Travelling a month around China
25.05.2013 - 25.06.2013 30 °C
The moment to write about the last month has finally come. I decided to stick to this hostel bed in the (in)famous Chung King Mansions in Hong Kong today, one of the countless I slept in the last 6 months, till the blog gets done. It will be though, as I have the story of a whole month in China to tell you about.
A story that starts in Beijing, where I landed after a whole other month in Japan. The cultural shock was hard. The differences between the two countries are big, from the "system" to the people part of it. I'll honestly tell you that at the beginning, it was hard to appreciate China. Japan was clean, its people were kind and polite, their language melodic, the sky blue. The first impressions showed me that China wasn't... any of those. However, after a few hours/days of adjustment, the feeling of exploration take over, and what it was presented to me was a marvelous country in which cities and their apparent mess hide lots of mysteries, the habits of Chinese people are so different from the West that you can't avoid seeing them as comic (especially when they all together spit on the floor), their language is so much of a riddle with thousands of different sounds and the sky... well, you get used to its grayish color. China has been eventually a lot of fun and great experiences! Moreover, dragons are everywhere here, and I love dragons! Let me tell you about my adventures then:
Beijing and the Great Wall
Beijing is definitely the "big city" of China. It is very traditional compared to the other big cities of Shanghai or Hong Kong, masses of people fit into its different neighborhoods, revolving around its center defined by Tienanmen Square on one side - the heart of China's communism, represented by Chairman Mao Zedong's mausoleum but also the location were the student protests leading to the unprecedented Tienanmen Square Massacre of '89 took place:
and the Forbidden City to the other side - the cultural center of the city. Home to the emperor of the Ming and Qing dinasties for 500 years, from which commoners were forbidden to enter (hence the name) and whose immense wealth and glamorous life inspired legends and myths.
The person you see in the picture with me is also one of the reasons why I came to enjoy China so much. After I traveled for a while on my own, being able to share everyday with such a pretty girl definitely made every experience worth remembering! Considering that this girl traveled from Switzerland to meet me wherever I selfishly decided to be in the world for the second (and not last) time, well... how can I not love her? Together we set ourselves to discover other parts of the city, and one that we found particularly interesting was the 798 Art District, home to a thriving artistic community: countless of galleries, graffiti, public exhibitions, live photo-shooting and pretty cafes make it a open-minded and colorful place that we never thought could be found in the more traditional and chaotic Beijing:
And of course, we went to see the world wonder of the Great Wall, or at least one of the pieces remaining that was also partly rebuilt so to look like the original. I can only say that is very impressive. Walk on it and realize that it stretched for kilometers make it so even more!
Shanghai is one of those cities that has limited offering when it comes to pure sightseeing, and become special when it is "lived". We took it easy in this city, so I will simply show you the walkway on The Bund, the more characteristic sight of Shanghai, with a fantastic view on its skyline (I wish I had photoshop to stich my panorama pics together!)
The modern and flashy side from The Bund changes when approached in the first hours after dawn, where groups of elderly perform their Tai chi routines, walk backwards for kilometers (still don't get it) or amaze with more dynamic acts, like this flying dragon:
For the rest, we enjoyed walking arouns the city, enjoying the food, the shops, and again the food.
Capital of the region is Chengdu, and the main reason we went to Chengdu is the following fluffy black & white fellow:
The area around Chengdu is the only place where Pandas still roam wildly, even though their decimated number and diffidence towards humans make an encounter almost impossible. However, visiting the Breeding Research Base gave us the opportunity to meet these funny bears face to face, and I mean... how can you not fall in love? It's cuteness overload!
In Chengdu was also easier to come in contact with the more traditional China when we visited some temples, as well as some interesting people:
From Chengdu we moved to one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China, Emei Shan, where besides the "hiking" ( = climbing endless stairways) up to the middle of the mountain and coming across some marvellous temples and monasteries in which monks live and pray and eat, the thing that fascinated me the most was the opportunity for us as tourists to sleep in some of those. Dining at their mensa with vegetarian food and having the whole and tourist-empty temple for you alone, maybe with some monks still chanting their melanconic prayers, was definitely one of the top experiences in China.
Next brief stop was Leshan and its worldrecord 71m-tall stone Buddha, that although surrounded by the usual swarm of loud Chineses tourists, did not fail to impress with its majesty.
This region is one of the most scenic of all China, so much that the back of the 20 RMB note displays a view of the Li river close to Xingping. However, the first exploration of the region was related to the other wonder of Guanxi, the Dragon Backbone's rice terraces, an endless series of rice fields climbing up and covering whole valleys. We planned to spend the night in a small village atop one of those hills, and by "we" I mean me&Terry and my good friend David with his girlfriend Andrea, on their way from Singapore to Mongolia, with which we were able to cross paths in the middle of China! Having even more people with which to share the journey was definitely a pleasure, and even though we traveled together for only one week, we had a good time! Also because with David I found somebody that was willing to tag along when waking up at 5am to hike up the hill and take pictures of the rice terraces at sunrise, something I think my girlfriend would not be enthusiastic to do!
The jurney continued to Xingping, where we hiked along the river first, to then return to te village aboard one of the many bamboo rafts, to then climb the peak near the city and sit in awe at the wonderful sunset in front of our eyes, painting the never ending karst landscape with soft lights and shades. I believe this was the most beautiful sight in the whole trip around China.
The best afternoon has however been the one in Yangshuo. Tired of always sharing places that require a calm atmosphere with hordes of tourists, I got on the famous bike trail along the Yulong river and then... turned left. Just like that. I started riding into the countryside, looking for something or somebody that I could be "my" China for the day. And I found it... first, I had the happy meeting with a small school in a small village I came across, where I entertained myself playing rock-paper-scissor with the always smiling kids,
then moved on to get a glimpse of some more original rural activity, and definitely got some while pushing my bike at the edge of rice and vegetable fields, and interacting with some of the farmers
But the best still had to come. The old lady in the picture gestured me to keep going in that direction, even though I had no idea why. Later, thanks to her (I would have definitely stopped before otherwise), I reached what in my travel journal I called the "secret spot": a calm river, surrounded by bamboos, karst peaks, green fields, and a water ox enjoying some good time in the refreshing waters. And me. Nobody else... I got goosebumps, believe me. I finally found that little corner in China that would be only mine for the day (but also of the two almost toothless farmers living in a shack nearby that I discovered later). The pictures really do not make justice to what that place really was:
Ah yeah, after a while... an umbrella floated by. I have no idea where it came from, but somehow... it really made a nice picture.
Next stop was the city of Zhangjiajie in Hunan, that we reached mainly beacuse of Tianmen mountain, famous for the longest cable car ever and especially for a unique walk on a glass pathway above a few hundreds meters of cliff... I usually never suffer heights, but this one was really something!
After an overnight train ride from Zhangjiajie and a goodbye to my friends, I got to Hong Kong! And here, it has been all about the fun for the moment. First day I wanted to go to the Victoria Peak and take a sunset shot, but ended up in the swimming pool with a beer of a cool guy living in a very nice crib on the peak! So I only got night shots... and wow, Hong Kong in a clear night is impressive!
The day after I went to see the dragon boat races at the waterfront together with an American guy I met in the hostel, and we did enjoy them! Boats? Cool! Free beer? Cool! Dragons? Awesome!!!
Then we got approached by a local girl and boy, with which we went to the nearby beer fest. After a few beers (strictly free, never paid for a beer the entire weekend thanks to the coupons we got), we enjoyed some local food in Temple Street market, some drinks in Soho, and then before we knew it... we were skinny dipping at Deepwater Bay! Great night, but unfortunately no pictures about that =) The day after, we enjoyed some acts of local singers, like this apparently famous guy from Taiwan, and some good DJs, thanks to whom we got to dance as if at a rave and became quite the show for the locals!
So... yeah, this is it. At the moment I am still in Hong Kong, waiting for my Indian visa, and at the end of the week I'll finally leave for a destination I've been looking forward for a while: Nepal!
This was a long resume of what happened last month while travelling around China. I hope you liked it, and that will keep on following me till the end... which is coming close! It is very weird to think that I've been gone for 6 months and that now only 2 are missing... I hope there is still somebody waiting for me back at home!
Wish you the best and cheers to you all, leave a comment if you feel like it!