This is the blog of Martin and Caroline as they go out and see some of the world

Sunday 20 November 2011

Back to Chengdu – China

Being back in Chengdu was like coming back to civitlisation after where we had been.  We had not thought much of the place the first time we were here but we really enjoyed it on the 2nd visit, maybe it was because we could finally eat something or have a latte in a McCafe.
We collected our tickets and wasted a day shopping waiting for the train to Tibet. 

Emei and the Dafu Temple – China

We had a few days to kill before we had to be back at Chengdu to pick up our train tickets and head out to Tibet and we were getting our 4 day itch and knew it was time to move on from JiaJiang.  We had looked on the internet for places nearby and Emei sounded nice so we got the bus to Leshan and then the connecting bus to Emei.   This was definalty another ‘real’ China type of place and may well in the summer be buzzing with tourists going to the mountain that seems to be the only thing people would come here for but in the winter there is not a lot going on.  We found a hotel opposite the train station and managed to get checked in for 128 yuan a night (£13). 
We went out to find food and there was not one place that we wanted to stop and eat, the whole place looked dirty and there were no English translations or even pictures so we did not know what to order.  We went and had some dried noodles in our room which was the 1st time in China we could not find somthing nice to eat.
The next morning the weather was not too great and from the internet it seemed it would end up costing us about 300 yuan each to get access to the mountain and some reports seemed to be a bit hit and miss so we decided not to use such a big proportion of our budget on it and we went to the Dafu temple instead which was just up the road.  This place was an oasis amongst the grime.  It was only 10 yuan each to get in (£1) and we had the whole place to ourselves, except for the buddhist monks who lived there of course, we spent half a day looking round and enjoying the silence.  It was the best value for money we had speant in a long while.

The Big Buddha and Buddha Cliffs – China

It turns out that although the station we arrived at was called Leshan we were actually staying in a place called Jiajing county, but we did not mind as we found a hotel with breakfast for £15 a night and we were only a 30 minute bus ride from Leshan so we decided to stay where we were.  We caught a bus to go and see the big Buddha aka Dafo in Leshan.  It is the biggest Buddha in the world and was carved out of a cliff face, work started in 713 AD and was completed in 803, it is 71m tall.

He is very impressive and it was nice to walk around the surrounding park area with some relative fresh air.  In summer I bet the place is rammed with tourists but it was not too bad as we got there early but by the time we were leaving there were Chinese tour groups arriving and it was starting to fill up.
On our way to the Buddha a very helpful lady on the bus whisked us through the bus depot and on to the tourist bus so fast that we did not see where we were or where we would have to get back to so when we left it became obvious we had no idea how to get back.  We got on the 1st bus that came along that was a number 13 and we thought we would ride it until we saw something that was familiar.  That did not happen and we got to the end of the line and had to get off.  We then went to catch the number 6 bus which the lady in the depot told us was going to central station but when we showed the bus driver the address of our hotel he told us to get a number 1 or a number 2 bus but when we showed them our hotel details they said no, wrong bus.  So we thought we would get the number 6 to the central depot thinking that this must be our depot to get home.  On we jumped, paid our 1 Yuan (10p) a piece bus fare and waited for the bus depot we were looking for to come into site. We then came to the end of the line again and this was no bus depot.  We thought we would get a bus back into town and just get a cab and would you believe the bus we went to get on was the one with the helpful driver who told us to get a number 1 or 2 bus.  He looked at us in disbelief and asked in Chinese what we were doing there.  In the end his friend who was on the bus with him drove us in his car to the bus depot.  We were very relieved to see it.  We got on the bus for JiaJiang and then ended up getting off at the wrong stop and had to get a cab to the hotel – not a good day for transport!

We had sat and had a cup of tea with the manageress of the hotel one evening who told us about the Buddha cliffs which were based in JiaJiang.  She said it was just a bus drive away and so we thought we would give it a go.  She also told us that the bus for it stopped right outside the hotel but while we waited not one bus stopped any where near us.  We hailed a cab and were quoted 15 yuan to get there, we knew it was outside the town so we thought that was probably a fair price.  It wasn’t until we got there and reaslied it was not that far away at all and if we had been on the meter then the journey would have probably cost us 6 yuan – if only we spoke Chinese we would have had words with the cab driver!
We paid our 7 yuan each to get in and had a wander round.  It was nice to be away from the crowds and the smells and able to just wander without bumping into people.  A lot of the Buddha faces had been smashed during the cutural revolution which was a shame.

There was a bus waiting when we walked out and we jumped on and were back at the hotel without a problem.
There was a big market laid out down one of the back streets and we decided to have a look, here we saw turtles hanging up by string waiting to be sold, fish dying in buckets, lots and lots of chunks of meat on display and a few skinned and gutted dogs for sale too. This is not that sanitised China that you see in the big tourist spots!

The train to Leshan – China

We found a place called Leshan that was not too far away from Chengdu and it had a few things to do there so we decided to head there.  We booked a train ticket and the journey was only 3.5 hours so we did not think it would be that bad of a journey.  It seems we never learn.  We had a ticket for a seat each and once we headed off we did not think it was that busy on the train, all the seats were full and so were the aisles but we thought it would be bearable.  At each stop more and more people crammed on the train and they all have about 3 bags to one person.  At one of the stops the people could no longer fit through the doors and so about 8 people with about 12 bags climbed through the window on top of us, we kept trying to close the window on them but they just kept coming.  Two of the people who came in through the window ended up squatting on the very small table in between the seats for 3 hours.  The guard lady came and informed us that we would be approaching Leshan soon and we tried to follow her to the door to get out but there were just so many people you could not move.  We had to put our backpacks in front of us and just push, it was the only way to get through.  There was one man on the floor who could not move and the people with him could not move him, he was passed out drunk and not stirring so over the top of him we went.  Once we got to the door the lady made everyone who was not getting off at that stop move but there was nowhere for them to move to.  It was mayhem.  Once we were off the train we stood and watched the chaos of the people trying to get on.  In the end there was lots of arguing and they were told the train was too full.  I wish they had done that about 10 stops before hand, it would have made for a nicer journey for everyone.

Chengdu Panda’s – China

Arriving in Chengdu we walked through town and found a reasonable hotel and checked in.  We had travelled to Chengdu to see the Panda’s at the Chengdu Panda Research Base.  The Base was founded in 1987, with six giant pandas rescued from the wild. By 2008 the captive population had increased to 83 from that original six. It covers 200 hectares and also has red pandas which we had never seen before.  Everything we read had told us to be at the park for breakfast time as the pandas are most active at breakfast.  We knew that there was a tourist bus that could take you there very cheaply but it did not leave until 8am and it made stops on the way so we opted to pay a bit extra and get a tour bus there organised by one of the local hostels that got you to the park for opening time.  We were glad we did as it was great to see the panda’s outside and moving around.  They were so cute, especially the 2 month old ones that were just a ball of fluff.  Even Martin at the end of the day was pleased he went.

There did not seem much else available to us to do in Chengdu as a lot of the other tours were only with Chinese guides as we are now out of the tourist season so we decided we would head out and see some other places.
We went and paid the balance on our Tibet tour and we have to collect our train tickets that will take us from Chengdu to Lhasa before the 10th November so we will revisit Chengdu to collect these later.

A hard journey to Xi’an - China

We went and booked our train ticket to get us from Beijing to Xi’an and were offered the option of a hard seat which was about a third of the cost of a soft sleeper (a soft sleeper is a 4 bed cabin) and we thought we could put up with an uncomfortable night’s sleep for 1 night.  Little did we know what we had let ourselves in for.  When we arrived at the waiting room it was packed and still filling up.  We saw a queue forming but knew we had a while until the train left so we waited a while.  Once we did join the queue it became quite clear that any British courtesy was going to have to go out the window and once the queue moved you just had to push and shove to get through. 
We managed to get on the train and found our seats, the train was already packed but we got the attendant man to make room for our backpacks on the already full overhead shelves and settled in for the 13 hour ride. 
We noticed that even though the seats were all full there were lots of people still standing up but we thought they must only be going a few stops as there is no way they would want to stand for that long.  We were wrong.  At every stop we came to more and more people just kept getting on.  It got to the point where you could not move to even stand up and stretch your legs for bodies in the way.  There was very little air and the no smoking sign was ignored by most people.  In amongst the mayhem the train attendants kept coming through with food trolleys, if you can imagine trying to get through a busy underground train in London in rush hour with a trolley you would come close to how it was.

When we had left Beijing the train we thought the last stop was Xi’an and so we thought we would be clever and wait for everyone to get off the train then we would take our time away from the crowds but somehow the last stop for the train was Chengdu but luckily our cabin attendant was good enough to remember we were going to Xi’an and came and told us we needed to get ready to leave.  The whole wagon watched as we dragged our backpacks through the crowd and before we were even at the door our empty seats were filled.
We had no accommodation booked for Xi’an but knew roughly where we were headed and managed to find our motel very easily.  It was great to be off that train.
We had done our revision and found the tourist bus that took us to the terracotta warriors really easy and it costs 7 CNY each way – about 70p.  The warriors were really impressive and we were glad we did the pits in reverse order as pit 1 was defiantly the best one. To imagine the warriors when they were first done in all their colour, with their weapons and the gold on the chariots must have been a sight to behold. The Terracotta Army was discovered in March 1974 by a farmer who was there doing book signings in the souvenir shops. The Army was found near the tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang, which took 38 years and 720 thousand builders to complete. The Army was buried for 2,200 years. So far, 1,868 terracotta warriors and chariots have been unearthed.

Martin brought a book while we were there that said that all the warriors were smashed after the tomb was raided so we are not sure if what we were looking at were the real mcCoy or replicas like a lot of the history you see in China.
We went for a night time tandem ride along the Xi’an wall which looked really good all lit up but we only made it half way as you only get a certain amount of time for the bike hire but it was quite nice as not many people were there.

Unfortunately we found little else to do in Xi’an and so we booked our train ticket to Chengdu but we
 made sure we went for a hard sleeper this time which is a 6 bed sleeper.  It wasn’t too bad except some people down the train from us stayed up till 1am drinking and the train arrived at 5.30am.  Martin was not too impressed as they kept him awake.

Friday 18 November 2011

Day Trips in Beijing - China

We enjoyed the rest of our time in Beijing and visited the Summer Palace which was stunning and very easy to enjoy a day there, we preferred the Summer Palace to the Forbidden City, it is like a country park with its own lake and beautiful gardens.  The construction of the Summer Palace started in 1750 royal garden for royal families to rest and entertain. It later became the main residence of royal members at the end of the Qing Dynasty.

We decided to do a Great Wall of China tour and we knew there were 2 types, ones that included the shopping part which were a lot cheaper and ones without the shopping.   We thought that the shopping one couldn’t be that bad so we went for the cheaper option.  We had a great morning walking the wall and then a really good lunch and went to a jade factory where they told us how to spot real jade from fake and then let us wander round the shop. 

From there we went to a silk factory and were shown how they get the silk from the worms and how they stretch it to make duvets and the like which was quite interesting until they started the hard sell.  There were only 7 of us in our group and none of us wanted to buy anything so a few of us thought we would make a break for it and wait in the car park but were told that we could not leave the shop until we had been there for 30 minutes so the tour company could get their receipt to say we had been.  We were not impressed at that.  We then had to endure a tea factory which actually wasn’t that bad and were shown the tea ceremony and got to try some tea but the hard sell from the previous place had put us off from it all and so we were pleased when it was over.  Next time we will always take the no shopping tour.

We managed to find a restaurant that did almost Western type Chinese and so we managed to have a few dinners without any nasty surprises.

Mind Blowing Beijing

We were up at the very early hour of 5.30am to catch the train from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing.  As we were walking to the station we were wondering if it was going to be easy to find the platform that our train was leaving from as there were no information boards on show but we needn’t have worried as the waiting room was full of Westerners all holding tickets for Beijing so when one got up we all followed.
We were hoping that we might have the luck of the French couple and have a cabin to ourselves but we ended up sharing with a couple called Phil and Sarah from good old England, they were very nice and in the middle of taking 2 years out to travel.
Thank goodness the journey was only 1.5 days this time as we were dreading another long train journey.  Time flew quite quickly we were through both borders in no time. 
We arrived in Beijing around 14.00 and Phil and Sarah were also getting the Metro to their hostel so we all managed to make our way on to the underground together and we said goodbye to them as they got off one stop before us. 
Once we were off at our stop we headed to find our hostel and managed to do OK as the street names had the English translation underneath, which is good of them. 
We checked in and dumped our bags and could not wait to head out. 
Being in Beijing is nothing like you can imagine, you can’t get a feel for this place from seeing it on TV.  The colours, sights, smells and the bustling people make for an amazing experience.  We walked down every little back street we could see and it was just how we had imagined it would be. 

We toured the Forbidden City today, unfortunately pictures do not do it any justice.  We were there for an afternoon and probably only saw a third of it.  It seemed to go on forever and you can imagine that the rooms have not changed since the last emperor lived there. It was the imperial palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Quing dynasties and was first built during the 14 year reign of Emperor Chengzu in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). It was forbidden to enter without special permission of the emperor. Hence the name 'The Forbidden City'.

We found the Donghuamen Street Food market and went to investigate. They sell almost anything on a stick you can think of, snake, sheep penis, centipede, sea horses and silkworms. 

We decided to be brave and had a stick of scorpions and a stick of crickets.  They actually just tasted like crispy chicken skin. We then had some deep fried crab that was shell and everything but we didn’t like that.
For dinner we decided to try one of the restaurants and we ordered a chicken dish and a pork dish and I can only say that there was more bone than meat and nothing like a western Chinese meal.  We may not be so adventurous tomorrow!

Thursday 17 November 2011

Back online in Nepal

Sorry this has been so bare but blogs and Facebook are blocked in China.  Will update with some posts on China, Tibet and Everest very soon.