China II: Week 17

18/07/2011: Day Eight

Once again I woke up in a soft mattress bed and found it hard to remove myself from it. But, with the incentive of another, supposedly more fascinating, minority village I made it out of bed before I could be labelled as ‘lazy’.

up, showered and shaved (yes, I shave) I made my way on foot to the bus station, of course preferring to walk than pay for anything. Once I did arrive it seemed as though the buses to the village were less frequent than I first thought and I was required to wait over an hour for the next bus. Luckily I was told about this when I arrived so took the opportunity to wander around the nearby streets. In this time I stumbled across a market. It was dirty and fly ridden but it was clear the majority of the stall owners were minority people and the meat and vegetables that they were selling were the produce of their individual villages. I was a little put off from the meat by the flies but the Chinese didn’t seem too bothered…they can’t all be disease ridden then. In the middle of the market it seemed as though a house was being built or re-built. I have seen how quickly China is developing and from the effort these men and women were putting into their work I can see how this is happening.

Anyway, I eventually got on the bus after strolling through the car park looking for a bus that matched the chinese characters on my ticket, that of ZiJiang. Once aboard, some 15 minutes early, the driver proceeded to drive away. Despite the fact that we were early every seat on the bus was taken so there was no need to wait for the alloted time. For once I agreed with a Chinese policy.

On the bus I spotted Blonde hair. I had not seen a white person since I left Zhangjiajie on Day 4 (apart from a strange Frenchman in Fenghuang), so the blonde hair made me double-take. The long pony-tailed hair belonged to a 50 year old glaswegian man called Bob who lives in Goa. Automatically I was interested in the fellow. After exchanging the normal ‘where are you from?’, ‘where are you going?’ conversation we agreed to explore the village together. I was glad of the company.

When we arrived a notice on the wall of the village stated ‘the entrance fee is $100 but each person receives a 60% discount’…China. Anyway, it turns out that this notice is ignored and the entry fee to a VILLAGE is $100 (£10). One can only hope all of that money goes to the villagers, but somehow I doubt it. Luckily for me I had a student card so only paid a childs price, Bob was not so lucky.

The first thing we found when we arrived was a youth hostel, for him not me, and he dropped his luggage in the room before we began to explore the village. Unlike the village from yesterday, this one has many more tourist. Zijiang is renowned for having 1000 Miao houses and thus 5000 Miao inhabitants. It’s far to say the site of so many buildings was spectacular, even from afar. Once we got closer to the buildings it became even more interesting. We walked along the tourist street packed full of Chinese tourists and we could have been in any other place in China. As a result we decided to divert away from the people and enter the ‘real’ village. We strolled up steps and observed the frail looking structures that these people call home. The further we got away from the people the more interesting it became, to the point where we came across some women practising their embroidery and a man repairing his dampened home (these house don’t appear to be built to last). Walking a long time and admitting that we did not know where we were heading, nor did we want to return down the same route we carried on going. It was soon after that we came across ‘the lovers area’; a small mound enveloped by overlooking trees which appeared to be a place where the Miao teenagers date, if such a thing is allowed to happen. I was aware that I was in the company of a ponnytailed scotsman at this point, but wasn’t that scared. From this point we were able to work our way back down through a different, more green route.

Bob decided he wanted rice and only rice so we went in search of this. I made a point of buying some local street food (as I try to in each place) but could not finish what was essentially a ball of unbaked dough. we managed to find some rice and were joined by a local Miao lady who loudly ate her rice beside me with her legs wide open…locals eh.

I had been told that the last bus to Kaili left Zijiang at around 3pm. I was a little disappointed by this as I didn’t think I had seen all of the village. Although I was also not envious of Bob as I felt a whole day and night in the village would have been too much. When I got to the entrance I was told to wait 10 minutes by the lady who robbed us earlier. Instead of waiting I decided to get some photos of locals in their gear…and succeeded.

As I was waiting for the bus a local man approached and asked me something in chinese. I told him I did not understand and he took that as a direct criticism of his mandarin and got embarrassed (as its not his first language). Of course it was my lack of chinese that caused the misunderstanding. As a result he got some chalk and wrote what he wanted to say in chinese charectors….again that didn’t help. In the end I got on the bus and we went our separate ways.

Thankfully a bus did arrive at 3pm and I was able to hop on board and sleep all the way back (once again missing out on all the scenery). Thankfully, also, I was back well in time for my train and was able to return to my hostel to pick up my backpack and access their computer for information about a Kunming hostel.

As I was about to leave Rax, the hostel manager, approached me and offered a gift. It was a bracelet/necklace/ankle bracelet. It appears that the chinese like giving me jewelery now. I got the impression that Rax was more than happy to have a foreigner stay at his hostel and wanted to be a great host. He succeeded. I graciously took it and strapped it to my ankle.

In good time I was able to get the bus to the bus station and board by train without a problem. Once on the train and in my bed I was able to sleep most of the night in anticipation for my very early arrival in Kunming.

19/07/2011: Day Nine

I arrived bright and early in Kunming, but I wasn’t feeling so bright. The sleeper trains are good and exciting but I never seem to wake up without a stiff neck or limb. Can’t complain though, China train travel is 10 times better than that of England.

The one thing that is wrong with Chinese train travel though is that so many people use it. From what I have learned before I thought it best to get my onward train tickets prior to leaving the train station. After joining and completing a long queue (for this time in the morning) I was disappointed told that there would be no trains to Dali available for the next couple of days. I knew there were other options and this turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

I had written directions to the hostel and was able to walk quite easily to the bus stop, travel 10 minutes before spotting the sign for my hostel. All was looking promising. Once inside it was confirmed to me that they had received my hostel booking and that I could stay the night. However, when I enquired with them about bus tickets to Dali it appeared that there was a sleeper bus that left that night that I could board. Without hesitation I asked if they could book this bus for me and cancel my dorm booking, saving me money on a hostel bed in Kunming. This, once again appeared to be a blessing in disguise. I was also able to pre-order my train ticket Guangzhou for the 26th July.

With the onward transport all sorted I showered and was once again smelling lovely and wide awake. I wrote down a recommended places to visit in Kunming and went about trying to find them.

There is one thing that all westerners experience when they stay in China for long periods of time…bad China moments. Luckily for me they are few and far between, and for some they last days or even weeks. On this very morning I had one (although it lasted only a couple of hours). Kunming was very sunny so everyone held their umbrellas at my eye level, every person decided to walk slower than is humanly possible, no one showed the sense to move down the bus to let others on, people spat on the floor before begging me for money, and most of all there were too many people in cars they could not drive…it was as frustrating trying to walk down a slow-moving umbrella street as it was stood on a sweaty bus watching Chinese drivers try to cut each other up in order to delay themselves. anyway, any other time these things are a source of entertainment, but on this very day I found it incredibly annoying.

Luckily for me my bus stopped at a massive and beautiful lake. Here I was able to lie down and forget about my ‘bad China moment’ for a while. All was well when I walked across dozens of families having BBQ’s beside the lake. This area was civilised in a city of dolts.

Once I had seen all I could of the lake and the surrounding area I decided to take an additional bus to the West Hill, another place of natural beauty in Kunming. I arrived at a cable car terminal where I reluctantly paid the £3 fee for admission and got ready to jump in the next car. Since I was entering at the halfway point the car already had a family in it. They were over the moon to be joined by a foreigner, especially a man named Erik (an english speaking pilot from Gansu province). He was joined by his very young girlfriend, and his parents. He revealed that he was visiting Kunming through work but with his parents to meet his girlfriends parents, a big step.

As soon as we got to the top via cable car I expected to part from Erik and his family but they instantly invited me to join them for lunch. I, pretty hungry and eager for something like that to happen sat with them in a restaurant. His mother was a christian and quite interested in my views on god despite having no english to talk with me about it, his father seemed to be the real ‘man’ of the family in that he said nothing, smoked and paid for the meal. His girlfriend wore a top with an english sentence that made no sense, which is the purest indication that she cannot speak or read english. Anyway, we had a pleasant meal filled with veg, beef, fish, chicken and complete with rice. A proper chinese meal.

After lunch we walked to the top of the hill but didn’t really notice the sights as myself and Erik were quite engaged in conversation. His english was ok but he was very interested to know about english culture and portrayed a dislike of ‘Arrogant Americans’.

we got to the top and were asked to pay another $50 to go any further. Thankfully the family refused and we headed back to the cable car. Once back I was asked to pay another £3 to get on…was it not a return ticket??? And I had banked on today being a good day for my budget.

Nonetheless, I managed to say my goodbyes to Erik and his family and head back to the hostel for a rest before my overnight train. Despite my annoyances at the beginning of the day my day with Erik and his family had made my Kunming experience a lot better. Although Kunming is not likely to be on my ‘favourite cities’ list (should I ever make one).

I will end today with a taxi journey to the bus station for my midnight excursion to Dali.

20/07/2011: Day 10

Once again I appeared to be the last passenger on the bus despite being over 20 minutes early, but once again this meant the bus was able to depart earlier than scheduled.

Despite all travelling I have done in China this was my first sleeper bus, and I was pleasantly surprised at the efficiency of the layout. There were three rows of three-tiered bunk-beds stretching the length of the coach. My guess is that there were nearing 100 people sleeping on the bus. Despite not being the tallest person in the world I was a little too big for my bed. It was clear that by compensating a couple of inches on each bed more beds could be laid in. However, I was quite tired and happily slept the whole of the 4 hour journey.

Once we did arrive I feared that i would have nothing to do until the public buses started running. However, after a big fat man had got on the bus and done some shouting we were left to sleep in our beds in the car park until 6.30am. It was an act of generosity I was quite in favour of.

As 6.30am came we were booted off the bus and I was once again left to my own devices. I decided to buy my ticket to Lijiang and booked a bus for 7.30pm the next evening (expecting another overnight bus…I was wrong). I then got the public bus to the Dali old town and kept an eager eye out for the street which was supposed to hold my hostel. When I couldn’t find the road I decided to ask a local and spotted a woman over the road. I crossed the road with the intent of asking for directions but as soon as I said ‘Ni Hao’ her eyes swelled with fear and she sprinted in the opposite direction. I couldn’t hep but laugh with embarrassment and decided that I shall remove my glasses before asking anyone else for directions. As I turned a man took a photo of me.

It turned out that the hostel was only 5 minutes walk away anyway. I was required to wait until 8am to book-in and had to wait in anticipation as I had not booked a room. Thankfully there was a dorm bed available for me. It was then that I was told that the bus to Lijang will only take 3.5 hours. Arriving in a strange town at 11pm was not what I desired. So I made it a priority to have my ticket changed before the day was out.

Once checked in I washed myself and hand washed my clothes (saving me £1). it was only then that I was ready to explore Dali, a place I had heard such great things about. As I was aware that changing my bus ticket would limit me to just a day and a half in Dali I decided to hire a bike in order to see things more quickly. I actually quite enjoyed riding the bike, much like I had in Hangzhou in January. There were a couple of differences though; it was summer now and I was 2000m above sea level. This meant that on top of the baking heat I was also breathless quite often…making me feel quite unfit. After riding for a while and often getting myself lost I headed south towards one of the surrounding mountains. I found it quite a shame that I had such a limited time in Dali as there seemed a lot more to see than capable in 2 days. Upon my return from the mountain and up a steep hill I hit a dirt path that seemed void of any people, yet a pagoda was visible at the top. I walked the bike to the top (woman?) and came across a fence that told me the area was under construction and people were not permitted to enter. I, having climbed the path and sweated bucketloads in doing so was not going to let a fence stop me seeing the pagoda. Assuming it was safe to leave the bike unattended for a couple of minutes I climbed the fence and entered the area surrounding the Pagoda. I have seen many Pagodas in my time in China but a little act of rebellion made this one a little more exciting.

I then returned to explore more of the old city and was really happy to come across some really nice streets and it seemed to me that people had been justified in telling me to spend more time in Dali than in Kunming.

Whilst on my bike I had noticed several restaurants offering Yak steak…I made it my mission to find oe of these places again in the evening. I found one not far from the hostel and was surprised to see swedish families on my left and right. In fact, Dalis climate and traditional appeal make it quite an attraction to westerners. I still don’t know why there were so many Scandinavians there though. Anyway, this meant that for the first time in a couple of weeks people were not staring at me and it was quite funny to see men try to slyly take pictures of the swedish girls beside me, I think they quite enjoyed it though. This meant I could pick my nose without being watched.

I ordered my steak and the cynic in me decided it was just cow beef labelled as Yak to be sold. Of course I decided the restaurateur was honest. It was only around 8pm when I had finished dinner and returned to the hostel. I felt it was a little too early for bed and didn’t want to spend too much money outside. Then something hit me…my feet. For a long time now my feet have been mistreated. I have walked everywhere whilst in Foshan and continued this habit whilst travelling. This means that not only are they showing signs of wear-and-tear (flaky dead skin and numerous cuts) but they are also very dirty.

I then headed out to find the cheapest foot massage I could find, as a reward to my feet. I refuse to let anyone touch my feet as I am incredibly ticklish, so I needed a couple of beers before going for a message. Luckily I found a place that steamed my feet. It was really hot and didn’t feel like it was doing anything beneficial, but I took their word for it. After half an hour with my feet under steam the masseur returned with a towel to dry my feet. This is where it got embarrassing: as she dried my feet her white towel turned almost completely black…my feet were incredible dirty (I do shower at least once a say…I promise). I then left the parlour with the feeling that I had rewarded my feet for their hard work despite not feeling any obvious benefit from the experience.

I then hit the bed with clean feet and a sun burnt face, thankfully I had purchased a cheeky sun hat for the coming days.

21/07/2011: Day 11

In the knowledge that I would now be leaving Dali at 3pm I motivated myself for a very early start to see the remainder of the old town. This also meant that I had to concede that was not going to see the majority of the attractions in Dali. But the Tiger Leaping Gorge near Lijiang awaits.

My first stop was the famous 3 pagoda palace on the outskirts of the old town. I managed to find it quite easily on foot, whereas I struggled on my bike. Once I arrived I noticed that the entrance price was $120 for adults and $60 for students. The cashier accepted my student card but I still refused to pay the entry fee with my tightening budget in mind. Instead I decided to take a picture from the outside, which looked as good as those in the brochures. I felt rather schrewed about my decision not to pay.

As I continued walking I popped into a shop to buy some much-needed water. Near the fridge were some MP3 players. I promised myself one for my birthday to upload my chinese cds onto to listen whilst on the road. And these were the cheapest I had found…at about £7. I decided to buy one, justifying it by my refusal to pay for the three pagodas.

satisfied with my purchase I continued around the old town and stopped in a street with fewer people for a cheeky beer. I then went to a restaurant for some fried noodles where I was joined for lunch by once of the waiters. It was clear that he is interested in the people who enter his restaurant.

When I felt I had seen enough of the old town and my face had seen enough of the sun I retreated to the dorm to finish packing up and upload the chinese cds to my new MP3. I was surprised to see that it appeared to have had a previous owner. o well, still worked…for now.

The journey to Lijiang was supposed to take 3.5hours but I was lucky enough to get the worlds slowest coach with a driver that couldn’t locate his accelerator. This meant the journey took closer to 6 hours and I arrived in Ljiaing an hour after I told the hostel to hold my room until. Despite having information on public buses I decided I should probably catch a taxi to save time. £ consecutive taxis told me they didn’t know the place I wanted to go, but I assume that it was my pronunciation that they could not understand as when a local came to my aid a driver understood him immediately.

Thankfully I arrived at the hostel at around 10pm and they had held onto the bed for me. The hostess was incredibely hosptiable. It turned out she was a volunteer at the hostel and I guess she was desgnated there to practise her english.

Despite the late hour I was quite hungry and headed out to pick up some food. After walking a while it seemed the only food availiable was street food. I came accross a buffet style stand where I had to pick which uncooked scewers of meat I wanted to be cooked. As it was quite late I questions how long the meat had been left out….but ate it anyway. They tried to offer me the uncooked pig brain…I didn’t feel like I could stomach that.

When I returned to the hostel I made the decision that I would go to the tiger leaping gorge early in the morning (my desired destination) and thus leave a day at the end to experience Lijiang. My reasoning for this decision was that the weather had been good for the days I had been in Yunnan and I had been told that heavy rain would mean people were blocked from the gorge out of fear of a landslide. As a result I thought I should go as soon as possible as heavy rain tomorrow may prevent me from doing the trek at all.

22/07/2011: Day 12

Once again, as can now be expected, I had an early start. This time I needed to get to the bus station as soon as possible in order to reach the Tiger Leaping Gorge in good time. The Lonely Planet states that this is the best trek in China, and I was about to find out for myself. It turned out that my departure was before the reception at the hostel opened so I left my bedding, big bag and a note on the front desk. The note stated that I will return to the hostel after my trek ad asked them to look after my bag (including my laptop) and my deposit during this time.

Despite making the bus station in good time I was told that there were no tickets for the early buses. This meant that I had to wait for the 9am bus. Since the journey from Lijiang is 3 hours I feared that I would be losing valuable daylight trekking time. I needn’t have worried since I am now so far west that the daylight lasts a lot longer (we are still on Beijing time despite being in a different time-zone).

Without further issues I boarded the bus bound for the Tiger Leaping Gorge and was positioned beside a 17 year old local girl who immediately fed me several dried fruits that she had bought for her journey but evidently wanted to share. She could not speak English which gave me the opportunity to practise my basic Chinese. She later tried to read my english book and managed quite well. She had very dirty fingernails.

The journey was quite bumpy but did not seem to take the 3 hours I was promised, thankfully. Once I disembarked from the coach I realised that a group of Chinese friends had gathered beside it. I asked where they got their gorge map and they responded by asking me what trek I was doing. For the tiger gorge there are 2 treks. The low (easier) trek which is not quite as scenic, physically challenging, dangerous or rewarding as the high trek. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they wer intending to do the high trek. I had been told that most chinese people tend to avoid this. I immediately agreed to join them on the trek as I was fully prepared to perform the walk alone, but I really wanted to share the experience was some people.

We started the trek, followed by locals on horses. I asked why they were following us and was told that we would need the horses when we couldn’t walk any further. At this point I was not sure if I was mentally or physically prepared for this kind of trek.

Shortly after we began the walk the sights became incredible. First glimpse of the gorge was incredible, but every step we took higher created and even better looking view. At several points the walk was close to the cliff face, which was slightly scary but added to the immense view of both the gorge and its surrounding mountains. After a couple of hours we came to the ’28 bends’. This had been described as the hardest part of the whole trek and it was easy to see why. The winding paths up a steep rocky hill made for regular rest stops in the burning heat. I could not believe that a couple of my companions refused to remove their long sleeve shirts out of fear of the ‘poisonous’ sun….but they didn’t get burnt. I was enjoying the company of the chinese a lot and found out that they were all from Guangdong and had met each other on the train from Guangzhou to Kunming. One was from Zhuhai, another from Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Foshan. It was a strike of luck that we had all found each other.

Despite the tough climb I did begin to feel we were stopping a little too often. I am a lot fitter than I was a few months ago, but not quite as fit as I think I should be. But on several occasions I had to fake breathlessness as not to appear arrogant. Still, we kept at it and were eventually greeted by a Naxi family who had turned there home into a rest stop for hungry walkers. I was more than happy to consume as much rice as they would give me.

After lunch we came across one of the top viewing spots of the whole gorge only to find a local keeping a watchful eye that we took no pictures and asking for $8 if anyone took one. This was slightly frustrating but we decided not to anger him and forgot about the pictures.

As we were walking along the bends a democratic decision was made to use the horses that were following us. A fee was agreed with the owners and we agreed to take it in turns to use the 3 horses between 6 of us. However, I agreed to pay the fee but told them I did not want to use the horse. The tiger leaping gorge had been my target since I set off and I wanted to test myself by completing the trek on foot. The others acknowledged my desires but couldn’t help but feel that they thought I was a bit weird (or scared of horses).

Eventually we made it to the end of the 28 bends and the trek eased off a bit, becoming a little easier. A few more hours of trekking as the sun began to set made for interesting conversation, sing-songs and generally a fantastic time with nature (I’m 22). At around 8pm, 8 hours after we began, we reached our intended location for the night. This had taken a little longer than we were told, probably because of our several rests, but I was so glad it did. The fact that we stopped so often meant I was able to properly take in all of the sights and appreciate the area I was in. I believe that if I had done the trek alone I may have done it with my head down and with time on my mind. I loved the relaxed and patience of my new friends.

Once in the hostel myself and the 3 boys booked into a room with 3 beds. Instead of deciding who would share with who we pushed all three beds together and decided that it created sufficient room for 4 people. we then ordered some dinner and sat watching the static mountains with a nice cold beer. Bliss. The food was incredible, the company fantastic and the views breathtaking. Perhaps it couldn’t get better? It did. At around 10:30 when everyone had finished eating and had drunk a couple of beers the hotel turned off al its lights. Initially we didn’t know why but then one person looked at the sky. We all followed and saw something truly wonderful. The whole sky was lit up with stars…I have never seen so many lights in the sky. It felt like I was in a dome with glow-in-the-dark stickers on the roof. People claimed to see shooting stars but I just stood with my head in the sky watching the stars sparkle. For perhaps an hour we sat looking at the stars and saying very little that resembled words; ‘waaaa’ being the most popular. How could Guangdong have one star on a good day and the Tiger Leaping Gorge have hundreds? I’m not a star expert.

Anyway this was a perfect way to end a perfect day. The tiger leaping gorge was making me feel like I had chosen the correct final destination for my trip away.

23/07/2011: Day 13

We had agreed to begin the 2nd day of trekking at 8am. Naturally I woke up early and managed to shower in front of the mountains. The two girls in our company managed to do the same, but the boys were not so eager…one in particular. This lad, Richard, had drunk quite a lot of river water the day before and was beginning to feel its effects in the morning.

Despite this he managed to get himself up and by 8:30am we were back on the move. Today the walk became a little more dangerous; with several waterfalls and walks very close to the cliff face, just a slip away from a very high fall. On two occasions we were passed by a herd of goats. I felt that it would only take one to go a little crazy and kncok my off the cliff. Thankfully they were kind goats. Richard, however, decided enough was enough and we didn’t want to hold us up. After about an hour of trekking he told us he would return to the hostel to try to sleep off his illness. It was probably the best thing for him.

Soon the cliff faces disappeared and we entered a forest area. Here we came across 3 westerners that Had also stayed in our hostel. In fact, everyone we saw on the trek, of which there were few, were not Chinese. I seemed to be in the only Chinese majority group on the trek. At this point they were deciding upon a route to take. One was pathed, the other was not but had an arrow suspiciously painted on a rock. They decided to continue along the path but myself and my adventurous new friends decided to explore the other ‘route’. Initially I felt that we had probably made the wrong choice but I soon realised that it was leading to the same destination but through the undergrowth rather than on the path. We were officially ‘off the beaten track’ and I loved it. We didn’t see anyone for perhaps 3 hours and this made all of us quite exited about our walk. As we descended down the mountain in our mission towards the water of the gorge we had to watch our step intently. At one pint we stopped for a rest only for Jimmy to realise that he had left his hat some 30 minutes up the mountain. No one really wanted to be hatless in this heat and at this altitude. Stupidly (I am not Superman) I volunteered to return to our last rest stop to retrieve his hat. The girls were more than happy to rest and Dan, the only non english speaker didn’t mind a bit of shade. I began my ascent by running but the heat took its toll on me within minutes. Instead I took up a swift pace back up the mountain and had to take my shirt off to allow it to dry from the sweat. I don’t know if I have ever experience heat and a need for water like it. Perhaps 15 minutes after I left the rest stop I reached his hat sitting happily on a rock. It actually felt so rewarding to re-reach the location and find the hat. My own little mission. The trek back down with no bag or shirt was much easier than the previous and I managed to reach the others quite quickly for some water….oh I needed water.

We then managed to stop for some lunch which took longer than we wanted to cook. But thankfully the lunch stop was near the entrance to the final leg of the trek to the tiger leaping stone. I was interested to see that there were many chinese tourists around this area and didn’t know where they came from. it was revealed that there were coach trips to this part of the trek so that the people could get to the tiger leaping stone. This annoyed me a little as, as with all Chinese tourist destinations, there were too many people. We went from seeing next to nobody all morning to being held up by women in flip-flops on our final leg. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them though as they were obviously unaware that the most spectacular sight on in this area is not the stone that a tiger once may (but probably didn’t) jump off to cross the river.

Despite this minor annoyance we eventually reached the stone. For some reason we were charged $5 to get onto the stone but it had been my mission so I paid it anyway. We had made it!

It was now time to make our final trek to the point were a bus could pick us up and take us back to Lijiang. First we had to cross a bride that a local was charging to be crossed. Jimmy, quite courageously, decided to leg it over the bridge without paying (it is ridiculous that we have to pay considering it is illegal for them to charge and that we had paid a maintenance entry fee when we arrived). However, the local chased him and found him, much to the entertainment of all of us.

We managed to reach the actual tiger stone despite the notice that read ‘Don’t come, Dangerous’. Naughty. and then we began our walk back up the mountain. At one point the cliff face was at a 90 degree angle and thus not possible to walk up. As a result a ladder had been dropped from the next ridge…25 metres higher. As someone whose not great with heights I found this slightly daunting…but didn’t want to show this to my companions. The ladder experience was fantastic, although I made a point of not looking down.

Perhaps another hour of walking in the baking mid afternoon heat meant we reached to top of the mountain in time for a bus back to Lijiang…tired.

It had been by far the best two days of this current travel and I am so glad that I decided to complete the ‘best trek in China’, and it did not disappoint. My reward: a nice shower and an early night.

24/07/2011: Day 14

I decided not to set my alarm as a lie in was what I really needed. However, my conditioned mind and body woke me up at 7am. In protest I made myself stay in bed until 10 and got a couple more hours sleep as a result.

Slightly achy I managed to get up and ready in order to head to the train station and buy my onward tickets. unfortunately there were no tickets to Kunming at my desired time and the only available tickets were at 9am the next day, meaning I would be travelling through the day tomorrow. I decided that as it was the beginning of my return to Guangdong that having the day in a train meant I could not spend more money. However, it meant a day less in Lijiang.

After getting the bus from the train station to a cash point and a bus from the cash point back to the train station I was able to buy my tickets. This meant I was now sorted for all my tickets until James and I will leave for Nanning. Exciting!

I then began to explore Lijiang with my map and was pleasantly surprised by the place. I decided to buy some Yaks yoghurt and drink it as I people watched. ONce I finished I was approached by a man who collects bottles (for a living, quite literally) who looked as though I had made his week by giving him a class bottle. perhaps they are worth more than the plastic ones but I have never seen someone so happy to take litter from me before.

I had been told by someone in my hostel of a more traditional market in the south of the old city. I like these places and decided to check it out. I was quite happy that there were fewer tourists there (Lijiang is a major tourist destination). Here I sat and had a dumpling lunch….I love dumplings. It was around this time that I realised I had lost my phone, the phone that had been a loyal servant since my first arrival in China 10 months previous. It had some great messages saved on it, photos, music and most importantly the contact details of all my chinese friends. I didn’t panic too much though as I will be leaving China in about a week and all my chinese friends have QQ.

As the evening approached I met with my friends from the gorge. Thankfully we had decided on a time and a place before I lost my phone and this meant we didnt have a problem finding each other. unfortunately we had failed to notice that we were a day early for the minority festival that we thought would be occurring in the city. We were expecting to be dancing around a bonfire by midnight. Instead we walked around the busy streets throughout the night and then made our way to the highest point of the city where we could see the roof tops of all the old buildings, the snow mountain and see the lights of the city. A great sight. We climbed a fence and watched the city whilst listening to some traditional chinese music. It was actually quite emotional to think I would be returning back to Guangdong only to begin my departure from China. I made my decision there and then that I must return to China….I have not done anywhere near all I want to. China has so much more to offer.

I then rturned to a dumplig restaurant near my hostel. I had been there previously and the owner was more than happy to see me again. In fact, I think he had bought a crate of beers in the hope that I would return. I finished the night with the old man watching a cookery programme whilst eating my dumplings.

At the end of the night we said our good byes and I returned to the hostel for my last nights sleep in Lijiang.

China II: Week 16

The work is over and the fun should now begin. I have just under 3 weeks until James arrives in China. I intend to use this time to travel West to the province of Yunnan and hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge near the ancient town of Lijiang. I hope that there will be adventures, mistakes and triumphs along the way, but my main aim is to see a different side to China than my last travel session. My original plan was to visit Tibet, but this must be put on hold for a year or two as the Chinese government has closed it to foreigners.

Here goes;

11/07/2011: Day One

It is here! Travel time! If my calculations are correct I will have 58 days on the road, and I intend to make the most of it as I have worked bloody hard over the 15 weeks.

On my first day there was one small hitch; I was yet to be paid for the month of June (i.e. my spending money). So, without further ado I made my way to the Sunshine Elite school for my pay. It was ice to be greeted so welcomely when I returned and everyone seemed interested in my plans ahead….which remain incredibly vague even n my head. I had feared that the school (and particularly Frank) would try to screw me over with the pay, but I was pleasantly surprised. I received the exact amount that I had calculated I was owed, and therefore left happily after saying my final goodbyes to Kiran and Carol.

originally I had intended to head straight to Guangzhou for the train but during my trip to the school I noticed that my new, and very cheap, bag was incredibly uncomfortable on my back and appeared to be ripping at the shoulders already…don’t buy knock-offs kids! As a result I headed briefly back to te apartment to change to the bag that has been everywhere with me, a bag as loyal and reliable as a good friend.

It was now time to begin my journey, but I couldn’t decide f I was more hungry or excited. In the end my excitement took over and I bypassed food in favour of the metro to Guangzhou. Once I arrived at Guangzhou railway station I had to buy tickets. Buying tickets in China is usually risky business because you never know if there are going to be seats. However, I intended to go to Changsha in Hunan province via high speed rail, on which there are more than enough seats.

Automatically I began to queue for the self-service tickets but as it approached my turn I noticed I required a Chinese I.D card to buy a ticket from the machine, of course I don’t have one of these (I am not Chinese). So, after wasting a little time queueing at a machine I had to queue the traditional way, for a person. In fact this way was a little quicker (I think the novelty of using a machine to buy tickets lured in some of the Chinese). So there I was, carrying my backpack on my back and a ticket out of Guangdong in my hand….my trip was about to begin.

When applying for a train ticket to Changsha I had two options, a cheap 9 hour trip or a little more expensive train that will take less than 3. I am on a VERY tight budget for this trip but the opportunity to ride the worlds fastest daily passenger train could not be missed…so I went for the quickie. I took my seat on the train and observed the speedometer until it reached 320km an hour…flabagasted. Naturally I was in the focus of many of the passengers and many began to talk to me. I quite enjoy being approached by people…but at the moment I am fresh and eager, lets hope I still enjoy it after a couple of weeks on the road.

The high-speed journey went without a hitch and I arrived in Changsha. The only information I had for the hostel I intended to stay in was ‘Xing Hua’ so I asked a taxi driver where it was and he said he would take me there for $10 (£1). After about 10 minutes we arrived at ‘Xin Hua’. It appears my Chinese pronunciation has got no better as time has gone on…Thankfully the hostel was only a short ride away so I made my own way there.

After checking in to the hostel there was only one thing I wanted to do; explore. A little too eager I left the hostel with a spring in my step and a love for China. Then I was brought crushing to Earth (almost literally). As I walked along the now dimmed path I hit a rusty pole with my leading foot. Of course a Chinese worker had left it there so he could eat his noodles…right in the way of the path. A restrained myself from cursing him, China or the World. undeterred, bloody and hungry I walked to a dumpling restaurant where I ordered 20 fried dumplings (a bit excessive but I was hungry). I managed to clean my bloodied foot and wipe the blood from my sandles with some tissue but was quite aware that I should clean the open, and quite deep, wound as the culprit was rusty. So after my meal I headed back to wash out my quite impressive cut.

I then returned to exploration whilst keeping an extra eye out for stray metal poles. I passed a street doctor who gave me a free plaster (probably because I am foreign) before coming across an interesting looking place.

outside were numerous men and women with jugs of green tea and cigarettes so decided to go inside, first to have a look. Once I was inside I was greeted like everyone had never spoken to, or even seen, a foreigner before. I was immediately given some tea and approached by several middle aged men having a break from their game of Chinese dominoes. I stood trying to work out how to play, and never got the hang of it. I was then joined by two of the younger people in the venue, a brother and sister. The brother gave me some traditional Hunan food, which I thought was some kind of drug once I put it in my mouth. He told me, almost too late, that I was not to swallow it but just chew. He later bought me an ice cream, I don’t know why.

o I spent my first evening in a Chinese working mens club drinking tea and eating traditional snacks…perfect. Before they could poor me my 6th cup of tea I decided it would be time to leave or never leave. I got back to the hostel and was met by a girl called Pollyanna. This girl is as cute as she is scatty. And by scatty I mean she ran everywhere at walking pace. She was keen to talk with me as she is to attend the Uiversity of Surrey in September. We spent the remainer of the night talking about this and she also intends to go to Lijiang when her British visa is sorted, I may meet her there…but I doubt it.

And so day one is over….i’m ready…what’s next China?

12/07/2011: Day Two

Day two and my first early start. I had originally planned to wake up early but I had the added incentive of someone relying on me to do so. Martina, a woman from Taiwan, had got word of my desire to head to the West bus station early and had requested to join me and to split the journey costs. So, after a quick shower and goodbye to my hostel companions I met with Martina for our journey to the bus station.

Once we arrived we bought our tickets to separate destinations and it appeared that my bus would be leaving 5 minutes afterwards, whereas she had a two hour wait. I got a bit lucky there. Anyway, I was now about to begin a 4 hour bus journey to the small city of Zhangjiajie. Thankfully the road was quite new and the journey was quite smooth. In all the journey probably took about 5 hours but I was in no rush and happily took in the fantastic scenery that Hunan has to offer.

Immediately after the bus stopped in Zhangjiajie I spotted a woman accusing a man of stealing her purse and received a lot of stares. I must admit that I was a little intimidated at first, but this was just the bus station. As soon as I left the bus station it appeared that everyone was very pleasant and welcoming. It also soon became clear that Zhangjiajie is very lucky to label itself a city…its tiny. I was able to find my hostel very easily.

Upon arrival at my hostel it was a little different from what I imagined from the internet image I had seen. The chalet picture made the impression that the hostel was in a rural outskirts it was actually a chalet on the roof of a four storey building. Still, it suited me and was nice inside.

After check-in it was about lunch time and I decided to get some proper Hunan food (accompanied by a bottle of water as I knew what to expect from the Hunan spice). It was easy to find a spicy noodle bar. If I learnt anything from my last trip it is that the dirtiest and cheapest places sell the nicest food…and this gave added support to this view. Although the noodles were very spicy, they filled the gap and only set me back 40p.

Given that it was the afternoon and I did not want to just do half a day in the forest (my next stop), I decided to explore the city a little more. My first stop was to look around a traditional chinese building that had been converted into several tea shops. As attractive as it was it wasn’t quite thrilling. I managed to stumble across another hostel who greeted me as if they had never seen a foreigner before (a greeting I am quickly getting used to). Via broken english, and recruiting one of their guests, they were able to tell me that the city itself has very little to offer and that I should just explore by walking. That I did.

I managed to walk around most of the city in 3 hours and could draw some comparisons with Torquay; it appeared that there is very little for the locals to do and so there are many bars. Those who get bored, get drunk.

I was not disheartened by this though as I was not in Zhangjiajie for the city. I was here to trek in the nearby forest…but that can begin tomorrow.

Zhangjiajie City

I then returned to the hostel to cool down, rehydrate and have a cheeky wash before heading for dinner. Here I met one of my dormitory companions, Charles. He is from Hong Kong and Zhangjiajie is his final leg in mainland China. I was a little jealous that he had just returned from Tibet…he was allowed in. Myself and Charles went to dinner together and he stated that he did not want to eat spicy food, which was fine with me. My compromise was that I didn’t want to eat Western food….so a rice hot-pot it was then. Charles’ english was good despite his apologies and we agreed to go to the forest together tomorrow.

13/07/2011: Day Three

Naturally, with a lot to do, myself and Charles got up early with the view to catch an early bus to the forest about 40km from Zhangjiajie city. Another chinese man in the dorm had stated his intention to join us, but did not confirm or deny this with us. We reluctantly left without him.

We caught the public bus to the bus station and bought our bus tickets for the forest. Once we boarded we found Joe, the other chinese man, already on the bus. Not only was this magic but was also very embarrassing as it seemed as if we had left him on purpose, we hadn’t :). Anyway, we were together again, for now.

Our bus arrived at the forest around 8am and we were very excited about the prospect of seeing what it had in store. The chinese claim the forest of Zhangjiajie provided the inspiration for the setting in the film Avatar. And it is possible to see how the Chinese drew this conclusion. In fact, being in the forest almost made me feel like I was in the film, Na’vi I think?. It was actually spectacular. Having lost Joe again we were eventually reunited inside and began our trek.

I have been looking forward to trekking in China for a long time now and I was at last living it, in unimaginable surroundings (unless you are an animator for Avatar). We walked about 10km around the lake and up steep hills, stopping regularly to take photographs. However, the visibility was not great, which we put down to it being morning. In some ways my companions were perfect for me as Joe was from Shanghai and could speak good English, whereas Charles’ putonghua was as good as his English…making English the chosen language for conversation…although Joe wanted me to speak Chinese as much as possible…which didn’t last long.

After some further walking we took the ‘Worlds largest outdoor scenic elevator designed for people’…a mouthful. This took us to the very top of one of the sandstone spikes that stick out of the ground (of which there are 3000…I need to remember this image!).

Once on top we continued our trek but were hindered by the weather and visibility. unfortunately by about 4pm the visibility was almost zero and we could only see white nothingness over the sides of the cliffs. Eventually, and soaked by the rain, we decided to call it a day find some accommodation in the forest. fortunately, and to my childlike excitement, we were offered a room for £2.50 each in the house of a man from a village in the forest. The catch was that we had to have dinner at his house and pay for it…we took the deal. As the sun began to set we waited for the man to cook the traditional Hunan dinner whilst myself and Charles learned a traditional Hunan card game that Joe had learned.

So after dinner and having exploited an old mans hospitality, myself, Charles and Joe sat in a warm room playing cards whilst the rain battered the window looking out onto the forest….a dream day. We were all so tired from the walking and fell into a deep sleep pretty early.

14/07/2011: Day Four

Having realised that the forest has more to offer than can possibly be explored in two days myself and Charles decided to make our best efforts to see as much as we could before we left today. As a result we made the decision to begin our day 2 trek at 5am.

At first I thought it was just a suggestion and that Charles wouldn’t go through with it…but we both jumped out of bed at the sound of our alarms (although we probably didn’t need it because the cockerels were already cackooing outside). Leaving Joe, who had requested to be left, to sleep we began our trek immediately. It was soon clear that we had made a great decision; the visibility had vastly improved, the air was fresh and there were no other people in sight. We must have walked quite a few miles by 8am and seen some pretty impressive sights. At this point a bus pulled up beside us and invited us on board. fortunately it took us to the destination that we were heading on our map and probably saved us another 2 hours of walking.

One thing I found incredibly impressive was a massive lake on top of the mountain…beautiful :P.

Anyway, the map that myself and charles had given now contour lines, and thus no indication of incline or decline. We soon discovered that our desired location lay half way down the mountain. We made the decision that we had enough time to for it and began our descent down the side of the mountain, but agreed on a time to return if we do not reach the location by that time (the reason why we had to return is because we had purposely left unnecessary luggage in the room at the top of the mountain, had we known that we would be climbing down we would not have done so). fortunately the trek down was swift and easy and we were able to reach a fantastic viewpoint uninterrupted by the clouds or the morning mist…we gave each other a cheeky, and rather geeky, high five.

Then it was time to return. We underestimated the steepness of the mountain when we came down and it is far to say the trek back up was a struggle. I suggested an alternative route up the mountain to see different sites, but as we walked up it became apparent that we had gone slightly off track. slightly embarrassingly for me were required to return back down once again only to climb up another route again. I was quite happy that Charles never complained though. In fact there was a sign near the top of the mountain that read ‘to not reach the top is to come in vain’…if ever we both needed motivation this was it.

Once again we reached the top of the mountain, and once again we gave each other a geeky high five whilst we caught our breath. We then got the bus back in the direction of the Wulong village where we relaxed over a bowl of rice. It was now around 12pm and we made the decision to make our way to the exit of the forest (which meant another trip in the escalator). Once we were out we took the public bus to Zhangjiajie city and relaxed with a drink for a while. It was only 2pm but it had already been a very long day.

My next step was to get the bus to another part of Hunan province, the town of Fenghuang (meaning Pheonix town). It is here that I intend my birthday. So, I only had a little while to rest before I had to find a hostel on the internet and bet to the bus station in time for the 3.30pm bus. Charles left for Hong Kong soon after me.

The bus journey have me the opportunity to sleep for a couple of hours, although the road wasn’t quite as smooth as I would have requested. We stopped after about 2 hours which meant I could buy corn on the cob and a boiled egg….filled the gap.

The bus took about 4 hours, and arrived in the town of Fenghuang at around 8pm. It was beginning to get dark and I had only a vague description of where my hostel was. I got a taxi to the area of the hostel (which I later found out was about 5 minutes walk from the bus drop off). Here i was greeted with the most spectacular view of lights, water and old buildings from a bridge…wow! From the bridge I called the hostel and they told me I should turn left down the side of the bridge and walk for ten minutes. After walking (with all my luggage) for 15 minutes I decided to ask someone else. They told me the hostel is in the other direction. Of course, the person on the phone had said left when they actually meant right. However, this gave me the opportunity to see the old town at night, and I was impressed. There was actually a sing-a-long with some buskers with about 50 people, the song of the moment in China and certainly one that I will always associate with this trip now.

Once I found the hostel I checked in and had a quick but cold shower before hitting the streets and a bar for midnight (my birthday). As it turned out I was bought a beer by a government worker and I sat with him and his wife (out of his league) who was also a party member. At around 00:30 I called it a night and looked forward to seeing such a spectacular looking town in the daylight.

15/07/2011: Day Five

It’s my Birthday!

My second birthday outside of England and I think it doesn’t need saying that exploring a small town in Fenghuang is a complete contrast to the last time (my 18th in Faliraki). It was certainly a more peaceful and heathy one.

Not wanting to waste a moment I woke up bright and early ad got in contact with Patty via skype. I had sent her a present for her birthday, on 20th July, but we had made the agreement that she would open it on mine. We spoke for a good hour and it was great to have a catch up as we hadn’t spoken for a few days.

However, it was important that I didn’t end up spending all day on the laptop so soon after I finished chatting I had a shower and headed out into the blistering heat (although it wasn’t quite that hot). I quickly decided that I prefered the view of the town in the day than in the night, it was picture perfect.

Fenghuang is an amazing place. It is basically an old and traditional town built along a clean and beautiful fast flowing river in the midst of the mountainous western Hunan. Despite many Chinese tourists gathering here there are still people washing their clothes in the river and children swimming naked downstream. There is a contagious peacefulness in the air which makes the whole place seem like some kind of ancient Chinese paradise. Poetic no?

I sat for a while by the banks of the river waving to the passing gondolas as they all pointed out the foreigner to each other. The river seemed so clean.

I spent a few hours exploring the old town and ended up lost on quite a few occasions. At one point I found myself on an alley full of caged ducks, and they were bloody big ducks. As I walked around I noticed a man pick one of the ducks to buy. The shop keeper swiftly grabbed it by the legs and used her less-than-accurate measuring device to weigh the animal. After it was weighed she made no hesitation in slitting its throat and waiting for the blood to stop squirting out before placing it in a tub full of water. Not nice to watch but compelling all the same. This did not put me off my food though and I decided to have some more Hunan food, which again knocked-my-socks-off (if indeed that is an expression for an incredibly spicy experience).

A lot of the day was spent in the gaze of other peoples cameras. It seemed that a lot of people were not very familiar with foreigners and were either staring at me, pointing or taking photos. It seems that it only takes one bold person with the courage to ask for a photograph to allow others to follow like sheep and form a very unchineselike queue for photos….mobbed. At one point, half way across the bridge, I had to point out that the actual attraction in the town was the town itself and not the skinny little foreigner.

After a while the heat got to me and I decided to return to the hostel for a quick wash and change before heading out again. Thankfully I managed to get hold of my very worried mother and reassure her that I was ok and enjoying my birthday.

I then went for something to eat and decided to seek out my food of choice…beef and rice. Thankfully the first restaurant that caught my eye sold this. As I sat down I noticed 4 giggling girls on the table next to me, clearly intent on taking a picture of the foreigner. I decided to smile back to reassure them that I didn’t mind them taking pictures of me. I really don’t mind, and actually quite like it. As they seemed quite friendly I asked if there was anything interesting that happens in the evening…and they suggested I join them. Who am I to refuse company on my birthday?

After leaving the girls for an hour or so (to eat more food because the birthday boy was not full) I met them in an acoustic bar. They had a beer waiting for me and we played a few drinking games before a couple of them decided they were too hot indoors. It was then that I revealed for the first time to anyone that it was my birthday and they insisted they got something for me. However, what they got was more for their entertainment than mine…they hired a traditional Miao minority male outfit for me to wear. Somewhat ‘reluctantly’ I put the close on and stood for pictures alongside my new friends. Now, if I was an attraction in my normal clothes being in a minority outfit (looking more like Aladdin) made me more of a target. Of course I loved it though.

I changed back and thanked them for my ‘present’ before we returned to walking the streets in search of some traditional Fenghuang food. As we did so one of the girls sang another rendition of the song the buskers sang the day before. I wish I had recorded it. The girls made a great effort to make a good evening of my birthday; and they succeeded in the most perfect of settings.

After eating some traditional sweet food and looking at some flattened pigs faces we all returned to our respective dormitories and finished a successful day and a birthday to remember.

16/07/2011: Day Six

Once again, and sticking to the constant routine of my time in China, I had an early start. This, the Boxing Day of my birthday (does that work?).

my intention today was to reach the small city of Kaili (pronounced Kylie) in Guizhou province. But this is not as easy as it seems. Fenghuang is a small town with poor transport links and the closest city in the direction of Guizhou is Huaihua; some 5 hours by road. It is only there that I could get a train to Kaili. It seems that on this trip much of my progress is being made by road…which is more than fine with me…provinding i get leg room.

Once I was up I decided it best to have a quick rush and get on the bus as soon as possible. Once I got to the station and bought my ticket. and once again there were 4 giggling girls waiting for the same bus. Only this time I was a grumpy morning person and not really in the mood for attention….can’t pick and choose right? Anyway, it turned out only one was confident enough in her english to talk to me and it also turned out they were on the same bus…great. As soon as I got on the bus I made it my intention to catch up on my sleep, but there were two things obstructing me from that; 1. the whole route was untarmaced and more like a rally ride, 2. the woman in front of me reclined her chair all the way so she was practically lying on my lap and my legs were forced into the alley…inconsiderate grrrr. I did, however, manage to get a couple of hours kip during the 5 hour excursion and I was eventually thankful of the English speaking girl who was able to direct me to the train station.

unfortunately there were no seats remaining on the train from Huaihua to Kaili so I had to buy a standing ticket. I didn’t mind the prospect of standing for 6 hours…it didn’t seem that long when I thought about it.

After a quick spicy lunch I returned to the station with some very red lips (my lips go red after spice) and through the uninterrupted sun. After a short while I boarded the train and found a comfortable pole to lean on with a watchful eye on my bag. Before the train departed I was approached by a large and scary looking chinese man who just turned out to be an eccentric. His name was Pepsi-man and he had the Pepsi logo shaved into the top of his head with the word POP shaved into the back of his head. He wanted to practise his english with me as loud as he could on a packed train, whilst everyone, EVERYONE, watched. After about 5 minutes he disappeared and returned shortly afterwards with an entourage that I assumed were his friends. Instead it had appeared that he had approached every young person in the nearest 4 or 5 carriages and asked if anyone wanted to talk english with a foreigner. These were the volunteers. I chatted with all of them for about half an hour and was actually really enjoying the conversation. On trains in China you get people from so many different places and of different cultures, they were all great and really friendly. One boy in particular introduced him self with; ‘Hi, I am Elvis but I cannot sing’. He was more normal than I first thought. As it turned out, Elvis was from an International School in Shanghai and was required to speak english whilst at school, and so could hold a very decent conversation. Pepsi-man thanked me fr our friendship by buying me a buddhist bracelet from a saleswoman on the train…I was overwhelmed by the friendliness of everyone around. There must have been about 8 of us in total and everyone was great, no matter how much english they could speak.

About an hour into the journey Elvis told me that he had a seated ticket and was only standing to talk to me. He then revealed that he had a spare seat beside him and offered it to me. What a nice man. I jumped at the chance and joined him and his friend on the tabled seat. As I sat down the man opposite began to talk in English to me and the girl next to him was keen to get involved (but knew as much english as I do chinese). Once again there was a group of 5 of us which made the journey a lot better than I had anticipated. This man, who I had the privilege of naming Paul, was a really interesting character who spoke good english despite leaving school at 15. I loved every minute of that journey and made sure I got everyone’s contact details before I left the train. Naturally they stayed to a major city, whereas I was one of only a few people to leave a Kaili…not a traditional tourist destination.

I hopped on the number 2 bus from the train station and got off when I felt as though I was in the city centre. After walking for about an hour and finding very little in the way of affordable accommodation I came to the conclusion I would have to take a hostel room at £9 a night…a huge dent in my increasingly tight budget. However, as I continued to complain about the price the receptionist discovered that the hostel could not take foreigners. The fact that it took her so long to realise made me think that not many foreigners come through this city (something I later found to be true).

Instead a man from a nearby hotel picked me up. He said his room rate was equivalent to £9.80…what!!??. However when we arrived I discovered that he had a dorm room at £4.50 a night…phew. The hotel was incredibly new and by the way I was treated I began to belive that no-one had ever stayed there before. I was given a guide book to the surrounding areas (what I am interested in), tea bags, a kettle, a flat screen tv and an en-suite bathroom. Whats more, I was not sharing my 4 bed dorm with any other travellers. This gave me the perfect excuse to have a proper wash and lounge in my underwear. It was the best nights sleep I have had in months (mainly because the mattress was not wooden). The perfect hostel made me look forward to my stay in Kaili

17/07/2011: Day Seven

I woke up in heaven? no just a warm, clean and comfortable bed. Once again it was quite early, but not early by the standards of the previous 6 days. After a warm shower and a cup of tea I was ready to tackle Kaili.

However, it was not Kaili the city that I was interested in. In fact the city seemed pretty bland. The reason why I chose this location is because of the minority villages in the surrounding areas of the city. About 95% of people in China are Han chinese. But the other 5% make up the minority ethnic groups. The Miao and Dong ethnic groups have kept their traditional housing and ways of life around Kaili and I wanted to see how these chinese people live, look and behave. Kaili was the place to be.

Determined to get to one of the less visited places I took a public bus to a place where I coud get a bus bound for Paile…a town about 20km away. I had been told that the Nanhua Miao village can be found along this bus route. As got onto the second bus it was soon clear that Miao villages were on this route as several minority women were dressed in their tribes attire, many carrying chickens. It appears that road links have made it possible for these people to trade in the city instead of remaining self sufficient. That was my assumtion anyway.

A forty minute bus ride through the most outstanding countryside saw me arrive at the village, that the bus driver was friendly enough to point out to me. I was surprised that no-one else got off the bus as well and I was left to my own device. I approached the village and didn’t see anyone for about 10 minutes. The village smelt like a farm (probably the manure) and looked amazing. It seemed as though it had een the same for centuries. Now and again people would come out of the homes, either to do some work (embroidery, feed the pigs, weeding or do renovation) or just to say hello to the foreign visitor. I felt most welcome.

The village was quite small and could be walked around in about 40 minutes. What made it even more of a specitcal was its positioning in the mountains and the river that ran just beside it (it appears I have started to appreciate scenery this week, how old am I?). I made my way to the river and watched some of the locals swim, wash and play before I went into one of the buildings where I smelt food. I immediately saw some chickens so decided to order rice with chicken eggs, as I assumed to eggs would be fresh. Here, as I sat alone, I was joined by one of the Miao men who i assumed owned the restaurant and he tried to talk to me in Putonghua which I tried to respond with varying success. It was nice to have some Miao company at lunch though.

I decided to not risk overstaying my welcome so left soon after lunch for my bus back. unfortunately I did not appreciate the scenery on my return as I slept the whole way back, to the delight of some of the villagers I am sure.

Once I returned it was too early to retire for the day so I decided to explore something in my guide….the forest. I climbed a massive hill to get to the forest that supposedly has 3000 different types of tree. I must admit that I have never been a tree man so this didnt really fascinate me. What I was more fascinated by was the men sleeping in hammocks next to caged wild birds in the middle of the forest. Casual personified.

Before it got dark I decided to then head to the train station to get my tickets for the following evening. I wanted an over night train to Kunming so queued for about 20 minutes only to be told there were no tickets. A little disheartened I stepped out of the station and had a revised look at my map. I wrote several alternative locations and returned to the queue. When I got to the front I asked if I could get to Guiyang city and transfer to Kunming train from there. After about 5 minutes of searching and with a large and unhappy queue building up behind me she magically produced an overnight sleeper ticket to Kunming from Kaili. The cynic in my suspects that she knew there were sleeper tickets all along and all I had to do was pressurise her…hmmmm.

Anyway, with another eye-opening day complete I returned to my comfy bed for the last time, and who knows when the next time I will hae such a luxury…..and that ends a fabulous first week.