We took a bus to Xian airport and had an internal flight to Guilin. It took a couple of hours and was pretty uneventful. We arrived in Guilin at 7.30 and were greated with illuminated plastic palm trees - very Vegas - and 33 degree heat - now that's more like it! We had an hour and a half drive to Yangshou (the town we're staying in)... Even though it was dark, the scenery was amazing. Out of the darkness loomed these huge shadows -the limestone karsts that we have visited today (Mon). There were loads of people sitting outside their houses having dinner, playing cards etc. It was fantastic having an insight into Chinese life. All of the houses seem to have their living rooms on the ground floor and all of them are open onto the street. It was great seeing people watching TV and getting on with family life. There didn't seem to be any difference for people who lived in grand town houses or cobbled together shacks. We arrived in Yangshou and found our backpacker hostel - not bad, 2 double beds in each room and a lot comfier than the places we've stayed so far. The town is really lively, full of street stalls selling food, clothes and nick-nacks. Debs' lack of shopping really showed, eyes on stalks! We ate at the restaurant next to our hotel. We tried the local speciality Beer Fish - the fish is made to swim in beer for a few days before it gets caught and cooked. But didn't try the Bamboo Rat, Snake or dog that's on the menu!
Up and out again. We went on a 20km bike ride today through the countryside. The views were spectacular, absolutely breathtaking. The paths wind through the landscape which is covered in towering limestone pillars. They are absolutely huge. We cycled through little villages (and saw someone bringing their freshly killed cat dinner home), crossed a river on bamboo barges, stopped at a framers house for dinner. Matt watched the farmers wife catch, kill and cook 'Betty' - our delicious chicken dinner. On the way home we stopped at 'Moon Hill', one of the lmestone pillars and climbed the 806 steps (200m up) up to the top where we had views over the countryside - winding river, picturesque villages etc etc - more pictures to bore you with!!! It has been fantastic to get out of the city and see more of 'real' China - and have some warm weather too.
Back to the five star dumpling house for more Dim Sum. A little bit trickier this time, without our local guide, being presented with a totally chinese menu which didn't even have any pictures to help us! We opted for the Dumpling banquet - 60Y (about 3 pounds) per person. We had a selection of 'appetisers' - including some strange yellow jelly strips, fish, and a bird - head and all... we managed to try most of the stuff (although the birds head was more involved in photo opportunities rather than being eaten!) and then had about 20 different types of dumpling, soup (Matt and I got 2 dumplings each this time - double joy for both of us) and some melon. Feeling full and ready to take on the world we walked to a Chinese club to check out the nightlife. It was pretty much like any Western nightclub - although it takes about half an hour to just order and get a drink! There were some businessmen paying for the attention of beautiful young girls but everyone seemed to be having a good time. With beers at 30Y we only stayed for one and caught a taxi back o the 'hotel'.
Nothing to get up for today so we had the luxury of a lie in! Although not much of a luxury considering how uncomfortable the beds are! It's still pouring hard so all we've managed to do is pack up our stuff, get KFC for breakfast/lunch (I know it's crap but sometimes you can't face rice, noodles and veg for breakfast, lunch and dinner) and come to the Internet cafe. This afternoon we fly to Guilin and then go onto Yangzhou (I think) where we'll see some of the countryside. the lonely planet has advised us that the traditional dishes of the region are snake soup, cat and rat washed down with snake bile wine - no there's something to look forward to!
Saturday - off on another adventure today. After an hour an half's journey out of Xian...
an adventure in itself, how do you fit 5 cars into 2 lanes? They seems to manage it with a lot of honking but somehow we got there...saw lots of locals on the way, selling pomegranates fresh off the trees, transporting pigd by tying them onto wheelbarrows and sitting out having breakfast
...the site is huge and the most western/organised looking tourist attraction we've been to. The warriors were discovered by a farmer (who now sits signing autographs in the gift shop) in 1974. 4 pits have been excavated so far but the public can only visit 3 of them. Our guide told us that over the next 20-30 years they plan about 6 more pits and hope to develop the technology to open the tomb of the emperor. Legend has it that it is surrounded by a lake of mercury - thankfully we're drinking bottled water (although seeing as the most available brand is the Coca Cola filtered water maybe we'd be better off with the mercury!). Pit 1 is the largest, containing over 6000 soldiers, it is quite an unbelieveable sight to behold. The soldiers vary from 1.80 - 1.96cm in height. Each one looks different, weighs a different amount, has different clothes etc etc. You can't really appreciate the sheer emormity of it from any TV programmes... don't worry, we'll bore you with the pictures! You can get within about 6 feet of the outside warriors. The 2nd pit showed a few of the warriors with the coloured paint still on them. All of the warriors and horses were painted before being put into position but when they are excavated the colour disappears within a couple of hours of being in contact with the air (not surprising considering how polluted it is!). This is also something they are working on sorting out so that more of the colour can be preserved. The 3rd pit shows the excavation work in progress. The warriors were placed in 'buildings' with wood timbered roofs. These have been fossilised with the warriors beneath them and so they are working slowly and carefully to dig away the dirt to reveal the wonders below. We also saw some of the weapons that hadn't been plundered by villagers and peasants - incredibly they had been chrome plated (how fashionable!) - quite amazing considering this wasn't invented until 1930 by the Germans and the 1950"s by the Americans! All this 2200 years ago. This afternoon Matt went to visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda - a huge structure (10 storeys high) in a flat part of the city in the suburbs of Xian. Its a buddhist temple and is the home of 'Monkey Magic'! Much fun had by all the boys there! Sadly no Kung-Fu impressions. We're off out for more Dim Sum now (Debs will try not to spill soy sauce all over her shirt today - we'll tell you the story sometime).
Thursday - Another early start (this is meant to be a holiday!) - off to Tianneman Square and the forbidden city. We're getting used to Beijing traffic and so the taxi journeys now seem less scary - although walking across the raod is a different matter, as long as you keep at a constant pace (and stay looking forward) then everything goes around you. The Sq is huge, a million people can fit in! The huge picture of Mao is there and there are literally thousands of people pouring into his mausoleum to pay their respects. Unfortunately we didn't have time to go. The square was packed with people (mostly Chinese) although some of our group had been there at 6 am to watch people flying kites and doing their Tai Chi. We went into the Forbidden City - closed to the public until the 1950's. It is almost a kilometre long and was the place that the emperor, his wives and concubines lived. At the entrance we all stood, amazed by the architecture and everytime we went through another gate it got more and more spectacular. It must have been such a sight for the Chinese peasants when they finally got to see inside the gates! It was sooo crowded though and the heat and smog made it incerdibly tiring. If we'd had the time and energy we could have climbed a hill outside of the Forbidden City and looked down on it in its entirity - I'm sure there will be some postcards somewhere showing that! We headed back to Be There Or Be Square for lunch (creatures of habit that we are)and then tried in vain to find an Internet cafe - no luck but saw more of the town but narrowly missed out on the market selling live scorpion kebabs and snake meat, still I'm sure we'll make up for that in the not too distant future! Then it was back to the hotel to collect our stuff and off to the train station for our overnight journey to Xian (550 miles - 14 hours - away). The station was busy but we'd got reserved bunks and thought we might be heading for a cosy cabin to lock ourselves into for the night. We'd even bought some bottles of wine to go with our instant noodles for dinner - a bit of luxury on the Oriental Express. How wrong we were. The cabin was an open train carriage but instead of seats there were sets of 6 bunks. No doors on the cabin, no frilly curtains to pull for a bit of privacy and no real matress... The carriage was full of locals settled in for the night and I guess we all looked pretty shocked and a bit scared when we first walked on. Once we moved about a bit so that we were all together and there weren't any Chinese people having to share our bunks we settled in for the night. The nice man selling cold beer for 30p for 630ml kept Matt happy (infact the boys drunk all of his stock!) and it wasn't as bad as we had first thought. The journey was bumpy (probably people wandering onto the tracks and being squashed !-)) but we survived - we even trecked the 10 carriages to 1st class for a proper toilet (you try squatting on a moving train!) The alarm call was a 5am spitting bonanza - nice. How can one nation have so much phlegm? It's revolting and not something we will ever get used to!
Xian is as busy as Beijing and it seems to be filled with even more smog. Our hotel is in the middle of the town. Once we had checked in and showered we headed for breakfast and had the 'real' chinese thing - carrot and chilli, random parcels of meat and strange sweet fried patties. What no cereal?! We met our new guide who took us to the ols walled city of Xian. It was built in the Ming or Ching dynasty (Not too sure which, it's all a bit confusing). The walls are about 10m high and you can cycle along them. We hired a tandem and rode 6km - not bad after about 5 hours sleep - along the wall, there would have been some spectacular views but after about 30 minutes, the fog/smog had descended and the visability was down to a couple of hundred metres. We climbed down the wall and headed into the old town for lunch. We had Dim Sum at Xians most famous restaurant - absolutely delicios. We tried lots of different types of Dim Sum and then had some noodle soup - the tiny dimsum are cooked inside it at your table. This involves a big pot of soup in the middle of the table and a huge fire burning underneath it. When the fire goes out, it's ready to eat. The soups put in bowls and you have to see how many Dim Sum you have - the number has different meanings. Matt had none -this meant better luck next time. Debs had 2 -this was double good fortune ;) After that we walked into the Muslim Quarter of the city. We visited the Grand Mosque, a builsing that was built in 782. It was very pretty there, lots of ornate carvings and we arrived in time to see all of the muslims flocking to prayer ( and being told off for being late and turning up without their hats!) We wandered through the markets and went into some old officials buildings - where the most important family in the town lived about 400 years ago. The place was just a tiny doorway in an alley but once you stepped through there were about 30 buildings linked by gardens and pathways. We're out for more local cuisine tonight and then off to the Terracotta Warriors tomorrow. If we can face the heat of this Internet Cafe we'll head back here tomorrow to update this.
Also, for all of you who think we're sunning ourselves in this beautiful country, we seems to have brought the gold old British weather with us because it has rained every single day!
Following an hour on the tarmac at Heathrow we took off and had a good flight to Beijing, BA were good enough to provide us with space, food and plenty of films and the time passed pretty quickly. The pilot managed to burn extra fuel to make up the delay time and we arrived as expected. We managed to get into the country, collect our bags and even sign our way onto a bus heading into the city. Only 3 of us Westeners on the bus! We arrived at a central(ish) bus stop - although to us it seemed in the middle of nowhere. We were greeted by about 30 chinese people offering us taxis. We jumped in and had a mad taxi ride to our hotel... there don't seem to be any traffic laws in Beijing - bikes, buses, pedestrians and anything else on the road vies for space in the lanes (up to 6 of them). There is no right of way or side of the road to drive on (or so it seems). We took a detour to a random hotel and eventuallyarrived safely at ours. Despite all the warnings about how to deal with jetlag we ended up sleeping for a couple of hours before heading off to meet our group. Everyone seems really nice - although we're the only 2 Brits, the rest are Aussies - but I guess this is training for the rest of our travels!After a quick run through of what we're up to we headed out to a local restaurant for our first 'proper' chinese food. Our guide ordered for us and we had Peking Duck and an assortment of other things (Matt even got potato!!!) the food is prettysimilar to Chinese food at home only nicer - although we did see pigs trotters, hearts and some unknown body parts sitting warming nicely on a dish outside the restaurant.
Wednesday - our first real day (although the jet lag is definately kicking in!) We were up at 6.30 to leave for the Great Wall ofChina at 7.30 - about 1 1/2 hrs from our hotel. The city ios vast and very polluted, the white smog covers the distance and even on the Great Wall you can't see for miles. It's a shame because this place would be absolutely breathtaking if you could get a long distance view - no panoramic phoots! The Wall itself is amazing, just looking at the structure and wondering how on earht they managed to build the thing, it wiggles forwards and backwards across the mountains and in some places it looks as though there are 2 or 3 walls running parallel. Apparently this was done to confuse the monguls. The wall was very steep and a combination of lots of different sized stairs and steep flat slopes to climb. Pretty scary at times. We were there for 2 hours and walked 1.4 km. There were fantastic views of the mountains and surrounding countryside, if only we had the digital camera we would bore you with pictures, you'll just have to wait for our return. Matt's knee survived too - just! We had lunch and headed to the Ming Tombs - possibly the most boring attraction in the world, although we had no guide to take us around so perhaps with a little more info we would have been slightly more excited by it. Not much to see except pictures of famous chinese people who have visited - and the Queen. Although on the way out there seemed to be the museum full of artefacts (too late by then though - doh!)That evening we headed into Beijing for a look around their shopping Mall and some food - ate at 'Be There Or Be Square' an award winning food place - 2 pounds a head!