Peter's travelog for China 2005
My final days in China I spent in the beautiful Yunnan province in the south-west of China, read all about it
The last eight days I was travelling from Yangshuo to Kunming in the Yunnan province, read more about it
The last 9 days I spent in Yangshuo a small town in Guangxi province, read all about it
I take a ferry to island but just spend two hours there, it's a pretty small place but nice and quiet. Back on in the first class on the slow ferry so I can stay outside on the sun deck and enjoy another beautiful day. The fast ferry on the way over didn't have any open decks. Back to the hostel and my new Chinese visa has arrived. 200 Yuan, that's most likely less than the travel agent's fee for my first one which itself was much more expensive, so HK is the best place to get Chinese visas. Again on the local train to the border, this time I know exactly where to go and my new visa works fine, I can now stay another 90 days in the People's republic. The city on the other side of the border is called Shenzhen and is huge but only about 20 years old. I have trouble to find the right bus station but the third one is the one I need and I get a ticket for the night sleeper bus to Yangshou. The rest of the afternoon I spend walking in the downtown area, the differences between China and Hong Kong are pretty big. Here the hawkers are very persistent, most offer massages by beautiful woman. I have dinner and buy some food for the bus and head back to the station. I meet a Belgian and a German couple and a girl from Sweden, we all wait for the same bus. The bus has three rows of bunk beds with two aisles between them. There are only twelve people on it, so many beds are empty. We stop several times and there beds are not very big. I have one of the front beds and the head lights of cars and trucks are shining directly at me, so I can't sleep very well. In the future I will use only night trains, but I had to try this once. Have a look at some photos I took in Hong Kong
So George W Bush is visiting China, and things are getting bad right away. Today was the worst day of my trip so far. It's my last day in Hong Kong and In the later afternoon I'm going back to China. So I pack all my things, write some postcards and Christmas cards and send them off and look for a place to burn a CD to send home some photos to free up my MP3 player for new ones, my old camera only stores about 200, so I always copy them over to my MP3 player. I find an internet place at the ground floor of Chungking Mensions but when I connect my player to the PC it doesn't show any files. I try another PC and then go back up to the hostel to try the PC where everything worked fine the night before. I get an error message and after checking about it online, it becomes clear, that all the files on the player are gone. That's about 1000 pop songs and all the photos I took on the trip so far as well as some other software I used all the time. The music and the files are not really such a big problem and I already burnt two CDs before, but all photos since Chengdu, including Shanghai, Xiamen and early Hong Kong are lost. I manage to get some Hong Kong photos from the recycle bin of the PC, but this is still pretty bad. I was always telling people to back up their photos, and here and lost loads of them myself. I burn the photos I could recover and then send off a small parcel to Germany. I walk along the Kowloon Waterfront for an hour and then take the ferry over to Hong Kong Island for the last time. On the ferry I meet the Swiss couple from the day before, what a small world. Two more hours on HK island and taking some photos again, than back to Kowloon to pick up my bag at the hostel. I take the local suburban train to Lo Wu, the Hong Kong side of the border with the China mainland as the call it here. It takes about 40 minutes and gives me could views of the suburban New Territories in the afternoon sun. I first have to go through Hong Kong border controls and then cross a bridge over into China proper. The lady before me is send back because there is something wrong with her visa. It's my turn and I'm refused entry as well, apparently my visa is expired. I have a Chinese visa for two entries of 60 days duration each, it also says 'Enter before 08Nov2005' which I interpreted as enter the first time before November 8th. The reason for this is that I entered China on the 24th of September, plus 60 days brings me to November 23rd, so surly for the second entry I need to be able to enter after November. Wrong, the visa was issued on August 8th and from that day I had 3 months to enter both times, problem was my first time was 1 one and a half months later. My travel agent should have noticed this problem. Okay, so they wouldn't let me in, they also wouldn't let me out again. When I try to get back to the Hong Kong side, Chinese border guards don't let me through. The offer to sell me a 5 day visa for the Shenzhen province but that wouldn't help me because I want to move on. After some back and forth and manage to get the clearance to go back over the bridge into Hong Kong, over there it took me a while to convince the HK guys, that I need to go back, more paperwork follows and I am back in HK. I need to get money again and take the train back to Kowloon and check back into the hostel telling everybody my story from the border. I give Calvin, the owner of the Traveler hostel my passport to get me a complete my Chinese visa.
Once again over to Hong Kong Island by the star ferry, $1.70 for a ride on the lower deck. Infront of the HSBC HQ the road is blocked and the Hong Kong Classic Car Club has it annual exhibition of about 50 classic cars. I never owned a car in my life but these ones are really nice and I would love to have one or the other of them. I walk into Hong Kong park for a while, nice green space in the middle of all these high rise buildings. Then I start the hike up to the peak, on the way I meet a Swiss couple, the guy tells me a bit about this various trips to China and HK since 1983, he has seen all the changes. I get some Chinese lunch for take away but after the debacle in Aberdeen, I go for the vegetarian option, well there wasn't one, but they spoke enough English to understand that I didn't want any meet. The hike is sometimes pretty steep and there are loads of residential high rises on the way. In the west maybe except for Manhattan, these are normally cheaper flats, but here they seem to be all pretty expensive apartments, it's not only that there are door men, they are gated communities with a guy at the entrance gate. The views up there must be great, but it is pretty likely that the are blocked by another building. We finally reach the peak and I spend about an hour up there enjoying the views in all directions. There are not that many people on the roof. It's a beautiful Sunday and I expected masses up here. Turns out a lot of them a below in the shopping centre. It beats me, why would you come up all the way to Victoria peak and then go shopping, surely the prices here can't be better than down in the city. I take the bus back down with nice nice over Aberdeen on the south coast and Happy valley in the centre of the island. Rather than taking the ferry back to Tsim Sha Tsui where the hostel is, I take one to Hung Hom further east and close to the old airport. From there it takes me about 90 minutes to walk back to the hostel but I pass through some areas without any tourists at all.
In the evening I meet Ricardo from Portugal in the hostel and we do the Symphony of light together. He just arrived and I give him a tour of the area. Later we go back to Branto, the Indian veggie place again.
I take the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) to Lantau Island, the biggest of all the HK Islands to the west of Hong Kong island. The main town there is Tung Chung, I change into bus No.23 which in about 40 minutes takes me to the Giant Buddha statue on top of a hill in the centre of the island. It's 26 meters high am impressive but there are the usual masses of Chinese tourists around. My plan is to walk back to the MTR station. For the first hour and a half it's all up hill to the very top of Lantau Peak, the second highest mountain in HK, it's sometimes pretty steep but the views from the top are great even though it's a bit misty and a little bit cooler than the previous days. One good view is down to the new HK international airport 'Check Lap Kok' which has been built on a new artificial island north of Lantau. You can see the Jumbos flying below you for quite a while before dissappearing into the few clouds in the sky. THE walk takes several hours and I only meet about a dozen people on the way. At the end of the trail decide not to take the bus but walk all the way back to the station which takes another two hours. In the evening I have dinner at the Spaghetti house on Nathan road, not that great but nice for a change.
Late start, it is already past 11 when I arrive on Hong Kong island. I take but number 71 to Aberdeen on the south coast. When getting there I have lunch in a local restaurant, they speak a little bit English but in the end I end up with most of a Chicken including skin, bones and other stuff. Definitely not what I had in mind, so I eat some of the rice and the Brocolli and then a big icecream for desert around the corner. I am not so happy with any of the Cantonese cuisine, I hadn't had a good Chinese meal for over a week. I walk around the habour where loads of boats and ships of various sizes are floating around. There are some older wooden boats but not really the old Hong Kong type house boats that used to be everywhere. I take another bus to Repulse bay and spend several hours on the nice beach there. I go swimming for a while, the water is pretty warm and clean, it's nice to swim in a bay with high hills around it, very different feeling from the flat beaches in Cuba, the beaches itself there more nicer in Cuba though. Back by bus on a different route over the central hills. In the evening I go back to the vegetarian indian restaurant, again their food is really good.
I take a ferry to Macao, pretty expensive at $140 one way, it's a nice and fast boat though but it still takes 45 minutes or so to get to the former Portugues colony. The ferry terminal is brand new, it also houses the helicopter port, flying to Hong Kong only takes 8 minutes but costs $1490, I'm talking Hong Hong dollar here and the rate is about HK$9 for 1 Euro. In Macao they even have their own money but one can pay with HK dollar even though you loose about 5% on every purchase. Outside the terminal I can hear loud noises, it turns out the Macao Grand Prix has already begun. I thought it would start of Friday, but they are already doing practice rounds and those Formula 3 cars are very, very loud. The race course is passing through the Eastern part of the Island and as it is impossible to cross the course, certain parts are blocked off and are only accessible through some foot bridges. Later in the day there are some other sports cars racing, just as loud and in the afternoon the motorbikes are taking their turn. Most of the course is blocked off because they want you to pay and sit of the main stands, but once in a while you can take a peek through a fence. I'm not interested in motorsport but it is pretty impressive but way too loud for me. I walk around the city until 5 O'Clock, it's a very nice day again and the old parts remind me a bit of Havanna, I guess because of the Portuguese architecture, however there are not that many old buildings left. The city is hilly and has some nice parks with good views but after a few hours I have finished the walking tours as recommended by the local tourist information. I like the place, I guess cities with two or more different cultural influences are just more interesting than others. Okay, London and Paris are great but it's all British or French even over several centuries. Berlin is the same but the Third Reich and Soviet times make it much more interesting. And in one of my favourite cities Havanna, you have the Spanish, Caribbian, American 20s-late 50s and the Soviet influences, that's hard to beat for diversity. Anyway Mocao was worth the trip but I had hoped for a little more. Before I jump back on the ferry, I check out some of the many casinos which are lining out the southern waterfront. They have even started building Las Vegas style theme resorts. I don't gamble and nearly fall asleep on the ferry. Back at the hostel I meet Robby, a German who has lived in China for the last 5 years and has been to it several times before. He used to be a consultent for German companies but it currently working as an actor for some Chinese TV shows playing the Western guy (bad or good) because he speaks very good Chinese, and those actors are rare.
Blue skies at last. I take an underground train to a stop far east of Hongkong island and then after breakfast a bus to a small village called 'Shek O', the ride goes through the Island's mountains and there are beautiful views of the hills, the sea and several bays. I spend some time on the beach, it is pretty hot now and the water is really refreshing. I didn't bring my swimming trunks, so I can't go into the water. I walk around a little island called 'Tin Hau Chau', this is all beautiful, the hills, the sea and the blue sky. I walk out of the village and hitch a ride with a Belgian guy in a Mercedes. He drops me off at the start of the Dragon's back trail which is a 2 hour hike nearly at the top of the hills. Again beautiful views in all directions, this is so different from the city. Hongkong has it all. Later I try to hitchhike again to a town called 'Stanley' on the south coast, but it doesn't work and I have to take a bus. This place is very touristy, a big market with many shops. I spend an hour there and then board another bus that takes me all along the south coast of the Island. We pass through Repulse Bay, Deep Sea Bay and Aberdeen, I need to come back to these places. I change buses in a new town called Cyberport on the east coast and return to Kowloon by ferry.
Walk around in Kowloon for several hours, then decide to get out of the centre into the greener parts of HK, I decide to go to the Kadoorie farm and Botanic gardens in the center of the New Territories. I take a train up to Tai Po Market but when I get there, it had started to rain and I cancel my plans. Instead I walk around the town and have lunch at a tea house. I do more walking around the waterfront park but then return to the hostel. Later in the afternoon I check out for Kowloon shopping streets and markets and a smaller but closer library. In the evening I go to the bay to watch the synphony of light again and run into Wim and Renske, who I met in Xian and Chengdu. We take some photos and then decide to go up to the Victoria peak. They have just arrived in the afternoon, so I give them a little tour. We take the star ferry and then walk to the cable car that runs up the hill to the peak. It's very steep and all the buildings appear in a 35 degree angle. The view from the top is fantastic, we decide to walk even further up the hill. For about an hour we don't see another soul, there are some really nice residentials buildings along the way, but no other tourists. At the very top there are some antennas, most likely used to spy into China and now for mobile phone networks. Back at the cable car station we find the place where all the tourists go, the roof of a shopping center, pretty lame. We take the cable car back down and walk to a bar district close by. Lan Kwai Fong street has dozens of bars, pubs and restaurants, we go for a German restaurant and have some Erdinger Weissbier. It's too late for the ferry or train, so we take a mini-bus back to Kowloon.
In the morning I am doing the walk 'Travel through time, central and western district of Hong Kong island' as described in HK walks brochure. I love the city, it is so cosmopolitan, obviously there is a lot of British heritage and a strong Chinese influence but you see all kinds of people and things from around the world. The area my hostel is in is full of African and what the English call 'Asian' (Indian, Pakestani, Bangladeshi etc) people. There are also many Japanese shops that and many European restaurants. Where else can you shop in Kings Road and then fifteen minutes later in Times Square, just to walk up the hill into Soho. There are a bunch of Marks & Spencer shops here but understandably the food section is lacking their great fresh selection I love in London. HSBC is also very big here and they even print their own money, in fact the three or four big banks here all print money, of course HSCB stands for Hong Kong and Shanghai banking corporation, so it's no wonder they have a strong presence here. It seems nobody has told the people here that having a mobile phone is not cool and especially not wearing around your neck on a strap and show it off to everybody. I'm glad I left mine at home. The mid-levels escalator is pretty cool, it is over 800 meters long and leads from near the waterfront half way up the hill to an area called mid-levels, in the morning rush hour is runs downhill and for the rest of the way uphill. When getting in or out of a shop here, it feels just the opposite of how it would feel in Europe right now, it is freezing inside and quite warm outside. I take a bus half way up to Mount Davies and then walk for 30 minutes, somewhere around here should be a proper Youth hostel but I can't find it. It's to far out anyway, so I guess I will stay in the cheap hostel in Kowloon. I shop around a bit for another pair of travel trousers, I really love my North Face pair, washed it last night and it was dry this morning. I even discovered another hidden pocket, and that after over 2 months of wearing it. The prices for the real (non-fake) North Face are as high as in Europe and it's worth every penny. At 8 O'Clock I'm going down to the avenue of stars at the waterfront, it's the Hongkong Hollywood bouleward with dozens of Mandarin actors represented in the pavement. Every night at 8 there is a light-show performed by the skyscrapers on the other side of Kowloon bay. About 20 building participating by switching their lights on and off and changing colours, some have stronf lasers at the top as well. Pretty impressive, they play some music and it's the biggest lightshow on the planet. Walk around a bit but don't manage to meet any people. On the way back I find a record shop called Rendezvous, they even have some vinyl by The Charlottes or Velvet Crush, by far the best place I've seen so far, but then I haven't seen many yet. No vinyl anywhere in China. I buy an album by Hongkong band 'The Pancakes'
After breakfast I take the Star ferry over to Hong Kong island, is yet another gray day with very small and few patches of blue sky visible. But it is warm, not to say hot and the strong breeze on the water is rather nice. Today is habour day in HK, the first ever. There is a boat parade in the bay, I see hundreds of boats but not really a parade. The skyline is very impressive, the buildings are not super tall, but there are so many of the mid-size ones and the hills in the background are nice. I walk along the waterfront to the conference and exhibition centre. According to the program of the habour day, there is a photo exhibition of HK habour old and new. There are about 15 photos, nice ones especially the old ones from the 20 and 30 but it's rather small. The program also mentioned a free habour tour from a pier nearby. Even though it is free one need a ticket, a woman sees me linkering around and gives one to me because she has an extra one. I also watch a demonstration of a helicopter rescue mission where the lower a guy from the chopper into the water. The tour lasts about an hour and takes us to the western parts of the bay and the huge container ship terminal. The rest of the afternoon I spend in the shopping and financial district on HK island, I mostly walk but also take the double-decker trams which are fun. I write this in a huge new public library where internet access seems to be free.
Scott and I get up early to catch the 8 O'Clock bus to Hong Kong, nobody else is up so we can't get our key diposit back or even leave the hostel because the main gate is locked. We search the place and finally find someone to let us out. We talk over to the pier but the 6:30 boat leaves just as we step onto the pier. After a short cab ride we manage to get tickets for the bus, 350 Yuan, I paid less then 100 for a similar long ride before. The bus is not even half full and is not top end as I expected for the price but at least it has a toilet. We stop at some other bus stations in Xiamen and then spend most of the day on the express way to Hong Kong. We stop at a garage for 30 minutes where they fixed something with the engine. Around noon we divert into this huge city, first I think we pick up more passengers but then we stop in front of a 4 star 30 storey hotel. We are lead into a big restaurant where everybody from the bus sits down around a huge round table. Dishes are served immediately. Nearly all food is fish, except something that looks like heart. Both Scott and I try a few vegetable things but mostly stick to our steamed rice. The lunch seems to be included in the bus fare, I'd rather had paid less and had my own choice of food. We make good progress but at around 4 we leave the express way and stuck in rush hour traffic in Shezhen, a huge city just north of HK. We finally make it to the border where we have to get off the bus twice to go through Chinese and Hong Kong immigration and customs. It takes another 45 minutes to get into the center of Kowloon, I new about the New territories, north of the centre but I didn't expect them to be so big. We just did on of the very few land border crossings where you switch from the right to the left side of the road, it feels like home. The cars have British looking number plates and there are roundabouts and double decker buses. We book into a basic hostel right on Nathan Road, the main shopping street in Kowloon. The dorm is up on the 16th floor, it's not very nice but 60 HK dollar doesn't get you very far in Hong Kong. Scott found a vegetarian Indian restaurant in the Lonely Planet and it's only a few hundred meters away. We have really nice dishes, this is the first Indian food I had since June, in London I go for curries all the time. Then we go to an Irish pub and have a nice pint of lager, this feels so much like home. But the place it full of tourists and the beer was 50 HK$ which is more than I pay in a pub in London. We walk around more on the lookout to a better place to have drinks. We don't really want a club or bar, drinks would be even more there. After 45 minutes I'm getting tired and return to the hostel where I chat a bit with people in my room before hitting the hay.
Around noon I arrive at Xiamen railway station, the whole city is on an Island but one of its main attraction is Gulangyu another small island just off the coast. I manage to find bus No.3 which takes me to the ferry, a have a nice quick chow main for 2 Yuan for lunch and then take the ferry to Gulangyu island. This place is full of western architecture from around 1900. It's sunny and very warm, there are beaches all around the Island, it feels very different from the previous days. I check the two hotels for rooms, they have singles available but even 165 sounds a bit high. I walk around for another hour in the old part of the town and finally decide to go back to the mainland to find a cheaper hotel there, then I could also find out about trains or buses to Hong Kong. On the way back to the ferry I see the first Western guy of the day, Scott from Kansas. We talk a bit and he tells me there is a hostel on the Island, we walk over there and it is rather nice, it's in the old German consulate building and brand new. There is one other guest, a guy from Shanghai and four staff, so it is very quiet. I walk around the whole island which takes about 90 minutes and it's beautiful, I'm so glad I ran into Scott and stayed. The hostel people help us finding out about the bus services to Hong Kong and Scott plans to go there as well. We have some beers and then lunch at a small restaurant. Most places here serv fish and other kind of seafood that you can choose in colourful buckets in from of the restaurant. Back at the hostel, three girls and the guy from Shanghai invite us over to the table in the garden of the hostel. We try some of the food they have for diner but it tastes rather odd. Around eleven we go for a walk into a park on the east coast, during the day you have to pay to come here, but at night it's free. I'm still in shorts and t-shirt and it's great, you can see the skyline of Xiamen and both Scott and I can wait to see the real thing tomorrow in Hong Kong. On the way back we climb into some old deserted buildings and have more beer.
The train to Xiamen leaves at 11:28, so I have plenty of time for breakfast and to get to the station. As it will be a 24 hour ride I do some shopping at Carrefour, the French Walmart type mega-market in town. I took the 105 from the station, so I just have to take it back, the problem is that the roads are all one-way and I have to find the one with the 105 in the opposite direction, I ask some people and there send me north, but none of the bus stops there list the 105. It is now starting to rain again and it's already 10:30, I ask again and finally figure out that there is no 105 in the opposite direction, it goes in a look from the station to the centre of town. I wait another 10 minutes and get on the bus but there is so much traffic that we hardly make any progress. After one stop I get off again and into a taxi, now it's nearly 11. I make it to the station at 11:22 and they haven't even let people onto the platform. I double check with the woman at the gate and she waves me through infront of everybody else waiting in line. My hard sleeper compartment has 3 guys and 2 women in it, most of the time they play cards. At the beginning the take turns to pick up every card out of at least three decks, I couldn't hold all of them like they do. I can't really make out the rules. I finish 'The great Railway bazaar' by Paul Theroux, a book that my friends Johnny and Paul gave me for my last birthday after I announced this trip. It's about a guy who takes a train from London to Japan and back, one way through the middle east, India and South East Asia and back through the Soviet Union, this was in 1975 but it was very interesting as I did at least some of the same routes. It now has a new home in the Gulangyu youth hostel, it is infact the only English book there. There landscape is changing between hilly and flat back and forth and we go through many cities that don't seem very interesting.
I take the metro over to the station, when I come up onto the station square it had started to rain and it's very gray, it's always easier to leave a place in bad weather. The train to Hongzhou takes about 2 and a half hours and this is the first time I am sitting, I assume it is a hard seat, but I haven't seen any of the soft seater carriages yet. People are rushing to get onto the train because many of them just have non-seat tickets and try to find the non-reserved seats, the trouble is, a seat doesn't show whether it is reserved or not so you still may get kicked out of it. On arrival in Hongzhou East station it still rained and it was pretty grim around the station. Non of the bus stops have any maps on it and I decide that this is not worth staying. I go back into the ticket hall but there are no tickets left to Xiamen my second and final stop before getting to Hon Kong. I book a hard sleeper for the next day and then managed to find a bus to the centre of town. Hongzhou's main feature is the west lake, a pretty bis lake with the city centre of it's eastern shores. After half an hour I get off the bus in what looks like the centre, it's much nicer than around the station but it still rains. I walk for another half hour along the lake, this part is very touristy and quite nice. The International youth hostel is right next to the lake but non of the dorms have lake views. It's a nice hostel though and I even meet some old friends. Soren from the Far East in Beijing is here along with his girlfriend from Denmark who finally joined him after 3 months on his own. Also on of the many Dutch couples I've meet in Beijing and again in Chengdu are here. The rain stopped and I walk around town and along the lake for several hours. There are green hills all around the lake with pagodas here and there on top of them, it's a shame about the weather. We have dinner at the hostel and watch a Chinese movie 'The Soong sisters', I'm trying to watch more Chinese films while I'm here.
I go back to the Jin Mao Building into the Grant Hyatt hotel, after a stop in the lobby on the 54th floor I move right up to the 87th floor where the cloud nine bar is located. I had to come back because the hotel has the most amazing atrium I've ever seen and I missed it the day before. It spans from the 54th up to the 87th floor in a half circle. Looking down makes me feel like being in a science fiction movie, it's unreal. I take the metro to the other side of the town in the west and explore the French concession, there are many bars and restaurants and again shops, shops, shops. Then I walk to the old Chinese town, one of the very areas left with old one or two storey buildings. I also visit the Yu gardens, a nice set of even older houses, that used to belong to a rich guy in one of the older dynasties. This place is very touristy and there are many many tourist shops around it. More walking back to the people's square and a visit the the Exhibition of urban planning for Shanghai. The most impressive item is a huge model of the city, about 15 m diameter. There also have a CGI film of how it will look in 2015. There are a lot many 'back then'/now photo comparism of key places in the city. In England they do 1935 and 2001, here they compare 1998 with 2004 and the differences are enormous. Finally back to the hostel, that was a lot of walking. I decide to leave Shanghai and get a train ticket. In the evening after a quick diner in a street eatery I go up to the roof garden bar in the Captain's hostel again. This time I meet Kiril from Idaho, two sisters from Canada and a guy from Israel. After beer and pizza we go down to the boardwalk on the Bund and enjoy the skyline of Padong and have fun with the hawkers who close in on us because there are hardly any other people left.
Try to rent a bike from the Captains hostels again. This time they still have one but now I have to stay at there hostel as well, I doubt I will ever find a bicycle in Shanghai. I walk along the Bund, today there are no clouds and the sky is pretty blue, the visibility is much better but still far from perfect. After a short walk through the old city I take the metro line 2 under the Huangpu Jiang river to the new part of Shanghai called Pudong. This is were all the new Skyscrapers and the 'two balls tower' are located. 10 years ago this was just a sleepy suburb and now it has the tallest buildings in China and the biggest department store in Asia. I walk around for some hours and buy a new high tech shirt in one of the huge department stores. The Jin Mao Building has an observation deck on its 88th floor but it costs 50 Yuan to get up there and I am not sure whether it's worth it because of the visibility. Instead I take the lift to the 54th floor where the lobby of the Grant Hyatt hotel is located. I linger around in the lobby, check out the menu in the restaurant and ask for the cheapest single room. 3150 Yuan. I had hoped for a discounted price of maybe 250, but the place is busy and there are no promotional offers this week. However I have a good look outside the windows and the view was good but not worth the 50 Yuan. I can see the river below and the old part of the city on the other side. I take the metro a few more stops east bound and then change into the Maglev train which goes to the new internation airport which is 30 KM east right on the coast of the Chinese sea. The Maglev is of course the German Transrapid and is the fastest train in the world. It only takes 8 minutes to get to the airport. I only runs at the top speed of 431 km/h for about one minute and then has to break again. I have a quick look around the terminal building but go soon back to enjoy the return 'flight' (because they train is not actually touching the ground while moving). I take the metro back into town and get off 5 stops after the stop for the hostel so I can walk back for a while. Today Microsoft launches .Net 2.0 and SQL Server 2005, a very important event for software developers. It would be nice to watch the launch show in San Francisco live in a Microsoft office. On my walk I see the Amercian Chamber of commerce office and I go up to it to find out Microsoft's address. Local offices are not listed on their web sites and I haven't seen any Yellow pages anywhere. I got the address but afterwards realize that there is a 17 hour time difference to San Francisco and the actual event will happen at around 3 a.m. local time, so I cancel the plan. I have a nice but overpriced creamy fruit salad on the way back. In the evening I going over to the roof bar in the Captain's hostel again. I am on my own because even though I still know some people at my hostel, I haven't really made new friends. I walk along the Bund first and it is packed because it's a nice late summer night. In the bar I meet a couple from London and later on more English people. We talk about Shanghai and travelling in China as usual.
Sleeped until after 10, guess it's the room without windows, one has no time how late it is. I try to rent a bike at the other hostel, but they are out, at the Peace hotel they only rent to guests. I walk along the main shopping drag Nanjing Donglu with the Aussie guy Don. He is looking for Converse sneakers and we find some in the second big department store we visit. On the way back we try to have lunch, Don is a hardcore veggie, so I order vegetable dumblings but they have chicken, then we get vegetable soupie noodles, again there are some big pieces of meat in it, poor boy. I check for places to rent or buy bikes online but couldn't find anything. The guys at the reception in the hostel send me to Sichuan Zhonglu, another shopping street north of the hostel. I walk along it for about 90 minutes but the only place with bikes I find is a sports mall and they only have 8 bikes all costing 800+ Yuan. Back at the hostel I have a pizza because I'm a bit tired of Chinese food. We have drinks and play pool until at quarter past ten the Scotish girls find out that their morning flight to Singapore is actually 10 past midnight and they rush to the airport, I hope they made it. Both Don and Dean are going to leave the next morning as well. I am trying to help an Israeli guy to install hebrew keyboard drivers, but don't get it to work because the hostel doesn't have the Windows XP CD (nearly 100% of non-coporate Windows copies are illegal in China).
The rain has reached Shanghai, it rains on and off for the whole day. I do some laundry and walk along Nanjing Li, the main pedestrian road nearby. I have lunch at a Japanese fast food restaurant, the rain comes down harder and I go back to the hostel. I watch the animated film 'Steam Boy', in Japanese with Chinese sub titles, didn't quite get everything. I walk around again and visit the Peace hotel, a great old hotel with 20 interior near the Bund, on the 11th floor they have a roof garden restaurant, really nice views except that the visibility is very poor here as well now. In the evening I met Dan from New South Wales, Annette from Coperhagen, Dean from San Diego and Claire and Debbie from Glasgow. We go over to the Captains hostel near the Bund, they also have a bar on the roof on the 7th floor. Just when we arrive up there, the rain starts really hammering down ad we have to sit inside. You can see the river and the lights of the skyscrapers on the Padong side, but a beer is 30 Yuan, so we leave after a while and have diner and then more beers at our hostel.
I wake up several times in my berth, we stop a few times and there are all kind of banging noises on the train. We arrive in Wuhan in the Hubei province. It is suppose to be a nice city, another 8 million though. I step outside the station and it miserable, very gray sky and even started to rain. The whole place doesn't look very inviting. I think about my option. I could find another cheap hotel and stay a night exploring the city, or I can take a train or even a bus to move on further east towards Shanghai. The book says the easiest way to and from Wuhan is the plan and to be honest I am a bit sick of trains and bus but more so of the weather. So I decide to look into the flight option. In the lobby of a nearby hotel is a flight shop and the flight to Shanghai is 880 including all taxes, not really cheap and more than twice the price of ground transportation, but I still decide to do it. It's not only that the weather is very poor, it's also that none of the cities on the way have proper hostels and I would have to stay in cheap hotels on my own without the change for meeting people. It's 9 am and the flight is at 11:15. The bus to the airport supposedly leaves from the city centre but not from the train station. According to the old Lonely planet a taxi should be around 80. A guy in a private car approaches me and wants 100, I offer 50 and we settle at 60. In the car he suddenly also wants 15 for the toll road out to the airport but I refuse. Minutes later we stop and he moves my bag into a proper cab waiting on the site of the road. I follow it trying to communicate to the driver that I have already paid the fare. Two Chinese girls join me in the car and we drive off to the airport. The girls speak a some sentences English and always giggle when I answer. The airport is mid-size and I'm early for my flight. After I check in my bag one of the girls spots me lingering around. She takes me by the hand and helps me through security skipping a line of about 50 people. I feel embarrassed. We go upstairs to a cafe where the girls work and they treat me to a free coffee. One is busy but the other one spends some time with me. She's a 23 years music student, only singing though, she doesn't play any instruments. We use me phrase book to translate words she doesn't know. Later she leads me to my gate where I run into a German tour group. Apparently China is very popular at the moment with German travel agents. I talk to one couple and she had just finished a cruise on the Yangste River. Again they could hardly see the banks on either side. The flight to Shanghai only takes 90 minutes and the sky is a bit better bus still grayish. I am looking forward to ride the Maglev train into town, but after we landed I realize, that this is the old airport and I have to take the bus into town. It's 25 degrees am I'm starting to sweat carrying my backpack. I arrive in the people square and try to find my way around. Three young people try to help and even invite me to a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, but I want to check into the hostel and have a shower. I use the Metro for one stop and walk over to the Hikers hostel in an old part of town very close to the Bund, the embankment with old the old 20s and 30s commercial buildings. The hostel is pretty new and all the facilities are excellent but it costs 50 Yuan for a dorm bed. There is a French, a Swedish and three Chinese guys in my room. One of the Chinese guys speaks a little bit of English and we walk down the street together to get to a bank. I had spend all my cash for the airline ticket in the morning because my credit card didn't work and now have to refill my wallet. His girlfriend lives in Shanghai and he invites me to have diner with them at the hostel. It turns out they are using the hostels restaurant kitchen to cook and prepare a nice rice dish. The lobby of the hostel has some nice sofas where people hang out. For several hours I talk to Hillary from San Francisco who just arrived in China the day before. I realize there are a lot of tips I can give newcomers.
I leave my big bag at the hostel and start walking around. First I stroll along the Yangste river but can hardly make out the other side. On the inland side of the road hills rise sharply up but most of them still have houses on top. After a while I take a bus into the city centre. Loads of shops but nothing really new. I have a look at a temple but it doesn't look to special. After a few hours I turn towards the railway station where I train leaves at 15:52. I try to find two big internet cafes mentioned in the book, but there are both gone. I walk through some small markets into the more residential areas. There is a mix of 60s high rise apartment blocks with older smaller houses. The roads are confusing and I pass through some small foot paths up and down the hills. There are hairpin curves in the middle of these residential areas. It reminds me a bit of what I've seen of Hong Kong and I can't wait to get there. After a long descent I hit the river but it looks not like to Yangste. The centre of Chongqing is located on a peninsula made up by the Yangste and the Jialing Jiang river. It looks likes this is the later one, while the train station is close to the Yangste, how could I have got so lost? I love cities where I can get lost, I normally never do, so it's always a special occasion. I think I factor is that I can't see the sun, the clouds are way to thick. I ask around and get opposite directions for the train station. Finally a man points me to a bus and then goes with me. After a while we change into another bus and he walks me another 15 minutes to the station. I'm sure he didn't want to come him at all. On the way I see several nice big Chinese building and temples which are not mentioned at all in the book. I pick up my bag from the hotel and have some dumplings with rice before and get into waiting hall 3. I am again in a hard sleeper carriage but this time have the upper berth which is about 2.2m above ground. There is not too much space up there but I can manage. The other five berths are filled me Chinese men which offer their fruits to me. For diner I have one of those paper noodle pots, that you just fill with hot water. On the way back from the hot water boiler to my berth, a Chinese guy who didn't see me coming raises his arm and kicks the pot out of my hand all over himself. All the food is on the ground and I clean it up. Another Chinese who saw this, gives me a new pot. Nice people.
Another gray day, after breakfast at the hostel I decide to move on, there is nothing to see but clouds in the mountains. I wait for a local bus to take me to the main bus station, when I lift up my backpack I feel a strong pain in my lower back, I can hardly move. The bus doesn't go to the bus station but to the center of Emei Shan town. A girl helps me and I take a bicycle rickshaw to the station. I pay 2 Yuan, I do remember paying 20 in Beijing for a much shorter distance. My destination is Chongqing (shongshing as all Xes and Qes are pronouced like sh. The direct bus is already gone, so I take one to Leshan where I have to wait for over an hour. The first part of the rides leads us through small village on fairly bad roads, but it's interesting, there is always something to see at least close to the bus. I arrive in Chongqing around 4 and it's a huge city, the city including suburbs has about 24 million people. The centre of town is on a penisula, the bus and train station are next to each other and are at one end of the penisula. I walk around the station and two older ladies approach me with a sheet of paper. It has a bunch of numbers between 20 and 100. We go to a hotel but the room for 100 is pretty grotty. I would pay 50 but the insist on 100. I leave but the ladies drag me to another hotel. This one is much cleaner and I pay 68 for a nice small room with on suite bathroom. I walk around but it's already dark. I buy one of the long distance phone calls and call home because it's my moms birthday, but she is not in, so I try for the next few hours while I walk down to the river. The whole penisula is very hilly and after climbing up some stairs I would have had a great view if it wouldn't be so foggy.
I get up early, say goodbye to the future Miss Arizona and after breakfast head up into the mountains. I start by talking a bus for 15 minutes to get me to a base camp. Most of the Chinese tourists get on the cable car up to the first temple 'Wannian Si'. Others use two locals that carry them in a chair on long sticks up the hill. Some even walk, at least up to the temple. All the way to the top is a buildup path, about 70% of it are steps, some of them pretty high. The temple is very crowded with the hordes of Chinese tourists, there are also some of the first wild monkeys the mountains is famous for, but they don't seem too wild to me. After the temple I am totally on my own, in the new 4 hours I see maybe 10 other hikers plus some park rangers who clean the path. While down in the village it was just very hazy and foggy, up in the mountains I am inside clouds and the visibility is less than 10 meters. The path leads through a forest all the way and sometimes there are view points down into gorges and onto other hills, but you pretty much look against a white wall of clouds all the time. Every mile or so there is a small house where locals sell water or offer a meal. I have my lunch in a small monastery, all they have is basic noodles. Halfway I meet one of the Check girls coming down the mountain with a friend, she complains, that they have been up there for three days and have seen nothing at all. I hiked up pretty fast for the first hour and my shirt if totally dripping wet of sweat. I take it off and just wear my jumper for a while. When getting further up it gets colder and colder and I put on my fleece and even gloves and a warm hat. The stairs seem endless and when they finally end there is a small turn and then another endless set of stairs. At another monastery I ask where I am because the map I have isn't totally on scale. It turns out that I'm much further up than I thought, but it's also already after 3 and the last bus leaves at 5. I decide to not stay on the mountain in a monastery because it doesn't make too much sense if you can't see anything. I get closer to a spot where the bus line ends which is easy to tell, because there are Chinese tourists on the path again. I see over a dozen wild monkeys and they seem quite aggressive. I pick up a stick of wood and just waving it at the monkeys keeps them away. At Yieyin hall there is another cable car to the very peak, but I am exhausted and decide to take the bus down. There is only one small bus waiting and when people finally get on it, it turns out it is a chartered bus for a tour group and the bus station is a few miles down the road. The tourists decide to give me a lift and they all speak English, turns out they are Malaysian. After they dropped my at the bus stop I realized I walked right by it a while ago but because I couldn't see any buses because of the poor visibility. The ride down takes about 80 minutes and further down there are actually some really nice views of the lower mountains. This would have been really great in good weather. Back in the hotel there is no water and I have to wait for a shower for several hours. I spend the evening with the Checks but get to bed early. I walked about 30 KM and most of it was steep uphill.
By bus to Emei, a town 73 km south of Chengdu, it's a gray day. By taxi to the Teddy Bear hotel near the mountains. Emein Shan is a holy mountain. The whole place is very touristy and the hostel is emty. I walk around the place and the lower temples for a few hours. Back at the hostel I meet two Germans and we talk for a while and have diner at the hostel. They leave but other people arrive. I'm not sure whether I will go up to the top of the mountain the next day because of the poor visibility. It doesn't make to much sense if you can't see anything. I share the room with a beautiful girl from Flagstaff, she is studying in Beijing and came out here for some hiking.
Early rise, we take a taxi to the Panda Breeding centre north of the city. With me are Jacqueline, Wim and Renske, the three Dutch people I spend a lot of time with in Chengdu. There is little traffic and we get to the centre before eight and have to wait until they open. It's a good sized park-like areal and it doesn't feel like a Zoo. There are no fences or cages, except inside some of the buildings. We first visit the feeding of red Pandas, which look very different from their black and white name sakes. We see around about a 15 of the bigger black and white ones and also some young ones, but not the alien like looking pink baby pandas. On the way back we stop at the Wanshu temple and have a great noodle dish in a eatery around the corner. In the evening the four of us go to a performance of the Sichuan Opera. We booked through the hostel and transfer to the theater on the other end of the city center is provider by a mini bus. It's in a fairly new but unimpressive theater. It's a collection of about 10 different performance arts, some dancing, singing, playing Chinese instruments, a little bit of acrobatics. I don't enjoy it too much, each individual bit is only average. Also people are running up and down the aisles all the time and as we sit in the back we can see dozens of preview screens of digital cameras in the audiance. Everybody is using useless flashes which is annoying as well.
A 12 hour bus ride from the Park to Chengdu, grey day but very interesting scenery. Unlike in the park which just just beautifully alpine, the landscape was specific to China, huge rocky mountains for hours and hours. Luckily the road was okay for most of the time. Kim from Singapore sits next to me, so I can talk some English. No other westerners are on the bus. We arrive in Chengdu in the dark and together take a local bus over to the Dragon Town youth hostel, a really nice old Chinese building in one of the very few remaining old parts of town. As predicted yesterday I have a cold, sore throat and running nose. I have nice ginger tea with honey for diner and that seems to help. I also have a pizza for the first time in ages. Kim warns me of the spicy Sichuan cousine, so with the cold and all I play save.
I had a good sleep but my room mate gets up at 7 to start his work. I leave my backpack in the room. On the way out the family invited me to breakfast and their living room. A bowl of noodles and home backed white bread. As for diner they don't ask for additional money for the food. Filled up I walk down into the village, there are already some tourists there. I walk a little bit and then take the bus up to the top of the eastern branch of the park. I follow the hundreds of Chinese tourists, off the bus walk for 15 minutes, then back on the bus. This way you see all the interesting bits in a day but it's way too many people for me. In the center of the park there is a big shopping center and restaurant. Outside someone sells rice with some meat on top. It's a beautiful day again and I sit outside to have an early lunch. Then I take the bus up to the top of the western branch. I first do the circle walk through the primeval forest. Then I leave the tourist alone and start the walk down. It's 15 kilometers back to the village and it's really gorgeous, high rising rocky mountains on both sides. Snowy peaks in the background. Blue skies with the odd cloud. All the way I follow a creek which sometimes is interrupted by clear water lakes. The is a path made of wooden planks all the way down, so it ?s very save to walk and it's totally empty. It's also very very clean. Every 500 meters there is someone who waits to pick up you litter, in the meantime they maintain the path and its surroundings. Every once in a while I come across the parts where the buses stop and suddenly the path is full of Chinese tourists. The waterfalls are really cool but would be even nicer without the noise of the tourists and all the pushing to get the best spot for the photo. It takes me about five hours of constant walking to get back to the village. Towards the end I meet the first other westerner, an English guy who is here for six days but stays outside the park in the Sheraton. I pick up my bag and take a final bus down to the exit of the park. I walk to the bus station to get a ticket to Chengdu the next day. I feel a cold coming up, I am surprised I lasted so long without one. I walk on and check the hotel price boards but there are all in the 300-800 range for a single room. A gay approaches me and promises a room for 100. We check one hotel which is full, but a second has rooms for the price. I check in and when opening the door to my room, I hear familiar voices. Next door at Juval, the Israeli guy and the Spanish couple. We exchange our stories and go out for a quick diner. Price even at the basic restaurants and shops are double the normal rate. I go to bed early because of the cold and the fact that I have to get up at six in the morning. Even in this proper hotel, there is no hot water or heating. I shower with the water from the hot water bottle mixed with freezy tab water.
After Danielle left, I go back to sleep for a while. I leave my bag in the room and explore the town. It's really nice weather and it's a pleasant place as well. They have parts of the city wall intact and some nice gate buidlings. Most of the main street buildings are new but there are some old houses in the back roads. I have some dumblings for breakfast and board the bus to the Jiuzhaigou national park area. It only takes a two hour drive through a really nice scenery. I arrive in the early afternoon, the entrance fee is 220 Yuan, plus 90 for unlimted rides on the internal bus system. I decided not to pay and walk with my backpack for the first 5K. I've heard that when inside nobody checks for the bus ticket, so I give it a try and yest, nobody bothers. It also says in the ticket hall, that it is not allowed to stay overnight in the park. Outside there are dozens of hotels. But again I've heard from other backpackers and the LP, that it is possible to stay inside the park. I read the tibertian village of Shuzheng Stockade. The main part of the place is full of tourist shops and many Chinese tourists. Why would you come to such a beautiful place and then spend your time in a shop I don't know. As suggested in the book, I walk up the hill to the back part of the village but can't find any guest houses. I use my phrase book to ask a guy who works in a garden for a hostel. He leads me into the house and shows me a room, where he is staying himself. Nobody speaks English and they want 30 Yuan for the bed. I decide to stay as in the common bathroom there is a nice hot shower. I walk around the village for the remainder of the afternoon. Loads of buses and tourists around. When it gets dark I go back to the house which doesn't look very special from the outside. They ask me wether I want something to eat and lead me into their kitchen/dining room/living room. It's an absolute beautiful typical tibertian place, the walls and the ceiling is painting colourfully. The whole 9 head family is around. There are three sisters one holding a few months old baby. There is a big stove in the middle of the room and they are serving some potato mash in a veggie soup, really jummy. I never had anything similiar before. I also get some beer and try to communicate with the youngest sister through my phrase book.
I get up early to take the bus south, I am a bit worried, because I may be alone from now, but there are 12 other backpackers on the bus to Zoige which leads us passed more great mountains and over wide plains with great views.
In Zoige we find out that there is no bus south anymore, we all decide to hire two mini-buses to get us to Songpan. The six Israeli people take one and I share the other one with three guys from the Check Republic, a German couple and Danielle from Switzerland. We have a hard time to get all our luggage into the small vehicles, and some bags go onto the roof. For the first half there roads are really good and there is a good mood. Our driver doesn't speak English but the sings local songs. Again I try to communicate using my phrase book. It gets dark and the road gets worse, infact the road ends and for hours we just drive through the construction site of the future highway. After ten we finally arrive in Songpan. I share a room in a hostel with Danielle and we also go for some food next door.
I have a nice big pancake for breakfast and then walk through the town up to the hills in the north, at some point I can go any further and return through a temple complex into town. After lunch I walk up the other side through another big monestery complex. My destination is the Sky burial site up in the mountains. When a local dies, he is carried up here and then cut open and the limbs are cut of, a bunch of eagles then descend and eat all the flesh. On the site I see human skulls and bones. Some backbone still has some flesh and blood on it, it seems there was a funeral just last week. Back into town and watching people on the streets, it's much warmer now and the snow has melted in the town. Up in the hills there is still a lot of mud and snow. My shoes are for summer walking but not for winter hiking, so there are not 100% water proof. Also my trousers and jacket are covered in mud.
Get up early to get the bus to Lang Musi, Anthony, the Spanish guy slips on the icy road to the bus station and hurt his leg pretty badly. It's freezing on the bus but at least the roads are free of snow now. We are a group of five, the Spanish couple, Marco from Italy and the older guy from Israel. We have to change into another bus which is also full of locals. One huge tibertian guy with a long dagger sits in front of us. His wife also has a huge knife and both are in traditional Tiberti clothes. Lang Musi is a small town in a valley with a bunch on monestaries on both sides. We check into a hostel, again no heating but at least there are two rooms with a stove where we can warm up. I share a room with the Israeli guy for 25 Yuan, shower and western toilet on suit. I walk around a bit but it gets dark soon. I spend the evening in a small eaterty with lots of Israelis and other backpackers.
When I step outside my room, I get a shock, there are at least two inches of snow in the courtyard and it is still snowing heavily. I check out and move into the hostel around the corner. They also don't have any heating, but at least the have western toilets and the all the keys for the rooms hang on a hook right next to my room, so I don't have to ask anybody. Also my 3 bed dorm doesn't have anybody else in it and the showers and toilets are inside the building. After a not so great breakfast at the Everest cafe with the Spaniards, I walk towards the monastery, but it snows so heavily that I can hardly find my way around in it. It is a huge complex, the biggest tibertian monastery outside of Lhasa. I walk back into the main town and exchange some dollars at a bank and buy a nice fleece jacket, he wants 150, I pay 70 (5 quid). I have lunch in a small family place. I notice an English menu in the window, and some guy invites me in. Its the family living room with two sofas, a TV and a stove in the middle. I order some tiberti noodles but have no idea what that is. A monk sits down next to me and we try to communicate. The first thing they always ask is 'Where a you from', so even if it doesn't sound like that, I answer 'London'. I have my phrase book with me and the monk and I discuss the English menu. After the left an 8 old year girl moves over from the second sofa and shows me her English text book. It seems she just started English at school, she can say 1 to 10 and some other basics, I read her some other things in the book, she it cute and her mother smiles at us. After lunch I go back to my room, the snow and mud on the road is just too much. After a while the sun comes out and it clears up. I walk back to the monastery, how beautiful in the afternoon sunlight. You can also see the mountains around the town all covered in snow. My camera dies again all the time, but I am blaming it on the batteries. I bought Kodak ones, but they may be fakes or not the right type for my digital camera. The paths around the monastery are all very muddy. My shows get really wet and my trousers legs are covered in mud. I walk around several of the monastery buildings, and see around a hundred monks doing they daily business which today includes removing the snow from the roofs. Past the monastery is the tiberti part of town, really interesting, unfortunately my camera is dead now. We have diner in a small family restaurant and then more beers at the hostels.
On the train to Lanzhou, I have a hard sleeper again, the train left at 22:32, so I go to bed right away and listen to some more Harry Potter. We arrive at quarter to 8 and outside the station I meet the Spanish couple, I had already meet on the wall and in Xian. We decide to move right on to Xiahe, a small town in the mountains, we take a taxi but arrive to late for the only bus of the day at 8:30. Luckilly it is still there and we get on. It take six hours. For sometimes we travel on very good toll roads, but mostly on really bad country roads, or sometimes no roads at all. This is muslim country, we pass through several small towns with the market on the main street, I see animals being slaughtered right next to the bus. Pretty much everybody on the street wears a white muslim hat. There are also some really nice mosques on the way. Except for the Chinese characters one could imagine to be in on of the *stan countries further west. We get to Xiahe just before 3 p.m, it is pretty cold an we check into a hostel on the other side of town. I just walk around a little bit but get back to the hostel soon and take a short nap because I didn't get too much sleep on the train. The Everst Cafe is right in the hostel, I ordered Tibertian chicken Byriani, but get a chicken burger instead. Because I am so hungry, I take it. Meet several more Dutch people and two Canadian ladies for beers.
My dorm, just like any other room in the hostel doesn't have any heating. There are hot showers for a few hours a day but they and the toilets are on the other side of the building, so one has to cross through the courtyard to get there. It is raining in the evening and because there are no keys for the room every time I want to get back inside I have to ask someone from the hotel to open the door.
Jacqualine and I walk around the city together, we start at the station where she got a ticket and walk over to a taoist temple east of the city walls. Compared to the other ones I've seen this is a bit dissapointing. But it's nice to share my thoughts with someone. We have some nice noddle dish in a local family restaurant for 5 Yuan and walk on to the South wall where we decide to not go up to the wall or into the Forest of steles museum. We continue to the muslim quarter which I haven't seen during daylight and visit the great mosque, which is again a typical Chinese style set of temples, expect that the big one is a muslim prayer hall and there are some arabic since around the site. Back at the hostel I meet the two young Dutch girl I had meet in an Internet cafe in Beijing and we have a nice chat. Later on I meet three more Dutch people and we have another diner in the muslim quarter, slightly more expensive this time, 16 Yuan per person. Take a bus over to the railway station.
Get up early and after breakfast take a bus to the station and then another local bus to the Terracotta Warriors
site 35 Km outside of town. People try to get me into one of the tour buses that also depart from the station, and even though they may cost the same price intially, I've heard that they stop several times on the way for other sights and shopping opportunities. I get to the site around 9:30 but it is already pretty busy but not really crowded. As predicted by people in the hostel, I enjoy pit 1 the most, it's the big one with most soldiers and horses in it. The other two are smaller and have way less items. Pit 1 is very impressive especially when you consider all this is over 2200 years old. The 360 degree movie the show is also very interesting. I meet several people on the site that I've seen before somewhere else in China. On the way back I'm stopping at the Huaqing pool complex, it consists of dozens of old buildings and some ponds between them at the foot of some impressive hills. The pools are indoors and can be compared to those Roman ones you can visit in Bath. Back in the hotel I meet Jacqualine, the Dutch girl I had already met in Beijing and Pingjao, we go out for diner in the muslim quarter.
After a swiss breakfast at the hostel, get my train ticket to Lanzhou at the station. Then I rent a good bike and cycle around the city for the rest of the day. I check out the little and big Goose Pagadoas, the University district and the Qin Dynasty imperial palace. The map I have is shite, I can't find a certain temple because loads of streets are missing. It also uses the English translations for the Chinese street names. If you see names in latin characters, then there are always the Chinese ones, so the map is totally useless. I even get lost, because I went through another muslim quarter with many small alleys and when I get out of there I can't find a single street on my map. At one point I have 5 local girls trying to figure where on my map we currently are, but they couldn't. On the other hand, they couldn't even tell me which direction the closest part of the city wall was. Back to the hostel for a lazy evening.
Wake up early but finish Harry Potter No.2 in bed, have breakfast in the hostel and talk to people for a while. For lunch I go out with German Tim, Santiago and Kate from New Zealand. We have fried rice and Kebabs at a small eatery in the muslim quarter. I don't feel too great afterwards and take a nap. Afterwards I walk around the hostel and check out some shops. What a lazy day. For diner we have dumplings in the muslim quarter and then go over for beers to the hostel next to the south gate.
After breakfast at the guest house, I take a taxi to the outskirts to get on the bus to Xian. A Irish couple from London join me and the ride was okay. I listen to Harry Potter 2 but they movies the play in the bus runs with very high volume (no headphones), so I also get a Chinese background soundtrack with a young Jackie Chan. In Xian I walk from the station to the center and checked into the Bell tower youth hostel. For the first time I am going for a dorm. It's 45 Yuan (3 pounds) and it's clean and has a good atmosphere. I met four people from the hostel in Pingyao. In the evening there is a dumbling party at the hostel. We have to fold our own dumblings and fill them with veggie or meat fillings. Then they are steam cooked in the kitchen and we have loads of them. The whole thing is free is is pretty nice. We have a few more beers and watch in movie in the dining area of the hostel.
More sightseeing in the old town. I start with the wall that surrounds the whole of the old town. At the west gate a woman tries to rent out bikes for 50 Yuan for a ride around the wall. I walk away and show her an X with my fingers, the Chinese character for 10. She agrees and I have a nice ride on the wall. The sun is out a bit but it's still cold. Afterwards I visit several more museums and have some noodles at a small local eatery. I'm feeling tired and a bit sick and return to my room. For the rest of the day I'm listening to the remaining DotNetRocks
podcasts and don't even go out for diner.
The conductor wakes me up around 5 a.m. as we will soon arrive in Pingyao, my next stop. I had locked my backpack to the luggage shelves and now without any main lights I can't make out the numbers on the conbination lock. I am panicking a little bit because I can't get it open and both my torch and my lighter are inside the bag. Finally I manage soon after we arrive at the station. A lady is handing out flyers for her guest house to the 5 westeners that have been on the train, and a couple and I dicided to at least have a look and she leads us to a open motorbike taxi for the ride to the guest house. Soon we are gettings through the city wall into the old city, it is pitch dark, no single light in the whole town. It's also much colder than in Beijing, feels very strange. The guest house is small with just six rooms but the couple who owns it speak resonable good English and the rooms are fine. I have a nap for a few hours and at breakfast I meet some of the other guests. Vera and Felix arrived with me, they are a Brazilian/French couple on their honeymoon, Santiago from Columbia and a nice German couple. I buy a single ticket which allows you entrance to 20+ attractions and museumns in the whole cities. There are loads of small museums in the typical old house of the city but some some bigger temples and even an old goverment complex. Pingyao is one of the most preserved old towns in the whole of China. In the evening we are all going out for dinner. A young girl from Israel joins us as well, she speaks some Chinese which is quite helpful. The food isn't too great nor is it cheap.
Went to the post-office, shops and bank and spend a while in the business center to write the travelog. Afterwards to the station. There are huge queues infront of the gates leading to the platforms. The whole station is very new and airport like with arrival and departure on different levels. I buy some food but decide not to eat at the station. On the way to the train I meet a couple from the UK but there are in soft sleeper, while I have a hard sleeper bed. Soft sleepers are very much like the 2nd class compartments I used from Moscow to Beijing. Hard sleepers are like third class on Russian trains. The compartments have six beds, three on each side and there are no doors, so the whole carriage is open with a wide corridor on the side. My carriage is filled up with Japanese, I am in the middle bed, which is the best, because the upper one has a little less space and people are sometimes sitting on the lower one. There is a mother with her baby right below me and another one in the next compartment, but both are pretty quiet the whole night. A guy in the next compartment speaks a little bit English and with the help of my phrase book we have a basic conversation. For the first few hours its pretty loud because there is music playing and several people pushing cards through the corridor selling all kinds of food and other stuff. Around 10 the lights are turned off and everybody goes to sleep.
Another trip to the wall, this time with a small bus and 16 people from the hotel/hostel. The ride takes over three hours but then we are totally on our own. We walk 10 kilometers on the wall and are picked up by the bus on the other side. Dinner with Anne, Holger and the Dutch couple.
I Sleep in, have breakfast buffet with Jacqueline from Holland and do my laundry. I cycle to the White cloud temple, a taoist temple site just 30 minutes east of the hotel. Really nice, the taoist temples are my favourite among all the Beijing temples. Also there were no tour groups, hardly 30 people on the whole site and never anybody else in the buildings with me. The Tao priests also look cooler and more Chinese than the Buddha ones. Do some shopping and go back to the hostel.
Life at the Far East
The Far East is a hotel but also a Youth Hostel with two buildings across Dazhalan Jie, the main Hutong (alleyway) in the hutong (area of alleyways) south west of T-Square. For 13 nights I was staying at a good sized double room on the third floor. TV, bathroom on suite and room service, this was 180 Yuan or 13 quid per night. Most people stayed in 4 or 6 bed dorms for 45 or 60 Yuan. I should adjust my budget to not be able to afford single rooms anymore. There are also two restaurants and a bar in the complex, food is okay but expensive compared to the food in the alleys. The main meeting point is the courtyard in the middle of the old building. You have to image this little yard in the middle of an old Chinese architecture one storey structure. The door is a a typical Chinese gate and some grape wine is covering the roof on one side. There is a little shop and half a dozen tables where people are hanging out especially at night. It is very hard not to meet any people here. One reason why people are staying in, is the price of the beer, in touristy bars you can pay 30 Yuan (2 quid) for a bottle, while in the local shops you can get a 0.6 littre bottle of Tsingtoa for 2 Yuan (16 p). Part of the 'furniture' of the yard are Soren from Denmark (9 weeks) and John from Ireland (12 weeks+). There are three more long staying crazy Danes and during my 14 day stay I saw many people coming and going. There was an established gang when I arrived, it consisted of a bunch of Irish, Americans, Kiwis and English. There is also always a strong Swedish and Dutch contingent. The Germans kept to themselves, but single ones sometimes joint the international group. The parties often lasted all night but I usually went to bed around three because I still have a limit on the amount of beer I am drinking. The location is also one of the best in Beijing, it's a 15 minute walk to T-square but also in the middle of one the liveliest hutongs in the city. Dozens of small family-run restaurants as well as countless small shops are all around it. There are also bigger restaurants and shops of the bigger roads surrounding the hutong.
I go to the park of ethnic minorities. Pretty big, 58 different minorities with their architecture and music. All build for the park but they have some real items as well. The whole thing is built on top of a giant shopping mall. White to grayish sky and in the afternoon it starts to rain. I cycle to Wangfujing and buy shorts for 58 and a new money-belt for 42. In the evening I write a sign for my cycle rent guy to advertise his guide services, I am using Tipex (Whiteout) to write on a black board. Later we go to diner at the muslim place just down the road.
Cars and traffic
Except for trucks and lorries they are hardly any cars that are older than 1990. That must be when they introduced the concept of private car ownership. A lot of German VW and Audi and their clones (exact copies but with Chinese brand and model names). Most buses are also pretty old and there are hardly any SUVs yet. There are also millions of bikes as well as bike and moped ritschkas. You also have transport bikes with some sort of table top mounted onto the back of the bike, they transport all sorts of things with them. About 90 of all roads have also a cycle lane, even though lane is understatement, they are at least as wide as a normal road lane in the UK. The big roads have at least three lanes plus another lane for slow traffic and one for bikes in each direction, that makes 10 lanes in total. Crossings with other roads can be tricky because everybody can turn right on red light and usually left turners also ignore traffic that goes straight and everybody is blocking the crossings for everybody else. On bigger crossings there are 4 to 10 traffic wardens that try to keep at least the cyclists back. They are in blue uniforms with little red flags and a whistle. Chinese cyclists go very slow and I am at least three times as fast as them. I also try to take the way if I thing I have the right of it and sometimes this resulted in dangerous situations with motorized vehicles. In general it is a pleasure to cycle in Beijing because of the wide cycle paths, and if you go with the slow and careful, you should be safe as well. The road conditions in Beijing are nearly perfect, not only are a lot the the roads pretty new, there also seem to fix the older ones regulary. In the hutongs in can get a bit rough, but that's okay. The remote country roads however can be pretty bad.
People and fashion
While waiting for Oliva to go breakfast, I have a nice chat with the Montreal girl about travelling and Chinese and German history. Unfortunetely she is flying back to Canada tomorrow and will spend the night at the airport.
Oliva and I walk a while to find a place to have breakfast, all the small restaurants are empty or seem to serve only lunch dishes to the few people in it. We saw some interesting looking pancake package at a street vendor, but we couldn't convince them to make two of those of us as well. Must have been a special order for someone. We walk on and finally ended up in a small restaurent where we have pancakes filled with spinach and some breakfast dumplings and a total of 5 Yuan. A guy speaks a little English and German and it turns out the get westerners once a month, very authentic local cousin.
Oliva is leaving for Xian on a hard-seater in the evening and after she checked out of the hostel, I offer her my room for a nap as she is pretty tired. I go travelogging for a while in a pretty big and much cheaper internet cafe nearby.
Feeling a bit sick and spend the morning on my room, and some of it on the toilet, by noon I feel better and start to walk for an hour. I explore the Hutongs on the other side of Nanxinhue Jie and buy some postcards in a bookshop, I don't trust those traders on the street. Back at the courtyard I try to write some of them and also start planning the rest of the Chinese trip but I start talking to two Australian girls and Matt a tour guide from Scotland who is actually working in China, he has good tips on traveling but we end up asking each other trivial quiz questions. The gorgous girl from the next table is joining us, she has a nice french/North American accent, as she is from Montreal. She travelled from Istanbul through Turkey into Iran and Pakistan and then all the way from Western China, a lot by thumb. She is now planning to go to Libya on her owe. Very impressive. Spend the whole afternoon in the courtyard, the rest of the gang is joining in. We go to diner and the close by place where we spend a whopping 48 Yuan for six people, 8 per person, that's 50p.
Spend most of the night talking to this party guy from Toronto and Oliva.
More cycling today, I start by getting to the Jingshan Park just north of the forbidden city. It was a pretty high hill in the center which allows for great views over the forbidden city and really all around Beijing. The weather is even better today, blue skies all over and good visibility. Down in the park the locals are already dancing again, even though it is just early afternoon. Next I follow the LP recommended cycle tour which goes around the forbidden city into the northern Hutongs and then down some shopping streets into the old foreign legation quarter with several old embassy buildings. I have a nice break in a small park and then cycle home through another hutong area. As usual we go out for diner at a local restaurent, every night we have a slightly different set of people joining our gang, Mary and Darren from Ireland and Olivia are always there, there is Paul, a Japanese-American from Seattle, a bunch of Kiwis and Australians, Dutch, Danish, the whole range, usually no Germans, the seem to hang out with themselves. Most people stay up til late but most nights I hit the hay between one and three.
I cycle out to the summer palace, about 20 KM outside the city center. It takes a while to get there and I can experience the vastness of the city. I cycle through modern business areas, the university district and some residential areas. For the first time the sky is at least partly blue and pretty clear, I can see the mountains in the west and north on the horizon at the end of the wide roads. I stop for breakfast at at small cookie bakery. The park of the old imperial summer palace is huge but most of it is taken up by Kumning Lake. As today is the day after the national holiday and the weather is really nice, a lot of Chinese had the same idea as I and the park is packed. I visit some of the indoor exhibitions and walk along the lake for a while and the up onto the main hill with a great view over the park and the western outskirts of the city. After a few hours I can't stand the crowds anymore and take a boat over the lake back towards the exit where my bike is waiting. I cycle further out of town to nice hill I spotted earlier with a huge pagode, but it turns out the whole area is actually a huge People's liberation army barrack. Thanks Lonely Planet (LP)
, you could have mentioned that. On further west to the foot of the hills I've seen from the center. Here I visit the Botanic Garden and the temple of the sleeping Buddha, not too impressive but the gardens are really nice and there are way less people. I hike a bit into the hills and are rewarded again with great views towards Beijing. The Fragrant Hills park is right next to the gardens but it is already 4 and I still want to have lunch and be home at the hotel before six before the sun sets. Cycling without lights at night is just not save in my humble opinion, even though millions of Chinese don't seem to care. I am looking for a vegetarian restaurent nearby which had a really interesting description in the LP, but the description on how to find it was very poor, so I didn't. Instead I eat on the way back in a small local eatery which properly has never been visited by a western tourist. I point to some dish in the book and learn how to eat soupy noodles with chopsticks. Back at the courtyard I already know some people so it is easy to join a table. Topic number one is usually travelling and somehow we were talking about record shopping in Tokyo. Olivia from Seattle agrees and I asked her what kind of music she is listing to. In the end it turns out, she is an indiepop kid and knows TweeNet and about me for several years and for the next hour we bore everybody else with indiepop talk. What are the chances to meet a fellow popkid in Beijing?
Today is national holiday in China, they are celebrating the proclamation of the People's Republic in 1949. Most workers have a whole week off and many people travel to Beijing or home to their families. It's kind of 4th of July and Thanksgiving together. I cycled for the first time and even though one can see the smog above in the hazy sky the air feels alright. The locals all cycle very slow and I'm more up against the many cars. But pretty much everywhere there are really wide cycle paths. I started with the north east quarter and in the next days will work my way through all the other neighborhoods. The coolest site today was the Dongyue Temple, a Taoist shrine in the north west. The buildings itself were just another set of Chinese buildings and after the forbidden city, they don't really impress that much anymore. The cool thing was one square surrounded by a building with 48 rooms, each representing a departments and having the head of the department and ten related lifesize figures. You get the 'Life and Death department', the 'Department for wandering ghosts', the 'Department for implementing 15 kinds of violent death' etc. Really interesting figures and descriptions for each of them. The Tiananmen square is packed today, about one million people so far and there are still more arriving. I think tonight there will be a huge firework. Anne and Mary are leaving tonight for Xian, it's time for me to find new friends. The courtyard of the hostel is a really great place to meet people. Everybody is expecting fireworks but it turns out there are none. What a letdown. What was it all about? No military parade, no sign of the leaders of the party. Just hanging out on the square, that can't be all?
For diner the girls and I have Peking duck, which was good, at least most of it. And with just three people you don't have to eat everything.
I go to the Silk market and buy two shirts and a rain jacket, pretty cheap but I am sure they still made a good profit. Diner with Lorenz and Doreen in the Qianhai lake nightlife district.
I check out of the Rainbow Hotel, I am sick of the middle age tourist groups and even the brekfast buffet. I walk over to the Far East Hotel and manage to get a double room for 180 a day which I book for 7 days. It's the room right next to Mari and Anne. I walk around town and it starts to rain and I get pretty wet. It's time to buy a rain jacket. In the evening the girls and I are going to this Kung Fu show, a mixture of acrobtics, musical (no singing though) and Kung Fu acts. Diner again with the girls on Zhushikou Xidajie, the main road south of our Hutong.
Trip to the great wall at Badaling with my driver and guide. I invited Anne and Mari along because I have a whole car, so there is no reason why they shouldn't join me and save money for the bus. We first visit the Ming tombs and then have lunch at a huge tourist restaurant. The wall is really great and the park we are walking is pretty empty too. It's a shame about the grayish skies but towards the end we get some blue skies as well. On the way back we stop at one of the olympic stadiums and a silk manufactory with a silk museum, quite interesting. We have diner at the girl's hotel which is close by.
Guided tour in Beijing, Temple of heaven park, Forbidden city and Tiananmen square. Diner with Anne and Mari in a local restaurant close to my hotel.
I am now in China. On the way we have some nice views of the great wall.
Arrived in Beijing in the afternoon, check into the Rainbow hotel, about one kilometer south of the T-square. I walk around and all the way to the main shopping street to find the Chinese Lonely Planet, I find the recommended bookshops and several LPs, but not the one for China.