From Beijing to Hong Kong...oh and Japan
Trip Start Jul 11, 2010
17Trip End Jul 11, 2011
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I had intended of having a cool little video of all the things we've done in China but I'm having problems with the software. So in a nutshell...
From Beijing we headed for Shanghai which was pretty much how I expected; full of tall skyscrapers and a very western feel. There were times I felt I was in the United States. We also got to enjoy Shanghai railway station as our sleeper train was delayed by fifteen hours. And to think I got annoyed when waiting for fifteen minutes back home.
This meant we only had a day in Xi-an which was enough time for a bike ride around the old city wall and a visit to the Terracotta Warriors. By now we were really looking forward to getting out of the cities and sailing down the Yangtze River.
I had visions of sitting back on a traditional boat with a beer in hand as we passed the dramatic scenery. So imagine my disappointment when I saw what we were actually boarding... the words 'cruise ship' sprung to mind. Because of the recent floods in China we were restricted to a smaller part of the river which, for obvious reasons, didn't include the Three Gorges Dam. Still, it was a really nice change of scenery and we witnessed an amazing night storm. Next up was Yangshou, which reminded me a little of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand; a stunning place spoilt by tourism. I actually got a little angry when I spotted McDonald's in one of the more scenic parts of the town. It was a relief to get out into the countryside and see some rural villages and real farmers working in the fields - my favorite part of the trip. And then five cities, one mighty river, five mammoth train journeys and a hundred temples later we reach Hong Kong. It's just as busy as I remember it (although I'm so used to being surrounded by billions of people now) and one of the few cities I could really see myself living in.
China is such a massive country and impossible to cover in such a short amount of time. We've only really seen the usual tourist spots which, although you kind of have to see them, don't even begin to scratch the surface of what this country is about. Now we've done them, I would love to come back here and explore off the beaten track to hopefully get a sense of what 'real' China is like.
The most fascinating part has been observing the people. There's quite a behavioral difference between generations. The older unashamedly gawp at you, have a rather barking manner about them and will spit just inches away from your feet whether you're on the street, in a cafe or even on public transport. On the flip side, the younger generation are extremely welcoming, smile back at you and will do all they can to help. They genuinely seem excited by us being in their town and either ask to have a photo with us or sneakily take one anyway. We've felt like minor celebs!
So that's China done then! Not. We haven't even scratched the surface. This is the only part of our trip that we had arranged through a tour company as all the advice we were given before traveling was suggesting that China is a difficult country to travel alone. OK so English isn't widely spoken but you can get by and people are always willing to help you here. If we were to do things again we would definitely go it alone, take more flights and get out in to the countryside a lot more. The trip we took spent a disproportionate amount of time in the cities of China. Beijing, Xi'an and Hong Kong are all the cities you need to see, more time should be spent in more rural places like Yangshou.
Sitting on yet another 16 hour train journey (there were 5 over 18 days) and looking out of the window you get a sense of the vastness of this country and the pace in which it is expanding, everywhere you look they are building massive blocks of flats. You get to see many different towns and they all look really tired consisting of ugly concrete structures and you are struck by the poverty of the majority of this country, I was expecting more rural scenes with pretty old towns and traditional buildings.
That being said I have really enjoyed my time in China it's just not been long enough and I haven't got under the surface. Highlights have been the temples and food of Beijing and the outstanding beauty of Yangshou (where I had acupuncture which has now moved the pain to another place).
A question I still have though is how did they loose the Terracotta Army for so long? So this is the burial site for Qin Shi Haung the First Emperor of China. A site of significant importance that sits about 15 miles outside of Xi'an the ancient capital of China. They lost it for over 2000 years and then some bumbling farmer happened to trip over a terracotta horse or something. Had they not thought about looking for this highly important site before?
Now call me a skeptic but this "discovery" has been pretty good for tourism hasn't it? I swear I saw made in Taiwan on one of them! And considering they didn't even know where it was how come they can tell me how many people worked on the site and how long it took to build?
This really is an exciting country with a lot to see and do, it's cheap to see the sites, travel and eat, I just wish we had more time to do it justice but there it a lot more world out there we need to see. We're thinking of Indonesia next so suggestions welcome (oh the decisions we have to make).