After Hong Kong we felt ready for the wild country of China. Only having 27 days to explore this vast country we chose just a few cities and towns to sink our teeth into.
First stop Guilin, but we needed to get there first, by train.
From Hong Kong we boarded the subway to the border at Shenzhen where we crossed the boarder by foot arriving many hours before our train departed. Lucky for us we had time to spare as we struggled to find an ATM that our MasterCard worked in to get out funds. In the end we remembered Sam’s visa debit card and managed to get enough cash to survive a few days. Tip: if you need money in Shenzhen train station, don’t rely on MasterCard!
After an hour of stressing trying to find money we were in need of 1. A sit down and 2. Some food. So we did something disgusting we got KFC. Once fed and rested we headed to our train station, five minutes by foot.
On arriving in the station we settled into our waiting area and relaxed. We had plenty of time before our sleeper train left which gave us a chance to grab some train snacks, after our KFC it was time for a much healthier alternative so we got a huge bunch of bananas, a bag of cherry tomatoes and a couple of big bottles of water all for less than $10 NZ.
Our train departed at 5:40pm arriving into the station at about 8 the next morning. After much research by Will and hours of discussion we decided to get 2 soft sleepers, essentially either a top or bottom bunk in a room with four beds. We got a top and bottom, allowing us the opportunity for both of us to sit on the bottom bunk when not sleeping. Our cabin had two independent Chinese travellers a lady in her late thirties and a man in his fifties. She was really lovely constantly feeding us as she did various yoga poses on her bunk. The man spoke some English and was very lovely although a bit put off by the lady and her yoga moves.
We relaxed and watched out the window, ate our dinner in the cabin and watched the Top Gear Africa special before settling in for an early night. It seemed as though everyone was fascinated in what the foreigners were watching!
After a surprisingly good sleep we woke early and ate some fruit before departing. On arrival we realised that the instructions for getting to our hostel were useless as we were at a different station than they expected. Bugger! We followed the flow of departing passengers and found ourselves at a bus platform. Great, now what bus do we take? Where do we get off? After a few minutes we found the other train station on one if the signs and decided to head there. Well for the princely sum of 1 Yuan we got into town. Sam made a fleeting decision to just get off the bus after about 40 minutes and we stood arguing on the footpath before deciding to walk back the way we came. After about one minute as she was saying we are just going to have to ask in this hotel we realised that the hotel in question was actually the one on the directions we were given. To our surprise we were just over the road from our hostel. Oh god Sam will never let Will live this down. (A week later and she’s still going on about it
It was so early we thought there was no chance our room would be ready but to our surprise our room was indeed ready. And what a room it was, surely the best room we have had in the last three months, with a large Korean-esque raised floor sitting area overlooking the river and the card playing locals on the footpath below. Oh and free coffee 🙂
Once we were full of coffee and clean we decided to explore the city. This place is amazing. Situated on the Li River the city is simply stunning with a cool climate much to our relief. The city has many parks pagodas and gardens and wide footpaths great for exploring. Punctuating the skyline were many small rocky mountains giving the place a rather majestic feel. After an afternoon exploring we found a cheap and tasty noodle shop for dinner. It was certainly harder to order food than in SE Asia, but fortunately this establishment had pictures, so with the tools of pointing, a cheesy grin, money, the “I want noodles” hand signal and 2 thumbs up we had a delicious local noodle dish.
After a well deserved sleep in a very comfortable bed we woke early ready for an adventure. We had booked a tour to the Lonji Rice Terraces (I know we said never again would we do tours, but some times you just have no other option. Besides, we had seen about 2 other non-asian foreigners so the chances of a repeat of HCMC were low). We were collected at 8am and were joined by six others for the day; a Dutch couple, an Italian couple, a Chinese lady and a Japanese guy (who spoke better English than most of my students after living in Australia for two years). It took two hours to get to the valley through some stunning rural scenery. When there we were shuffled into a bus and taken to a cultural performance of the local long haired women. To be honest it was not our thing. (Insert expletive about wasting our time and money).
After this we were lead to lunch a large selection of tasty treats. Once fed we once again boarded a bus and headed further in the valley.
We exited the bus and were led past dozens of market stalls up many stairs. The stairs and tracks led through tiny village paths and through the middle of the village of the people who worked in the rice fields. When not winding up through the village, the track stuck to the side of the hills offering breathtaking views of the valley and vast rice terraces below. The weather made the experience even better as clouds were rolling in, covering parts of the valley – and the track – and then whisping away to another area. Once halfway our guide pointed us up and said see you at the car park at 2:50pm. We assended the stairs stopping to admire the view and snap some photos. Once most of the way up Sam suggested Will run ahead (as he has a morbid love of running up stairs/mountains/anything difficult).
Sam was joined by the Japanese guy and they continued up the stairs chatting. Unbeknown to them they missed the turn off and followed the arrows, Sam frantically calling Will after five minutes thinking he was just ahead.
Meanwhile Will, who was at the lookout, was starting to wonder where Sam was. After ten minutes he started to search for her.
Long story short one hour later two panicked people were reunited, Sam covered in mud, Will a little puffed after running up and down the mountain twice after a lady told him “she in hospital”. Still back in time with two minutes to spare. Not an experience either one of us wishes to repeat.
The next day was spend exploring further into the city, getting soaked in the first downpour in over a month, tasting more local noodles and enjoying our amazing room. Oh and Sam doing washing while Will sat with his live text commentary, track positioning and live timing for the F1. Some things just have priorities.
Tomorrow we board our second overnight train to Kunming.