A Travellerspoint blog

August 2014

A taste of Tibet, China

Kangding and Tagong

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We had been recommended travelling to Western Sichuan province by a previous backpacker we'd met. We would have loved to travel this area for longer but again we've ran out of time therefore have only managed to visit Kangding and Tagong.

We stayed at a beautiful little hostel called Zhilam in Kangding that is decorated with bright coloured throws, lanterns and beautiful embroidery. We loved it even more because they served French wine...and yes we had a bottle! We had a fairly chilled day there really; walked up to the top of a mountain viewing spot and then watched a local school performance competition. The kids were amazing, all dressed up in bright coloured costumes and dancing to traditional Tibetan music. We then had a lovely afternoon relaxing back at our hostel, drinking wine, eating food and chilling out...bliss!

The hostel helped to arrange our onwards trip to Tagong; organising transport, accommodation and guide for two days. Tagong is most definitely Tibet rather than China. It's like the wild west, with local men in traditional hats and women in brightly coloured head pieces and long coats. It's also much colder and wetter than anywhere else we've been in China. There was quite a lot of cloud cover when we were here but you could occasionally see the snow capped mountains in the distance.

On our first day our guide took us on a trek to visit the Tibetan Nomads that look after the yaks on the grasslands. The only problem was that I appeared to struggle adjusting to the altitude. The top of the mountain was 4000m above sea level. I had to stop every 10 steps and felt like my lungs and head were bursting with the effort. A fellow backpacker gave me some tablets and the lovely Tibetan lady at our hostel gave me some Chinese medicine...I was willing to try anything! The next day I felt much better, the only side effects I had were an unusual pins and needles feeling across my face, it made me feel like I had a beard.

Seeing the Nomads was so interesting. The lady was really friendly; she welcomed us into her tent, offered us yak milk tea, yak cheese and some weetabix type stuff. They basically live off yaks; their fur, meat, milk, poo for the fire. The scenery on the top of the mountain was beautiful, although a little cloudy, with wild flowers and yaks covering the grasslands. I felt too rough to do anymore that day and wanted to rest to make the most of the second day there.

The guide met us in the morning and took us to the nunnery and monastery on his motorbike. Wow! I can't explain and fully do this place justice...the ambiance and scenery was like nowhere I've ever been before. There was a festival there at the time and lots of locals, nuns and monks were attending a celebratory service and prayer. There were loads of flowers and brightly coloured flags. As well as huge prayer wheels that we walked around clockwise three times, which is typical for Buddhist Tibetans to do. The locals are so friendly, all greeting us with 'dash-ee-de-lay', which is hello in Tibetan and huge smiles and rosey cheeks. As we were wandering around the eagles came out and soared above us in the clouds, there were 12 of them at one point, absoloutly huge! They don't live far from the nunnery because they live from the sky burials that take place there. Our guide explained that when local Buddhists die they have a burial up on the mountain where their bodies are given back to nature. The bodies are cut and offered to the eagles as food. We didn't get to see a sky burial but other people we met did and said it certainly was an experience. The whole place just had this special 'feel' about it...beautiful!

Our guide then took us for a walk in the forest, where he says there are bears, wolves and even tigers (he once saw one when he was younger). He grew up in a Nomad family and knew the area well. We walked through wild herbs and flowers, ate wild strawberries, foraged for mushrooms and he picked roots for Chinese medicine (that he could sell on and make some money). The only wildlife I saw was a grouse and millions of mosquitos...I got so many bites on my face again! Our guide also said we could hear wolves, but to be honest it sounded more like dogs.

The place where we were staying was very basic, but the lady owner was lovely. She cooked our foraged mushrooms for us in garlic, ginger and chilli. Delicious! We did have one moment of panic when she was cooking the mushrooms and she asked a fellow backpacker to translate "how do they know these are safe to eat?" What?! We thought she cooked and ate these all the time. Well we're still alive!

We've loved our two days in this Tibetan area of China. It felt in no way Chinese at all. They speak another language and still have very traditional lifestyles. This is what gives it its charm. It'It's a shame we only had two days here because apparently this area of China only gets better...

Additional note: Jason took the photograph of the baby's bottom. We have never seen so many bare bums. The Chinese toilet train their toddlers by having open bottom trousers on so that they can squat and do their business with ease. Yes, this means you often see kiddies squatting in the streets having a wee! Lovely!

Posted by bloorsontour 20:28 Archived in China Comments (4)

Chengdu

Panda time...amazing!

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We both needed a sleep after our horrible train journey to Chengdu. After the well deserved nap I felt reenergised to hit the shops, the global centre, the biggest (by mass) building in the world. The global centre has a water park,hotel,shops and restaurants all under one roof. It was massive. The only thing I was allowed to buy was a chocolate ice cream, mango smoothie and beef sizzler plate...no clothes. We spent the afternoon just wandering around this Asian super-building.

The next day was panda day! I have been so excited to visit Chengdu Panda sanctuary. We had been advised to get there early because that's when the pandas are at their most active and also because they are often taken inside in the afternoons if the weather is too hot (which it was). We definitely got there for the best bit. As soon as we got our tickets we dashed to the delivery suite. There were baby pandas in incubators and in a cot. Absolutely amazing! They are tiny, apparently 1/1000th of the size of a fully grown panda and born bald, blind and cannot walk until they are 6 months old. We then wandered around the park and saw panda cubs eating a bamboo breakfast, sleeping in the trees and even mischievously acting up when the rangers were calling them back into the enclosure. The full size adult ones are huge! They really are beautiful animals and would recommend a visit to the sanctuary to anyone.

We had the morning in the park and then needed to catch a 7 hour bus to Kangding. We have another night booked in Chengdu in a couple of days so will hopefully see more of this city then.

Posted by bloorsontour 05:06 Archived in China Comments (2)

Lijiang

The ups and the downs

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Lijiang is a very popular tourist area for the Chinese as there's a beautiful old quarter with historic buildings, temples, souvenir shops and restaurants. We spent a lot of time wandering through the old quarter and having coffee stops. You can find some nice areas with boutique shops and posh guesthouses if you wander away from the main square. We also hunted out an Indian restaurant too,which gave us our curry fix. Overall I would say its worth a quick stop, but there are better places to see traditional Chinese architecture in a less touristy area.

In one of the tea houses we made a mistake by asking for some advice about booking plane/bus/train tickets to Chengdu. Somehow the shop owner ordered a 30hour bus ticket from Lijiang to Chengdu. We then got stuck with an indecisive 16year old Chinese student, who had helped with the ticket buying in the coffee shop, and wanted to hang out with us for the day. At first we though "great, somebody to show us the ropes", but it became quickly clear that that wasn't going to happen. Nevermind...I think he enjoyed his day with us.

We'd finished our sightseeing in Lijiang and were most definitely ready to move on...then we had a transport disaster!!!!!! We missed our bus...not our mistake...the public bus didn't turn up for over an hour instead of every 20 minutes and then no taxi driver would take us to the bus station! Ggrrrrr! We have had numerous times where taxi & bus drivers won't help us because we are Westerners.... so frustrating. We were limited with what to do next, we had to get to Chengdu and the only way was to get on an 8 hour overnight train to Kunming (luckily in a hard sleeper bed) and then a further train from Kunming to Chengdu for 22hours in a seat.

We had a few hours to kill between missing the bus and catching the train, neither of us were in the mood to do much, but luckily found a posh restaurant with amazing food, free WiFi and plug sockets to charge our tablet for the long train journey. The waiter used a translation app to convert Chinese to English...this proved quite entertaining. Firstly he said "wait one moment like Kazakstan" and then he turned to Jason and said "beautiful guy, you want food and drink". We spent the afternoon eating, skyping and internetting. We both felt much happier.

Then came the trains...it was the worst journey so far! It was long, uncomfortable and found many of the people really rude. I was stared at the whole way by a women, whilst being surrounded by people that think its OK to spit, drop litter and shout on a train! Not happy! Neither of us got any sleep.

Let's hope Chengdu was worth the journey.

Posted by bloorsontour 04:45 Archived in China Comments (1)

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Totally worth the 28 bends

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Jason managed to persuade me to trek the Tiger Leaping Gorge and although it was hard I'm glad he made me do it.

We chose to stop at the beginning of the gorge at Jane's Guesthouse in Quiatou (pronounced Chow-tow). There's not much there really so we spent time watching The Wire series again. It meant the we could have an early start and ensure we completed the first part of the walk in daylight. We set off at 8.00am and gently strolled up to Naxi guesthouse so that we could get some breakfast. Mine was lovely...a vegetable omelette and mint tea. But Jason chose maize porridge, which was awful. I don't know how he finished it, but he did through politeness.

The next part of the walk was the challenging bit...28 bends!!!! Its a series of winding bends that are so steep and it was really warm too (my poor nose got sunburnt again!). You could opt to be taken up on a mule, but jason convinced me that it would be an achievement to complete the walk instead. I had to stop on every bend for a rest but I did it. From there its a beautiful walk to the Halfway point where you can spend the night. You are walking amongst cloud cover at times, high above the gorge, with spectacular mountainous views. Its really worth all the effort of the climb. I hope the photos give a sense of it.

We stayed at a new place called Come Inn at the half way point. It won us over with its terrace views. We were also lucky because they only had dorm rooms left when we got there, but we ended up having a 6 bedded dorm to ourselves so it was like having an ensuite room anyway. The owners wife cooked us a lovely stir fried pork dish for our tea too. Would definitely recommend.

I thought the next day was going to be a bit easier...how wrong I was! The first part was fine, a downhill 2 hour walk to Tina's hostel...a breeze. We had a quick drink and then Jason wanted to go and explore the very bottom of the gorge, where the myth says the tiger lept over the white water. OMG...I should have known better...the walk down to the river was steep and long and I should have considered how I was going to get back up. It took 40mins to get down and over an hour to get back up. I completely freaked out trying to climb back up because you have to climb up 40 metres of ladder unharnessed and half way up I froze. My legs turned to jelly and I couldn't turn around. Eventually I got up, very slowly! Even Jason admitted that he had underestimated how steep it was.

So that was the gorge...challenging, beautiful and most definitely worth it!

Posted by bloorsontour 04:11 Archived in China Comments (0)

Dali, Yunnan province

Tasty mal a tang

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So the flight to Kunming was a dream; on time, spacious and food included. We didn't have long in Kunming before we took an overnight train to Dali. A lot of travelling, but I guess you have to be prepared to do that to get anywhere in China.

Our hostel was lovely in Dali, called Jade Emu Guesthouse, and well located for the old town and Cangshan mountains. You know what Jason's like...even after all that travel and no sleep he was keen to do some trekking in the mountains that surround Dali as soon as we got there. Luckily I managed to persuade him to let me get the cable car up and walk the 20km afterwards.

The Cangshan mountains have been made into a tourist trap in some areas, with cable cars and paved footpaths that wind their way through the forests. Apparently you can get off the beaten track and do some proper trekking but we didn't do this because actually found that the path was very quite as a lot of the Chinese tourists simply choose to go up and down the cable car in one area. The path is called the Cloud Path and you could see why...the clouds are ever changing and we found ourselves in torrential rain one minute and then glorious sunshine the next. I think Jason secretly liked wearing his poncho rain coat. The mountains offered superb views of Dali Erhai Lake and Dali city. By the end of the 20km we were both exhausted...and Jason even managed to strain his foot...oh dear.

The next day we booked ourselves onto a tour around the Erhai Lake, meaning 'shaped like an ear'. It gave Jason chance to rest his foot a little and be chauffeured around. It was a pleasant day; local markets, picnic on the lake, embroidery factory, beautiful scenery. I always find the local markets fascinating...especially the food. You can see from one of the photos a bunch of little ball shaped red chillis, called the 'flower chilli' and the night before had experienced its anaesthetic affect on my mouth when eating Yunnan chicken...I thought I was having an allergic reaction, its not hot but instead is numbing on your tongue. A girl from our tour ate little sparrows on kebab sticks (bones, beak and flesh)...not my cup of tea. The market offered the usual hustle and bustle of buyers, sellers and livestock.

Dali is famous for its tie-dyed cloth. We were shown how local women create intricate dyed patterns on cloth by sewing specific pieces of material together so that the dye doesn't take and instead creates a repeated pattern.

We took time to wander around Dali old quarter; it can get quite busy with Chinese tourists and a lot of the shops sell the same souvenirs but nevertheless offers a glimpse of what Chinese old city's used to be like with their traditional houses, narrow lanes and open waterways. We found a couple of really good local treats for our tea; amazing pork dumplings from a really smiley Chinese couple and my favourite food so far, mal a tang. Its basically a DIY soup; you pick and choose your ingredients (I.e. tofu, greens, mushrooms, bean sprouts, noodles) and then it gets boiled in an individual basket that sits within a huge vat of delicious broth. It was so tasty!

Anyway, I'd better get myself geared up for Tiger Leaping Gorge trekking...

Posted by bloorsontour 03:19 Archived in China Comments (2)

Longji rice terraces - Dazhai

A room with a view

sunny

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It's a 3 hour bus ride from Guilin to the bottom of the rice terraces in Dazhai. We were greeted by the local women, who were offering to haul our bags up to the top of the terraces to our scenic hotel on their backs. Luckily we left our big bags at the train station storage and so were able to manage ourselves. It was a fairly steep walk up to our hotel, winding through cobbled paths that ran between the paddy fields. Everywhere you looked the scenery was breathtaking. Our hotel room also looked straight out onto the terraces...what a view!

We spent the day wandering through the terraces and taking in the scenery. The craftsmanship of the terraces is amazing; apparently they were first sculpted in the 12th century and have grown & grown from there. We saw them in their summer when its all green and lush, but apparently they look spectacular in autumn when the tips of the rice is bright yellow ready to harvest and also in spring when they flood the terraces and the sun glistens on the mountains. The next morning Jason had me up at 5am to watch sunrise (I moaned a little).....but it was so worth it...stunning!

We decided to just spend one night in Dazhai as we'd managed to cover most of the rice area already. So spent a night back in Guilin instead. Guilin is a relatively big city that has some rivers running through it and is surrounded by karst mountains; but to be honest,because we'd been spoilt by the scenery in Yangshuo and Dazhai we didn't feel we needed to pay to see them up close in the city too. We needed to be in the city to catch our flight the next day. We just walked and browsed through the shops instead. But we did have an eventful evening trying to find a restaurant...

So we wanted to eat local Chinese food for our tea and the hostel receptionist advised us to go to a street just around the corner. The start of the street was OK, with a few bowls of fish outside the restaurant for you to choose which one you wanted for your food...but it got worse...the next restaurant had people choosing what chicken they wanted to eat and the waiter wafted it in front of my face to take it into the kitchen to be killed. Then the next one had ducks and HUGE lizards/fish things (I'm not really sure what it was) for you to eat. Then it was the rats (I hate rodents!!!!), they were enormous, like they'd been fattened up ready to eat, munching at the cage they were kept in. Snakes too...ergh! Just as I was at the peak of me freaking out, deciding whether I should be vegetarian, a waiter took a fat fish out of its bowl in a net, swung it over his head and bashed it right on the pavement by my foot. It happened so quickly, I just heard this thud and then there was this wriggling fish next to my feet on the floor. I'm sure the man did it on purpose... Jason had to drag me away in horror. Awful.

Anyway, we're off to catch our flight now...

Posted by bloorsontour 20:04 Archived in China Tagged rice terraces longji dazhai Comments (1)

China part 1 - Nanning and Yangshuo

Karst mountains, rivers and the Chinese...

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The very next day we caught a train and bus to get to Yangshou. The train was amazing..smooth, fast, efficient. We hope they're all like that. We are staying at a beautiful little hotel called Cosy Garden, which is in a gorgeous setting amongst the limestone karst mountains.

On our first day we hired some bicycles to explore the local scenery. Unfortunately we had a miscommunication with the man from our hotel and ended up struggling up a series of hills in the baking heat. We argued virtually the whole way...me claiming I was at risk of heat exhaustion and Jason telling me to get on with it. (For those of you that don't know , our last big bicycle ride together in Scotland nearly ended in divorce as Jason made me continue for 50miles in the heat until we had to give up and get rescued). We found a local shop to give me a Coca Cola sugar fix and the old Chinese man pointed to where we were on the map...I could have cried... we had hardly got anywhere. So, at last, we turned around to head back. I had cheered up at this point and enjoyed the scenery on my downhill back to the hotel. Stunning landscape! Thankfully we have access to the Ly River to enjoy a refreshing swim in once we'd got back. Bliss!

So for a more successful day 2 in Yangshou we decided to hire a motorbike to explore. Again, more gorgeous scenery after the other. Miles of karst mountains and rolling green hills alongside the river. We made a couple of stops at the river to enjoy a drink and to watch the Chinese tourists enjoy themselves on the bamboo boats as well as making sure we caught a glimpse of the Moon Hill rock formation. We must have covered miles on the bike, with only one blip where it lost all power, and it was simply nice to enjoy the scenery along the way.

Its our last night here and I'm writing this relaxing in the garden of our hotel. I've had a lovely afternoon chilling after our morning of rock climbing. So glad we did rock climbing, it was hard work but loads of fun. Jason will claim that he was the best (because he got to a slightly higher point on a trickier climb) however I think I had the more natural ability and did most of the climbs with more ease than Jason. We definitely want to try more climbing if we get the opportunity.

Yangshuo has a pretty hectic night scene. Its full of Chinese tourists and they seem to love the tacky souvenirs; laser pens, plastic games, putty, etc. The only time we've seen people crowding like they do here is at a music festival. I sort of really like it, I can easily fill my time people watching. There's also quite a good collection of street food that we tried; dumplings, pork filled buns, spicy wraps, bacon pancakes, chilli noodle soup. We have also got addicted to a place called Topcup (I'm hoping its a juice chain shop that we can get throughout our trip in China) and have already sampled a lot of their drinks; mango, passion fruit, blueberry, green tea & red bean, lemon.

We've really enjoyed our first stop in China; the scenery, the food, outdoor adventure; and yet again have high hopes for the rest of our trip in this country.

Our experience of the Chinese so far (jason here)...
Every time we've been a bit stuck, there has been a good Samaritan to help out.
They ALL stare and as a general rule don't smile or break your gaze when you look back.
Personal space means nothing.
Hacking their guts up and gobbing it out is acceptable in any situation.
They are LOUD!
They will seemingly eat anything, very loudly and pretty messily.
They have little feet.

Posted by bloorsontour 03:56 Archived in China Tagged climbing cycling yangshuo Comments (3)

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