Monday, July 31, 2006

The '2-dollar' China Tour - Guillin

Welcome to Guillin! We are at the airport and what a nice way to welcome strangers!Guillin was also high on our list to see. We have seen many marvelous photos of this area and were keen to see the real thing for ourselves. It is everything and more of what we expected and started with a good hotel that had this lovely evening view from our room. A good start.:And the following morning looked like this:A magic area that includes the Li River and Yanshuo and, yes.......lots of tourists. It is very popular and we were there in the high season.

My biggest problem will be to curb my enthusiasm and not bore you with too many pictures taken along Li River. But there were many great sights and we both kept on clicking our cameras. While we began our trip on the river at leisure, it didn't take long for us both to climb the stairs to the observation decks. But not before the vendors found us just outside our window. We were warned not to open the sliding windows, because of cheeky vendors. Well, here is why:And this is how they got so close:Once on the observation deck, we enjoyed the splendid views together with other tour party members: Carol with Tony & Sandra.Carol with Pat & Graeme. And see the background!

BUT THERE IS MORE!!!! LOTS MORE!Note the buffalos enjoying a well deserved break.The waters were pretty shallow and I was surprised that we didn't hit the bottom, especially when a couple of boats seem to make a race for an opening!There are many more views I would like to share, but leave it with just the following four as we arrive in Yanshuo:The evening was set aside for another night show. This time it was to be held outdoors in the natural theatre of Yanshuo. Just before we left the hotel, I discovered to my dismay that I had lost my wallet with cards, money etc. Devastating! Thankfully, Faye - as always, stayed behind to search for it and found it, much to my relief. She sent a message to the local guide, who was with us, to tell her the good news. And so, in the middle of the performance, I received a tap on the shoulder to say all was well. I felt such a dill. Fancy losing your wallet. That wasn't part of the itinerary.
But, back to our open air performance. It was delightful and spectacular. The show was produced and directed by the person who had produced the opening ceremony at the Athens Olympics and is now contracted to arrange the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. Believe me, this evening was a performance not to be missed. The nice thing was that the local farmers were the actors and did what was obviously natural to them, like this scene:We were left spellbound with colourful scenes like these:There were some great acrobatics in the curve of the moon and the whole show was just magic!Our return by bus to Guillin took us over backroads to villages and farms. We came across this farmer ploughing the rice paddies using traditional methods, the buffalo.And what a countryside to work in!On the way back to Guillin, we visited a small farming village and very much enjoyed visiting a Chinese familyThe village looks poor, and probably is poor, but the views around the village are million dollar spectacles. By the way, the family had a daughter and because they were farmers, were allowed one more child - it turned out to be twin boys!:Despite that, the locals have their own tasks and these went on regardless of tourists.The ongoing scenery was a dellght and we loved our return visit on the backroads to Guillin:Back in Guillin there were more joys waiting for us. And by the way, this shot under the 'trees' is a little different. They are not tree limbs at all but concrete imitations. What is not fake is the couple in the photograph!Our delightful Faye decided that guiding wasn't so bad after all with the guys prepared to take her up the hillside to the entrance of the caves that we are about to visit. They, Phil & Tony didn't get very far!The Reed Flute Caves.....!!!!! Wow, they were really something. I have not seen anything anywhere in the world that were as spectacular as these. Just have a look what we feasted our eyes on:What we found incredible was that some people were actually smoking in these caves as well as visitors - and there are thousands who visit this place (no wonder) touching these ancient stalagmites. I dare suggest that this phenomena won't last the distance on that basis. Then look at this small lake underground. It is a magic setting to tell fairy tales
Just prior to leaving Guillin, there was one more outing for the brave or strong or energetic or foolish to climb Mt. Diecai. We thought it was worthwhile, though it cost me a new T shirt as I was dripping wet with perspiration at the end.Back row: Yours truly, Sandra, Christine (both very brave ladies!), Chris & Graeme. Front row Phil & Kerri.
And the views? Well judge for yourselves!A great visit. Many thanks Guillin, you are rightly described as one of the most beautiful cities in China - and perhaps the world!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The '2-dollar' China tour - Dali

Let me start this chapter of the 2-dollar tour by quoting direct from our diary for the next day that covered our bus journey to Dali:
"It has been quite a day!! It all started well with an on time departure from our hotel at 8 am. As we left Kunming, we were slowed down by new roadwork and were often stationary.
The fumes and pollution were hard to take and one of our number was quite ill. (The uncomfortable bus didn't help either.) Just as we began to move a bit, the bus was pulled over by Transport Inspectors. At that time, Faye discovered that she had left her overnight bag behind at the hotel. This contained essentials for the next couple of days. She scooted back, literally, on the back of a motor bike that she hired,and told us later that she had to hang grimly as through Kunming traffic it reached speeds of up to 80 kmh! (Not for the faint-hearted.)

We girls experienced a new toilet - no door and just a continuous open drain to squat over. Despite that, Sandra could still smile, though Graeme didn't seem too sure.

Cleanliness was an unknown word and was only exceeded by the one further down the road where you actually squatted facing each other with urine all over the floor - and you paid for the privilege!!" (Us guys have nothing to complain about - quite happy to stand next to each other and chew the fat.)
While we waited for Faye to rejoin us, the group decided that it was obviously in need of exercise and our 'strong man', Adam, led us most ably in T'ai Chi movements: Oh, and by the way, if we thought we had problems, think of another Wendy Wu Tour that shadowed us all through China. Their bus broke down, but the driver was finally able to nurse his vehicle into Dali.

And yes, finally.....Dali!
We were told to expect lesser facilities in Dali, being further off the beaten track, but were greeted by this good looking establishment:And see what welcome greeted us as we entered into our room:It was all pretty comfortable:We found the place most acceptable, except perhaps for our breakfast. But hey, it was only for two nights and we managed quite well.
And just see the contentment of Chris and Christine in the delightful setting of the courtyard of our hotel - or perhaps it is the Great Wall Red wine?:Dali was just one of those places that everyone loves at first sight. It hasn't lost that 'village' feel and it was fun to share village life with these old men playing Mahjong(I even had my shoes cleaned while sharing time with these people.)
Just to see people taking time to chat, instead of rushing traffic and no time for anything much was great:At the same time, there are things to be done like drawing water and carting stuff around:As I walked in the early morning into the town square, the scenes were both peaceful and idyllic - even with tourists:
The silversmiths are in abundance in Dali and were early starters to prepare for tourist trade; and every thing was so CHEAP!Our local guide was Shirley who, when she heard that Carol's sister is also named Shirley, immediately associated with her as her Chinese sister:Dali people appeared very industrious as the above pictures have already shown. On our way to a local/traditional market, we stopped to see families hard at work in the rice paddies:The market was very different. There was so much tradition here and I loved observing the people marketing their goods, both men & women engaging in their trades and crafts, and seeing how life really ticks over in Dali. There was even a dentist in attendance - no steriliser said Chris, though I did not personally see him:Their transportation to the market was also rather different:The Dali dress was very colourful and we saw lots of that both in the village, the market and the historical buildings:There was also a dramatised wedding ceremony with lots of different teas that were offered to us:In the afternoon a visit to the restored 3-pagodas. It is good to see the restoration following the cultural revolution under Mao. Carol chose to view these from a distance as her back was playing up, and this is what she saw:And this is what I saw:The evening atmosphere in Dali is to be experienced. My hassle was that I was feeling pretty crook and missed out on some of that. Just a delightful relaxing place that we all enjoyed:Our final activity in Dali was a cruise on Lake Erhai on one of these boatsIt was a very relaxing morning as we cruised across to an island and wandered around the local market, taking in the sites and the people:And a final photo of me with Shirley's lovely daughter. She told her mother she wanted very much to touch my moustache but then was too shy to do so. But, she got round to it eventually.As we left there was a shopping frenzy for T shirts. These guys and one doll chose to show off their purchase:
Dali was just lovely and a special highlight, particularly because we connected more with the people. Now it is on to Guillin....