Not Really a Blog

February 15, 2012

Yangshou

Filed under: China, Guilin, Places, Travel — Tags: , , , , , — jesus @ 17:42

Yangshou is this little town south of Guilin which is famous because of its fantastic landscapes, the Li river and because it’s a climbers’ paradise.

Yangshou 2

To get there you can take a bus that takes 1 hour and a half. Or you can get a tour through the Li River, which is what I did. With this they pick you up from your hostel, drive for like an hour and then you get on a bamboo boat for another hour, then another bus to Yangshou. Well, actually it’s not a real bamboo boat, it’s one made of plastic I think which imitates the original one, but this has now become a big business and these are safer and better.

Yangshou 4

Bamboo boats

Yangshou 6

The trip goes down the Li River through a fantastic landscape, with weird peaks along the way. They appear on the 20 Yuan notes and are famous for this. Again, come visit in spring time or summer, I’m sure it’s way more beautiful than now.

Yangshou 7
You see lots of boats across the river, with friendly people on them

Exchange
Boat drivers exchange money!

Yangshou 12

It wouldn’t be a total Chinese experience if it didn’t stop in the middle of the itinerary where a bunch of locals are awaiting you trying to sell you absolutely everything. From fruits, to fried fish, etc. So you stop for a bit, and while you try a bit of that food, you wonder how it must look in better weather, when everything is green and good.

Yangshou 14

Finally, you get to a small village and then grab another bus to Yangshou, where you try to find accommodation for the night.

Yangshou is not very big, and it’s very very touristy. This is an understatement. It has one street, west street, full of souvenir shops and bars. In the souvenir shops they sell everything overpriced (4 times more expensive or more, so they say) and in the bars, they play the music very very loud everywhere, while many of them have locals singing songs in Chinese. Finding a place to have a beer and be able to talk to people is a bit of a mission.

West street

The man you can trust

Yangshou at night II

The one thing that really annoyed my about this town was that it’s not really prepared for winter, or for cold temperatures for that matter. The temperature here dropped to 7/8 degrees Celsius which is not that cold in absolute terms, but because it’s very humid you get a nasty cold feeling. Also, it doesn’t help that almost every room lacks central heating (or if does have a heater, it’s not enough to warm the room, let alone the bathroom). So you end up in a place where you are shivering constantly. Oh well, cheap accommodation.

But the most interesting part of Yanghou are its surroundings, and the best way to discover these, is by renting a bike and cycle away on your own. Again, you have to bargain hard here to get a decent price.

Yangshou 30

If you rent a bike, there are a few bike paths that you can use. These go along the river, through really beautiful landscapes and remote villages. The only problem is that there are constructions everywhere. It seems the Chinese are exploiting this to the maximum and there are houses almost everywhere (or construction sites for future hotels),
which kind of spoils the whole landscape. You can get to some really nice places however, where you get to random villages. Again, it was kind of rainy and cloudy and very very cold, so it didn’t feel really nice biking. But it’s one of these places that must feel absolutely awesome during sunset and sunrise, when the light is that way.

Yangshou 32

Road

Yangshou 49

Bamboo boats on a truck

Yangshou 63

Biking and traffic is interesting in Yangshou, well in China in general. To say that it’s chaotic is not to say much. It all seems like there are no rules, and that the natural order or preference prevails. When I say natural order I, of course, mean that the bigger your vehicle is the more you can do whatever you want. So, this means Lorries, Busses, Cars, motorbikes/mopeds, pedestrians.

Yangshou 74

Lady cycling

I’ve seen about everything, from reversing a bulldozer, not looking backwards at the same time the guy is on the phone, to cars going in the wrong way on a main road. Turns and stop wherever you want, etc, you name it.

Apart from this, there are a few other interesting things you can do here:

Moon Hill

Now, this is funny, because you have to pay like 15 yuan to get into this place and climb to the top. Just when you’ve arrived you’ll be assaulted by a group of local farmer ladies who will ask you to give them 2 yuan. What they’ll give you in return, it seems, is to show you a path to the moon hill. But all they show you is a broken piece of the fence of the perimeter around Moon Hill so that you can jump it and get into it without having to pay the official 15 yuan. Cheeky. The problem with this is that the guards know about this and they usually patrol the area preventing people to get in…

Moonhill
The Moon Hill

Yangshou 37

The view from the Moon Hill

Anyway, there’s a pretty steep climb using stairs to the top of the mountain where, when you get there out of breath, you’ll be assaulted again by other farmer ladies trying to sell you postcards or water.

Farmer Lady I

Farmer Lady II

As you see, this is like a mafia, they have the farmer ladies everywhere… Just joking, they are nice and they are only trying to earn a bit of money!

strawberry picking

This area is full of strawberry fields where you can either buy them directly from he farmer or just go and pick them yourself. The interesting thing about this is their taste. Very very sweet and quite different from the ones I’ve had in Europe. Really.

Strawberries
ummmm

The boy and the sugar cane
Boy with sugar cane

Hot Spring and Water Cave

I went here on a day that was raining miserably. It’s actually a cave, very similar to the reed flute cave, illuminated in the same way, but it has a mud bath section (cold water, only opened in summer) and a hot spring, where you can get into and stay between 30 minutes to 1 hour. Nothing really exciting here unless you consider this exotic, but it looks kind of tacky and touristy.

Street vendor

Yangshou 94

Yangshou 69

Steamed bread
Amazing red bean steamed bread. Yummy!

January 20, 2012

The Longji Rice Terraces

Filed under: China, Guilin, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , — jesus @ 17:15

If you are in Guilin there are many tours that can take you to the Longji rice terraces, called like that because from the top they resemble a dragon’s back (longji = dragon’s backbone). It’s in the mountains and apparently it’s extraordinarily beautiful in spring. Not so much in winter, but anyway, I already know the drill.

Rice terraces

Some minorities live here like the Yao ladies. They are not the only ones, you can find some other minorities there as well.

Yao lady

I booked a tour through my hostel. Priced stated was 400 yuan for a whole day (2 hour trip to the mountains, day there and come back). Now, if you’ve never been to China (and I fear that the whole Asia is going to be like that) everybody is trying to rip you off, in a way. Well, actually more like trying to squeeze a few dollars out of you. They assume that you have more money than them and that you don’t mind giving your hard-earned dollars away. In the end, what you are paying is cheap in European terms, but you dont’ like it when you discover that you’ve been charged 3/4 times what a local gets charged.

Corn
Yummy

Boy waving

Signs
To slow down, go to the left!

As an example of this, we were picked up by a van where there were 3 other people. I paid 280 yuan after bargaining a bit with the hostel guys. That included the 2 hour trip to the mountains and back, lunch and the long hair show. The other people in the van had paid 400 yuan and they had to pay separately for lunch and the long hair show… And I still think that maybe you can get it cheaper than 280 yuan…

Yao lady singing

The longji terraces is an area in the mountains where these minorities live around pretty rice terraces. In spring time when rice has been planted and it’s rained everything seems to be very green and beautiful. Now in December, it looks quite deserted. You can go to the top of the mountain where you get amazing views and, of course, you get people selling you absolutely everything. Even some weird stuff there…

'literature' available
They sell everything!!!

Rice terraces III

Me at the rice terraces

The Yao ladies belong to a minority ethnic group where they cut their hair when they are around 16 years old, when they are ready to get married. They never cut it again.

Yao lady showing her hair
That’s long hair!

Mum and boy

They roll it on their heads on a big hairdo which looks quite impressive as some of them are almost like 2 metres long. On their village they have this show, targeted for tourists,  where they sing and show the wooing ritual. Quite weird but worth seeing it. So, apparently a woman signals her interest to a male by pinching his ass (yeah, right) and if he reciprocates he hits gently her feet with his. Weird, no?

The funny thing is that they usually ask some volunteers from the audience, guys, to go on stage and take part on this ritual, in front of everybody. In my opinion it was a bit embarrassing for the chosen guys as they had to sing, one by one, to one of these ladies. So, if you ever go, don’t go on stage unless you really want to do it ;-).

Rice terraces II

Anyway, a day worth it, even if the weather was not good. If I come back, I need to visit this area in spring or autumn and get better weather, and better photos. It’s quite a tiring trip, so a stay over might be appropriate. Tiring because the way up (and down) the mountain is very curvy and takes very long.

spices

Ah, also, if you do this by booking a tour, expect to be taken to a tea demonstration. Probably your seventh tea demonstration in China. Actually, expect this everywhere, there’s even people who trick you into some of these and then require you to pay (not in my case, but met a couple of girls who were asked to pay for this).

Cat

How this works is that they take you to show you how the tea in China is taken, so they prepare this ceremony where they explain to you how they prepare it, how they drink it and the different kinds of tea they have (and what they belive they are good for) and they show it to you while you try then. Interesting things to note here:

  • the first water you use, you throw away and use to clean the cups.
  •  You drink the tea in three sips, no more, no less.
  • you grab the cup differently depending on whether you are a man or a woman.
  • They have osmanthus tea, which is what Guilin is called (Forest of osmanthus trees)
  • They have compressed tea, which looks like a brick rather than loose leaves. It was the best tasking one I tried.
  • No matter where you have this, they are going to press you to buy tea or accessories afterwards. They’ll press hard, so stay firm if you don’t want it.

Dragon skin
Dragon’s backbone

January 13, 2012

Guilin

Filed under: China, Guilin, Travel — Tags: , — jesus @ 13:02

I came to Guilin because some people told me that it’s very nice and has beautiful scenery They also told me  it’s an interesting city. So why not?. I decided to stay here for a few days before going to Yangshou, a small town which has an amazing scenery. it’s also a climbers’ paradise, it seems.

Yangshou 57

The whole area is made of karst hills and caves that look like the set of a fantasy film. These limestone peaks are featured on the 20 Yuan notes so they are well known across China, and far away too. You can find more information about how these were formed on this article. I think they also appear on the Episode III of the star wars series.

Unfortunately the weather was not the best one and that did affect my stay overall. Every day except one has been cloudy and foggy, making it hard to appreciate the beauty of the scenery. Apparently the best time to come here is spring, summer and autumn, especially spring, when everything is green and the rain on the rice terraces creates nice reflections. Anyway, not that I did have much of a choice.

Guilin (桂林, Gui Lin) actually means forest of osmanthus trees, a tree that grows here everywhere and that is used to make a kind of tea popular here.

There are a few things you can do in Guilin that are worth it:

      • Go up Yao Mountain:it’s the highest mountain in the area and, apparently, you have amazing views from the top, looking at the weird shaped mountains and the city. Apparently because when I went it was cloudy and foggy and I couldn’t see a damn thing. You go up on a cable car and to go down you can either choose to use the cable car again or just use a slide, which is what I used ;-). I wasn’t really sure how fast I could go, so I kept braking, but it was very cool Must be very nice in summer. I have a video, but as I don’t have the necessary bandwidth to upload it to youtube, that’ll have to wait.

        Cable car

        Sunset close to Yao Mountain

      • The lake and Li river tour: So you jump on a boat and they take you around to see the river, and the lakes. Not really worth it what I did as they took me for like 20 minutes very quickly and paid 100 yuan. Total waste of time, but I guess it must be much better if you actually get these cheeky boat owners to take you to the lakes (or during the night)

        Boat driverGet easy money!

      • The reed flute cave: There are many caves in this area, as the geology for these mountains make it easy. You can visit the reed flute cave this weird fantasy lighting system and all the stalactites and stalagmites are coloured in bright neon colours. Impressive as some of them are a few metres high. Apparently there are some paintings from several hundreds of years ago, proof that it was explored many years ago. I took the chance to take some nice pics with my tripod :)

        Reed flute cave V

        Reed flute cave I

        Reed flute cave IV

      • Solitary Beauty peak. In the centre of Guilin there’s this park (Mansion of Prince Jingjiang) which has a few museums (only in Chinese) and this peak from which you can get a pretty view of the city. Again, not that good as it was foggy and cloudy.

        Guilin city from Solitary Beauty PeakIt looked a bit dirty from here

      • There are two pagodas nicely lighted during the night in the Guilin lakes. I took some really good pictures that I like thanks to having a nice tripod with me.

        PagodasBeautiful view at night

        Pagoda I
        pretty

Apart from this, there are many other things you can see in Guilin. There’s this underground market called ‘little Hong Kong’ where they sell clothing and other stuff, like gadgets and hardware thingies. Not that interesting from my point of view, but worth the visit underground. There are countless street markets where they sell all sorts of stuff, from tea to necklaces…

Street market

The first hostel where I stayed is called Lakeside Inn. It’s in a really nice spot and the people who run it is super friendly. I made friends with Vic (罗炜) who is a friendly chinese guy in his mid 20s who will take care of you. Plus the rooms are very very nice. He saved my ass a few times by coming with me to do an errand or buy some tickets.

As an anecdote I wanted to have my hair cut, so I used Vic to help me out (rather, he offered after my frustration). He took me to this place where you can get a hair cut for 5 yuan (£0.50). Now, this is a guy who cuts the hair in the middle of a poor looking neighbourhood street. Yep, in the middle of the street. So, can I please go somewhere that looks nicer? So he takes me to this other place where you can get a haircut for 8 yuan (£0.80) but it didn’t look that clean and hygienic at all. So, finally, I go to this hair dresser saloon where it’s full of ladies and where they cut my hair for 40 yuan. Well, not only cut my hair, it was quite an adventure, as I got I head massage, got my hair washed, then cut, and then washed again. All of that while 3 or 4 of the guys working there where standing right behind me looking at me and giggling. Later on Vic told me that they said that I was handsome and friendly. Yep, there’s Chinese gay men too. Anyway, it was quite an experience and I actually paid less than half what I pay in the UK at a barber shop, so it was worth it for me. I guess I paid the equivalent of a £30/£40 haircut in the UK! And peace of mind that I was not going to get anything…

Having a haircut in ChinaVic took this picture while he was cracking up

There’s one thing you have to try in Guilin, and that’s the Guilin’s rice noodles. Usually for breakfast. It is made of rice noodles, a bit of meat (normally pork) and peanuts. You add hot water and different sauces and there you go. The most popular dish in Guilin. Not my preferred option, but you have to try them anyway.

Guilin Rice Noodles
They are alright, but nothing that fancy, in my opinion

And then, there’s Yangshou…

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