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China

Curious what backpackers do in China? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • Spent an hour or two wandering around. Strange place. Really felt like a foreigner, which I guess is obvious, but felt a bit out of our depth. We didn't stop for lunch..... On the plus side, they do like to light everything up at night, buildings and boats, which looks quite nice. Had a load of Chinese dignitaries being given a tour of the ship when we got back. Don't know who they were but had lots of Army types following them everywhere.Read more

  • 's Ochtends zitten we in de bus naar The Red Land. The Red Land bestaat niet als subject voor locals. Het is een toeristenterm. De verbaasde en verwarde blikken van de chinezen bij het busstation begrijpen we nu beter. In hun ogen waren we twee lange blanke vreemd sprekende dieren die iets wilden maar wat ze onmogelijk konden ontcijferen. Glimlachend hobbelen en slingeren we de bergen in. We worden na anderhalf uur ergens op een top in een klein dorpje afgezet. Als we terug gaan moeten we ook hier weer zijn. Zo maken we op van de buschauffeur. Om 13.40 uur. Het is nu net tien uur en we staan in een soort van middle of nowhere. Waar gaan we tukken? Gaan we iets makkelijks vinden? Er is een absentie aan engels. Ook nu worden we verrast dat er 1 chinees is die ons in het engels aanspreekt. Een toerist in eigen land. Ze werkt en woont in Shenzen. Tegen Hongkong aan en werkt bij een bedrijf dat computeronderdelen verkoopt. De voertaal is engels. Soms is alle geluk aan je zijde.

    Het landschap is overweldigend. De stilte heeft een enorme dichtheid. Zo een die zelfs pijn aan je oren kan doen. De wind waait stevig. Er zijn wat huisjes. Hotels met eetgelegenheid. Niet veel maar genoeg. Vrachtwagens zijn er ook. Veel van hen. Er wordt hier blijkbaar veel erts gewonnen. Op en af rijden ze. Kabaal. Roet. En veel warmte. Luidruchtige monsters zijn het. In het dorpje negeren we ze. We eten wat en gaan op zoek naar een slaapplek. Tijdens het verkennen van de omgeving worden we getrakteerd op schitterende vergezichten, rode en groene lappen die als terrassen tegen elkaar aanliggen. Het rood en het groen zijn samen een magisch duo. Eindeloze velden met lieve witte bloemen, een blauwe hemel zichtbaar tussen een grauwe deken van wolken maakt deze plek uniek. Helaas wordt dit spektakel danig verstoord door opspelende darmen die niet tot nauwelijks te controleren zijn.

    Landschap als dit katalyseert zonder te ontkomen direct het contact met jezelf. Er is geen afleiding en bent enkel afhankelijk van je eigen fysiek, geestelijke toestand en elkaar. De rode stilte reflecteert en bezint. De stad zorgt voor afleiding. In een stad is het zelf afwezig. Het individu wordt vermaakt. Gevoed met prikkels die het zelf overstemmen. Leeg consumeren zonder diepgang. Die optreden als een barrière. Wat gebeurt er als die barrière verdwijnt? Wat laat zich dan zien? Wat voel je? Wie ben je?

    Duisternis daalt af en onze dag was indrukwekkend. Het ongerepte. De duidelijke gecultiveerde grond voor landbouw. Die paradox. Hoe anders wordt dag twee. Volkomen uitgeschakeld zijn we gedoemd om de dag te spenderen in onze kamer. Een kamer waar kosten en moeite gespaard is. Enkel een tv. De chinees kan niet zonder tv. Waar hebben we dit opgelopen? Een arsenaal aan wilde geluiden resoneren keer op keer vanuit de badkamer. Het leidt zelfs tot hilariteit. Romantiek is je partner aanhoren met een niet te sluiten badkamerdeur. Tranen rollen over onze wangen. Meligheid maakt zich van ons meester tussen de lamlendigheid door. Een kleine wandeling ontaard in een fysieke veldslag. De zon is heftig. De wind schuurt hard in ons gezicht. Een oude herder met een verweerde kop en een lange grijze sik stuurt zijn geiten langs ons. Het is tijd voor ons bed. Tijd dat de dag voorbij trekt. Zoals de geiten. Dat de bacteriën verdwijnen.

    De nacht verloopt voorspoedig en nu is het tijd om weder te keren naar Kunming. Een lange dag van wachten en busreizen ligt voor ons. Rond acht uur 's avonds arriveren we op een vertrouwde plek. De plek waar we kunnen relaxen en bijkomen. Waar de vietnam visa's en backpacks op ons liggen te wachten.

    'Hello, we are back again?'
    'Hi, i see it.'
    'Do you have a double room for us?'
    'With or without a bathroom?'
    'Without please.'
    'We only have one.'
    'Can we see the room?'

    De kamer is de eerste kamer dicht bij de gemeenschappelijke ruimte en bar. Reisgidsen waarschuwen voor lawaai en adviseren om zo ver weg mogelijk een kamer te bemachtigen.

    'We take it'
    'Okay, can you give me your passport?'
    'You already have our information because we already spent three nights here.'
    Yes, I know, but i need your passport.'
    We don't have a passport, it is with the vietnamese embassy.'
    'Sorry, then we don't have a room.'
    'But you have already everything in your system!'
    'You already saw our passports when we checked in.'
    'Yes i know but i have to see your passport.'

    Mijn geduld raakt op. Mijn verstand heeft kortsluiting. Wat gebeurt er nu? Hoe is dit mogelijk?Het gaat om de regel resoneert in mij hoofd. Dit keer is boef pragmatischer. We zijn een goed team. We vullen elkaar aan wanneer het moet. Gelukkig maar.

    'If you sent us away we have a big problem.'
    'There is no place to stay.'
    'You could help us a lot, please will you?'

    De baas moet worden gebeld. De drie zijn hevig in conclaaf. Ons bewijs, dat onze paspoorten bij de ambassade zijn, wordt nauwgezet bestudeerd. Er is even geen contact. Ze zijn drukdoende om te bepalen of de gegevens in het systeem corresponderen met onze kopieën. Dat onze backpacks wel degelijk ons toebehoren in de opbergruimte. Er wordt veel in de computer gekeken en nieuwe gegevens toegevoegd.

    'It is okay.'
    'For one night?'
    'Yes for one night.'
    'Tomorrow you have to show us your passport?'
    'But we leave tomorrow and we dont come back.'

    Het meisje achter de balie is flexibel. Ze is de meest klantvriendelijke en begrijpt duidelijk onze situatie. Ze beslist voor ons. Ze gunt ons de kamer.

    'Okay'
    'Sorry for this.'
    'It is the rule.'
    'And we have to follow the rule.'
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  • We arrived mid morning in Lanzhou, capital of elongated Gansu province, a key artery of the Silk Road. We could tell we'd returned to off the beaten track China - there wasn't another westerner in sight. We negotiated a taxi ride to the bus station, a frustrating 1 hour drive along dusty gridlocked streets, with a friendly taxi driver who bought us a breakfast of the Chinese staple we labelled grease sticks - they are essentially long, salty doughnuts with a palpable oily taste. Continuing our marathon stretch on public transport, we caught the bus to Linxia, a 3 hour journey that took us through an area known as the Muslim Mecca for its high population of Hui Muslims. Travelling the bustling roads filled with people in Islamic dress in the blazing sunshine, the only clue that we were in China and not the Middle East were the ubiquitous Chinese characters on signs. Reaching Linxia, we began the last leg of our journey, hopping on a coach towards Xiahe, a town on the edge of the historic Tibetan province of Amdo. The journey took us up winding mountain roads, notable for the vistas of villages with both mosques and Buddhist stupas set against snowcapped peaks. Eventually, we reached Xiahe and walked down the long main street, the architecture becoming increasingly Tibetan as we made our way towards our hostel, run by Tibetan monks from Sichuan. We settled in to our basic but cosy dorm, and then as twilight approached went for our first of many walks around the Labrang Monastery, the town's most famous highlight. Much of the monastery had been rebuilt following destruction in the cultural revolution, but it still remained the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sight in Amdo. Running along the outer wall of the monastery complex was a line of ornate golden prayer wheels which was being circumnavigated by streams of bedraggled elderly pilgrims, keen to spin every wheel. Activity at the monastery was dying down for the evening, but the stroll gave us a glimpse of the grand, very Tibetan monastery buildings and the friendliness of the mostly young monks. With night falling, we headed out for dinner where we had to wait nearly an hour for food to materialise, but when it did we had sour Yak Butter Tea, crispy fried Momo (Tibetan dumplings) and Tibetan festival food, which was similar to creamy Gnocchi. Weary after our long day of travelling, we returned to the hostel and hit the hay.

    We woke up early the next morning in order to catch the 10am English tour of the monastery, needed to enter most of the buildings. Unfortunately, no English guide was available so we had to make do with a Chinese one, so we missed out on a lot of the information about the monastery and the individual halls we visited. Nevertheless, the halls of the monastery were incredibly atmospheric, with the guide opening doors that allowed mystical statues of Buddha and his disciples, as well as incredibly detailed religious art, to emerge from the gloom of the yak butter candle lit temples. Adding to the sense of mysticism were the ever present smell of Yak Butter and the constant march of the Buddhist pilgrims round and round the locked temples, frequently prostrating themselves flat on the ground before continuing their never ending circles. The tour also featured some intriguing and very pungent Buddhist sculptures made of Yak Butter, the only things we were allowed to photograph. The tour ended in the monastery's main hall, large enough to fit it's 1800 monks, where we happened upon a large group of monks chanting in prayer, making an alien atonal sound that further evoked Eastern exoticism. Following the tour, we returned to the hostel for a delicious lunch of yak fried rice, before catching a minibus to the Sangke grasslands, 15km out of Xiahe. We stepped off the bus into a bleakly beautiful valley containing a one road town populated by hardy Tibetans protected from the cold by cowboy hats and decorated balaclavas, giving the village a distinctly Wild West feel. With weather alternating between sleet and bright sunshine, we made our way past out of user tourist yurt camps and into the grasslands, which were vast and fairly barren due to the time of year. Aiming to climb a ridge for a better view of the incredible snow capped mountains that surrounded us, we walked for nearly half an hour across the grasslands, filled with sheep and criss crossed by the occasional fence, eventually arriving at the ridge which had looked very close by due to the incredibly flat grasslands. Ascending the ridge, we steered clear of some fenced off, wild looking horses that had come over to scrutinise us, reaching the top which gave us panoramic views of the grasslands and the mountains that enveloped them. After soaking up the jaw dropping view, and musing that perhaps it was living in landscapes like these that imbued the Tibetans with such fervent Buddhist spirituality, we returned to town for one last wander round the hallowed monastery. We reached the end of the circular pilgrim route around the monastery, giving the prayer wheels a spin as we went, before leaving the tireless pilgrims to continue their endless cycle of circling and prayer. The long day had given us an appetite, which we satisfied at the hostel with our final Tibetan meal, with highlights including Tsampa (Tibetan barley cakes) and more delicious Momo. We sorted out some of our Azeri eVisa application, then settled down for our last night in Tibet.

    The next morning we woke up early for the direct bus back to Lanzhou. On arrival, we had an afternoon to kill before our sleeper train to Dunhuang. We decided to visit the Gansu provincial museum. On the ground floor we enjoyed an exhibition about the Tea Horse Road, a spur of the Silk Road that connected China and India which had run through Tibetan Sichuan, Dali and Lijiang, so provided a lot of reminders of the earlier parts of our trip. On the second floor, we were excited to visit the museum's highlight Silk Road exhibition, however much to our dissapointment it was closed for refurbishment. Nonetheless, the rest of the museum provided passing interest in the form of an interesting exhibition of the province's Buddhist art which piqued our interest in the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang and a laughably poor propaganda exhibition on the history of 'Red Gansu'. Once we'd explored the museum, we headed to the night market for an early dinner, where me and Freddie had the interesting experience of eating tasty cold noodles smothered in sesame sauce out of a plastic bag. From the odd looks we got from locals it seemed like we were supposed to empty the bags into bowls, but none were offered or seemingly available throughout the market. I also enjoyed some delicious spicy squid skewers, ubiquitous throughout China, and a delicious cake stuffed with an incredible sweet peanut filling. Savouring the Hui food had left us short on time, so we rushed to the station and caught our night train, where we fell asleep to the train chuntering along the ancient silk road.
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  • Third time in China and it keeps getting better and crazier each time. Having checked into the hostel, I went for a walk through Green Lake park (feels like a smaller version of central park) before dinner and came across a group of musicians playing by the water; erhus, madolins, violins and singers, all with their own portable microphones. I was in heaven. I stopped to listen and after a while they invited me to sing... I gave them 'the turtle dove', something stereotypically English and they worked their way around it. We did some other songs too. I shared dinner with Ben, an Aussie on a bike, who approached me whilst I had my head buried in LP looking for the restaurant road. We decided to share dinner and went to a local chinese and had a wonderful evening of talking about life, decisions and travelling.
    Friday the 13th was a write-off. I had hoped to go out of the city to visit some hills and set out to find the bus. I got on the number 5 and after an hour (and going past where I got on) it reached the terminus where I was to swap to number 6. I couldn't find it and by this time I was over it and with no Mandarin, I couldn't ask for help. I wandered to the museum to find it closed, and then tried the art galleries which had been knocked down. Feeling exhausted after 5 hours I went back to the hostel and had a snooze. 4 weeks on the go, it catches up with you.
    That evening I went back to the musicians and took a Chinese flute I had bought. I gave it a go but was rather shy and was struggling with working out keys. But they appreciated the effort. I found the expat bar for dinner and met loads of people who over the evening filtered in. It was a bit of a cliche club and a few were a little odd and full of themselves.
    This morning I headed back to the park. There ia such a community atmosphere there, it is just a blissful place to be. This time i was to try my hand at tai chi. Literally dozens of small groups just congregate in the park and set up with a little stereo. I just joined onto one and when they finished, I joined another. It was ao realxing in the warmth of the spring sun with blossoms floating from the trees.
    I explored the Yuantong temple which was rather beautiful before checking out of he hostel. On the way back from a coffee, I walked through the park (again) and found hundreds of the locals dancing crazy dances to crazy chinese music. I watched for a while before plucking up the courage to join in. Many were dressed in traditional costumes. By the end we were all dancing round in a huge circle. Thankfully the routines were quite simple. Now I am at Kunming Railway Station waiting for the overnight train. A big adventure given everything is in chinese!
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  • We hopped on the first of many early buses in Shangri-la on the way to Xiangcheng. The bus journey took us over amazing mountain passes above 4000m, along narrow winding dirt roads lined with snow and ice and through increasingly Tibetan villages. After an 8 hour journey made bearable by getting some sleep and the amazing scenery we arrived into a valley lined with beautiful Tibetan style brick houses, where after a police search of the bus and everyone's luggage, ostensibly for drugs but we were later told probably for weapons in a town that had heavily resisted the 1950s Chinese invasion of Tibet, we arrived in Xiangcheng at around 3pm. We quickly found the crumbling hotel where we were to spend the night, then wandered through town up to the fairly low key Tibetan monastery, getting plenty of hellos as well as curious stares from schoolkids and cowboy hat wearing Tibetans along the way, giving us the impression that foreigners were a fairly unusual sight. After a bog standard meal of noodle soup we went to bed, knowing we had another early start (6am) to catch the bus to Litang.

    After an even more dramatic bus journey over passes approaching 5000m, we arrived at chilly Litang, which at 4000m is one of the highest inhabited settlements in the world. The town was one of the most beautiful I've ever visited, surrounded by majestic grey towering mountains and bleak but stunning plains dotted with yaks. After searching for a hostel, we phoned one from the guidebook which turned out to be an excellent choice, charging just £2 a night but welcoming us with delicious Yak Butter Tea and essentially providing us with a free personal chauffeur, useful in the snowy weather. All it was missing was WiFi, because the Internet for the whole town had been cut off by the government for the past month for unclear political reasons, an idea that was reinforced by a heavy police presence and vast convoys of army trucks that trundled through the town. After finishing our Yak Butter tea and seeing our attractive Tibetan style but unheated room, we got a lift to the town's monastery, the most important in the whole of the historic Kham province of Tibet. The monastery felt particularly real and untouristy, filled with monks chanting and going about their daily lives, including plenty of child monks playing in the street all of whom were very friendly. Particularly fascinating was a hall devoted to the current Dalai Lama, bete noir of the government due to his political leadership of Tibet. Descending from the monastery we arrived in the charming old part of town, with dirt tracks with mountain views running between Tibetan homes. In the old town we tried to visit the home of the 7th Dalai Lama, and while the guardian initially seemed reluctant, an old lady who seemingly spent her day circling the house spinning her handheld Buddhist prayer wheel persuaded her to let us in. The creaky wooden house from the 18th century felt truly old and unreconstructed and was filled with simple shrines to previous Dalai Lamas. After strolling back to our hostel through some wintry sunshine we got another lift out into the sublime mountain framed grasslands, where we enjoyed the local hot springs, essentially big baths housed in grungy cubicles, which did feel therapeutic, especially combined with short blasts outside in freezing temperatures admiring mountain vistas. After the hot springs, we returned to town where I ate a delicious potato pancake, before heading back to the fairly icy hostel to sleep in long johns under an electric blanket before yet another early start.

    Bleary eyed after 3 days with inadequate sleep, we got a final lift from our hostel chauffeur to the town bus station, where we caught the bus to Kangding, the largest city in the region. Yet again we traversed amazing mountain passes, glimpsing the 7500m Gongga Shan, before a steep descent to the city of Kangding, which was picturesquely stretched along a steep river valley. Arriving at our hostel after finally getting up a very steep hill felt like a bit of a return to civilisation as it had western toilets and hot showers, and had facilities such as laundry which we seriously needed. After doing some washing, we walked along the side of the valley to visit the town's two temples, where we saw some attractive Buddhist art and an impressive hillside stretch of prayer wheels. Hungry after a long day travelling, we went back into town and ate at a Tibetan restaurant, enjoying a delicious 'Yak Burger' which was actually a yak stew topped with bread, along with some Yak Momo. The next day, we had a much needed lie in and spent the early afternoon doing admin like buying bus tickets, before attempting to visit the local Tibetan museum, which unfortunately was closed unexpectedly. We returned to the hostel and decided to climb Julian Shan behind it. The hostel teamed us up with a friendly German hippie who enjoyed picking up litter - a mammoth task in China. After getting a bit lost and clambering over terraces of what seemed like mini Christmas trees, we finally got on the proper path up the side of the valley through a forest, reaching the grasslands which had magnificent mountain views and were filled with grazing yaks. After enjoying a bottle of £1 Chengdu red wine that tasted like grape juice, we descended from the grasslands, bidding farewell to our German friend and going to unwind at the hostel after a tough hike. Me and Theo indulged in some French fries, before heading out for a dinner of some standard Muslim food, after we failed to find a Tibetan place recommended in the guide. We then attempted to enjoy the local nightlife as it was Saturday night, but the options were somewhat lacking so we gave up and went to bed before our final mammoth bus journey for a while - to Emei Shan.....
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  • After a zippy high speed train journey, we arrived in Hangzhou, known as one of China's most beautiful cities, in the early evening. We caught the metro to our hostel and then quickly headed out for dinner near the town's famous West Lake. We ended up having a lovely local meal, with the highlight being a whole duck, cold but cured with delicious salt and spices, before heading back to the hostel and eventually to sleep.

    The next day we woke up late, so had to hurry to the 'Citizen Service Centre' where we needed to set up our smartcard to use the city's Boris bike scheme, the most extensive in the world. Soon we were off, cycling in the direction of West Lake. At our first stop we took in sweeping views of the lake, surrounded by pagodas and containing two islands connected to the mainland by causeways. Further round the lake, we arrived at the first island, where we visited the serene ruins of the first Qing emperor's summer palace, situated in a hillside park overlooking the lake. The park also contained the tomb of a famous Tang dynasty poet who became a recluse on the island, giving us an insight into the lake's literary and artistic influences. Leaving the park, we strolled down the weeping willow lined causeway, before hopping back on our bikes. We leisurely cycled round the lake, eventually reaching the next causeway, which was clogged with people but still incredibly scenic. Our final stop round the lake was in some beautiful gardens, filled with carp ponds and stunning blossoming trees. Tearing ourselves away from the bucolic beauty of the gardens, we cycled round the rest of the lake and back into town. Once we'd had a rest after our day of cycling, we met up with Zhu Ruoxi, a student friend of one of Mum and Dad's colleagues, who very generously treated us to a divine dinner, where we were joined by a couple of her friends. We feasted on melt in your mouth pork belly; sour and spicy prawns; sticky date cakes and best of all succulent Hunan style fish heads. After bidding fairwell to Zhu Ruoxi, we went out, ending up in a club full of super rich Chinese where we were given a table and free bottles of Hennesey cognac, which didn't bode well for getting up early the next morning to go to Suzhou.

    Feeling incredibly grim, we dragged ourselves out of bed on Wednesday morning and after a lengthy journey stuck in traffic, arrived at the bus station, where we got the bus to Suzhou, the Venice of China, famous for its canals and gardens. We arrived at around 2pm and rushed into town, keen to visit the local museum and one of the most highly rated gardens before they closed. First we headed to the Suzhou museum, which contained some fascinating Buddhist artefacts recovered from local pagodas and some beautiful local pottery. But the main highlight was the building itself, designed by IM Pei as a modernist take on a Suzhou garden, complete with indoor water features, ordered geometric designs and a futuristic yet tranquil pond filled central courtyard. After marvelling at the modern architecture, we visited one of its inspirations, the Lion's Grove Garden, built in the 1360s by a Buddhist month. Appropriately, it felt extremely zen, with mesmerising rock formations, carefully manicured plants and ornate wooden pavilions creating a very relaxed atmosphere. After strolling around the garden for an hour or so, punctuated with plenty of breaks overlooking the placid central lake, the garden closed and we wandered down the attractive, albeit clearly reconstructed, canal lined streets in search of dinner. We eventually found a pleasant canal side restaurant where we enjoyed a simple twilight meal, before making our way to the train station for our nighttime high speed train to Nanjing. We arrived late in Nanjing and took the metro at our hostel, which bizarrely had a ludicrously expensive Belgian craft beer bar attached but was conveniently located in the touristy Confucius Temple area, a shopping district on the site of a giant former temple - very Chinese.

    We woke up slightly later than planned (as usual) and, with only a day in Nanjing (China's former capital and site of the WW2 rape of Nanking), hurried to our first sight of the day, the Jiming Temple. The temple was not as impressive as the Tibetan temples we had seen, but still featured some attractive Buddhist architecture and an ornate pagoda, as well as a constant flow of worshippers which added to its authentic feel. Round the back of the temple was one of the city's iconic landmarks, the intact Ming city walls, the longest in the country not to have been significantly rebuilt. Our walk along the wall in the spring sunshine, with the pristine Xuanwu lake on one side and the modern city foregrounded by trees on the other, proved particularly enjoyable, with the stone walls dotted with Ming dynasty cannons evoking a long lost China. After meandering along the wall for around an hour, we climbed down the ramparts to catch the bus up the nearby hill to Sun Yat Sen's mausoleum, passing the Ming Xiaoling Tombs which due to lack of time and money we had to skip. Sun Yat Sen's mausoleum was thronged with visitors, understandable as after Mao he is considered the father of the nation, due to his founding of the Republic of China, although the government's promotion of his legacy is somewhat confusing as he was part of the KMT, the communists' civil war rivals. Perched on a hill, up steep steps designed to evoke the nearby Ming emperor's tomb, the mausoleum loomed above us. Forcing our way through the crowds, with a few photos taken of us along the way, we clambered up the steps to the entrance of the mausoleum, where even the sheer numbers of people couldn't detract from the reverential atmosphere. Entering the tomb, we saw the simple yet striking white statue of Sun Yat Sen, below a beautiful ceiling carved with the rather attractive blue and white Republic of China flag. After walking round the statue in silence we left the mausoleum, to sweeping views of the forested mountain below, which we contemplated for a while before descending the steps and returning to the city center. With some time to kill before dinner, we relaxed in the park housing the ruins of a former Ming palace, along with old people playing cards and practicing their ballroom dancing. We then enjoyed a meal of Bibimbap after our preferred restaurant, a local favourite situated in a luxury shopping mall, had an hour wait for a table and then made our way to the train station for our hard seat night train to Beijing. It proved to be as uncomfortable as it sounds, with most of us only getting a few hours sleep on our 10 hour journey, crammed into clusters of 3 seats opposite each other, with the train totally full due to it being a national holiday weekend...
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  • An oasis town and once an important hub of the silk road, Dunhuang has little left of its historical character. However, out of town lies a wealth of fascinating sites.
    Arriving at the train station in the dark, cold early morning, I was greeted by a wall of taxi drivers all competing for passengers. Behind them dozens and dozens of old volkswagons were lined up, nose to bumper. I found a driver and he led me to his car... Now, how were we going to get out? There was a lot of impatient shouting and manouvering of cars through tiny spaces until we were free.
    In the morning I explored the Mogao caves; over 700 buddhist caves built into the sandstone in the Gobi desert. I found another westerner (German man) and we had a tour together. The frescoes and statues inside were inredible and so we preserved given many are over 1000 years old.
    Later, I went to the sand dunes where the original oasis is. The chinese have managed to give it a slightly theme park air to it but once I had scaled the first dune (via the stairway to heaven), the views were incredible. I even joined a group of chinese to do a tandem rubber ring down the other side, flying through the sand very fast. For dinner I tried donkey which, if you're wondering, tastes like roast beef.
    The next day I took slowly and spent the afternoon sitting on the rooftop of the Silk Road Hotel with Tess and Francesca, a mother and daughter team who are cycling the Silk Road. Very admirable. They are lovely, interesting people with many stories to share.
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  • After an early start in Kangding and a marathon 8h bus journey, mostly following a beautiful river valley, but luckily for our backs aong a motorway we arrived in the late afternoon in Emei, where we had booked a room at the town's only hostel, with a bizarre Teddy Bear theme. Tired after our week of exhausting journeys, we relaxed playing cards in the hostel and planning our hike up Emei Shan - one of Chinese Buddhism's four holy mountains, before heading out to our first dinner in Sichuan proper, which featured incredibly spicy pickled pepper pork and delicious tomato tofu.

    The next morning, we were woken up by the sound of hammering rain, apparently a common occurrence in this part of Sichuan. Undeterred, we put on our waterproof trousers and jackets, left our rucksacks at the hostel and headed to the mountain bus station, where we paid the extortionate mountain entrance fee. As we only had a day and a half to scale the 3200m mountain we cheated a little bit, getting a bus to Leidongping two hours down from the summit. We followed the trail of Chinese tourists to the walking path, along which we soon encountered one of the mountain's packs of very confident monkeys, which were lapping up the attention and more importantly food provided by the visitors to the mountain. After watching the playful monkeys for a while we pressed on up the path, which quickly became quiet and shrouded in mist and light rain as the Chinese tourists turned off towards the cable car. Passing a number of small temples along the way, some touristy and some simple and real-feeling, we eventually reached the golden summit, which was topped by a magnificent gold statue of the mountain's protector goddess that periodically drifted in and out of the mist. After exploring the atmospheric misty summit and having a much needed snake, we began our descent. Once we'd got past the main summit trail, it seemed like we were the only ones on the bamboo lined, sometimes ice covered mountain path. After destroying our calves climbing down what felt like a million steps, passing more ethereal fog shrouded temples along the way, we arrived at the Yuxian Temple (1700m) where we chose to spend the night. Included in the room price was a delicious and hefty vegetarian meal of rice with marinated bak choy and cabbage. After savouring our first vegetarian meal of the trip, we returned to our cosy but austere wooden room, where I fell asleep before 8pm, the earliest I'd done so for at least 10 years.

    We woke up at 9ish the next morning and quickly continued down the mountain, briefly interrupted by a particularly aggressive group of monkeys that attacked Theo and stole food from his bag, as we had a lot planned for the day. The contrast with the previous day was stark, with most of the fog receding leaving sweeping views of the surrounding area and glorious rugged mountain scenery. After descending through lush green bamboo forest we reached the Wannian Bus depot at around lunchtime, from where we got the bus to Emei, collected our luggage and then made our way to Leshan on yet another bus. As it was getting late in the afternoon, we hopped in a taxi to the Giant Buddha itself, where we dropped our rucksacks at a left luggage, before ascending through the Buddha complex past historic fountains and statutes of Buddha's companions, before arriving at the top of the magnificent 70m Buddha, the largest in the world, carved into the cliff edge overlooking a river. After contemplating his head, which was still painted despite being over 1000 years old, we chambered down the stairs behind him past ancient Buddhist rock carvings, before reaching a riverside viewing area where we were able to gaze up at him. To give an idea of his scale, his toenails were bigger than a person. After enjoying the majestic Buddha from below, we left the park area and headed to Chengdu, where we arrived late, exhausted and excited to see pandas the next day..
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  • After an uncomfortable hard seat night train journey, punctuated only briefly by sleep, we arrived into Beijing railway station on a sunny Friday morning. Once we'd made it out of the hour
    horrendously crowded station (it was a national holiday weekend), we got the metro to our hostel, located in an area made up of historic hutongs - atmospheric alleyways from the turn of the 20th century, filled with little shops and cafes, with little traffic. We settled into our hostel, then went for a stroll around our local hutong, visiting the bustling shopping street of Nanluogoxiang, getting lost in the bucolic alleyways and admiring beautiful ivy covered courtyards, often historic artists homes. Eventually, we meandered our way to the Bell and Drum towers, ornate constructions which until the 1920s were the main way of telling the time in Beijing, with drums and bells marking each of the 6 periods of the traditional Chinese day. We decided to scale the Bell tower as it had views of the more impressive Drum tower, and after a short climb up some steps, were rewarded with sweeping views of Beijing's hutongs and across to the Forbidden city. Tired from our train journey, we descended the tower and made our way to the Beihai Lake, which we chilled by in the afternoon sunshine for an hour beside locals fishing, before returning to the hostel for a siesta. Rested, we headed out for dinner, ending up in a local favourite, where we enjoyed amazing fried dumplings, made of a pastry more wheaty than the more rice based cuisine of south China, as well as crunchy fried aubergine and juicy deep fried pork balls. Re energised by our delicious meal, we decided to make a night of it, heading to a bar area near the University, which turned out to be disappointing as it was super overcrowded, probably due to the national holiday. On the taxi ride home from the club, David unfortunately lost his phone, with the search for it somewhat limiting his time in Beijing.

    The next morning we overslept, and so weren't on our way to the Forbidden City until around lunchtime. After standing in a queue for a security check to get into Tiannammen Square for half an hour and passing through the iconic Heavenly Gate with the giant
    portrait of Mao we were annoyed to discover that the Forbidden City had received its maximum 8000 visitors, so was closed for the day. Adding to the tedium, we were forced to walk a ridiculously long way round to leave the area due to the massive security around Tiannammen Square. Keen to make the most of our afternoon, we hopped on the metro to the Temple of Heaven, a park that was essentially a giant altar used by the Chinese emperors for religious ceremonies. On entering the park, we encountered a group of elderly people singing old communist songs accompanied by an accordion, which felt pretty special. We visited smaller beautifully decorated pavilions dedicated to animal sacrifice, before reaching the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, an iconic building featuring ornate imperial insignia supported only by wooden pillars (no nails or cement) and during the opium wars the British army headquarters in the city. Moving on, we visited the complementary vault of Heaven, containing tablets bequeathed by imperial ancestors, used in the solstice ceremonies that took place on the adjacent, huge round altar. We wandered the park as the afternoon drew to a close, before heading back to the hostel where we had a simple meal and then went out, to an alternative club filled with expats where an American DJ dressed as a woman was playing, making for a bizarre but fairly entertaining evening.

    On Sunday morning, we decided to escape the heat of the city to visit the Imperial Summer Palace, famous for its destruction by European troops during the opium wars. Following a long metro ride, we arrived at the Summer Palace, which was as expected very crowded (later we learned it had 500,000 visitors that day). First, we visited little Suzhou, a charming reconstruction of the canal town built to entertain the emperors. Then we made our way further into the palace grounds, climbing up a giant faux Tibetan Buddhist temple, reflecting the religious beliefs of the emperors. Coming down from the temple, we walked among blossoming trees towards the giant azure lake that marked the center of the summer palace. Strolling along the lakeside Long Corridor, we stopped off at various sites, including the breathtaking hilltop temple of wisdom that afforded great lake views, the three storey, intricately decorated stage from which actors entertained the Qing emperors and the glistening marble boat on which the palace's main patron in later years, Empress Dowager Cixi, relaxed. Overall, the palace felt majestic and decadent, and it is easy to see why Chinese revolutionaries weren't too impressed by Cixi's decision to spend the entire Navy budget reconstructing it in the late 19th century. We returned to town via the famous Sichuan restaurant Zhang Mama, where we shared an amazing meal of succulent chicken in peanut sauce, uber spicy Sichuan pepper pork and dry spicy beef noodles in a sesame sauce, as well as many other scrumptious dishes.

    We woke up early on Monday, excited for our big daytrip out of Beijing to the Great Wall. We had chosen to go to Jiankou, an unrestored section of wall that connected to the reconstructed section at Mutianyu, so we would get a flavour of both the ruined wall and the slightly inauthentic reconstruction. We got the bus to the outer suburb of Huariou, where we extremely fortuitously managed to catch the 11am bus to Jiankou, the only bus of the day, just as it was leaving. After getting off at the entrance to the Jiankou Scenic Area, by a big sign saying this section of the wall is closed to the public, armed with the very vague instructions in our guidebook, we went in search of the trail to the wall. 45 minutes of frustrating searching followed, before some locals pointed us in the right direction, up a steep trail marked by red ribbons winding through a pretty pine forest. Eventually the Great Wall rose up in front of us. We clambered over the ramparts, feeling like mongol invaders, and started our walk along the crumbling wild wall. The views from the top were stunning, with the wall stretching as far as the eye could see, while pine forested hills and verdant plains competed for attention on either side. The wild wall featured some incredibly steep sections, so we enjoyed a quick stop for a late picnic lunch at the highest watchtower before making our way down the steepest section of wall towards the restored section. The restored section, while still steep, was much easier to walk on and therefore was a bit more touristy, but as it was late in the day the numbers were not too intrusive. After more incredibly atmospheric strolling along the wall, which made it clear to us why it is considered by some to be a wonder of the world, we descended from the wall as the sun began its slow retreat behind the hills and caught the bus back to Beijing. To complete our stereotypical day of Beijing tourism, we splashed out on dinner at the Jinzun Peking Duck restaurant, where we enjoyed delicious duck that was fattier and less crispy, but far more succulent and delicious than Peking Duck I've had in the UK.

    All too quickly our last day in Beijing arrived. We booked our sleeper train to Pingyao and then retreaded our steps towards the Forbidden City, hopeful that on this occasion we would be early enough to get in. We were in luck, so made the journey through the main gate to the complex, traditionally only walked through by the emperor himself. Arriving in the first of 3 main squares, we were taken aback by the scale of the complex. We wandered through the main halls of the palace, decorated with imperial splendor and with a real feel of historical significance. We moved on to the 3 smaller halls, where the emperor's wife would generally reside, which were equally as sumptuously decorated, before branching off to some side courtyards filled with lesser halls displaying the ornaments of the Qing Dynasty, including fine furniture and a random assortment of gifts from Western ambassadors. Once we'd explored these courtyards, we continued to the end of the complex, with the magnificent North gate defended by two golden lion's surrounded by the tranquil imperial gardens. Wandering back through the complex, taking in the Imperial ambience, we snapped back to the 21st century going through the 2 seperate checkpoints to get into Tiannammen Square. The square is the largest in the world, but feels very sterile due to the security and total absence of anywhere to sit. We strolled the square for a few minutes, admiring Mao's mausoleum, closed in the afternoon, from afar, and then walked to Dashilar, Beijing's traditional shopping area, in search of souvenirs. We didn't have much luck, as the market turned out to mainly sell overpriced tat, but it made for a pleasant pre dinner walk. Following the extravagance of the previous night, we went to Yaoji Chaogan, a very authentic traditional Beijing canteen, visited by Joe Biden last year, where we feasted on the house speciality Pig Liver Soup, as well as traditional Beijing soybean paste noodles, garlic topped deep fried crackers, horseradish-y tofu paste and crispy sweet potato pancakes. Very satisfied, we caught our sleeper train to Pingyao...
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  • February 21.
    Haikou is the capital and most populous city of Hainan province, People’s Republic of China with about 2,000,000 people. The southern end of the Hainan province is considered the Hawaii of China. I’m not sure we agreed with that, but hey, our standards are a bit different.
    We were only here a short time, but we wandered into a park, and it being a Saturday morning during the Chinese New Year celebration, it was packed! There were probably 8-10 dance events taking place. We weren’t sure if these were classes, had someone leading a group or werjust for fun. As we continued to wander through the park, there was croquet, numerous pingpong games, cards and ball games involving 2-3 people. Then we came upon an area that had dozens of pieces of permanent exercise equipment – all in use! It was fascinating!
    The only ones having a better time than us, were all the locals taking pictures of us!
    There was even one mother that gathered her childen around us to get a photo. So, if you see us on Facebook, don’t be surprised!
    In any case, this fairly busy city broke us in to the crowds we will encounter in Hong Kong tomorrow. We have become fairly complacent, sailing around small islands here and there throughout our trip. Even some of the bigger cities didn’t seem too intense. We’ll let you know how it goes.
    The first photo is of a very active pingpong game. The second is the exercise area in action and the third is one of the dance events, all three photos in the park.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

People’s Republic of China, People's Republic of China, China, Volksrepubliek van Sjina, Kyaena, ቻይና, Cīna, الصين, চীন, República Popular China, Çin, Кітай, Китайска народна република, Siniwajamana, རྒྱ་ནག, Sina, Kina, Xina, Republikang Popular sa Tsina, ᏓᎶᏂᎨᏍᏛ, Čína, Китай Халăх Республики, Gweriniaeth Pobl Tsieina, Folkerepublikken Kina, རྒྱ་མི, Tsaina nutome, Κίνα, Ĉinujo, Hiina, Txina, چین, Siin, Kiinan kansantasavalta, Chine, An tSín, ચીન, Caina, Sin, סין, चीन, Kína, Չինաստան, Republica Popular de China, Republik Rakyat Tiongkok, Chaina, ꍏꇩ, Tsina, Populala Republiko di Chinia, Cina, 中国, jugygue, ჩინეთი, Қытай Халық Республикасы, ចិន, ಚೀನಾ, 중국, Res publica popularis Sinarum, Volleksrepublik China, Cayina, Sinɛ, ຈີນ, Kinija, Shine, Ķīna, Haina, Кина, ചൈന, Хятад улс, Ċina, တရုတ်, Volksrepubliek China, Chinne, Kitai, ଚିନ୍, Китай, Maldang Republika ning Tsina, Chiny, Chunwa, Ubushinwa, Kiinná, Shîna, චීනය, Čínska ľudová republika, Kitajska, Shiinaha, Kinë, சீனா, చైనా, จีน, Hytaý Halk Respublikasy, Siaina, Ol Manmeri Ripablik bilong Saina, Çin Halk Cumhuriyeti, جۇڭخۇا خەلق جۇمھۇرىيىتى, Хитой, Trung Hoa, 中华人民共和国, כינע, Orílẹ́ède ṣáínà, Cunghvaz Yinzminz Gunghozgoz, i-China