A Travellerspoint blog

Guilin


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The must-do-thing in Guilin is the cruise on the Li River, so we booked this when arriving at the hotel yesterday. We went by bus to the dock and boarded a river boat together with some Germans and Americans, loads of Swedes and even a few Norwegians. We spent most of the 5 hour cruise on the very hot viewing deck and the scenery was beautiful. There was not much water in the river, and about half-way we got stuck but one of the other boats were able to pull us off.

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When reaching Yángshuò we were supposed to have some time for shopping in the touristy main street. Luckily we were delayed and went straight through to find the bus for our afternoon tour to the Yulong River. We stopped in a small village to see how the local farmers lived, and to see the 600-year-old Dragon Bridge. We used bamboo rafts to travel up the Yulong River and were entertained by a local folk song singer on the way to a small dam. We walked along rice paddies and got postcard views towards the Dragon Bridge. In the field we were allowed to pet and feed water buffaloes. On the way back we got to see how trained birds were used for fishing.

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Back in Guilin we went for a quick dinner in an Irish Bar, a short city sightseeing and then back to the hotel to pack and get some sleep.

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Posted by gunnhild 23.10.2009 04:38 Archived in China Comments (0)

Lhasa - Chengdu - Guilin


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Our guide took us to the airport and brought us to the first class check in. The flight was slightly delayed, but we still had several hours in Chengdu before our next flight to Guilin. We took a taxi to the Panda research base and made sure that nothing was closed before entering the park. We walked straight to the nursery and made a "donation" of 1000 yuan each. This earned us the right to hold, pet and feed a Giant Panda cub. We were dressed up in sterile clothes and waited on a bench while they prepared the panda. It was bigger than expected but not too heavy and very soft and cuddly. The staff took plenty of pictures with both our cameras. We continued to the mother and cub enclosure where three cubs were playing around. Very cute!

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We had lunch in the park before heading back to the airport. When booking the ticket to Guilin most flights were full, so we ended up with a first class ticket (still cheap!). The first class lounge was not much to write home about, but we got to check our emails with a chocholate and a cup of coffee/tea on the side. When boarding the plane we got to skip the queues and got our own comfy bus to the plane which was quite nice. The Chinese really dont know how to behave in a queue. Large seats, great food and presonal service was not bad either. :-) On the way to the hotel we got our first glimse of the karst topography surrounding this small city (pop 740000).

Posted by gunnhild 22.10.2009 03:40 Archived in China Comments (2)

Lhasa - Day 2


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We were picked up at 9 am and went straight to the Potala Palace, once the seat of the Tibetan government and the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas. The 13 storey palace is built on the highest point in Lhasa, the 130 meter high Red Hill and contains more than a thousand rooms. We were not allowed to take photos inside the palace, but got to see hundreds of impressive Buddha statues and mandalas, pilgrims offering yak butter and ceremonial scarves called khatak, the tombs of previous Dalai Lamas and the apartments of the 13th and 14th Dalai Lama. Thousands of kilos of gold were used for the tombs and some of them were over 13 meters high. The layout of the Potala Palace includes the White Palace used for living quarters for the Dalai Lama, and the Red Palace in the middle used for religious functions.

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After eating Yak all day yesterday we went for a western breakfast with eggs, toast and hash browns. Yummy! We walked the pilgrim circuit (kora) clockwise around the Barkhor area and were quite fascinated by all the pilgrims in their colorful costumes from different parts of Tibet. Along the route there are hundreds of stalls selling prayer flags, block prints of scriptures, jewelery, yak butter, juniper incense, Tibetian art, clothes and souvenirs. Fascinating!

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At 2.30 pm we were picked up to go to the Sera Monastery, the second largest Monastery in Tibet. This was, like the Drepung Monastery we visited yesterday, founded by a disciple of Tsongkhapa (in 1419). The sights were quite similar as well but the highlight of the visit was the monks debating in the garden next to the assembly hall. They debate in Tibetan, but their rituals, hand clapping and gestures makes it very interesting to watch.

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In the evening we went back to the restaurant in the hotel to try some of the other local dishes (our guide actually recommended this restaurant). Again the food was excellent, and the locals were playing dice games and drinking loads of beer. The waitress obviously wanted us to drink more as well and lifted the glass which means bottoms up in Tibet. Luckily the glass was small! After dinner we were invited over to another table to drink with a group of Tibetans that only knew a few words in English (happy-happy, cheers and sorry). Of course they all wanted to do the bottoms-up with us (one by one), so we were quite "happy-happy" when going to bed. When their three english words was not enough they called a friend who spoke English and she translated over the phone. Quite an interesting and fun evening!

Posted by gunnhild 21.10.2009 09:08 Archived in China Comments (0)

Lhasa - Day 1


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Our guide picked us up at 9.30 am and took us to the Drepung Monastery, the biggest monastery in Tibet. It was founded in 1416 by one of the disciples of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the yellow hat sect and the first Dalai Lama. We walked the pilgrim route (kora) around the monastery, always going clockwise. Lots of prayer flags could be seen in the nearby mountains.

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Our next stop was Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama Summer Palace. This was a nice and quiet park containing several palaces and chapels. There were several large paintings on the walls showing the Tibetan history, from monkeys to farmers and building of bridges and palaces. The Dalai Lama bedroom and meditation room has been kept exactly as he left them when he fled to India in 1959.

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We had a Yak-burger for lunch in the Barkhor area before heading to the 1300-year-old Jokhang Temple which is the spiritual center of Tibet. Jokhang means "chapel of the Jowo" and the golden Jowa Sakyamuru Buddha statue is the most revered in all of Tibet. The views from the roof was also very nice, both towards the roofs and halls of the temple but also to Barkhor and the Potala Palace.

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We enjoyed coffee, tea, orange juice and great views from a terrace bar on the corner of the Barkhor square before heading back to the hotel for some travel arrangements and relaxation. There was a charming Tibetan restaurant in the hotel, so we decided to eat there. Most of the other guests were playing some sort of dice game (probably a drinking game, since the waiters were bringing loads of beer). We had two different Yak courses which were very good, and also tasted fried yogurt after recommendations from the waiter. Surprisingly good!

Posted by fredno 20.10.2009 17:13 Archived in China Comments (0)

The world's highest railway


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We woke up around 8:30am and the views from the train were amazing. We could see snow capped mountains, large desert plateaus, small villages, beautiful lakes, nomad tents and wonderful colors everywhere. 80% of the Golmund to Lhasa stretch is over 4000 meters, and the highest point is the Tanggu-la pass (5072 m) There were oxygen available on the train, but after drinking liters of water we did not need it. The train track itself is quite impressive as well. It was opened in 2006, has 160 km of bridges and elevated track and is mostly built over perma frost where some places cooling pipes has been inserted to keep the ground frozen in summer.

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The further we got into Tibet the more villages, Yak herds, antelopes and pilgrims could be seen. We spent most of the time sitting in our cabin looking out the window, reading guide books and discussing travels with Tore and Elisabeth. They had been to several places we had been, like Peru and Australia, and we had a lot to talk about.

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Since the train was delayed from Xining and the guide told us it was usually an hour extra delayed into Lhasa we laid down to relax when the sun went down, expecting to be in Lhasa no earlier than 10 pm. But at 8:30 pm the train suddenly stopped and we could see people getting off. So we had to pack up in a hurry and get off the train.

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Our guide met us at the train station, but Tore and Elisabeth were not as lucky. They came with us to our hotel while trying to figure out what happened. There had been some mix-up, but the guide were soon located and came to pick them up. We went to bed early and really enjoyed our "soft" beds. All beds in China are extremely hard, but these were quite ok.

Posted by fredno 19.10.2009 03:08 Archived in China Comments (0)

Xining


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We got up at 6 am (again!) to take the 8:05am flight to Xining. All we had was an address in Chinese to where we should pick up the tickets. We were dropped off outside an office building but did not know the name or the floor of the company. With some help from the locals and some qualified guessing we found the office, but it was closed. Using "sign language" we were able to borrow a cell phone on the street and call our travel agent in Xi'an. After a while someone showed up and we got our train tickets and Tibet permits.

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The reason we took the first flight was to have enough time to arrange everything before the 4 pm train. But the tickets were for the 7:33pm train, so suddenly we had a lot of time in Xining. We had lunch at a local restaurant close to the night market and walked around in the area trying to find somewhere we could connect to the internet. This was a bit difficult since most streets were under renovation, we had our suitcases with us and the taxi drivers refused to take us where we wanted to go. So we went to the train station and stored our bags while shopping supplies for the train journey. We sat down in the soft sofas in the soft sleeper waiting room, and after a while we heard someone speaking Norwegian and went over to say hi. It was a nice couple from Trondheim and we sat down with them and their guide. The train was delayed and it was close to 9 pm before we could board. Luckily the guide's girlfriend helped us out, because boarding was a complete chaos with people running around and yelling. Our beds were already taken, so in the end we ended up sharing a cabin with our Norwegian friends Tore & Elisabeth. By the time the train left Xining it was already dark, so after a quick dinner (beef & vegetables) in the dining car we went to bed.

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Posted by fredno 18.10.2009 03:04 Archived in China Comments (0)

Leshan


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After a 2 hour bus-ride from Chengdu we arrived in Leshan and took a tour boat to get a panoramic view of the Giant Buddha (Dàfó) from the river. The 71 m tall Buddha is carved into a cliff overlooking the river, and with a shoulder span of 28 m and 7 m long ears it was quite impressive.

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After getting back to the docks we entered the Giant Buddha park containing several temples, tombs and museums. We walked up the hill to the Buddha's head and lined up for the steep stairway down the cliff to his feet (each big toe is 8,5 m long!). When leaving the park we found a local bus back to the bus station and were back in Chengdu around 7.30 pm. We walked from the bus station to the hotel and stopped for dinner on the way.

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Tomorrow morning we are traveling to Xining, and will catch the train to Lhasa in the afternoon.

Posted by fredno 17.10.2009 07:13 Archived in China Comments (2)

Chengdu


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We started the day with a huge, western breakfast at a cozy place called Grandma's Kitchen. We took a taxi to the Giant Panda Breading Research Base, home to nearly 50 giant and red pandas. We only got to see some of them though, because parts of the park were closed off most of the day. Frustrating!

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But we got to watch several pandas up close and it was fascinating to see them eat and climb around. One even got stuck hanging upside down a couple of times. At the end of the day we were finally allowed to go to the nursery as well, but it was no longer possible to hold a panda as we had planned. The new born pandas were cute, the smallest one was only a couple of weeks old and had a birth weight below 0,1 kilo.

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In the eventing we went for pizza and got to taste our first dark, Chinese beer (Jintebeer). Not bad! We continued to an Irish Pub to give Guinness a try in China as well. Based on the taste we're pretty sure it's shipped from Dublin. We met a nice American who was in Chengdu on business, and had a great evening chatting over a few pints.

Posted by fredno 16.10.2009 11:07 Archived in China Comments (0)

Xi'an - Chengdu


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Most of this day was spent waiting and traveling, but we had time for some city sightseeing in the morning. We walked by the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower before going into the Muslim quarter. The first part was mostly souvenir shops, but we managed to find a more genuine part as well where all kinds of food where cooked in the streets.

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We also stopped at the Great Mosque, founded in the 8th century. Very peaceful and an interesting blend of Chinese and Islamic architecture. The minaret was disguised as a pagoda.

After a lunch buffet (35 NOK) and a beer at the hotel we took a taxi to the airport. Our flight was quite late by the time we reached Chengdu. We also had a little trouble finding our hotel since it was located on the 27th floor in the back of a shopping mall. But both the room and the view was nice.

Posted by fredno 15.10.2009 16:02 Archived in China Comments (0)

Xi'an


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We were picked up by the brother of our taxi driver from yesterday at 9 am. He took us to The Army of Terracotta Warriors - known as the 8th wonder of the world. This is a huge archeological site still being excavated, and they have found more than 7000 full sized terracotta warriors and horses. Each soldier is very detailed and they all have individual features, hair and facial expressions.

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On the way back to the city center we stopped at two other archeological sites. The Tomb of Qin Shi Huang is believed to be one of the grandest mausoleums ever. The tomb reputedly took 38 years to complete and required a workforce of 700000 people! But it is considered too dangerous to excavate, so there wasn't really much to see. The Banpo Neolithic Village feature the 6000-year-old ruins of a village, the earliest example of the Neolithic Yangshao culture.

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Back in Xi'an we booked a meeting with a travel agent and went for a bike ride on the city walls. They are around 12 meters high, wide and 14 kilometers long. Half way around the wall, we saw very dark smoke coming up from just inside the wall 3 kilometers away, it was a big fire!

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At 6 pm we met with the travel agent in the executive lounge and finally managed to arrange our trip to Tibet. It wasn't cheap but we got it exactly as we wanted. Soft sleeper (which is very difficult to get) on the train from Xining to Lhasa on Sunday, 2 full days for sightseeing in Lhasa and a flight from Lhasa to Chengdu.

We have updated our travel map!

Posted by fredno 14.10.2009 19:27 Archived in China Comments (0)

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