During our first month in China, we managed to see and experience a lot of different things. Quite amazing actually, given that distances are huge and not all means of public transport are fast.
First, of course, was Beijing. Thinking back to it now, my feeling is that Beijing is Beijing, but Beijing is not China. At least post-olympics Beiijing. I found it more quiet than other places, more organised maybe. Anyway, we managed to visit some of the tourist spots, like the Forbidden City, which was full of tourists but really beautiful and we did manage to find one or two quiet spots, like this one:
We also saw the Great Wall in Simatai, a less touristic spot than other places, but involving quite an adventurous drive by taxi (see Miguel’s post about it). We took an antiquated gondola to shorten the hike uphill and had great views from the top:
Another Beijing highlight was meeting our good friend Anne, with whom we cycled around Beijing for a day and had a Peking duck dinner. It’s just so good to see a known face on a long trip like that!
From Beijing we took a night train to Pingyao, a small town with a preserved and still inhabited old town. Having seen other similar places afterwards, I must say that Pingyao is really worth seeing. Wandering about in the morning or evening when the bulk of tourists have left, exploring the side streets, is a great experience. All the old houses are still inhabited, people live and eat on the street, children run around. It might be “dirty” and “smelly” for our western tastes in some places, but that’s how people live here.
From Pingyao we went on to Xian, where I suffered a bit from migraines and the horrible air pollution, but we did manage to see the Terracotta Warriors (sorry no picture).
On we went to Chengdu, by night train again, this time in a “soft sleeper” carriage (4 beds per compartment with a door), because we couldn’t stand the constant cigarette smell any more in the “hard sleepers”. Chengdu seemed even more polluted, it was constantly in a thick gray fog which almost completely hid the taller buildings!
One morning we got up early to go and see the pandas at the Panda Conservation Reserve. Very cute. I could have watched them eating for hours.
Who would think of eating pandas??
Fortunately we had chosen a great hostel, very comfortable to just sit and read and eat and talk to other travellers. Everybody was organizing trips to Tibet… we didn’t want the hassle of organising a guide, getting a special authorization and following a fixed guided tour, but instead we decided to go to western Sichuan, escape the cities and also see some tibetan culture. The bus trips were long and tiring and uncomfortable, but we got great views and some insight into the life of a tibetan village. Traditionally dressed people, yaks and pigs in the streets, traditional houses and food… wonderful.
View of Litang, a village at 4014m altitude:
Tibetan women coming back from walking around the monastery:
Washing clothes in the street in Litang:
These friendly people showed us our hiking trail in Kangding:
After this high-altidude adventure we went south into Yunnan province, where we did a 2-day hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge. The weather was great and the views beautiful.
Crossing a stream:
A lot of locals offered rides on beautiful horses, but we preferred to walk…
On our way we met other animal friends (at least he didn’t want any money):
And we slept in “Naxi Family Guesthouse”, a very welcoming place with nice views, pigs, a little dog, a monkey and a beautiful grandmother. This was their entrance gate:
We then went on to Lijiang, which has a nice old town but unfortunately completely overrun with tourists. We stayed in a nice hostel in a village that was a bit quieter, and spent a couple of relaxing days there before heading to Hongkong.