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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Li Jiang to Yangshuo

CHINA | Saturday, 9 August 2008 | Views [1267] | Comments [1]

Wed 6th Aug - Booked onto a bus to Kunming at 11:30 this morning (197 Yuan). A nine hour journey. When I came to Lijiang on the overnight sleeper I didn't see anything as left in the dark. Should see most of it this time. Lijiang has been a great place albeit a bit touristy in the centre of the old town, but that's bound to happen with somewhere as attractive as it is. Walked into Sifang square after breakfast to watch the old folk dancing. Their costume is simple and they have a serene demeanour. Who knows how many years they have been doing this? A happy start to the day with lots of smiles...Rugged faced men wearing animal fur hats give horse rides around the lanes and pose for photographs, whilst everyone jostles to get their picture taken with traditionally dressed locals.

The bus is a super one...best to date with loads of legroom for a change. Would be nice to sit next to someone who I can converse with, but alas no english...makes the journeys long. iPod on and enjoy the scenery. An overdose of green as we pass through mile after mile of paddy fields fused together by a stretches of sunflowers and maize, set against mist laden mountains. Just what I need to relax... the maximum distortion sound from the dvd system is a bit of a distraction! Surely nobody is enjoying this?

iPod on and orchestrate the vista to music. After a while the terrain became more mounainous as we climbed. I always like to see the roads we've been on looking like tiny threads in the valley below. Pus a scale to it. High up another crop appeared in abundance that I couldn't identify. Large wavy pal green/yellow leaves and looking like a root crop. The rice was more advanced and looking to be closer to harvest. Shortly after two o'clock we stopped for lunch I was lucky as a young boy from the front of the bus spoke to me in reasonable english and told me what was going on. Lunch was included free in the ticket, which I didn't know. Joined him with his mother and her friend and they helped me through lunch, which was nice. They had been on vacation at an uncle's house in Lijiang and were on their way home.

Found out I was joined on the bus by a sick australian, who was trying to sleep the whole journey, so wasn't talking. I know how he feels. Next to me was a girl who spent almost the whole journey with her head in her hands...just what I needed!

By the way, for anyone who has been following my recent events where my bank accounts vanished. They are all back and intact now and cards working again. That was a scary time. The major thought that had crossed my mind was some form of card details theft, and someone had plundered all of my funds. Luckily that was not the case and all is now ok. When you are out on a limb in a country like this, with communication issues and you then hit financial issues, it does worry you for a bit...just a bit!

After a while the route passes through the popular area around Dali. The road passes close enough to get a good view. Gardeners were out tending the flowered borders on the road in, which they have made attractive. It is another big sprawling mass of buildins with the old part forming part. After having been to Lijiang and Shangr-La, I decided to give Dali a miss, although some people like it more. Can't go everywhere! The newer parts of the city seem to have some interesting prominent buildings. A funky sail shaped building that towers above caught my eye, as did a massive ball that shone a gunmetal colour further east along the river. As it sits in a bowl, buildings that dominate the surrounding hillsides must have a superb view.

Back into the countryside and I wonder what it is with the chinese and their choice of movies. Almost all of the buses I have been on play some form of kungfu movie! People fly through the air performing the most improbable feats whilst twizzling their feet and anihilating everyone in sight with minimal effort. No matter how hard or how many times they get hit, they don't show a single mark and bounce up in seconds. Everything around gets trashed and they all sound like a shogun or Bruce Lee...yee hah.... All have the same plot!

Further along the route and groups of buildings looking like farms appear in traditional chinese style painted white and decorated with colourful murals. What was odd was the quantity that have a theme based on dinosaurs? No idea why, but this went on for quite a distance. Some buildings have what looks like a family crest on the end wall, all visible from the main road.

Entering Kunming from the west is a depressing experience. An industrial sprawling mess with squalid apartment blocks that look like they should be levelled. Unfortunately, for the poor souls who live there, it is home. After the beauty of the countryside it comes as a bit of a shock. It soon gives way though to the more developed main centre. The bus surprisingly didn't stop where I expected. Had no idea where I was...definitely somewhere in the north western part of the city, but on none of my maps. The few taxis that were available picked up locals and vanished, leaving no other option to randomly pick a direction and start walking. After a while found a taxi, so saved. Staying back at 'The Hump', where I stayed last time I was here. I had one major task that really couldn't wait. Even before I had checked in, I had to find out how soon I could get a train out of here. A depressing result...no sleepers until the 10th August...booked solid for four days! The only seats available are hard seats. Have no choice oher than fly out at a ridiculous price, or sit up for the whole journey. So booked a hard seat for 138 Yuan....at 18 hours through the night, it's going to be a long long journey. The worst possibly in my entire time travelling, so not looking forward to it.

The skies opened later with some dynamic lightening to accompany it.

Thu 7th Aug - With loads of time ahead of my train to Guilin tonight I could take my time this morning. Needed to get something to read, so headed to the enormous Xinhua Bookstore, which is  just off Jinmabi square. Four floors of chinese books and no english so I thought. Tucked away on the 4th floor though are a couple of shelves labelled 'Reading'. A fair range of stuff from english literature to a few books in english about China, but not many. Prices weren't too bad either.

On the way back to the hump, I stopped and watched a wedding dress show on a stage in Jinmabi square that has been there since the last time I was in Kunming. The girls were very pretty and worth stopping for if nothing else. They certainly go for candy-floss gowns!  As the only westerner with a camera, I got a few extra poses from them...straight into camera...lights, camera. Action!

As I had only been able to get a 'hard seat' on the train, I thought it worth a try to go to the train station early to see if I could get an upgrade... turned out to be a great move! Started by jumping on the no.3 bus going in what I thought was the right direction, only to find that I was wrong. Had to get off and go in the wrong direction to end up in the right direction....this has already started to be one of those occasions!

Fortunately, even in gridlock, buses have their own lanes and manage to jostle their way through peak time traffic. Wanted to find an information office...they have one but they don't speak english. Waved my ticket at the lady bind the window and said the word 'change' and that did the trick. She came out and walked me to a ticket booth and straight to the head of the waiting queue, much to the annoyance of those waiting. I got the only sleeper available and had to pay an extra 115 Yuan (253 Yuan total). There is a lesson here....don't believe it when the hostel says there are no more beds available. I could have spent the whole night sat up in a seat if I hadn't done this!

Kunming station is well equipped with shops, so worth picking up some food. Fortunately, I found a couple of chinese students to interpret some of the packaging for me.

And now for some fun...the queue into the waiting hall was massive getting through the security scanner. They stopped me on the other side and asked me to open my backpack...the only person I had seen being stopped. They had spotted the shaving gel canister in my toiletries bag and wanted to confiscate it, stating that it was part of Beijing olympics security measures....can you see the red rag being waved at the bull here!!... So I sprayed their desk with shaving gel and asked if they thought I was going to shave Beijing to death, and how was I going to do that from the other end of the country? They weren't too happy with the mess! They still insisted that they confiscated it (three security guards and an attendant by this stage), so I asked if they would reimburse me the cost of a new one....they had a discussion and let It go, and apologised for the trouble and hoped I would enjoy my stay in China!

Left them to clean up the mess....shaving gel multiplies when in contact with water...I chuckled as I walked away.

I'm on K394 departing at 18:33, and for some reason I felt slightly content now...must be the need for amusement?

I wonder if the sleeper I got was because whoever cancelled knew it would be opposite the noisiest pair of chinese people in the country? An old couple, she incessantly shouted and coughed and he was on his mobile at full volume. Did my head in, and began to wonder if sitting up all night might have been a better option?

I noticed that there were some empty beds in this carriage and begin to wonder if there is a different issue going on with bookings and some profiteering scam. When I tried in Lijiang there were only three beds left, yesterday there were none for the next five days, and now there are empty ones. Because the trains fill up very quickly, it is possible that agencies book up seats in block and then cancel late, when they don't sell them.

After not too long the other occupants of our cabin vanished and never returned..I think they had had enough. The best was yet to come....I have this thing about noisy eaters...there is no excuse for forcing others in the vicinity to share in the sounds of everything you eat. This pair could be heard in the next carriage. Had to get out and sit somewhere else before I was ill!

Soon got dark and they still went on and on and on. I had gone out to buy a book to read on this train and got my ticket changed to a sleeper, and now I can't read it....bugger. Eventually I got fed up with their inconsiderate behaviour and had to speak out.. They got the message from the tone of my voice even though they didn't understand a word I said.

Fri 8th Aug - They started at 6am this morning... As loud as the night before, and the only sound above the chugging of the train on the tracks. Couldn't believe it...6am. Fortunately, a miracle happened and around 7am the train pulled into a station and they got off. They must have wondered what I was doing when I cheered! The carriage fell into silence after they left...bliss...

Today is the culmination of what must feel like eons of preparation for China...the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing. I hope they forgave the shaving gel incident yesterday at the station and haven't cancelled the olympics because of a security breach! I can imagine the atmosphere to be fantastic in Beijing today. In a way, I would like to be there, but the cost of everyhing has rocketted to rip everyone off as much as possible.

Soon after the train set off again and the breakfast service trolleys came around...you have to be quick as they are in training for the 100m dash and seem to fly past before you even si up. Shortly after that, one of the train staff selling toothbrushes. She was doing a great peformance in extolling the virtues of each type on offer...she should be on television or standing on a podium in a market. At times like this I wish I could understand mandarin. How can someone talk so much about a toothrush?

Soon after nine o'clock the scenery changed to peaks errupting from the ground, in many ways reminiscent of the scenery in northern Vietnam when I went to Ninh Binh and the area called 'Tam Côc'. Guilin, further to the east where I get off the train is famous for its karst landscape. It is a fascinating quirk of geology that such features have been created. In the morning mist these monoliths take on a mysterious form, with attractive small villages nestled beneath them. For the people who live here and the families already out tending their crops, it is an everyday scene...awsome!

The train arrived in Guilin at 12:35 and noticeable change in temperature as the heat hit me when I got out onto the platform. I am no stopping here as had read that I was a bit too touristy. Don't want to spend my last few days in China in a city, so off to Yangshuo instead. Right outside of the station are buses, taxis and minibuses and of course a flock descends on you to go with them. The bus is a safer option whe you're on your own and only cost 20 Yuan....not marked though, so you have to ask the bus driver, and a women was walking around shouting for passengers.

Within a few minutes the usual touts boarded the bus offering accomodation and tickets etc. Wasn't interested as I will sort that out when I get there, and had booked my first night's stay anyway.

Like I mentioned earier, the landscape is reminiscent of Vietnam. Not long out of Guilin and the limestone peaks and misty peaks on the horizon soon start looming closer and the countryside lush. For a short while the rains pelted down reducing visibility to almost nothing, but that soon eased off. The dramatic views soon re-appeared after the rain stopped.

Arrived in Yangshuo at about two o'clock, and only a five minute walk to the Senior Leader Youth Hostel on Die Cui road. Six bed dorm for 35 Yuan and one of the friendliest places i've stayed in China.

Got talking to a chinese girl about China and learnt a lot. Something I hadn't thought to mention before. You probably already know that the number eight is lucky in China? That is why the olympic opening ceremony is at 8pm on the 8th day of the eigth month 2008! There was a guy here who thought that the number 666 was unlucky, and refused to get on the 666 bus although it was much cheaper than a bus with a different number. In the west that number has a demonic connotation. In China however, it is a lucky number. Weird stuff numbers!

The chinese people in general are so proud to be hosting the olympics that many exude that pride when they talk about it.

Went for a brief walk around the town and am pleased that I have chosen here as my last few days in China. A nice balance...small enough to walk around, located amidst the stunning karst scenery, right on the Li river with plenty of stuff going on locally, and not too boisterous. Just right.

I had to make a decision on my direction from here as my visa ends on 11th August, so booked an overnight sleeper bus from here to the border crossing with Macao for the 10th, costing 150 Yuan. Gives me a couple of days to explore around here.

Off for a meal and the best place around here is west street. Lively and full of tv screens showing guess what....no excuse for missing the opening of the olympics. I might not be in Beijing...but what an awesome place to be instead! Superb meal washed down with of all things a nice glass of Great wall red wine and the atmosphere buzzin'.

Thought I would join the crowd back at the hostel to watch the opening ceremony at 8pm. As if on queue, the skies opened a few minutes before and it chucked it down. Great atmosphere though! Out in the street flags were waving around the bars and restaurants by the patriots. Free beers given out as the seconds counted down...40...30....20....10....0. A lot of pride from the chinese here. We all stood at the part when the chinese anthem was played...you had to be there! It must rate as the most awesome opening ceremony I have ever seen...the chinese might at its best...and also on queue ...probably due to the change in atmosphereric pressure caused by the elecric storm going on outside...the unopened beer bottles started to explode..one under my chair...another across the room...what an amazing timing! To be at the 'Birdsnest' stadium must have been incredible, but it was literally electric where I was!

What feels like hours later and the ceremony goes on. When the chinese athletes were on, the room errupted in support. It was superb to look around the room to see their faces and cheers of patriotism. I thought the torch bit near the end where the runner with the small relay torch flew into the air, and then ran around the stadium aloft accompanied by such dramatic music, was pure theatre as a scroll unfolded head of him towards the big torch. Totally awesome finale to an incredible ceremony!

Sat 9th Aug - Hired a bike this morning and headed off to explore the villages. First headed north towards Baisha but turned off down a track before I got there. It seems to be peanut season here. Everywhere I went they were spread over the ground drying. If you didn't know, peanuts grow underground as a sort of root. They get pulled up in bunches once the top growth has started to die back. The useable kernels are pulled off by hand and collected into baskets before being spread out at a flat area in the sun to dry. Straight from the root they are tasty.

One of the farms I visited also grew gourds, chilis, oranges. Bananas, pomelo (or similar) and of course rice plus other stuff I didn't recognise. At one point a massive sequence of explosions happened behind me, so I turned to see what was happening. An old man turned and looked too. I tried to ask what I was and he answered in mandarin...still non the wiser!

It was melting temperature and decided to head back to town, coming into it from another side then heading south along the road that follows the river Li. Quite a few boats out, from what are called 'Bamboo' boats...cos they're made of bamboo! And larger boats that do the trip along to Guilin. A nice cycle track follows the winding of the river and offers a beautiful view of the peaks in every direction. It is a bit touristy around the boat landing area as expected, but they aren't pushy.

Many of the rice paddies have been harvested and the grasses are stacked into cones to dry, whilst other plots have already been planted with the next crop. Made for some nice photographs. A few hours or so and I was done in. The heat was too much so headed back to town.

More later........




Great blog.
Glad you enjoyed Lijiang.

  happysheep Sep 6, 2008 11:58 PM

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