China Discovery Expedition to Beijing

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The tranquility of Yangshou

Monday 20th March

Today I escaped Colditz/Beirut/Garden of Hell minus one watch (what can you expect?) and skipped merrily to my new hotel. The hotel was great; not a madman or locust in sight. After celebrating escaping the Garden of Hell by doing a victory lap around my bedroom, I went downstairs and met my group who were on the China Discovery trip. The group consisted of eight humans, seven from the UK and one Canadian. It was a pretty young group, which was good, so after the introductions and all-too-familiar travel chat, we went out for a meal and watched the lights from Hong Kong island. I returned and had a bucket of Heinekens with Chris (roommate) and Bob (Canadian).

Tuesday 21st March

Today we got a taxi to Hung Hom station and then a train to Guangzhou ('The Goat City' for all those interested).

The rice fields encountered during the bike ride
Upon arrival, many people obviously hadn't seen many white people and we had plenty of pictures of us taken. I explained to the group that it happens all the time (I still think the Chinese thought I was Brad Pitt...). We then visited Yue Xie park, but after all of the recent travelling, we were exhausted and enjoyed the park from the comfort of a bench. We then returned to the station, the paparazzi were in action again and we boarded our sleeper train to Guilin. The sleeper trains were an interesting experience - cabins of triple bunks lined throughout the carriage. I was unlucky enough to get top bunk, which had barely enough room to turn over (imagine sleeping in a coffin in the middle of an earthquake and you'll get an idea of how I slept).
The gang at the top of Half Moon mountain (note the half moon in the background)

Wednesday 22nd March

This morning, we arrived in Guilin with the enthusiasm of a death-row inmate. We were shattered and left the train at 6.30am! We got on a coach and arrived in a delightful village called Yangshuo on a street called West Street! (My home for 14 years) We dumped our stuff and set out on a bike ride through the Chinese countryside, which was... surreal. The scenery was superb and we rode through the rice paddies and limestone rocks. After a leisurely ride we stopped and climbed a Moon Hill mountain (as you do) which had an interesting descent. We then had a delicious lunch and cycled back to West Street for our Chinese lesson, which was very intensive, but I managed to master the language within the hour. In the evening, we went to a restaurant and ordered snake, as a few of us had decided earlier in a macho-conversation that it had to be done (when in Rome.

Poor old Sidney the snake, moments before he was served in a sweet and sour sauce.
..). As soon as we ordered the snake, the Chinese got excited and went to get ol' Sidney out of his sleep and showed us it. They then proceeded to cut it's head off with a pair of scissors in front of us and then bled it dry (just to build up the appetite even more)! Chris decided it would be cool to drink the blood, and so in another moment of macho-instigated madness, John and I also joined in. So, we poured the blood into a glass of rice wine and downed it in front of a horrified audience. After that we ate the snake - which tasted like fatty pork - and then the waiter brought out snake soup, complete with all of the bones in it.... mmm! After that gastronomic disaster Chris, John and I all went out on the lash to get rid of the taste of snake. We found that one way of losing the taste is tequila, but after the bottle was finished, we drank the local version of tequila and it all went downhill from there.
The grocers of Yangshou
A few hours later, we stumbled from the bar and started playing a game involving dice with locals. I still don't know what the game was. One of the locals offered to buy John and I a kebab and we gratefully accepted. We asked what the meat was and were told that it was lamb. Lamb my a*se! That was dog and it was rank!

Thursday 23rd March

This morning I woke up with a colossal hangover to the sound of someone knocking on the door for my Chinese cookery lesson I foolishly booked the day before. I fell out of bed, found some clothes and stumbled downstairs a fashionable 20 minutes late. We set off to the market and looked at all the lovely food. After seeing about 100 chickens and a few rabbits packed into one cage, my stomach started to turn. We then went around the corner and found a dog, skinned yet whole, hanging from a meat hook.

Hell's Kitchen, China
My stomach turned again. The final straw was seeing a dog hauled from a cage and beaten to death with a bamboo stick. By this time, my stomach was turning like a tumble dryer and I went to get some fresh air! I then staggered to the restaurant where the lesson would start. I made the starter and had one mouthful before running to the toilet and being reunited with last night's kebab. I returned, had a go at the main course and decided to call it a day. I went back to the hotel and waited for the coach to pick us up. We had a very pleasant coach ride for five hours! Upon our arrival, we were swarmed by old ladies (Mental note: change aftershave) who wanted to carry our bags up the mountain to our guesthouse. The tour leader explained that this was the norm in Longsheng, so we accepted and some poor old woman carried my 20kg bag up a mountain for half-an-hour! One of the women was 70 years old! I went straight to bed without even noticing the place.
The auditions for Rumpulistilksin

Friday 24th March

Woke up in the freezing cold - last night was a pain to get to sleep as the high altitude meant sleeping in a freezer. The walls were paper thin in the place, which didn't help and I had finally drifted off after a harmony of snorers throughout the guesthouse sent me to sleep. In order to make up for yesterday I was the first one downstairs and had two breakfasts and loads of coffee. The plan for the day was a four-hour trek through the rice paddies, which meant wrapping up big time (five layers and I still felt it). The scenery was spectacular after the mist cleared and we covered a fair distance through difficult terrain. We then returned and had a great meal from thje guesthouse - all you can eat for under two quid! We then had a coach to Guilin and then had another overnight train to Wuhan.

The terrific rice paddies engulfing the small town

Saturday 25th March

Arrived in Wuhan with the usual high spirits after the sleeper train(!) and some of the others had breakfast. I declined on the basis that it looked awful. One of the guys ordered vegetable noodles and got beef. It turned out that they didn't do one's without meat!! We continued the coach journey to Yichang and checked into another great hotel. We were going to visit the Three Gorges Dam site, but Chris left his camera in one of the taxis and it proved a nightmare to try and get it back. We phoned the taxi company to see if they could send a message on the intercom, but they insisted that we would have to go to the office and pay the grand some of two pounds for this to be done (which involved a 30-minute journey)! We left it in the completely incapable hands of the taxi official and never saw the camera again.

One billion people in China and not a hairdresser in sight... Oh, and that's the Three Gorges Dam!
We went out for a meal in Yichang, which was hotpot... put it this way, I'd take a Lancashire one any day!

Sunday 26th March

Another early morning and we headed off to see the Three Gorges Dam (the largest in the world at 2km long). The Yangste river will be partially flooded in 2009 and the power generated from the Dam will supply something like 18%, which is incredible. I could go on a reel off other facts about this, but it's a bit boring to be honest! The Dam is almost finished and there's a lot of construction work going on at the moment. We then boarded our 5-star cruiseship destined for three days on the Yangste, but soon realised it wasn't quite 5-star, but more like a sleeper train standard (we guessed that it was 5 star out of 10).

Our expedition along the Shennong river... in this photo, the river will rise 20ft when flooded.
Still, all food was included, so we headed for lunch and made pigs out of ourselves. However, when we looked at the seating plan, we realised that everyone else was from Saga. "Aaaaagggggghhhhhh" was the initial collective response. Then we found they were ALL American. The tears soon followed. Basically this meant that queuing for food took much longer than usual and the oldies passed on the meat in case it got in their dentures!

Monday 27th March

One of the things with old people is that they get up before the sun does. Therefore at 7am, we awoke to the sound of 'butterfly music', which was abruptly turned off by the second note and permanently disconnected for the remainder of the cruise. Seriously, I would have preferred to have woke up to the Black Sabbath than that crap.

Our crew enjoying a break from the Saga lot!
Either way, I was awake and in a mood. I looked at the itinerary and found that Tai-Chi was on the top deck (a few of us had decided last night to have a laugh and join in). We joined in at the back, so we could have a chuckle and chuckle we did! The golden girls soon arrived in their droves, complete with rollers and tried to imitate the instructor. I think the average age, including ourselves was about 103. We were on the deck laughing (bad pun), as they nearly knotted themselves trying to move their limbs in seemingly impossible ways. After breakfast we had an excursion through the Shennong river and saw cliff burials (whoever he is) before being transferred to a tiny 'peapod' boat. We went through some very narrow estuaries which will be devasted in 2009 and then returned to the cruise ship for more food.
The kids giving some peace on our random excursion.
 In the afternoon, I just sunbathed and chilled out away from the geriatrics.  

Tuesday 28th March

Another early morning, but one without 'soothing and calming wake-up music'. I gave Tai-Chi a miss, as I don't think I could have went through another session. Today's excursion was in Wanzhou, which entailed a very random trip to a museum and a market place (where we saw a cockerel executed and left to bleed to death - just thought you'd like to know). We then visited a nursery, with very friendly kids and then went around someone's house (told you it was random). We headed back to the retirement home, where the Americans had already dived into lunch head first.

The fabulous architecture in Xi'an... this is a theatre and gallery
In the afternoon, I just sunbathed and chilled and was reminded by each passer-by that it was "such a pleasure to see such nice young people on the boat". I just pretended I was Russian and nodded. In the evening was the farewell dinner and this included wonderful entertainment from the cabin and then a contribution from each of the groups. The Americans told old jokes and stories with no meaning, although one done a tap-dance in his army gear, which proved popular! Our group done the Ceilidh and that went down very well. At the end of the performances, the Chinese put the macarena on and the oldies dumped their zimmer frames and sprinted for the door, while we ran to the dance floor and cut out some funky shapes.

Wednesday 29th March

We left HMS Ancient early in the morning and got a coach from Fengdu (ghost city) to Chongqing, which had been suffering from a gas leak for days! We went into town in the desperate search of Pizza Hut (without going into too much detail, some of us were having unproductive visits to the toilet with all of the rice we had been eating), but settled for KFC.

A pagoda, in central Xi'an
 We caught the coach to the airport and boarded our flight to Xi-An. The flight was good, but on the seat in front read the message 'Use seat for flotation', which was very reassuring! After landing in Xi-An, I headed straight to the hotel and crashed out after flicking through 58 TV channels of mandarin.

Thursday 30th March

Today was a free day, so we headed to the Shaanxi History museum, which was excellent. Some artefacts dated back 1.5million years ago, which reminded me of the cruise a bit. The museum went through all of the dynasties in China up to the present day. It was all really impressive. We then went to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which was also very impressive. On the way back, we saw a Pizza Hut and stopped the taxi, before eating everything the menu had to offer! In the evening, we had another great meal in the Muslim quarter of the city and I did some shopping afterwards with Zab, who would giev David Dickinson a run for his money!

Friday 31st March

This morning we left the hotel at some obscene hour and saw the Terracotta Warriers in all of their glory.

The intricate detail and master craftmanship of the Buddhists who created such artwork in the grounds of the Pagoda
I learnt so much from the trip and the warriers themselves were brilliant. It was good to see them, as they are re-burying many of them to preserve their designs. We went into all three of the pits that have currently been excavated and then returned to the city for our overnight train to Beijing.

Saturday 1st April

After arriving in Beijing and dumping our baggage, we headed out to see Tiananmen Square, which was huge (it can apparently fit one million people)! Afterwards, we saw Chairman Mao, whose body has been preserved for years, despite his wish to be cremated! Then we headed to the Forbidden City, which was huge. It was very well kept considering the age and the architecture was brilliant. Despite the its' name, its' history and its' prestige, inside the city itself was a Starbucks, which was couldn't believe! After such an action-packed day, we returned and some of us went to see the Chinese acrobats perform at one of the theatres.

Xi'an night markets - an excellent place for some quality bargains!
They were superb and we had a great night. We celebrated the day with crispy duck and pancakes.

Sunday 2nd April

Yet another early morning wake up, but for good reason  - the time for the Great Wall had arrived! We got a coach to the Wall and began walking in the misty air. After a few minutes, the sun broke through and the weather was great all day afterwards. The walk itself was fairly strenuous and in places the wall was badly damaged, which made it time-consuming in areas, but it was undoubtedly worth it! The scenery was excellent and its' hard to believe how big it actually is. We had a picnic on the Wall itself and then got the coach back to Beijing, where we the trip ended and we had a farewell dinner at a fantastic restaurant, where we thanked out tour guide, Lisa for a brilliant time.

The army of terracotta warriers

Monday 3rd April

This morning I left the hotel early and got a taxi to Beijing airport and caught a flight to Shenzhen. I then got on a local's bus to the city centre before boarding a train to Tsim Sha Tsui (Hong Kong). Due to the fact that the day was long and that I still had a budget to maintain, I reluctantly checked back into the Garden of Hell, where cockroaches don't go there because its too dirty for them! To my shock, but not surprise, everyone else was still there. I dumped my stuff and left to continue my tour of the great city before stopping by at the Irish bar, where I got chatting to some Americans who gave me sound advice regarding the forthcoming road trip in the USA.

Such an impressive force that have withstood the test of time

Tuesday 4th April

Despite being shattered, I left the hostel again jsut to get out of the place and chilled out in Kowloon park, writing postcards and doing nothing much to note.

Wednesday 5th April

I had loads to do today, but in the morning found out that it was Poppy Day (bank holiday), which pretty much wrecked any chance of a productive day as everything was closed! I went to Hong Kong island and mooched around and came across KPMG. I popped in and checked out the view, which was very nice indeed. I walked for miles and done some shopping before heading back to Tsim Sha Tsui where I ate at 'Curry-in-a-hurry' (gotta love it!) and watched the illuminations again, before heading back for an emotional final night at the asylum.

An excavated project underway as the achaeologists discoer some damaged warriers

portia says:
hmm, what experience you had in the market and restaurants (snakes, dogs etc), definitely enjoy your youth and live it to the fullest!
Posted on: Jul 09, 2006
alexandraglennon83 says:
I love reading your travelogue it never fails to cheer me up :-D
Posted on: Apr 05, 2006
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The tranquility of Yangshou
The tranquility of Yangshou
The rice fields encountered during…
The rice fields encountered durin…
The gang at the top of Half Moon m…
The gang at the top of Half Moon …
Poor old Sidney the snake, moments…
Poor old Sidney the snake, moment…
The grocers of Yangshou
The grocers of Yangshou
Hells Kitchen, China
Hell's Kitchen, China
The auditions for Rumpulistilksin
The auditions for Rumpulistilksin
The terrific rice paddies engulfin…
The terrific rice paddies engulfi…
One billion people in China and no…
One billion people in China and n…
Our expedition along the Shennong …
Our expedition along the Shennong…
Our crew enjoying a break from the…
Our crew enjoying a break from th…
The kids giving some peace on our …
The kids giving some peace on our…
The fabulous architecture in Xian…
The fabulous architecture in Xi'a…
A pagoda, in central Xian
A pagoda, in central Xi'an
The intricate detail and master cr…
The intricate detail and master c…
Xian night markets - an excellent…
Xi'an night markets - an excellen…
The army of terracotta warriers
The army of terracotta warriers
Such an impressive force that have…
Such an impressive force that hav…
An excavated project underway as t…
An excavated project underway as …
The thoroughly impressive Forbidde…
The thoroughly impressive Forbidd…
A throne in one of the many buildi…
A throne in one of the many build…
Admiring the superb architecture a…
Admiring the superb architecture …
Catching the stunning shapes of th…
Catching the stunning shapes of t…
The bustling markets of Beijing
The bustling markets of Beijing
The spectacular Chinese acrobats
The spectacular Chinese acrobats
A useful map of one small section …
A useful map of one small section…
A great view of the Great Wall
A great view of the Great Wall
Proof of how its not very flat!
Proof of how it's not very flat!
Enjoying a well-deserved break aft…
Enjoying a well-deserved break af…
Admiring the view from one of the …
Admiring the view from one of the…
Some more steep sections of the Gr…
Some more steep sections of the G…
In awe of such a landmark
In awe of such a landmark
Looking back on a great days walk
Looking back on a great day's walk
The last supper - celebrating an u…
The last supper - celebrating an …
The return to Hong Kong
The return to Hong Kong
More superb harbour views
More superb harbour views
Hong Kong
photo by: Sunflower300