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nomadnorrie From Sydney to the formula 1 grand prix in Shanghai, Beijing, South Korea, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine and Europe. Final destination by train is London. Hopping on a flight to Finland, then on to Japan and finally back to Sydney.

Pingyao, Xian, Wuhan, Yichang, Wushan and ChongQing

CHINA | Wednesday, 30 January 2008 | Views [6672]

Little three gorges

Little three gorges

Finally I have found some time to sit down, have a breather and write something. Traveling by plane, train and boat, I went south from Beijing, then east and back west plotting an angular S on the map. My mad-looking route basically ensured that I wasn't following the backpacker crowd and left me in China's west-central region, Chengdu in Sichuan province. The weather is still cold but the food, laced with chilies, is really hot.


Leaving Beijing again was a bit of relief really. I'd pretty much had enough of studying even though I didn't quite make it out of the beginner grade. I am heading south to Hong Kong and my first destination was an old walled city south west of Beijing, called Pingyao. I booked a cheap sleeper bed on the top bunk. My train had no air conditioning, which worried me a little. Having seen the way Chinese people blow smoke on their dinner companions’ food I knew there would be no regard for little old me just because I hate the smell. Fortunately smoking was only permitted in between carriages which, given the number of Chinese men that smoke, probably upset most of the men on board. On the train there were plenty of people willing to talk to me but we quickly got to a point where I could understand no more. Then I lay my head on my valuables and was gently rocked to sleep.

The busy hard sleeper carriage from Beijing to Pingyao.

Pingyao is a particularly good place to visit because within the old city walls there has been no modern-style development. Modern buildings in China look functional rather than attractive and are more often than not an eyesore. I did find one modern building that I liked very much in the embassy district in Beijing. It wasn't until I past it several times that I noticed a Kangaroo and Emu on a plaque! On the train I met someone who runs a youth hostel in Pingyao and I agreed to go to his hostel to have a look before going anywhere else. They gave me a room to myself upstairs off a charming old courtyard for the princely sum of 40 Yuan (£2.70 per night). It was opposite a hostel that appears in the latest edition of the Lonely Planet, consequently it was pretty quiet although, I thought, unjustly so. Zhengjia is a great place to stay, it was worth going to hear the 15 year old receptionist go on about how much she likes big noses and hates Japanese.

Zhengjia youth hostel courtyard.

I spent most of the first two days wandering around, I popped into the odd open house or old bank but wandering aimlessly was the most enjoyable by far. Stopping to chat with a few people and watching others for no reason at all (a very Chinese thing to do), very quickly passed the time. Wandering around on top of the 10m high old walls was also good fun and it gave me a great perspective of how attractive the old city is compared to new. It seemed every corner, doorway or shop front yielded a photo opportunity. My final day was spent looking at an old house that was used when making the fantastic film "Raise the Red Lantern" by Zhang Yimou.

Pingyao, you should go there.


On the train to Xi'an there was a similar cheery atmosphere as on my previous train. A woman from Guangzhou, a couple of girls from Taiyuan and a couple of Chinese guys. We all chatted for a while; what are you eating, teach us some Cantonese, where are you going/been, how long have you studied that sort of stuff. Actually most of my conversations with Chinese people go along much the same line. A few people felt entertained enough by a foreigner talking that they couldn't resist leaning round the corner to have a gawp at me.

Each cheap bed carriage has about 66 people in it, something like 6 per section and 3 per triple level bunk. With no air conditioning the middle bunk was definitely the best choice. I woke up in the morning to find there was thick snow outside and unwholesome air inside.

In Xi'an, my second completely walled city in a row, I was intrigued by the idea of Muslims in china so I headed to the Muslim area for a good dose of staring. Oh, and I also had some delicious food called Pao Mo which is apparently famous in Xi'an, it is a soup with pita like bread crumbed in it with vegetables and Lamb.

Chinese Muslims

I went for more staring at the terracotta warriors complex. Despite the snow, cold, and wet feet, I was glad that I went to see the warriors, Xi'an was worth going to just for them.

Just a few of the thousands of terracotta warriors

Last on my list was the big goose pagoda (also worth a visit).

The Big Goose Pagoda

The only thing I didn't have time to do in Xi'an was to replace my new Chinese made fake Timberland shoes. How long did they last? It was about 2 months before the first hole appeared. After that the heel soon crumbled inside and now the sole has split in several places. Wearing them leaves my socks wet enough to wring out after wearing, they normally smell pretty good too.


Train tickets are apparently hard to come by in Xi'an before spring festival because there are so many students there, I just couldn't get one. So, from Xi'an I hopped on a plane to Wuhan. The idea behind me traveling to Wuhan was to get on a boat and travel through the three gorges from Yichang to Chongqing, it was a last minute decision that eventually worked out. While stopping over for a day I discovered that the province museum was actually worth visiting. It did take some effort wandering the streets to work out the right bus to get on but eventually I got there. They have great displays and lots of English translations that were well worth reading, I wasn't expecting much from the museum because normally two paragraphs of Chinese characters are translated into something like useful like "A signed form." This museum was much better and that caught me off guard, I ended up running out of time and they booted me out at closing time. I did get to learn a little about Ming dynasty hairpins though - at that time married women had to wear their hair in a bun.

Ming dynasty gold bullion.

Ming bling - hairpins.

Another thing that Wuhan was great for is street food. Stinky tofu, fried potato doused in chili powder and herbs and also youtiao, which is a fried stick of dough that is quite light and can be dipped in noodle soup or soy sauce (the hotel receptionist told me that Wuhan is famous for youtiao).

Youtiao, before and after cooking.

Next stop was further up the Yangtze river, a place called Yichang.


After a lot of hassle with travel agents giving me incorrect information I bought a ticket for the Hydrofoil (otherwise known as Thunderbird 4) to Wushan in the middle of the three gorges.

I could have gone on a 3 day Chinese tour cruise or a passenger ship but the chances of sharing a room with a 40-a-day chain smoking guy put me off a little.

Passenger ships traveling up the Yangtze (the big boat).

I decided to go to the Hydrofoil ticket office instead of using a travel agent because the two that I visited were hopeless - one of them told me that the next boat is next year!

Thunderbird 4.

At the ticket office I had to speak Mandarin but the benefit was that the ticket clerk warned me that so many people will want to board the boat I should be there really very early if I wanted to get on the first scheduled Hydrofoil. Seats on Hydrofoils from Yichang (upstream at least) work on a first come first served basis. It meant a 4am rise to get to the Hydrofoil departure point early enough to beat the hundreds of others hoping to travel early. I arrived at 5.10 and was second in line to queue. A young student was in front of me and she was on her way home and was ecstatic that she was first, phoning her mother twice to tell her. I'm sure her mum was pleased. A queue began to form and up to 15 minutes before the bus to the Hydrofoil arrived everything was orderly. Then some people stood by my side, soon afterwards some others joined them and soon the queue became a mob. A ticket clerk, armed with a megaphone, came out to sort the queue out. She began bellowing into the megaphone at people to form a one-person wide queue and so everyone shuffled a lot to make it look thinner. The clerk kept bellowing and eventually started pointing the megaphone directly at peoples faces to get them to move. Instead of telling people to move she was saying things like "How about moving, is that alright?" About 20 however decided it would be better to move to the front of the queue rather than the back. Not a single person said a thing. Sadly I was so enraged by the whole business of being barged about that I didn't think to take a photo.

Since my Hydrofoil trip upstream meant that I wouldn't get to see the three gorges dam, the largest in the world, I decided to make a trip out to see it before leaving. I got off the local bus and was swamped by people wanting to take me to the top of the dam. Once we got there I realised the view was crap. The mini-van driver I chose offered to take me for a closer look, just as long as I pulled my hood up. After jumping over the dam perimeter fence and walking through a small builders yard I stood practically on the edge of the dam.

Me and the three gorges dam.


I stopped here principally to go on a tour of the little three gorges. It took quite a lot of effort getting here, first to Wuhan, then Yichang and then on the boat upstream, fortunately it was well worth it. Wushan the city was nothing special but the tour more than made up for it. A one day stopover was all that was needed then I was back on the Hydrofoil.

The water in the gorge is to rise to 176m near the dam and it had already risen to 156m when I was there. There was still plenty of opportunity to see a fair number of empty houses and lots of farmland soon to be underwater.

The little three gorges, watch out for lepers.


Chongqing was a convenient stopover after getting off the boat, my next real destination was to see the Panda bear sanctuary in Chengdu. In Chongqing I had a look around the ancient town, Ciqikou, where I was staying and also a village a couple of hours away by bus called Shuangjiang . Shuangjiang was in fact hard to get to, it took me one and a half hours to get to the bus station in Chongqing and then a further 2 hours from there to Tongnan. From Tongnan I got a motorcycle taxi (with a built in umbrella) to Shuangjiang . All in all it tool me nearly 4 hours from where I was staying.

In Shuangjiang I sat down and had something to eat, wandered about and chatted with a few of the locals.

Motorcycle taxis have umbrellas.

Meeting the Shuangjiang locals.

The local historical building (Qing dynasty).

Amazingly I met a young guy who spoke English and he told me that I am the first foreigner he has ever seen. An older guy told me I am the first foreigner in the village this year. Both times I had crowds of people eager to look and listen, all the time smiling and quietly chatting, everybody was incredibly friendly.

Click here to see the rest of the photos Pingyao to Chongqing

Tags: Sightseeing



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