China trip report - long & rambling

Feb 1st, 2009, 03:44 PM
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China trip report - long & rambling

My husband and I (49 & 55 respectively) went on a 30 day trip to China in October/November 2008. We had a wonderful time.
We consider ourselves tourists as apposed to seasoned travellers. We have been to other Asian countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan. I decided I wanted to book the trip independently and managed this successfully via the internet. We had considered a group tour and I am glad we did not do one. It was great having the freedom to take our time at the sights or leave if we had enough. However, maybe we would have enjoyed the food more in a group. I think Chinese food lends itself to the banquet style of eating where everyone gets to try different dishes. We are not big eaters and found the servings quite large in most restaurants so only ordered a couple of dishes per meal. We tried to order different things each time but this was not always the case, I just could not resist Szechuan style green beans and fried river shrimp if they were on the menu.
I used various sites including elong, ctrip, Asia rooms as well as contacting hotels and airlines directly. I am a bit of an overplanner and had all our accommodation booked before we left Australia, but not all our internal flights. We were hoping to grab some bargains there, but these never really eventuated, the falling Aussie dollar didn’t help matters. Having said that we have no problems booking the flights whilst in China. I was surprised when booking some hotels directly that they did not require a deposit. I was a bit nervous about not getting the room at the agreed rate (which was always less than the rates listed in the lobby) but never had any problems. Most places we stayed wanted full payment plus a deposit on arrival. I found if you charged this to your credit card they did something a bit weird on checkout. Rather than consolidating what you owe using your initial payment they actually charged the whole bill again and cancelled the initial transaction. The cancelled transaction disappeared from your credit card after a few days but I had never experienced this ‘double’ paying method before.

Our overall impressions of China was one of amazement as it was so different from anywhere else we had been. It was a very clean country which also surprised me, not for any other reason except for the vast population and the fact there are so many smokers. We felt very safe at all times and saw no aggressive behaviour of any kind.

As I said before we did have a few problems which we had not anticipated. For the well travelled they may not seem like big issues, but they threw us a bit. These are not criticisms of China or it’s people more observations. Many of these can be put down to cultural differences and we got used to them fairly quickly. However there was one issue that loomed on a daily basis…
The only major problem we experienced was that my poor husband (who is average height, average weight and never usually gets a second glance in public) was stared at continually. This occurred in both major cities and in the smaller ones. This was not a ‘Hey, that guy reminds me of Brad Pitt’ kind of stare it was more ‘Check that freak out’ kind of stare. Initially we thought it was because he was wearing shorts and it was autumn in China. However even when wearing long pants this still continued. We eventually asked one of our tour guides what the issue was and she said it was because he had hairy arms and looked like a gorilla! I should point out here my husband feels the heat terribly and NEVER wears long sleeves he always wears polo shirts or similar even in winter. He is dark haired and therefore he does have hairy arms but no more than other people of that colouring. I really started to feel sorry for him as the stares were very blatant and they would start about 10 yards away from him and continue as the people passed him. On a subway the complete row opposite would stare for the whole journey. On good days he tolerated this but on days when we were tired and/or lost it really got to him. A couple of times people actually reached across and touched his arms which he was not happy about.

Some of the other things we found surprising were
English was not spoken or understood much at all in China except by tour guides and the occasional hotel staff member. I had no expected the ‘man in the street’ to be able to communicate with us but I had hoped that most hotel staff would have a working knowledge of English. We got used to this after a while but it was a bit scary at first.
We also found that even though we had our destination written in Chinese for taxi drivers they did not always seem to know where we were going. Apparently not all of them can read. We worked through this with a combination of sign language and our guide books. Just as an aside we quickly worked out that the best way to locate restaurants recommended in guide books in a crowded row of buildings when there was no English signage, was to use the listed phone number in the book and match it to the sign.
We could not find any laundries other than those offered by the hotel in most places. In Malaysia for instance they are everywhere. Paying the high hotel prices would be unthinkable. A couple of the B & B’s we stayed at did do laundry by the load and we just draped it around the room for a few days until it dried.
martha1953 is offline  
Feb 1st, 2009, 04:33 PM
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Our itinerary was as follows
Beijing
Yichang for Yangtze cruise
Xian
Chengdu
Lijiang
Kunming
Yangshou
Guilin
Shanghai

Our flight from Sydney was delayed so we did not arrive in Bejing until after midnight. We were picked up by Angela from the Mao’er Hutong B and B (3860 yuan for 7 nights). We had a bit of trouble getting cash from the first ATM we tried but the second one was fine.

Just an aside here.
We didn’t take any cash or travellers cheques with us. We only charged accommodation and flights to our credit card in China a relied on cash from ATMs. On several occasions our withdrawal did not complete despite having entered my PIN. The ATM did not always produce a receipt for the failed transaction. When I checked my bank account on the internet, the money was pledged from my VISA account. This righted itself within 2-3 days. I only mention this because at one stage I had 1500 $AUD pledged and was really worried I would have a long drawn out dispute with VISA about whether I had actually got the funds or not . I found the Bank Of China or HSBC ATMs to be the most reliable.

Back to Beijing. Our first night at the B & B was in a standard room which was lovely then we moved to a suite for the rest of our stay. As everyone else who has visited China would know the hard beds take some getting used to and our first few nights sleep were not that comfortable. The B & B itself was an absolute delight and the hostesses Angela and Amy made us feel very welcome. His was one of the places we managed to get washing done. Luckily it dried in a few hours in the courtyard. We did not care for the breakfasts provided although others on Tripadvisor rave about them, just personal taste. We just told Angela not to make us breakfast and we bought some yoghurt and put it in the communal fridge. That and tea was enough for us in the morning and there was a bakery just around the corner. You can’t help but love those egg custard tarts. It was great staying in the hutong and walking out every day into local community. The busy major road was a few hundred yards to our left and a trendy area of shops and restaurants a few hundred yards to our right. Our favourite local restaurant was right on the corner and we ate there several times. The staff were friendly and very helpful.
Right across the main road was the Qianhai lake and we walked around this area most nights. It was lovely to see all the families out walking together with their dogs. There were several areas that had communal exercise equipment for adults and these were well utilised by the locals. The much lauded Hakka Han Cang restaurant is in this area and we had a great meal there one night. You should book a table as it is always crowded.

We did all the sights in Beijing over the 6 days we were there, getting around by subway and taxi. The weather was fantastic with blue skies for 5 of the 6 days. Places like the Summer Palace, Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven took hours to look around. We were amazed at the size of these attractions. We only found the Summer Palace to be too crowded to really enjoy fully which was a pity. We really enjoyed the Beihai Park watching the people dancing and singing in small groups. Other places we visited were the ‘Birds Nest’ Olympic Stadium (the Water Cube was closed), the Bell and Drum towers, Tianimen Square, Prince Cong’s Mansion and the Botanic gardens. We tried to go to Wangfujing snack street one night, but it was absolutely packed so I quickly bought a stick of toffee crab apples and fled.
I had promised my husband I would leave all my shopping until the end of the trip as we wanted to keep our luggaqe to a minimum. We are not serious shoppers anyway, just gifts for people and the odd souvenir for ourselves. We went to have a look around the Panjiayuan Market which was really enjoyable and I did purchase two pairs of prescription glasses from Glasses City which was just a walk away. They cost 600 yuan and were ready in half an hour, a real bargain. I know it sounds silly but the only thing I wish I had bought was a set of nesting pandas for my grand niece, I never saw them anywhere else!

We organised our trip to the Great Wall at Mutinya with Konglin and it was a wonderful day out. Despite having instructions written down re getting the cable car up onto the wall so we could walk down rather than climb up to a watch tower. We took the wrong turn after buying tickets and went up via the chairlift. We thought the sign saying ‘Rope Line’ meant cable car. As it turned out it did not make any difference to our enjoyment of the Wall as climbing up the stairs was not nearly as worrying as climbing down the stairs for me. There was hardly anyone else on that section of the wall so I could take my time and enjoy the view. We came down by toboggan which was good fun except I kept getting stuck as I was going so slow. Konglin took us to the Family Reunion restaurant for lunch which was super, especially the fried dumplings which we never managed to find again in China. We finished off the day by visiting the Lama Temple. Konglin made reservations for us at the Dadong Kaoyadian restaurant for our Peking duck experience. We were so glad he did as the place was packed with hordes of people waiting outside for tables. The meal was delightful and so beautifully presented.

We went to three shows in the evening – the Kung Fu show which I really enjoyed much to my surprise, an acrobatic show at Chaoyang Theatre which was also great fun and the Chinese opera at the Liyuan Theatre. The opera show was awful. We bought the cheapest tickets for all three shows and for the first two this was a great option, we could see the performers clearly from our seats.. For the opera however the cheap seats were in the balcony. The venue had no air conditioning and as a result the balcony was sweltering, you could also hardly see the stage once you were seated. . Luckily the seats were not allocated by number so we were able to grab seats at the back near the door so we could at least stand up to watch the show. It started off very promisingly the MC described Chinese opera as a mix of singing, dancing, acrobatics and martial arts. Our performance consisted of 50 minutes of two people acting and singing on a stage devoid of any scenery and 10 minutes at the end of some stick juggling. The whole row of Danish tourists in front of us fell fast asleep. I have since found out there are two programmes available at this venue. Ours was obviously the boring one and the other one which is the story of the Monkey King is all fun and action. Choose wisely if you go.
martha1953 is offline  
Feb 1st, 2009, 04:51 PM
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Well, I think long and rambling is the best way to go. I'm enjoying this. I hope there's more to come.
dogster is offline  
Feb 1st, 2009, 05:30 PM
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Please do continue...
marya_ is offline  
Feb 1st, 2009, 05:37 PM
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We flew to Yichang on Air China and spent the night there before our cruise. We were very impressed with all the domestic airports in China except Kunming. Also the check in and security procedures we found to be thorough but quick and efficient. Another aside here, you will need keep hold of your boarding pass until you leave the luggage claim area at your destination airport. Officials check the luggage labels on your checked baggage against those stuck to your boarding pass. Surprisingly this does not seem to cause much of a delay in leaving the airport.

We could not find out much about Yichang on the net or in our Lonely plant guide. There was not much on Tripadvisor either. I chose the Guobin Garden Hotel after reading some comments on China Trip Advisor. It was a lovely hotel on very expansive grounds with lovely gardens and large villas. We booked a standard room which was more that adequate for our needs only paid 358Y a night which included breakfast which was a real bargain We enjoyed our 24 hours there, we ate at the hotel and wandered around the nearby area, went to the post office to mail some postcards, visited China Mobile to recharge our phone and generally vegged out. There were some English channels on the TV so Gerry (who is TV addict) could get his needed fix. The hotel let us have a free late checkout until 4pm which was very generous and we were picked up by a driver to take us out to dinner and then to the dock.

Another aside here about mobile phones. I must be the only person on the planet who does not normally carry a mobile phone, but I needed to be able to be contactable by our son whilst we were away (more for my peace of mind than his). I sourced a cheap phone from the internet that was not locked into any network and fronted up at China Mobile in Beijing and got a SIM card. They gave me a choice of phone numbers and I chose the cheapest which had lots of 4’s in it (unlucky in China) and they set up the account with 100 yuan free on the phone. I had initially thought I would use phone cards for making calls to Australia, but I found the mobile worked out just as cheaply. I think we recharged twice more at 100Y each during our whole trip. We called home every couple of days to make sure all was OK.

I had organised the cruise component of the trip including pick up in Yichang and drop off at Chongqing airport through a company in Sydney. This was the biggest single expense of the trip beside the international airfare and I felt safer doing it on home turf. The cost all seemed about the same whether booking in China or Australia. Our ship was the Victoria Rose. At first glance I was not impressed with the ship. It was rated as 4 star but looked a bit shabby. Our cabin was as we expected and suited our needs. The next morning at breakfast the ship looked better, must be the daylight. We found our table and we were grouped with the other independent travellers and they turned out to be great companions for the cruise. There were only 66 people on board for our trip and the ship has a capacity of over 180.
We really enjoyed the cruise. The food was good, the staff very helpful and the day trips organised and interesting. We particularly liked the trip to the Ghost City. The guide we had was really engaging. We enjoyed all the on board activities and shows. There were some amazingly talented young people who beside doing their day job entertained us in the evening. The weather was not the best but it was dry so you could bundle up and go out on deck most of the time. I had seen the documentary ‘Up the Yangtse’ and therefore I was aware that the staff are encouraged to be attentive to passengers in order to secure extra tips. I suppose this must have been more pertinent when the cruise has fewer passengers. Anyway one girl chose my husband as her favourite and would always greet him by name, make sure he had biscuits with his coffee etc. This caused much hilarity (not when the young lass was around) amongst the other female independent travellers as the girl in question completely ignored me. Little did she know I held all the cash on this trip. Actually the whole tipping thing on the cruise was a bit annoying. Nothing is compulsory, but it is suggested you tip $50 per day and put it in a communal tip box to share amongst all the staff. Then they advise the cruise director does not share in this. He is the guy who runs the commentaries and the mahjong classes etc. On our cruise he was a charming man who worked tirelessly to make everything as enjoyable as possible. Then every shore excursion they advise you should tip the guides and drivers. Then they advise that you are free to tip anyone you feel has given you extra service ie your table waitress. I wish they would just ask for a set fee and be done with it.

We flew to Xian from Chongqing with Hainan Airlines and got the shuttle bus into the town centre then a taxi to our hotel. We stayed at Garden Hotel (135 Australian dollars for 2 nights not including breakfast) which is outside the city but near the Big Goose pagoda. It has lovely grounds and helpful and friendly staff though not much English seemed to be understood. We set off for a long walk via the Big Goose Pagoda to the Shaanxi History Museum. This was absolutely great and we spend about 3 hours wandering around the exhibits. We the got a local bus into the city. We wandered around the Bell and Drum tower area and decided to have some dumplings at De Fa Chang nearby. It was not very busy at it was about 5 pm. This was one of the worst dining experiences of our trip. We asked for menu and got a reply ‘No Menu’ I asked for chicken dumplings, the reply came ‘Only Pork’, so I said OK, I then asked for tea and was told ‘No Tea’. So I promptly got my water bottle out of my bag and drank that. We got our plate of steamed dumplings ate them, paid the bill and left. I was so annoyed by the waitresses attitude I can’t remember if the dumplings were any good or not.
We walked around the markets in the Muslim Quarter which were fascinating, bought some wonderful dried fruit and little bean cakes, then got a bus back to the Big Goose Pagoda just in time to see the end of the fountain and music show which looked pretty good and was well attended by locals.

Next day was our organised tour with Clarence Guo. There were five others on the tour and it was a great day out. We started at the Temple of the Eight Immortals which was fascinating and the shops nearby selling paper goods to burn at the temple. Then we went out of town to visit the home of a cave dweller. It was so interesting to look around the home and see how they lived in the small space available. We then went to the silk factory which was requested by one of the group. It was interesting to hear how silk was produced and the goods in the showroom were beautiful. There was no hard sell and those that wanted to buy, bought. Those that didn’t, headed for lunch early. We had lunch at the factory. Clarence ordered a variety of dishes for us to try. Next it was off to Terracotta Warriors. I think everything that can be said has been said about this site. It was amazing and not too crowded on the day we visited. We wandered around for several hours and headed back into the city. We said our farewells to our other tour members and had another walk around the Muslim Quarter. We caught a taxi to a restaurant recommended by Lonely Plant which is opposite the Little Goose Pagoda called Maogang Xiangcaiguan. This was a fabulous meal, the boiled Mongolian beef and soy fried rice were wonderful.
martha1953 is offline  
Feb 1st, 2009, 06:23 PM
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We had hoped to walk around the city walls before leaving for Chengdu but it was pouring with rain so we didn’t rush to get up and have an early breakfast as planned. We flew to Chengdu with Hainan Airlines and we were picked up at the airport by our hotel. We booked a deluxe room at the Wenjung Mansion Hotel (480 yuan a night without breakfast). This hotel doubles as a hostel so is very lively, but our room was very quiet and had a lovely sitting room area as well as a spa bath. The rooms surround the courtyard bar/ restaurant and the whole place has a wonderful feel. The staff here were brilliant and nothing was too much trouble. The area around the hotel has numerous hotpot restaurants and shops plus parks. We loved Chengdu. After a wander around the area we ate dinner at the hotel it was very casual but good food.

Next day we went on a tour to the Panda Breeding Centre organised by the hotel. The lady driver did not speak any English but it was not necessary as she just showed us around the whole centre and we moved on at our own pace. It was good not having to navigate ourselves around and we saw everything in the 3 hours we spent there. You could not hold the baby pandas on the day we visited, I am not sure why.
We had lunch at one of the places in our street and checked out other diners so we would know the hotpot ritual which we intended to try during our stay. We walked to the People’s Park and admiring the gardens and flowers and watching families enjoy themselves with their well behaved children. We found the tea house and relaxed with our lemon tea surrounded by people playing cards, chatting and/or having their ears cleaned. We had a quick meal near the hotel and then went across the road to the Shufenyayun Tea House for the Sichuan Opera performance which we thoroughly enjoyed. During the performance we were served copious cups of tea which the staff poured from these long spouted pots. It was a grand fun-filled experience culminating in the face changing act. Now I understand how they change the face colours, but how do they get the colours of their whole costumes to change as well?

Next morning we caught cab to the Wenshu Temple. This place has a wonderful tranquil feel about it was a great place to explore. The murals inside the buildings were very vivid and the relief carvings amazing. We relaxed in one if the tea houses inside the temple grounds before heading back to our street and our hotpot lunch. The staff in the restaurant could not have been more helpful. They explained we could have half the hot pot mild and the other half spicy and recommended what we should cook in each half. It was a great way to spend our last couple of hours in Chengdu.

We caught a late afternoon flight to Lijiang with Air China. It was absolutely pouring with rain when we arrived and we were glad we had organised a pick up at the airport. We were driven to the old town and trundled ourselves and our cases through the cobbled street to the Moon Inn. We stayed our first night in a standard double room(400Y) then moved to bigger room 201(550Y) for two nights. This included breakfast which was delicious. The inn is an absolute delight and Andy Pang and her staff made us very welcome. The dining room are was set in the courtyard of the inn and even though it rained a lot we were sheltered from the elements. We were able to get our washing done at the inn, but had to leave with it still damp due to the weather.

Armed with two maps we set off in the rain to explore Lijiang. I think it took as about 10 minutes before we were hopelessly lost. So we just kept on walking and seemed to end up in the same square each time. It was really quite fun. As the weather was so bad the streets were not too crowded and there did not seem to be the masses of tour groups we were warned about. We had lunch at one of the restaurants by a canal and watched the world go by. More exploring and a long search to find our inn where we dried off and read for a while. We wandered back out in search for dinner and ended up at Lamu’s House of Tibet. This was a lovely family run restaurant with great food, especially the Tibetan dumplings.
Next morning at breakfast we met some fellow travellers who told us it had been raining for the last week and they had been unable to get to Tiger Leaping Gorge as the paths were too dangerous to hike.. It was terribly disappointing for them. We had not planned anything as adventurous as that but had hoped to go to Yak Meadow. We shelved that idea as it was just too wet. We set out for Black Dragon Pool Park and the skies cleared briefly whilst we were there, so we got the wonderful view of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the Naxi museum was very interesting too. On the walk back to the old town we stopped at the Nordic Café and had some pancakes and coffee. This is a lovely little café to try if you want a change from Chinese food. More exploring the old town in the pouring rain after lunch followed by an early dinner and an early night. We slept really well in Lijiang as it was so peaceful at night.
Our last morning and the day was glorious. It was amazing how busy the streets were when the sun was shining. The squares were crowded with locals in traditional costumes and men offering horse rides to tourists. It was a bit over the top but fun to watch. We did a bit of shopping as they really have some lovely things for sale, especially the Tibetan craft.

Our afternoon flight to Kunming was with Southern China Airlines and we just caught a cab to our hotel. We stayed at the Camellia Hotel in a deluxe suite for 350Y per night including breakfast. The rooms were very good and we were able to use the sitting room as a drying room for our still damp washing we had brought from Lijiang. I dread to think what the housekeeping staff must have thought. We had stuff on coathangers all over the place. We walked into the city on the first day and it seemed a pleasant enough place. Modern shops etc. We bought some books at a large shop that had a whole floor of English novels (I had already finished the four books I brought from home). We tried to find the night market but failed, so we walked back to the hotel and stopped for dinner at Mama Fu’s which was recommended in the Lonely Planet. The spicy beef and rice was wonderful.
We had an horrendous night’s sleep. Our room was on the third floor but right above the main entrance to the hotel. This is where all the night staff would congregate during their meal breaks and talk very loudly periodically during the night. We tried to put in a complaint next day to the front office staff, but they were not really interested. We also had an issue with breakfast as by the time we sat down at around 8:30 nearly all the food was gone. It would appear they had not catered for the large appetities of a couple of busloads of teenagers who had gone through the breakfast buffet like a plague of locusts. We got the message that we should come down to breakfast earlier if we want anything more than scraps.

We took a taxi to the Bamboo Temple and is was very interesting driving through the outer suburbs of a large city. The temple is a wonderful peaceful retreat and as it was so quiet we were given free rein to enter all of the buildings. The life size clay sculptures were very impressive. Our guide book indicated that these very not usually open to the public, but we were able to just walk in the hall. There is a charming tea house at the temple.
We had not really thought about how we would get back to the city but we just stood on the roadside and shortly a mini bus came by and we clambered aboard. For 5Y we were taken to a transit centre in one of the suburbs and we caught a taxi from there to the city. We looked around some local supermarkets and bought some junk food such as roast goose flavoured potato chips.
We had an early dinner on the way back to the hotel. We went to an outlet of the Brother Jiang which was near our hotel and it was great. These restaurants sell a variety of the across-the-bridge-noodles that are a speciality for the region. You select which meal you want and prepay it at the front of the shop. We were not sure what to get so opted for the 12Y size (one of the cheapest) just in case we hated it. You take your ticket to the serving area at the back of the shop. On the way a man in uniform came up to us and lead us to a table and took our tickets from us. He obviously thought we looked lost. About 5 minutes later our meal was brought to our table. It consisted of a huge bowl of broth and several dishes of stuff to put in it including noodles, meat and veg plus some seasonings. It was so tasty but far too much for us to finish, mind you that could have been because we had also bought a large plate of pork crackling from the snack bar at the front of the shop and had demolished most of it whilst we waited for our noodles. We had an early night after pigging out on our junk food and watching TV. As anticipated another awful night’s sleep due to the noise.
martha1953 is offline  
Feb 1st, 2009, 07:15 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2006
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Crossing the bridge noodles, my favourite dish when I was in Lijiang and Dali! Yes, unfortunately the Chinese do stare.
Thanks for your great trip report.
Cilla_Tey is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 05:08 AM
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Thanks for writing. You are the first person who wrote about actually staying in Yichang. We took the boat from Chongqing to Yichang and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what we would do if for some reason we couldn't make the flight out from Yichang. There wasn't any information about Yichang anywhere! I'm amazed that there's actually a nice hotel which has a very low profile on the internet...
Marija is online now  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 09:58 AM
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Long & rambling yet extremely enjoyable trip report, we were there around the same time in Xian, Kunming, Lijiang and Shanghai.
Shanghainese is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 01:01 PM
  #10  
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We flew to Guilin with Southern China Airlines. Unfortunately the flight was delayed by three hours. Kunming airport does not have many facilities once you go through security and even though there is a smoker’s lounge there seemed to be no rules enforced. The whole departure area was really unpleasant and very crowded. It was the only time I was bothered by passive smoke in our whole trip.

We had originally planned to get a bus to Yangshou from Guilin, but the flight delay had us worried. We called the Yangshou Mountain Retreat from Kunming airport and they organised a pick up for us at Guilin which was a godsend as it was nearly midnight by the time we got there. It takes about an hour to get to Yangshou and even though it was very dark and unlit you could still see the fantastic scenery of the karst mountains as we drove to the Retreat.
We booked a deluxe room with river view and balcony at the YMR (423 HKD) and it was a very comfortable.. There is a lot written about this hotel especially on Tripadvisor. We were happy with our choice to stay away from the main town. The staff at the hotel are very friendly and the service is generally good. The only negative points was the food. Some of it was perfect but other things were inedible. We had a stir fried beef dish on night that looked magnificent on its sizzling platter but they must have used the wrong cut of meat as it was just so tough. We told the waitress and she just asked if we wanted to order something else. Similarly I had duck and pancakes one night and the solitary pancake was a huge doughy, soggy mess (a bit like when you use the wrong type of flour), I tried to explain that I could not eat it but to no avail. We probably should have gone into town for dinner one night but the weather turned wet again and we couldn’t be bothered.

Our first day loomed grey but dry. We had breakfast by the river watching the rafts float by and locals set up their floating stalls. We then set off to walk to Moon Hill. It was a lovely walk but much further than we thought, our map was not exactly to scale. On the way there we were approached by a lot of people asking if we wanted tours etc. They accepted our refusals graciously. At the entrance to Moon Hill we were approached by a couple of women who wanted to sell us drinks. We were carrying water bottles with us but they would not take no for an answer and followed us all the way up the hill and down again. We had seen this event on TV on a local travel show, but were still surprised when it happened to us. Anyway we just ignored them and walked over to the café for lunch. They seemed very angry with us but we were just as angry at being shadowed all the way on our walk. The café at the park was delightful. I had these amazing dumplings that had on omelette type mixture as the casing for the filling. Gerry had some beer fish that he enjoyed despite all the bones.
Instead of walking back to the river we got on a motorised scooter thing with a trailer on the back. We wanted to go up river and take a bamboo raft back to the hotel. We could not work out how this could be done, so asked one of the truck drivers (who were loading rafts on the their trucks to take back upstream), through sign language and a lot of laughter he invited us in his truck to go to the starting point of the raft trip. It was so funny travelling in this vehicle as it was held together with bits of wire and had holes in the floor. The driver also bought us tickets and got us on our raft with our trusty punter. We took a leisurely 90 minute float down the river. The scenery was great and we made it back to our hotel just before it started to rain again. After dinner we were very lucky as the showers stopped just in time for our trip to the Impressions Liu Sanjie show. We booked this through the retreat and it was useful having the transport organised. The venue was packed but we all got to our seats in time. This is really quite a unique experience and it beautifully staged with the mountains as the backdrop. The performers really do look like they are walking on water. We both really enjoyed it. Again we managed to get back to our mini van before the heavens opened.

Next day we were picked up after breakfast for our cooking class with the Yangshou Cooking School. We met up with another lady who was doing the course in town and we went around the local market buying ingredients. We had been to markets in other towns but it was good to have a guide to explain some of the ingredients which you were not familiar with. I must admit we did quicken the pace up when we were going through the meat section, it was clean enough but some of the cuts on show were a bit too exotic for our taste. We were then taken to a country house for the class. It was a fantastic experience. The teacher cooked first then we copied. We made stuffed vegetables, beer fish, kung pao chicken and a wonderful chilli aubergine dish. After we had polished the fruits of our labour we went into Yangshou town for a few hours. The town was very quiet as it was pouring with rain. We looked around some of the shops for a while but it was not a pleasant experience as we were drenched (not cold, just wet). Taxi back to the Retreat for dinner and an early night.

We had planned to go to the Longsheng rice terraces but after talking to the staff at YMR decided it would be a miserable experience in the pouring rain. We caught the bus from Yangshou to Guilin and then a taxi to our hotel. The Bravo hotel (100 AUD a night with out breakfast) was very well appointed and walking distance from the town centre. We wandered into town and found a LP recommended restaurant called Yiyuan Fandian for lunch. It was a great find, full of young locals enjoying banquet meals. I can’t remember what we had but I know we were impressed as we came back the next day for lunch as well. We set off for a walk along the river and around the lakes and park in the city and got back to the hotel before the rain came. We made enquiries about the night lake cruises hoping the weather would pick up the next evening, had a snack at the hotel and an early night.
Breakfast at the hotel was not included and far to pricey so we headed off for the nearest bakery. We then got a cab to Seven Star Park. We spent hours here looking through the two cave formations (one guided,one not), there were some people practising classical music so we sat and listened for a while before heading back to town for lunch at Yiyuan Fandian again. Another cab to the Reed Flute Cave where we managed to join a tour of the caves. Despite being very theatrical and a overdone with lighting, I enjoyed the tour. By the time we got back to town the night markets had started to be set up so we sat in the park until they were done and wandered through them. I bought a couple of things but nothing really grabbed my attention. The most popular stall seemed to those selling combs made from animal bones. Some were very fancy.

Gerry had decided he wanted Western food as it was his birthday so we found Rosemary Café (another LP recommendation) and he had pizza and I stuck to my soy fried rice. We had been sucked in by the apparent fine weather and were heading for our lake cruise when we the rain started. We had to buy more umbrellas as we had left our at the hotel. We started walking to the boat but when we saw the queues we decided not to bother as there was no way we would be able to enjoy the sights dripping wet.
The idea of hordes of people jostling for viewing positions all holding umbrellas did not appeal at all.

Our plans came a bit unstuck here as we were hoping to fly from Guilin to Hangshou but we could not get any direct flights (they were all booked out). We decided to just go straight to Shanghai. We had to cancel our Shanghai accommodation as they could not extend our dates. I just booked something cheap on the Holiday Inn site as we only had 5 nights left of our trip.
martha1953 is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 01:06 PM
  #11  
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We flew to Shanghai with China eastern Airlines and took a cab to the hotel. The Holiday Inn Express Zhabei The hotel was fine, very functional as expected and very popular. The location was not the best but that was only to be expected as it was situated near the bus and railways stations. We got in late so grabbed a set meal in the small café which was very good. Chicken broth, stirfry and fresh fruit for about 60Y. We also ventured down the road for some drinks and snacks. Gerry was in heaven HBO was on the TV. Our only problem was the temperature of the room which was about 23 deg C and no air conditioning or air circulation apparent. The front desk advised it was the law in Shanghai that AC does not come on until rooms are over 26 deg C. We could not keep the window open as we were directly above the train tracks so we pestered the front office and got a fan which saved the day. The beds here were the best we had in our whole stay in China and slept really well. Another great feature of this hotel was a self serve laundry room with washer AND dryer.

After breakfast (cheap and adequate) we asked directions for the subway. The very hassled front office staff just pointed left out of the hotel and so we set off. The area around the hotel is somewhat shabby and we followed the road around through an underpass following people with suitcases (we knew the metro was at the railway station that we could see from our room). It was only a 15 minute walk but it was a bit unnerving the first time as we had no idea where we were going. Got tickets and headed To Renmin Square to walk to the Bund via East Nanjing Road. As soon as we got out of the subway station we were approached to buy knock off goods or engaged in conversation by students who eventually got around to mentioning the tea ceremony they wanted to take us to. The latter were not that persistent but the other guys would not leave us alone. They shadowed us all along the street. We had no interest or intention of buying anything. This was the only time in China we had been hassled to buy stuff. The walk down the shopping street was still enjoyable. We were very underwhelmed by the Bund which was a big construction site. I think they are getting ready for the EXPO next year. The walk along the river was very ordinary too and the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel was just a complete waste of money. We doubled back to Renmin Square via East Yanan grabbed a bite to eat and headed for the Shanghai Museum. This is well worth a visit even if you are not a museum fan. All the exhibits are displayed well with notes in English. There is so much to look at it may be worth doing the highlights using the audio tour.
We were pretty tired by this time so headed back to the hotel via Circus World to get some tickets for the ERA production. We thought we would get something to eat near our hotel but could not find anywhere that even looked like we would feel comfortable in. I hate to say this but we ended up with McDonalds.

After breakfast we caught the subway to Xintiandi. We looked around the galleries and the Shikumen Open House Museum (well worth a visit) before an early lunch at Din Tai Fung dumpling restaurant. Over the next few days all I craved for were the crab dumplings and nothing else. We walked and walked all afternoon through the street around the French Concession stopping for coffee breaks and sheltering when the rain got too heavy. I decided we should go back to the dumpling place for an early dinner before our show at Circus World. I had crab dumplings again. The show was very entertaining and had a huge variety of acts. The highlight at the end were these dirt bikes in a circular cage. It was amazing.

Next day we headed to Suzhou for a day trip. We caught the train there and the bus back. The map we used was very out of scale and we seemed to walk for miles to get anywhere. The Silk Museum was interesting and the Humble Administrators Garden was impressive. I was expecting a really pretty little town and it was just another city. When we got back to Shanghai we headed for the Superbrand Mall, not for shopping but for tickets to the Shanghai Masters Tennis. Got the tickets OK and would you believe it there was a Din Tai Fung outlet there. Crab dumplings again for me, my husband was over dumplings totally and ordered other stuff.

Our second last day in China and we spent it at the tennis. We had never been to a world class tournament before so having the top eight singles players in the world participating at the Masters was too of a temptation. The Shanghai stadium was easy to get to by subway and taxi and we actually spent 8 hours watching tennis and it went so quickly. We got a shuttle bus back into Shanghai proper and a taxi back to the hotel. The facilities at the stadium were very good and the food outlets did a great job coping with the crowds.

We checked out at 12 noon and left our luggage at the hotel. I still had my souvenir shopping to do so we headed off to Yuyuan Gardens and bazaar.
The gardens are absolutely beautiful and I was sorry I had left visiting until the last minute. Luckily it was not too busy and we were able to enjoy a bit of quiet reflection it some of the areas. We were able to spend a couple of hours looking around before we hit the shops. I was able to do all the souvenir shopping I needed in the streets around the gardens. I am sure there are better bargains to be had elsewhere but I was only buying cheap and cheerful stuff anyway. Back to the hotel and we got a taxi to the airport. Our driver was very personable but a VERY fast driver we sat on 100 MPH on the motorway to the airport. It took us just on 30 mins to get there. Check in and security checks all went well and we wandered around trying to spend the rest of our yuan. We found the ideal solution in an upstairs food hall. The most perfect lamb dumplings. A great way to end our trip.
martha1953 is offline  
Feb 19th, 2009, 07:51 AM
  #12  
 
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Thanks so much for your wonderful report! Which B&B did you stay at while in Beijing?
Images2 is offline  
Feb 19th, 2009, 03:51 PM
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An excellent and interesting report- Many thanks for taking the time to share the experience with us all.
Rovingrabbit is offline  
Feb 19th, 2009, 05:50 PM
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Thank you all for your kind comments

Images 2..we stayed at Mao'er Hutong B & B. I booked this through www.bb-china.com.
It was a real delight staying in this court yard home
martha1953 is offline  
Feb 22nd, 2009, 05:22 AM
  #15  
 
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Brilliant report. I am going to China in the Fall and loved reading about your travels. You and your husband should be commended on your openess to new experiences, flexibility, and planning. Well done, mates!
aneckc is offline  
Feb 26th, 2009, 03:42 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
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Fabulous report! Thank you so much. So I gather that you made your hotel and air arrangements while in China? How far in advance did you book? Or did you just show up? Sounds like a great trip that I hope to do next year.
sdtravels is offline  
Feb 26th, 2009, 08:05 PM
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Thanks very much for the report. I agree that Chinese meals are designed for groups, even more of a problem when you travel solo!
thursdaysd is offline  
Feb 27th, 2009, 09:30 AM
  #18  
 
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Thanks for the recommendation for the b&b web site Martha. I found a different place to stay in Beijing, on that site, and am so pleased with the contact I've had with the owner. I'll report back on the place once we return!
Images2 is offline  
Feb 27th, 2009, 12:22 PM
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Thanks for the report. We are trying to figure out where to go next and China is definitely one of the possibilities.
dgunbug is offline  
Mar 1st, 2009, 03:38 PM
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Sdtravels

I booked my hotels about 3 months before I left for China (we needed to do this to get our visa - I think this has changed now), but only one of the internal flights. I decided to book the flight to Yichang before we left as I was so worried we would not get a booking and miss our cruise. It was very easy to book the other flights in China. Elong have booths at the domestic airports and their prices seem to be the best around. I just booked my next leg on arrival at the airport. Most of the internal flights were about 100-150 Australian dollars per person.
I hope you manage to make your trip to China.
martha1953 is offline  

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