“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
Well where do we start?
After 15 months of travel, we found ourselves in the most populous country on the planet, the insatiable monster that is China.
We’ve encounter a different kind of travel over the last 15 months and learnt to deal with situations you only find yourself in by having a toddler in tow. This though was a breeze compared to times in China. Even for us, it was a real eye-opener.
Entering the country from Vietnam, the biggest surprise aside from the language barrier, was the cost. China has embraced the free market with open arms and the masses of Chinese tourists cannot wait to spend their hard earned Yuans and show off their wealth. Being a westerner, its presumed that you also have wealth and are equally willing to part with your cash. Backpacking through China is not like backpacking through SE Asia, the banana pancake trail doesn’t stretch this far North.
We’re not going to compare China to Marmite, because sometimes we love it and hate it at the same time. The scenery can take your breath away and the local people have at times been incredibly generous and kind, but the swarms of Chinese tour groups and a language barrier like no other we have encountered, can be testing to say the least.
Saying that though the beaten path can be easily left and those back streets are made for exploration. We decided to stick to the South west region, splitting the trip into two parts. The first taking in the minority villages of Guangxi and Guizhou, working our way upto the spectacular national park of Zhangjiajie.
Yangshuo and the beautiful karst scenery surrounding the town, was our first home in China. If you flick through the worn pages of any guidebook on this part of China, they will no doubt wax lyrical about the laid-back beauty and backpacker scene in town. As we learnt a long time ago, information in guide books can quickly become obsolete. None more so than China.
The scenery is still beautiful and if you head far enough away from town, the laid back vibe still hangs true. The backpackers though are greatly outnumber by the mainland Chinese tourists. In August, peak tourist season, it is busy beyond belief. Tinned sardines springs to mind. With the help of some local knowledge and guidance from a visiting expat, we explored some of those fabled karst peaks and a few off the beaten path gems away from the chaos in town. As we were soon to find out, Yangshuo is a only a gentle introduction……
Somewhere in the notebook, there is a scribbled down route through this part of the South West. This was penned by a Polish friend ‘Kinga’, whom we met in the Philippines back in January. She had pretty much been there and done that in four years of living in this part of China, so who were we to argue. As you know by now, we love a good rice field! The dramatic terraces of Sapa in Vietnam didn’t happen, so with clears skies we headed North to the Guangxi/Guizhou border and the magnificent spectacle of the Longji terraces. As we touched on before, things are changing at lightning pace and nothing in this land appears to halt progress. You can choose as we did, to walk and hour or so to the top of the terraces, or if thats too much you can pay for a cable car, a cable car to the top of the rice terraces! This was only the first of many, many Chinese cable cars we would see.
The Chinese love a cable car.
Two days slipped by without notice and before we knew it, we were in the land of the ‘Dong’ people, and their wonderful ‘Wind and Rain bridges’ around the Chengyang area. The locals can carve wood with the best of them. Chengyang is famous for its bridges and these are works of art in themselves. The best part though, was just hanging in the cubby holes with the little old ladies, watching them sell their wares to the Chinese tour groups, in-between them feeding Betty oranges.
Lucky girl as she would say.
In theory, the journeys from A to B didn’t look so bad. The reality though was different. The huge queues we confronted when trying to buy train tickets, the standard language barrier and the hassle at the other end with rip-off taxi’s, meant that the journeys from place to place were tiring to say the least. And yet we crammed the places in nonetheless. Tired and hungry seemed to be getting a little common for our liking, but the fish hotpot we found in Zhengyuan was a blessing. It cost us, but could quite possibly be the nicest meal of our entire Chinese adventure. Just watch the bones.
Zhenyuan also had another surprise in store for us. If you climb up the hills over looking the old town, you will more than likely stumble upon the ruins of an old wall. These ruins appear to go on forever and as we found out, were part of what may have been the Southern great wall! Let’s get things into perspective though. It’s not quite the Great wall, but its nice enough to sit on watching the sun go down shelling some monkey nuts.
Unless you’ve been stuck on the grasslands of inner Mongolia since 2009, you will no doubt have seen or heard of the film Avatar. It may be stretching it a little to see those blue skinned Na’vi warriors rolling around the forest, however the scenery on Pandora is far from fiction. The karst peaks of Zhangjiajie national park, were by all accounts an inspiration for the film and yet again blew us away with some ‘other worldly’ views. The first day we arrived, it wasn’t even busy. Incredible indeed.
Like most of the high profile tourist areas around China, the cost of the entry price is extortionate. Zhangjiajie was no different in that respect, but the park was kept spotless and your entry ticket allows you to stay for multiple days, meaning you can find some digs inside the park itself. It was a fitting end to the first part of our trip. It was now onwards to to yet another province. The trip to Chengdu and Sichuan was 20hrs and three seperate trains.
I don’t think so.
We said hello to our first flight in China and it wasn’t bad at all.
- Guilin noodles – Soupless noodles with pickles
- Having a motorbike again for a couple of days – Freedom!
- Bet’s bartering skills – No Mr its three!
- Longji scenery – Never get bored of the sun shining on rice terraces
- Fish hotpot – Zhengyuan’s version of the spicy staple
- The Southern Great wall looming over Zhenyuan old town – who knew!?
- Chinese peaches – Big and juicy beyond belief
- “Best meal yet in China!” – Steve nearly every meal
- “Who do you think is chattier, mummy or daddy?” (Nay to Bet) “Betty!” (Bet’s reply)
- “If you don’t want your photo taken, tell mummy or daddy” – To Bet everyday
- “How big are Chinese train stations?” – Regarding the new ‘bullet’ stations
- “Can’t believe how expensive China is!” – Still in shock
- “If we never eat noodles again it will be too soon!” – Seriously
- “Where are all the birds in China?” – We only saw birds in cages!
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