Tuesday 15th February
We began our day late in the afternoon and set off on a walk towards the Bund area of Shanghai in the crisp and sun shiny weather.
Walking towards the river we stopped at the impressive Garden Bridge which crosses the Huangpu River and already we are getting fantastic views of the Pudong Financial district in the distance.
The city is bisected by the Huangpu River, a tributary of the Yangtze. The historic centre of the city, the Puxi area, is located on the western side of the Huangpu, while the newly developed Pudong, containing the central financial district Lujiazui, was developed on the eastern bank.
Shanghai has recorded double-digit growth for 15 consecutive years to become the center of finance and trade in new China and is now aiming to be a global finance hub and international shipping center. We spotted a couple of large container ships coming and going as we walked along the riverside pathway towards The Bund area.
The Bund centers on a section of Zhongshan Road within the former Shanghai International Settlement, which runs along the western bank of the Huangpu River, facing Pudong.
Bund usually refers to the buildings and wharves on this section of the road, as well as some adjacent areas. The Bund is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Shanghai and building heights are restricted in this area. The word "bund" means an embankment or an embanked quay.
Its a short walk to Nanjing Road and we got ourselves into a nice cafe bar and relaxed for a few hours enjoying a couple of beers and generally watching the world go by while waiting for darkness to fall.
We look across to the Eastern bank and it looks dazzling as its brightly lit buildings are illuminating the skyline giving off a colorful glow.
As we walked by the People's Heroes Memorial and along the paved sightseeing walkway we could see the yellow glowing lights of The Bund approaching which all looks so much better now its night time.
The Shanghai Bund has dozens of historical buildings that once housed numerous banks and trading houses from the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Italy, Russia, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as the consulates of Russia and Britain, the Shanghai Club and the Masonic Club.
As we walked further along the road we could see the famous Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) Building and the Customs House.
The Bund houses 52 buildings of various architectural styles such as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Beaux-Arts, and Art Deco. Our favorite building I guess was the Customs House with the clock and bell which is an imitation of Big Ben.
We crossed over to walk back along the front entrances of the 52 astonishingly beautiful old buildings which nowadays house's mostly banks with a few high society hotels dotted in between.
Halfway down The Bund we take a left turn between the Swatch Art Peace Hotel and Sassoon House which meant we are now on Nanjing Road once more.
Nanjing Road is the main shopping street of Shanghai and is one of the world's busiest shopping streets although its quite quiet as we walk down towards the main arcade area. I think it must be too cold for everyone tonight plus it has started to spit a little with rain but being Scottish and not made of sugar we won't dissolve.
We head down onto the pedestrian part of Nanjing and there's a mass of neon lights above the many shops and restaurants and its got that little bit more busier. We are constantly being badgered by street hawkers trying to sell us fake goods and we say 'booyow shi shi' and keep on walking. We're getting good aren't we? [:0]
Nanjing's Road width is about 28 meters and the total length is 1,200 meters, which extends from Middle He'nan Road to Middle Xizang Road and it takes us no time at all to cover the entire stretch. The shops are a mixture of well known high street stores along with some local Chinese designers so we enjoyed just bumbling along with the locals while window shopping at the same time.
We are back on The Bund and once again we can gaze at the impressive Pudong Skyline still shining brightly across the other side of the river Its makes the walk home that extra bit special, even in the light rain. We walked back over the Garden Bridge and grabbed a bite to eat near the Hotel before retiring for the night.
That’s our Shanghai Visit over and our only regrets have been that we didn't climb to the top of the Shanghai Financial Tower,
Thursday 17th February
On arrival at Guilin Airport we are greeted off the plane by chinahighlights rep Lily who is all smiles as we pass through the arrivals door. Lily is a bit nervous to begin with as she explains some information about Guilin City and the surrounding Yangshuo County and we agree to just crack on with our first visit rather than go to the hotel to dump our luggage.
The sun's come out and we are treated so some spectacular scenery along the way as the characteristic hills that make Yangshuo district famous are now protruding through the horizon. Its a breath of fresh air as there's no high rise buildings and its got more of a country side feel to it as we travel along the smaller and less busier roads.
Our first stop is The Flute Reed Cave which is a limestone cave with a large number of stalactites, stalagmites, stalactite-stalagmites, rocky curtains, and cave corals.
Almost all the hills in Yangshuo County are hollow with some form of cave or caves inside so we are visiting the Flute Reed one as its full of rock formations shaped like various animals, flowers, everyday objects and people. This could be interesting or really crap.
Sure enough when we arrive at the cave entrance there was the usual street hawkers trying to sell us bird noise whistles and postcards which we declined politely 'booyow shishi' (no thank you). Its helps big time to learn some form of basic Chinese as you only have to say it once and they politely leave you alone.
We enter the cave and immediately im having a flashback to some weird moment of my youth when I was in a similar cave in Spain.
There’s a mass of green , blue and white lights shining up the rocks inside the cave. We're a bit like 'oh oh this is going to be cheesy' but it was actually pleasant enough due to the fact that Lily helped point out the many shaped rocks i.e The tigers head, lions, dragons, mushrooms, broccoli, flowers and there’s even a rock that looks like the statue of liberty! You need the seeds of imagination planted in your brain and then these figures and shapes come alive from the rocks deep inside the cave. Yes, they are all natural formations and we are treated to some lovely
water reflections inside the main chamber of the cave which was massive.
We left the cave, out into the light and rubbed our eyes and that was that. What’s next we're wondering as we are twisting and turning back through the country roads towards Guilin. Our next visit is at Elephant Trunk Hill situated within the city and where the River Li and Peach Blossom River meet near the four lakes. Elephant Trunk Hill is the symbol of the city of Guilin.
We walked to the top of the Hill and gazed out to the city and also the river which was really quite attractive. When we reached the bottom of the hill, Lily led us across the Peach blossom River and over to the other side where so we could see why the hill is called Elephant trunk hill.
It got its name because it looks like an elephant drinking water. The round opening that would be under the elephant’s trunk is known as Water-Moon Cave because at night the reflection of the moon can be seen through the arch and it looks like it is under the water and floating on the surface of the water at
the same time.
Along the river banks are bamboo boats for hire and also you can hire a boat with Cormorant Birds so you can do a bit of fishing!
We walked along the river banks admiring the views until we came to a set of steps and after we reached the top we realized we were at the head quarters of chinehighlights.com whom we booked our tour with. Apparently the girl that’s being dealing with our booking and corresponding with us want to meet us both. We met Sophie in the office and she’s a very nice girl who gives us gifts and asks lots of questions and vice versa. We get our photo taken with Lily out the back balcony which has great views of the Twin Pagodas of Guilin.
We are on our way again after a few fond farewells and exchange of emails. Lily leads us back to our hotel and promises to meet us in the morning for our short bus journey North to catch out River Li boat.
Its a national holiday today as its Lantern Festival day so we spent the night watching, from our hotel room, the many lanterns and fireworks
being set off across the city.
Friday 18th February
We've left the town of Guilin and are now heading up towards the River Li where we will be boarding a barge which will take us on our cruise down the river. We're shown to our seats which comprised of a proper dinner table with 6 chairs by the windows which surround us on all sides. We are sharing our table with three nice Japanese men who are very friendly and we get by with the usual hand signals and broken English as we shared our endless pot of piping hot green tea.
On the top deck with us were another 12 or so tables which were immediately filled up with a bus load of Spanish tourists on one side and Italians on the other. It soon became a very noisy deck!
First impressions of the river itself were that its very shallow and clean and we are now standing out on the viewing deck at the front of the boat. We just popped in and out the boat doors as we pleased as the weather is still a tad chilly.
We wait for the boat to disembark while
reading up on some facts about the River and the many Villages that are dotted along the riverbank. We set off down the River Li behind another boat the same as our own and followed it for about a mile until we passed them by. There always a boat or boats nearby in some form or other floating up or down the river whether it be a boat taxi, locals travelling, fishing or bamboo supply boat. It all adds to the excitement of our boat cruise as we drift slowly downstream with the scenery changing dramatically.
The Li River originates in the Mao'er Mountains in Xing'an County and flows in the general southern direction through Guilin and Yangshuo. The entire river is around 450 km long but we have hopped on at the Mopan Pier which will then take us on the 4 hour trip to the Town of Yangshuo covering around 83 km.
The lovely scenery of Caoping stretches out before us and continues for around ten kilometers and the river bends like a ribbon around the hills and cliffs before us.
Its great being out the back of the boat just standing quietly together. We're
enjoying the scenery and there's locals villagers doing everyday chores along the riverside. Cormorant fishing boats dot the riverbank which keeps you reminded we are in Yangshuo county!
Cormorant fishing is a traditional fishing method in which fishermen use trained cormorants to fish in rivers. To control the birds, the fishermen tie a snare near the base of the bird's throat. This prevents the birds from swallowing larger fish, which are held in their throat, but the birds can swallow smaller fish. When a cormorant has caught a fish in its throat, the fisherman brings the bird back to the boat and has the bird spit the fish up.
Lily informs us that we have entered into the Yangdi part of the river which has elegant mountains, a striking waterfall, dense green bamboos and dotted villages which almost form a beautiful landscape painting. We spotted two golden eagles fighting to catch a fish in the water and it sure was majestic as they flew around not far from the boat before disappearing over the hills in the distance.
We pass by the Crown Cave which gets it name from the crown-shaped hill above and its over 12 miles long
inside the cave which is accessed by an elevator which you can hop into by the river.
We keep on sailing for another couple of hours and pass by lots and lots of lovely spots and as you can tell by the photo's there is some beautiful views from the boat. Some spots are unaffected by the wind and there's great reflections in the water of the large amount of peaks and hills.
Lily keeps us up to date with various names of rocks and formations which are too numerous to remember.
We are summoned inside for our buffet lunch which was actually better than we though so we got stuck in and finished off with lots of green tea.
We pass through the Liangshi Scenery and onto the Xiaolong area of the River Li which all have different characteristics such as different vegetation and hill shapes. Will the gorgeous scenery ever end?
The last area and last hour consisted of the Xingping Landscape where the Xingping Village is situated. Its busier with locals buzzing about the water in their bamboo boats and propeller powered boats as they contest between themselves who's collecting tourists from the shores.
The shoal is quite
shallow beneath the water and you can hear the odd scrape as our boat skims along towards the jetty of Yangshuo Village. Normally the boat would sail right into the port of Yangshuo but there’s not been a lot of rain recently so its too shallow to sail into port so we pull in early at another jetty and walk the remaining half mile, bags and all!
Once we had arrived near the edge of town, Lily hails a buggy which zooms us through the streets of Yangshuo and lands us at our hotel in the middle of town.
We check in and arranged to meet Lily for dinner as she has promised to take us to a cafe that sells Great Western and Chinese food. The place was called Kelly's and we all enjoyed a wonderful evening of food and drinking tea which was being poured all night and we were hooked on Jasmine tea by the end of it all.
We took a wander around the streets of Yangshuo and its well set up for tourists as the shops are all filled with the usual stuff we have seen in markets and stalls in China so far.
Saying that there are some great little shops that sell fresh Tea and handmade goods such as wood crafts and clothes. No one really forces you to buy stuff here and it all seems a bit more laid back that we've encountered recently.
Lilly promises us that we've a great day lined up for tomorrow so we call it a night and had an early night.
Saturday 19th February
We got up early and enjoyed our breakfast up on the top floor of the hotel where we gazed out the large windows at the fantastic scenery of the hills and Village of Yangshuo. Lily was waiting for us downstairs at nine a.m as promised and we crossed the road, picked up our bicycles and rain coats.
Its not raining yet but you never know as the clouds look grey enough for rain so better safe than sorry.
Lilly leads the way and she's off like a flash through the busy streets of Yangshuo with the two of us in tow. We cycle down a busy main road, across a dodgy roundabout and onto a back street until we eventually leave the town behind. Cycling on country roads seems a breeze now as its very quiet with the odd moped and tractor passing by.
The scenery just gets better and better the deeper we get into the countryside. We stopped at a village and Lily informs us that she has arranged a family visit at a local house just yards away. We aren't prepared but sometimes its best that way!
The house itself looks derelict from the road side but as we enter we are greeted by a lovely old lady who is all smiles and greets us by saying 'Ne Hah' 'Ying sang how' which is hello, good morning. We try our best to reply in Chinese which is returned with an even bigger smile as she leads us through her house. The old lady stops and shows us her scant little kitchen and also the sleeping areas for her and her husband who has now joined us the courtyard area. Lilly narrates us through the various rooms and areas explaining that this house was built over two hundred years ago by the ancestors of the old smiling man standing feeding his birds. The person that built this house all those years ago was a very important general in the army and his picture hung over the mantelpiece in the living room or communial area that we were now sitting in. We could imagine what the house would've looked like in its prime as the rooftops have intricate shaped dragons and other beasts all along the well laid roof slates which is an indicator of power and wealth. Also the all fancy carved pillars and stoneworks are also a sign of a well built house of this age. Obviously this family aren’t living in wealthy conditions now as they are farmers who live off the land. The house interior is entirely made of wood and stone which should feel cold but is in fact quite comfortable. We are treated well on our stay here as the old lady is constantly offering us biscuits, nuts and fruit which we politely accept. We are taken through to the next building which was the neighbors house which is joined to this house and they share many parts of the building.
Here the old man again gives us lovely tasting mini oranges which can be eaten with the skins on. We're not sure but we give it a blast and at first they taste a bit grim as but as you munch through the fruit its actually very pleasant with a sweet and sour taste.
We treated to a little show by the old man's pet bird which he makes do somersaults at will by clicking his fingers and counting. It was really funny to watch. I thought the birds in cages that we have been seeing all over china were wild but in fact they are well kept pets which are often taken for walks in their cages!
We left the family after a short while and once we took a couple of photos at the door of their house they waved us off as we cycled off down the country lane back into the unknown.
We cycled for what felt like ages and then all of a sudden the valley opened up and we're staring at some of the most beautiful scenery Yangshuo County has to offer. Wow!
As you can see from some of the photos, it’s really something to behold and the best way to view the landscape has definitely got to be by bicycle. We stop by the river here for a breather as Lily is running us ragged by hardly stopping and cycling away ahead of us. We kept at it and must have cycled about six or seven miles where we stopped at a small village. We watched locals doing their washing along side the men gutting and washing out dead chickens. Lily also laughs with us as we comment on the fact that their washing dead chickens and washing clothes in the same pools of running water. I whispered in Jill's ear. 'Ariel Chicken Automatic'...the new flavor of Knorr Stock cubes?
We reach a crossroad where we turned onto a busy main road and we're now restricted to the cycle path at the side which was a blessing.
Another couple of miles later and we reach the town of Yangshuo and its very busy with traffic and locals cycling around. Its one thing cycling the road but its another trying to avoid pedestrians, mopeds, cars and buses whom all cut across your path at will. Sometimes if your lucky you'll get the idiots on mopeds that come at you in the opposite direction from the right hand side of the road. We have mastered it by now though as the trick is to just ding your bell on your bike as often and as loud as you can because that’s what the locals do as its keeps everyone aware. My thumbs aching by the time we reached the last street! Ding!Ding! Shift!
We made it back to the bike shed alive! Wow, what an experience the morning has been. Lily has also enjoyed herself too as she hasn't done the bike tour for nearly 5 weeks now.
We head of to Kellys cafe for Lunch with Lily, had a wonderful lunch and chat with lots of green tea as usual. Lily's great company and we sat and talked about experiences from various parts of the world as she has travelled the countries we are heading off too next.
After lunch we took a short stroll around town and stopped at a tea shop where we were treated to a tea tasting experience which was fantastic as we sat down with the owner of the shop and tried various different teas from around China. This wasn’t planned in our itinerary as the only reason we were in the tea shop was because we wanted to buy some Jasmine tea. I bought some Jasmine and green tea which was a good price and we're definitely going to buy a proper Chinese tea set when we get home.
Its time to head for the airport but first we race each other back to the hotel to use the toilet as all that tea we've been drinking has taken its toll!! The three of us are giggling loudly as we try to barge each other out the way on route to the hotel toilets!
Our drivers waiting for us now and we are taken to Guilin airport where Lily checks us in and does the formalities before bidding us farewell. We exchange emails and promise to keep in touch as we really liked Lily as she has a great personality and it very outgoing. It’s a bit sad waving her off from behind the departure gate and with a final turn through the metal detector we are ready to leave for Hong Kong.