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Yunnan - In Search of Internet Access....
Rating : (4.8 stars)

Kunming, Yunnan (and Guilin and Yangshuo), China
Nov 02, 2003 23:26

comfortable express trains, beautiful vies, alot of adventurous things to do, Kunming-clean & modern city
Cons: traffic and congestion of the city

Factoid of the day: China makes up 20% of the worlds population but smokes 30% of the cigarettes..... it seems most of those are smoked on our bus, train or cafe....

Abstract: Left Hong Kong after collecting Visa, took express train to Guangzhou, then 'Hard Sleeper' train to Guilin, then minibus to Yangshuo, stayed four nights in 'Riverside Retreat' enjoying karst (limestone pinnacle) scenery and cycling around, left on Saturday 1 Nov on 'Hard Sleeper' train to Kunming (South West China), Staying at Camelia Hotel, applyed on Monday for Visa for Laos.

Nitty Gritty:

Graham writing- After leaving our hotel in Hong Kong not quite as early as planned, 8.30am, we trekked over to the chinese visa place and collected the visas with no problems. Caught the almost empty Star Ferry between Wan Chai and Hung Hom, which is where the KCR (Kowloon/Canton) railway station is, or at least that's where the guide book says it is, as it turns out there is a huge industrial/shipyard in the way, after careful negotiation of the under/over passes we arrived for our 11.30am train to find it full, so had to pay an exhorbitant amount for the next 'express' train. Anyway it was very comfrtable and deposited us in Guangzhuo, lucklily as the trade expo was on there where lots of english speaking fresh faced meeters / greeters, they where a bit dissapointed to learn we were grungy backpackers but did point at the entrance to the metro, which, only weeks before had been completed as far as the main railway station.This was a result for us especially as we had acquired a map of the metro from a glossy mag on the 'express' train. We could therefore take the shiny new underground (Tube bosses should see this system) all the way to the train station for Guilin. We nicely avoided therefore the notorious traffic and congestion of the city.

We have discovered a new phenomena we have christened 'critical mass'. When there is no pedestrian crossing a group of maybe 50 or so people gather at a likely spot and when one plucks up enough courage to cross (therefore taking point) the entire mass crosses as one, josteling each other to avoid moving towards the traffic at point, the mass of cars part, Moses style, and you safely get across, stragglers (ie the old) are left behind to fight on alone...

The main train station had 90 ticket booths with a massive 'queue' at each, melee being a better description, we decided (after being shooed away at one booth) that we would go in search of a ticket agent, thereby living to fight another day. (now we are more confident rach is keen to have another try - NB I am surprised at how cowardly Graham can be at times!!). We found CITS (the travel agent) after lots of pointing at books and charades, and wonder of wonders secured 'hard sleeper' tickets for that evenings departure to Guilin. There was much rejoicing! We had avoided the dorm rooms at the youth hostel in Guangzhou that we had booked just in case we were unlucky enough not to get same day tickets, which are hard to come by in the high season (luckily we are off season!)

After a trip to the bank, a bakers for provisions and water, we made our way to the gargantuan railway station, after being herded through waiting rooms and along corridors we arrived in a seated area packed with fellow passengers. After waiting around for a bit, Rach decided to pay a call, and it was at this stage the gate opened with railway workers using loudhalers (and batons) herding the hords to the train, we took the English approach and queued, therefore being practicaly the last on board. Tip one: in china, elbows are very useful.

Our first trip on a 'Hard Sleeper' was very enjoyable, firstly it wasn't actually that hard, and secondly everyone was very freindly, (or amused at the mad westerners, not sure which). Our provisions however where whofully inadequate, everyone else had instant noodles (there is boiling water at the end of the carrage in a help yourself boiler) or just bought something from the constant stream of vendors passing along the train. (chicken feet, frogs,(this is a bit of an exageration Graham!) and many other food stuffs, socks, toothbrushes, DVD players for rent etc etc). At each station there is a frenzy of buying of consumables from vendors on the platform... the debris from all this gets chucked/ spat on the floor, however cleaners come and dutifully sweep it up.

The sleeping arrangements are three story bunks in compartments of six, much like a european couchette, except that there is no door or wall on the compartment, it is all open. We had the top bunks, no headroom but more privicy, the 13 hour trip passed rather aggreeably.

Rachel Writing- I didn't sleep too well as for some reason I kept thinking about being propelled from my bunk if the train crashed! Took a minibus from Guilin train station to Yuangshuo which is a town about an hour away with amazing limestone pinnacle scenery. Our Chinese guesthouse was 4km from town on a river so we negotiated a motorcycle taxi to take us there - basically a bike with a side car and driven by a women - girl power!! Once at the questhouse we were welcomed by a cheery 'hello' and shown to our room. The plumbing or lack of it was histerical. The bathroom consited of a) a western style loo b) a french style loo c) a sink, with no waste pipe, just a bucket underneath d) a shower hose attached to the wall. It too me a while to work out that one flushed the loo by filling the bucket with water and sloshing it down and the shower drained in to the french loo!

We had some lunch on the veranda overlooking the river and wonderful view and headed back into town, this time flagging down one of the small minibuses that was heading there. The bus in question looked full, however they made room for 2 more. We wondered around the touristy part of town, the main street in this area being known as 'West' street for obvious reasons, booked some train tickets and a tour to see the famous cormerant fisherman of the area.The guesthouse's website is http://www.abstraction.org/rr/ take a look at the piccys.

The next day was utterly perfect.....after a hearty noodle breakfast, we hired some cronky mountain bikes and followed the dirt track up river from the gusthouse. We passed farmers gathering in the harvest by cutting the rice by hand and threshing it using a machine which they powered by pushing a bar at the front with their feet, before hand tying bundles of hay to dry in the sun. We saw ducks and ducklings being herded by a duck shepherd, woman carrying pales of water, rocks, vegetables etc in two buckets held from a piece of wood across their shoulders, vegatable farming, men ploughing fileds using plouighs pulled by Ox etc - it was a rural idilic scene

We finally found the Dragon Bridge after 3 hours of cycling. The bridge dates from 1427 or something around that and was wonderfully medieval looking with all kinds of commerce going over it. From here we returned to the GH (another 3 hours) by the most beauitiful path along the river - got a bit lost at one point and had to carry our bikes around some rice paddies. We were exhausted and covered in dust!

Had dinner in the night market for 75p - freshly made dim sum which were really yummy. Joined the fishing trip which was really naff to start with but then when we joined the fisherman, it was amazing. Before tourism, the fishermen of the area used (and some still do, as we later saw some) cormarents to fish for them by tying grass around their gullets to prevent them from swallowing all but the very smallest fish. The birds are amazing underwater and darted around catching fish. When their gullets bulged the fisherman scooped them out with a pole an masseged their gullet until they regurgitated the fish.

The next day we did a river boat trip down a rather lovely part of the Li river - did it ourselves rather than paying a guide. We took a bus to Yangdi and once there arranged a trip with a local boatman via a chinese chap who spoke some english. Boatmen are not allowed to take tourists so the first part of the trip involved avoiding the police by hiding in the boat which had mirrored windows. Once past them, we all got out front and marvelled at the limestone scenery. The boat dropped us off about 1.5hours walk from where we caught the bus back home - another wonderful day.

Next day, climbed one of the limestone peaks for a great view of the area and chilled out for the day and had a slap up meal at the guesthouse in the pm.

Following am got up early and caught a bus to Guilin and stocked up on instant noodles for our 23 hour train journey to Kunming in Yunnan,south west china. The time went really quickly as we read a lot, and while Graham had a snooze, I did a bit of Mandarin homework. Our fellow travellers were OK - a group of business men mainly, although we were treated to our first real experience of chinese spitting. A women who had the bottom bunk to mine, cleared her throat very loudly and spat (thankfully into a tissue) every 15 mins for the whole journey and by the end of it it was really starting to get on my nerves!

Kunming is a great city, clean, modern, and has a great atmosphere, especially if you go off the beaten track. We lunched on more superb dim sum before wandering through the markets and buying Graham some pants in Carrefore of all places!

We are off further north tomorrow, this time by sleeper bus to do some trekking before heading south to Laos.