Last days in Shanghai

I’m writing this on our last day in Shanghai. We fly out tonight, our transfer will pick us up at 4pm with checkout at 1pm.

On Sunday we had a nice sleep-in before getting ready for our day. Our breakfast was up on the 25th floor which is pretty cool. However, there was no rice or noodles to have… so we had eggs, bacon and toast.

We ate breakfast with ladies from our group. 5 of them had a midnight flight so they weren’t going to join us for the day touring, but would later join us for dinner.

After breakfast, we went down and grabbed our hotel umbrella, day pack and dry clothes. Today was the first day of our trip that was quite wet.

The four of us and our guide Rachel jumped onto the bus and off we went for a grand adventure!

We were driving for about 2 hours outsideof Shanghai, we lost about half an hour when our driver decided to follow his GPS down these small roads until he got stuck by a low bridge…. so we had to reverse for a while, stop every now and then to let cars go past. Rachel our guide was not impressed, we could tell even if she was speaking in Chinese.

We arrived at our first stop in Suzhou. This area is famous for its gardens. It is only a small city with 1 million people… This garden was called the Master of Nets. Apparently the owner could call their house anything they want.

We had to jump off the bus early as there was lots of traffic and it would be quicker to walk. We wandered through some small streets to get there but the place was extremely beautiful. Rachel took us through the history of these houses and what each room was, but the gardens were phenomenal. It’s hard to explain but the way they thought about the plants they use that every season would be represented so that the garden was always blooming. I would love a retreat that had that outlook like this and quietness with only the birds chirping away.

Apparently there are 60 odd gardens like this of varying sizes in the area and this was the smallest one but Rachel said it was one of the prettiest.

Back on the bus, our next stop was X gate. With all the rain we had to walk a bit further to another entrance which was fine by me as we got to see more of the water. With all this rain, Rachel told us the water level was up about half a metre. The little rivers, bridges and boats were picturesque.

The gate was similiar to Xi’an city gate but this gate was a land and water gate. So we got to see how they would defend both against land and water attacks. We got to climb up on the gate, but we didn’t walk along the wall at all.

Back on the bus for lunch. Lunch was at a small restaurant and it was delicious! So much good food, we had some chinese chicken curry which was so good.

After lunch we jumped back on the bus to go to water city….

So our driver got cut off by some sleek black car, he yelled out in frustration. The car when it cut us off yelled something at the us because at the next lights, our driver unclipped his seatbelt and started opening the door before our guide yelled at him. He grudgingly closed the door… but it was on. Our guy was speeding to catch this black car so he could cut him off… after he did that very finely…. Cindy watched from the back seat to see black car speed up and over take us and then swerve in front of us going over all three lanes…. all the while the ground is wet… and we were going OMG we are going to die. Rachel was telling him in Chinese to slow down etc in very stern voice but now he was yelling at her… road rage big time! Anyway we thankfully survived and made it to water town called Tongli.

This you could kind of draw very small similarities to Venice, a smaller chinese version of Venice. The city lives by the river and all these little bridges going over the water. We went in a shortcut way, Rachel talked us past security saying she would get the tickets later. He was dubious but let us through. We walked through some small streets, saw an extremely old tea shop.

The waterways are quite beautiful, they now have a lot of restaurants and lots of shops along the front of the water. Thankfully the rain has scared off the crowds. We walked by the river and over a few bridges to the Chinese Wedding museum… Rachel ran off to get tickets and the three of us walked over the three wedding bridges that newly married couples would walk over to give them happy life, long life and something else.

When Rachel came back, in we went. I wouldn’t say it was a wedding museum but it does have old traditional wedding clothes and old marriage certificates etc, but then you get to walk around what another house would look like.

After the walk around the house, we walked into the commercial area of the town. We went into another garden called the garden of I quit my job.

Apparently, the guy didn’t want to work and wanted to be an official and stay at home which wasn’t a hard job so he quit his job and was an official and got to stay home. This garden was nice but nothing like Garden of Nets. They did have a awesome bonsai collection though.

We got free time exploring the commercial area, Cindy and I walked around and looked in a few stores. Cindy got me to pose for a picture with this character thing but then I discovered a little knook with cool vending machines. We got Abby a character stuffed toy… the machine wouldn’t give us change (2 yuan), but I didn’t want to donate it, so there was something random for 5 yuan. We put in 3 yuan and we got this random box… no clue what was inside. Our guide looked it over and laughed. We were happy with our selections. Bet you can’t guess what it was.

After that, we boarded the bus to go back to Shanghai. The other lady on the tour needed an ATM so we had to drive and find one and then circled around for 20 minutes till we could pick her and Rachel up.

Just when we hoped our trip couldn’t be any scarier… our driver decides he needs to fly…. Rachel was telling him we aren’t in a rush etc… she told us to put our seat belts on. It all got a bit much when he was trying to overtake a car and a long truck on a 2 way road…I could see cars coming in the distance and even I knew we couldn’t overtake both…. the driver thought he could, we overtake the car and get to the first tyres of the long truck before slam the brakes on and cut in front the car we had just overtook to not have a head on with oncoming traffic.

We were very thankful to hit Shanghai traffic where we had to drive slow. We were late back to the hotel, so no refreshing before dinner. The other half of our group were there ready and off we went to dinner.

Dinner was good, Rachel sat with us (normally the guides sit by themselves and are fed), but she has been by far one of the best guides we have ever had and we always got her to join us. She apologized for the driver today, it was his first time with a tour group, that he had been reported and won’t be driving again as he was too reckless.

After dinner, we had a quick shower and went back downstairs to have a few drinks with the group leaving. We had another round with Ingrid before bed.

Today, we plan on going and doing a little more shopping to use our leftover yuans up.

After getting ready we headed downstairs and I exchanged one of bigger notes for smaller notes for our shopping day. We walked into town and boy it was humid! It was about 3.5km to the markets, we went into a few shops and bought a few little things. We then walked to the main shopping street and went into a mall so I could go to the toilet in a nice and clean environment.

We ate lunch at CoCo Chicken Curry, it wasn’t as good as the one in Japan but still good. We walked back to the hotel. It ended up being a 10km of walking in about 31 degrees and high humidity.

Thankfully we have a late checkout so I could have a quick shower and change.

This afternoon we plan on a few drinks in the lobby until our transfer to the airport.

We said our goodbyes to Ingrid, she was making her way home to Melbourne. I grabbed some cheap vending machine beers and we sat in the lounge area with the large fish tank.

We played some bananagrams and waited until 4pm. Our transfer came up to us five minutes early and we jumped into the van.

The trip was okay, he liked to look at his mobile alot while driving which freaked me out a bit but at least Shanghai is a bit more safer on the roads compared to Beijing so I didn’t feel as bad. I ended up having a small nap.

We got to the airport in an hour and had to go through a mini security check to get into the airport. Checked-in no problem, unfortunately no upgrades.

We lined up and went through immigration and then security. We did a little shopping to get rid of the last of our money and then found the lounge where I am sitting now.

We have had an amazing trip and it has opened my eyes a lot more on China and its people. It’s interesting to see how different each area of China is. I don’t think it’s high on my return list but it is definitely a fascinating country and I have thoroughly enjoyed touring around. The Great Wall Half Marathon will be a run I will remember.

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Saturday 25 May

Our flight to Shanghai was good, though the food was the worst airplane food we have had in a long time. We got to sit together with our friend Ingrid on our row as well.

The Shanghai airport is very large and modern, we had to walk over 500m to get from the gate to the luggage collection.

Our tour guide was in the arrivals area to greet us with a sign with all our names. It was the easiest transfer we have had yet. We also had a huge bus for only 9 people, so we all spread out.

We had lots packed in for day 1 in Shanghai as we only had the 2 days with the tour guide. We headed for the city and our first stop was the JinMao Observatory 88 tower. This observatory has 88 floors. 8 in China is a lucky number. You go up in a elevator which travels at 9.1m per second. So you reach the top floor in 45 seconds. At the top we had “free time” to wander around and look at the view. You can do a sky walk up there and with the sky walk you get a medal! How cool! The descent from the top is a slower journey, but it was still very quick.

We then went to lunch at a nearby restaurant. The food here was really good particularly the fried chicken strips.

We jumped back on the bus and headed to a river cruise. It was a nice 60 minute cruise down the river in Shanghai which allowed us to view a lot of the tall buildings. There is a building in the Financial District that looks like a bottle opener. They also have a large TV tower and the world’s second highest building. Apparently this one is actually taller than the one in Dubai based on actual floors high.

After the river cruise we went for a walk to The Bund, which is a great viewing point to see the difference between old Shanghai and new Shanghai on each side of the river. We took some pictures here then headed to the old market area. We had 50mins of free time in the market, so we headed straight off to get some xiao long bao from one of the most popular and oldest dumpling places in the area. You can see them making them in the window. I stupidly bit in to one and the juice exploded and I caught it all in my hand, my hand burnt for the next half an hour.

We had a look in some of the market shops then went back to our meeting point. The guide told us not to follow any stranger except for her, as it would seem there are a lot of fake products around which people lure you in down side streets and in to basements in order to make you purchase some handbags etc. One couple in our group wanted to buy a handbag so the guide sent them to a more reputable person who doesn’t lock the doors and force you to buy.

After the markets we made our way to the hotel. We were a bit skeptical of where we were staying given our last 2 hotels. We arrived at a really nice hotel and actually got a king bed. We were exhausted after our very early start so we had 40mins to rest in the hotel room before dinner. As Kath opened the door to go to dinner, she saw Ingrid and another lady dressed up nicely, so we quickly changed into some nicer clothes.

We met up with the group in the foyer and jumped on the bus to go to the restaurant. The restaurant was right next to a CoCo Curry house, which is a curry place we love to visit in Japan.

The food for dinner was really good.

After dinner, we went with our friend Ingrid to wander the main shopping street, which is 1km long. We wandered up to the m&ms store and Lego store. The m&ms store was a disappointment compared to the other ones we have visited, so we didn’t buy anything. The Lego store had a really cool Lego replica of the TV tower, an Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and Leaning Tower of Pisa. And of course I can’t forget to mention the Harry Potter castle they had built.

We decided to head back to The Bund to see the city all lit up, so we took the mall train which is a little train that runs down the main strip of the mall. It was a great little train ride and saved us a 1km walk. We jumped off the train and continued on the way. Due to the huge amounts of people we were directed to only walk down one side of the road, so if we wanted to see shops on the other side of the road we would have had to have walked up another street, cross the road then walk back down.

We made our way to The Bund and it was great to see the city all lit up at night. We had our photos then started to make our way back to the hotel.

We found a FamilyMart along the way and stopped for icecream. We then kept walking to the hotel. We managed to not get lost and arrived at the hotel before it started pouring rain.

We were so happy to have a great room and not worry about spiders, dodgy aircon or anything else.

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Yangshuo and Guilin

So, we are on the plane off to Shanghai. The last stop on our China trip.

The last two days have been good.

On Thursday we were up earlish for Cindy to release the spider and babies (the babies ‘hatched’ from their pouch thing, there was well over 100 babies – which thankfully were not in our room!) from the cup into the garden outside the hotel. We had a good breakfast and then jumped on the bus to to bus back (2 hours) to just before Guilin to get on a large boat as we were going to spend the day cruising down the Li River.

This trip was awesome. The boat wasn’t crowded at all, but there were lots of boats going. The views from the top deck and from our seats were amazing. The mountain formations here are spectacular. The cruise was for four hours going back to Yangshuo. We saw water buffalos, goats, horses, cows and eagles. We were given lunch but they were terrible though, so we didn’t eat much. On the chinese twenty yuan note, they had the mountains that we saw on the cruise. Very famous formation.

After the cruise, we walked back to the hotel through the markets. We rested at the hotel for a little bit before going back to explore around. We saw a cave entrance from the bus and went to have a look… when we got there it was quite confusing what you were meant to do… so we just left. Later, our friend from the group said everyone had been asleep when she went and she let herself through. She showed us some photos and it didn’t look like we missed much. We looked in a few stores and were fascinated by a few things. One store, a mini market was selling a lot of small little itemised snacks, which was very cute. We were tempted to buy a few little things to try but didn’t know what to pick.

We ended up going back to another store and stocking up on some water, chips and I found this cute little glass shotglass filled with unknown liquid in it that was 35% of brown liquid. We got it to try, worse comes to worse we don’t drink it but we have a interesting little glass. We walked around a bit more before going back to the hotel for dinner.

Dinner was much better that night than the night before, we were going to take our little drink to dinner but we forgot. So we told people about it and showed them it after dinner.

We opened it, Cindy had first sip and was not impressed. I tried it and it was a very woody flavour, similiar to whisky in a way. I ended up putting it into the free coke in the fridge we were given and was actually not too bad.

We went back out to see Youngshu at night, it was very pretty and a lot more people out selling stuff. We looked in a few shops as well before heading back to the hotel.

On Friday, yesterday, we checked out of our hotel and left our bags at reception. We were off on bikes to cycle to moon hill, approximately 8km from the hotel. We followed our guide and the rest of the group through town and it was quite fun. Cindy and I had our GoPros on the handle bars.

A few people cycled past our guide so passed the entrance (an obvious entrance). Cindy ended up cycling up to try and find them, she found two of the three. The other one had gone even further, so one of the other people went further to find her.

While we were waiting, there were all these older ladies trying to sell us water, cola, post cards etc etc. And they wouldn’t leave you alone saying it is hot, you need water. I was like, I have water.

When we were all there and accounted for, in we went to hike up the hill. It was around 700 steps up very steep steps, it was extremely hot and muggy. We had sweat dripping everywhere. Two of the old ladies followed us up with her water… in the hopes of us buying water up the top.

It is a pretty cool hill as it has a big circular hole in the middle of the hill. We got some photos at the top and had a bit of a rest, then back down.

While we were up, our guide had organised a scooter for herself for the return leg as we cycled too quickly for her. The majority of the group are also keen cyclists with one owning a bike shop back home in Morningside in Brisbane.

The cycle back to the hotel was good fun, but we were soaking when we got back. After refreshing ourselves into new clothes, we went to lunch at a local restaurant. Lunch was really good here. I tried some caramelized banana – nice but extremely sweet.

After lunch, we were back on the bus to Guilin.

I slept the whole way. When we arrived at the hotel, we (and the other couple) were given single beds again… also the aircon wasn’t working for the whole section of the hotel. We complained and they gave us a fan, when we said that wasn’t good enough. They then said they had turned it on at their end when we went down on our way out to explore the city.

It’s a beautiful small city (1.4 million people), located on the Li River. We wandered down by the water and saw people fishing. We found the sun and moon temples/pagodas. They were very awesome looking buildings, situated on water in a nice park. We walked around the park and grabbed an icecream each and more water as the humidity was feral. We sat on the a rock by the water and I ate my icecream as Cindy demolished hers.

We then walked through the pedestrian street and looked at all the shops and a few little market stalls and had a wander through a department store. We went in and saw another temple and climbed to the top of it. It was busy up there. We stopped in a shop to pick up more water and another to pick up some beer (cheapest beer so far, about $0.88 a 500ml beer).

Back at the hotel, our air conditioning was on. I changed shirts as it was so humid, I needed a dry shirt. Dinner was at the hotel that night and probably was the worst of the trip. Extremely disappointing.

We had to be in the lobby at 4:50am the next day for our flight to Shanghai, so we had an early night. It stormed that night and poured with rain. Turns out the hotel really wanted to save some money, they switched the aircon off during the night so it got quite hot in the room.

The activities on the tour have been good, but the hotels and meals have been a bit of a let down. Hopefully it improves in Shanghai.

Until next time.

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Wednesday 22 May

Wednesday was travel day.

We left our hotel at a decent time in the morning and made our way to the airport. We had some troubles checking in, Kath was able to check herself using the self serve machines however it didn’t want to accept my passport details. So we headed over to the person and they checked me in and we dropped off our bags. We were a bit bummed out we weren’t sitting together.

We found our gate then boarded our flight… turns out I had been upgraded to what I am assuming was premium economy. I walked right past my seat as I never thought I’d be in a curtained section. So I made my way back to the front of the plane, sat down with my pillow and blanket and they gave us bottles of water. Kath was literally just on the other side of the curtain so I had a good laugh about that.

The food on the flight was not too bad, I got another bottle of water and a mint at the end of my meal. Kath said she was so thirsty in the pleb section that she was dehydrating back in her seat.

We landed in Guilin without any hassle and picked up our bags. We went out to meet our guide and we had some troubles locating her as her sign just had 1 of our groups names on it. Nevertheless we all met her and then headed to our bus.

We had a change of itinerary which no one bothered to tell us about, so we were actually heading straight out to Youngshou that afternoon which was a 2 hour drive from the airport. They were also sending us on our night cormorant show that evening too.

There are over 10,000 mountains in the Guilin/Yangshuo region and over 80% of Chinese medicine comes from that region too.

After a nice 2 hour drive, we arrived at our hotel and checked in. We were given 2 single beds (as did the other couple).

We then went out to go and stock up on supplies (water and snacks) and have a look around.

They have a pedestrian street called West Street, which seems to sell a lot of random things, but also the same things we have seen everywhere else. We stopped at a supermarket and got some water, beer and chips. We then headed back to the hotel.

We were minding our own business when I saw a huge spider on the roof. Knowing how much Kath hates spiders, I was stuck in a hard place on whether to tell her there was a giant one in the room. In the end I did and she insisted I kill/remove it.

Well after pulling my thongs and shoes out of my bag, rearranging the furniture in the room and being a brave person. I finally got it to ground level where I was able to trap it in a cup. It was carrying a giant white sack, which we later realised was a sack of babies.

I put the cup in the bathroom with a nice note to tell the house keeper there was a spider under the cup, the plug holes in the bathroom were too small to flush it away.

With the spider safely in the cup we headed down to meet the group for the cormorant fishing show. We drove for 20mins out into suburbia and then had to walk down a rickety road then to the river. On arrival at the river we were met by 2 men who didn’t speak English, we boarded a rickety old boat and off we went.

We went down the river a bit before we spotted the fisherman on his bamboo raft with his 6 birds. Cormorant Fishing essentially is fishing done by birds. So they tie a string around the birds neck to they can’t swallow the fish they catch. The birds dive in to the water, catch the fish then the fisherman scoops the birds out of the water then makes them regurgitate the fish into the basket. He then throws the birds back into the water. Now I must admit I wasn’t a huge fan of watching this. But it seems like the birds are well looked after and once they are done fishing he unties the string so they can freely go and feed. This is a very ancient way of fishing and is no longer used for anything aside from tourism purposes.

It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting from the “show”.

When we came back to shore the fisherman met us at the “pier” and people were able to take pictures with the birds. As a person who strongly dislikes birds I did not partake in the photos.

We made our way back to our hotel and then climbed into our tiny hard bed for sleep.

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Tuesday 21 May 2019

We started our day in Xi’an with a stop at the City Wall. The city wall was built in the Qing Dynasty.

We went in through the West Gate which had only one of the 2 watch towers still standing. Essentially they would lure the enemy into the space between the watch towers then attack and being a square there was no where to go. The city walls are about 6m wide and the whole wall goes for about 14km.

We were given 50mins of free time to wander around and take pictures. One of the ladies in our little subgroup (our group has sort of split into smaller subgroups some might call them clicks haha), said that you are meant to be able to cycle around the wall. Lo and behold some people on bikes rode past, so we saw a sign to bike hire and off we went.

Ingrid and Beth got normal bikes, but Kath and I thought we’d be a bit adventurous and get a tandem bike. It was heaps of fun and actually really easy to ride. We rode for about 2km in one direction then had to turn back around to return the bikes before our meeting time.

Kath was fairly good at the front of the bike steering, braking and using the bell. All I had to do in the back was pedal. I wish we had more time there to go the whole way around the wall.

We left there and headed to the Terracotta Warrior factory where they are only 1 of 2 places in China that make the genuine replicas of the Terracotta Warriors. Here we were told the process of making statues of all sizes, we were then free to browse the shop and buy them. Luckily we were in that lady’s tour, cause she gave us a 20% discount. I mean that’s just so nice of her, I don’t think any other group got that (severe sarcasm here).

The only thing I was tempted to buy was the lifesize terracotta warrior you could buy that had your face on it. That was pretty cool. I suggested we get some for our family’s for Christmas but Kath was hesitant (even though they said they insure it and post it to you).

From there we went to our buffet lunch. Here we had a Xi’an hamburger. Essentially it is really slow cooked meat then chopped up (huge mound of fat in it) then put into like a Chinese bun that was a bit like pork bun texture. I then got some other things as well like noodles, fried rice, chicken curry and some sliced potatoes. The meal was average, not the best I have had here.

Of course on the way out of the restaurant was shops, so we had a squiz through there and again there was a place you could get your face on a Terracotta Warrior.

After leaving the restaurant/shop we went to The Terracotta Warrior Museum. This was the site where the Terracotta Warriors were first discovered in the year 1974. Obviously since then it has been there have been shelters built over the “pit” sites and work to restore and preserve them has been done.

Our guide took us first to the cinema area which was actually a VR experience, it was all in Chinese but the video kind of made sense. It pretty much told history of what happened on the land years ago and then what is there now (at a guess). They had face mask things you had to wear under your VR for hygiene reasons.

From there we were given “free time” and we went to explore the “pits”. Pit 1 was the biggest of the pits and is said to have over 6000 Terracotta Warriors in there. Interestingly, the warriors when they were discovered were all ruins because originally when the warriors were built, it was covered in wood and clay and filled in… however as we all know wood doesn’t last forever and it rotted away and it all collapsed. So all of the warriors that we see in the museum today have all been restored.

It really is hard to describe the size of Pit 1, it is really huge (14,260 square meters). You aren’t allowed to get too close to the warriors so it’s a bit of a shame, but totally understandable.

Pit number 3 was the next stop for us (as directed by our guide earlier). Pit 3 was the smallest of the pits and is said to be the command centre due to its proximity to pits 1 and 2. Pit 3 hasn’t had too many warriors uncovered.

Pit 2 is 6000 square meters and has an array of mixed military forces. Pit 2 is still being excavated and at this time there have not been too many warriors uncovered. In this building we were able to get closer to some of the warriors (behind glass of course).

The fourth building we went into had a bronze chariot and horses that were discovered in Pit 2 I think it was. This was actually not found intact and had to be completely restored once it was found. There was the original and a replica in this building.

It was a really hot day so our little subgroup headed off for some icecream and a seat in the shade.

I am writing this blog while on the bus to a dumpling dinner and a Tang Dynasty Performance for the evening. Tomorrow our little group gets even smaller again as some head off to Shanghai, some home and some to Guilin. I will finish this blog after the dinner and show and try and post some pictures soon as well.

We are back on the bus after our dinner and show. The “dumpling” dinner consisted of a total of 12 different types of dumplings. Some were nice others were not. There was everything from tomato dumplings to goldfish ones. Unfortunately there was not really any other food to go with it, so it was a light on meal.

Now on to the show… this was somewhat interesting and entirely random.. we saw dancers, a percussion band, a trumpet player and more dancers. It was not the best show, though definitely top 2 for China.

Tomorrow we are on the move again to Guilin.

Until next blog.

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