Deb & Roger’s YB Travel Adventures to China
2009 and 2010
Though we have been traveling to Asia for almost 2 decades, before internet, cell phones and other modern technological advances, it was only 3 years ago that we made it to China.
This isn’t because we never wanted to go. It was a more practical reason that kept us away. When we are in Asia we spend our time in the tropics in places like Bali, our home away from home, Thailand, Laos and other warm places. With airlines limiting the number of bags you can carry, we can pack lightly and don’t have to worry about carrying too much. And when you are backpacking, you naturally want to limit what you carry anyway.
But in 2009 after we left Bali we thought it might be nice to visit Vietnam again so we flew to Hanoi. After a few days there and another trip to Halong Bay, we decided we wanted to see something new. We had not been to Laos since ’97, and never to Luang Prabang so we booked a flight and took off the next day. To a new adventure.
Laos was amazing and we ended up spending a month there. But we still had another month so started talking about China. I noticed that the Yunnan province was on the northern border of Laos, sub-tropical, a mountaineous region that slopes down from the Himalaya mountains of Tibet. It is also the most biodiverse and beautiful province in China. It has half of all plant and animal species found in China and 52 of the remaining 56 ethnic minorities in the country. We were sold. We found we couldn’t just cross the border, we needed Visa’s so we made our way to Vientiene and enjoyed 3 days in this lovely city waiting on our Visa’s.
We flew into into Kunming, home of the Flying Tigers during the second world war. I am not into cities preferring a more bucolic experience, but for a few days I am OK. And what an amazing city it was, as most are in China. Some bigger, some smaller, but all have one thing in common. Nice wide six lane boulevards, bike paths, walkways, with each separated by tree/plant lined medians. It was was very tropical with palm trees everywhere. And buses to take you anywhere for 1 yuan. Electric motorbikes, an amazing train station, delicious hot and spicy food, lots of parks, and green space.
From there we took the overnight train to Dali, staying in the old town, and really enjoying everything about the area. We decided to hit Lijang on the way back and opted to go directly from Dali to Shangri La, a tibetan settlement on the border of Tibet, because at 12,000 feet it was already getting cold. The bus ride was wild, one switch back after another, but the scenery, simply stunning. Shangri La was amazing, and we enjoyed our time there then headed back down to Tiger Leaping Gorge, also amazing and Lijang yes amazing before heading back to Kunming.
From here we flew to Yichang and took the Yangtze River Cruise upriver to Guilin which takes about 3 days. The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia, and the third-longest in the world. It flows for 6,418 kilometres (3,988 mi) from the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai eastward across southwest, central and eastern China before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai. It is also one of the biggest rivers by discharge volume in the world. The cruise, the dam, the stops along the way, the views, I can’t say enough about how beautiful China is.
From Guilin we flew to Beijing and watched their 60 year National Day from our hotel. We didn’t want to fight the crowd, there are just too many people in China when it isn’t a holiday. The great wall that year was so packed the KFC there had there best day ever. And the forbidden city was not forbidden, but it was a lovely time. Then we took the bullet train overnight to Shang Hai, ah wouldn’t just a little mass transportation at home in Florida be nice, to visit friends and explore the city.
This was our first taste of China and it was all positive. So we opted to return in 2010 for two months. We flew from Bali into the Haikou on the island of Haiken. From there we headed south to the city of Sanya, and beautiful beaches, like you would find in the caribbean.
Then we flew to Guilin taking a taxi to Yanghshou. This is one of the areas you see on the coffee table books with Karst mountains rising up out of the river. Absolutely loved it here. Went back to Guilin and took a tour to the rice fields of Longji. Next time we go we will spend the night here and do the 8 hour walk through these stunningly beautiful rice fields.
No visit to China would be complete without visiting the pandas so off we went to Sichuan Province arriving in Chengdu by plane. All of our hostels in China were awesome but this was truly nice, being brand new. We had a nice big bed with bath ensuite. Comfy sofas in the main room to read, and do internet.
The internet was free, we could do our laundry, and the coffee delicious. Yes, coffee is now in all parts of Asia. We certainly weren’t roughing it. And hostels make sense in China, few people speak English. As independent travelers it is nice to be able to get information without everything being a struggle. We don’t do tours but for the Panda’s it makes sense so we opted for the morning tour to see them while they were still awake.
Our hostel was in a great location, we took the bus, or walked everywhere we wanted to go. Close by were stalls where we could get dumplings, or noodles for breakfast, and roasted veggies and other yummy food at night, sitting outside at tables with the locals.
We decided to visit LeShan to see the Grand Buddha then to go to Mt. Emei Shan. I was hoping to be able to spend the night on the mountain after taking the cable car up but the entire province was getting record rains. We weren’t even able to take the train to Xi’an (Terracotta Soldiers) because it had derailed. But we enjoyed the mountain the best we could, with the limited to no visibility.
We went back to Chendu for a night to regroup and come up with a game plan based on skirting the worse of the rain. We found out the road north to Songpan (horse trekking), and Jiuzhaigou had just reopened so we booked a bus ticket for there. They are still in Sichuan, but near the border, and Songpan is a Tibetan settlement.
After the bus ride from hell, China is mountainous so many roads over and around the mountains are just two lanes with cliffs on one side, and rivers on the other, so when one lane has a problem, well we all know the answer to that. But once we arrived it was all good, it was beautiful, and at 14,000 feet, the air was crisp and cool, with warm sunny skies. We were elated. And no rain!
We explored the town, did the horse trek but only for the day, and visited Jiuzhaigou, a nature reserve with the most amazing colored lakes. After a few days here we flew out of this airport which I have to say was quite remarkable, it was at 14,000 feet with spectacular views. We were now headed to Xi’an and the Terracotta soldiers.
Another amazing hostel that we liked so much we ended up spending 4 days just relaxing, wandering the city, taking the bus to different attractions, and chillin. Then we went back to Beijing, visiting places we missed the previous year. From there they now had a day bullet train (90 per day now) so we were in Shang Hai in just over 5 hours. This is amazing! We stayed in the French Quarter, visited friends that we met in Vietnam, originally from Holland but have lived in Shang Hai for many years. And visited the Expo. After the first day of so much heat and humidity, we decided to visit just a short time the next day. We have been to most of the countries at the Expo and there is no way a Pavilion could come close to the real thing. But Spain’s was really good.
We left Shang Hai and took a bus to Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain). We stayed in Tunxi, booking everything from there including a night in a dorm on the mountain top. I can’t say enough about this place but you had better be in amazing shape. You take a 30 to 45 minute bus ride up the mountain to a cable car. Then a 15-20 minute straight up cable car ride. From there you see nothing but Karst Mountains and to walk from the east gondala to the west is about 7 kilometers up and down about 4 to 6 of these mountains. It was truly one of the most amazing, and remarkable things I have ever done. And with hindsight 20/20 I would do it again, only differently.
When we came off the mountain we had one more day in Tunxi before we flew to Xiamen. We had wanted to take a train, but had to fly as the train system in China is not as efficient as it could be. You literally have to go to the train station to book, you can’t do it online. And often there is no travel agent. And if there is they may go to the station and find out there are no seats. Or if there are any for the next day, by the time you go back there is nothing. Lines are long, especially in the larger cities, so we opted to take the bus to Hangzhou and fly from there. All was running smoothly, the bus let us off, we got a taxi but he took us to the wrong airportso there was a bit of chaos until we got to the right airport which was quite a long way out. But we were able to book a flight and could relax.
We flew into Xiamen, a city I could live in. Xiamen is known in China as a prosperous and clean city with a pleasant subtropical seaside climate. It is endowed with educational and cultural institutions supported by the overseas Chinese diaspora. In 2006, Xiamen was ranked as China’s second ‘most suitable city for living’. It was simple getting from the airport to the hotel, and as we checked in we were warned of a typhoon that was supposed to hit the next day. Ha! Ha! Oh well, sounds like Florida. Well it did hit, and while we got lots of rain, Taiwan took the hit first and by the time it reached us it was just a powerful tropical storm.
We really enjoyed our time here taking walks along the water, climbing up to temples, taking the ferry to Gulangyu and walking around. Taking the bus all around and hopping off in areas the locals go to eat, and shop. We actually ate at a Pizza Hut one night, we were tired of local food and saw the sign from the ferry when we came back from the Island. We looked at the menu and is nothing like at home. This location was in one of the tallest buildings on the waterfront with a beautiful view of Gulangyu Island. And the choices of salads and other selections were locally influenced so you had atmosphere, quality and freshness. People are always out and about, in parks, dancing, playing mahjong, cards, doing tai chi. Very very active people, and everyone always seems to be having a good time.
We flew from Xiamen to ShenZhen then took the bus to Hong Kong, the Oriental Pearl, and simply amazing!. We had not been there since the turnover in ’97. It was a funfilled 3 days, most spent on the water as you can take the local ferries for next to nothing and go so many places. We also went out to see the giant Buddha on the island of Lantau. We took the train then a cable car ride (if you choose this way) that goes past the new airport. All new as was the restaurants, and other improvements they made to turn this into a proper tourist attraction. Well worth it. And to get back to Hong Kong Island you can take the bus to the ferry. Really excellent transportation including buses, trains, and ferries.
I will be posting more information on each of the places we visited, along with photos of that area so keep checking back. Roger flew home, and I flew back to Bali to spend a month with my daughter that flew in from New Zealand. Life is good. Live IT! More photos and info on each place will be coming soon.