Letters from the Larmours » Stories from the travels of the Larmour Family

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Letter from China – part 2


重庆 Chong Qing

We completed our boat trip, sailing to Chongqing and docking around 10am. On arrival we headed straight to the Hilton Hotel. The reason for this was twofold. 1, “the book” ie the Lonely Planet, said there wasn’t much budget accommodation in Chongqing so it was worth splurging on somewhere nice; and 2. Tommy had called ahead and checked that they had Star Sports – an absolute necessity as Ireland were playing France in the rugby World Cup that night!

After the boat (which in the end we didn’t really mind that much) it was pure luxury. The big buffet breakfast, some nice comfy sleep (a big double bed and a cot instead of 2 singles!) and hot steamy baths all round and we felt ready to face the largest city in China (population a mere 33 million!).

We strolled along the riverside and took a vertigo inducing cablecar across the Yangtze. We wandered down backstreets breathing in the waft of very spicy hotpot and very meaty kebabs, and finally opting for pizza (much as we love spicy food my tummy has a strange aversion to a particular unidentifiable ingredient in Sichuan food).  If you ever visit Amalfi Pizza 阿美非比萨 check our picture out – Saffron was their first ever laowai (foreign) baby! And check out the interesting items on the menu!

  hooray for clean towels and hot baths!  
sunset, Chongqing The cablecar across the river – and the operator, asleep!  
The menu of Amalfi pizza, displaying the interesting choice of……. and  all I can make out is they’re some kind of meat soup!
Saffron got her own bed to sleep in for once!

重庆 to 成都 Chongqing to Chengdu

Tommy got up in the night and had his worst beer so far on the trip, which just added to how depressed he felt at seeing Ireland lose to France in his first (and as it turned out, only) World Cup game. Poor love. And after that, I decided it was perhaps best of we stayed somewhere that I couldn’t see Scotland v New Zealand two nights later!

Unfortunately Chongqing’s size means its sights are spread out, which didn’t tempt us to do the tourist thing too much. Plus, more baths, more nice food and catching up on CNN and BBC whilst lounging on fluffy duvets were too good to miss! So the furthest we went was a street away from the hotel to buy fruit for our onward journey later in the day.

The journey to Chengdu was one of those “death bus” rides. 4 hours of being driven too fast, sitting on “luxury” leather seats that resulted in you sliding half way under the seat in front every time the bus braked and a bad morning sickness day meant it was not my favourite journey of the trip!! We finally arrived at another incredibly quaint, courtyard style youth hostel, checked in and ensured we were booked on the Panda trip for the following morning!

成都 Chengdu

An early start and we were off to the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base, in a mini bus with some very unfriendly French and Dutch people!!! (but more on unfriendly fellow travellers later!).  The base has received recent notoriety due to it breeding some 16 panda cubs in 2006. It’s bred more this year too and we saw some tiny ones only a month old, still all pink and furless. There were lots of different areas for the adult, adolescent and baby pandas. Of course the baby area was the most popular and it was packed out – though as usual, Saffron was almost as much of an attraction to the Asian visitors as the pandas were, especially as she kept shouting “panda” very loudly in Chinese!! (until she fell asleep that was!).

Back to the hostel for lunch and a sleep and we headed out for some Chengdu sight seeing. We visited an unusual tomb surrounded by carvings of musicians, which is also the only tomb in China with above ground chambers. Saffron enjoyed spotting different instruments around the tomb. In fact we’ve found that taking her to tourist sights like tombs and temples hasn’t been as much of a drag as might be expected. Temples in particular are really easy to keep her amused at as there’s always something for her to take an interest in, usually Buddha’s holding different animals which at this age she loves hunting out. Next we went to the Green Ram temple where she took delight in giving hugs to giant turtles, and of course the ram! It was actually a lovely Taoist temple and a very pleasant surprise as we almost missed it!  

On our way back to the hostel we took in the street outside which was heaving with outdoor food stalls and people eating and drinking. Lots of typical street food was available and it was really chilled – apart from the hoards of people fussing over Saffron! People adore though that if they say things like “shake hands” or “give the baby a hug” in Chinese she does so! And quite honestly, especially when there are other small kids around, she loves it.

red pandas    
Saffron woke up to see some of the baby pandas    
making new friends  
Saffy and turtle checking out the street food Saffron stopping to chat to people as we went along
making friends with a baby with slitty pants!  

成都 to 龙胜, 广西省 Chengdu to Longsheng, Guangxi Province

Today was a bit of a drag of a day! All journeys and details. We headed to Chengdu airport for our flight to Guilin.  The gate got changed 3 times before we boarded, and we took off an hour late – all pretty surprising as it had, on first appearances been a bigger and more efficient airport than Guangzhou! On arrival in Guilin, even though we didn’t want to stay there we had to go into the city to book train tickets as you can only book in the city of origin – one of those frustrating China things! Fortunately we managed to book exactly the train we wanted, with the beds we wanted first go, so then we headed off to the bus station to find our way to Longsheng. We were lucky though here as the first bus leaving was an express, so we made up some time as instead of taking 4 hours this bus only took 2 ½.

On arrival in Longsheng we found a hotel. This was our best bargain yet!! 3 beds, hot water and TV (and yes, clean too, albeit basic!) for a whole 40RMB per night. That’s about £2.60!

The lady that owned the hotel was lovely, spoke excellent English and spoiled Saffron rotten, making her special food and buying her treats, as well as calling in every child from the street to come and say hello! After our dinner there we headed out to the town square to see what used to be a typical sight in every town and city in China, but seems to be a lot less common now, organised ballroom dancing and exercise! Ladies waltzing all around the square, and doing Chinese line dancing!

Our total check in luggage weighed 15.5 kg line dancing in the square
Saffron and Kirsty trying to join in the line dancing!  

平安, 龙脊梯田 Ping’an, Dragons Backbone Rice Terraces

The reason we were staying in Longsheng was not for Longsheng itself, which was a bit of a dump! It was so we could visit the Ping’an rice terraces – or “the Dragons Backbone”.  We rose early to catch the first pus to Ping’an, the village in the middle of the terraces. You can stay there but, 1, we’d missed the last bus the previous night, and 2, we wanted to do a walk down from the terraces, which you can’t do as easily if you then have to walk back up again!

It takes a while to climb up the mountainside to the terraces and on the way we picked up all sorts of people including several Yao minority women who were heading up there to sell their wares! As you climb up the terraces don’t really seem that impressive, it’s once you’re above them that they’re truly breathtaking. People disagree over which season they look most magnificent in. Whether it’s when the rice is just planted and the terraces are standing in water, or sprinkled with snow in winter. We were there just before harvest, but after summer rain so the terraces were glowing green and lush. It was really cloudy when we arrived so we hurried up to get above the clouds, which seemed to keep landing us in the middle of them – hence the attractive cagoule bought for 30p! (not sure why I didn’t manage to catch a pic of Tommy in his too!!). The village of Ping’an itself was really pretty and almost alpine in appearance. It’s a Zhuang minority village made all of wood with sweetcorn and chillies hanging off the eaves to dry and little old Grannies still practicing traditional crafts or old men cooking up bamboo rice and chicken.

After visiting the village we did a two hour circuit along the backbone to various viewpoints. Along the way we kept meeting Yao women trying to sell us things. No matter which country you’re in indigenous people they always try to charge you to take photos, the funny thing was this lot were so intrigued by Saffron they kept coming up and chatting to us and often seemed to forget what they were doing! Saffron did acquire a bracelet for 5RMB from one of them though! We also saw them let their hair down. The Yao village of Huanglo, close to Ping’an, is in the Guinness book of records for having the worlds longest hair!! They only cut it twice in their lives, and then use the cut hair to pad out their hair do’s!

After lunch in the village we set off on a 3 hour hike through the terraces, some other old villages and down to the road. We didn’t see any other tourists and only met a very few other people so the peace and quiet compared to the usual hustle and bustle of China was amazing.  I’m glad we speak Chinese though cos we did take several wrong turns, and terraces do all look pretty similar so we could easily have ended up in the wrong place! We did get involved in a traffic jam when 2 of the only people we saw crossed paths with us at the same time – one with an animal feeding trough on his head, and the other carrying 2 big bags of something on a pole over her shoulder! Rice terrace paths aren’t very wide!

We met some adorable people in the villages. They loved seeing a little blonde baby, in fact I’m pretty sure some of them had never seen a small white child before – everyone stopped and talked and the kids wanted to hug Saffron. Everyone had the same old questions but it’s great sometimes being able to communicate and also find out a little more about them.

We finally headed back to Longsheng on the last bus of the day, absolutely exhausted but after one of the best days of the trip. We were fed again by our lovely hostess and treated to fireworks, right outside our bedroom window for the lantern festival!

The rice terraces  
harvesting some of the terraces
the patient model and photographer!
  views of the villages – note the satellite dishes – nowhere is remote anymore!  
some of the wildlife we saw along the terraces  
    The alpinesque village of Ping’an
Some of the crafts for sale
making bamboo rice keeping the beer cool up the mountain  
lovely raincoat!  
Yao women crowding to meet Saffron
The women letting down their hair!    
making more friends with her new 5RMB authentic bracelet
Saffron joining in at the village school playground
we met a lot of old Grannies along the way who all loved fussing over Saffron
traffic jam… half way up the terraces with an animal feeding trough!  

兴安 to 桂林 Xing’an to Guilin

After our exhausting day we needed to take it easy as my legs in particular were a little achey!  We headed from Longsheng to a little visited place called Xing’an, the home of the Ling canal. The canal was built around 200BC to transport supplies to the Qin Emperor’s army and is considered one of China’s 3 greatest feats of engineering, along with the Great wall and an irrigation system in Sichuan.

It gave us a very chilled out day, strolling along the canal, which has been prettily restored and yet isn’t attractive enough for busloads of tourists!

Finally we took the bus back to Guilin and went for our last overnight train journey, back to Guangzhou. We were pretty early so ate at the station – the prerequisite pot noodles! You’ve just got to love how everywhere you go in China there’s boiled water available so you can eat your pot noodle –the standard food of the traveller in China! Saffron loves them too – in fact she’d very happily have noodles or rice every day so feeding her on our travels hasn’t been a problem at all.  We encountered a western tour group on the station who had so much luggage we couldn’t believe it – but then they did travel soft class and have porters!!!

We’ve found on our travels that other western backpackers don’t talk to us very much. We’re not totally sure of the reason, but figure a lot of people like to think of themselves as doing something exciting, and different, and a little off the beaten track, and when they see a couple with a baby in tow it probably makes them realise it’s perhaps not so much the road less travelled after all…. but that’s merely a hypothesis! Westerners on tour busses were generally friendly and interested in what we were upto, those doing the “adventure overland” type trips often looked at us as if we were carrying the plague, not a delightful toddler – if you know what  mean!!!

Anyway, on we trotted with our one trusty rucksack, and off we set… to the land of nod, and Guangzhou!

meeting another bare bottomed baby! The Ling Canal decorative screen wall
Saffron enjoying her favourite meal! 2 sleeping beauties in their train bunk

广州 to 香港 Guangzhou to Hong Kong

We arrived back in Guangzhou, where it was super hot and sticky, an hour late and set off to collect the rest of our luggage from our friends where it had been stored. We then headed to the East station for our emotional final Chinese train journey… boooo hoooo……

We arrived in Hong Kong at Hung Hom station and jumped in a cab to our hotel. We p/wanted the Peninsula but it stretched our budget a little, so instead, and still with a fantastic view of the stunning Victoria Harbour, we’d booked a room next door at the YMCA! And it was great.

Of course, us being us, we couldn’t just get to HK and take some time to regroup! We had a dinner date with our friends Junko and Jose who were only in town from South Africa for a few days and we had very busy itinerary the next day so we went back to the hotel relatively early and slept!

  Saffron enjoying her morning milk
arriving back in Guangzhou   leaving Guangzhou again 2 hours later
  our final train out of Mainland China  

香港 Hong Kong

We repacked and sorted our luggage out ready to face our new life and checked out of the YMCA. Took our final Star Ferry trip across the harbour and went to Tsan Yuk Hospital one last time for a scan of Basil before we left.

We all felt a little emotional about leaving Hong Kong, leaving China, leaving South East Asia behind and wanted a little family time to absorb it all. The Peak was the perfect place for a last view of wonderful Hong Kong and some fantastic Asian fusion food at one of our favourite restaurants, Café Deco.

So, all in all I think we did a pretty good job, given the time we had, of taking in some of China’s more iconic sights – Ming walled town, teracotta warriors, the three gorges, the biggest city, pandas, rice terraces and minority tribes – all topped off by a final night in our old hometown, and Saffron’s birthplace, Hong Kong.

And then we collected our stuff, headed to the airport and flew off to our new home, Abu Dhabi!

view from our hotel room   final views of Hong Kong
Final Star Ferry crossing final trip up the Peak
再见 中国, Bye Bye Hong Kong, Bye Bye China, Bye Bye South East Asia………
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