Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Anyhow, Team Old Towners are fricking hardcore! We walked along the Tiger Leaping Gorge about a 2 and a half bus ride from Lijiang. It was quite a hardcore walk/climb: we hiked for the better part of 5 or 6 hours yesterday and 4 or 5 hours today. Today was pretty easy comparatively, but part of yesterday's trek was mental! It was an uphill section called the 28 Bends (though various other maps call it the 24, 26 or 30 Bends). Needless to say, there were a lot of bends and it was a tough, sweat-inducing, bend-cursing climb. But the views all along the way are incredible, and genuinely recollecting of Lord of the rings, from the green pastures, the waterfalls and the blackened, mist-laden, Mordor-esque mounts. Every so often we stopped to catch our breaths, take photos or just absorb the beauty.

Overnight we stayed at the Tea Horse Guest House, which for location alone made it one of the better places we've stayed at. Yes, the room was fricking cold and there WAS an electric wire hanging over my head while I slept, but when you've been climbing your little legs out, anywhere with clean shelter, a picturesque location and a generous menu including beer, your expectations are slightly lowered. We also met some nice people along the way. I, and later the others, Will somewhat begrudgingly, got up early to watch the sunrise over the peak of the Jade Snow Mountains, which stand at around 5700m, worth it completely, even if I was freezing my butt off first thing in the morning. There was also a caged monkey in the back near the simple squat toilets and basic shower facilities, a dog which barked JUST when we were trying to sleep, and a cardboard box in which there was a dog and its two immensely cute puppies.

Today's walk was a little easier, being mostly downhill but only slightly less breaktaking. After a bumpy rocky minibus ride to Qiao Tou, the starting village of the route, we got another minibus back in Lijiang, much to our reliefs. It was an amazing excursion, but it feels good to rest the legs :D

Sunday, February 17, 2008

LiJiang

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[Again extracted from a Facebook message thread. Sorry, can't generally be bothered to type it out twice!]

The Old Town-ers are in Li Jiang which is beautiful. It's so pictoresque in a manner reminiscent of old European towns (Alsace for example) or Canada, in that it's modern, and in its cleanliness and the facilities that it is POSSIBLE to find, but still very much aware of its roots and its place in its natural and mountainy beautiful surroundings. It's old school without being grungy and traditional without being backward.

Our hostel is near the heart of the Old Town, which means even a short trip to the post office is a worthwhile voyage. This morning we saw some Naxi ladies in costume (though they mostly seem to remain so irregardless) dancing in circles! Random, eh?

We went to a village called BaiSha today and the nearby monastery with its awesome decor and frescoes. We have just been generally absorbing the atmosphere of this most beautiful of towns (so far) and trying out the local Naxi food (Naxi bread, cake, sausage - something akin to black pudding, yak meat, yoghurt and fried goat's cheese).

Tomorrow we intend to go to Tiger Leaping Gorge which should be awesome! Though we just heard a rumour Lijiang is going to be hit by snow soon which is fairly worrying! Everyone apart this one American couple (omg, another Chineseman who doesn't know Chinese! Met an Aussie girl in Chengdu too! Don't feel as stupid anymore! Score!) says it'll be nice though, including tourist offices and websites so we're probably going ahead anyhow :D

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chengdu 1

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Team Panda (just thought that up, sounds pretty hench to me) has just arrived in Chengdu after a 26 hour train trip. It went pretty quickly considering, perhaps because we slept for some of it, perhaps because of the immense bant (me and Himesh and our after hours subtle abuse of Guilin) and perhaps because we were in a soft sleeper carriage. It's fairly basic, but like the First Class of Chinese trains. We felt like we were on the Hogwarts Express. Well maybe just me and Himesh.

The place we've just checked into (the Loft no. 4 Factory) is pretty cool, basic, but it looks like a converted factory, so youthful, and perhaps most important, we have found an in-house bar which has Tsingtao for 10kwai and JD and coke for 16. We know what we're doing tonight!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Yangshou

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On our last full day in Guilin, we went on a Li River cruise, along the river that runs between Guilin and Yangshou and a myriad of other places besides. It's such a pictoresque place and I have no regrets for doing it, if only because in that two hours, I got a wonderful selection of pictures, such as one imagines when one thinks of China, as in the paintings most commonly found on restaurant walls. But I couldn't help thinking that:
- It would've been a sight more deep blue and bright green in the summer months
- The cold and lack of warmth in the boat marred the experience a TAD
- After a time, mountains do start to look rather same-y :P
Also the guide left us in the middle of nowhere between Guilin and Yangshou just pointing in a direction. A little worrying for a short space of time! :P

Yangshou Tales:

Chinese New Year was ok, a little boring actually. We had dinner in a very Chinese place (through pointing and my very stunted pidgin Chinese I'm being the spokesman of the group, I don't know if I'm getting better or I'm just very good at pointing) where we had the local specialty, beer fish. It was ok, but I've had better in Guilin. People were letting off fireworks near the riverfront, but just small families, there was no massive firework display as such! We tried hard to find a good place to get a drink, but failed! Everywhere was just too empty, too crowded, too pricey or too outright gay! Not sure any of us bar Will wanted to go into the place with the gay grinding guys with cowboy hats. He claims he wanted to bail when he saw them.

We ended up, at the stroke of midnight, in an OK place with dice and a couple of Aussie girls we met at Guilin. Had some jokes talking about the differences between our two fair countries (we're POMs, they're crims), dissing various accents (apparently I sound like Hugh Grant, and I retaliated with a stinging comeback about their appalling syllable elongation. Well not so much much elongation as creation. Dammit, 'ear' and beer' have ONE syllable each!) and general bant-astic times. But the Aussies hated the Buble, which was a shocker to say the least. Not pleased. We met some other randomers from Israel and Germany who were nice enough. The phrase from Fight Club came to mind, they were perfectly satisfying 'single serving friends'.

Today, we got up a deal later than we had to and walked the 8 odd kms (it was meant to be like 6, but we got lost along the way. Ahem. Chinese roadsigns are misleading!) to Moon Hill, so called because at the very top, the loop of the hill or mountain resembles an upside down crescent moon. It was a pretty tiring trek up, but well worth it for the views, and we rather tragically felt a few Lord of the Rings comparisons. Felt obliged to yell "Buble!" off the top. Obviously mine echoed the most... Will's was just plain feeble. Lots of wonderful scenery along the way, I was a terrible, and probably immensely annoying, camera slut, taking photos of absolutely anything I deemed even slightly photo-worthy.

Tomorrow should be awesome as we're going to the Longsheng Rice Terraces. Though we do have to meet outside the tourist office at 7.20 in the morning and the trip is 3 and a half hours there. Better charge the old iPod, eh?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Guilin 2

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[Again extracted... sorry, I'm lazy! Michael Bubles are... pretty self explanatory :P Say his name slowly... I'm not 21, honest!]

Anisha/Wolmar/Ali - We have heard Yo Mei Yo and also that 'Round, and round, and round we go!' song as well. Also, the music in the hostel is muy shite-io. Saxophone covers of 'classics', Mariah Carey (not even the good ones) and just not good.

Our fellow hosteliers are pretty funky, met a couple of Aussie girls (now in the unforgiving clutches of Paul), a New Zealand girl and gal, a couple of guys from Macao (the portugese one was lovely but would not shut up and leave me alone! :P)

We're having a lazy day today, got up at 11, and will just have a walk around later... it's a little warmer today which is pleasant. Yesterday, we had a very very good day (at least in my opinion, but I would venture the others agree). In the morning, we grabbed a few of those breakfast kruller things and waited for a bus to the Reed Flute Caves, which were brilliantly lit up with different coloured lights. Like nothing I'd seen before, though Paul has seen better! Obviously... Photos to come on later. We also paid 10kwai each (down from 20... skanky bastards) to see apparently 1000-year-old turtles, though we remain sceptical as to the age. We just ended up feeling sorry for them however, they were just sat on a rug or in small ponds or tanks. They all looked unhappy, still or at best lethargic. Never again do I want to pay money to feel sorry for entrapped nature.

After lunch we took a bus the other way to FuBo Hill, which wasn't nearly as high as the Ding An mount we climbed, but still impressively surrounded by little hill/mountains (or as we unanimously agreed 'Surrounded by Michaels/Bubles *). There was also a little cave thing to walk around, including a cave of a thousand Buddhas (the Chinese seem to love that number), and there were quite a few carved into the rock, a little alcove with a Buddhist candle-lit shrine, and some curiously located Chinese calligraphy carved into the cave wall faces.

* Himesh remains irritated by my incapability to use acute accents over the 'e' in Buble

We came back and chilled in the hostel (Himesh and I played pool with the New Zealanders, the girl was a definite 7/8 :P) and then had dinner in a nearby restaurant. We all had rice (and of course, stomach of the bottomless pit Will had another fried rice in addition) and Cat had a rather spicy beancurd, Will a rather unsatisfying beef and celery, and me and Himesh had the spectacular, local delicacy, actually-made-my-day-complete, 'Beer Fish', a really tender white fish fried with a beer sauce. Came back and played Shit Head (some things don't change) with Paul, Aussie girls and a London copper named Glen, who is admirably taking a 5 month trip to see half the Pacific ring seemingly! Then got accosted by the newly arrived Macao peeps, and the Portuguese one called Diogo was so sodding friendly I felt incapable of telling him to sod off!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Guilin 1

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[Extract from group facebook message]

First night in Guilin

Team Guilin are doing well. We had what sounds like the least complicated ride in, not to rub it in anyones faces. Cab to the airport was fine, though I was stuck in the middle. Things were crushed that nature did not intend to be. Flight not delayed, and hey, isn't the airport a damn sight nicer to look at than it did when we arrived, eh? Flight itself was short and pretty fine, though I may have wasted the window seat by completely conking out before we'd even taxi'd, waking up about halfway handily to Catherine telling me they were handing out unexpected sandwiches... in your face, Easyjet! They also gave out what I'm told were REALLY nice coffees but I wasn't feeling it at the time. Also fell asleep right after that. We were wheeling back in when I woke up and Catherine laughed in my face when I asked if I'd missed the landing.Guilin is very cold, but not as bad as we were expecting. No signs of snow etc and we are told we'll also get some sunshine soon! It is also a lot more developed than I'd envisaged when we sat in the hostel missing you all more than we cared to admit. It's like Hong Kong but with wider streets, cleaner, and just a rather interesting place by night (we have yet to see it by day). We had a pretty easy and scenic cab ride in, with only a very minor confusion with address on the driver's part. Turns out he'd taken us a mere block away.

The hostel seems nice, if a little on the rustic side, with a brick and wooden panelling finishing reminiscent of a ski lodge. Unfortunately, it has all of the cold and none of the open fires and heaters. In our shared 4-bed dorm room, we've made it rather more manageable with hot air spewing out the air conditioning unit. It's got white people in too! Mental... we briefly chatted to a couple of Aussie girls and an Israeli guy whom I strongly suspect was gay and... let's say lonely. After a rather overpriced Dan Chow Fan (egg fried rice to those not in the know ;p) and soup noodle we returned to hostel. Cat and Guilin (immeasurably pleased to be back in his namesake and spiritual home) are sleeping and I'm here typing like a FB addict with Himesh reading over my shoulder and playing pool with Paul, who is as ever a veritable font of interesting stories(!)