Hunting World Heritage Sites on our first trip to East Asia
  • Day28

    Visiting the DMZ

    September 24, 2019 in North Korea ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    A guided day trip today, and one that I'd been excited for since we first booked the trip: we were going to the DMZ, the De-Militarized Zone that sits aside the "Military Demarcation Line", the border between North and South Korea. The last vestige of the cold war.

    Quick bite from a bakery, subway a few stops away, and we were on our bus with about 30 others heading north out of Seoul. Apartment buildings gave way to fields, and then a riverbank which was lined with barbed wire and studded with guard towers. Parts of North Korea ran along the far side (a long way off), but I guess it's still considered a potential avenue of attack.

    After an hour or so we arrived in the general area which is surprisingly close to Seoul, only about 50km or so. After passport checks, the first stop was the observatory. This is outside the DMZ but just near it, sitting on top of a tall hill. Here we watched a movie about Korean war, then headed out on the terrace where a bunch of binoculars were set up and you could see fairly clearly into North Korea, still a few kilometres away.

    It was fairly easy to pick out various NK guardposts and towers, and I even saw one guard leave his hut to pee in the bushes (well that's what it looked like he was doing anyway!). You could see Kaesong as well, the third largest city in NK, though not much action was happening. Occasional guys on mopeds, one platoon of soldiers, and at one point I saw some people in a bullock-cart. You could vaguely make out the Joint Security Area as well, which we'd get to later in the day.

    Next up was the Tunnel. This was a long tunnel underneath the border dug by NK that was only discovered in the 1970s after information from a defector. The tunnel runs several kilometres under the border about 70 metres below ground, emerging in a wooded area south of the DMZ. I think the idea was to deploy troops behind enemy lines in a surprise attack scenario; this was the third tunnel found and it's suspected there might even be hundreds more.

    Unfortunately for us it was absolutely crawling with Chinese tourists! There must've been at least 50 bus loads of them, and the queue to enter the tunnel was a hundred meters long. After a brief survey of the bus, we decided to alter our itinerary for the day.

    So next we ended up at the train station. This is on the old north-south railway line that runs through Korea. The station was built in the early 2000s when relations were thawing - the Hyundai corp and both governments set up a joint industrial complex just across the border, and this is where workers would pass through going back and forth. Eventually it all fell apart and the station is disused these days, though it still remains as a symbol of hope. It's also the only overland way of leaving South Korea.

    We also visited a cafeteria here for workers in the reunification ministry and had lunch; a bit expensive but I loaded up my plate to get some serious value.

    We returned to the tunnel and found the place almost deserted, I guess all the Chinese had departed for the local Chinese restaurant for their lunch! So the tunnel was completely empty when we went in - a bloody long walk! It was quite small as well, only about 1.5m in height so quite uncomfortable for me to walk in. Even by NK standards it's small - our guide said the average Northerner is 5'6", though the guards they put on the border are always 6-foot plus!

    Tunnel finished, it was back to the bus where we headed for the Joint Security Area, the spot controlled by the UN and US forces, along with guys from the ROK army. This is the spot where the blue huts are located, and where recent peace talks took place between North and South (and Trump also visited here).

    Armed only with cameras and passports, we boarded a US Army bus accompanied by several soldiers and finally actually entered the DMZ - everything else had been outside of it. One village from each side is allowed within the DMZ, so we drove past where about 200 people live within a kilometre of North Korea. They don't pay taxes and are excused from conscription, so it's a good deal for them. The highest flagpole in South Korea is here, a gift from some country or another; though of course the highest flagpole in the Korean peninsula sits just across the MDL in the North Korean village. Of course!

    Finally we arrived at the JSA, where after another quick briefing we were escorted out into the blue huts area. There's actually five buildings there - three blue ones controlled by the UN and US, and two silver ones controlled by North Korea. Though apparently they don't use their ones. There was the border, right there, only a few metres away. We went into the central building, where many peace talks over the years have taken place.

    The border runs directly through the centre of the room, so crossing to the far side technically puts you into North Korea. Technically. I still went! They showed us a few other highlights, like some bullet marks from when a NK defector drove his jeep across the border back in 2017. A peace tree planted by Kim Jong-un and President Moon. A blue bridge that's a shortcut to the UN camp nearby.

    While we were being escorted around, a group of North Korean soldiers had come out onto the balcony of their building overlooking the area and were keeping watch. Most likely they were running a tour as well, which they apparently do a couple of times per day for rich Chinese visitors. Close enough to hear them talking! We were under strict instructions not to wave at them though, and technically any sort of fraternising without express permission is considered a crime in South Korea.

    So we just looked, then headed back for the bus back to Seoul.

    Last stop for the day was a quick visit to Seoul's N Tower. It's a tall TV-transmission sort of observation tower sitting on a hill in southern Seoul. It's apparently quite a nice spot to see the sunset from the top, but we decided to walk up and couldn't quite find the entrance to the park it's located in, so in the end we missed it! Great view though. Back home where we had 7-11 noodles for dinner - it's been an expensive day.
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    Trish Forrester

    Nice view!

    10/8/19Reply
    Trish Forrester

    Very interesting day. I think I would have been a bit on edge!

    10/8/19Reply
     
  • Day27

    Over to South Korea

    September 23, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Time to leave China! Had our breakfast downstairs (the proper one this time), checked out and headed for the station where we caught the metro across Shanghai. We'd hoped to do the maglev train which runs at a ridiculous 450km/h, but unfortunately it only goes that fast after 9am and we were too early - damn! Saved a lot of money, but it would've been cool.

    The airport felt quite empty and we breezed through check-in, emigration and security with no problems, and of course had ages to wait at our gate. Eventually it was time to go and we hopped on a bus out to the plane. It was actually a really comfortable plane, where I had genuine leg room and a wide tray table. Just a shame the flight was only 90 minutes!

    We'd actually mis-calculated the flight time as well, forgetting about the time difference, so what we thought was a nearly 3 hour flight was actually only about 90 minutes. Whoops. We even got a meal on the flight: Korean bulgogi of course.

    Landed in Seoul where again we cruised through immigration and walked straight past the baggage carousel, which was for some reason being patrolled by a friendly robot. We're not in China anymore! Got some cash from the machine, sorted out our pre-purchased SIM cards, bought transit cards and off we went. The subway from the airport took almost as long as the flight, since the airport is located way out of town (in a different city, really).

    Navigated okay through to our hotel where we checked in - it's basically a hostel where everything is Korean style. No shoes inside, sort out your own recycling, no housekeeping etc. It's nice enough, though the bed is up against the wall - Shandos's turn this time. At least the bed is semi-soft!

    After gathering our thoughts we headed out into the late afternoon. Our hotel was in a large area of alleys with cool cafes, restaurants and funky shops. Interesting spot, though all the prices on things were sky-high. Seems indicative of what Korea's going to be like, so I think we'll struggle budget wise with food!

    We wandered for an hour or so, soaking up the vibe of the place before finding the cheapest restaurant we could for dinner. Even then it was about $10 AUD for a dish. I had an odd ice-cold noodle dish (there were literally ice cubes in the broth), while Shandos had bibimbap, a Korean classic of rice and various pickled spicy vegetables. Korean food is also an acquired taste.

    Back home for an early night after a long day.
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    Trish Forrester

    Sounds like you actually wanted that flight to be longer! Your brother informed me that he made bibimbap the other day

    10/7/19Reply
     
  • Day26

    Gardens of Suzhou

    September 22, 2019 in China ⋅ ☁️ 22 °C

    Last full day in China! It's certainly been busy, and action-packed. Another early start - of course - though at least today we had included breakfast downstairs. It was a bit average though, and we only learned on leaving the breakfast area that we'd chosen the Chinese breakfast area - on the other side of the building was a Western breakfast area complete with a waffle station. Damn.

    Next door to the station where we hopped on our early train to Suzhou, a city not far north-west of Shanghai. Here is the location of our last World Heritage Site for China (on this trip, we're still not even halfway through the full gamut of China's sites!): the Classical Gardens of Suzhou.

    In Ming and Qing era China, Suzhou was a very quiet and peaceful place where court officials and bureaucrats would retire, and having done so they would often take up gardening. There's now hundreds of these gardens across Suzhou, and about 10 of them are inscribed on the World Heritage list.

    We headed for the biggest and best known one, the Humble Administrator's Garden. The weather had improved but it was still drizzling on and off, so we were hopeful for a reasonable day. The gardens were quite nice - Chinese formal gardens, where it's essentially a series of imitated natural scenes. Rocks, pools, trees, pavilions, covered walkways and so on. If you've ever been to a Chinese style garden, it was likely inspired (or even directly copied) from this garden, or others in Suzhou. The overall effect is very nice, but it was incredibly crowded.

    I know that's been a running theme on this trip, but aside from Fanjingshan and the Forbidden City, I think this probably ranked 3rd in terms of crowding. You find yourself waiting endlessly for a photo opportunity, and even in quiet corners of the gardens you're surrounded by people. It's very draining, though I guess the locals don't mind because it's like that everywhere they go!

    After a nice but tiring couple of hours we headed outside and grabbed some street noodles. Caught a bus across the city to the Lingering Garden, which although busy was thankfully far less crowded. This was more focused on rock landscapes than the previous garden which had largely focused on pools. There was also a decent museum attached which clearly the locals weren't interested in - it was the quietest place we'd been in days! Though I got stung by some sort of insect on the way out, a large dragonfly sized thing. It landed on my left elbow and as I brushed it off it stung me which hurt like a bastard. The old man at first aid gave me some sort of anti-sting thing, but it still hurt for days afterward.

    Back outside where we had one last stop. We walked about two kilometres along a waterway from the Lingering Garden to see our final stop on the trip: the Grand Canal. We'd first seen it in Beijing, nearly four weeks ago, and here we were at nearly the far end of it, thousands of kilometres away. A nice metaphor for the trip I guess. The canal is much wider here, with ships plowing up and down the waterway. Unlike the spot in Beijing which was pretty much a storm drain. One of the world's greatest engineering works, and nobody knows about it. Odd.

    Another bus back to the station where we made our train back to Shanghai. Both feeling tired, footsore, over Chinese food and a little damp - we caved and had train station Maccas for dinner. Our last night in China and everything.
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    Trish Forrester

    Great one, you managed it without anyone there! Nice photo

    10/7/19Reply
    Trish Forrester

    The irony is that the gardens are supposed to be tranquil places but with so many people, they are anything but!

    10/7/19Reply
    Joel Baldwin

    That took about five minutes of waiting

    10/9/19Reply
    Trish Forrester

    It's a real calendar shot!

    10/11/19Reply
     
  • Day25

    Shanghai

    September 21, 2019 in China ⋅ 🌧 19 °C

    Moving on again! Up and out from the hotel, across Hangzhou to the station where we boarded our fast train to Shanghai. It's only a couple of hundred kilometres, so the train blasted across in about 90 minutes or so. The rail network here is really good. As usual, Shanghai's main west-facing high-speed station is a fair way out of town, so we had to take a metro for about 40 minutes towards the centre of town. Since we were taking a few trains, we'd picked a hotel right near the central railway station, even though it wasn't the greatest spot in Shanghai.

    Emerged from the metro into fairly persistent drizzle, the most rain we've seen in probably two weeks. Quite miserable really, and with a wind to match. Found our hotel easily, since it's 30 stories tall! It's a budget Holiday Inn and we're on the 22nd floor in a pretty good size room, with a proper desk and a view.

    Decided that the rain wasn't going to let up any time soon, so we headed out. Though it was about this time I remembered the giant hole at the front of my shoe - it was going to be an uncomfortable day! We headed first for the French Concession, a shopping and eating area that was, well conceded to the French in the 19th century. It still has a vaguely faded French air to it, with large buildings like embassies set back from the road, tree-lined boulevards and similar.

    The trouble is, it's a huge area and not especially well defined. Lacking a definite plan we just sort of wandered around for a while getting progressively wetter and more miserable (despite umbrellas!). Eventually we retreated to a noodle shop for a while and had some lunch, then headed for the subway to move on.

    Headed towards the Bund district, around a bend in the main river, where we wandered through a couple of shopping malls mainly trying to stay dry. Ate a few different things including xiao long bao which are soup & meat dumplings - we've had them before in Sydney at Din Tai Fung and other places, but they're originally from Shanghai so it was nice to give them a go here.

    Late afternoon we ended up at the waterfront of Shanghai, where there's the famous skyline with the tall buildings across the river in Pudong. The rain was only misting at this point so we stayed around for an hour or so, hoping to catch the renowed light show on the skyscrapers. Alas we were far too early (apparently it starts around 7pm, not 5:30 like we'd hoped!), so we saw a few lights turn on and then headed off.

    Heading away from the river we walked down Nanjing East Road, the main pedestrian thoroughfare in Shanghai. Very busy and buzzing despite the weather, with crowds around and neon lights dangling from every building. Very much a Chinese version of Times Square.

    Wandered into another mall where we found some good priced food options: more xiao long bao of course! Then back to the subway where we headed back to hotel, squelching the whole way. Very happy to get my wet sock out of a wet shoe!
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    Trish Forrester

    I would have thought you'd be able to get a new pair of shoes in all those shopping malls!

    10/7/19Reply
    Joel Baldwin

    Not with feet my size! I struggle to find them in Australia sometimes

    10/9/19Reply
    Trish Forrester

    😂😂

    10/11/19Reply
     
  • Day24

    East to Hangzhou and West Lake

    September 20, 2019 in China ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Better rested this morning from a proper bed! We only had one site and no travel for today, so we figured we'd take it much easier. Hoped to find a cafe and hang out/work for a bit, but they proved difficult to find and/or expensive, so we quickly abandoned that idea.

    In the end we just had a quick bite for lunch at a restaurant next door, then did a bit of shopping at the large malls nearby. Around early afternoon we headed over to West Lake, the main reason for visiting Hangzhou. It's apparently one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, attracting tens of millions of people every year - almost all of them domestic Chinese tourists.

    It's been a famous landscape in Chinese art for centuries, so a lot of people come here to see it for themselves. It's quite a large lake, about 11km in circumference, lined with various trees, temples, and other bits and pieces. We started walking around but realised within an hour or so that completing a full loop was a bit optimistic!

    But it was still quite nice. There's 10 key scenic spots dotted around the lake with atmospheric names like "Winter Mist From the Bridge" and "Taifeng Pavilion at Sunset" and so on. We tried to pick out most of these and were largely successful, though the large stone pillar at each tends to be a giveaway!

    We also took a boat ride out to an island in the centre which was quite nice, though very crowded. By the time we finished it was quite dark, so we walked back to our hotel. I was in agony now because I'd stupidly worn thongs rather than shoes, and had given myself huge blisters around the thong straps since I wasn't used to wearing them. Ow.

    Grabbed a quick dinner at a burger place around the corner from the hotel, as we were both getting over Chinese food. My burger was fantastic, it was called the Elvis and was topped with peanut butter, fried banana and bacon.
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    Trish Forrester

    and everyone knows what happened to Elvis!

    10/7/19Reply
    Trish Forrester

    Looks like a nice spot. I tend to get Chinese gardens confused with their Japanese counterpart

    10/7/19Reply
    Joel Baldwin

    He lived the last years of his life eating banana, bacon, and peanut butter! Living his best life imo

    10/9/19Reply
    Trish Forrester

    Oh dear, I can think of one or two better role models!

    10/11/19Reply
     
  • Day23

    Liangzhu Archaeological Site

    September 19, 2019 in China ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Another poor night's sleep on the rock hard bed! Out early-ish again, walking over to the station to catch our fast train to the nearby city of Hangzhou. Although a sizeable city in its own right, Hangzhou is the much smaller brother of Shanghai, a hundred or so kilometres to the east.

    Our first stop for today was a newly-listed archaeological site on the outskirts of town. We got off the train, caught the metro to literally the end of the line, then another bus out into essentially the fields. Here we found a sparkling new museum dedicated to the ancient culture of Liangzhu.

    If you've ever heard the Chinese government make grandiose claims about the 5000 years of history and 5000 years of Chinese civilisation, this is where that comes from. About 3000 BC there was a settled agricultural tribe that lived in the area - they tilled the fields with rice, diverted rivers and constructed large-scale dams and canals, and clearly had a highly-stratified society with craftsmen, holy men, and of course, rulers.

    There was a fair bit of interesting stuff in the museum, though it was of course entirely in Chinese. They had helpfully translated the title of each panel, but none of the actual information so it was a bit difficult to follow the narrative.

    Leaving the museum, we decided to head for the actual site as well, about 5km away. So we hopped on another bus and headed there. The museum, of course, isn't within the boundaries of the World Heritage site, so just visiting the museum and not the actual dig site means we technically hadn't visited.

    The site itself was fairly quiet in terms of visitors (the staff seemed shocked that foreigners had turned up and genuinely confused at what to do), but work-wise it was a hive of activity. It sort of felt like the set of Jurassic Park with swarms of workmen laying pavers, painting fences, tiling roofs and so on. Clearly the World Heritage addition had been a bit earlier than anticipated!

    We paid our entry fee and rode on an electric buggy around the site (these are everywhere in China). As expected, there was very little to actually physically see, other than the vague outlines of some canals and where the palace had stood. At least we've been!

    I actually found the whole thing rather off-putting, because to me the "5000 years of Chinese civilisation" claim is completely bogus, and thinly-veiled propaganda. These people weren't ethnically Han, they didn't speak or write anything like modern Chinese, they left no records, and of course their society died out. Modern Iraq doesn't claim to have 5000 years of history because the Sumerians lived there in 3000 BC, so this isn't really any different. As I said, the claim feels very much like self-aggrandising propaganda from the Chinese government. Anyway.

    Back on the bus, we got to the metro stop and then rode the metro all the way into the centre of town. It was dark when we arrived - the sun is setting earlier! Hotel was okay, nothing too fancy but at least the bed wasn't too hard. Ended up going to a restaurant a few doors away for a couple of tasty noodle dishes.
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    Trish Forrester

    Looks very cute

    9/24/19Reply
     
  • Day22

    Huangshan

    September 18, 2019 in China ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    Today's site was a visit to Huang Shan, the Yellow Mountain, one of the most famous landscapes in China. It's been renowed since the 400s AD, when the Yellow Emperor gave it the name of Yellow Mountain, and it's been inspiring Chinese poets, artists, scholars and philosophers ever since. The owner of the hotel, Alex, spoke pretty good English, and sketched out a solid plan for us to tackle the mountain in a single day - most locals take 2 or 3 days to visit each area, and the tickets are actually valid for that long.

    We headed off early, leaving the hotel at 6:30am, though I was absolutely miserable as I was now quite sick with a cold, and very tired since our bed was rock hard. The beds in China have all been very hard, but this was like a marble slab. According to Alex, Chinese like a firm mattress because they believe it's good for their back. Ain't good for mine!

    It was about an hour's drive to the town at the mountain's foot, and since we have to use cash for everything and the tickets are expensive, Alex dropped off the other people in the car and took us to the bank. The ATM then promptly swallowed Shandos's card! We got money out using a different card in a different machine, and he then took us to the actual bank branch (not a hole in the wall ATM spot). The bank wasn't open yet, but thankfully the manager was already there and promised to have the card ready if we returned at the end of the day. What a pain.

    We quickly rejigged our plans for the day and headed in via a different, closer gate. First step was a shuttle bus that took us up to the cable car base station, where we then waited an hour for a cable car. Even at 8am it was super busy! I don't think early starts tend to help that much here, as locals on tour groups seem to start very early as well.

    Finally up the top by around 10am, we started walking around to check out the different peaks and viewpoints. It's said there's over 60,000 stairs on the mountain's various walking paths, and it honestly felt like we were going to cover most of them! It's a little vague now where we actually went, but we traversed up and down a few separate peaks, across hills and up and down staircases. Unfortunately, Huangshan is one of the most popular tourist attractions in China so some places were absolutely packed, and most areas were at the very least busy.

    Not many spots where we could get away from everyone which was a bit annoying. I was struggling quite a lot too, with my cold making it difficult to breathe at various points. But I persisted, and we got a lot of fantastic vistas.

    Huangshan is one of the most famous Chinese landscapes, and has been famous since probably the 6th or 7th centuries. If you've ever seen idealised Chinese paintings featuring unusual pine trees and smooth, rounded granite peaks, flowing waterfalls and arched bridges - that's all based on Huangshan.

    We spent most of the day wandering around the mountain, though the food up there was crazy overpriced and we ended up quite hungry. Buying food in advance was something we hadn't quite gotten around to, and we definitely regretted that! Eventually we'd had enough and descended back down via the cable car.

    Only a short wait, thankfully, though just as we were getting into the car a guy shoved between Shandos and me to push on first. I grabbed him by the collar and yanked him back, but then we had to sit opposite him and his wife for the next 10 minutes which was a bit awkward. After I'd wagged my finger in his face, I google translated a message saying shoving was uncivilised, and that shoving foreigners reflected badly on all Chinese. He looked more surprised than anything, so I just let it go.

    Caught the shuttle bus and then walked down to the bank where the manager had Shandos's card as promised! The process of getting it back still took another 15 minutes for some reason, but eventually all sorted. Called Alex who organised a driver back to the hotel for us where we collapsed exhausted. The most energy we could muster was the five minute walk back to the station where we dined like kings on KFC.

    23,000 steps and 133 flights of stairs. Not bad.
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    Trish Forrester

    Wow, I expect that one gets lots of photos!

    9/24/19Reply
    Trish Forrester

    A great effort, especially when you're sick! I'm not sure whether it would have made you better or worse! At least the air would be reasonable quality!

    9/24/19Reply
     
  • Day21

    Xidi and Hongcun

    September 17, 2019 in China ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Another tricky day of travelling today. Our WHS was a pair of small villages named Xidi and Hongcun, located a few hours away in the south of Anhui province. We left our hotel in Jiujiang fairly early, not too sorry to see the back of an odd business hotel with its' smoky rooms and hooker business cards. Walked through the park to the station, past lots of old people doing their tai chi and group dancing!

    The high-speed train was thankfully uneventful, and a couple of hours later we were hopping off in Huangshan North. As is often the case in China, the high-speed station was miles out of town and surrounded by absolutely nothing, but we'd already known this and planned for it in advance. Not being able to check in to our nearby hotel just yet, we headed to the adjacent bus station and caught the next shuttle bus to Xidi and Hongcun. This took another hour and I slept basically the whole way - I'm getting to be a pro at this.

    We'd elected to check out Hongcun, the further of the two villages, as it was apparently prettier and less touristy. Obviously we only visited one so I can't really compare, but it certainly was pretty. Less touristy? I dunno. The buildings were all painted white and featured black roof tiles with the curved corners so distinctive in China. Lots of art students about, painting various streetscapes in watercolour.

    The village itself was surrounded by a small lake, and then had a nice little pond thing in the centre of town which was quite still and very attractive when it was reflecting the buildings. We spent a nice couple of hours wandering around and exploring the various notable houses and communal buildings that were on show. They aren't that old - although the villages date back to the 13th/14th centuries, most of what's still here is about 18th and 19th century. But with the narrow streets and stone laneways, it was probably the most European style environment we've seen in a long time! Both of us were reminded of little old European towns.

    We did have to share a lot of it with tour groups which is fine, but the flag carriers usually had a microphone so they could bark information at their followers as well. Pretty obnoxious when 3-4 groups turn up at once - Mandarin isn't the nicest language to listen to a lot of the time anyway, and with the gain and reverb maxed out on a tinny little speaker it tended to sound a bit like a wake-up call at a prison camp.

    Back to the bus station where we got the second-last bus for the day back to Huangshan, arriving back just after dark at 6pm. At least our hotel was nearby, though we had a bit of trouble finding it since the only signs in the village were Chinese. Eventually a lady got out of a taxi next to us and said she was going to the same hotel, showing us the way. The problem really was that the address was sort of in the centre of a block, and wasn't super clear how to actually get there!

    Only a few options for dinner in the village, so we picked the one with the most customers and pointed at a couple of things on the menu. Shandos's wonton soup was nice, though I ended up with an odd sort of rice noodle cakes thing.
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  • Day20

    Lushan National Park

    September 16, 2019 in China ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Today's agenda was another World Heritage site, the main reason we'd come to Jiujiang where clearly Western tourists were as rare as actual aliens. We got an early morning bus up to the site, which is a mountain range just behind the city. Although it's an impressive landscape that has inspired Chinese poets and artists for centuries, it's also home to a large collection of villas built by European colonialists in the 19th century.

    The trip up was about 90 minutes and very winding, but eventually we got there. The sites up top are a bit spread out and you need to catch various shuttle buses between them. We made our first stop Five Old Men Peak, a mountain with five stone pinnacles that apparently looked a bit like old men arguing. Or talking, I can't remember (and in China it's hard to tell).

    We climbed the first two over about an hour, but the going looked like getting tougher so we turned back after enjoying the view. Hungry, we headed back to the main town which felt a bit like Disneyland, and grabbed some lunch at a Dico's (Japanese fast food chain).

    Then hopped on a bus to the western side, where we visited the mirror lake, a nice pavilion, and the flower path which again was an inspiration to Chinese poets. Rather than wait for a bus we took a cross-country shortcut to see some of the villas which were nice but mostly closed off. It's interesting because Chinese houses tend to be very functional rather than artistic, so seeing ornately designed houses was quite interesting.

    Most impressive was Meilu Villa, which was previously owned by Chiang Kai-shek (leader of the Nationalist party during the Republic of China period), and then later owned by Zhou Enlai, one of Mao's chief advisors who eventually became Premier.

    There was also a large building where the Lushan Conference took place in 1959, where Mao and his bigwigs agreed on and started implementing the Great Leap Forward. Even though Mao's legacy these days is officially "70% good 30% bad", it was interesting to see people wandering around the site with clear religious reverence. Millions died during the Great Leap Forward which was a complete failure and a disaster, so it's not exactly something to celebrate.

    Having seen enough, we caught the bus back down into Jiujiang and I slept the whole way - coming down with a cold. Noodles for dinner again before retreating to the hotel room.
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    Trish Forrester

    You certainly seem to be pushing that schedule, so I'm not surprised your immune system is struggling!

    9/17/19Reply
     
  • Day19

    Travelling East to Jiujiang

    September 15, 2019 in China ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    Probably the most stressful day we've had on the trip so far, but we were expecting it and prepared for it. The issues had started a fair way in advance, as we'd only had limited options for booking trains thanks to sellouts and the like. And although the high speed trains run like clockwork (delays are very uncommon, Zhangjiajie is only connected via slow trains, which don't run at all on time. We weren't aware of this when we booked our tickets: a slow train from Zhangjiajie to Changsha, a fast train from Changsha South to Nanchang, and then another fast train from Nanchang to Jiujiang.

    The biggest problem was that our slow train (#1) was arriving at Changsha, while the fast train (#2) was leaving from Changsha South. We'd left ourselves an hour for the transfer, but it meant getting across the city and through both train stations smoothly. The high-speed stations are more like airports than stations and can be absolutely colossal, but we made ourselves as prepared as possible.

    The first step was fine, as we left our hotel and caught the slow train in Zhangjiajie, though we both felt nervous as the train lumbered its way through the countryside for four hours. We were at the doors and ready to go as the train finally got to Changsha, and had a slight break of luck as our door was right next to the stairs down from the platform - we didn't have to run half a kilometre along the platform first.

    Ran through the station and across the concourse, Amazing Race-style, to where we knew the metro station entrance was. Downstairs and quickly through the machines to buy our tickets before getting another break of luck and jumping straight on a train. The metro here only runs every six minutes, so just missing one would've been a big delay.

    So far so good.

    Positioned ourselves on the subway train to where we knew the escalators would be (every station has a standardised design), then ran up the escalators through the metro and into the high speed rail station. Shoved through the ID inspection queue (I just went straight to the front saying "wan de, wan de" / "late, late"), then shoved through the x-ray machine queue as well.

    Ran up the next escalators as well, where of course our train was at the furthest possible platform. So we half-ran and half jogged across the entire concourse and shoved through a few more lines. The gates were still open (the platform entrances are closed five minutes prior to departure) and we'd made it, with a couple of minutes to spare.

    Missing the train wouldn't have been a complete disaster, we would've had to reschedule a few trains, but it would probably mean arriving at our destination around midnight! Ironically, we were only on the fast train for an hour before a 90 minute "layover" at the next station, before another two hour train.

    As it was, we arrived in Jiujiang at about 6pm after a fairly stressful day. Our "train station" hotel turned out to be about 20 minutes walk from the station, though at least there was a nice park to walk through, complete with old people doing tai chi. Hotel was quite nice and modern, though very Chinese as it stunk of cigarettes and we occasionally had hookers' business cards shoved under the door - apparently this is quite common in Chinese business hotels!
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    Trish Forrester

    Well done! I'm amazed that you can make a day's train travel so entertaining :)

    9/17/19Reply

    LOL I'd be planning that trip over 3 days (if not 4)! Dad

    9/18/19Reply
    Joel Baldwin

    You'd probably never get anywhere in China! They are building high speed rail to Zhangjiajie now so in a year or two it'll be fine. Those ones run like clockwork, you just have to show up early (people start queuing at the barriers 20 minutes before the train departs)

    9/19/19Reply