Beijing, Xi'an, Three Gorges, Chongqing, Guilin, Yangshuo
04.07.2010 32 °C
After a mind numbingly boring ferry ride across the Chinese Sea we arrived in Tianjin. The port was empty with very little around. We had no Chinese money and no idea where to go. After walking out of the terminal and being propositioned by some locals offering taxis we found a bus station. There was no cash machine nearby though so we reluctantly got in a cab. After an ATM stop the cabbie dropped us at the train station for a measly sum, much to our delight. We then boarded the fastest train in the world that got us to Beijing in 30minutes travelling at 205mph!
Beijing was a complete contrast to anything in Japan. It was vastly overcrowded and we had to cram ourselves onto the subway with our bulging backpacks and rucksacks taking up more space than your average Chinaman. The tube was 20p to ride no matter how far you wanted to go or where to, a cheeky bonus. Foolishly we hadn't booked any accommodation, so after wandering around for a good few hours in the sweltering heat with out heaving bags and it getting late we decided to just opt for the nearest hotel. The rates weren't too bad and our street was riddled with restaurants. We went to the nearest one and dined at the same place for the proceeding 3nights eating a range of food, duck hearts being the strangest.
The sights in Beijing were very average. The Forbidden City sounds better than it is. Firstly it's not ''forbidden'' and secondly if square after square of tall walls with pictures of some old bloke pasted on them are impressive then your clearly a bit of a simpleton, or on something, strong. Tiananmen Square just outside was also rather tame. The Great Wall more than made up for these two though, The spectacular scenery and never ending, winding layers of ancient brickwork dissecting China and Mongolia more than justified it's label as one of the 7 world wonders. We even ziplined off of it at the end.
The day after we departed heading towards Xi'an hoping to rediscover the impressive array of cuisine but leave behind the rude, spitting inhabitants of China's capital. That didn't happen. Everyone in China pushes and shoves and has no respect or manners for other their fellow people and they all spit not before making a large pronounced gurgle in their throats. The 12 hour hard seated train to Xi'an was the worst travelling stint of my life, wedged in a row of 6people with no air-con, people smoking and a hole in the floor for toilet time. I just accepted this as part of the traveling experience and dragged my numb limbs and full bladder off the train at the other end at 6am content knowing that I hadn't got too pissed off with the whole ordeal.
Xi'an was a more historic city than Beijing. The first day we rented a tandem bike and cycled around the city walls half asleep from the deprivation of last night. The fact that we didn't fall off or hit anything was more impressive than the mundane nature of the continual ancient grey wall that protected the neon clad city below. That night we cooked our own food on the street, it tasted very poor so we made some purchases haggling down a persistent girl at one of the market stalls for two ''no fake'' Lacoste polo shirts.
The next day we ventured out of town to see the Terricota Warriors. The army, built to protect an emperor of some description in the afterlife, was impressive in it's magnitude and scale. Although after reading in the Lonely Planet how many people died in their construction to protect some guy who was scared of death I couldn't help but feel sort of disgusted by the whole thing. The fact that some coward thought he had a God given right to exploit so many people to uphold his own belief made the exhibit seem like a tribute to stupidity and hierarchical ruler ship over others rather than an example of the perseverance, graft and architectural splendor that should have been the ideology behind the Warriors.
That night we had a beer tower in our hostel and a few other drinks... It made me a tad unwell, which I think was down to some form of heat stroke. Nevertheless we got back on it and ordered another one the next day, if only England could have shown such commitment as they drew a passionless game 1-1 with the U.S.
After another long (15hour) train journey we arrived in Yichang, a stop over before we boarded the Yangzi river cruise liner. Yichang was a small rural town with only one very basic hostel. We spent the night there and grabbed a more rustic, authentic lunch to that of the Beijing cuisine. Around 5pm we boarded the boat at the port to embark on our 4day leisurely cruise down the river. (Proper roughing it, old skool travel style!)
The boat was full of 60% Chinese aged 30+ and 38% Germans aged 40+ and 2% disillusioned Englishmen who looked more like 28 with beards that belied their youth. There were 100 passengers aboard the boat. We had only each other for company on the confined vessel for 4days. We thought the excursions might make up for it, but they were very tame. Looking at a dam is not an excursion, especially when most of it's done from the boat. I don't care if it is the biggest dam in the world it's still a lump of concrete that when constructed cause flooding and a high number of deaths and annihilation of villages. Again, nice one China, glorifying your emerging ''economic strength'' whilst trampling over the less fortunate people of the country. Bloody commies. Whilst waiting to pass through the 5gates of this 'extrodinary'(ly shite) dam another cruise liner pulled up alongside our balcony. This boat was full of Brits and we got chatting to a couple of couples from Bolton and London. We later found out that was the boat we should have been on had we not changed our minds at the last minute. Our two boats moored up alongside each other a few times on the trip, which was the best part as well as getting tipsy on the balcony on the old Tsingtao. One excursion a local tribe rowed us down the river on a canoe, which was mildly entertaining and the Ghost City day offered a heap load of temples, some of which weren't to shabby to look at. We finished our cruise with Karaoke and a talent show. The Chinese sang, The krauts did some dance/song/play thing about days of the week (wankers) and the 2 Englishmen had some beers, criticised the lot and went to bed.
We got off in Chongqing to mixed weather. Our hostel was very conveniently located in the Old Town. There was one reason to be in Chongqing. Hotpot. A local delicacy that could apparently compete with any curry. We wandered the Old Town looking through the souvenir shops then went in search of a good place to get this fiery delight. We found somewhere fairly soon and wandered in and managed to order what we though was a hotpot on a Chinese language menu. 15minutes later a cauldron of veg. meat and a dark broth was sat on our table. We hesitantly picked out a piece of the unidentified meat each. It was hot and spicy and very tasty duck. The more we ate the more addictive it became. We got through 2 660ml beers each in about 5minutes as the heat engulfed our mouths. The waitresses and even the chef came out at some points through our struggle to giggle and whisper in one another's ears. We finally conquered the bad boy 45 minutes later to much satisfaction. My mouth was on fire and I was sweating buckets, but the hotpot comes thoroughly recommended from this traveller.
Later that night we had a few drinks and just about stayed up till 2.30am to watch the shambles that is the English national football team draw hopelessly 0-0 with Algeria.
Next we headed to Guilin on a 17hour train ride. It was billed as a paradise town that if you mentioned that you were going to any Chinaman they'd be instantly jealous. It was distinctly not paradise. It rained and the landscape was uninspiring. We rented bikes on the first day to see if this paradise awaited further afield. It did not. We didn't do a lot in Guilin apart from decide that venturing over to Hong Kong would be too much of an effort, especially to go from into Vietnam. Instead we were going to Yangshuo.
A short bus journey to Yangshuo and our decision to sack off Hong Kong was immediately verified. The touristy little town was situated beneath looming gorges with a river dissecting through the far side. The cobbled streets, lively atmosphere and our hostel with spectacular rooftop views meant Yangshao was the highlight of China. We firstly rummaged through market stores picking up a few trinkets and a 'Patek Phillipe' watch for 8quid and Dave's brand new Rotex. After that we listened to some Swedish guy rabble on about his mildly interesting and prejudice adventures in India before getting some beers in and watching England beat Slovakia 1-0. We went out that night to a local bar/club that closed at 1am and was full of locals doing shots of beer, cus they're hardcore. We joined in faining drunkenness at the measly measures and playing 3hours of rock, paper, scissors as a drinking game.......
The next day we went to the mud cave on a mini tour with some Americans. Firstly we boarded a small boat and went under a huge gorge. Nearly hitting out heads on the jagged ends of the hanging rocks we meandered deep into the caves. We disembarked further in and wandered through the eiry caves surrounded by pools of water and ominous dark corners. The tour guide described rock formations as baring familiarity to things that were so far off it was laughable. 'This one look like bird, this one look like crocodile, this one look like two lovers' 'Yea and this one looks like Mel Gibson!' someone humorously remarked. There were a number of bats lurking deep in the ceilings and a waterfall at the end of the walk. Then we got to go in the mud pool. It was quite shallow, but once you came out your body was brown from the think, sloppy mud. We got some browned up photos and then moved on to the hot springs where I almost fell asleep chilling in the warm little pools of water, like bath tubs carved underground.
The day after we watched a few DVD's and I had a Skype call with my lovely girl back home. That night we headed to Nanning for no other reason than to get the four our bus to the Vietnamese boarder.