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China

China - Picturesque Bike Ride & Yangtze River Cruise

sunny

So there we were in Yangshuo (southern China) after the long 15 hour bus ride. We were standing there on the side of the road, groggy headed and smelling like cigs. We hadn't booked a hotel and didn't know which direction to go to get to the main part of town. A guy came up to us and asked if we had a place to stay. He was supposedly the "manager" of a hotel in town. Its very common for solicitors to approach you at bus stops and stations. We usually just ignore them or tell them we are already booked, because we usually are. Besides we don't like to take offers for hotels from people on the street because there's a good chance it's a shadey deals. But in this case we figured we would take a look at his place and if we didn't like it then at least we would have had a ride into town. So Lynette hopped on the back of his motorcycle and I onto a buddy's bike, and with our bags tightly held, we zoomed off. The place ended up not being that bad so we booked two nights. After that we stayed two nights in another, slightly nicer hotel.

Over the few days we were there we enjoyed the area. The first day we just got our barings and checked out the local shops and restaurants, taking it easy. The next day and the day after we took bike tours through the countryside. There are a lot of women walking through town offering to give bike tours. We found one woman who seemed really nice so we booked with her. We rode out through the farms and small villages, with the huge rock karsts jutting up out of the ground all around. The views were spectacular. Our guide Wendy was awesome, probably the best tour guide we've had on the trip so far - very friendly and real. We had a great time. Along the way we stopped to hike up Moon Hill, a huge karst hill with a gigantic hole through it. At the top you can look through and view the entire magnificent landscape. It was really hot so the hike up was tough, but we had two "volunteer" women following us up fanning us as we went. Half way up we stopped for a rest and they offered us cold water, of course at a hugely marked up rate. But we gladly purchased some to prevent passing out from dehydration. Afterward we ate at a little restaurant at the base of the hill with a great view looking up at the rock formation. Our pork stuffed peppers, tofu, and dumplings were delicious.

Starting our bicycle ride, heading out of town:
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Later, after riding through some picturesque old villages Wendy took us and our bikes on a boat across a river. Once on the other side we then peddled to a local market which was off the beaten path so it was very un-touristy. We didn't see any other westerners there so it was a great rare authentic experience.

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Herbal medicines at the market:

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Lynette enjoying a refreshment back in town after the day's long bike ride.

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Once our time in Yangshuo came to an end we flew to Chongquing to catch our cruise down the famous Yangtze River, which is the third longest river in the world. I was a bit skeptical of the cruise due to the rough 3 day boat trip we took through Halong Bay in Vietnam. But my worries were squelched the moment we walked on board. The cool air-conditioned air hit me in the face and my body immediately went into a relaxed state that it stayed in for the four days on board. The small cruise ship was understated but quite nice and charming. Our room was cozy with a balcony and soft beds. (The Chinese love hard beds, but they are learning that Westerners differ here and they are slowly changing to please their Western customers.)

The Yangtze River has been big news for the past few years because the Chinese government decided to build the massive 3 Gorges Dam (the largest in the world) to improve navigation and generate much needed electricity for the country. This decision is highly controversial however because it would flood the river, therein submerging hundreds of towns as well as archeological sites, and displace millions of people. What this could potentially do to the environment is also a big concern. There are many pros and cons but the dam construction went forward and is now complete. The river level has already risen a great deal but is scheduled to be at full height in 2009. Supposedly the rising river level has detered the grandeur of the surrounding mountains, but not knowing what it was like before we were not disappointed. On the contrary, we were quite taken by the beautiful views.

We met some great people during the cruise, most of which had been to the Beijing Olympics. Its great to meet so many wonderful people from different countries and sometimes our own, all with interesting travel and life stories.

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From a few excursions during the cruise:
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Our last excursion was to view the 3 Gorges Dam:
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We were sad when the cruise was over. We liked being pampered for a few days. But we were off to the airport and took a plane to Shanghai where we are now. We arrived last night and checked into our hotel. We aren't sure what we will do here yet, but we have a few ideas. Once we figure it out we'll be back to share the experience.

Dave and Lynette
dbuck242@yahoo.com
lschimpf@gmail.com

Posted by schuckley 18:10 Archived in China Comments (3)

Our Eventful Introduction to China

rain

Hello, this is Dave. Our introduction to China was a challenging one. We had it so good in Hong Kong and Japan, but now it is back to roughing it. We had read that China was tough but we weren't quite ready for it.

To tell you about it, here is my journal entry from August 24th that I wrote during our overnight bus ride:

What a crazy ride we are on now - China! Holy shoot, I'm not ready for this! We left Hong Kong on a train this morning. After a short ride we arrived in mainland China where we were hit with probably the biggest challenge of the trip so far. We had to find out where to buy tickets for the over night train we wanted to take up to Guilin. But none of the signs, directories, or schedules were in English. Just a bunch of Chinese characters that, of course, made no sense at all to us. There were masses of people and at least 12 queue lines leading up to various ticket counters. We didn't know which one we needed so we decided to just get in the shortest line and hope that the salesperson at the counter would know some english and be able to help us. The man at the front of the line next to us was shouting and arguing with the sales woman and she was yelling and shouting back. They were in a huge disagreement about something. While waiting in line Lynette turned to the young man behind us and asked if he spoke english. She pointed in our guide book to the city we wanted a ticket for and asked if we were in the correct line. The guy didn't understand but he took off running and brought back a woman who spoke some english. After telling her what we wanted she directed us to the last queue line at the far end of the room. So we headed that way. To our dismay it was a really long line and after about 10 minutes of waiting the line didn't move an inch. We thought luck was on our side when a security guard came up and pointed us over to yet another line that was much shorter. After a short time waiting we got up to the counter and pointed to the book and asked if there were tickets available to Guilin. But unfortunately the sales woman shook her head telling us there were no train tickets availabe for tonight or the next night. We were not happy because we knew this meant we were going to have to take a dreaded overnight bus.

We had some trouble finding the correct bus ticket office, but we eventually got our tickets. We waited around outside for a few hours then went back to the office at 5:00 PM to catch our bus. After a few minutes a somewhat official looking man came and got us and motioned for us to follow him. Clueless, we did so and walked a bit through the station, and oddly away from the bus area. Then out of no where he stops and motions for us to keep following some kid who appeared at his side. This didn't seem quite right to us, but we've learned that you never know how things work in these other countries. The process is not what you think it is or are used to back home, but somehow it works out. So we followed. We walked a good ways down a busy road and Lynette and I became more and more apprehensive. "Why were we leaving the station?" We came to a minivan where a guy jumps out and opens the trunk. He and the kid direct us to put our stuff in the back and get in the van. Our minds are racing and before we get in Lynette says to me, "Are you sure about this, this doesn't seem right?" I pointed to our tickets and asked the kid, "Bus...bus?" He nodded his head and pointed off into the city somewhere and says, "Bus." (Well we wanted an adventure right?) We decided to get in and trust and see what happens. We take off in the minivan and get onto the highway. After a few minutes of heading across town Lynette and I are still worrying. We keep coming up with possible positive scenarios for why we are leaving the bus station in a minivan with two non-English speaking strange Chinese men to find a bus somewhere across town. Not many reassuring scenarios were coming to mind. But one was that Lynette had read that there was another bus station in a neigboring city, and that maybe we were heading there. We drove a bit more then came to stop along a city street. "Is this where the guys try to coax us into some shop to buy stuff," we wondered. We said, "Is this the bus?" and started to get out. But the driver shook his head and gestured some hand signal that looked to us like the sign for "time-out." We assumed this meant to stay put. The kid got on his mobile phone and started chatting with someone. We had stopped at what looked like some kind of bus stop. Some busses came and went but we just sat there for about 5 or 10 minutes. Finally a bus pulls up that the guys seem to have some interest in. We figured they'd now tell us we can get out. But instead, as the bus drives past us our driver pulls out behind it and starts to follow the bus back onto the highway! After about a mile or so we get off the highway and eventually pull up and park behind where the bus had stopped. They get us out of the car and show us over to the bus. The kid pats me on the back reassuringly as if to say, "You can stop worrying now, I told you we were going to the bus." We didn't know yet if this was a tipping country, but after the ordeal I didn't feel like offering up any extra money to anyone. My fight or flight adrenaline was still flowing but at least we could now relax - a little.

We loaded our bags under the bus and boarded. It was a sleeper bus, the first for us on the trip. We'd had been on sleeper trains before, which I'd give mixed reviews, but we'd heard horror stories from other travelers about the busses. But unfortunately we had no other options to get where we were going. Getting on board we were instructed to take off our shoes and put them in a plastic bag that we were handed. We went down one of the 2 narrow corridors between the 3 rows of steel tube frame bunk sleepers. The beds (if you can call them that) are not fully flat but reclined. You can stretch your legs out fully, fitting your lower legs into the compartment underneath the reclined torso of the person in front. That is of course unless you are a near 6 foot tall person like myself. At full stretch my feet are wedged at an awkward uncomfortable angle inside the steel compartment. There were only 2 other people on board so we had the pick of most the beds. It took us a while of sampling to decide where we'd stay. Lynette chose the top bunk on the right side of the bus and I took the one below her. The smell of stale cigarette smoke and sweaty armpit (maybe my own) hovered in the air. Its very bumpy right now so I can't imagine I'll sleep much. I just took 2 Dramamene to prevent motion sickness so hopefully they'll also make me drowsy and help me sleep. Right now the young Chinese fellow next to me who boarded a ways back has been staring at me for several minutes. At one point he leaned over to read what I was writing. I showed it to him but because he could not read the English he poo-pooed it as jibberish. Its going to be a long night. I'm just hoping at this point that they stop a few times along the way for pottie breaks.

End of journal entry.

Well we were on our way, and the rest of the bus trip was also quite eventful. The front of the bus which was mostly full of women was quiet and restful, while the back, where we were, seemed like a frat party. The mostly male group was talking loudly, shouting, and laughing. One guy two bunks over had his radio playing at full volume and was whistling along to the Chinese dance music. I was amazed that nobody seemed bothered by the rudeness and noise of the group and no one, not even the driver, said anything to them. Even though we took a pee and smoke break every couple of hours a few people decided to light up on the bus in the middle of the night. Besides the smoke being annoying, I kept imagining the possible dangers. Lynette and I were surprised when around midnight the bus stopped for a dinner break. We got off the bus and entered a run down and dirty old restaurant. The front of the place, as with most low-end restaurants in Asia had a big metal roll up door on the front like a mechanic's shop and was left open. It was hot and muggy. The one oscilating fan in the place barely moved the thick air and was left pointed at the table where the driver and his assistants sat. Lynette and I didn't want to eat, we just wanted to stay on the road and keep going. But we sat down at a table. While everyone else was munching away, no one served us and eventually I realized that you had to order your food up front at the counter. But we were too tired and not hungry enough to care so we just sat there.

My Dramamene pills were at full effect at this point and I felt half asleep and could barely keep my eyes open. My head was in a fog. This worked great to my advantage though when we were back on the bus. I couldn't believe how well I slept, given how rough and bumpy the roads were. It was pretty uncomfortable but I was able two find two positions I could sleep in for a while before alternating.

I actually slept most of the way, waking every few hours when we'd stop to use the facilities. The restrooms so far are the worst we've experienced anywhere on the trip. They are absolutely disgusting. I can see why the bus driver made us take our shoes off before getting on. At one place the men's room was next to the pig shack and I could barely tell the difference. If it were not for the squatting men's heads and shoulders poking up above the 3 foot stone stall walls as they did their business I might have thought I was in the wrong place.

What was supposed to be an 11 hour train ride ended up to be a 15 hour bus ride. We finally arrived at our destination. However, getting off the bus and standing on the side of the road we became very aware that we didn't have a booked hotel, nor did we know what part of town we were in or where to go. But the rest is for another story.

dave & lynette
dbuck242@yahoo.com
lschimpf@gmail.com

Posted by schuckley 20:28 Archived in China Comments (0)

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