Last Saturday was beautiful. I went for a ride over to the Muesum of Art, where they are having a Biennale, and took a few photos. And today is the most smoggy I have ever seen it, check out the difference in the pics taken in almost the same place.
Luckily for me there was one other guest at the hostel that weekend he was also planning on doing the national park for 3 days so I had a walking buddy, Carl from the UK. He had been in China for 6 months teaching English and his Chinese was pretty good so we practised our vocabularies as we walked…and walked and walked.. up a billion stairs.
Our first day in the park was cloudy and rainy so Victor suggested that we do the valley floor path which is very flat and an easy walk. We got to the park really early and it was so cold I had tights, tracksuit pants and jeans on…picture a human size starfish and then add some more padding.
We walked for a while with a Chinese tour group and then when they seemed to disappear and the incline was getting extreme I started to wonder if we were on the valley path at all. After about 2000 steps we stopped a passer-by and showed them our map. They pointed to an area of the opposite side of the park than where we thought we were. We were heading up the biggest set of stairs in the park. OH WELL! We continued on our adventure and did the whole park in the backwards order to what Victor had suggested but it didn’t matter, it was all amazing!
Today was sunny and the wind was warm. It took it as a sign that I should ditch the books and explore a new area of Guangzhou. I’m sick of markets, smelly ally ways and traffic so I headed to the Guangzhou Botanical Gardens. It was hen piaoliang…means very beautiful, I know this phrase because I hear it everyday 😉
See for yourself:
I decided to take myself on a little adventure this weekend. I’m so comfortable in the big city of Guangzhou now and I was itching to get exploring. It is now winter in China and it’s only going to get colder between now and when I leave. Therefore, I thought I better get to some more northern locations before it gets too cold. Having said that, where I went this past weekend wasn’t too far north, I went to Zhangjiejia, Hunan.
This is where is it, see blue dot above HK.
The national park here is the place that apparently inspired the movie Avatar, and it was even more beautiful in real life.
The funny thing is that we had looked into coming here in September but found that it would take 14 hours on the train so that’s when we decided to go to Yangshuo instead. But a few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about coming here and she told me you can catch a 2 and a half hour fast train and then a 5 hour bus to get here. So… just a bit better than a 14 hour train ride!
The fast train from Guangzhou took me to Changsha. It’s a big city in the Hunan province. I just stayed there one night in a hostel and then got up super early and got the bus to Zhangjiajie City. As soon as I got off the train in Changsha my nose turned to ice and stayed that way for a few days.
From Zhangjiajie City, I caught a mini bus up to Wulingyuan which is the town closest to the national park. By this stage I think the frost bite on my nose had set in. From reading about Wulingyuan and the area I expected the town to be much smaller. I think Lonely Planet even referred to it as a “village” but no, it’s a small city. I think this is going to be the case everywhere in China. As I keep getting reminded, everything is big and developed because…. der…1.3billion people!
Some snaps from Wulingyuan:
The town is mostly all hotels, restaurants and shops for the people visiting the national park. It was the off season but there was still a lot of people around. I found a hostel to stay at and even though I opted for the dorm room I had the room to myself (yay).
Interesting observation: people in this area don’t heat their house. I thought they might have fireplaces…but no. They just rug-up and deal with it. The one area that is heated is under the table. I noticed everyone was sitting around tables with what looks like knee blankets but what I saw was actually a table blanket. Under the table they have metal cylinder with coals in it and the table blanket keeps the heat in.
The Chinese guy at the reception, “Victor”, was really helpful and suggested that I spend what was left of the afternoon going to a beautiful lake, a tourist spot just down the road from the hostel, and then spend the next 3 days walking around the national park.
The lake was super touristy, but also really beautiful. They took us on a little cruise on a boat and a guide spoke in Chinese the whole time…I wonder what she was saying… Here’s a vid:
Missed me? I haven’t posted anything lately because I’ve just been settling into BAU (business as usual) life in China. Time goes fast when you’re in a routine. Mine includes these things (in no specific order): riding ma bike, going to class, eating noodles, making websites (I’m helping a friend with a new business and new website), eating dumplings, buying things on Taobao (Chinese eBay), researching places to travel (in China and afar), teaching my French flatmate how to cook (two minute) noodles (he thinks I’m a whiz in the kitchen – LOL), etc.
I’m past the half way mark in the semester. We had our mid-term exams a few weeks ago, which I went OK in. I’m a little worried that when I get back to Oz you are all going to expect me to be fluent in Chinese… haha… no that won’t be the case. But my vocab is growing 🙂
Here are some photos of my class.
A few weeks had passed by since my trip to the country side and I was very keen to get exploring again so last weekend I headed off again. Shenzhen is just an hour and 20 mins on the train from Guangzhou and I have heard good things about it. It’s a new city, very cosmopolitan with lots of young people. I leant from a new friend, who I met there, that the average age is less than 30 and they have a policy there that if you are older than 40 that you can’t buy some of the properties because you can’t “contribute” as much as younger people to society. Wow, that’s some interesting policy making. Sounds strange to a Sydney-sider, where no one under 30 can even afford to buy a house…
So anywhoo…I do want to spend some time in Shenzhen but it is also a city and I wanted to get out of the city this weekend so I decided to go further than Shenzhen to explore the Depeng Peninsula.
The location of Xichong, see blue dot:
I headed for a small coastal town called Xichong. I has read that it is “one of the most beautiful beaches because it was all natural”. Huh…are the other beaches not natural?
It was pretty easy to navigate the public transport network the whole way there from Guangzhou. I did cheat a little bit and caught a taxi/minivan with a couple of Chinese girls from Nan’Ao to Xichong because the guy was bugging us and it was only 10RMB each. Plus, it turned out well because when we arrived at the beach I hung out with the girls for a while speaking mostly Chinese, so it made up for me missing one class of school for. Of course we had to take selfies together.
They lived in Shenzhen and were just down in Xichong for the day. They didn’t like to swim or sunbake. They just wanted to sit under a beach tent and take in the scenery. So after I ran out of Chinese words to say to them, I left them to the shade and headed off to soak in the vitamin D.
So I’m glad to report that China does have beaches and they look like this:
The beach WAS beautiful and it was great to go for a swim and relax. I was the only westerner that I saw that day but the Chinese people didn’t take any notice of me. From Xichong you can see other islands and Hong Kong off in the distance. The sad thing was there was a lot of rubbish on the beach and in the water. It wouldn’t take much to clean it up. I’m puzzled at why they would leave it as is.
Ok! Time for the adventures in Xingping. It was my favorite place in China so far. The town and its surroundings are beautiful.
We walked from the raft drop off point through some farms and small towns and then we got to a lookout spot so famous that it’s featured on the 20 yuan note.
A little further we got to the bridge that leads into the town of Xingping. You can tell the town is old by the small alley ways and ancient architecture. It’s got a really nice chilled, hippy, backpacker vibe. There are lots of shops and market stalls for tourists but they sell cool stuff (jewellery, sarongs, bags etc). The middle of the town has lots of cafes and restaurants skewed to westerners, but if you go one block out you still easily find the Chinese restaurants with the $3 delicious eggplant-ness!
As soon as I arrived in this town I was so happy to be travelling again 🙂
So what did we do there?
(In no particular order, and all contribute equally to a fulfilling backpacker experience)
– played cards
– drank beers
– ate noodles
– climbed a mountain
– rode bikes
– swam in a river
Ok so maybe the last 3 were a little more exciting than the first.
I did the mountain climb at about 9am. When we got to the top it was pretty cloudy. We were in the clouds. So I sat up there for a while and the clouds started to lift and we got the most amazing views of the rivers and mountains.
Clouds starting to lift
Clouds be gone!
While I was up there I witnessed the funniest situation. There was a Chinese man (he was very nice and outgoing, and spoke to me in English, asking me where I am from etc) who was determined to get the picture of himself on top of the mountain possible. He bossed his friend and then his girlfriend around for about half an hour, instructing them on exactly how he wanted the shot framed and where to stand and what angle to take the shot etc. The he positioned himself like he was a model, trying different poses, looking out across the views. Even though he was bossing them in Chinese I could very much understand what was going on. I had to laugh at him, he didn’t mind. His friends, especially his girlfriend, were getting over it after a while and getting embarrassed but he didn’t care. They LOVE a selfie over here and there is no shame at all in taking a selfie or conducting a full personal photoshoot on top of the most glorious mountain. And of course, soon after he was happy with his happy snaps, then went back down the mountain.
When in Rome…
We headed out of town on our bikes and rode past farms and orchards. After a while we came across a river. It was full and flowing quickly from a few days of rain, covering the road. We rode our bikes over road/river and on the other side we met some Aussie’s taking a refreshing dip. We couldn’t join them quickly enough! It was soooo nice!! I was in middle-of-nature-slash-nowhere-slash-Asia heaven. So… I hangout by the river sunbaking for a while before we headed back into town.
It was so rejuvenating to get out of the city and do some exploring!
There is a national holiday here in China from the 1st to 7th of October. I’ve been likening it to our Easter long weekend because it is the time that everyone in the country either travels home to see their family or travels for a short holiday away. We had a week of no classes so decided to join the 1.what ever billion other people on their holidays.
We caught the fast train from Guangzhou to Guilin and it took around 3 hours. The train went around 250km per hour at times bit didn’t feel like it was going that fast really.
Looks just like the train emoji!
This is where Guilin is:
Our final destination was Yangshuo which is about 60-70kms south of Guilin. For the first few days of our trip it was rained constantly. It was a shame and a bit of a challenge but my travel buddies were all easy going and we were all in high spirits and just happy to be exploring, so it didn’t matter too much.
Before getting the bus from Guilin to Yangshuo we had a walk around the city. There isn’t that much to see in Guilin as it is just that, a big city. I saw these very strange looking fruits….
This fruit is actually grown in a mould to that it look like this:
There are some nice lakes and in the evenings they are lit up and there is a really nice atmosphere.
Selfie game very strong in China
When we got to Yanhshuo is was very BUSY! I thought it was going to be a sleepy holiday destination (I was dreaming of Byron Bay) but it was bustling. There were people everywhere waking around in the rain with their ponchos, they weren’t going to let the rain spoil their precious holiday, and either were we. There was a really nice atmosphere at night with all the street markets open late and people were enjoying themselves.
The next day in the morning when it got light, we could finally see a bit of the natural beauty of the area. The place it littered with these amazing rock mountains. There were everywhere, including surrounding our hostel room. We arrived in the dark the night before so we had no idea it was there.
We visited a tourist attraction where you could walk through one of the mountains into the caves. They lit up the insides with horrible coloured fluorescent lights and they even painted the inside of one cave entirely with gold glitter paint. GLAM caving!
They put on a bit of a “cultural show” after the cave tour …
After a few days walking around in the rain we celebrated with some beers and unidentifiable cocktails at some bars in Yangshuo. View of one of the rooftop bars. Georgia and I had a lot of fun hanging out with this ridiculously small dog. (Yes, I played with a dog… But it doesn’t count because it was ridiculous).
View from one rooftop bar to another
Being backpackers = playing cards in bars
I have heard that Yangshuo is awesome and that there is a lot to do there (bike riding, water shows, more caves, mud baths…) so I’ll have to go back again to check it out another time when it isn’t raining.
The next day we went for a cruise on a “bamboo” raft. As you can see it wasn’t made of bamboo. But it was the most fun thing to do! The views were amazing! Loved it.
We were dropped off a few kms before the town of Xingping. (I they did this so that we would buy things in the villages that we passed through). The walk from the drop off point to Xingping and this was one of my highlights of the trip. We passed farms, orchards, jungles, small towns… All the time with views of the rock mountains… The rain was starting to easy off…the clouds were parting… I got to take off my rain coat … I felt like Dorothy (again) following the yellow brick road and at the end was the emerald city of Xingping, my favourite place in China so far!
Next blog : Adventures in Xingping!
Just as I’ve finished telling (complaining) to you all that I have class everyday until the end of time, it so nicely happens that because of the mid-Autumn Festival we now have one week of no classes 🙂 To celebrate, I headed over to the Aussies place (Georgia and Aaron) for some beers and roof top hangs.
I rode my bike over and stocked up with watermelon and beers 🙂
But alas… it was a Liu Sha Bao (doughy bun with egg custard filling) disguised as a mushroom. Who knew! Still yum tho 🙂
Oh yeah.. and my dining buddies did enjoy the “water slugs” AKA snails (they said they were delicious and needed to pick them out of the shell with a tooth pick.
ps. Checkout these huge watermelons!
On the ride home I had to stop and take more photos of the moon and river.