After getting married in September 2010 we decided to do the opposite of settling down; so we packed up our life, stuffed it in our parent's attic and hit the road for what is essentially an extended honeymoon! We started our trip on 29th December 2010 spending 4 months travelling overland through Europe, Russia and Mongolia to China. After many a train and bus journey we caved-in and flew from Western China to Malaysia, and worked our way north to Thailand and Cambodia. The time came for us to replenish our bank accounts, so we headed to Western Australia for work in July 2011 and lived in Fremantle until February 2012. After a couple of months back home seeing our families and friends, we headed back down-under. This time we headed for New Zealand and we are currently living in Wellington. Our blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present from two of our very good friends. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells and most importantly, the beer. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Guilin, Yangshuo, Xingping & Tiantou, China (14th - 25th April)

Enjoying the fruits of our labour at a cooking class.

Our trip to Yangshuo started with a rail journey from Shanghai to Guilin (where we very much suspect we were in the 'family wagon' due to plethora of screaming young 'uns and a severe lack of beer or junk food being offered on the trolleys) and after a night in Guilin (not much to say about it really, it rained a lot so we didn't get to see much - highlight was some awesome chilli flatbreads from a street vendor) we took what was purported to be a 'bamboo raft' down the Li River to Yangshuo. The bamboo raft turned out to be a motorised raft made of plastic piping stuck together, with a few bits of loose garden furniture thrown on top for us to sit on. Luckily it had a decent roof so we didn't get too wet despite the drizzle. The karst scenery on the river was really awesome, quite majestic and eerie due to the low cloud that clung to the oddly shaped, foliage-clad mini-mountains, and it reminded us of Halong Bay in northern Vietnam.

In Yangshuo we stayed at the 'Yangshuo Culture House', a pretty cool homestay/guesthouse where food is included in the nightly price, and was located in a peaceful suburban street a short walk from the centre. Yanghsuo itself is a very touristy, busy town on the Li River, with streets reminiscent of the tourist streets in Thailand etc. The real highlights of the town are getting away from the centre itself. We hired bikes and a guide along with some other people from the guesthouse; Birget and her son Noah (Germans), and Maya and Tamara (Israelis), and enjoyed a fabulous day cycling through rice paddies and out into the countryside. At one point our bikes were abandoned for a more authentic bamboo raft on the Yulong River, this time without the incessant drone of motors and with the added bonus of mini waterfalls and floating beer sellers. Gently floating down the river with a beer in hand, doesn't get much better! Every now and then there was a mini-rapid just to keep you on your toes, but as long as you remembered to lift up your feet you didn't get soaked. We also climbed to the top of 'Moon Hill' for great views across the landscape. An irritating factor of Chinese tourism is having to pay quite a lot to get into everything (paying to climb a hill - really?) and then still being hounded by hawkers all the way up. Ho hum.

One evening we went to see the Liu Sanjie Impressions show, directed by Zhang Yimou who also directed the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. The audience (some 2500) are seated in a natural amphitheatre overlooking the Li River. As night falls, the mountains and river are lit up spectacularly, and 600 local performers tell a story through song, dance and physical theatre routines actually on the river, using rafts and walkways. It's hard to make it sound as impressive as it was, but it was certainly an amazing spectacle.

Our final morning in Yangshuo was spent participating in a cookery class, along with six hooray henry Brits (I'm not sure we've met any northerners yet!). The class started with a quick trip to the local market to buy ingredients. It was our first experience of a proper Chinese food market, and the live fish and frogs in the first hall did nothing to prepare us for the second hall, which amongst the usual array of poultry, rabbits etc also contained cats and dogs. The sight of sorrowful looking dogs in cages, right next to a huge boiling pot with legs sticking out and some cooked dogs strung up was disturbing sight. But even sadder, due to our cat loving nature, was a huge cage filled with dozens of cats piled on top of each other, all looking very lethargic and giving plaintive muted meeows, quite heartbreaking! Appetite thoroughly shot to pieces, we went onto make Beer Fish, a Li river delicious specialty of white fish in a beer, ginger and chili sauce; Gung Bao Chicken, a spicy Sichuan chicken dish with peanuts; and vegetarian steamed dumplings. Even if we do say so ourselves, the results were pretty bloody tasty (and our appetite most certainly returned) and we can't wait to get somewhere where we can try out the recipes again.

We then traveled to Xingping, a bit further up the river, for some relative peace and quiet compared to the tourist bustle of Yangshuo. Xingping is a nice small town, not touristy enough for it to get annoying but enough to have good tourist activities and markets. The hostel we stayed in was fabulous (Hosteling International China has obviously had some serious investment recently) and we had a balcony, so much time was spent reading and writing and whiling away the time overlooking the river and the amazing karst scenery. We enjoyed some great walks along the river, and playing table football and pool with a Danish and a Belgian girl we'd met at the hostel. Good times.

Our final destination in the province was Tinatou, a village a few hours north of Guilin, which is famous for it's rice terraces. We caught a bus to Dazhai to be met by a woman from the guesthouse, and then walked for about 45 minutes along stones paths and lots of steps up to the village of Tiantou. Pretty hard-going in the 30 degree heat, but we resisted giving our bags to the local women who tried to persuade us fairly relentlessly for them to carry our bags for us (for a fee of course). We're all for supporting the local community, but there's something not quite right about giving your bag to an elderly lady to carry for you! Also, Liam with his huge bag likes to feel he is capable of hauling his bag around himself, if not he might have to seriously consider jettisoning some of his extensive book and t-shirt collection! The rice terraces around Dazhai are very impressive, they are manmade stepped terraces carved into the hills, which are flooded each Spring to grow rice (when we were there they hadn't been flood yet). When they have been flooded they sparkle in the sun and are said to look like dragon scales, hence the nickname Dragons Backbone rice terraces. Mao declared Dazhai his model agricultural village before the Great Leap Forward (which ended up as nothing of the sort). We did a great hike to different view points in the area and agreed that the 'stepped' nature of the terraces make the hills look like they were made of Lego. Quite spectacular scenery and it must be amazing to see it through all the different seasons as it changes colours. The villagers are interesting as they are Yao ethnic minorities, who all wear a beautiful pink and black outfit and the woman don't cut their hair but wear it wrapped around their heads in a scarf (examples here). We celebrated Easter here by having boiled eggs and French toast for breakfast! Also egg fried rice for lunch, but sadly no chocolate eggs.

The time had come once more for us to be on our way on a mega train journey (we worked out that in China we spent 3 days on the train, 10% of our entire stay!). How fitting then that our last overland journey should be 25 hours in hard seat class (sleepers were sold out again), in the baking heat and with gawping Chinese teenagers. A flight will seem like heaven (maybe)!

Li River, Yangshuo & Xingping, China

Longji Rice Terraces, China

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