2012-02-21

Kunming

I'm almost off on my next adventure, and I still haven't finished writing about the last one!

I got off the flight at Kunming and walked around for about 30 minutes trying to find a bus. Nothing. I then lined up for a taxi and managed to keep the line-pusher-inners at bay. When my taxi arrived, I handed him my travel book and pointed to where I wanted to go. He had to ask for directions from the nearest guard, but still didn't really know where I was meant to go.

I was dropped off on a street, got out my map and compass, and tried to figure out where I had to go. I stopped for a while under a streetlight until a man with a machine gun told me to move on. Apparently one isn't allowed to loiter outside a military compound. Eventually a kind local soul on a bicycle spotted me, and escorted me to the hostel (quite near where the taxi dropped me off, of course). He was a teacher in the local school just down the road from the hostel.

Checked in, washed up, went to the bar. I got chatting, and tried to figure out what I should get up to. I decided to go to a few temples, and parks.

The next day I packed up a bunch of stuff, mostly things like old maps and my telephone, and posted it back home (it arrived in Perth the same day I did). Then I went exploring. Kunming is a big city.

Green lake (nice), Yauntong temple, some restaurant that served 'cross the bridge' noodle soup (OK I guess), bird markets, and the old city centre. That was a lot of walking, but well worth it. There were a couple of shopping malls with awesome names like 'splendid' and 'brilliant', with the odd interspersed old medieval gates.

The next day I decided to venture to the attractions outside the city, namely the Bamboo Temple, and the Golden Temple Park. Getting to the Bamboo Temple was explained to me by the hostel staff, and I had a map with directions drawn on it. However, things did not go as planned.

I got off at where my instructions said I should, but there was no connecting minibus going anywhere near where I wanted to go. Some domestic tourists seemed to have the same idea as me, and I followed them up the road (a very, very busy road, underneath a very, very large underpass), until I missed them. Random taxis and motorbikes kept hassling me to take a ride with them, but I finally managed to track down a minibus that was going to the Bamboo Temple.

The Bamboo Temple is famous because it has a set of lifelike figurines. Apparently some monk went a little overboard, and made a lot of very intricate figurines, and to be honest they were very impressive. However, the rest of the temple has little else going for it. I then managed to hail down a minibus coming back the other way, but by the time I got into Kunming proper it was too late to go to the Golden Temple Park.

The next day I resolved to go to the Golden Temple park, and the Western Hills. Of course, the Golden Temple Park is massive, so I only managed to do that, and even then only just finished before nightfall. A great park, with a beautiful temple, and many, many sightseeing walks. It also has a large tower with a great view over Kunming (not a pretty city from up high).

When I got back to my hostel, the words of a domestic tourist in Yangshuo came back to me. The May festival was coming, and it would be hell to get around. I decided to get the hell out of Kunming, and go wait it out in Dali. A few buses, a runaround by a couple of girls, and an amazingly crowded minibus later, and I was in the old town of Dali, and it was good.

Pics!

2011-12-10

Yangshuo

Off the bus at Yangshuo, ignored the hordes of taxi drivers, and found my way to West Street. Holy hell it was busy! Managed to find the alleyway that had the hostel I had decided on, checked in and had a walk around.

So many bars! And stalls, and people! The immediate scenery however, was amazing. Canals down most streets, karst peaks everywhere you looked, and lovely parks. I had some street food, then headed back to the hostel and what became a nightly ritual, the rooftop bar. Cheap drinks, friendly and talkative staff,, a view over the river and nearby peak, and a decent number of other travelers to talk to. Bingo. After about three months of hectic travel and sightseeing, I decided to take a few days to just relax and have a holiday.

A few walks around the city, the nearby palk, down the Li river from Yangdi, and even a scooter ride around the nearby attractions. Stunning sights everywhere. However, on the scooter I did manage to hit a very large pothole and come undone. A visit to a local clinic and I had a very large bandage on my head for several days, followed by a very large scab, and even today a noticeable scar. Fun times!

However, the most memorable part of Yangshuo was the drinking. The rooftop bar shut at about midnight, so I would venture down to the now near empty streets and seek out other bars. The first night I ended up going to some random bar that I couldn't find again on subsequent nights, but where I did learn to play a popular dice game with the bar staff (neither of whom spoke very much English, so I was quite chuffed with myself). The main bar I spent most of my mornings at was Kaya bar, which was open until VERY late, run by very friendly staff, and was constantly pumping out reggae tunes. I met more than a couple of scoundrels at that bar :).

After about 5 days in paradise I was ready to move on. Booked a flight from Guilin to Kunming, said my goodbyes to the local bar staff, and got on a bus back to Guilin.

Guilin

I've decided to take the day off from writing, so I've got some time to do some writing! Herein lies my recollection of visiting Guilin.

The internet fora suggested to look out for a popular scam where the bus driver drops you off well away from the official bus stop for Guilin, and his taxi driver mates then charge you exorbitant fees to take you the rest of the way. Being wary of this, I put up a fuss when the driver dropped us off on the side of the highway, with no bus station in sight. Two Chinese girls also got off with me and asked me where I was going. A phone call later and one of them was escorting me on the local bus to my hostel!

After seeing me to my hostel, my guide waved goodbye and I checked in. Showered, changed my clothes, sought out the washing machine, then headed off into the night.

A pleasant walk down to the city centre, but I had trouble finding a beer at a decent price. There were also a lot of touts around trying to direct me to their bars and massage parlors. One particularly adventurous tout started progressed rapidly from 'foot massage', to 'massage', 'lady massage', before yelling out 'SEX?!' as I was walking away. Amazing.

Walked around some more, down past the quite pretty river front, and then back to my hostel. I then sat down to do some writing, and organising my future travels. I was up until about 2 am talking to the hostel workers about where to go, how to get there, and also picking up some more Chinese language skills.

The next morning I stepped out and went to the 7 Star Park. A cheap bowl of noodles, then I set off. The park is HUGE, and I took most of the day walking around, up and down hills, avoiding monkeys, and marveling at the natural beauty. I then went to some more of the parks around the city, but got sick of paying to enter each one. A walk around the city, taking in more sights, before heading down to the temporary street markets.

The city was pretty, and the parks and water features were delightful, but it was a bit of a let down after all the hype I heard from Chinese people I'd talked to before arriving. I decided to cut my stay short, and get on a bus to Yangshuo. At the bus station I was a bit confused, as the gate written on the ticket wasn't the correct one. An ex-pat Australian found me and directed me to the correct gate where he was also going. Had a chat, then boarded a full but comfortable bus. Nap time.

2011-06-04

FengHuang

'Where are you going next? Oh Fenghuang, the old city, very beautiful'

6 hours on a bus, checking every time we went through a town whether we had arrived at Fenghuang. At some point a guy got on the bus and started speaking to everyone through a portable PA attached to his belt. 'Fenghuang' could be discerned a few times, then we didn't see a town for another half hour.

It was dark, I asked the person next to me if the place we had just stopped (not a bus stop) was Fenghuang. 'Yes, Fenghuang old city!'. Excellent.

I got out, fobbed off the taxi drivers, and looked into my Lonely Planet for where I wanted to stay. I then showed the street name to a nearby shop owner, who then had to consult with his wife. It was decided that the street was over the bridge right in front of us, then a right. Wrong.

I went around, sat down, got out my compass and stared at the map. I should point out that I was doing this next to a beautiful river running through the town, with a wooden footbridge providing a point of reference, and neon lights adorning all the surrounding buildings completely puzzling me. Anyway, I had to go across the river, then down to the city walls, and some alleyway.

Well I walked around quite a bit, down quite a few alleyways, then I finally found the alleyway I wanted (thanks to the compass, I only got lost once more). The guesthouse was full. I was going off to my second option when, on a whim, I stopped in to a guesthouse on the same alley as the first and asked to see their room. It didn't overlook the river, but had two comfortable beds, a sit down toilet, a decent shower, a computer, and it was clean. I think it was 40 yuan for one night, I was sold.

Card with a map of the guesthouse in hand I set off to explore this strange 'old town' that for some reason was lit up more brightly than Macau. Up, down, around, constantly looking at my map. A few skewers of meat, asked by the stall dude whether I was muslim, over a bridge, a few photos, then I needed a drink.

The place was pretty packed with tourists, and there were quite a few bars. However, every single bar I went into ended up being for freaking kareoke. Given some artificial clappers, the crowd went nuts at everyone that dared get up and sing. I was tricked more than a couple of times by bars that had live bands playing. The live bands were there to play for the kareoke.

Bar hopping around, I walked up one street, near where the bus dropped me off, and past a hotel. A young lass rushed up to me and asked me if I wanted a massage. From the groping gestures she made with her hands, I suspected it wasn't a foot massage that she was offering. I begged off and went to find a bar with some decent music. I didn't find one.

On the walk back to the guesthouse (about 1 am), I passed many very drunk Chinese kids. The place was packed with Chinese kids, either in relationships, or looking to pick up. Anyway, a few of these kids made use of the nearby river to purge themselves, and I chuckled at them all the way back to my room.

In the morning I got up and decided I needed to know how the hell to get out of the town to Guilin. First taxi, 20 yuan. Steep, but I didn't know where the hell I was going. The bus station he dropped me off at claimed no knowledge of buses to Guilin, and after about 30 minutes of miming, I managed to get them to write down where I needed to go. Next taxi, 30 yuan! There were no other taxis in sight, nor any bus stops (near a bus station, I know), so I growled and got in. He did take me to the correct bus station, and I was able to buy a ticket for a bus to Guilin, departing the following morning.

Sick of taxis I decided to walk it back. Into a chemist and I pointed at my map, the ground, the bus station, general circles, but all I could get were questions on where I wanted to go. I eventually pointed to the centre of town, and they pointed me down the hill. Ten minutes later I was pretty much lost and hailed the next taxi I saw. This lady actually used the meter, and the trip cost me 3 yuan. For the rest of the day I swore at every taxi driver that accosted me.

Walked around the town, very quaint, pretty, beautiful river. Especially nice without all the LED strip lighting on every building lit up. Throngs of tourists (the vast majority domestic, I saw two Westerners my entire time in the town). I took a tout up on her offer of a boat ride for 30 yuan. Off down to the river, and on further some more, then into a boat where I was the only passenger. Pleasant ride down the river, with tourists in other boats waving and yelling hello at me all along the way. Half way, we stopped at a warehouse that was selling some fruit flavoured liquors. I tasted a couple, then the boat captain/driver/dude grabbed me, filled up two cups with some clear liquid, and gave me one. He downed about half of his in one go and smiled at me. I smelled it, a definite aroma of methylated spirits, and had a sip. God awful. I smiled, had a gulp, nodded when he gestured to his throat, then bought a gourd of the stuff so as not to look like a pussy. Sunk the rest of the death drink on the boat. Blergh.

Slightly tipsy, I got a human tuk-tuk ride back to the centre of town. I walked around the town for a while, getting lost occassionally. At some point I busted through to an entirely different area, with lots of other people, and interesting buildings. There was also a square with the same strange organised aerobics that I had seen previously in other cities. Wandered around some more, then my meat bag decided to impose itself on me. Time for dinner.

I popped into one little place that looked quite nice. I stood around, walked up to the staff, then followed one around for what felt like an eternity. They looked at me, then buggered off. I was about to leave when a customer pointed to a table, yelled at the staff, pointed at the table, yelled some more, then told me to please sit down. A waitress (she couldn't have been older than 12 years old) came up to me with a menu. I pointed at something at random and waited. She came back later, apparently they didn't have that. I pointed at something else, which they did have. Excellent. Also a beer, which was apparently hard to decide what to do with (I had to choose between the two they stocked).

In the end I had a quite nice, and very large, bowl of tiny shrimp in a chilli sauce, and some rice. During my meal a few customers got into a heated discussion with the owner. I don't think I chose the most reliable of resturaunts. Anyway, I paid, and left.

On my way back, I heard 'Anil!'. Looking around I saw the two ladies who helped me out on the train to Zhangjiaje. We chatted, then they introduced me to all their friends. I walked with them for a while, then decided I needed to sleep. Photo, back to bed, packed, slept.

The next morning I got a taxi to the bus station. The guy wanted 20 yuan, I said no and pointed to the meter, 3 yuan later I was at the bus station. Off to Guilin!

2011-04-28

Zhangjiajie

After around half an hour on the train I asked a lady if she knew how long it was to Jishou. About 5 am apparently. Rapture.

The lady and her friend then hassled me for a while asking where I was going, and why I was going to Jishou. After a while the language barrier intervened and they relented. I double checked my Lonely Planet, and the line that I remembered stating that there was no banks in Zhangjiajie actually said that there was no money changers in Zhangjiajie village (and went on to name the banks in the city).

I then went to the ladies and asked if I could pay extra and just carry on to Zhangjiaje. After a bit, they explained that Zhangjiajie is actually the stop before Jishou, which explains their wonder at me going to Jishou. I decamped at Zhangjiajie at 4 am.

With time to on my side, I ignored all the taxi drivers and searched the buses to get into the city. Some half an hour later I relented and went to the taxis. I got them down from 20 to 15 yuan. However, half way there the guy started up. He even rang the hostel to get them to talk to me. 20 yuan it was, but only after a lot of shouting. The driver did call up the hostel when I got there to ask the receptionist to come down and get me, so I guess that was nice?

Checked in at 5 am, set alarm for 8.30 am, got out of bed at 11 am. Oh well. Laundry, a new pair of trousers (from a supermarket, 100 yuan), and travel plans through to Guilin. I also got a shave with the world's most blunt cut-throat razor. Two people and about half an hour later the job was done, and pretty smooth it was. 5 yuan, but I would have paid more for a sharp razor (and less pain).

Into the park, I started walking up a peak. I then saw the route the cable cars were taking and quickly changed my mind. Up beautiful ride and I was up the top, and cursed with a thick fog, and some rain. However, on the other side of the peak the air was clear and the view took my breath away. I actually shed a couple of tears of joy, I cannot express highly enough how beautiful the scenery is.

Rushing through the hordes of tour groups, I went along the Golden Whip Stream, and up to the walk to Yangjiajie where I was spending the night. I was told it would take about an hour. It took two. I was also told that there wasn't another way up there, there is an escalator further up the Golden Whip Stream. I also wasn't told that the walk up is basically and ascent of the entire fucking mountain range.

In the end I got there, sweat pouring off me, and with aching calves. Letting out a shout of YES! I then ambled up the road to try and find a bus. The first lot of buses were going the wrong way (to the escalator), but was told to wander up a further 200 metres to the next station. There a lovely lady tried to get me and four others on any bus, but an officious fuckwit started shouting at her and ordered us to wait for the next bus. Next bus came, was crowded, and just sat there as a group of about 15 drivers stood around chatting and smoking. I just got up and left. One of the drivers yelled at me to get back on the bus, I didn't even respond, and just walked out. About 40 minutes later (and having a procession of around 10 buses pass me in about two minutes (that's some pretty good scheduling, you fucks) I got to the hostel! Shower and a beer, and I was asleep by 9 pm.

The next day involved a bus driver taking me to the wrong town, and another once dropping me off at the wrong stop. Apparently none of them understand the road maps I point at. Again the scenery was spectacular, and my fear of heights was becoming more manageable, but the 'One Step to Heaven' peak was still terrifying. I then went on another trail, which I thought was meant to take me on a loop back the hostel. Wrong.

Each step down, I reminded myself was a step I'd having to take back up. Thinking that it couldn't be THAT long I completed the trail. It ended back down the bottom of the range, I had to climb the fucking thing again! Oh, and it was also getting dark.

The first few people that saw me climbing up expressed alarm and tried to convince me to turn back. I was not to be deterred. I was making good speed, despite the howls from my calves, and thought I was about half way up 20 minutes in. Bzzzzt. After about an hour (so half the time of the previous day, thanks to not having my backpack on) I got to near the top, recognising a place name from my map, and managed to buy a bottle of water (I had run out about 30 minutes prior). Just then two sedan chair dudes came down and asked me to go for a ride. The quickly talked themselves down to 30 yuan, and I gave in. After about 10 minutes of an extremely bumpy ride they dropped me off near the road. One of them then asked me for another 10 yuan, intimating that I was fatter than he thought at first. Cheeky bastard, I walked off, through the developing rain, in the dark, back to the hostel (another 30 minutes).

The final day I got a bus up to the top of the area, and started descending down the mountain. A young Chinese guy started talking to me, and eventually followed next to me all the way down. I think he was happy to practice his English (which was pretty good). At the end, he helped me get a bus ticket to Funghuang, and then stuck around. Something about helping to the end. After about 30 minutes I managed to convince him and his friend that they really should leave, and I was left alone to drink some beer, write, and reflect on the amazing beauty I had witnessed in the previous three days.

Nanling National Park / Mt DanXia / HengShan

Wuzhishan/Nanling National Park

Trains are easy to catch. You go to the counter, buy a ticket, go to the gate, show your ticket, and board. Buses however do follow a multitude of routes, written in a foreign script.

In the transit stop of Shaoguan I ended up getting a taxi to the other bus station, where thankfully there was a ticket counter. Some hours later I arrived at Wuzhishan.

The hotel (Orange House) was quite nice, but a little basic. I stayed in the ranger's housing out the back, with a triple all to myself. I spent a day and a half walking around the trails up the mountains. Very pretty, but there was construction workers everywhere! They were upgrading the trails I was walking on, and the sounds of masonry saws was a little off-putting.

Definitely pretty, but skippable.

Mount DanXia

Looking for stuff to do around Shaoguan on the internet, I found Mount Danxia was highly recommended by fellow travellers, and a shortish bus ride from Shaoguan. Bus back to Shaoguan, worked out how to catch buses (write down Chinese characters for where you want to go and just show that to people), then on to Mount Danxia.

A tout grabbed me and took me to his hotel. I was walking off and he dropped the price to 70 yuan (from 100). I thought it was still overpriced, but check out was 4.30 pm the next day so not too bad after all.

Into the park, it very striking, but a fair bit of fog. And oh my shit, the heights! Scrambling up narrow and impossibly steep trails is one thing, getting back down is an entirely different proposition. I did overcome my fear, one step at a time, but it took a lot of effort. I also noticed that I was completely living in the moment, nothing like the fear of imminent death to focus the mind.

At one point a family of yokels all were taken with me, insisting on photo after photo in my presence. That got a tad annoying so I sat by an idyllic lake and let them go on ahead. This was only the start of people wanting to have photos taken with me, in every place I have been since. I pose, and the universe delivers others unto me at later times, eager to help me figure out where the fuck I am. It's not all bad.

HengShan

It was not to be. After saying 'Hengshan', the kid behind the counter at the rail station looked quizzical (an aside, he had very long and manicured fingernails, which matched a description in Anna Karenina I had read the previous night). I pointed to the Chinese characters of Hengshan and he exclaimed 'ahh, Shenghan!' exactly the same way I had just said it! Ticket in hand I boarded the train. About 15 minutes later I noticed that the ticket said Hengyuan. Fucker!

A nice lady, who had a toddler that was enamoured with my beard, helped me out told me that there were no buses from Hengyuan to Hengshan at that time of night. She organised a taxi, but that was going to be 170 yuan, I balked. Up to the train station, and after a while of wandering around a young lady came up and helped me find the ticket station. Train to Hengshan left at 3am. 'Fuck!' I muttered, to the amusement of a couple of bystanders. I then decided to try Jishou, on my way to Zhangjiajie. I forgot to check what time it was getting in, and boarded a 21 carriage train to find my crowded hard sleeper.

Shenzhen/Guangzhou

Shenzhen

A ride on the train from Mong Kok, and shortly later I was in the PRC. Quickly through customs, I caught the metro to an electronics shopping mall to buy a laptop. It was a bit hard to find, but I got there in the end. It is quite impressive, electronic components of almost imaginable variety on sale by a variety of vendors. Hungry, tired, and a little hung over, I struggled, and eventually saw a laptop that looked adequate. I am pretty sure all the other ones were one floor up, but I was beyond caring. The Sony Vaio knockoff booted my Ubuntu memory stick, and I paid 1280 yuan.

Back to the metro, then on to Guangzhou.

Guangzhou

What a shithole. I also got duped by some 'taxi bookers', who charged me about 4 times that actual cost of a taxi for a private car. They also told me that the metro would involve about 3 changes to get where I wanted. Lies. It was one line all the way! However I was tired, hungry, and grumpy, so just got into the car (after spending 10 minutes explaining where I wanted to go). The trip took about 30 minutes, and the fucker of a driver whinged at the end that he wanted more money because it was so far away. I bluntly said no and walked off.

Checked in, installed Ubuntu on the laptop only to find out that the power management does not work, so the battery only lasts 1 hour, and the machine hangs instead of shutting down. A new custom kernel should fix this, but pretty hard to do with the slow internet connectivity.

My first attempt to order food in the PRC ended with me accidentally ordered enough Mapo Doufu for a family of eight. Very tasty.

The city itself is incredibly polluted, and the haze/smog is visible within 10 metres. The river side is nice enough, but spoiled by the aforementioned pollution. Shamian Island is very pretty.

I also got a one hour chinese massage for my back and shoulders. This ended with me having a very sore neck for the next couple of days, but all the knots in my back were worked out.