China - September/October 2007
Introduction This is the diary of a 3-week trip to China which started on 26 September 2007 and
ended on 16 October 2007. We went with Bill and Mary. The itinerary was devised by Jane
and Mary after consultation with the Lonely Planet
) and Rough Guide
It was organised and enhanced by Lily, a Chinese guide we'd first met in 2001, and her mentor
Frank who lives in Guilin, the same city as Lily. Jane booked the return flight to Beijing and
Mary booked a return flight to Hong Kong. The rest was left to Lily. We are really grateful to
Lily and Frank for their kindness and hospitality.
The cost of the trip, excluding the return flights, was approximately £1750
per person. If we had not gone during the busiest holiday week of the year
it would have been cheaper and less crowded. If anyone wants a wonderful
and very reasonably priced holiday in China then please contact us. The rate
of exchange was £1 = 15 Yuan (RMB) or $1 = 7.5 Yuan.
Here is the final itinerary sent by Lily via email to Jane and Mary, and
here are some interactive maps
showing the route taken.
So now read on...
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Briefly, here's how we spent each day:
Wed, 26 Sep - Flight to Beijing We left home a little early at 11:45am driving on our way
to Hampton. Near Warnford, Graham asked if Jane had packed various things – yes was the answer
till we got to the question about the Diamox (special medicine for helping with High Altitude) when
she had to admit she had left it behind – a quick drive back home to pick it up and a telephone
call to the taxi company meeting us at Hampton and we were back on the way again. In fact we did arrive
at 1:30pm as originally planned, at the Swansons’, both of whom were out. We let Ellie, the dog,
out, ate a couple of Bill’s apples and phoned the taxi company again to say we were there. They
came within 5 minutes - excellent service – Parker Cars in Hampton.
The queue at the fast
bag drop for those who had checked in at home was bigger than the one for checking in – is this
a lesson learned? A couple
of hours wait in the Club lounge, with quite good food, passed quickly. With
duty free bought and a new game for the DS lite for Jane, we made our way
to the plane only to find a delay as there was no staff to check people on.
We waited about 10 minutes however. We were onto the plane early and settled
in – the air hostesses were very chatty. Then we found that the winds had
been so strong that the flights were delayed for anything up to an hour.
Eventually we set off and with a flight of 9.5 hours arrived at 10am China
time (7 hours different from the UK).
The Sino Swiss hotel
(more... ) staff met
us off the plane and drove us to the hotel where we have a nice room. The hotel also provides a free
shuttle bus into downtown Beijing which we will be taking at 14:50 this afternoon. Having phoned Gouying,
we have arranged to meet her at the World Trade centre where the bus stops.
Our view from the hotel
is all green trees with a few buildings in the distance, the sun is shining and the sky is blue –
no evidence of pollution here so far. It’s very hot outside. A buzzing just caught Jane’s
ear and a large strange beetle landed on the window, inside. Graham gallantly killed it.
an hour’s sleep before leaving the hotel on the shuttle bus arriving at the China World Trade
centre at 15:40 but Gouying was not there. After about 30 minutes we decided we were not at the
right place so walked around the whole area and found her waiting at the front!!! Silly us - we
were at the back!
We walked around for a while and finally got a taxi to the
for a meal. Her sister was waiting for us. Outside in the street was a wonderful display of market food,
all on skewers and looking really tasty. We had a great meal inside with lots of varied dishes and the
whole lot only cost us
380 Yuan for the 4 of us!!!. We took a taxi
back to the hotel as we had missed the last shuttle bus. And so to bed. Having had a very bad night’s
sleep we were finally woken by the alarm at 6:00am and went to breakfast before catching the airport
shuttle bus. We are now on the plane to Guilin. It’s a Hainan airlines plane and was nearly
an hour late leaving.
Lily met us at the airport together with Frank in his new car. It was so
nice to see them. We first went to check into the Bravo Hotel
) in Guilin which is where we stayed before. It is still a very confortable hotel. We were then whisked
off to Mao Zhou Dao, an island just by the old village of Daxu
) where we went to 2 years ago. We got
boat over to the island. This island has been invested in by a company who are working together
with the farmers on the island who have always been there. They are making it into a tourist area of
agriculture and tourism. We were shown the information centre There are lovely stone paths all around
the island in the middle of a
area which surrounds the island. The farmer from number 40 showed us his
trees and as it is the harvest time we picked and ate loads. They were so sweet it was wonderful.
We ended up back at number 40 where we had tea and the farmer cooked a meal. We were with Frank, Lily
and one of Lily’s colleagues with his girlfriend. Jim (Lily’s husband) turned up with
another of Lily’s colleagues just in time to eat. Once again we had a great
meal with a wok in the middle of the low table where chicken was cooking. Chicken, of course, chopped
into little pieces bone and all. We also had plates with duck cooked with sweet chestnuts and
gourds (hulu) for which the island is famous and other dishes with beans and gourds of various kinds.
Chillies are also used a lot. We washed it down with the local red wine which is made with the
grapes in the bottle. It was quite sweet and reminded us of sloe gin.
After dinner we started
to go back to the ferry. We were shown the
centre where they were making signs in carved wood with wording in English and Mandarin. There was
not much English signage on the island so it was to see it's being increased. Outside the Information
Centre was a board with a Mandarin description and at the bottom was a small English notice giving a
telephone number in case of complaints. On our way to the ferry the heavens opened and we were in the
middle of a torrential tropical storm with thunder and lightening. We took refuge in a house of
one of the farmers. When the rain stopped we went to the boat and crossed back to the mainland.
We were driven back to Guilin and our hotel. We have asked
to have breakfast in the Chinese restaurant not the western one. It was very good – fried egg
with chopsticks and many Chinese dishes.
Lily and Frank picked us up at 9:30 with a driver and
a funny little van. Off we drove to find the official source of the Xiang River
(more... ). We saw
this river 2 years ago when we went to the Ling canal
). The Xiang River is a tributary of the Yangtze River.
We drove through the countryside on roads
of all sizes and surfaces!!!! It was interesting to see the
in the fields where they were threshing the rice in many places. We stopped eventually and
then walked up the side of the river to a point where there is an official notice carved in a
grey stone tablet saying it is the official source.
On the way back we stopped at Baishi village
which is the home of the Qing family. 40 generations have lived there and still do – once it was
a very wealthy family but now it is just the farmers who are very happy. We had a
meal once again. This time we started with sticky rice dumpling cooked in a leaf – very tasty
and different. We then had oil tea which is rather like an English consommé soup with crispy
rice, peanuts, corn and chives in it. It is supposed to be very good for you. The main meal was
again a wok with a freshly killed free-range chicken and ginger cooking in it, chillies in a pickle
jar, fried eggs with chillies (these were really tasty). As usual other things were added to the wok
when we had eaten most of the chicken. These included tofu, Chinese cabbage and greens.
The food was washed down with rice wine.
The owner who was a farmer and the Communist Party secretary
for his village together with
wife who cooked the meal were very kind. He showed us
a statue of his grandfather’s grandfather carved about 1850 and made so that his family would
remember him. It was before there were paintings or photographs. The village is still just as
it was built 100s of years ago, but it needs lots of repair and cleaning. Some of the carvings
After driving back to the hotel we had a rest and Frank picked us up at 6:30pm and
took us out for dinner. We went to ‘an eating place’ by the Peach Blossom River. This is
a similar place where we went with Lily and Jim 2 years ago but now they seem to have built modern areas
to eat in like restaurants. The crockery and cutlery is still all wrapped in cling film to prove it
is clean. The food is really good, baked cat fish,
selected from a tank
by Frank, with garlic, chillies and scallions chopped all over it. This made a great sauce and noodles
were added to this once we had eaten the fish. We also had plates of aubergines, green vegetables, and
egg cooked with tomatoes and chillies. We shared a bottle of beer and were given tea.
Today we had the Chinese breakfast
and met Frank at 10am. We drove in the mini-bus for a couple of hours through the nearby countryside
and left the main road and got onto a track which led up a mountain. After 30 minutes on this
long bumpy road passing through many villages proudly displaying flags and satellite dishes we arrived
at the recently built recreation area of
Sanyue Ling near Chang Gang Ling. We arrived at noon just in time eat. Lily and her
colleague Sunlight arrived in their office’s black Mercedes. The six of us sat down to a
meal of free-range chicken on a gas burner surrounded by plates of various concoctions including small
tough smoked fish with noodles, preserved pork and chillies, sour squash and beef. We drank a
fruit wine and beer. After lunch we walked up a well-made path to
waterfalls and then up steep steps to the top of the waterfalls. The views were magnificent.
On the way down Jane was prevented from slipping by the strong hand of Sunlight.
We were driven
back to Guilin to our hotel for a rest whilst the others went off to collect Bill and Mary from the
airport. Lily has given us some red wine from Mao Zhou Dao and some products made from the Louhanguo
fruit – a speciality of the region.
We met up with the others at 7.30pm and after checking
Bill and Mary into the hotel we all went to a local restaurant in town. A gas burner was in the middle
of the table and
large frying pan on it with gizzards, liver, octopus, intestines and many different vegetables cooking
inside. A dish of spice was stirred into it and the flavour was wonderful. More stuff was added
to the pot including tofu and cabbage. Another great flavoured meal washed down with beer. Today
is National Day. All China is on holiday – well almost. Bill and Mary are driven by
Frank in his brand
Kia and we are driven by Jim and Lily in a friend of Jim’s Mazda-Hainan Sea Horse (Hai Ma).
Jim collects cakes of
tea as a form of investment. He very kindly gave us one of his cakes which is 5 years old. We are
driven south through Yangshou to Gong Cheng County, the centre of persimmon orchards. A lot of
citrus fruit is also grown in the area which is about
108 km south of Guilin. We stop outside the
Minxin restaurant which makes the best oil-tea in the whole of Guangxi Province. There is a plaque
saying it did so in 2002. We are ushered into a small room and are joined by two of Jim’s
colleagues who work as prosecutors for the city. We eat
banquet washed down with red rice wine and black tea. After the meal we are introduced to
lovely owner. Emails are exchanged as she would like pictures of her Caucasian guests and
her food. Jim’s friends get into
a police car which they have use of as they are on duty. Lily buys us some
to take home. We drove back to Yangshou and go for a walk by the
River whilst Frank sleeps and Jim books the evening meal. The scenery is fantastic.
pomelo from a farm girl for
5 Yuan and ate it. At the end of the walk we
get into the cars and drive down a dirt track to the restaurant by the Li River. The speciality
of the restaurant is
cooked in locally-brewed beer.
crackers and dancing lions signal the opening of a new house by the restaurant. After the
meal we are driven back into Yangshou to see a show – Impressions of the Third Sister Liu
). We sit on the terraced slopes of the Li River. The mountains in the background are lit up.
600 performers make
fantastic spectacle on the river in front of the 2500 members of the audience. Near the end
of the show 150 actors form a Z on pontoons which stretch across the river. The actors wear lights
which flash on and off. It is amazing. We are told the performance may be used at the opening
of the Beijing Olympics. After the show we wait 30 minutes to get out of the car park before being
driven back to Guilin and witnessing some interesting driving. People overtake and undertake at
the same time on the road wide enough for three vehicles but only having two lanes. Single solid yellow
lines in the middle of the road warn you to take care when overtaking whilst double yelow lines mean
take more care when overtaking. We arrived back at the hotel at 11:00pm somewhat overfed. We pack up and
leave the Bravo Hotel. Jim and Lily drive us to their apartment whilst Frank drives Bill and Mary
to the same place. We park in the street, walk through a small supermarket, along a short bit of pavement
and enter the building which Jim’s father owns. We climb 5 flights of stairs walking passed
two floors in which cloth workers are beavering away. We enter Jim and Lily’s apartment.
There is a large
area with two double bedrooms and one single bedroom at its side. The
is small but does have a basin, quaint dishwasher and a wok. The bathroom is a wet room with a
Chinese toilet. There is a
machine. In the dining section of the living area is a refrigerator. All the floors
are tiled. There is a television and DVD player in the living area whilst in one of the bedrooms
We go up on to the roof of the apartment to admire the views, the pot plants and to eat melon
We leave Jim and Lily’s apartment and are driven to
restaurant close to the Peach Blossom River tucked away amongst the many brickworks. We eat
fish heads and Mao’s pork together with pig’s pancreas. We wash it down with a red fruit
wine and some rice wine provided by
We are driven to the airport where we say our goodbyes and board the delayed plane to Kunming.
At Kunming we are met by Lisa and driven in a van to a bulk feeding place where we have the blandest
meal we have had in China on this holiday.
We are driven
400 km to Dali
(more... ). On the
journey Lisa gives us lots of facts about Yunnan Province (it’s the size of Japan; Kunming has
the most cars after Beijing; there are more airports in Yunnan than in any other province). Lisa
is a student studying tourism at the Yunnan Normal University. She sang to us with her beautiful
voice and told us numerous cultural tales. At Dali we meet the local guide called
who directs us to the MCA hotel where we check in and have a night cap before retiring at 1:30am.
It’s been a long day. After a simple Chinese
breakfast and a check on emails using the free internet service in the reception area we meet
in her Bai national costume. We drive to the Three Pagodas and Linda explains in front of
a large map how the 80 hectares are laid out. It appears there are not many original structures
here. Most of them were completed in 2005. We queue and eventually get on
electromobile and are whisked away to one of the new Buddhist temples. Linda explains
the Buddhist hierarchy and tells us that all the statues in the new temples are built of copper and
then gilded. One of the most impressive things to see is the wood carving which stretches around
the inside of the largest temple – finished in 2005. It has all been reproduced from original
documents and pictures. We descend through the park and reached the pool of reflections and take
photos of the
pagodas – three in the sky and three in the water. We visit the 5-star toilets –
automatic cisterns, soap dispensers, taps and hand dryers. We are now by the three pagodas. The two
smaller ones were bent out of the perpendicular by two earthquakes, the most recent of which was in
We have lunch in
Lucy’s Café which served us very bland Westernised Chinese food. After lunch
we drive to the banks of the Er Hai Hu lake where we get a boat to Jing Sou Island which takes us twenty
minutes to get there. We get off the boat and wander through the
market and come to the central part of the fishing village where elderly ladies in national costume
sell food and let off
crackers. We walk round the village and return to the boat. When we arrive at the mainland
we are taken to the old walled town and enter it through the
gate. We wander down the main street to Foreigner Street where Linda shows us the restaurant
we will have dinner in. As there is only one hour between now and dinner, Jane and Mary go off
shopping and get several bargains thanks to Jane’s knowledge of Mandarin numbers and her bargaining
ability whilst Bill and Graham seek solace in a bar and drink beer. Later the ladies join them
for a drink and we all go and join Linda in Kati’ys restaurant. After the meal we are taken
for a twenty minute walk to the Massage Health Centre for our hour long whole body massage. We
climb three flights of stairs and are shown into a room with 6 beds. A bunch of masseurs arrive.
Jane chooses the man leaving the rest no choice but to have the females. Graham gets the unmarried
one in national dress. After a couple of minutes Linda leaves and Graham convulses with laughter
as his left knee is massaged. The rest of the room bursts into giggles. At the end of the
hour we leave and are driven to the South gate from where we walk to the hotel, have a night cap and
fall asleep before 10pm. Having packed up our bags we had a final
breakfast in the MCA guesthouse and set off in the bus to drive towards Lijiang visiting 3 old villages
on the way. Our first stop was at Xizhou where we walked around the market and saw interesting items
such as Tofu skin or tofu cheese, brown sugar and many chillies.
purchased some Chinese cabbage and some pak choi seeds to try out at home. We then went to a Bai
house to see the typical architecture of these villagers. The house we visited was obviously once a
very rich man’s home and much bigger than we had imagined it would be. Back to the bus and
off to the next village. The countryside is always a hive of activity and at this time the rice is being
harvested so everyone is out in the fields cutting the stalks, threshing and then storing the rice stalks
for hay. We arrived at the large village of
Zhou Cheng of which is famous for its Batik making. We watched 2 old ladies working on the batik
cotton and sewing it like smocking prior to its being dyed - fascinating. The 2 ladies were 72 and 82
years old and neither wore glasses. Jane bargained for and purchased a round tablecloth. We had
lunch in the village too. It was a normal type of Chinese meal with the exception of the soup which
was made with a whole fish and funny mushrooms. We also had a different kind of pork dish with spices
and potatoes, our first potatoes in China. Back into the bus we drove onto another very old village
on the west side of the lake called Shuang Lan village. This must have been a very rich village in the
past as the houses, although now old and getting quite dilapidated, had a splendid architecture.
It is only the foreigners who are interested in these old buildings in the various villages. The Chinese
only like new buildings or so we were told. We walked around a bit and then went to the port where the
ferries go across to another island in the lake. The
park for the ferry was very flooded. This happened a couple of weeks ago. It was amazing to see
bus arrive and park in the flooded car park! Back into our bus and off to join the main road to
Lijiang. This is where Linda left us to catch a local bus back to her home,
45 km south at Xia Guan. We spent 3 hours driving
through some lovely countryside but some nightmare areas of road and other drivers. Our new guide,
met us just outside the old town and a porter took our luggage on a cart. We left the bus and walked
to the Zen Garden Hotel which is wonderful. The hotel is right in the middle of the old town, a perfect
location. It is very Chinese in appearance, the staff are so friendly and the rooms, although small,
are extremely comfortable. The evening meal was taken at ‘the best place in town’ called
Mishu Mishu’s which is owned by a Swedish man and a Naxi lady. We were worried the food
would be very Western but it was magnificent and included a steak dish like we have never had in China,
made with chillies and spices and peppers. After dinner, Kelsy walked with us through part of
the town which is packed with tourists, mainly Chinese tourists. It is a very attractive place
and we already like it a lot. We had a nightcap in the Swansons’ room before going to bed.
After an early breakfast
we set off with Kelsy at 9am. We walked through the old town to the
Dragon Park. On the way through the town we saw men carrying hawks strapped to their wrists
which are used for hunting. Along the riverside were many willows shedding theirs seeds so that
it looked like it was snowing. Walking around the park we saw some wonderful views with
reflections in the lakes. There were several pagodas for us to see including one that is now a museum
or remembrance hall to the soldiers who fought in the war against the Japanese. We visited the
Museum to learn about the hieroglyphic writing of the Naxi and the powerfulness of the Dongba at
weddings, funerals and illnesses. We had an opportunity to buy antiques but declined.
bus picked us up at the other end of the park and drove us to an old village called Shuhe. There is
a music festival in Lijiang this week and a main part of it takes place in the village square at Shuhe.
The car park was full and there were many Chinese people around as well as foreign tourists. We walked
around the old town which is very pretty. About 80 percent has been rebuilt but it all looks very
authentic. Mary bought some walnuts which are very moist and tasty. We had lunch in Le Petit Paris restaurant
which is owned by a Frenchman. The food was very good.
We then walked back to the bus and drove
back to the Lijiang old town. Back in the hotel we had a rest till 15:30 when we all met up again for
another walk around different parts of the old town. Kelsy took us to her cousin’s silver shop
and Jane haggled again for a silver necklace for herself. Onwards, passing lots more interesting shops
where more purchases were made, we were taken to an artist’s home.
Yu’s paintings were good and then we were led into another room where there were many embroidered
paintings. We were given cups of tea. Mr Yu was very pleasant but none of us wanted to buy anything.
He gave each couple a sheet of parchment with calligraphy of good wishes on it. While waiting for the
driver to arrive and take us to supper we watched a
lady repairing shoes. She sewed both soles back on and was paid
5 Yuan for the job.
Dinner was in the Guan Fang
5 star hotel which has a famous Western restaurant. It had a huge dining room with square tables laid
out with western cutlery and crockery. It could seat about 250. The food was a buffet so you could
choose. There were salads and
as well as hot savoury dishes. It was the worst meal we in China on this trip but the Chinese seem to
think it is great. Kelsy had suggested we might like to visit the theatre to hear ancient Chinese music
played on ancient
instruments. We arrived at 19:45 at the theatre and sat through an hour and a half of Chinese music.
We were introduced at the beginning to the 8 members of the orchestra who were aged between 80 and 86.
The performance was OK until the leader of the group, Mr Xuan Ke arrived. He is 77 and has just
had a stroke so explained to us in English that he could not talk much as it was bad for his brain,
but he then proceeded to talk for ever in Chinese!!!!! We walked on our own back to the hotel.
Xuan Ke as ‘talkish’. Another
early start 9am. We drove off towards the Snow Mountain, stopping at 3 places before lunch. The first
stop was at a Naxi village called Baishe. There is a 500 year old
leaf willow guarding the entrance to a temple containing three large frescoes. We wandered
through old streets spoilt by traders at every point trying to sell you things. We did bargain for and
got some T shirts between us. Towards the end of the walk Graham came across a
Doctor Ho and his son , also a herbal physician. They lived in a fascinating house full of articles
of his strengths written by various western journalists. He was visited prior to 2000 by John Cleese
and again in 2003 by Michael Palin. He is a herbalist and doesn’t charge for any treatment
but asks you to pay what you think its worth - a clever man and the wealthiest in the area. We were
given some strange herb tea which was very tasty and free.
We drove to a Lammery which is similar
to a Buddhist temple but the colours and statues are different. Here the chief lama was wailing when
we arrived but was changing SIM cards in telephones when we left.
The next place we stopped at
was a small farmer’s village called Yuhu where there is no tourism at all and no one trying to
sell you anything. We walked into the village and entered a couple of houses to see how they were built.
Then we went to
Rock’s house. Rock was an Austrian American adventurer and botanist who settled in Lijiang
at this house in the hills. He lived with his translator and his cook. He left China in 1949 when the
new regime started. He never returned and died in Hawaii. James Hilton has written a book called
The Lost Horizons which is about the story of Rock’s travels to Zhongdian. Hilton called the place
Shangri’la even though he had never been there. He wrote the book from Rock’s diaries.
The driver drove us to the base of the Snow Mountain for lunch - excellent meal in the Chinese restaurant
not used to Westerners at all. We had spicy food including fish baked with chillies and garlic and
like you have never seen before - potatoes cut to look like chips but smothered in chilli. They were
surprisingly nice. More driving onwards and upwards to a car park. Here we had to get on a public
bus as there are strict rules on how many cars or buses can enter the scenic areas. The
took us to the cable car station which is only
chair lift when you get there. This takes about 15 minutes to get you to the top which is at an
3300m. There is a wooden walkway around
the top through spruce forest and around a natural meadow called
Meadow. The meadow has lots of flowers but unfortunately most of them are over now. We saw some
interesting birds thought to be magpies by Bill – they were
billed blue magpies. We were all pleasantly surprised to find ourselves fit and happy even
3300m which bodes well for Lhasa which is a bit
We went back down the chair lift and onto the bus which stopped at another scenic spot
man made in recent years and is a copy of an area near Shangri-la. Here we saw water running fast down
hill with water falling over little pools. The tourist bit is the
for rent so you can have your photo taken in the middle of the water on a yak.
Bill was photographed by one family several times posing for them with the Snow Mountain in the
Our tour did include a visit to one tourism shop jade, tea, medicine or spirulina.
We asked Kelsy if we could miss this out and go straight back to the hotel. At the hotel we found
a note from the Townends - friends of the Swansons. They had just arrived in Lijiang and hoped to meet
us after the show they were going to.
At 6:30pm Kelsy met us and explained that the driver was
having the van repaired so we could not go to the new town to eat as planned so we ate at Mishu Mishu
again - really good and spicy.
Tonight’s entertainment was a
traditional dance show at the Dongba Palace- a small theatre mainly full of tourists. English subtitles
were shown on a digital display.
After the show we waited outside the other theatre where we were
last night and
and Dot appeared. We went back to the Mishu Mishu to consume several bottles of beer before
returning to our hotel. We packed our bags and had them loaded onto a truck attached to a bicycle which
a friendly man pulled up the hill to the van. We drove north to the
bend of the Yangtze. If it had not bent it would have flowed south through Yunnan Province
parallel with the Mekong River. We had a walk round the town of Shigu which is close to the bend
but it started to rain so we returned to the van. We drove north following the Yangtze flowing
downstream and had lunch in a ‘Welcome Backpackers’ restaurant. The food was good
but the toilets were very primitive. We then drove to a town and swapped guides. We said
good bye to Kelsy and hello to
who is a Tibetan/Naxi lady married to a Han and the mother of a two-year girl. If she continues
to live in Shangri-La
) she can only have one child but if she moves to a Naxi village she could have two. We were driven
to the Leaping Tiger Gorge car park and descended 800 steps to become almost level with the rushing
water which forces its way through the 20 metre gap in the middle of which is a
tiger-stepping stone. We
after taking a lot of photos and were driven from the Yangtze at
1800m above sea level to the 4-star Jian Tang
Hotel in Shangri-La (aka Zhongdian) at
3400m. The hotel is a Tibetan style hotel
with Tibetan dressed staff and
beds , the first we have had on this trip, but they are very hard. It is situated on the
of the city , which is full of modern design low-rise buildings and wide roads with garish lamp
posts – not what we were expecting.
At 7pm we were driven into town to a restaurant where
we had yak meat and yak tea as well as some bland dishes. Anna gave us a video of Lost Horizon
which we will take back to England to convert to a DVD for her. As Anna’s daughter is not
very well we were introduced to Sherab (pronounced Sheelo), our first boy guide. We got back to
the hotel and had a night cap and rejoiced in the ending of the Golden Week. We packed our bags and left
at 8:30am. Just outside the city Sherab realised we had not checked our visas for Tibet so we
had to return to his office to check them. They were OK except some of us were declared to be
a year older than we are. We started our mountain climb on the 214, which is the old Tea and Horse
road from Lhasa to Kunming
(more... ), and
after a while we stopped at a Kodak spot to take pictures of
lake. Further on passed the lake we stopped at a place selling
black clay pottery. Nothing was bought. We then drove for a couple more hours passing
many stupas. These are like big brilliant
party poppers. They are often surrounded by loads and loads of washing on lines which on
closer inspection turn out to be strings of Tibetan prayer sheets. At lunch time we arrived at the town
of Benzilan where we climbed down the hillside to watch
bullfight which only happens once a year. Two bulls are led into the 50 metre enclosure and
sniff a young cow on heat. Sometimes the bulls fight with their horns. Sometimes they don’t.
The loser is the bull that goes into the crowd first or walks away from the other bull. It is
a knockout competition and ends on Wednesday. It started yesterday. We climb back up the
hill and have a tasty lunch in a local restaurant. After lunch we drove to the Dongzhoulin monastery
where we watched
dance by some of the Buddhist monks to music provided by a Buddhist band, two members of which play
very long horns. We sheltered from the rain in the temple thanks to one of the monks taking pity on
us. The nuns wear yellow chef-like hats. We return to the van and climb up and up on the
asphalt road until it turns into a cobbled road where our free massage begins. The road reaches
a height of
get out and use the largest toilet in China. We descended via a Tibetan view spot to Deqin
and ascended out of the city for another
9 km to arrive at the Ming Zhou hotel which overlooks
the Kawegebo mountain (aka
Li mountain or beautiful snow mountain) where if it weren’t so cloudy one can see a wonderful
sunset. We are now
1800 km from Lhasa and still on the 214 road.
We wandered up the
street of the village which is the last one before the Tibetan border. We had a meal in the
restaurant along with a group of Japanese tourists and retired to our rooms to play Scrabble and have
a nightcap. We got up early to see
the sunrise lighten up the face of the Kawegebo mountain but it was covered in cloud so we had an early
breakfast – a steam bun, congee, boiled egg, noodles in soup, funny vegetables we’ve had
before in a packet on an aeroplane, and some green tea. We clambered into the van and were driven
back down the 214. Pigs, yaks, cattle, dogs, chickens and people roam the road freely. Occasionally
the road diminishes to a single lane surrounded by fallen rocks. The sides are vertiginous. The
driver used his hazard lights to show other people he was there somewhere in the clouds. He uses
his horn to warn the vehicle, people or animals in front that he is overtaking them. The horn
is also used at blind bends to check to see if someone is coming towards us. We stopped just after
the peak for a comfort break and then at a fantastic Kodak spot where the
skirts around the base of a mountain close to the bottom of which is a new road. As the guide
pointed we are lucky in Yunnan to have such a good view. Those in Sechuan across the Yangtze don’t
have such a good view. We stopped for
in Benzilan at a different restaurant from yesterday and sat around a small square table with low
seats. The food was better than yesterday’s but with the same starter – sun flower
seeds which one breaks open between the teeth. It passed the time whilst the food was being cooked
but that’s all. The bull fighting had finished by lunch today but will continue tomorrow.
After lunch we drove down the Yangtze and crossed over it at the Yunnan/Sechuan border. Shortly
after we came to another Kodak spot where a
water tributary joins the muddy Yangtze and the Yangtze makes a sharp bend but not big enough to
be classed as the first bend of the river. We continued on and reached our hotel at 4pm where
we were greeted once again with hot towels and ginger tea made by crushing ginger and boiling it in
water till cooked then adding black tea and boiling again and finally adding honey or brown sugar.
It helps prevent altitude sickness and cures sore throats. We went to our rooms for a short rest
before going on a tour of the city of 110,000 people.
We were picked up at 5:30 and driven to an
ATM, the Agricultural Bank of China, which accepted our Visa cards and gave us the money we requested.
We were driven to a parking place close to the old town and walked around the streets. The local
government is restoring the old properties and opening lots of shops selling tourist tat. There
are still some
properties made of mud bricks and roofs tiled with flat wooden shingles often held down by rocks.
Unfortunately these wooden-roofed houses are considered a fire hazard. We walked up to the restored
Tibetan temple and took lots of photos of
surrounding area. Next to the temple is the tallest
wheel in China at six storeys high which takes at least six people to spin it. We managed
to get it spinning. We walked down to a restaurant and had a
hot pot with yak, chicken and pork meat cooked around a mobile oven heated by burning wood.
Our guide and driver joined us for the first time. It was a jolly good meal. We were driven
back to the hotel and retired to our rooms to play Scrabble and have a nightcap again. The nightcaps
are not going to last much longer. But should we be drinking them at high altitude anyway??? Graham
and Jane have been taking Diamox (to help prevent altitude sickness) for a few days now and Jane gets
tingling in feet and fingers every now and again otherwise everyone is very happy at the high altitudes
we have visited. Appetites have definitely not been affected. We got up early, packed, had breakfast
and left at 7:30am to be driven to the airport about a 15 minute drive away. We said goodbye to
our guide and driver, tipping each of them. Our plane was 30 minutes late taking off but when
it did the
views of Shangri-La were marvellous. Bill and Jane both had window seats so there was a lot
of clicking going on. We saw the
top of the mountain we were hoping to see in Deqin as it poked its peaks above the clouds.
On the descent into Lhasa
(more... ) we
passed over what appeared to be
lake with lots of sand banks. At the airport we were met by Kunga, another Tibetan boy guide
who gave us each a length of white silk-like nylon putting it round our necks like a scarf. The
drive to Lhasa took 50 minutes mainly on newly constructed roads and through one tunnel. We learnt that
the lake was the Brahmaputra River (aka the Yarlung Zangbo river until it reaches India). The land is
very flat with steep hills around. Many poplar and willow trees line the road. Tibet is 7 times
the size of France. We arrived at the sumptuous Brahmaputra Grand Hotel and were give a further white
strip and then shown to
rooms. We were then whisked off to a tasty lunch at a restaurant recommended by the driver.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at
a spectacle shop to get some liquid for Bill’s contact lenses. We rested in the afternoon
so that we got use to the altitude of
3650m. We were expecting it to be cold
here as it is so high but we were wrong. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. The temperature is about
23C and Jane is back in short trousers and crocs.
No doubt it will go colder tonight.
After our rest Mary took us out for a surprise. We walked to
the hotel next door which, on the outside is a mirror image of this one, went to the fifth floor, climbed
a flight of stairs and walked out onto the roof which had been laid out with chairs and umbrellas. There
was a wonderful panoramic view of the
end of Lhasa with the Potala Palace in the distance.
We were picked up at 7pm and taken out
for dinner. When we arrive at
a restaurant and there are coaches outside we fear the worst and we were not disappointed.
A slightly spicy tomato soup with mixed vegetables in it was served first. Normally in China the soup
arrives last or nearly so but never first. Next came the KFC style chicken drums sticks followed by
what looked like sausages in batter, then a plate of Chinese style boiled potatoes, a plate of pak choi
and a bowl of fried rice. The sausages turned out to be Spam. We asked for some hot chilli sauce
called zanshui which helped zip up the meal. Since we had already had breakfast, a meal on the
plane, and lunch we did not whinge about the small number of dishes.
We returned to our hotel to
and almost finished the whisky. Mary is very disappointed with her performance at Scrabble. We had a good Chinese
buffet breakfast in the palatial dining room and were picked up at 10am and taken to the
Palace. After walking around a
beer production exhibition we climbed the 100 steps to the entrance to find that our names were
there ahead of us on a list of foreign visitors. We climbed more steps inside till we got into
the heart of the building and the guide left us to walk on our own because he said if he had come with
us we would only have had an hour but if he didn’t we could take longer. The palace was
started in the 7th century and enlarged in the 17th century. We visit many splendidly decorated
chapels. The tall gilded bejewelled tombs of many Dalai Lamas are in the palace as well as lots
of other objects of Buddhist art. We were not allowed to take photos inside the palace. We read
the English explanations which would have meant more had we studied Buddhism. At the end of the
tour we walked down the gentle slopes of the west side to meet our guide. Sitting on top of a wall were
of workers flattening some concrete and singing at the same time. Kunga took us into a carpet factory
and then whisked us off for lunch at the Tangka Hotel. We were given the extensive menu in English
and Chinese and asked to choose 3 meat dishes and 2 vegetable dishes. It was a very tasty meal.
We then walked to
Temple which is older than the Potala Place and was the place where Buddhism was brought to Tibet.
Kunga gave us a detailed explanation of the exhibits but Jane was put off by the smell of incense and
yak butter candles burning everywhere. We left the temple and ambled clockwise around it visiting
stalls where some small purchases were made and money was saved by Jane’s bargaining skills.
We visited an
clothing shop where Mary bought a waterproof Gortex jacket for
240 Yuan and saved
140 Yuan thanks to Jane’s skills. We
then walked to the
post office which looked liked a portacabin and bought some stamps and posted some postcards.
Our van picked us up and we returned to the hotel for a rest. Once again the weather has been
excellent – bright, sunny and warm -
We were picked up by the driver at 7pm
and taken to the restaurant he had recommended for lunch yesterday. Kunga could not make it as
he was sorting travel arrangements for tomorrow. We were recognized by the
waitress and served a jolly tasty meal enhanced by zanshui and beer. We returned to the hotel
to polish off the whisky and play Scrabble. Mary was even more disappointed than yesterday with
her performance but very pleasantly surprised that Bill came second. We packed our bags and left the hotel
at 8am. We headed west towards the airport and then turned towards Shigatse
the traditional home of the Panchen Lama and the second largest city in Tibet. It is on the Brahmaputra
River so we followed the course of the river along the Friendship Highway which runs from Lhasa to Katmandu
a distance of
920 km. Just before the town Qixu we stopped
at a police checkpoint for the driver to show his details and receive a ticket with the time on.
In July an accident occurred in which 16 government officials were killed when their coach careered
off the road into the river. Since August the speed limit has been set at a maximum of
40 kph. and sometimes it is
30 kph. Shortly after Qixu we turned off
the main road, crossed the river and zigzagged our way up to the summit of the Ganbala Pass at
4794m where we parked along with the rest of the
tourists. Below us were the brilliant turquoise waters of the
Lake. In the distance we saw the snow-capped top of
(7191m). We also saw a large soaring eagle.
This, on further investigation, turned out to be a
Griffon Vulture. There were too many persistent hawkers selling beads, rides on yaks and
photos with Tibetan dogs but these did not detract from the magnificent views. We were able to
get to the next police check without having to keep to the speed limits. On the next part of the
journey we had a couple of pit stops to maintain the required average speed to the police checkpoint.
We had lunch at a wayside Tibetan café which provided us with our choice of
in soup with meat and peanuts, yak and celery, pork and green peppers. All this was washed
down with green tea.
The landscape of the banks of the Brahmaputra River is incredible and nothing
like what we expected. The
plain of the river is large and is surrounded by tall steep smooth arid mountains. Some of
the mountains have sand on them which is blown from mountain to mountain. Few trees are seen.
Sheep, goats and cattle roam freely. The occasional village we drove through consisted of short
single storey granite block built
with wooden roofs. Piles of yak pats are a feature of the ‘gardens’. These are
used for fuel and sometimes yak pats are used as wall decoration. Some houses have metal sheets which
focus the sun’s rays onto a kettle. At 4pm we arrived in Shigatse
(3900m) which is
4900 km. from Beijing.
(they don’t have milestones) tell us so. The hotel is the Shigatse Hotel where the room
is adequate, with an ensuite bathroom, but not large enough to entertain guests.
short rest we are taken to an old street market which was not as good as yesterday’s. Next
stop is a carpet factory. The
sheep’s wool is lying in the yard.
of women are sitting weaving the carpets into intricate patterns all by hand. They are then turned
into the finished article by a couple of women using electric scissors. The saleroom has nothing
we fancy. We are taken to a nearby restaurant where we have the
Set. This consists of a compartmentalised metal tray containing in the compartments, rice,
dhal, vegetable curry, chicken curry, chilli paste. It was very tasty. We had some chapattis,
more dhal and some rice to bulk us up. We were driven back to the hotel and went for a short walk
down the street to look for a padded Gortex jacket but did not find one. However, we did find
the red light area which is not a patch on that in Amsterdam. We returned to the hotel and bed.
No nightcap or Scrabble tonight. We had breakfast
and packed our bags and were driven at 9am to the
Monastery which is the traditional home of the Panchen Lama, the successor to the Dalai Lama. It
is rather like a little village. We climbed up and visited the building which houses the largest
future Buddha at
35m high. Its nostril is as wide as a human head.
The future Buddha will not replace the present Buddha for another 2500 years. Mary says it’s
the epitome of forward planning. We walked to the tomb which houses the 7th, 8th and 9th Panchen
Lamas. This was built after the Cultural Revolution when the tombs of these were desecrated and
their remains were re-interred together. We then visited the tomb of the 10th Panchen Lama which
was different from other tombs to the Panchen and Dalai Llamas in that it was built mainly of silver.
The 11th Panchen Lama is said to be in Beijing.
We got in the minibus and began the long haul back.
Before the speed restrictions it used to take 3.5 hours to get to Lhasa. Now it takes 7 hours.
We stopped first for a call of nature and for Bill to take pictures of
The next stop was for 15 minutes. We passed the time watching two donkeys being laden with
heavy sacks and packages. After lunch at a wayside café we visited an
‘factory’. In the open air were wooden pits with a bottom made of stone.
A wooden cam shaft driven by water power rubbed a paddle at the end of the cam shaft against the stone
and ground the wood to powder. The paddle was made from the wood of an incense tree grown in the
east of Tibet.
Our next stop was at a Tibetan farmer’s house. The ground floor was
occupied by a couple of cattle. The upper floor, approached by a metal ladder, contained the living
quarters – a store room doubling up as a bedroom,
prayer room doubling up as a bedroom, a kitchen with a small stove fuelled by yak pats, and a living
room doubling up as a bedroom. Eight people lived in the house. The grandmother was a lovely
old lady with few teeth. She gave us a taste of
barley beer , a speciality of the region. We gave her some money and a slightly moth eaten jumper
of Graham’s. When saying goodbye to Jane and Mary, she raised their hands to her face, we think
this may have been to give her good luck.
After a further stop we got through the last checkpoint
and headed back to Lhasa. Bill wanted us to stop for him to photograph some
cranes he had spotted on the outward journey to Shigatse. We stopped and got to the lake,
painted Buddha carved in to the mountainside overlooks it. At the far end of the lake were
four artificial cranes.
We got back to the Brahmaputra Hotel and checked in. We were
then driven to a theatre for a
meal and show. Unfortunately there were not enough punters to pay for the performers so the
show was cancelled. We drove to another more popular show and were given the long nylon scarves
again and shown to our table. The food was served on a metal tray similar to the Nepalese meal
of yesterday except today it was Tibetan. To drink we had yak milk tea and barley beer.
The food had yak meat, yak liver, yak tripe and tsampa (made from barley) as well as other vegetables.
The show was a mixture of mass dancing and solo singing with an audience participation tug-of-war.
The winner got a bride for the evening. All the performers were Tibetan but, as the majority of the
audience were Chinese, Chinese was the language they used. We understood very little. It was very
Chinese in style with everyone going onto the stage to have their photos taken with the dancers at the
We returned to the hotel and bought some bottles of beer from a shop across the road –
4 Yuan for 660ml. Tonight was the grand final
of the Lhasa Scrabble competition. Mary says she’s not going to take Scrabble on holiday
again. This was Bill and Mary’s last
day with us so we had a late breakfast and took a taxi for a 10 minute drive to the Barkhor where Mary
had bought her coat. The cost of the ride was
10 Yuan. We have noticed that drivers have a high
degree of tolerance of other occupants of the street and never sound their horns in anger. Cars,
bikes, people and animals can cross in front of you whenever they want. Nobody wants to be in
an accident. We wandered to the shop where Mary had bought her coat and we were greeted like long
lost friends. Jane wanted to buy a coat for Emma. There was no haggling this time. The price
was the same as last time. The girl gave Jane a hug and the shop staff lined up with Jane for
a group photograph.
We wandered back to the main street and searched for the China Bank ATM as that is the only bank that
will accept foreign cards in Lhasa. We found it and withdrew some money. We ambled down
a side street where not many other people were and saw lots of old buildings and old people as well
people wishing to practise their English. Eventually we got to a local
street market and browsed up and down its length. We retired to the Dunya bar/restaurant and
had some beer costing 3 times what it did yesterday evening. We caught a taxi back to the hotel
and were lucky enough to catch the highlights of England’s 14-9 victory over France on CCTV9 –
the English speaking channel. Bill and Mary left in the bus for the airport at 1pm. They
are flying to Chengdu and then tomorrow fly to Hong Kong to pick up their flight home.
for a stroll in the vicinity of the hotel. It’s a bit grubby. Most of the shops, when
shut, look like lock up garages. The hardware store is next to the drinks store is next to a tyre shop
is next to a greengrocers is next to a hairdressers is next to a knocking shop is appropriately next
to a pharmacy and so it goes on.
We had a Chinese buffet in the hotel and ate as much as we could
for 80 Yuan each including as much beer as Graham
wanted. Jane had oodles of fish and wasabi sauce whilst Graham tried the curried chicken and the Korean
t-bone. We pondered why it was called a Chinese buffet but then it is a 5-star tourist hotel, the best
in Lhasa according to our guide.
Mon, 15 Oct - Another Morning in Lhasa & Flight to Beijing
The 17th Congress of the Communist Party of China starts its week long meeting in Beijing. After
breakfast we zoomed off in a taxi back to our favourite outdoor shop to purchase two more coats.
We buy an M size at the same price as the others were bought at but Stephen wants an XXL which has a
starting price of 420 Yuan which after some haggling
by Jane comes down to 350 Yuan. We all shake hands
and we take a taxi back to the hotel where Jane has a zizz as she’s not feeling too well. She
has been affected by the height more than anyone else. We check out of the hotel just before the latest
time of noon and sit in the bar area to have a drink and to chat with the Nepalese barman who’s
working in Lhasa whilst his wife stays at home in Nepal and looks after their daughter. Kunga
appears at 1pm and the driver takes us to the airport. There are more police on the streets than
usual as the US Government has just awarded the Dalai Lama with a Congressional Gold Medal (their highest
civilian honour) which does not go down well with the powers in Beijing. On the way another guide
is picked up and it turns out to be a friend of Kunga’s. We all have a laugh as we pass Bill’s
cranes. There is a delay of 45 minutes for our flight which we eventually board at 5pm.
The Airbus 330 is fitted with a camera underneath which allows the passengers to watch the take-off
and landing – very exciting, especially looking for the lights of the runway we are to land on.
We have a light meal and land at Chengdu where we had to wait in the departure area for 40 minutes.
On the flight from Chengdu to Beijing we have another light meal which, except for the hot dish, is
exactly the same as the first light meal. We get off the plane at Beijing and have a fifteen minute
shuttle bus ride to the arrival passenger terminal. We are met at Beijing Airport and a hotel
shuttle bus takes us to the Sino-Swiss Hotel. The time now being 11:45pm, we retire to bed.
Tue, 16 Oct - Beijing to Home Having had breakfast, the hotel shuttle bus took us to the airport
for our 11.25am flight. The plane is estimated to be 40 minutes late. In the club class lounge we found
a wireless link and spend time dealing with emails and photographs. The flight home is during the day
time and drags on.
We arrived an hour late at Heathrow. Bill met us. After a cup of
tea we drove home and arrived home at 7:45pm.
- In 2001 on our first trip we felt the Chinese
were surprised by us and often stared at us. We learnt to say 'ni hao' (hello) and that made them laugh.
6 years later it is different. They are much friendlier towards us and happy to try to talk to us in
English or Mandarin.
- Don't be put off by the warnings in the Lonely Planet and Rough Guides
about the possibilities of being attacked in various places. We have never felt we have ever been
threatened by anyone in any place in China.
- 1000 new cars a day are hitting
the streets in Beijing. It is just under 300 days to the Olympics so by then about 300,000 extra cars
will be increasing the traffic jams. There are a lot fewer bicycles on the roads than there were
six years ago.
- The sun rises in Beijing at 6:20am. That’s about one hour
earlier than in Lhasa. In Beijing the sun sets at 5:30pm. That’s about two hours earlier
than in Lhasa. What amazes us is that China spans 5 normal time zones but only has one –
Beijing Time. Having one time zone does not seem to cause any problems although there is still more
China to the West of Lhasa and to the East of Beijing. We have Mao Zedong to thank for the single
- Two years ago we were able to show one of our guides our web site. We tried
to access it on this visit and it has been blocked by the powers that be in Beijing. We do not
know why it has been blocked. The person who blocked did not tell us why they were blocking it
or what we should do to get it unblocked. If you are in China try to access our website - (
http://www.GandJLawrence.co.uk). If you are in another country then check for yourself at
- CCTV9 (more...)
claims that 172 million Chinese access the internet. That is about one in eight of the estimated 1321
million Chinese people.
Click here for more holidays.