A Travellerspoint blog

China

The Best Exotic Tea Cozy Hotel

sunny 15 °C

Hotels come and go as we wend our way across the globe and we’ve slept in a couple of dozen different beds to date. But not all beds, or hotels, are created equally. Every hotel has been fine in its own way, but some have been more memorable than others. And some have been absolutely unforgettable. A little south of Shangri-La, on a country road to nowhere in particular, is a small hotel with a big heart – The Tea Cozy. Curry, the owner, (with his adopted Indian name), reminds us of the enthusiastic young entrepreneur in the delightful movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. But Curry’s Tea Cozy Hotel is no ramshackle old mansion. It is a smart new building tastefully furnished in traditional style with very comfortable beds, (rare in China), and the most exotic wooden bathtub we have ever bathed in…
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...and a pretty pagoda set in a pond of koi carp...
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What makes The Tea Cozy Hotel so memorable is the staff. We have been treated wonderfully throughout our time in China but from the moment we arrived at The Tea Cozy we felt like family – and now we actually are family. Here we are at the gates with Curry and staff member, Suzy...
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Until we arrived Suzy had no Anglicized name so we christened her. And now we are her godparents!
We spent our first two days in Shangri-La cycling the verdant valleys. We threaded our way through ancient stone villages, past duck ponds and rice paddies, and watched the farm workers and fishermen at work and play...
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We crossed and re-crossed the lazy Yulong river while photographing, (and being photographed by), the happy rafters…
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And each evening we returned to The Tea Cozy for a delicious dinner of fresh local produce.
On our final day Curry took us and Amy, together with our goddaughter, Suzy, on a tour of the mountains. The scenery was - well, judge for yourself…
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This River Li vista of karst mountains is one of the most painted and photographed scenes in the world and even appears on Chinese banknotes…
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But there is another side to Shangri-La, and away from the idyllic Li valley, hidden behind the towering riverside mountains, the farmers are preparing for this year’s harvest…
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Hidden beneath thousands of acres of plastic is a juicy crop of gold just waiting to be mined. It's not mandarins, but what is it?
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Suzy and Amy know the answer – but do you?
We have just a few days left in China, and a few postcards left, so if you can correctly guess what is under the plastic we will happily send you a postcard from Shangri-La.

Posted by Hawkson 18:31 Archived in China Tagged mountains countryside accommodations karst family_travel Comments (5)

Shangri-La

Far from the Maddening Crowd

semi-overcast 15 °C

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Picture a bucolic landscape where a forest of mist shrouded mountains sprout out of a somnolent river valley, and the bountiful earth bursts with pastoral riches. Imagine a beautiful land of ancient stone villages surrounded by verdant rice paddies and tea plantations. A land of plenty where oceans of harvested rice dry amidst the mandarin, pomelo and kumquat groves under a perpetually blue sky…
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This is Shangri-La - a place once believed to be no more than a utopian dream of British author James Hilton. But, adventurers that we are, we have found it. It is near Yangshuo - just a two hour bus journey and a six dollar taxi ride from the bustling tourist hub of Guilin. We know we have arrived because it is marked on our map…
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In his novel Lost Horizon (1933) Hilton describes Shangri-La as a mystical, harmonious valley, gently guided from a lamasery, somewhere in the mountains of southeast Asia - an earthly paradise isolated from the outside world whose perpetually happy inhabitants are virtually immortal. It is a timeless place where ancient houses have witnessed the passing of many generations…
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…where a farmer still has time to tend his only cow…
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… and an aging mandarin-seller time to smile for the camera…
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Our Shangri-La is a place that had changed little since Marco Polo’s voyages to China in the 13th century, until the tourists came…
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We thought that in finding Shangri-La we would be far from the maddening crowd, but today’s Shangri-La is overrun with busloads of happy holidaymakers all wanting to raft down the river on one of the thousands of bamboo fishing rafts. And the ancient stone cottages are turning into multi-story villas, guesthouses and boutique hotels overnight…
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The rice paddies and citrus groves are rapidly shrinking under the onslaught of development, so if you want to help preserve rural Shangri-La before it sinks under the weight of tourists the best you can do is to buy their kumquats and mandarins this Christmas…
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P.S. Hi to Canuck teachers Deborah and Lori who braved the rapids on a bamboo raft along with their colleagues from the International School in XiaMen.

Posted by Hawkson 05:10 Archived in China Comments (3)

Night at the Museum

semi-overcast 13 °C

We have left the coast to visit one of China’s most popular tourist spots – the lakeside city of Guilin – and were a little surprised when the airport taxi dropped us at the doors of the museum instead of a hotel, but as we have yet to meet a Chinese cabbie who speaks English we just assumed he'd screwed up...
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There was no point arguing, so we paid him off and decided that the museum staff would guide us in the right direction - and they did: straight past the Han dynasty terracotta horse (circa 200 AD)....
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Up the stairs past the collection of 16th century Ming vases...
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along the corridor filled with 17th century furnishings...
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to a room on the second floor - our bedroom. Yes, dear blog reader, we are spending the night in a museum. Fortunately the bed is modern, although like most Chinese beds it's about as comfortable as a medieval torture rack. Historically the Chinese slept on a kang bed stove, the flat roof of a clay oven, or on bamboo matting on the ground, so they have no sympathy with us Western softies. However, the rock hard bed in the museum fits the surroundings, and the receptionists cum docents are so friendly and obliging that we won’t complain. The city of Guilin has been a “must see” city for centuries because it is nestled among a forest of photogenic karst mountain peaks and has picturesque bridges straddling the river Li and associated lakes…
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But it also has hordes of tourists. It’s the end of November, damp and quite chilly in the mountains, and we cannot imagine what this place is like in the summer.
Gastronomically, Guilin is noted for its delicious dog dinners, (and we are not talking about hotdogs here). It is said that the Chinese will eat anything with four legs apart from the tables and chairs and after some of the things we’ve seen on the menus we’re beginning to concur. However, nothing could have prepared us for what we found in Xiamen before flying to Guilin. We were looking for a loo and we followed these signs up the escalator in a trendy shopping mall…
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Although all of the toilets we’ve become acquainted with in China have been clean they’ve not all been Western, and James was a little disconcerted in Beijing when he went into a Gents and found three men squatting in doorless cubicles while unconcernedly chatting on their Iphones. So the idea of a modern toilet was particularly appealing – especially as we recently encountered some snazzy Japanese style ones with built-in bidets. But what a disappointment. While most restaurants in China don’t have toilets, we never expected to find a toilet that had a restaurant…
This is it! The ultimate in modern toilets with padded toilet seats for fifty…
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Mood lighting provided by illuminated urinals…
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And a menu full of “interesting” brown and yellow items…
Purely for the purposes of providing you with a comprehensive view of Chinese life we had the chocolate ice-cream sundae served in a mini squat toilet…
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It looked disgusting – but we closed our eyes and ate it. So now we have not only had a night in a museum,we’ve also had tea in a toilet.

Posted by Hawkson 19:20 Archived in China Comments (5)

The Luck of the Hakka

overcast 23 °C

After a hectic time on the peaceful paradise island of Gŭlãng Yŭ (sic) we took the bullet train through the mountains to visit the Hakka people in their homes near the city of Longyan. The Hakka were originally from northern China but fled south some seven hundred years ago to avoid wars and famine and, being very poor, they couldn’t afford proper houses so they built themselves huge blocks of apartments like this…
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Each of these ancient structures housed individual clans of as many as a thousand Hakka and provided safety from wild animals and marauders alike. Roughly 30,000 of these Tŭlόu survive in southeast China, although few date back to the thirteen hundreds, and most are still occupied…
Although traditionally circular in design some of the Tŭlόu are rectangular, but whatever the shape they all have one thing in common – they were built out of rammed earth. Amazingly, these massive dirt buildings have stood the test of time far better than many of the modern concrete ones we saw in India, although some of them need a bit of TLC…
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The Hakka lived a simple peasant life until fairly recently when someone realized that there was money in poverty and put out the word that to visit the Hakka's Tŭlόu would bring good fortune. Now even the President himself heads here to up his luck, and millions of Chinese tourists swarm the place in the hope of improving their health or wealth. It was good fortune for us that we stayed in the nearby city of Longyan so we could hit the road early and beat the busses. And what a road - eighty kilometres of newly completed super highway tunneling through miles of mountains interspersed with spectacular views of terraced rice paddies and tea plantations. We certainly beat the crowds and had the place to ourselves for awhile…
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However, despite the influx of tourists and designation as a World Heritage Site, the locals still appear to be very poor. Here’s the communal laundry and kitchen…
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And here are a few views of the dilapidated interiors…
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However, with a $15 visitor fee, and numerous other moneymaking ventures like tea ceremonies and extra charges for climbing their rickety stairs or peeping into their apartments, we can’t help wondering if it isn't lucky to be a peasant these days. After all there was no shortage of satellite dishes...
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Posted by Hawkson 05:46 Archived in China Comments (4)

Gŭlāng Yŭ - Recommended by Lonely Planet

sunny 25 °C

Travelling to far off places where we have limited language skill can be somewhat daunting without a guide, so we rely on The Lonely Planet to steer us in the right direction. However, a travel guide takes several years to compile and can be well out of date by the time it hits the street. Things are changing so rapidly in China that our latest edition of Lonely Planet could have been written in the last century. For instance, it advises us to take the high speed trains because the Chinese can’t afford to travel on them. Unfortunately for us no one told the Chinese this and, judging by the number of Rolex and Gucci stores, there is little the Chinese can’t afford today, including seaside holidays, as we discovered when we took the Lonely Planet’s advice to visit (Quote) “the sedate retreat” of Gŭlāng Yŭ island" off the coast near XiaMen. According to the book it is, (Quote) “well worth spending a few days soaking up its charm.” Ferries run every ten minutes, although there is no guarantee of getting aboard without some serious shoving...
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There has never been a line up like this for the ferry to our Canadian island and this should have been a warning, especially when we read that we would discover a tiny island with (Quote) “buckets more charm than, gasp, Xia Men.” Maybe some people find mayhem and McDonald’s charming – but not us…
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“There really isn’t anything quite like it anywhere else in China,” the Lonely Planet guide gushes with the breathless enthusiasm of a real estate agent, and maybe they’re right – but not down this street…
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We didn’t hear “The sounds of classical piano wafting along the meandering lanes and shaded warrens of backstreets," as the guide book said we would, before telling us that the island is nicknamed “Piano Island” by the Chinese." We only heard this guy pumping out Chinese pop on his trio of keyboards...
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"The best way to enjoy the island is to wander along the streets to catch a glimpse of colonial mansions before popping into one of the many cute cafes...," the Lonely Planet advises, but whoever wrote that has obviously not tried wandering through this mob...
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or eating at this restaurant...
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And then we discovered that Gŭlāng Yŭ is the backdrop for almost every wedding photographer in China. Dozens of brides each trailing an entourage of groom, cameraman, dresser, hairdresser, make-up artist and best boy, artfully blocked the view of every scenic spot on the island...
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We finally escaped it to the beach, knowing that it is not mentioned in our guide book, and hoped to find a peaceful haven like this...
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We were wrong - the crowds had found the beach before us without the help of Lonely Planet...
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Posted by Hawkson 23:43 Archived in China Comments (5)

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