Well, where did that year go? I can´t believe that I am about to write our final blog and that our year away is almost over.
We started the China section of our trip in the southern city of Nanning. Crossing the border between Vietnam and China was fairly straightforward apart from the utter chaos of people pushing and shoving at the Vietnam departure window. The temperature difference between Hanoi which we left that morning and Nanning was massive so we were shivering in our summer togs when we arrived at the bus station. Then it was the challenge of getting a taxi to our hostel but fortunately we had printed out the directions in Chinese so after a few tries we managed to find someone to take us.
The hostel was good and the first proper hostel that we have stayed in for ages. It was very quiet though with only two other guests staying. We didn´t see a lot of Nanning as we were only staying for one night but it looked like quite a nice city, extremely western in comparison to Vietnam with massive skyscrapers and shopping centres, we hadn´t really seen that kind of cityscape since Bangkok and it felt quite familiar which wasn´t what I was expecting from China.
The next day we caught the bus to Guilin again with the help of instructions written in Chinese (essential if you are going to be able to get anywhere). The bus journey was fine but getting a taxi to the guesthouse in Guilin was a bit of a challenge as the directions that we had written down appeared not to make any sense to the taxi driver. This meant that we were a little stuck not being able to communicate with her at all. After half an hour of pointing and phonecalls we got to talk to someone who spoke some English and managed to get to approximately where we needed to be. We paid far too much for the journey but we felt like we didn´t have a lot of options seeing as she had used up all the credit on her phone and spent half an hour sorting it out!
Guilin is a very attractive city surrounded by limestone peaks and with several lakes and the Li river running through it. We didn´t get up to much there but walked up Solitary Beauty Peak for a view of the city, had coffee at a Lord of the Rings themed cafe and went out for an interesting dinner at a local restaurant which contained something disgusting but neither of us are quite sure what it was. We also saw a little fluffy grey hedgehog in a cage outside a restaurant waiting to be eaten, note that we didn´t feel as sorry for the chicken in the cage below it.
After a couple of days in Guilin we took a boat ride to Yangshuo. It was very beautiful scenery but the weather was a bit pants which took the edge off a little. We went for a walk to try and find the local market where apparently you can see dogs being skinned but it was what is known as a Lonely Planet goose chase. We went out of a ghoulish fascination but weren´t too upset when we couldn´t find it. We also watched the Shanghai Grand Prix on TV with the commentary in English on our laptop from BBC´s Five Live radio station. The radio commentary was about 20 seconds ahead of the Chinese TV coverage, goodness knows why but probably just in case someone had an opinion about something which the Chinese goverment didn´t like. It was quite annoying but at least you knew what action to be looking out for. Then it was time for the Lonely Planet goose chase part 2 when we decided to hire a tandom bicycle and go and see the Dragon Bridge. We got hopelessly and utterly lost and ended up in this little rural vilage where we had to point at the Chinese words in the guide book at which point the lady we asked for directions just laughed hysterically at us and pointed back in the direction we had come from. We sort of gave up trying to find the damn bridge then but we did get to see some people gutting some chickens. It is quite amazing how big a difference there is in lifestyle between the city dwellers and the people who live in the countryside. It was like travelling back in time a couple of centuries. The cities are so commercial and developed and the villages so basic.
It was time to leave beautiful Yangshuo and instead of a 22 hour train journey we decided to fly to Shanghai where we stayed in a beautiful building with a vastly overpriced restaurant. We discovered that Chinese people can be really friendly and helpful. If we stopped for just a second to look at a map someone would be trying to help us find our way. There are also quite a few scammers about though. We were asked to a tea ceremony by three youngsters who said that they were students, we declined and I felt a bit guilty about saying no but as it turned out you are better off trusting your instincts sometimes as apparently this is a well-known scam where they take you to a tea house and then you get charged a ridiculous amount of money for it.
In Shanghai we went to The Bund and on the trippy tourist tunnel which is a subway full of psychedelic lights. David also persuaded me to go to the Science & Technology Museum which was awful and none of the interactive stuff worked. David did play Table Tennis against a serving machine which totally and utterly beat him and we saw lots of sad fish in the “enviromental” display.
Then it was the train to Beijing, during which David spent most of the trip talking to a really friendly chap from Delhi and I mainly listened to my iPod. We went first class and it was a very nice train. We arrived in Beijing after ten hours and with heavy rucksacks to be greated by lots of pushing and shoving which was not the best (I am going to need manners rehabilitation when I get home so if I push past you and then burp in your face please don´t be offended, I will however draw the line at spitting). We arrived at our guest house only to be told that the double room we had booked wasn´t available and we had to stay in a grotty twin room which was a cross between a prison cell and a Victorian asylum. I was not impressed but cheered up considerably when I realised there were kittens around – two of which fell asleep in my lap. You can´t beat kittens for cheering yourself up.
We went to Tiananmen suqare and The Forbidden City the next day which was alright. The Forbidden City was much like other places we have visited along the way but I´m sure that it would have been impressive if it was your first. The Great Wall was more interesting and the countryside surounding it very pretty. We went for a 10k walk along it up lots of steps again! Then David absolutely had to go to the Apple Store which is in a very posh shopping area where he thought he was going to get a bargain on a Macbook Pro and was seconds away from getting the credit card out but it turned out to be the old model. After this disappointment we decided to have some Peking Duck at a restaurant near our hostel. It was yummy even the bits of bone and neck served up with chilli was good. We ended up getting a bit tipsy and chatting with people at the hostel until one in the morning.
We sort of ran out of things to do in Beijing (deciding against the Summer Palace because we think it would be too much like the Forbidden City and numerous other places we have visited) so we decided to go to Beijing Zoo. Bit of a mistake, the Pandas seemed happy enough and it was nice to see them, but the rest of the place was a hole. We got to the big cats before deciding to leave when we saw the Lions surrounded by plastic water bottles which people must have thrown at them. We also saw people throwing pebbles at the Tigers. Not very nice.
Now it is our last day and we are back to sunny England tomorrow, won´t that be strange?
Looking forward to seeing you all.
Lots of love Sian (and David) xxx