Saturday, 15 March 2014

Chengdu and Guilin .10th january..south of China odyssey

 10th January 2014
Chengdu, and  Guilin 
While we had finished with trains on the Russian Transmongolian lines we were still planning on journeying through south east Asia as much as possible using trains or other local transport  Our next train the K545, was now going to take us on a 15 hour journey from Xian to Chengdu the home of the Chinese Giant Panda reserve. This train would see us trying out a new class ....we had booked hard seats tickets because as it was Chinese new  year, the Chinese people all travel from the city to their family home for the holidays so all the sleepers had sold out.

After an hour of standing around with our back packs strapped on, we at last boarded. 
The Chinese railway is mainly well organised,  But we realise after a few false starts (someone walks past looking official and the Chinese jump into line ) the Chinese would stand all day waiting if needed.  Little information is given out other than train number and time. The station its self was very crowded and there was no English signs or speaking people to be found any where, But the trains and waiting areas were numbered clearly and were easy to find.  Once through, there are train attendants on each carriage to check your ticket and help out.  
      We squeezed on to three seats for 15 hours, but there was a toilet and hot water,                                               the train was busy.
  Due to buying only 3 tickets, !!  (we were informed Seb didn't need to pay because of his age,  ) We ended up squishing into 3 seats, they are cushioned thankfully. Mental note  to ones self ...the seats were very cheap, from now on book 4 of everything, sebs got a bony bum !    As the train emptied we spread out, the 15 hours went rather quickly. 
We were quite a diversion for the other passengers at the beginning who were all Chinese :-) and seemed fascinated by what the kids doing, but as you can imagine by the end of the 15 hours we had quite a relaxed relationship with them and we had a great time chatting to anyone who spoke English. The scenery turned from industrial to rural then to mountainous. we had qualms about leaving the kids winter boots behind when we saw snow and ice  in the mountains but when we reached Chengdu at midnight it was again warm. For us, 8 degrees was comfortable now after - 33 of Siberia.  We really enjoyed the trip, if a bit of a slog,  it was great to see the changing landscape,  but wouldn't  choose hard seats / soft seats over sleeper as regular long travel, its tiring. The staff were up and down the carriage continually selling fruit, toys, meals and pot noodles. alcohol was also on sale.  


                                                  Flip flop hostel
 Once in Chengdu we made our way by taxi to the  hostel flip flopp on the centre,  They didn't have a family room for the 4  days we planned to be there, so we booked a 4 bed dorm with en-suite.  This meant bunk beds in a small room :-) But The hostel was very nice with fantastic staff. The rooms were warm with a heater but cold in the lobby and seating areas. The staff walked  
 around in coats and I went around closing windows, only to find to my amazement the whole of the 3 floor stairs wall was open to the elements, there no glass only wood slats. I even put my fingers through to check because I couldn't believe my eye:-) 
You see for most of the year its baking hot in Chengdu so this is the best way to ventilate the hostel, even in December  its cold but not freezing!  You get use to sitting around in your coats I guess! 

Day 1
We dragged ourselves out of bed and had breakfast before vegging out for the day. We did manage to go by metro to the English bookshop 'the Bookworm' which had yummy English fish and chips.. Good food , beer and books what more can you ask for :-) 
Next day we visited the Chinese Giant Pandas sanctuary arriving around 7 am. 
Big Daddy Giant Panda 
 Pandas are most active before 10 am and sleep after 10 am. they are very cute, quite mischievous , and very lazy. we saw tiny 1 year olds, teenagers tumbling around and giant adults lazy munching on bamboo.  after buying a few trinkets for kids and our  cousins. We wandered around the grounds which were interesting with a wide range of plants. bamboo was growing abundantly every where.  We ate lunch in one of the restaurants on site. 

         The rough and tumble teenagers 

Baby Pandas  so cute 

we had wanted to go on a trip to see the big Buddha at Dafu le Shan but decided the journey of 6 hours round trip  was to much in a day,  so in stead we bought our soft sleeper 4 berth train tickets to Guilin at a local kiosk and we posted our cold weather gear home ( sorry mum more stuff to keep for us ). The Weather was now a comfortable plus 2 to 10 Celsius and the BBC said  Guilin and Hong Kong was much warmer. The city was interesting and safe to wander around. 

The Red Panda 

Sunday 13th 
after a morning rest : for example .. I had been trying to find accommodation in Hong Kong to meet out budget ( hard )  the kids are singing in the shower and now have dressed and settled down. Alisha listened to the magic tree house and Sebs setting traps for me (mummy) the trap is an elastic skipping rope strung between the beds.  Think i might spot it the rope is rainbow coloured. :-) 

We wandered around the city by day. Chengdu is quite a mix of very old streets and alleys with small food stalls, and shops selling everything from bike tools to dry goods, to kitchen nicknack. You could then turn a corner and find your self in a ultra modern part of the city.

                                       Fun in the park
                        Lunch ...traditional Chinese food: where you choose your own fresh                                meat and veg and then cook it in a sort of soup  
                                 Eating dinner in a small alley shop ...Out on the town with flip                                     flop hostel walking tour

 There's a pedestrian area full of bright neon lights and the top fashion branded shops. I saw a massive 3 storey  high panda handing off one of the 20 plus storey floor shopping malls..quite impressive !  I liked Chengdu more than I expected. I did a walking tour with the hostel in the evening and the mix of old and new seems to  work. The people are very friendly and like to party with plenty of local bars to relax in, some very expensive looking. its a relaxing yet bustling city to walk around. In the parks you can watch older people dancing to traditional music or doing keep fit classes.

 Monday 14th January  Overnight train to Guilin.          
Foe our next trip due to Chinese New Year we had been lucky to get sleeper berths so we booked 3 tickets two in one compartment and one in another. But We were able to negotiate with a German guy to swap places once on the train. Our cabin mate was an English teacher from Chengdu. She spent most of her time cracking sunflower seeds but was pleasant company.  The train left in the dark a pity as it should have left at 1505. so the scenery was left until the morning. But then we saw some stunning scenery.                        

 After a comfortable night on the train, we awaking to mountain views and it was snowing again., but as we descended the weather warmed up we were now travelling into karst country. The landscape were full of striking sharp peaked limestone mountains and hillside villages and as we reached Guilin the peaks were more pronounced.
Monday 15th January 
Arriving around  1700 walked to our hostel 'the green forest hostel' and that evening booked to  visit the Longji terraced fields of Ping.  Really by this time we had, had enough of busy congested towns full of motorbikes so of We ate in our hostel then crashed in our en-suite room. It wasnt the best hostel as The corridors were echoey and we could hear people talking in the common room, but the location was great, next to a junction in the town river and easy to walk to from the train station. 

Next morning we were ferried by minibus along with two Chinese guys on a three hour fab  trip to the mountains which was a national park land. We drive the windy slim road up the beautiful mountains past villages and rice terraced fields to longji terraced fields of Ping a small village high up in the mists. We then walked for three hours meandering through terrace cliffs and chatting to locals in the village. The views were stunning. The village at the bottom had the usual gauntlet of small local shops selling trinkets but the terraces were pristine and empty of everyone except us and the farmers.

The terraces are narrow around 3 meters wide each for the smallest one and wound around the mountain in wonderful curvy waves. Small rice plants were spread individually in rows, we also saw other vegetables growing as well. At the end of the walk we had an hour to contemplate the view and eat ice cream before descending and returning to the bus.

                                       A local lady showing Alisha her sewing
Driving past more wonderful karst hills. we returned and met up with an American couple and after dinner we walked round the market with them.
From here our next trip will be to Yangshou by boat cruise down the Li River.

Till next time, love from China xx

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