Happy Halloween everyone!
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Destination: Chengyang, China (Guangxi Province)
Number of Days Spent: 1 day
Best of: We didn’t care all that much for the touristy village across the bridge but we had a great walk through nearby Dong villages with perfect lighting for photos. We enjoyed watching the kids playing in the river, villagers carrying baskets through the fields and tending their rice, motorcycles being lovingly washed & workers at break on the roads.
Worst of: Yet another hefty Chinese entrance fee…this one 50 RMB just to get across the bridge & into town!
Most Memorable: Oily tea? We’ll never forget it and while some people may really enjoy it, we are not among them!
Useful Tip: There is much written on avoiding the extrance fees on the way into Chengyang. We arrived in the middle of the day and the bus dropped us off right in front of the ticket booth. I’m not sure how people are going about avoiding the fees. They even had a guard posted at the secondary bridge before getting into town.
Getting there: Getting here is a snap if coming from the Longji rice terraces. Once you’re in Longshen take a bus to Sanjiang. If you’re arriving from the rice terraces (or from Guilin) you will be at a different bus terminal and you will need to walk about 10 minutes to the He Xi terminal. From there, buses travel to Sanjiang frequently throughout the day. If you get there after 5pm there are vans that cost 10 RMB and will take you to Chengyang. For onward transport double check the times for the buses as they change frequently. There is a bus that passes through that goes to Zhaoxing in Guizhou province (note that you will have to change buses at the border between Guangxi & Guizhou province).
A brief stop on our trip through southern China, the elaborate Wind & Rain Bridge is typical of the Dong minorities that live in this rural region of southern China. The bridge itself was a feat of engineering, built 100 years ago without the benefit of nails! It’s 78 meters long and contains 5 separate pagoda like structures. Walking across isn’t that interesting, it’s filled with run in the mill souvenir stands but walk away from the hustle and bustle, it’s lovely from afar or better yet, sip on a cup of Chinese tea from your hotel balcony while the suns comes up (or goes down).
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Southern China is a melting pot of ethnic minorities. In our two months traveling there we met Yao, Dong, Miao, Bai, Naxi and Tibetan people (and I’m sure I”m missing a few). We stumbled upon this smiling Miao girl in Landhe near Kaili, the capital of Guizhou province!
Sunday, October 17, 2010
I love this man’s sweet face! We walked by him squatting on the side of the main road with a collection of small handmade bamboo pipes for sale. As we explored the region we noticed many males sitting by the river and in the gathering areas of town smoking away on these same pipes. Curious, we stopped to investigate and before we knew it we were surrounded by passersby's, all wanting to see what the foreigners were up to! We had a quick chat with the man (as best as our hand motions and mispronunciations from our language book would allow) and finally settled on a price by drawing numbers in the dirt! The souvenirs were less than a buck but the memory and interaction with the locals was worth far more!
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Destination: Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces
Number of Days Spent: 1
Where we stayed: Wanjing Lou (万景楼) located between the Panorama Hotel and Tiantouzhou – the room was clean and reasonably comfortable with welcome hot showers but no western toilet was available…only a squat toilet. Plus, just a scrap of material for a towel! Still it boasted a really lovely view and was only 15 minutes away from a fantastic sunrise point, definitely a keeper if you can deal with squat toilets (and traveling through China you should get yourself acquainted with them)! This was our first for a hotel room but not our last!
Best restaurant: The stir fried egg & tomato dish at Wanjing Lou was really yummy…skip the fish though, it was bony and disappointing. A “bing pijou” aka a cold beer was a must have after trekking up and down the rice fields all day long. The steamed bread at breakfast looked delicious but we opted for the tasty “mi fen” noodle soup instead. Enjoy the view while you eat, the porch boasts a fabulous view of the rice terraces!
Best of: The sunrise from Tiantouzhou was simply stunning! It’s hard to imagine that these rice terraces were hand carved out of the hills 600 years ago!
Worst of: Somewhere near the little village of Zhongliu we got a little turned around and the residents of town were a little overly concerned we wouldn’t make it to our destination by sunset…they wanted us to stay the night with them and were rather persistent. Really it wasn’t so bad, just a little annoying because we kept getting turned around and being pointed in the wrong direction. Staying would have have been interesting but we had our heart set on seeing the sunrise from Tiantouzhou.
Most Memorable: After spending so much time in India it felt great to get out and really stretch our legs and breath in the fresh countryside air. It’s was refreshing to walk in peace and quiet with the beautiful setting of the rice terraces in front of us.
Useful Tip: Leave your backpack at the left luggage office in Longsheng, trust us, you don’t want to carry it up and down the rice terraces. Just take a small bag of necessities and your camera for the overnight stay. If you don’t heed our advice and need assistance carrying your bag or if you need a guide the Yao ladies meet all of the buses and are happy to help for a small fee!
Getting there: You can take a bus from Yangshuo to Guilin (it’s recommended to take the first one of the morning if you want to hike from Ping’an to Tiantouzhou the same day for sunrise the following day), from Guilin to Longshen and from Longshen to Ping’an. You can buy your ticket into the terraces (50 RMB) on the bus. Getting to and from was surprisingly easy even though the buses were really busy due to a huge Chinese holiday the week we were there. Just remember to get someone from your hotel or a Chinese friend to write down the city names in Chinese characters so you can show them to the ticket agent at the bus terminal. This helped us out a lot!
Hiking the Dragon’s Backbone
Resembling the dragon’s scales, and the summit of the mountain the backbone of the the dragon, the Longji rice terraces were built nearly 600 years ago by farmers with the simple need to grow more rice. So what do you do when your farmland is a bunch of hills? You make the best of what you got. Chinese ingenuity kicked in, carving these stunning terraces into the mountains, allowing the farmers to grow more rice and at the same time creating some of the most gorgeous scenery in all of China. But don’t take our word for it! Check out the photos below from our hike!
The hike began in Ping’an…
Halfway there, we stopped in the village of Zhongliu, complete with a charming, tiny waterfall! These ladies were walking through the terraces with the food they gathered and struck up a conversation. They wanted to chat with us, show us their hair…cook us a meal…invite us to stay…all for a price! They were actually pretty funny so we decided to go for it, not something we would normally do but it was pretty interesting and well worth the $1 we tipped them.
We made it to our hotel about 4.5 hours after starting and right after sunset! We settled in for a few cold beers and dinner with a view of the terraces! The next morning we woke up before the crack of dawn and headed up to the viewing platform near the Panorama hotel. I think the results were worth it!
After sunrise we started making our way down from Tiantouzhou to Dazhai. The fields in this part of the terraces were flooded and they were beginning to transplant the baby rice! Beautiful!
Finally we arrived in Dazhai, caught a bus to Longshen and connected to Chenyang for our next stop in China: the Wind & Rain Bridge!
Sunday, October 10, 2010
We found the daily markets near Yuanyang to be endlessly fascinating for people watching. Colorful Bai and Hani people gather at these markets each day to sell livestock, fruits, vegetables, clothes or even to get their hair cut. We couldn’t resist getting this shot with the sellers and market buyers chatting away while the poor little piggies were put out for purchase. A typical daily scene at Yuanyang…
Sunday, October 3, 2010
This is a continuation of a previous post. For technical details on Yangshuo, check out the previous post.
* For anyone not wishing to see a dead dog being roasted on a grill – you might want to skip this posting. *
Yangshuo may be most famous for it’s delicious scenery, but there are plenty of cultural experiences to be had as well. Open air village markets can be found all around Yangshuo and offer the authentically rural ethnic scene. Back in town, the ever popular indoor market sees a unique blend of tour buses, curious independents and locals alike. For an over the top experience, the Liu Sanjie show is a must see. But of course, this is China, and if there is one thing we know about China – they do fake well. Enter the Shangri La Village – one of many tourist trap places designed for the local tourist.
The market in town, while not as atmospheric as the ones in the villages is a good place to start off a market going experience in China. Tame by some standards, the market features your usual veggies, fruits and meat along with a few local delicacies. River snails, eels, and…yes…dog meat can be found. We were here as a starting point for our little foray into Chinese cooking.
After our tour of the Farmers Trading Market, we took our fresh ingredients and attempted to whip up something good. Chinese cuisine is arguably the most available in the world in some fashion. From stir fries to dumplings many variations of foods that we eat today can trace their origins to the Chinese. On the menu for us tonight – one of my favorites – Cashew chicken, fried eggplant, some tofu dish (but NOT stinky tofu – our vote for world’s worst tasting dish – coming in a couple of posts from now) all washed down with a nice cold local variety of beer. Compliments of the Communist era mentality, nearly every region has a local brew that comes in big, cheap bottles – suitable for the uniform one-for-all-equal government. It’s a bit socialistic, but I’m never one to complain about cheap beer!
For a little more authentic rural Chinese experience, we turned to the afore mentioned Lilly (http://lillylu.webs.com/Index.html) and a little motorbike ride out to Fuli Village for market day. Having to take a local ferry across the river to visit Fuli from Yangshuo keeps some of the bus hoards at bay and gives the market a more authentic feeling. Wandering up and down the lanes of produce, textiles and general supplies ranging from ‘gently-used’ hoe heads to cheap bars of soap can elude a feeling of a million miles from your local Wal-mart (although even they are closer than one would hope). Sustenance living still makes up a large part of the Chinese population and there is no better proof of that than a woman sitting on the ground all day trying to sell just a handful of extra crops their family has grown.
There may be no one-hour photo processing, but there is a dentist in the house should the need arise.
In doing our little part to try and set the record straight on dog consumption, here are our three little facts about dog that we know. 1) As a foreigner, you will never ‘accidently’ get dog meat in any restaurant – it is much too expensive to just be ‘throwing it in’ when the beef runs out. 2) Not every Chinese man woman or child eats dog – in fact – very few do and a growing number of Chinese are starting to keep them as pets and find the idea of eating them repulsive. 3) Of the ones that eat dog, most only do so for special circumstances – namely – when trying to conceive a child. Dogs ‘never miss’ and the superstition of ‘you are what you eat’ plays heavily in the decision to plate up Fido for the evening meal. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and with all that being said, a steaming pot of dog stew was on offer this fine morning – we opted to keep moving. Yes, that’s a blow torch, the preferred cooking method.
In need of something a little more….well…pure for the soul, we ventured from the market area to check out some of the local handicrafts on offer. Here are some rice noodles drying in the sun. With so many rice fields it should not come as a surprise that the grain plays heavily into their cuisine. What does come as a surprise is that Chinese eat less rice than most of their neighbors, opting for the noodle variety more often.
Fuli is famous for its hand painted fans and you don’t have to go to far before seeing them also drying in the sun or an open gallery with a couple of people painting away.
Farming is still very much a way of life and you don’t have to go far to see fields plowed using the traditional water buffalo hooked to a plow. Where food production in America has become big business, here it’s still a simple means of feeding the family one day at a time.
Liugong Village is located just a short distance down river from Fuli and provides an even quieter setting. Narrow, cobblestone streets are the norm rather than the exception and very little is going on during the daylight hours as the farms are being tended to.
Being one of the most beautiful areas in all of China, it should come as no surprise that the famous Chinese film director, Zhang Yimou (best known internationally for his production of the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing), chose this setting for his first Impressions show, Liu Sanjie. With the stunning karst backdrop, the show features over 600 actors and actresses acting in various degrees of unison to produce a visually stunning performance. Well beyond my personal expectations, the show is well choreographed and even though it’s all in Chinese, one can get the sense of the story by following the movements and visual cues.
Shangri La – just the name itself conjures up images of paradise, the proverbial land of milk and honey. In China, in it’s always mindful best-face-forward state of mind, the word is thrown around fairly liberally and applied to just about anything the government wants you to pay attention to. When Lily said we had time to stop at this interesting but different place we really should have followed our instincts and said no thanks. Figuring what the heck, why not – we ponied up the couple extra buck and popped in anyways. The only other life experience I can equate it too would have to be the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney Land. In the ride, you sit on a boat, float down a fake river and just as get close enough to see the exhibits, the mechanics snap into action – singing and dancing and gyrating much to the pre-teen kid’s delight. It’s like that only replace the ‘drunk’ pirates with real ‘ethnic’ people (yes, the government PAYS them to be there) and you get the gist. The only thing that made this place redeeming was the sweetest tour guide you could ever imagine. Designated as our tour guide because she was the only one who could speak English, the gal made sure the pirates…err…ethnic natives fired up right on cue. During the boat portion of the program, she did an impromptu rendition of John Denver’s “Country Road” that we still get a good laugh about all the time. Sadly we failed to take a photo of the girl, but the memory was almost worth the price of admission.
Having been serenaded, fed well, entertained, and educated in the culinary arts (and I don’t mean how to blow torch Max to the proper internal temp) it was time to bid adieu to Yangshuo and make our way to the Dragon’s Backbone – a cool name for more agricultural marvels.