touts descended and I embarked upon the customary hotel finding mission. After going up 6 flights of stairs with my backpack I found a room, and upon returning to reception and some commotion. Eventually I was handed a phone with someone who spoke a little English and I was told I couldn抰 stay there! It was for Chinese tourists. I said I was a tourist in China, but to no avail. Yeah thanks for that, you couldn抰 of told me that before seeing the room? Anyway I found somewhere to stay. I had hardly slept a wink on the train with the air-con blasting in my face all night, I now had a cold. I dumped my bag and went out for a look about, and shortly afterwards decided to go back to bed!

It rained for three days at the remnants of a typhoon reached Guilin. When the sun came out it was quite a pleasant green city with a few parks and rivers. Lots of electric bikes, silently whizzing along the roads (and pavements). In reaching a bridge a pagoda or two was revealed to be hiding round the bend of the river. Underneath the bridge in the cool shade a group of woman were dancercising. In a park some of the structures seemed a bit tacky such as 揟he Crystal Bridge?made out of clear plastic, still the Chinese tourists seem to lap it up, cameras snapping away.

Back in the city, there is a pedestrianised walkway containing lots of cafes and shops, and fast food joints. A bit further on, in the North of the city lies Solitary Peak a limestone karst thrusting up 150m. At the bottom of the peak is a few caves and some chinese writing carved into the rock. After a some steep stairs a good view of Guilin can be had from the top. You can see more of the limestone outcrops in the distance and that would be like my next stop Yangshuo.