A Travellerspoint blog

Lijiang / Tiger Leaping Gorge

sunny 15 °C

Wednesday 23rd January

We had to get up at 0500 to make the short journey from our hotel to the airport in Shanghai where we flew to Lijiang. The airport was relatively busy even this early in the morning and we joined the queue for our airline. I had to go and have my bag searched (they weren't happy with our electrical adaptor) but we were most surprised when the check in agent said "you are first class, please proceed to the lounge". So we happily strode to the lounge where we were able to help ourselves to the free food and drink. Everyone else was a business traveller so we stood out stocking our bags with European beer and playing on the (painful) massage chairs but it certainly made getting up at 5 more palatable! On the flight we were both able to sleep with our extra reclining seats, pillow and blanket. It was certainly a nice surprise to start the day! At the airport we waited for the bus to take us into Lijiang. We were offered lots of private taxi services but kindly refused and insisted we would take the bus. It soon became apparent the bus wasn't going anywhere and we had almost 30 locals round us laughing at us as I insisted we would wait for the bus. In the end a young Chinese couple begged us to share a taxi with them and eventually we relented, on the condition we paid the same fare as the bus AND we got dropped off at our hostel. Bit of a contrast from the first class flight to haggling over a taxi ride! In the afternoon, we chilled out in the sun at our hostel which had a lovely courtyard. We then wandered around the old part of Lijiang, which was very quaint and full of the local Naxi people. We both enjoyed being in a smaller town, and despite there being lots of Chinese tourists it still felt authentic with the old buildings, waterways and lack of traffic. At night we ate at the hostel, as Mama Naxi does a family meal everynight for guests so it was great to speak to other travellers and try lots of dishes (disadvantage of only being 2 people in restaurants).

Thursday 24th January

Another early start today as we were going to do a 2 day trek to see the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a trek along the river Yangzi where fables say a tiger leapt from a rock across the river to escape capture from hunters. It was a 2.5hrs journey from the hostel to the beginning of the trek in the mountains on a very bumpy, twisty road. Also starting with us was a Korean singer songwriter who was heading into the mountains for inspiration for songs, and Caitlin an American rock climbing guide working in China. The walk started off relatively easy as we started to ascend the mountain with glorious views down the river. After a couple of hours we stopped at a guesthouse for some lunch before doing the hardest part of the trek, the 28 bends, which were about an hours worth of steep, twisty ascents. After that ascent it was a steady walk over the back of the mountain where we stopped off for the night, spending the evening with a collection of Westerners who were studying / teaching English in China and listening to their weird and wonderful experiences in China. Throughout the day the views were incredible looking down the gorge but also across to the other side where huge rocky mountains rose up. We also enjoyed walking through mountain villages and seeing the rural lifestyle. The view from the bedroom (and toilet!) were the best we have ever had the pleasure of in a guest house.

Friday 25th January

The walk in the morning to our ending point was simple and only took about 2 hours. We stopped and had a break before descending the rocks to the stone where tiger is reported to have leapt. It was a very steep climb down and not a lot of horizontal distance gained. We took a vertical ladder part of the way down and we were both glad it was a welded metal one rather than the wooden one it replaced which was still hanging behind! The view from the river bed was impressive as the river roared past the rocks. The ascent was very steep but easier in some respects than going down as it was steps but we were both extremely glad to reach the top and have a cold beer! Once back at the pick up hostel, we relaxed before taking a coach back to Lijiang.

Saturday 26th January

After several days of early starts and exercise we had a proper lie in before going for a walk round Lijiang to witness the locals dancing in the square, see where the ponds where the locals do their washing and, most importantly, enjoy the sunshine. In the evening we witnessed the nightlife Lijiang has to offer: a lot of bars with not a lot of people in them (if any) listening and dancing to a live singer / band.

Large waterwheels in Lijiang old town
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Naxi people dancing
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Tiger leaping gorge

Panaromic shots
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Scary 25m ladder we had to descend / climb (rather than take the "safe path")
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By the rapids at the bottom of the gorge
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Posted by duncan-alice 05:41 Archived in China Tagged tiger gorge lijiang leaping Comments (0)

Hangzhou

overcast 10 °C

Sunday 20th January

We took a train in the morning to Hangzhou, a smaller city near Shanghai of only 6m people, famous for its West Lake. The good thing about Hangzhou is that the state has made all the tourist attractions (e.g. museums, buildings of interest) free entry so we were off to a good start when we heard that! We took a bus from the station to very near our hostel which was on the west side of the lake. The city has been developed on the north and east side so were the other side from the city which was nice to get some peace and quiet. It was only a 30 mins walk to the city edge anyway. We threw our stuff in our room and went for a wander by the lake. With it being a Sunday afternoon with the sun out, the lakeside was busy with Chinese families. The lake very much reminded us of Lake Bled in Slovenia. We meandered towards the city and walked along the oldest street in the city peering in the local shops and real Chinese medicine dispensers - very interesting. After a nap back at the hostel we went back into town for dinner eating at our worst restaurant yet where we tried the local carp from the lake in a sweet and sour sauce with some meat and veg. The food wasn't up to much and felt like it had all been microwaved.

Monday 21st January

We got up at a leisurely pace today and hired bikes from the hostel, opting for individual bikes rather than a tandem as they weren't permitted around the lake edge. The weather was misty and foggy today (which made a change from smog!) but we soon warmed up while cycling, stopping to see the thousands of carp and destroyed Emperor's house at the top of the lake. We both really enjoyed being in a quieter place and able to get some "fresh" air. For dinner, we ate at Grandma's kitchen which is something of a Hangzhou institution with apparently over 20 branches in the city. We had been warned to expect queues but as we were only two we were able to get a table straightaway. The entrance was on the ground floor where we were given a piece of paper with a number on it which turned out be our table number, while the restaurant was on the third floor of a big building. The restaurant was massive, full of young people eating. We had a menu and order form to order from, choosing Grandma's special BBQ pork, some greens fried with chilli, a sweet potato (turned out to be an orange stuffed with something sweet!), chicken with peanuts and some salad leaves (our first in two weeks!!). The meal was great and all for under a tenner. The couple beside us went all out and ordered a whole fish with noodles, stuffed whole duck and various other plates which they kindly offered us to try but we were both full by that point.

Tuesday 22nd January

On our last day here, we took a bus into the mountains to a local village famous for its tea called Longjing. The bus dropped us off half way up a hill with not much around us. We walked up into the woods nearby looking at the ruins of buildings and a famous well we don't quite know the story behind. We continued walking up the hill and after about 30 mins we were at the top with panaromic views across the small valley with tea plants everywhere. We continued along the ridge for an hour or so before descending into the village below. At the bottom, I had to overcome countless chickens and barking dogs on the path which I wasn't happy with! We walked through the village, stopping in an old lady's house for Alice to try a cup of tea which she thought was good, but not quite up to English breakfast standard . We didn't quite know how to get back to the bus so decided to continue walking down the village to its end where vehicles could no longer pass. We decided to follow this path further down the valley, crossing several streams with stepping stones. Neither of us were quite sure where this would lead and after about an hour of walking we were both secretly worried we were lost or on the wrong side of the hill. Thankfully, we came out at a bus stop where a bus we recognised began its journey so we were both grateful we knew where it was going although several miles from where we expected to come out! We took the bus all the way into town and went to Grandma's again for food. This time we tried grilled aubergine with garlic (amazing, will try at home), stir fry squid, honey roast pork, more greens fried with chilli and chicken wings. Again we had a great meal for under a tenner. At night we took a train back to Shanghai where we stayed at an airport hotel before an early morning flight to the south west of the country.

Writing this from Lijiang where we are now where the weather is gorgeous and we are in a picturesque town surrounded by mountains! Such a nice contrast to the busy (and cold!) places we visited in the north. More about Lijiang in next blog.

Hope the cold weather is over back home.

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Posted by duncan-alice 01:43 Archived in China Tagged lake hangzhou Comments (0)

Shanghai

sunny 10 °C

The overnight train to Shanghai from Xi'an wasn't the most enjoyable experience. We struggled to get a bus from near our hostel to the train station and then to find the train platform once within the station but a young girl who spoke perfect English kindly helped us as her train wasn't for another 4 hours. I was beginning to feel rubbish and just wanted to get to Shanghai as soon as possible but our train was delayed by an hour. It had orginated in Lhasa, Tibet 2.5 days ago and we were joining it for the final 14 hours. We were travelling in hard sleeper and I had the upper bed which was the highest bed about 2.5m off the ground with 0.5m headroom but I did get a ledge at my feet to put my bag. Alice had the middle bed, lucky enough to be above the world's loudest snorer ever - we didn't think it was possible humans could make such loud noises while sleeping! Needless to say neither of us got much sleep and when we "got up" at 9am thankfully other people had disembarked so we could sit on the bottom bunk. I was feeling rubbish and buried myself under a duvet for the morning while Alice read. As the train was an hour late on leaving we didn't know when we should arrive but it was about 2 hours later than timetabled.

Thursday 17th January

From Shanghai main railway station we took the metro to our very conveniently located hostel in a residential area. I went straight to bed while Alice went to find some food. After a couple of hours nap, we both freshened up and went into central Shanghai to get some food, walking along the famous East Nanjing Road and eating in a mall. The girls beside us thought it was hilarious when Alice started using her chopsticks the wrong way round and quickly pointed it out to her! In her defence, she says she wasn't concentrating and its the only time she has done it.

Friday 18th January

I awoke still feeling rubbish, and self diagnosed myself as having a smog induced chest infection, but after a warm shower I felt a bit better so we went into central Shanghai. We started off at People's Square, deciding not to go into Shanghai Museum as the exhibitions didn't interest us (we are Chinese Bronze aged out), and then walked towards the Bund, on the river where banks and trading houses set up as the city developed. The views across the river were spectacular of the Shanghai skyscrapers. For lunch, we headed into the old town where we went round a traditional garden before queuing for takeaway steamed buns (pork and crab) - best lunch so far. Back at the hostel we played some pool before heading out for dinner. On the way, we bought a knee support for Alice as her knee is still giving her a lot of pain and I bought some face masks which make me look suitably stupid! We stopped off at the French Concession looking at the trendy boutique shops and bars before eating dinner at a nearby restaurant. We had Singapore noodles and fried rice with beef - safe but boring dinner.

Saturday 19th January

We could imagine living in Shanghai but it's not the most exciting tourist place, so today we headed to Suzhou, described as Venice of the East by Marco Polo. We took a high speed train from Hongqiao station which was another mammoth station. We walked for a couple of hours into the historic parts of the city but where we passed by wasn't very impressive with little sign of canals and lots of western designer shops. Alice wasn't impressed by my map reading skills as we I struggled to find the restaurant we wanted to eat at. Eventually we found it and were glad to have a seat and some steamed buns in front of us - I thought better than yesterdays and still under GBP4 for both of us. In the afternoon we wandered around a park and then some of the canals which were disappointing - lack of activity on and around the canals. We then made it to the touristy part where the canals were packed with Chinese tourists doing day trips from Shanghai and sampled tea in our first teahouse which Alice thoroughly enjoyed! Once back in Shanghai we went to the financial centre to admire the skyline before heading home for dinner, randomly stopping at a restaurant which turned out to be a hot pot restaurant. We chose a satay broth with chicken, squid, bamboo shoots, some green veg, noodles accompanied by German style Chinese brewed beer and some prawns thrown in courtesy of the chef. We were the table right at the door so the staff enjoyed watching us eat but also helped make up a delicious dipping sauce for us (no idea what went in it!) - best dinner so far!

Photos to follow asap - promise!

Posted by duncan-alice 01:43 Archived in China Tagged shanghai suzhou Comments (1)

Xi'an

sunny 5 °C

From Beijing, we took an overnight sleeper train to Xi'an. The station we went from was like an airport it was so big. After you had entered the station you went to a waiting room until it was time to board your train. There were about 12 of these waiting rooms and our room alone was as big as any station concourse in the UK. It was a fascinating place to sit and watch people.

We were travelling in soft sleeper class which would be our equivalent of first class (there were no cheaper beds available) which meant we were sharing with 2 others (two young Chinese men). Alice and I both had bottom bunks which were comfortable. The journey was about 11 hours but by the time we had eaten a pot noodle and sorted our things we went to sleep. In the morning we were woken by the train guard with a cup of tea and chocolate biscuit. Alice was not impressed by the state of the toilets in the morning and came back and almost vomited!

Monday 14th January

We were met at the station by the hostel who drove us to our accommodation. After having a really nice, warm, powerful shower we went to a market which was only open on Mondays. What we didn't realise before setting off was the scale of our map so we ended up walking for about 2hrs to get there. The market was mainly selling antiques and there were cabins which every vendor had - lucky we don't have a house to decorate otherwise Alice was ready to start buying... As we had come this far outside the city, we went to the nearby Big Wild Goose Pagoda, a Buddhist temple which was serene compared to the manic streets outside. On our way we went to a restaurant called First Noodle Under the Sun, where the specialty is a 6cm wide, 3.8m noodle served with two broths. After a couple of minutes trying to master eating the noodle, the waitress spared our blushes and cut and dished our noodles into the broth - we both felt like kids having to get someone to dish up our food! At night we went to the Muslim quarter for dinner and tried kebabs and flatbreads as we meandered through the area.

Tuesday 15th January

From our hostel we took a bus to the train station where we caught another bus to the Terracotta Warriors. Travelling on the roads is an experience - the Chinese standard of driving is abysmal and they like to use their horns alot. Signs don't mean much either (a recurring theme). Nevertheless it was a very cheap way to get there (70p for over an hours journey). We walked to the entrance rather than pay 50p for a golf cart to take us there. The warriors were discovered in 1974 by a local farmer who was digging a well in a period of drought. Since then, they have been excavating and they are no where near finished. As we were recommended by our guidebook, we did the pits in reverse order and to be honest we were both a bit underwhelmed by the first two pits which were largely unexcavated. However pit 1, the biggest, was an amazing sight with hundreds of warriors on show. The detail of these figures was amazing and each warrior apparently has a different facial features. For dinner we went to a local restaurant and tried chicken kebabs which turned out be chicken gristle, leeks fried with chillies and bacon and garlic which was very much like a western bacon and leek dish.

Wednesday 16th January

Today was our last day in Xi'an before we took another night train to Shanghai. We had a lazy morning and then cycled around the city walls on a tandem which was great fun and gave a lot of Chinese people the opportunity to point and laugh. The walls are 14km long and about 20m above the ground level which provided another view of the city. Outside the city walls, skyscrapers are going up everywhere so it was a big contrast between inside and outside the city walls. In the afternoon we walked around the Muslim quarter and had lunch. We were both convinced that in a large pan which most vendors had was potato however we were very mistaken when we took a bite into it to discover it was some sort of fat! This is the only food so far we have been unable to eat - neither of us could manage more than a taste!

Posted by duncan-alice 23:24 Archived in China Tagged xi'an Comments (1)

Beijing

semi-overcast -5 °C

Tuesday 8th January

We arrived in Beijing at about 1700 local time after an uneventful flight. It was surprisingly easy to get to our accommodation thanks to the constant English signs. The first thing we did once at the hostel was to go to the train station to book our tickets out of Beijing. Once we had adjusted to Chinese queuing system getting a ticket was simple. We had originally planned to go to Pingyao, a traditional Chinese town, however there were only standing tickets available for the 12 hour journey and neither of us fancied that! Instead we decided to spend an extra day in Beijing and go to Xi'an next. From the station we went for a walk round the city and managed to get lost. We tried to ask two parking attendants to point out on a map where we were but they completely blanked us! Eventually we found a metro and headed back, stopping off at a family run dumpling restaurant for dinner where the staff couldn't help but laugh as we ate. Nevertheless, they insisted we put our comments on a sticker which they proudly proceeded to put on the wall - must have been first non Chinese to eat there and still be smiling at the end!

Wednesday 9th January

We started off by going to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We couldn't believe how big they were - there were a lot of hawkers but they mainly left us alone and targetted the Chinese tourists who vastly outnumbered us. Tiananmen Square was heavily guarded but less so in the Forbidden City. The palace buildings were impressive but quickly became a bit monotonous. At the top of the city were two parks which we visited giving great views over the palace buildings - it was then we realised we probably missed half of it out. At Beihai Park, the lake was frozen so we had fun watching the mothers and children play on the ice in chairs with ski poles! For dinner we went to a night market which was serving Chinese delicacies such as snake, scorpions and locusts - we were only brave enough to have lamb and some chicken dumplings!

Thursday 10th January

Our first port of call today was the Summer Palace, a manmade royal garden, which encompassed a huge lake and palace. We had great views over the frozen lake from the palace and over the city to the south. We then walked by the lake, plucking up the courage to walk on the ice. For lunch we had a pot noodle type box (which is becoming a staple food) from a cafe on the side of the lake. In the afternoon we went to the Bird's Nest and Olympic Park where the 2008 Olympics were held. The site was very impressive but it laid idle apart from the men offering Chinese tourists their photo in front of this national landmark. As we wandered around the back of the acquatics centre, Alice got "assaulted" by a man dressed in Mickey Mouse costume who wouldn't leave her alone (and obviously wanted me to pay for the privilege to take his photo with her). I wasn't much use in this situation but a loud squeal from her scared him off! Dinner tonight was the local Peking duck at a nearby restaurant. It was very nice but didn't live up to either of our expectations.

Friday 11th January

We had planned to go to the Great Wall today however Alice's knee has been playing up so decided before we got on the metro it wasn't worth risking hurting it further. Instead we went to the Temple of Heaven, some religious buildings in a park to the south of the city. The park was massive and full of locals doing their tai chi to (what sounded like trance) music and playing keepy uppy with an object not to dissimilar to a shuttlecock. The temple was impressive but we were in need of some warmth so went into the market opposite to see what it had to offer. It was basically like a department store but there were lots of different stalls but no prices shown. We were offered a pair of Beats headphones for equivalent of GBP10 which was dropped to 8 when we walked away. As it was still before lunch, we headed to the Lama Temple, the largest Buddhist temple outside Tibet. It was packed full of Chinese praying to the Buddhas with incense. After a Chinese style fast food lunch (very good and cheap!) we relaxed in the hostel in the afternoon. At night we went to nearby Ghost Street for dinner. The street is packed full of restaurants so we randomly chose one based on the claim they had English menus. The restaurant was packed and we were taken to the back room, passing tanks of live fish, to be seated. We chose a "safe" chicken and walnut dish and a fish dish. The fish was freshly "caught" from the tank and brought to our table for our approval. The chicken dish was the best we had in China - crispy and full of flavours although a bit sweet and sickly (we couldn't finish it). The carp was sliced in two and then cooked in a tray with (lots of) garlic, leeks, celery and beans. It was good but nothing in comparison to the chicken. Just after we finished eating, a lady carriered over her young son, held him over the bin near our table and he peed through the gap in his trousers (babies in China seem to wear outfits which allow them to do the toilet whenever and wherever by opening their trousers) - I was just glad we had finished eating by that point!

Saturday 12th January

For the second morning in a row we got up at the crack of dawn with the intention of going to the Great Wall. Alice had doped herself up on ibuprofen to make sure we could go so we set off early for the train station. We had decided to go to the nearest, and most touristy, place on the wall for simplicity of getting there. Buying a train ticket was simple enough and we managed to get on the train OK, all of 60p for a single journey lasting just over an hour (and alot cheaper than the tours at GBP20 the hostel were offering!) It was interesting to go through the suburbs of Beijing and see the developing expansion of the city. As we meandered into the hills, we saw some sections of the wall and it was a 10 min walk from the station at Badaling to the "entrance" to the wall. We could walk in either direction along the wall but decided to walk towards the cable car in case Alice's knee wasn't able to cope. The wall was extremely impressive - climbing up the ascents was tough enough, thinking of actually constructing something of this scale was something else. We had the option to get a sliding car down back to the town (a tobogan ride is a possibility at another part of the wall) but as Alice's knee was holding up we went back towards the other side. Today was the first hazy day so not sure if the photos will reflect the wow factor. Once back in Beijing, we went to two pedestrianised shopping streets which had been designed in traditional style - it was a bit tacky I thought. After a nap, we went to a nearby restaurant for some food. Today's "safe" option was chicken and peanuts and the risky option we don't know what it was, but involved a lot of fat, along with some fried dumplings. The food was nice but not as good as last nights (but a lot cheaper so we couldn't complain - GBP6 for three dishes and two beers)

Sunday 13th January

Today is our last day in Beijing before we take a night train to Xi'an later this evening. In the morning we went to the Drum and Bell Tower and for a walk round some local hutongs (traditional narrow streets). That didn't take as long as we had planned so we got a metro to another market which was very similar to the first one we visited. In the afternoon we came back to the hostel for warmth, upload some photos before leaving for the train station later for our first experience of a sleeper train in China!

To end on the weather: it has been very cold here! Highs have barely been above 0C during the day and -5C at night. As long as we keep moving and are layered up (6 is Alice's record) the cold is manangeable. Handwarmers have been a lifesaver for Alice! The first two days were cold but very clear and not a cloud in the sky. As you may be hearing at home, the pollution / smog in Beijing is very bad at the moment so visibility is low (but not as bad where we are as BBC is showing).

(PS Alice is winning 4-3 on the "request for photo with a white person challenge"!)

Apologies for the boring photos but more will follow. Uploading them here is a nightmare!

Birds Nest

Birds Nest

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square

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Posted by duncan-alice 00:02 Archived in China Tagged beijing Comments (3)

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