Ghangzhou to Beijing

Trip Start Nov 23, 2005
Trip End Jul 12, 2006

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Friday, June 9, 2006

Fri 9th June
Arrived safe and sound and was met by another travel agent with our next set of train tickets to Guilin. We then had to negotiate the subway to Ghangzhou station (different from Guangzhou East) as this was where our Guilin train departed from. To make it a bit easier for us, a couple of locals helped us to translate the stations and get us to the right place. Once there we checked in our luggage. This left us with a few hours (5 in total) to spend looking around Ghangzhou. That was the plan anyway. However, when we left Hong Kong it was in the middle of a thunder & lightning storm and it appeared that this weather was following us, as it was pouring down. We decided to risk it anyway, we took a deep breath and stepped outside. We made a dash across to what appeared to be a subway of sorts, which turned out to be an underground market (yeh!) full of sunglasses, toys, cigarettes, etc sellers. We made it through to find light at the end of the tunnel in the form of ..... McDonalds. We decided to eat an early dinner here and spent a couple of hours trying to decipher the Chinese menu. Only to discover later they had an English one too!
As we hadn't had a chance to check our email this morning, we popped next door to a hotel and paid an extreme amount to use their internet for 15 minutes. We were hoping our travel agent had sent us the details of our hotels and trains, etc but no she hadn't yet. So we then spent another hour looking for a payphone to be able to call her. Not happy bunnies! Finally got through and found out our hotel in Guilin. We only hope she has emailed the others to us. We decided as it was still raining heavily, that we would venture no further and returned to the train station. On our return journey we found one of the stalls in the subway sold DVD's. As we hadn't got any yet and thought we might want one for our journey, we bought a couple - X-Men 3 & MI3, for only 65p each! We then returned to the station like two kids with a new toy and picked up our bags and headed in to find our train. As we were still a couple of hours early, we spent the time catching up on our journal and chatting to a nice American called Tim who was to be on the same train as us.
The Lonely Planet says this station is '..a chaotic mass of humanity' and when the time came to board our train this mass seemed to come with us pushing and shoving its way to the platform. On board we discover we have a soft sleeper (4 berth cabin with air-con) and Tim has a hard sleeper (6 berth cabin with no air-con or door). Should be an interesting night!

Sat 10th June
After a surprisingly comfy nights sleep on the train we arrived in Guilin at 10.30am. We had a go at walking to our hotel as it wasn't too far away, but we soon realised that we had no idea where we were going and jumped in a taxi. On arrival at the hotel we thought that we must be in the wrong place, this looked a bit posher than 3 stars (then again anything would have looked posh after the Kowloon Hotel!). We're in the right place and a porter helps us to the 11th floor double bedroom overlooking the Li River. What a beautiful view. The only compliant we had was the bay window had a damp carpet which smelled a bit and on informing Reception (who came up to have a look) were told that it must have been from the recent rain they'd had and to leave the windows open to air it for a while. We did this for a few hours and the smell went a bit, oh well it's only for a few days.
We headed into town to check email and see what it was like. Well the road system is rather frustrating seeing as even when the little green man is lit, the cars still keep coming! You still have to dodge cars, motorbikes, pushbikes, buses you name it, it keeps coming. Quite scary! On checking email, we'd received (at last) details of our trains and hotels only to discover an error in the dates. We're hoping it's only a typo, but we'll have to wait until tomorrow night to see, as the next set of train tickets are due to be delivered to us then.
We booked a day trip on the Li River for tomorrow and then had a late lunch. After lunch we went down to the train station to see if any tickets had been requested for us, but with the language barrier and the fact that their overseas office wasn't open, we'll have to wait! Feeling rather exhausted, we headed back to our hotel via the supermarket to see if we could find anything for tomorrows breakfast. Unfortunately, the Chinese don't eat cereal or toast, so we guess we'll have to buy breakfast at the hotel. After a rest and a refreshing shower, we decided to eat at the hotel (as it was late and we couldn't be bothered to walk back to town). To work off dinner we went for a quick walk by the river and then it was off to bed for some much needed sleep.

Sun 11th June
Got up early from a very comfy night and headed down to breakfast which being a buffet was plentiful. After stuffing ourselves (and taking provisions) we headed to the foyer where our day trip guide was waiting. We got a little concerned as we were collected in a car (not a bus loaded with others) and driven down to the wharf. 30 minutes later and we arrived at the wharf where we followed the ants trail of tourists onto the boats feeling a little more relaxed. Not for long though, as everyone else got on other boats and we were the only ones on ours and to make matters worse our guide (whose English was minimal, but better than our Mandarin) left us saying he would meet us at Yangshou at the other end. A few minutes later a big group of, mainly Asian people got on board and we began to wonder if we were on the right boat. When booking we had been given the choice of either a 'foreigners' boat or a Chinese one. We had chosen the foreigners boat which was to have English commentary. At this moment in time, sitting on a boat surrounded by non-western looking people, we were wondering if we'd made the right choice. We were later reasured as a few, but not many westerners appeared and it was also confirmed that there would be English commentary. Phew!
We soon set off down the Li River in a bit of a convoy of tour boats the size of double decker buses and it wasn't long before some locals in bamboo rafts floated up along side offering their wares. Quite how they would exchange the items on a relatively fast moving boat a good 5 meters above them, I don't know, but this happened several times by many different locals for most of the trip. The rest of the cruise was spectacular. We basically passed through a range of lumpy mountains on either side of the river, whilst being told all about the local folk law and dodging other tour boats as we went. We ended up in Yangshou and as promised, was met by our guide who took us up to Green Lotus Peak. From here we had a birds eye view of the river and there were some inscriptions and carvings in the cliffs. In one of the many pavillions there was a paper maker who stencilled us a symbol on the rice paper. We then had 3 hours to roam the busy streets of Yangshou, filled with markets, cafes and DVD sellers! Yeah we bought two more - Chicken Little and Over the Hedge, for 50p each.
On the way back to Guilin we chatted to a couple from Columbia who told us some fascinating stories of their travels and of him being kidnapped in Columbia of all places! Back at the hotel, we were pleased to find our train tickets for tomorrow had arrived. We then set off into town for dinner at Aunts (which looks like a food hall) and had dim sum. Whilst there we saw Tim from New York, who we'd met at Ghangzhou, who gave us his contact details for when we're in the USA. Cheers Tim!

Mon 12th June
Got up to the sound of rain and headed down to breakfast. After having our fill we took a few provisions for lunch or nibbles for the train. The rain died down so we went for a walk towards Fubo Shan where we climbed to the top for the misty but nice view of the river and town. Whilst there we went down into the caves below where, would you believe it, there were market stalls selling their wares. After viewing the Thousand Men Pot (so called as it was apparently able to feed this many men) we headed back to our hotel to shower and check-out of our room. Last bit of luxury for a day and a half. Having secured our luggage with the Bell Porter for a few hours, we headed back into town to have a last look around and go check email.
Now normally getting a taxi from the hotel to the train station isn't that hard, but today everyone was scratching their heads as if we wanted gold toilet roll. Eventually, Dean walked down to the road, in the rain, to flag one down and we were soon on our way. At the entrance to the station the driver decided that the 7yuan fare wasn't enough and charged us 10yuan and as he had our bags locked in the boot we thought it best to pay him and be done with it. After all it's still less than one pound!
As we had soft sleepers we got a flash waiting room with a Chinese style water garden and air-con. Much better than the hot & noisy Ghangzhou station, but the luxury stopped there. We can't complain to much but this train wasn't a patch on the last one. All it needed was a bit of a spruce up and a little modernizing and it would be fine, but it did have one luxury, a western WC! (That didn't flush though and went straight onto the track and the wind blew up your bottom!)
A few hours in, we pulled into a station and we decided to set up our DVD player and watch a movie. Unfortunately, a guy from Hong Kong got on and started chatting. There was also another guy who kept hovering around and checking the place out. We decided to put the DVD player away and wait until the morning. The Chinese guy who had been hovering, decided that the spare bed looked comfy and just took it. We don't know if he was supposed to be there or not but he told the Hong Kong guy that he was a Policeman and was transporting two prisoners locked in the end carriage. The Hong Kong guy told us not to trust what some people say, but we weren't sure about this guy anyway. The train guard didn't speak any English, so we couldn't ask if he was meant to be in there or not, so we just kept all our valuebles close and locked whatever we could and settled down for the night.

Tues 13th June
Woke from a very restless night, the bed wasn't as comfy as the last train and it definately wasn't as smooth. The Hong Kong guy had got off at a station during the night, the Chinese 'Policeman' was still there but was asked to change bunks when another Chinese guy boarded in the early hours and wanted his bed. That confirmed to us that he shouldn't have been there, but the guard didn't bother to kick him out of our cabin, just asked to move bunks.
For most of the morning the 'Policeman' was backwards and forwards, gone for a few hours then back for a sleep and continued on that routine for the rest of the day. At one point we had the cabin to ourselves and we settled in to watch 'Chicken Little' on our DVD player. Just as we were about to play it, Dean had to rush to the toilet. There was definately something not agreeing with him, but I won't go into details. We did manage to get to the end of the movie though before he had to go again and spent most of the day backwards and forwards to the loo.
After a few hours spent reading and dozing, we set up the DVD player with X-Men 3. Not long into the film we discovered that it had been recorded in the cinema, due to the occasional head poking up or hand covering the screen when cinema staff walked by. Half way through the film the battery went on the player (we hadn't charged it fully before we left Guilin), so we decided to look for a better quality disk when we got to Xian. A bit more reading and we arrived into Xian station where we discover (to our surprise) that the Chinese 'Policeman' was actually a Policeman and telling the truth as we were passed by two other officers escorting two handcuffed prisoners off the train. How exciting! The next excitement was getting through all the usual hotel touts and finding, then negotiating the price for a taxi, to the hotel (that's Cathy's area of expertise!). Again what a flash hotel our travel agent had chosen for us. 4 star this time, with a beautiful fountain in the front courtyard and a lovely big bedroom (with no damp but noisy pipes - we found out later) that overlooked a lovely water feature in the middle of the hotel complex. Could get used to this. After being on a train for 28hrs Dean enjoyed a nice long soak in the bath and we hoped for a good nights sleep.

Wed 14th June
After a lovely nights sleep (in our first soft bed in China), we headed down to breakfast then at 9:30am we were picked up for our tour to the Terra-cotta Warriors. First stop on our itinery was the Big Goose Pagoda where we had time to look around the temples and watch a musical presentation from Japan to the local Monks. Next stop was a real fake Terra-cotta Warrior factory/souveneir shop (more blooming hard sales!). The stop before lunch was at Lady Yang's Winter Garden, where we looked around the many different bathhouses and also the also the statue of Lady Yang (apparently a rather chubby lady). Lunch was just around the corner and was of typical Chinese fare. After lunch we finally headed to the Terra-cotta Warriors. The surroundings weren't quite as we'd expected (for some reason, we still expected them to be out in the open and not housed in aircraft hanger like buildings), but the warriors were spectacular. There was a 15 min video that explained how they came to be built and how all but one was smashed to bits when the current Emperor had died and the next Dynasty took over. In the main foyer, they had one of the farmers (Yang Pei Yan) who discovered the warriors whilst digging a well, sitting there signing souveneir books. At 76 it must be an easy job for him to do.
The main hall had over a thousand restored warriors and many horses. The original weapons were all taken by the new Dynasty when they wrecked them. Many of the pits still had broken remains lying in the bottom but they are still working on trying to repair as many as possible. After that we headed back and were dropped off near our hotel. We then headed into town which was about an hours walk, through the city walls and into the centre where the huge Bell Tower stands. A very impressive sight. For dinner we decided to avoid Chinese and went for a pizza at Pizza Hut, and then wandered back to our hotel for a well earned sleep.

Thurs 15th June
We had a nice long lie in this morning and didn't venture out until about midday. We walked back into the centre again to see the sights in day light. As well as the Bell Tower there is also a just as huge Drum Tower. These were used in days gone by to notify the people of the time. Of the two, the Drum Tower is Dean's favourite with it's huge drums and many smaller ones on the side. Through the archway under the Drum Tower, led us to a side street laided with market stalls and some beautiful buildings. We made our way back along the inside of the South & East walls. With the amount of walking we had been doing we decided to cheat a little and jumped into a tricycle taxi back to the hotel. We also found a DVD shop whilst in town and bought another 5 DVDs (X-Men 3, The Da Vinci Code, Poisiden, Firewall & Brokeback Mountain). On testing them, we discovered that the Da Vinci Code played Chinese for the first few scenes and then changed into English. We had tested them in the shop but obviously not that well! We headed back into town to exchange or get our money back. After looking at another couple of Da Vinci copies we found that they were all the same and got a refund instead. Sticking to western food we headed to KFC for dinner. We know, more fast food but you can't cook your own food in a hotel and their restaurants can be very expensive. We got another tricycle taxi back which was a bit scary as he took us along the road and not the cycle lane!

Fri 16th June
Our last day in 4 star luxury and Xian, so we thought we'd make the most of it by staying in bed as late as possible. Inevertably, we had to get up and do something on our last day here, so we went across the road to the internet cafe to update the travelpod for you guys to read and check out some new photos. We know you'd only get bored otherwise! After that, we thought we'd better get some food before heading off to the train station for our next train to Shanghai. KFC here we come! Upon collection our bags at the hotel, we realised just how good 4 star really was as two porters took our bags out to the front and helped us into a taxi to the station. That extra star makes all the difference! The taxi driver seemed to go all around the houses and we hoped that he was going to the right place. Well he seemed to drop us off in the middle of nowhere, ('Uh Oh'). He points up the road as if to say it's up there, just as a dozen of sack trolleys come rolling over with 'please, we take your bags' (yeah right, hands off!). So we paid the 12yuan fare, strapped on our packs and like donkies walked the few hundred yards to the station in 30+ heat. Safely inside the station we headed straight through the crowds (well with them mainly) to our waiting train. We're getting the hang of this now! Now this train was back to the standard that we're expecting. Nice clean cabin with freshly wrapped paper shoes (that were too small for Dean), a TV that worked and even showed ScoobyDoo 2 (dubbed in Chinese of course), English speaking guards and a western WC at the end of the corridor that flushed and even had toilet roll!! Only one complaint though, you couldn't switch off the air con and we both got top bunks (oh that's 2). An hour in we set up our DVD player and watched X-Men 3, the whole way through this time, with the occasional glance at ScoobyDoo or Shaggy doing something only they would! Then we settled in to our bunks for hopefully a good nights sleep.

Sat 17th June
I woke from quite a good sleep, Cat on the other hand, had a bit of a restless night so was a little tired. Our train got in to Shanghai around 11.30am, so we were soon loaded up and ready to go straight to a taxi. The trip to our hotel was short, as it was just around the corner (I think we'll walk it on Monday and save the 11yuan fare). It turned out that getting a taxi wasn't a bad thing, as we discovered that our hotel had changed it's name and was no longer the Huadong Hotel, but now the East China Hotel. We'd probably have spent most of the afternoon walking up and down the street looking for a non-existant hotel!
After finally settling into our double bedroom (Cat sorted that out quick smart when they gave us a twin and we also get breakfast included), we went for a quick look around to get our bearings and a bite to eat. We found a nice Chinese cafe (Cafe de Coral) which served a nice club sandwich and then we had an ice cream at McDonalds (Cat didn't want one, but she still had half of mine!), followed by some intense planning for the next few days. As it was getting towards dinner time we headed to Peoples Square on the metro to find something to eat. We thought we'd need a change from KFC and McDonalds, so we walked around until we found, would you believe it, a Burger King. An opertunity not to be missed. We will try and eat some more Chinese meals soon.

Sun 18th June
Got up for breakfast then went back to the room for a bit more sleep. Whilst Cat slept, I made a loose plan for the day. When Cat woke, we made our way to the Bund via the Metro. The Bund is a very busy place along the river where we went on an hour long river cruise. It wasn't up to much and was probably best done at night as the river was dirty with rubbish floating around. The further north we go the hotter and more humid it becomes, so the walk to Yu Gardens was cancelled and we headed off instead for a refreshing cold drink and an ice cream. As we intended to eat out in Nanjing East Road (full with restaurants, shopping malls; a very touristy area) we decided to go to the internet cafe for a few hours then find something Chinese to eat. We looked and looked and finally ended up in UBC Coffee. We ordered Chicken Hot Pot (not hor hor) and Sizzling Steak. Big misake on the hot pot! It turned out to be very hot & spicey and the meat was more bone than meat. On speaking to the waitress and trying to explain that Cat was allergic to one of the spices in the hot pot, we were just told sorry and that we can't change it. So we ended up having to share the steak, paid and left. To cheer ourselves up, we headed back down to the Bund to see the very impressive skyline lit up. Beautiful. to enjoy it even more we went through the tourist tunnel (an underground cable car that went under the river with light displays all along the tunnel) to the other side to see the impressive lights of the Bund. We then caught a ferry back and a taxi to the hotel as the Metro shuts at an early 10.30pm.

Mon 19th June
After breakfast we headed back down to the Bund to return a couple of faulty DVDs we purchased last night. The Da Vinchi Code is proving very hard to find a decent copy. The seller gave us a replacement for one and a refund for the other. At 40p each it's worth the risk even after adding on the Metro fare it's stil less than a pound. We then headed back to our room to pack, shower and check out. We had a few hours to wait until our train which we spent reading in the bar and having a late lunch in Cafe de Coral, our favourite Chinese cafe so far. Also sitting looking out the window watching the people go by, all one million of them, all trying to cross the road only to be stopped by damned Taxis!
At 5.30pm we loaded up with our bags and walked to the station where we checked into another nice soft sleeper class lounge. We were again pleasantly surprised by the quality of the train, nice and clean like new (we think it was quite new), comfy but a little hard bottom bunks, a western and Chinese toilet with paper (the whole night) and free dinner! (Free food, a first on any train we've been on). We settled in quite early with MI3 as we needed an early night because the train was due in to Beijing at 7am.

You maybe wondering why we haven't described much of the scenery whizzing by our windows on these train trips, but to be honest after a while it all begins to merge into a blur. I am at the moment reading Bill Bryson's 'Down Under' and he puts his finger on what travelling on these trains is like (although he's talking about the first class service on the Indian Pacific across Australia, but you'll get my point):

'There is something wonderfully lulling about being stuck for a long spell on a train. It was like being given a preview of what it will be like to be in your eighties. All those things eighty-yr-olds appear to enjoy - staring vacantly out of windows, dozing in a chair, boring the pants off anyone foolish enough to sit beisde them - took on a special treasured meaning for me. This was the life!'
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