A Travellerspoint blog

Yangshuo – A Little Slice of Heaven

overcast 14 °C

Following our cruise on the Yangtze to the Three Gorges Dam we spent a couple of nights in Wuhan. We would show you pictures but this huge modern city is not a particularly pretty sight. Our next stop, some one thousand kilometres south on a bullet train, was the pretty riverside city of Guilin...
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The historic centre of Guilin is dominated by two multi-story pagodas that rise out of the waterway that runs through the city...
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Guilin has been a tourist mecca for a long time with good reason. Its shady riverside walks weave back and forth over its many picturesque bridges...
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With a scenery of karst mountains and meandering rivers, and its many parks and traffic free areas, Guilin is a relatively tranquil alternative to the metropolises of Wuhan and Chongqing. But just an hour or so south of Guilin on the banks of the Yulong River is a little slice of heaven on the outskirts of Yangshuo in Guangxi province...
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We have been to so many wonderful places in the world that it is always difficult to answer when people ask us to name our favourite. It's easy to reel off some of the world's wonders, and many of them are truly stunning, but at the end of the day when we've spent hours trudging through forests, temples, museums and teeming streets, and fought our way through throngs of passengers, tourists and touts, it is the people who make a place truly wonderful. Our finest memories are of the people who make us feel like family when they welcome us into their hotels, homes and hearts. And nowhere in the world have we been more welcomed than at The Tea Cozy Hotel in Yangshuo.
This is Amy, the manageress, and her young son, who would like to say Ni Hao to you...
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We will be spending a week here in the idyllic countryside by the Yulong River and we look forward to showing you the sights and introducing you to our Chinese “family”

Posted by Hawkson 04:42 Archived in China Comments (7)

Cruising the Yangtze

semi-overcast 16 °C

We began our cruise in Chongqing – a dirty, smoky hell-hole some 30 years ago when Sheila last visited – but now it's a booming city of smart highrises and ritzy shopping malls. We arrived from Chengdu in just 90 minutes on a 300 kilometre an hour bullet train and stepped out into a station as polished as any airport terminal. But we hit a bump in the road when the taxi taking us from the station to the Yangtze River port sideswiped a motorcyclist. Fortunately there was no great injury and we caught our cruise ship, The Yangtze Gold 7, on time...
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And then our frenetic world of planes, trains, taxis, and tuk-tuks suddenly ground to a halt. Instead of rushing around the world, changing hotels, cities and even countries, every few days, we simply sat back on our balcony and watched the world pass us by...
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When Sheila first cruised this same river in 1983 this is where people lived along its banks...
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She recalls idyllic scenes of Sampans drifting through verdant canyons and curious locals staring in amazement at strange looking foreigners. Nowadays whole shiploads of foreigners are common here but we deliberately avoided a western cruise ship and western food. Was that a good plan?

The Yangtze River basin is renowned for its fog so views along the way were not always the best. But when we took side trips into narrow gorges we got close ups of the enormous cliffs...
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High in the cliff faces are caves that were used as burial sites for thousands of years. We were informed that this coffin and the others inside this cave are two thousand years old...
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Our cruise ended at the Three Gorges Dam near the city of Yichang. Much has been said of the Three Gorges Dam and the disruption and devastation that the flooding of the Yangtze waterway has caused to the local communities. The seemingly idyllic agrarian lifestyle has been swept away on a tide of modernization and industrialization and huge concrete cities now scar the steeply wooded hillsides alongside the Yangtze River. However our enthusiastic young guides explained that living conditions today are a vast improvement over those endured by their forefathers. Everyone displaced was given a brand new property of equal size to their old home and the ability to upgrade at 50% of market cost for any additional space. Judging by the size of the buildings many people took up the offer...
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Every development has winners and losers. The Three Gorges Dam Project took 22 years to complete and employed huge numbers of workers. It is the biggest hydro electric dam in the world and it generates sufficient clean power to service every city for a thousand kilometres in each direction.
And when all 14 million residents of Chongqing turn on the lights it's nice to know that not an ounce of coal or oil is being burned...
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Before the dam, the downstream flood plain would be inundated every rainy season. But now that the flow is controlled a vast area of fertile agricultural land is under cultivation. So it seems that all clouds have a silver lining – including the ones that followed us all the way down the Yangtze...
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Posted by Hawkson 06:07 Archived in China Comments (3)

It's a Wonderful Panda World

overcast 14 °C

Development in China has been so rapid over the past few decades that it has sometimes outstripped practicality. Mega-construction projects have lined the pockets of developers and provided employment for millions but many grandiose developments, including entire cities, lie virtually abandoned. Chengdu may be 2,000 kilometres from the futuristic cities of Shanghai and Shenzen, but it is an ultra-modern city with entire districts of hi-tech and innovation centres, However, things are not always what they appear to be in China. For instance our current hotel in Chengdu could well be a hundred years old...
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But it was actually built just 9 years ago, together with an entire area of ancient looking stores, close to a seemingly historic monastery. However, despite its appearance, most of this Buddhidt complex was actually constructed in the 1990s...
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The Wenshu Zen Buddhist monastery may have started life in the 17th century but little if anything remains of the original. The monastery's major purpose today appears to be providing inexpensive meals to Buddhists and tourists alike.
Just as things in China aren't always as they appear, our blogs can sometimes be a little misleading. So you won't be surprised o learn that we didn't actually come all this way to Chengdu to visit the world's largest building. As much as we were a little miffed at finding the immense place under renovation and almost deserted, the truth is we actually came to Chengdu to visit some of the rarest, (and cudliest), creatures on earth – the giant pandas...
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Approximately 1,800 wild pandas live in the remote mountains of Sichuan and Yunnan in western China, but they are rarely seen by humans. A further 168 pandas live at The Chengdu Base of Panda Research on the outskirts of Chendu and we took an early morning trip to catch them at their breakfast time...
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Pandas are very fussy eaters – surviving entirely on the young stems of only certain kinds of bamboo.

Bamboo has very poor nutritional value so the pandas have to eat large quantities and spend long periods resting while their digestive systems get to work. As one sign at the research centre said, “Pandas are not lazy – they are just very energy efficient.” This one was lying down on the job and looked particularly efficient...
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Despite their weight, pandas are excellent climbers and spend a lot of time hanging about in the trees...
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Their cousins, the much smaller red pandas, also like to climb, but this little fella preferred to stay on the ground and join us as we walked around ...
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These cute furry creatures look a bit like raccoons, but they are as rare in the wild as the giant pandas.
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Now we are on the downhill leg of our journey and are leaving Chengdu to board a ship for a leisurely cruise on the Yangtze River. For the next few days we will be sailing across the centre of China from Chongqing to Wuhan and will be taking a break from the blogisphere. We hope to meet up with you again at the Three Gorges Dam next weekend. In the meantime here's another happy mother and baby....
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Posted by Hawkson 18:46 Archived in China Comments (6)

Our Big Day at the Seaside in Chengdu

overcast 13 °C

After a journey of twenty thousand kilometres, battling a blizzard in Vancouver, suffering the sweltering heat in Sri Lanka and the nightime chills in the mountains of the Tibetan Plateau, we pushed on by boat, bus, plane, train, taxi and tuk-tuk till we reached the province of Sichuan in western China. Our goal – the city of Chengdu to visit the largest building in the world...
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This is the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu which measures almost NINETEEN MILLION square feet. This building is so vast that it is virtually impossible to get it all in one photo. But the awe-inspiring size of the building is nothing compared to its interior. It is more capacious than twenty Sydney Opera houses and, for comparison, it is five times bigger than Canada's much vaunted West Edmonton Mall ...
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This single building houses 14 Imax 3D cinema screens, two 5 star hotels each with more than a thousand rooms and an Olympic-sized ice rink...
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There are hundreds of ritzy shops and restaurants where you can buy almost anything that you would find on the high street in London or Paris and you can even buy a $60 cup of coffee if you can afford it...
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But we did not come all this way to skate, shop or drink ridiculously expensive Civet coffee. We came because James wanted to see the world's longest artificial beach with sunbathing space for 6,000 people; to swim in the world's biggest indoor wave pool and to watch the sunrise and sunset on the world's biggest TV – a screen measuring a whopping twenty two thousand square feet that is the backdrop to the world's biggest indoor water park...
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And just off the beach is a full scale European seaside village complete with an English fish and chip shop and a massive cathedral...
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But wait a minute - there are more than 16 million residents in the Greater Chengdu Area; where are the crowds? We went on a cold drizzly Saturday and expected the place to be packed with families warming themselves under the artificial sun on the beach, swimming in the warm indoor ocean and screaming down the mammoth water slides. But, apart from one little kiddie playing in the sand with a bucket and spade, we had the whole place to ourselves.
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Strange, we thought, until we discovered that the pool was empty, the seaside village deserted and the whole place under renovation.

With a sigh of disappointment, James put his swimsuit away and we had a coffee before taking the Metro back to our hotel. Sometimes things just don't turn out the way you planned them!

Posted by Hawkson 20:49 Archived in China Comments (6)

Along the Tea Horse Road in Lijiang

sunny 14 °C

All tea originated in the mountains of China and was only grown in India and Ceylon in recent centuries. So we have now traced our favourite cuppa back to its roots in Yunnan Province in the far southwest of the country...
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Until about a hundred years ago these cobbled streets in the Naxi capital of Lijiang rang with the hooves of heavily laden pack animals carrying silk and tea across the mountains to Tibet. Lijiang was the major staging post for the caravans on the Silk Road and the Tea Horse Road for at least two thousand years. From here it took six months for the horses, mules, camels and men, to reach Lhasa in Tibet. Silk from Burma and tea from Pu'er in southern Yunnan passed through these narrow streets until the 20th. century on the first leg of its journey to Europe via Persia and the Middle East. Tea matures with age, like wine, so it didn't suffer during the lengthy journey that crossed numerous mountain ranges and hundreds of rivers during the 6 month trek.
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Lijiang's narrow twisting streets, winding streams, and masses of beautifully restored buildings with ornamental tiled roofs, make it one of the most picture perfect cities in the world...
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Unfortunately, like so many of the world's greatest treasures, Lijiang is a victim of its own success. Thousands of people cram the narrow lanes and are ripe pickings for the merchants and restaurateurs. Where else would a regular cup of local grown coffee cost $13 Cdn (8 quid)? Where else would you be charged $400 Cdn for one of these 200 gram discs of tea...
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Buying tea in China is as dicey as buying 'genuine' Louis Vuitton handbags. Similar looking tea discs can be picked up alongside touristy knick-knacks for as little as $10. and unless you can read the Chinese fine print you have no way of knowing which to buy. Some teas have sold to Chinese collectors for as much as $80,000 Cdn.
The ancient Silk and Tea roads have long gone, replaced today by excellent toll highways and a myriad of flights. And the trading route through Tibet and Kazakhstan to Europe is now a freight rail service linking the east coast of China to London and Madrid. Now the Chinese are building a super high speed rail line south from Yunnan to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. This once remote and mystical land on the very edge of Tibet is rapidly becoming a tourist mecca...
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While it may seem romantic to imagine the caravans laden with tea passing this way en route to Shangri-La and Lhasa, it must have been a dreadfully hard life for the animals and their drivers. But life is not easy for all of Lijiang's residents today...
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During the day Lijiang is a bustling, although somewhat Disneyfied, reminder of a China that has all but disappeared. But you have to look beyond the hundreds of trinket shops all selling exactly the same stuff and all pretending that it was handmade by some Naxi peasant living in a hovel. You have to see beyond the dozens of drum shops all selling exactly the same....OK. You get the picture. Ditto for jade shops, silversmiths and, especially, woven fabric stores where pretty girls barely pretend to weave and stop as soon as you lose interest. Once you see beyond the crass commercialism you find an exquisitely beautiful city. For instance, the authentically reconstructed Mu's Mansion, (circa 16th century) the onetime palatial home of the Naxi ruler, Tusi Mu Yamen, is a quiet oasis in the midst of a frenetic marketplace...
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Much of Lijiang was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1996 but most of the ancient city has been restored to its former state with, unfortunately perhaps, an over emphasis on commercialism – especially the numerous, and extremely loud, karaoke bars...
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It's been a long time since pack horses laden with tea trod these cobbled streets yet, in moments of stillness, we can picture them on their annual trek across the mountains and rivers to the foot of the Himalayas – and it's a very nice picture...
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To see more views of this beautiful city please go to our photo section.

Posted by Hawkson 00:20 Archived in China Comments (6)

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