A Travellerspoint blog

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Ancient bikes round an old town

sunny
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Today was planned as a lazy day, we woke after 11am and ate breakfast around 12 noon. The hostel reception had a huge ‘bike hire’ sign, so we decided it would be quicker to peddle round the city.
I approached the guy at reception, “Can we hire two bikes please?”
“No bike now, maybe later,” he replied.
“Ok, what time later?”
“Two or three,”
“Two or three o’clock?” I asked, a little confused.
“No, two or three months, when we save up enough to buy bikes.”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Looks like we’re walking then.”
As we walked down the drive he chased after us, “I find bike for you!”
He took us into an old shed at the back of the hostel and pulled out an old mountain bike and a racer that looked pre-war. “Hire for free,” he said excitedly.
There was air in the tyres and although my racer had no brakes I couldn’t remember seeing a hill in Chengdu, so we were off peddling down the road.

The only real troublesome problem with the old racer was that the seat was three inches across at the widest point and it was made out of Bakelite. Only people that have done hard prison time could truly appreciate my pain.

Still we had a great ride down to the river stopping off at some cool little parks along the way. We stopped off at the international supermarket to stock up on western goodies and headed back after about four hours riding. I spent the evening with my arse in a sling.

We got chatting to a Slovenian couple, Peter and Leana, who asked us to go to the Chengdu Panda Breeding Base with them, so we set our alarms for 6:30am and went to bed.

Posted by asprey 06:40 Archived in China Comments (0)

Stop! Panda time!

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Heavy thunder woke us up ten minutes before our alarm. “Great!”
By 8:00am the rain had slowed and Sarah, me, Peter and Leana were in a taxi 20Km north of Chengdu, it turned out that the Panda Breeding Base was only 10Km north of Chengdu and the taxi driver didn’t have a clue where it was, but we arrived eventually after a number of stops to ask directions to the biggest tourist attraction in central China.
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It was amazing to see the pandas in an almost natural habitat and we spent the next two hours taking photos of the cuddly creatures. It was interesting to see the work they’d done at the base. The information video said there are less than 2000 Giant Pandas left on the planet and this breeding centre had produced over a third of them, although the video did go into a little too much detail on the artificial insemination process. You don’t really want to see a graphic video of ‘electro-stimulation and manual massage’ of a male panda just after breakfast.
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After a slight bus mix-up we eventually found our way back to Chengdu and went for lunch at a great little local restaurant. The local food went down surprisingly well.

Then it was siesta time in the afternoon.

Posted by asprey 06:42 Archived in China Tagged animal Comments (0)

Lazy Day

sunny 30 °C
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Another lazy day – Got up at 10.30am and spent the day riding around Chengdu on bikes. Ended the day at a well-earned Mexican restaurant.

Posted by asprey 20:40 Archived in China Comments (0)

Giant Buddha

sunny 30 °C
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We hired a mini bus for the day and managed to recruit 4 other people from our hostel to spread the cost. Total cost was £10 each for all day with a driver. Two and a half hours after leaving Chengdu via the south road we arrived in Leshan. It’s a small riverfront village famous for one thing – the biggest Buddha in the world – 71 metres high with 8m high ears and toes bigger than a man.
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We paid our 90yuan and climbed the huge steps calved into the rocks and came out on a small plateau on top of a huge cliff. My eyes were drawn to two things simultaneously, the massive dome, obviously Buddha’s head sticking above the cliff face, and the queue.
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There must have been over 2000 people, “oh my god, what do we do?” “We Queue” said Sarah.
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We queued for 2 hours before our turn came to walk down the steep narrow steps that had been calved into the face of the cliff. As we stepped carefully we looked in awe at the mighty figure calved straight into the rock face.
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It really was a magnificent sight. In total it had taken 5 hours to get there but it was worth it.
We stayed at the base taking photos and gazing up at Buddha before climbing the zigzag staircase calved inside the adjoining cliff, an impressive sight in itself.
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“We have half an hour before we agreed to meet the others. So we can either eat or go and see the golden temple”
We had chicken fried rice and pork noodles, which were great. A temples a temple.
Due to road works and an accident it took 4 hours to get back to Chengdu but at least we got our moneys worth out of the mini van.

Posted by asprey 20:41 Archived in China Comments (0)

China Trains

sunny 31 °C

After a lazy morning and a lazy afternoon for that matter we packed our bags and left Nova Hostel, our home for the last 6 days. The staff that had become our friends insisted on carrying our bags out for us and waving us off.
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Yoyo had become attracted to their icon panda bear Nova so of course we allowed Yoyo to bring her along to. Yoyo for those of you who don’t know him yet is the third member in our travels, travelling overland from the Uk to Oz since 2008.
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The 15-minute taxi ride to the train station cost £1.20. We heaved our bags into the station and started the usual rugby scrum to get into the train. At 9.20pm it pulled out of Chengdu north station and we climbed up into our level 3 hard sleeper beds.
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There’s something that makes us both nervous about sleeping on a narrow shelf 3 metres from the floor on a moving train, but at the same time I’m on a bed in the pitch black train writing my diary with my head torch on, Sarah is on the opposite bunk playing games on her ipod – it’s like being kids again. This is a big part of the adventure and we both agree we love it!! Goodnight.
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Posted by asprey 20:49 Archived in China Comments (0)

Meeting Karen

sunny 32 °C

We woke at 9am and were excited about meeting our friend Karen who’d been living in China and Nepal since we met her in 2008 on our Tran Siberian trip. By 3pm we were sat across the table from our Scottish friend catching up. It was great to see her again.
We headed back to Karen’s apartment where we were staying. “Neither of you are allergic to cats are you?” Karen asked.
It turns out Sarah is and she was wheezing like an asthmatic marathon runner pensioner within a few hours. Of course Sarah blamed me for teasing the cat and making its hair fly all over the place.
We headed out for a great meal.
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Karen speaks mandarin so for once we could order what we wanted instead of what is easier to mime.
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Posted by asprey 20:54 Archived in China Comments (0)

Breathtaking Hua Shan

semi-overcast 27 °C

Sarah’s wheezing had gotten worse and so we headed out early, we were off to Hua Shan – a sacred mountain. We had a two-hour bus ride, then a second bus, then a 40-minute queue for the cable car.
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It was a 1.5m by 1.5m box hanging off a string a couple of hundred feet above a mountainous rock face, great fun for a person like me who has a difficult relationship with heights.
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I climbed aboard the box wondering how my jelly legs were supporting my weight as ice cold sweat ran down my drained grey face.
Sarah laughed at me for a few seconds then went very silent and serious looking as the car dropped slightly before accelerating upwards at a sharp angle.
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I wanted to look out and enjoy the scenery, I really did, but my brain was concentrating on the point I’d chosen on the seat in front. Nothing was going to break me away from meditation-like state. Within a few minutes Sarah was settled into it and was standing up taking photos.
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Back on solid ground I felt the blood pump back into my face and legs. The scenery was stunning.
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We hiked another hour further up the mountain until we came to the flying fish ridge. A knife-edge ridge connecting two sections of the mountain, another test for my nerves. It took around 3 hours to reach our destination of the West Peak, 2078m above sea level.
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It was amazing. The scenery took our breaths away more than the climb. We entered the old monastery perched on the peak and booked a bed in one of their very simple dorm rooms.
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Karen asked if there was a shower or somewhere to get cleaned up. The woman pointed at a plastic dripping tap hanging from the outside of the building. It turned out that the dripping was when it was actually turned on.
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We sat admiring the view with a bowl of egg fried rice and then went to bed.
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Posted by asprey 20:57 Archived in China Comments (0)

A wet start

rain 27 °C

3am I woke needing a pee. As I left the monastery my head torch lit the path to the basic toilets. I stopped and marvelled at the scenery coated in darkness. I was stood a few metres from the peak and could see the whole mountain. I could make out 4 lights from the old monasteries cum accommodation. The only noise was a light breeze; some very distant music that I couldn’t make out but assumed it was some Chinese tribal music, and the rumble of thunder. It was a magical moment and I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather be. I stood taking in the moment, it was almost spiritual. I strained my ears to hear the haunting sounds of the tribal instruments; suddenly the wind changed carrying the tune across the mountain to me.
“Man I feel like a woman”
My face dropped. It was bloody Shania Twain playing on a tinny stereo somewhere. I was devastated. The tooting country singer had shattered my moment on the mountain. I had a pee and went back to bed.
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By 9am the distant thunder had turned into thick fog and heavy rain offering 10m visibility. The woman who’d taken a fist full of cash off us for the dorm told us it was going to rain all day. Traveller’s scepticism told us that was a play to make us pay for another night so we donned our plastic bag ponchos and headed back down the mountain.
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We (I) suffered the cable car and bus to town. We walked through the town and found the Xi’an bus being repaired in a mechanics.
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We sat in the street with the locals and waited. Eventually it was fixed so we fought for seats on the bus. The unlucky ones were handing a tiny stool to sit in the aisle.
Sarah’s wheezing was a problem so we reluctantly checked into a hostel and then headed to bar street to meet up with Karen’s friends for a few drinks. The group was a great mix of westerners all teaching English in local schools. It was a great end to a couple of fantastic days with Karen

Posted by asprey 21:15 Archived in China Comments (0)

Introducing Kristina

sunny 30 °C

Our hostel was a dump so we raced across the road to the best hotel in Xi’an, the Bell Tower Hotel. It was a home for two nights and was where we were meeting our tour group for the truck journey through Tibet.
There will be 8 of us in an expedition vehicle for the next 31 days. In addition the crew are Noel the tour leader and driver, Dan the mechanic and driver, and Miles our Chinese fixer.
We were introduced to Kristina, an ex-quarry dumper truck converted to a serious off-road expedition vehicle by a pot smoking Australian boat builder.
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Both our faces were fixed with excitement. The rest of the day was a chill out time while we contemplated the adventure in front of us.
In the evening we went out for our groups first social event, which consisted of a meal and then a few drinks. The not drinking thing sort of went out of the window. Very out of the window. Tequila slammers out of the window.
An ozzie girl whose eyes worked independently of each other when she was sober got very very drunk. She ended up standing on the table, then falling off the table and head-butting Sarah in the face. She then burst into tears (the ozzie, not Sarah) when none of the boys would sleep with her.
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Posted by asprey 21:40 Archived in China Comments (0)

Biking the city wall

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Sarah woke up with a shiner from the drunken ozzie girl (who thankfully wasn’t on our tour – I don’t think her and Sarah would have made the best travel buddies). I would think that one of them would have ended up being buried under the Tibetan plateau.
After a huge 3-course western buffet breakfast we teamed up with Nicola and Colleen from our tour group and Tom from another tour group. We walked artist street then hired some antique looking bikes.
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We spent the next 2 hours biking around the top of Xi’ans city wall.
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The afternoon was chilled out, with me and Sarah visiting a Chinese hairdresser.

Posted by asprey 21:42 Archived in China Comments (0)

Wet set off

sunny 30 °C

10:00am the moment we’d been waiting for. Kristina pulled out of the Xi’an Bell Tower Hotel car park. The truck tour had begun and everyone was buzzing as Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” played out in the back.

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We drove all day; it really was great to be on the road.

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We arrived in Pingliang at 4pm and it was immediately obvious that westerners were a rarity in this town. As we drove in some of the locals smiled, some waved, but most just stared. Even so, we couldn’t help feeling welcome, everyone seamed lovely.

We met for dinner at 7:00pm, Stephen didn’t show but he was still feeling the jet lag so we assumed he was sleeping.

Everything and everyone stopped as we entered the outdoor food market, I swear even the dogs stopped biting at fleas and stared. We sat outside one of the small restaurants as locals plucked up the courage to say “neihow” or just nod at us.

Mylse’s phone rang and he chatted for a while in Chinese, then stood up. Mylse has a good grip of the British sense of humour, so we all laughed when he said, “Stephen has been arrested by the Chinese Army.” Mylse laughed along for a second, then stopped, then ran in the direction of the hotel.
There was a few seconds silence before Noel asked, “is he serious?”

An hour later I had to race back to the hotel for an emergency toilet break, I found Mylse, Stephen and a very serious looking military policeman sitting in reception. Mylse was arguing frantically on the telephone.

Stephen explained that he had been for a walk round the town and accidentally wondered into an army base.
“Did you take any photos?” I asked
“Just one, but they’ve already confiscated my camera.”

Mylse came off the phone and spoke to Stephen, “this is a very serious matter, a very, very serious matter.”
He explained that he’d been talking to a high ranking official in Beijing who’d spelt out why it was being taken so seriously. Firstly the gates are guarded 24 hours a day, Stephen had walked in at the exact time the guards were changing watch and the entrance was unattended. Next, there were six security cameras covering the base and Stephen had managed to avoid all but one of them. Also, the base was built like a maze with roads running in all directs, most of them dead-end and only one route through. Stephen had taken every turn correctly to find his way through the base. And finally, the single photo Stephen had taken was of the top-secret intelligence building.

“So what does all that mean?” asked Stephen.
Mylse sighed, “they say you have prior knowledge of the base.”

I’d read a bit on how the Chinese government are paranoid about journalists, especially in areas close to Tibet. If you’ve even studied journalism they wont issue you with a Tibetan entry permit. Just having a good camera is sometimes enough to raise suspision and be declined entry. Stephen’s expensive looking Canon lay on the table in front of the MP.

“Jesus, they think you’re a journalist!” I exclaimed.
Mylse jumped in, “No Stephen, they think you’re a spy!” the room went cold, “a senior officer is coming to interview you later, you may be detained at the police station.”
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up with fear and I wasn’t even involved. Stephen looked broken. The Military Policemen ordered me to leave.

The group returned about 11:30pm. Stephen had now been joined by the higher-ranking officer and was in his fifth hour of interrogation. We were not allowed to stay and were ordered to our hotel rooms.

Posted by asprey 21:45 Archived in China Comments (0)

James Bond - Our secret spy

sunny 28 °C

Sarah and I had spent the whole night taking it in turns to give the toilet some serious abuse. Whatever it was, we’d both got it bad.

The group were climbing Mount Kongtong today, but there was no way either of us were going to make it in our fragile states. We spent the day in the room – the bathroom.

Mysles had worked his magic in securing Stephen’s freedom, but had managed to get himself a ¥13,000 fine along the way for allowing his tour group out of his sight whilst in China. It took him another hour of negotiating to get out of paying it.

There were conditions attached. The whole group would not be allowed to leave Pingliang until the police had copies of our passports and visa details, so they could investigate if we had any connection with each other prior to the trip, (i.e. to see if we all want to spy school together)

The thought of us being investigated by the Chinese army left us shaken, but not stirred.

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Posted by asprey 04:27 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Road to Liujiaxia

sunny 29 °C

Both of us had just about got rid of Pingliang belly, the Chinese had confirmed that none of us were spies and more importantly we were allowed to leave town.

The whole day was taken up with queuing lorries and tollgate traffic jams. In fact the highlight of the day was sitting in a traffic jam watching a lorry driver having a poo in the field at the side of us. Obviously we all took photos and did the obligatory cheer out of the window when he’d finished.
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The plan was to arrive in Liujiaxia by mid afternoon but all the delays meant we arrived well after 9pm. The town was supposed to be China’s Los Vegas, although there are no casinos, no tiger shows and no dancing girls. It’s just lit up pretty. It was a quick meal and to bed.

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Posted by asprey 04:29 Archived in China Comments (0)

Bingling Si grottos

sunny 27 °C

Liujiaxia was an odd little town and we’d only really come for one thing, to visit the Bingling Si grottos.

Kristina crossed one of the many river-bridges and headed up the steep road at the side of the huge hydroelectric dam that separated Liujiaxia from a few billion gallons of water.

We’d heard the lake was beautiful, but to be honest we were both disappointed. Pollution had taken its toll on the lake it was filthy.
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We boarded a small boat and headed up the lake. 45 minutes later we were out of the pollution zone and into the most amazing setting of high ravines dropping to the snaking river, we’d reached the beautiful part.

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We visited the grottos, which are small caves housing thousands of Buddha. The whole thing would be pretty average if it wasn’t for the amazing mountainous setting.

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On the way back we came across a small temple, run and maintained by an old guy. He was cool, we chatted in our own languages and didn’t have a clue what the other was saying, but it didn’t matter. He posed for a photo then waved us goodbye. I don’t know why but it just made everyone happy.

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We took the pollution cruise back to the dam then headed to the street markets in the town.

The evening started quietly with market street food. A chicken and noodle hot-pot cooked on a white hot flame. We always listen out for the sizzle, because that’s the sound of germs dying.
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Then we went for a quick drink in the local bar, by 10:00pm the whole thing had deteriorated into drinking dice games with the locals. It went down hill very fast. I don’t remember much more after that.

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Posted by asprey 04:36 Archived in China Comments (0)

Breathtaking drive

sunny 27 °C

We left Liujiaxia and headed for the hills, literally.
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The truck climbed constantly for three hours, not once driving on the flat or down hill.
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Everyone in the truck sat with fingers in ears doing forced yawns to make their ears pop. As we climbed the scenery became more and more impressive, then we reached the top of the mountain road, one turn and we were hit in the face with the most amazing view of terraced fields, each level a different shade of green from the last. It really did feel like we were on top of the world. An air of excitement raced through the truck as people raced from one side to the other trying to take in all the scenery at once. “My God! Do I deserve this?” shouted Stephen. Nothing could dampen our spirits; this was amazing; the perfect hangover cure.
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Sarah and I tried to think of any better scenery we’d seen in the last three years of travelling “This definitely wins” was the verdict.

We snaked our way through small villages where all the locals stared and waved at the big strange orange truck full of funny looking white people. Between the villages the fields were worked by hand, the crops transported on the back of donkeys. If it wasn’t for the few motorbikes it could have been a scene from a thousand years ago.

By late afternoon we reached Xiahe the town that’s said to be ‘more Tibetan than Tibet’, and we could see why. Just the drive in was amazing. Officially we were still in China, but before the 1960’s, when the Chinese government revised the border, this was Tibet, and it certainly didn’t seem to have changed much since then.
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The first thing we noticed was the change in the people’s faces, rounder, darker-skinned and red cheeks from years of sun and windburn. Most wore traditional Tibetan clothes; some wore Adidas and Kappa baseball caps. The whole place just looked like something of an old movie. “This is what I came on the trip for!” I said to Sarah, who was already grinning with excitement.
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We unloaded the truck, I carried my bag into our room and fell on the bed gasping for breath, and it was only one flight of stairs. I felt light headed and drunk. It was a stark reminder that we’re now over 3,000m where altitude sickness really kicks in. ‘Jesus’ I thought, ‘we’re going to 5,500m and I’m ready to keel at 3,000’ although I knew it was all about acclimatisation.

Posted by asprey 04:38 Archived in China Comments (0)

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