Pushing our way from Guilin to Shanghai
For the remainder of our travels in China, an executive decision was made to fly all long distances. Perhaps it was the 12 hour bus rides combined with the horrendous standard of lavatories along the way or our general tolerance for the uncomfortable is running out. For whatever reason, I was pleased with the decision. I know I have *****ed about airline travel in previous blogs but when faced with a 1.5 hour flight or a 27 hour train ride to cover the same distance, the decision is basically made for me. So we boarded our air China flight to Guilin. Guilin is in the far south of the country and has been on the must see China destination list for a while. It is known for its naturally beautiful landscape of rugged, pointy mountains.
Getting off the plane I was hoping smaller city means less pollution and perhaps general visibility would be greater than 10 meters in front of me. I was wrong. Unfortunately the smoggy cloud of pollution that blankets China certainly hasn’t neglected Guilin. After a while you become desensitised to it and it’s just like you are wearing a pair of foggy, dirty glasses that can’t be cleaned.
Pollution aside, Guilin is very beautiful. The landscape, as previously described as pointy and rugged, was formed because this part of the world used to be at the bottom of the ocean Over hundreds of millions of years the limestone was eroded to form these dramatic mountains. It reminds me a lot of Thailand, around Phi Phi island (minus the ocean and beautiful beaches). The city of Guilin being one of the smallest ones we had visited and even had a few tree lined streets. Our accommodation was nice at the Ming Palace Youth Hostel and as far as I’m concerned any place with a rooftop terrace is all right by me. It also had two resident cats so Joseph and I felt a little closer to home. Jason just thought it was gross we were patting scabby looking cats. It was here that I also reached my consumption limit of Chinese food. Goodbye Kung Pow chicken, hello Supreme pizza and spaghetti bolognaise.
We had grand plans the following day to see the sights. The sky had other plans as it poured down on us. So beers and cards it was. When we finally ventured out it was easy to see why people flock here. The city is not as chaotic as other Chinese cities. The pace is a little slower and the people a little friendlier. There is a small mountain fairly close to the downtown area that Joseph and I decided to make it our mission to conquer. It’s fairly easy to climb, there is a little stone path to follow and if you get lost, just listen for the megaphones of the Chinese tour guides and spot their flocks. I also discovered on this climb that the south of the country is hotter and I have still retained my ability to sweat buckets. The view from the top was definitely worth it as the previous day’s rain seemed to clear some of the smog.
The next stop was to the Reed Flute cave. There are mixed reviews on this place. Basically it is a massive cave with tons of stalactites and stalagmites. But because it is in China it has been ‘Disneyfied’ and most of the cave is backlit with red, blue and green lights with cheap looking rope lighting leading the way throughout. The cave itself is pretty cool, I imagine it would be the perfect place for Batman’s lair. The lights were super tacky but actually kinda fun.
The next day we checked out of our place in Guilin and headed down to Yangshou. We decided to take the scenic route via a boat down the Li River. This part was actually the most beautiful. We sailed down the river as the huge towering rock formations passed us by. It was also a chance for us to sample some local alcoholic delicacies. First cab of the rank was Cassia Blossom wine. It was probably the sweetest wine I’ve ever tasted but overall not terrible. Next was the snake wine. This tastes like really, really cheap mentholated spirits with a funky aftertaste. I’d like to point out, however, I have never actually drank metho. For extra effect, it is served from a bottle that has a dead snake jammed in there. We politely declined when the lady tried to sell us a bottle of the devils spirit. Australian customs would have a field day with that one.
Arriving in Yangshou was pretty cool. Our big old boat pulled up to the river bank lined with touts selling touristy **** and we knew this was a touristy town. I was happy, as I knew I could get my fill of western food. After we checked into our hostel, Monkey Janes Guesthouse, we headed up to the rooftop bar. For two reasons, one to be anywhere but our filthy, mouldy room the other because it apparently has the best views in town. The rooftop bar was actually nice. More due to the view and less due to the mouldy couches and general shabbiness. One of the first characters we met was Monkey Jane herself. We quickly realised she was one crazy monkey. She holds beer pong contests, has fifteen different drink specials depending of the time of day and generally just encourages her patrons to get completely and utterly inebriated. We spent a lot of time and a substantial chunk of cash at her establishment. Eventually it was my turn to play beer pong. Beer pong is a game played on a long table played with two people. Each player has six cups half filled with beer and takes turns trying to throw two ping pong balls into the other player’s cups. If you land a ball into the others cup, they have to drink the beer in that cup. After I realised the ping pong weren’t sanitised after each throw and saw a hair in one of my beers I threw all caution to the wind and submitted to the filthy game. I also won, which meant I was the proud owner of an official Monkey Janes t-Shirt. We had a good time in the bar, they let you plug in your iPhone and play your own music. After 5 minutes of my music, we were completely outed. We were then the novelty of the night. Jane said she has had one or two gays in her bar but never THREE! She quickly uploaded us to facebook for all her friends to see.
During our stay, Jane had convinced us to come with her on a motorbike tour of Yangshou. In theory we would ride scooters to little hidden gem destinations around town. None of us had ridden scooters before so before we headed off on the three hour adventure she wanted to see first if we could ride them. Joseph and Jason jumped on and scooted through the obstacle course of shoppers and market stalls, proving they could ride. Then it was my turn. I got on, rode about five feet before the bike slid out from under me and I was careening out of control towards a sesame seed shop. I must be the first person to have an accident on a scooter travelling less than 5km/h. I did manage to gash open knee and cause the scooter to spew forth some kind of fluid. I also made the call that I would not be partaking in the tour of Yangshou on two wheeled death traps. Instead, we opted for a more suitable activity for my skill level, a bamboo boat ride down the Li River. It was definitely an activity for a more elderly crowd but still nice to get out and cruise down the river.
Yangshou was my most favourite city in China. The main touristy bit is small enough to walk around in an hour and a lot of it has been ‘pedestrianised’ so the risk of being collected by a bike, scooter, car or truck is greatly reduced. There are countless little stalls selling trinkets and plenty of restaurants and bars to keep you entertained. There is a little stream that runs through this section which makes it all very tranquil. Well as tranquil as you can get in a Chinese city. We even had a few beautifully sunny, smog free, clear days which were a welcome change. But our time in Yangshou came to an end and soon we were whizzing back to Guilin airport and boarding a flight to Shanghai.
Shanghai is a city Jason has travelled to countless times with work and one I was keen to explore. I really enjoyed my time in Beijing and Shanghai is supposed to be one big old melting pot of cultures. We arrived at night and witnessed th
e city light up with countless bright, colourful lights. So far, so good. Our hotel was nice but in a little kinda Shanghai ghetto area but everything is just a cab ride away. Yes, we have even given up on taking the metro to get around. I should point out that for the duration of our stay in Shanghai, the entire country was on holidays. From October 1st
to October 7th
most people travel within China. If I could offer one piece of advice to people wanting to travel to China it would be to never (and I mean never) go during this time. The crowds of people are simply too much to bear. The pedestrian mall on Nanjing road was a sight to behold. A sea of people pushed, shoved and shouted their way through to get to the waterfront area called The Bund. We made it halfway before taking a breather at a bar that at least had a fence to separate us from the rabble. It was actually kinda fun to sit and people watch for a while. But we quickly realised we were also being watched. It had happened a bit in China, mostly in really touristy areas, a random person would try and take a sneaky photo of the weird looking westerners. None more so in Shanghai during this national week long holiday of overcrowding. Some people would attempt to do it with a little sneakiness by positioning their friend to the left or right and taking a snap, others would simply stop dead in their tracks and take a picture with their mouth gapping open. I always wondered what they did with these random pictures of complete strangers but otherwise it didn’t bother me too much. Joseph however didn’t share my sentiment. After a while it got a little annoying and I now know why Britney went crazy from the paparazzi. In the end we would all just pull ridiculous faces or point our cameras right back at them and take a picture of them. I now have a lot of pictures of strangers on my camera.
Shanghai is a beautifully clean city with some pretty amazing buildings shaping its skyline. The Shanghai world financial centre is one of them. It looks a bit like a bottle top opener but also boasts the world’s tallest observation deck at 474 meters. Jason and I checked it out. The inside of the building looks like the set of Tron and the staff are forced to wear purple and silver space suits. The view from the top was definitely worth fighting the crowds for. The French Concession is an area we found ourselves in on more than one evening. This is the place to go for fun little restaurants and bars, without the crowds. One evening we found ourselves in a bar called Studio that was actually an old bomb shelter. It was pokey, but fun! So Shanghai for us was a little sightseeing, shopping, eating and drinking, all in all not a terrible way to wrap up China. It is a country with a culture so very different to ours it is a real adjustment and at times it can incredibly unbelievably frustrating. Our one month in China made us laugh and cry but gave us plenty of new experiences. Happy to be writing this blog from our beach hut in Boracay!