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The world in a nutshell Lucy and Tim go wandering...

Toy soldiers, Giant Pandas and cool crags!

CHINA | Monday, 28 May 2012 | Views [775] | Comments [1]

We waved goodbye to our local speaking guide in Beijing and headed off in search of Beijing West Railway station armed only with our train tickets and a page of useful phrases the reality of being in a 'proper' foreign country rapidly dawning on us. Having survived our first meal (thank you picture menus!) and made it past the security checkpoints only loosing Lucy's batiste (a sore blow so early in the trip), we navigated our way through the metro system and before we knew it we were boarding our first Chinese night-train with a luxurious 16 hour journey a head of us. On hard-seats as sleepers were sold out (literally a bench with a thin bit of foam padding!). Woop! Despite the clouds of smoke, spitting, slurping and staring courtesy of our carriage-buddies, not to mention very numb derrieres we arrived in Xi'an in one piece the next day, and after a quick nap and a shower we wandered off to explore the town.

We ticked off many of the tourist sights on our first day (not actually entering any of them as chinese entry prices are a little steep to say the least - but having a good look at the outside of all of them!) and on returning to our hostel that evening arranged to go and see the old terracotta warriors with some of our roommates the next day. The verdict, lots of statues of soldiers all with unique faces, kinda cool, worth seeing but the chinese sure know how to charge for these things (and love golf buggies - who wants to walk 100m when you can take a golf buggie?!). With our time in Xi'an rapidly running out we just have time to discover a delicious stew in the muslim quarter and to meet up with some of Jonathan's friends before we are curling up on our hard-sleepers, a vast improvement from hard-seats for the train to Chengdu to see some pandas! (Sorry Pete.... you could have come with us!)

Our time in Chengdu passes in a blur of tea in the park, giant pandas that really are adorable as they appear on tv and of course food. Punctuated throughout it all by Mr Panda himself, our slightly crazy but very friendly hostel owner who, having only opened his hostel two weeks before, was full of enthusiasm for his guests! This proved to be incredibly handy when our Taxi driver attempted to play us for fools whilst taking us to the train station, driving way out of the way in order to rack up the meter and charge us well over 4x what it should have cost. A quick phonecall to Mr Panda, a lot of swearing in chinese, and the taxi driver left with only the fare it should have cost us, and a lot less fuel than he started with! 

Our last stop in our brief tour of China found us in Yangshuo, a strange combination of hoards of tourists, neon lights and beautiful countryside that don't quite sit right together but provided us with a place to relax for nearly a whole week! And to top it off this is the climbing hotspot of China, with dozens of crags, hundreds of bolted routes and all accessible within 10 minutes by bicycle from town! Woop!! The only downside being that after more than 5 months with no climbing, and even longer with no climbing outside, the first routes we tried pretty much chewed us up and spat us out. We got a bit braver after this and started to get back on track - we just wish we had longer to enjoy what was there! We're looking forward to finding some more crags on route that will whip us into shape for when we reach Thailand.

To get off the beaten track and find some real countryside around Yangshuo, we also hired bikes for a day. It was really beautiful to travel through rice paddies and local villages with such an amazing and dramatic back drop (pics to follow as soon as we leave the Chinese firewall!). What's more, we only had one run in with the locals who tried to make us pay to use their road. Unfortunately for them, they were on foot and we were on bikes. So after a small confrontation we ploughed on through, half expecting to look back and see villagers chasing after us with pitchforks!

Our search for the real China also lead us to experience Cormorant fishing by a local resident. Actually quite disappointing - it certainly wasn't like the HSBC ad anyway! I'm not sure if it's always that disappointing, or if we just had an unlucky day when the birds didn't feel like fishing but we were grateful we didn't splash out more than a fiver for the experience! Despite this, our week in Yangshuo was blissful and we were very reluctant to leave this morning. Holed up in Nanning we are eagerly awaiting a bus to take us across the border to Vietnan tomorrow so hopefully you'll hear more from us when we reach the other side. Fingers crossed for a safe crossing!

Hasta pronto!



Sorry to have missed the Pandas!
Remember the exit from the teracotta warriors well - still a never ending shopping arcade?
Will swap notes on Xian and Yangshuo later!
Enjoy Vietnam.....

  Peter May 29, 2012 8:53 PM

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