A Travellerspoint blog

Green China - Guilin and Yangshou

I have not written for a while, so I have a lot to catch up on what has been the most beautiful part of China so far.

Guilin
We arrived after another tiring overnighter in Guilin as the sun was rising over its two impressive waterside pagodas. Our hostel was only a couple months and it showed in terms of the eager staff as well as its look. Price was a trip low of 79p! A welcome rest from the recent £15 Hong Kong despite also being, no exageration, 10x better and more spacious!

Guilin itself is a pretty with its karst hills rising out of nowhere, and the Li River cutting through the city traditionally supplying trade, food and transportation. We climbed DieCie Hill and we treated on a clear warm day with a stunning aerial view of the city. The mountains create a welcome break from the grey concrete.

Guilin, although realitively quiet is one of the few places we have seen that sell steak. Ness' birthday meal was celebrated by eating a beautiful black peppered sauce version whilst being outside in the Sun. We also enjoyed the light up Li River, which would take us to our next
destination, Yangshou.

Yangshou
Yangshou is the most touristy place we have been to in China, in terms of Western and Chinese tourists. For good reason. It is beautiful! We cruised to the outside of Yangshou by bamboo raft along the Li River. The gentle cruise in the searing Sun was only distrubed by the occassional tourist boat, and the demanding scenary! Touring the Li River with a large memory card is a recipe for disaster. It is achingly beautiful, even giving the scene imprinted on the 20yuan note. It is stunning, although whisper it quietly, it looks very similar to Southern Thailand. Although what you dont get in Thailand, bar rivers of this size, are mental Chinamen on tiny bamboo rafts risking their lives to sell fruit to large motored boats full of Chinese tourists. They see the boat, and then start to paddle, a bit like a surfer spotting a wave. However they then get as close as they can to the motored boat, which could barge over their raft whenever it wanted, and grab hold of a life saving ring. If they dont die they effectively surf along after tieing themselves to the boat, and go window to window selling fruit for less than a pound. Thats earning a living!

Upon arriving in Yangshou the pretty, small streets are relatively quiet in the day. This is due to it being an outdoors place. However come nighttime it is crazy. We stayed in a hostel called Yangshou 11 which was nice and quiet, and also offers the highest viewing point in town. This allowed us to witness the towns superb beauty. At night they light up the hills, something Ive never seen, and they loom over the town magically. If Guilin looked nice, Yangshou is simply epic.

As I mentioned, Yangshou is all about the outdoors. In the daytime I hired a bike and rode to the fantastic arch on top of a hill that is Moon Hill. Riding past old men taming their buffalo in paddy fields, and watching old women with faces showing off an outdoors life carrying bags of strawberries etc. If you stop to take in the endless hills, you are taken back to another time, at least until some mad Chinese couple on a tandem come uncontrollably past you!

Moon Hill was a suprisingly steep climb. Especially after a 10mile, two wrong directions ride in 25oC. However upon the stop you can sit under the stunning arch. Problem being you are chased everywhere by an 80yr old woman who seems to have not aged when it comes to climbing hills, trying to sell you Coke. Its pretty funny as I tried to lose her by climbing steps really quickly. But she arrived a few minutes later. However it is all worth it. At the top you are treated to a banquet of vistas. Some of the most stunning karst scenary in the world mostly uninterrupted by tropical greenery, it offers quite the sight in whatever direction you look.

Nearby Moon Hill were the mud caves. We were taken on a creepy boat ride through some caves, and a Chinese tour explaining about how all the rocks were awesome, until we got to the main attraction, the mud bath. IT WAS FREEZING! We tip toed into the freezing water and attempted to cover ourselves in mud. The mud was warmer but still cold. It was fun but a real shock to the system. Unlike the next part of the tour, the hot springs!

We also did a superb cooking course. We made several local dishes including the tasty Beer Fish. The school was located by the Li River and whilst we cooked we saw Comorant Fishermen with their birds on their rafts, just like the HSBC advert!

The conclusion of our time in Yangshou was the superb Impressions show. Nothing to do with impressions as we know it, it is a light show featuring 600 locals on water created by the same guy who directed the opening ceremony of the Olympics. 4000 people go to see it twice a night, and for good reason. It is unbelievable. Imagine the Olympics Ceremony on water, with lights everywhere. It was superb and I will upload some video as soon as I get decent internet. It was a superb end to our time in Yangshou.

The last few days have been spent in Guilin chilling out. We are currently on a train finally heading to Yunnan province, hopefully saving the best until last!

Posted by theelman 21:56 Comments (0)

Macau and back to the mainland - Guangzhou

sunny

After getting into Macau from a rainy Hong Kong it was a relief to get into Macau. Especially as we woke to a 25oC heat although at times with near 100% humidity. Whilst HK had not changed much, since my 3 yr gap Macau has moved along at an amazing pace, even for China! We spent the day walking in the balmy heat doing the sights of Macau's unique Portuguese feel. Some of the streets you simply are in the Med. The only difference being in the background is usually a casino! An odd highlight of the day was as we climbed up to Guia Fort, on top of a hill in the middle of Macau, its famous mist came in. Looking on side of the hill was clear sunny Macau, whilst looking towards Taipa was literally nothing. Just a wall of mist. Whilst up there we watched the mist pass over and onto the other side of Macau.

We also met up with Diogo who I met in Macau on a bus last time. It was great to see how he is getting on and his thoughts on the changes of Macau. Macau since I last arrived now has a whole new strip of Casinos with 3 huge ones under contsruction. City of Dreams, Hard Rock and the Venetian take up the large part of it. Despite being the second biggest building in the world, after the Boeing factory, The Venetian left us feeling cold. Hard Rock is far less cheesy and has a much better atmosphere, ranking close to my personal favourite Grand Lisboa.

Macau long ago overtook Vegas in gambling revenue and apparently takes in more than Vegas and Atlantic City together. Thats Chinese gamblers for you. Like buying shiny things with lights on, they love gambling.

We have since got a fancy coach to the trade town of Guangzhou. Its a leafy city and has a stunningly beautiful French area called Shaiman Island. Which today was full of 3 types of girls having photo shoots. Cosplay, Brides and Models for tablets. Across China in picturesque spots you see brides getting photos done. And this being the nicest area in a city of 10million had at least 12 bridel shoots while we were there. The Cosplay was more random but really fun. Everyone was dressed up to the max and made a real show of things with bright long hair and outragous dresses. As for the models it was really random. When we saw the first girl the sheer number of photographers made you think she was a celebrity but the 2 others all boasting different tablets made us think otherwise.

Otherwise Shaiman Island is an unique area full of traditional housing due to the French influence, and with the green trees it means a welcome break from the norm in China.

Guangzhou is known for its trade fairs and the sheer number of shops selling one product is amazing. Need an umbrella? Umbrella shop. Socks, phone covers, medical supplies, everything. Its definitely a bustling city however we leave for greener pastures tomorrow, finally to the stunning Guilin. Entering the green parts of China.

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Posted by theelman 17:31 Archived in China Comments (0)

Hong Kong - Familiar sights and Mexican buffet!

We arrived in Hong Kong after a lay over in several hundred miles in the wrong direction from Seoul in Beijing. Was amusing to come back to the place where the trip started. We even passed our initial immigration gate. Before China seemed so foreign and mysterious, now after our time in Korea it seemed welcoming and familiar. However after a short flight, we arrived in true familirarity for me Hong Kong.

It was fun showing Vanessa around a place I had been before and enjoyed so much first time round. We did some things I had done before which you have to do, Victoria Peak, Kowloon Park, Ladies and Temple St Markets, Lantau Island Buddha etc. We even went swimming again. Despite first impressions HK is very green. Over 70% of it. And despite a few rainy days, we are near the Tropics now, we managed to explore some of the country walks like Fok Lam near Victoria Peak aswell as going around the public zoological and botanical gardens, with their superb Sloth, Turtles and Palms. When sunny Hong Kong is always balmy and the 20-25oC weather was a welcome break from the cold.

For me one of the best things we did was splash out going to a Mexican lunch buffet place in Soho. Oh my. To put it into context China doesnt do Mexican food and we only saw one place whilst in a bus in Seoul. It was perfect. Even discounting my lack of the stuff for so long the quality was some of the best food I have ever had. And this is buffet! All fresh, a banquet of choice and if thats not enough they had about 50 different hot sauces to try! A variety of tender meats some in rich sauces and fresh vegatables including a stunning aubergine zucchini mix. All washed down with a refreshing free unlimited ice tea. At $78hkd my 3 heaped plates were a steal! If like some places the a la carte menu is better I may have to move to HK!

I am writing this on a choppy rainy ferry to another familiar spot I loved, Macau. Macau has changed greatly in the 3-4 years since I visited. A whole new strip of casinos have been built, including the second biggest building in the world the Venetian Macau. Whilst Hong Kong hasnt changed as much it felt very different after now having been to mainland China for so long. It doesnt feel alien at all. Infact with the huge amount of westerners living and visiting, never mind the huge British influence it seems very unintimidating. Bar the inflated prices for accommodation! HK is a great stepping stone to a real Chinese city. This allowed us to see more indepth of the real Hong Kong, which we learnt so much about in the Hong Kong History Musuem. Which btw is superb. You dont need to like museums to like it. Best $10hkd ever. Really recommended.

By the time you read this we will be enjoying the low roller life in Macau! Cannot wait.

Posted by theelman 21:41 Comments (0)

Seoul and a Brief Entrance into North Korea

We have been in Seoul now for about 5 days and it is a really great city. We arrived by a superb free shuttle bus courtesy of the Korean tourism board. It was no expense spared as it was without doubt the most luxurious bus I have ever seen. With seats like a 1st class airplane it was fantastic to fall asleep on. Haha.

We arrived late in Seoul and set out going the wrong way to find our hostel. Mr. Kims Guesthouse is right near a Family Mart ( like Spar shop, which are everywhere), and a hair salon. Turns out we found another branch of this hair place which also had one next to it!

After much confusion we found the place. Its a great little area much like a house which has been opened up into a hostel. Nice chilled out atmosphere. Benefit of a kitchen meant we could save some cash by cooking! 8/10

Seoul is a huge city which incorporates several other large cities so it has plenty to see. Surprisingly we found a good mix of traditional and modern culture. There were some superb art galleries with impressive modern installations, to the Seoul tower which on a clear day you can see North Korea from. The handy City bus meant we avoided lengthy walks up hills. Seoul definitely has a good buzz to it, without being too in your face.

We managed to snag another free tourist bus to the town of Jeonju. This town is now a modern tourist village based off the traditional Korean Hanok style. Its size is impressive, with the flowing roofs looking straight out of Tenchu Stealth Assassins on the Playstation! haha. The village displays various aspects of old Korean life. It was a good free day of exploring a place we wouldnt of normally seen.

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Today we have just got back from the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). It is the area the separates the forces and countries of North and South Korea. You can only go to this place via a tour and we went with the USO, the US Army's tourism branch effectively for families and soldiers abroad. The tour was all day and we got to see so much of this still technical warzone. Since the cease fire in the 1950s, the two are still technically at war. Within the DMZ there is Camp Kim, the US base which we enter the zone. From here we got briefed military style from the solider who takes you around and tell you where and when you can take photos. They also gave us a history of the DMZ, and the incidents that have happened in the area since the cease fire, including an Axe Murder and a Soviet defector running to the freedom of the South during a tour with the North.

The main part of the tour is the build up towards crossing the border in the JSA (Joint Security Area) conference room. It is the only part of the area in which you are allowed to freely move in and out of North Korea. The US Army guy guides us around whilst the ROK soldiers stand in an aggressive Taekowndo pose and basically look cool in their shades and helmets. The contrast to the North guards in their classic Communist gear is bizarre when you consider the circumstances. Some of the stories the Americans say happened to them personally are hilarious, such as our solider was standing virtually on the line of the border outside the building next to a North Korean on the other side of the border and the North Korean drew his binoculars and was looking at the solider from about 1 foot away. This has happened several times to him personally and once the solider even dropped the binoculars, and pretended they were ok, even though the American saw them smash on the floor! Also apparently during meetings of officials in the conference room 20 or so North Korean guards will go into the neighbouring building pull the curtains back and start making neck slashing faces etc to provoke them. Hence they call the North Korean building the "monkey house". Its all very strange and to see the door that exits to the North, whilst standing in North Korea was very strange indeed. A unique feeling. You really wanted to pop out and say "hello!".

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We also got to go down one of the tunnels the South found, in which the North were building to create a sneak attack. It was pretty amazing feat as the conditions must of been horrific. The North hilariously blamed the South saying they built it even though all marks and dynamite is facing South. They then said it was for coal mining, even going to the extend of spreading coal on the walls. However the area is pure granite. We also got to see the area of the Axe Murder, and got to look over the North Korean propaganda village in which there is the tallest flag in the world, which weighs over 600 pounds apparently. The village is called the propaganda village as noone lives there. It is just made to look nice. The soldiers say at night you can see on the tall buildings the light at the top, but it gets darker at the bottom which suggests the buildings are empty like warehouses, not flats like they look. It is a very bizarre area the DMZ, and I would love to know the whole truth. It would be a great experience to do the same tour from North Korea.

We celebrated our freedom by buying a bottle of Han River Beer. It is a beer from North Korea, and is only available in South Korea in the DMZ. Ironically it is not only better than any Southern beer but is actually a really good, strong European tasting beer! Much better than the watery beer they have here.

I have included a sample of the pics, but if you want to see all of them check out this link...

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Posted by theelman 03:42 Archived in South Korea Tagged south_korea north_korea dmz Comments (0)

A Korean Adventure

all seasons in one day 10 °C

Busan is an attractive city which spreads its 3.8m people across the coast and between the hills. Think a Rio de Janeiro style landscape of sea, green hills poking up and out with city intertwined by the coast. It even has two great beaches, but thankfully no men in tight Speedo's, however no Brazilian chicas in bikinis either.
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I was surprised at how little development there was in some areas of Korea. I always imagined Korea to be like Japan in terms of development, but in many ways it is more like China but with less hustle and bustle. It is also much more expensive than China. Its geographically and in terms of infrastructure, between China and Japan. What's amazing is that a couple hundred miles North, South Korea allows its own direct relatives to live with famine in some of the poorest conditions on Earth while they drive their new cars down the beach front drinking expensive coffee.

The other day we went to a superb art gallery. It was full of perspective images which you could get involved in. I will upload some as it is hard to explain. The images look correct from one perspective only which makes for some great photos.
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I have been generally "meh"ed by Korea so far. We recently went to the Beomesa Temple which is apparently the best attraction in Busan. It took 15 minutes to walk around and was average at best. Literally every temple we saw in China was better, no exaggeration. The area surrounding it was very picturesque though. It provided two ill people with a long walk up a steep hill through some impressive looking rocky terrain combined with some welcome greenery. Unfortunately you were greeted from doing this steep trek to only a tiny little Asian style gate, the remains of a fortress. The walk down the hill was better. You get nice views over parts of Busan. There was a really random village which seemed catered for a busy busload of people in the summer but was empty now. It had a strange vibe of empty restaurants and people waiting for business. Think Spanish seaside out of season.

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Overall it has been nice meeting up with Will, Chris and PJ but I can see why there are very few tourists from out of the country here. With China and Japan offering so much, you would feel short changed as a tourist who knew noone. We will see if Seoul offers more.

Posted by theelman 23:46 Archived in South Korea Tagged busan Comments (0)

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