China - September/October 2007


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 (more... ) and Rough Guide (more...).   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:

26/09 Flight to Beijing
27/09 An evening in Beijing
28/09 Guilin & Mao Zhou Dao
29/09 Xiang River source & Baishi Village
30/09 Sanyue Ling Waterfall
01/10 Oil Tea in Gong Cheng County & Yangshou Show
02/10 Jim and Lily's flat & Trip to Dali
03/10 Three Pagodas & Jing Sou Island
04/10 Trip to Lijiang
05/10 Black Dragon Park & Shuhe
06/10 Baishe, Yuhu & Jade Mountain Spruce Meadow
07/10 Trip to Shangri-La via First Bend of the Yangtze & Leaping Tiger Gorge
08/10 Trip to Deqin via Benzalin
09/10 Return Journey to Shangri-La
10/10 Flight to Lhasa
11/10 Potala Palace & Jokhang Temple
12/10 Trip to Shigatse
13/10 Tashilunpo Monastery & Return to Lhasa
14/10 A morning in Lhasa
15/10 Another Morning in Lhasa & Flight to Beijing
16/10 Beijing to Home

Introduction Summary Next 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).

Previous Day Summary Next day Thu, 27 Sep - An evening in Beijing

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.
We had 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 Sichuan Fandian 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.

Previous Day Summary Next day Fri, 28 Sep - Guilin & Mao Zhou Dao

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 (more... ) 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 (more... ) where we went to 2 years ago.  We got a 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 bamboo area which surrounds the island. The farmer from number 40 showed us his tangerine 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 Chinese 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 ginger. Bottle 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 information 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.

Previous Day Summary Next day Sat, 29 Sep - Xiang River source & Baishi Village

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 (more... ). 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 farmers 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 large 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 farmer’s 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 his 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 are amazing.
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.

Previous Day Summary Next day Sun, 30 Sep - Sanyue Ling Waterfall

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 the 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 a 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.

Previous Day Summary Next day Mon, 1 Oct - Oil Tea in Gong Cheng County & Yangshou Show

Today is National Day.  All China is on holiday – well almost.  Bill and Mary are driven by Frank in his brand new 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 Pu'Erh 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 a banquet washed down with red rice wine and black tea.  After the meal we are introduced to the 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 persimmons to take home.  We drove back to Yangshou and go for a walk by the Yulong River whilst Frank sleeps and Jim books the evening meal.  The scenery is fantastic.  We bought a 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 fish cooked in locally-brewed beer.  Fire 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 (more… ).   We sit on the terraced slopes of the Li River. The mountains in the background are lit up.  600 performers make a 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.

Previous Day Summary Next day Tue, 2 Oct - Jim and Lily's flat & Trip to Dali

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 living area with two double bedrooms and one single bedroom at its side.  The kitchen 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 washing 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 is a computer.   We go up on to the roof of the apartment to admire the views, the pot plants and to eat melon and pomegranate.
We leave Jim and Lily’s apartment and are driven to a 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 Frank.
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 Linda 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.

Previous Day Summary Next day Wed, 3 Oct - Three Pagodas & Jing Sou Island

After a simple Chinese breakfast and a check on emails using the free internet service in the reception area we meet Linda dressed 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 an 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 six 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 1925.
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 fish market and come to the central part of the fishing village where elderly ladies in national costume sell food and let off fire 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 South 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.       

Previous Day Summary Next day Thu, 4 Oct - Trip to Lijiang

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. Jane 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 car park for the ferry was very flooded. This happened a couple of weeks ago. It was amazing to see the 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 to Lijiang (more... ) through some lovely countryside but some nightmare areas of road and other drivers. Our new guide, Kelsy 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.

Previous Day Summary Next day Fri, 5 Oct - Black Dragon Park & Shuhe

After an early breakfast we set off with Kelsy at 9am. We walked through the old town to the Black 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 fantastic 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 Dongba 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.
Our 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. Mr 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 young 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 desserts 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 Naxi 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.  Kelsy described Mr Xuan Ke as ‘talkish’.

Previous Day Summary Next day Sat, 6 Oct - Baishe, Yuhu & Jade Mountain Spruce Meadow

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 fern 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 Joseph 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 chips 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 bus took us to the cable car station which is only a chair lift when you get there. This takes about 15 minutes to get you to the top which is at an altitude of 3300m.   There is a wooden walkway around the top through spruce forest and around a natural meadow called Spruce 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 red billed blue magpies.  We were all pleasantly surprised to find ourselves fit and happy even at 3300m which bodes well for Lhasa which is a bit higher.
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 Yaks 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 background.
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 Naxi 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 John and Dot appeared.  We went back to the Mishu Mishu to consume several bottles of beer before returning to our hotel.

Previous Day Summary Next day Sun, 7 Oct - Trip to Shangri-La via First Bend of the Yangtze & Leaping Tiger Gorge

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 first 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 Anna 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 (more... ) 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 large tiger-stepping stone. We ascended 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 double beds , the first we have had on this trip, but they are very hard. It is situated on the edge 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.

Previous Day Summary Next day Mon, 8 Oct - Trip to Deqin via Benzalin

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  Napai lake.  Further on passed the lake we stopped at a place selling Nixi black clay pottery.   Nothing was bought.  We then drove for a couple more hours passing many stupas.  These are like big brilliant white 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 a 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 a 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 4292m.   We 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 Mei 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 main 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.

Previous Day Summary Next day Tue, 9 Oct - Return Journey to Shangri-La

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 Yangtze 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 lunch 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 blue 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 old 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 the surrounding area.  Next to the temple is the tallest prayer 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 Tibetan 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.

Previous Day Summary Next day Wed, 10 Oct - Flight to Lhasa

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 a 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 our 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 east 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 play Scrabble and almost finished the whisky.  Mary is very disappointed with her performance at Scrabble.

Previous Day Summary Next day Thu, 11 Oct - Potala Palace & Jokhang Temple

We had a good Chinese buffet breakfast in the palatial dining room and were picked up at 10am and taken to the Potala Palace.  After walking around a barley 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 a group 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 Jokhang 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 numerous market stalls where some small purchases were made and money was saved by Jane’s bargaining skills. We visited an outdoor 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 - 20C.
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 friendly 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.

Previous Day Summary Next day Fri, 12 Oct - Trip to Shigatse

We packed our bags and left the hotel at 8am.  We headed west towards the airport and then turned towards Shigatse (more... ), 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 Yamdrok-tso Lake.   In the distance we saw the snow-capped top of  Mount Nojin Kangtsang (7191m).   We also saw a large soaring eagle. This, on further investigation, turned out to be a Himalayan 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 noodles 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 flood 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 houses 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.  Kilometrestones (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. 
After a 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.  Gangs 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 Nepalese 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.

Previous Day Summary Next day Sat, 13 Oct - Tashilunpo Monastery & Return to Lhasa

We had breakfast and packed our bags and were driven at 9am to the Tashilunpo 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  hoopoes.   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 incense ‘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, a 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 home-brewed 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, where a large 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 Tibetan 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 end.
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.

Previous Day Summary Next day Sun, 14 Oct - A morning in Lhasa

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 as younger 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.
We went 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.

Previous Day Summary Next
day 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.

Previous Day Summary Next day 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.

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