Wednesday, 10 November 2010

China: the whole story! (Part 2)

So - now we were in Chengdu - another major Chinese city. Like the others we'd visited, it was busy, vibrant and modern: frantic traffic (bikes as well as cars etc!), sky-scraper buildings, and - most surprisingly to us - the shops were crowded with people spending their money on expensive consumer goods, especially clothes.

The pic shows a typical scene of cyclists crossing a busy junction!

From Chengdu we had a day-trip to Leshan where we took a boat trip to view the Grand Buddha carved into the river bank. You can see how massive it is, from the relative size of the people in this picture!

But for many of us, the Panda Centre was the highlight of our time in Chengdu. It was wonderful to see the pandas so close-up - and to see how well looked-after they are. The Chengdu Panda Centre is the world centre for panda breeding, and it was amazing to see the tiny, tiny baby pandas being cared for in the nursery - lying in incubators on pink or blue blankets like little premature human babies. We weren't allowed to take photos of those, though, sadly.

From Chengdu, we flew to Guilin, and the next day we had a lovely cruise on the Li River, from Guilin to Yangshuo. The scenery on the Li was spectacular, made even more atmospheric by the weather, which was misty and drizzly. The main feature of the scenery in this area is the strange shaped Karst hills - formed from weathered limestone.

We returned to Guilin by coach the next day, and had the opportunity to see some countryside around the Yangshuo area - rice paddies, water buffalo, and people working in the fields.

That evening at Guilin was spent watching the fishermen on the River Li, fishing with cormorants. You might have seen this in a TV advert! Some people think it's cruel because the cormorants have their necks tied so that they can't swallow the fish they catch - but they are untied afterwards and fed some fish from the catch. And (although I'm vegetarian and detest fish in particular!) I don't suppose it's any less kind to the birds than it is to the fish! The only negative, for us, was that the fishing we saw was just a display for the tourists. I'm sure that when they do it for a living, they choose quieter places on the river, don't have two boatfuls of tourists taking photos, and catch a lot more fish!
Before leaving Guilin the next day, we climbed Brocade Hill for a view over the city and surrounding hills.

Then we took our final internal flight - to Shanghai, and transferred by coach to Suzhou, 'The Garden City'. Here we had a cruise on the canal, seeing the old part of the town, before visiting the two famous gardens, strangely named The Master of the Nets Garden and the Humble Administrator's Garden! The latter was the bigger, and was very beautiful - with all the usual Chinese garden features of bridges, pagodas and lakes, as well as plants and trees including Bonsai trees.

We returned to Shanghai by coach the next day, and spent our final three days there. It was quite a relief to be in one place for three days after all the travelling! And there was so much to see in Shanghai, which was of course even busier and more modern and vibrant than any of the other cities!

As well as visiting the museum and spending time at the famous riverside area (The Bund), we went to the top of the Jinmao Centre Tower to enjoy the views over the city, and also had a ride on the amazing new Maglev train - it runs at incredibly high speed by magnetism! (Sorry, I don't understand the physics - but it was certainly fast!).

We also had an evening cruise on the Huangpu River to admire the night scenery.

The last day of our tour was 1st October - which was the beginning of the Chinese National Holiday - lasting a whole week. This meant the city was even more crowded with tourists than usual, because people from outlying parts of China came to spend their holidays in Shanghai (especially as the Expo exhibition was taking place). Some of these Chinese nationals from more rural areas obviously weren't used to seeing Western tourists, and we got plenty of attention from people staring and laughing at us (good-naturedly, but very openly!) and even taking photos of us. Apparently the Chinese refer to Western people as 'Big Noses' or 'Long Noses' - because of the obvious difference in our facial features! Those of us with fair hair, and those who were particularly tall, got the most attention. I began to wish I'd taken some of my business cards with me to hand out ('Yes, you can take my photo. Did you know I'm an author'?)!
The crowds made it quite difficult to move around: the sea of people in the main shopping areas was quite intimidating, especially as so many of them carry umbrellas - both when it's raining, and when it's sunny. We were glad the timing of our tour had avoided the rest of the National Holiday!

Nevertheless we enjoyed the whole tour and would definitely recommend it - and also the tour company we used (Wendy Wu Tours). Our tour guide Maggie was absolutely fantastic - she was with us for the whole three weeks and as well as giving us so much information, she looked after us like a little mother hen, especially when people were sick (unfortunately, about 90% of our group caught a nasty virus, some being more ill than others). The tour was very good value for money, including three meals every day and the hotels we stayed in were all good.

Would I go back? Probably not, as I feel that I've seen everything I wanted to see, and there are lots of other places in the world I'd still like to see, (given the time, health and money!). If you want to visit China - I'd say go sooner rather than later, as it will only become more crowded, more expensive, and more tourism-driven as they become an even bigger world power.


  1. Thanks for putting that together for us and sharing your photos.

  2. I probably wouldn't be noticeable being short and dark-haired! Sounds like you've seen so much and had a wonderful holiday - I've really enjoyed reading about it :o)

  3. Lovely pictures. I really enjoyed this. So much so I've just been back and read it again - and realised I hadn't left a comment last time!

  4. Thank you all. I enjoyed writing this, bringing back all the memories again - seems a long time ago, now!

    I laughed at your comment, Karen! We had a New Zealander with us who was about 6 ft 6 inches tall and fair. He'd never had his photo taken so many times in his life!

  5. What amazing picture, Olivia. And such a wonderful trip. Thank you for sharing your photographs with us.

    Will you be at the Essex Book Festival in the New Year?

  6. Thanks, Jarmara.

    Sadly no, I'm not part of the 'line-up' at the Festival next year. But no doubt I'll be going to some of the events!