Results tagged “China” from The travels of Mary Loosemore
I've made five online purchases today, in preparation for The Trip.
- Ring Cyba-Lite Sprint Led Headlight
- Pair of Trekrite Hiking / Walking Poles
- Trekmates Micro Fleece Sleeping Bag Liner
- Hama Lens Cleaning Pen
Not the most high end items, but I think that they'll do. Now - beer time!
A slight delay in posting my forms off to the Chinese Visa Application Service Center, after Wild Frontiers advised changes to how to complete the application form. But by 9.30am my application was heading off towards Holborn via Special Delivery. Hopefully I'll have something back towards the end of next week.
Sara at WF had also heard from their local agent confirming the equipment being supplied during camping etc, and 4-season sleeping bags will be provided.... but there are no guarantees as to condition or quality. Sara was able to tell me that we'll have porters/yaks to carry our three days' kit during the Mt Kailash kora, which helps on the 'which rucksack(s) to take' front, so tomorrow's kit shopping will focus on a head torch, trekking poles and a fleece liner.... I'm hoping Phil's Sugru will arrive in time to mend the split betwixt sole and upper on my left foot walking boot......
It's taken me a fair few hours to add all the details of this summer's expedition onto my Where next? page, but Wild Frontiers' Himalayan Journey from Lhasa to Kashgar just gets better every time I look at the itinerary and pre departure information!
I've also worked out my kitlist which I've now added into my trip prep spreadsheet - I started tailoring the one for this trip yesterday, adding details of the itinerary so that I could work out how many days I'd be in China for my Chinese visa application. Talking of which... I've filled out the visa application form and I'm going to post everything off on Friday, once I'm back from S&S Rotterdam. The Chinese Visa Application Service Center's Procedures of Application by Post looks straightforward, and I really like the fact that there is a process flow diagram and a checklist (in the Visa Instruction >> Forms for Download area) on website.
I got the Lonely Planet guide to Tibet out of the library yesterday too, and did a bit of flicking / reading. There's a section on trekking, which includes the Mt Kailash kora. Based on that and my Annapurna Circuit experiences, I'm definitely buying some trekking poles and I may whip up a fleece liner too - assuming I can borrow a four season sleeping bag (Phil!).
Now I just need to get to grips with my Gisteq PhotoTracker Lite gadget and software - this year's big birthday present from TJBR and dad and Jean.
I do seem to have spent an awful lot of time getting the photos from my last trip (Central Asia Overland, with Explore) onto Flickr... but they're all up there now, in my imaginatively titled Central Asia Overland set.
All (all!) that's left for me to do is:
- Geotag/map the photos I took in Xinjiang, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The Yahoo! mapping is so frustratingly woeful that I can only cope with geotagging one place at a time... Transliteration and the original-versus-Soviet/Beijing place name variations don't help.
- Improve the tagging. I'm sure I've got lots of spelling variations myself... next time I'll be more rigorous at logging the tags I chose, and checking past conventions, before I start.
- Delete some. I'm hopeless at picking which is the best out of any particular bunch. For example, Registan square in Samarkand, the Kalon mosque in Bukhara, not to mention Khiva.....
- Defrost. With London's daytime temperatures hovering around zero our spare room-cum-office is freezing. I've been sitting at my computer clad in 2 pairs of socks plus ancient roof terrace gardening slippers, four top layers including fleece and vast woolly jumper, scarf and hat.... and occasionally resorting to wrapping up in the spare duvet too.
(and remember the Flickr/Yahoo! mapping for Bhutan?)
Photos on Flickr: Central Asia Overland, September/October 2008
Central Asia Overland - 'ello Uzbekistan!
Central Asia Overland - Crossing Kazakhstan
Central Asia Overland - Bye bye Bishkek
Central Asia Overland - Kashgar and the KKH to Lake Karakul
Central Asia Overland - Friday night fever, Yarkand style
Central Asia Overland - Hello from Hotan
The Build Up
Central Asia Overland - Where next imminent: Western China and Central Asia
Central Asia Overland - visa update: all done!
Central Asia Overland - money planning
Central Asia Overland - visa update: China
Central Asia Overland - visa update: Kazakhstan
Central Asia Overland - visa update: Uzbekistan
Central Asia Overland - visas
Central Asia Overland - booked
Tonight's the end of the Crossroads of Asia portion of our trip, so we had our farewell dinner with those not continuing on to Uzbekistan, and our last night in little old Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan has turned out to be a lot colder than Xinjiang, but not so cold as to require thermals or my fleece top - quite a few items of clothing will be coming back unworn. That said, daytime Kyryzstan was just right - nice fresh sunny days rather than the dusty/drier desert heat of Xinjiang.
Overall, I have been a bit disappointed with the Kyrgyz leg of the tour - not with Kyrgyzstan itself (far from it) but because key elements of the itinerary had to change due to it being late in the season and getting cold. We didn't get to see Tash Rabat at all, which was high on my list of sights. Back in the summer Explore had notified us that we wouldn't be staying there but I was still hopeful that the route might take us past the caravanserai. As it turned out, this was never going to be, given that it lies 26km off the "main road" (ie track) that connects Kashgar with Naryn, where we were staying instead, and it was a long day's drive plus Chinese/Kyrgyz border crossing (one coach - us - heading west vs an awful lot of trucks heading east).
In fact both our yurt nights turned into guest house stays due to the (tourist) yurt camps having been dismantled. The second was a lovely guesthouse on the southern shore of lake Issy-kul, but I'm not sure it was worth the half day's drive it took each way.... The lake is lovely, with snow capped peaks on the north shore, but the scenery doesn't change that much and we arrived at our guest house at dusk and left straight after breakfast, so no time to really walk or paddle; yes, the lake water was warm enough - we'd dipped our toes in at one of the photo stops en route.....
Our two days in Bishkek coincided with a summit of member states of the former USSR, which included (we eventually discovered) a visit by Medeyev - which meant all the main roads on city centre sights were closed to the general public for almost all the time we were there. We managed to explore the Kyrgyz capital despite that, and probably saw more of Bishkek's side roads than we would have otherwise.
The main highlight has been this morning's (Explore optional extra) walk in Ala Archa gorge - but almost didn't as, technically, the gorge was "closed" for the day because the big wigs were due to visit in the afternoon. Luckily our charming local guide, Maria, worked her magic and we were allowed on on the understanding that we'd be gone by 2pm, and by the time we arrived back in Bishkek most of the roads/sights were accessible.
Next stop: Uzbekistan (via Kazakhstan!)
Xinjiang was definitely saving the best 'til last, although lunch at Ali's family's home was a definite pre-Kashgar highlight.
The main treats encountered in this part of the world were:
- the livestock market - strangely (or not) reminiscent of Hereford's Wednesday market. The more famous "Sunday Market" was really not much more than a very busy bazaar - and we saw lots of those during the trip.
- the stunning Abakh Hoja tomb was definitely the highlight, although we only had three quarters of an hour at the site which also includes two beautiful mosques - not to be confused with the Id Kah mosque in the city centre square, which had been remodelled along Chinese lines into a vast open space with even the santised shopping streets kept at a distance.
- a day trip along the Chinese part of the Karakorum Highway (KKH) to Lake Karakul. The mountain scenery was a breath of fresh air after the deserts of Xinjiang, but not a patch on the Hunza valley....
.... plus we were in Kashgar when the earthquake hit Kyrgyzstan and the hotel room definitely wobbled! Twice.
I'd definitely return to Kashgar. Visiting at the end of Ramadan, I don't we got to see the Old Town at its best - most of the shops were shut. Even so, these smaller scale streets were nice enough to wander through and - as we discovered on our last evening - livelier after dark and away from the main drag.
Yarkand has provided definitely the most fun night out so far (and, it turns out, the whole trip). Famed for its mosque, royal tombs and old town (not much left of that; or perhaps it was just the effects of Ramadan again), the highlight for me was our evening at the restaurant and dancehall. Sadly I've no idea what it is called, but it was only a 5 minute walk from the Shāchē (Yarkand) Hotel, and it seemed to be *the* place to go to dance on a Friday night in Yarkand.
We feasted on Eight Treasures Pumpkin and had our first (and last) bottle of local wine (curiously reminiscent of the childhood cherry-flavour cough medicine I loved!). Dinner done, we were courteously invited onto the dance floor by the local chaps where our attempts to dance Uyghur style were decidedly less graceful than the elegance of the young ladies and gents of Yarkand.
First chance to find an internet cafe here in Xinjiang Province, in Hotan on the southern silk road. We crossed the Taklamakan desert yesterday on the brand new cross desert highway - so new it's not on the maps and the toll booths aren't in service yet.
It's hot, hot, hot, which means I've been living out of the top tenth of my rucksack - hopefully not too smelly. Not much call for anything long sleeved, and I should have brought some more short sleeved/T shirts.
The group's a bit of a mixed bag - mainly ladies, with a few couples thrown in for good measure - but I think we're all getting used to one another's quirks.
So far the Western China experience has been a bit disappointing - a lot of cities and sitting on the coach travelling from one to the next. Hardly any historic places or opportunities to get out and about - but then again I think I was being a bit unrealistic to expect much else, both from Explore and from this part of China. The main excitement of every day is shopping at foodstalls for picnic lunch things - but everyone ends up with kilos of stuff - why Explore don't just buy a picnic (the price of things is peanuts) I don't know.
I must sound like I'm not having a good time - I am, but it's just not as exotic or adventurous as I would have liked.
Anyway, we're in Kashgar over the weekend and that should offer some opportunities for exploring on our own - which will be fun. Then it's over the mountains to Kyrgyzstan!
It's almost time to go....
Destination: The Silk Road: Far Western China and Central Asia
Why: Because it's a part of the world that has been on my list for a long, long time
When: September/October 2008
How: Central Asia Overland, with Explore
- Day 1 Fly London/Beijing
- Day 2 Arrive Beijing
- Day 3 Visit Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City; fly Urumqi
- Day 4 Visit museum; Drive Korla
- Day 5 Drive to Kuqa
- Day 6 In Kuqa; visit ancient sites
- Day 7 Drive to Aksu; visit virgin forest
- Day 8 Drive across Taklamakan Desert to Hotan
- Day 9 In Hotan; visit Cottage Industries
- Day 10 Drive Yarkand
- Day 11 Drive via Uighur knife factory; drive to Kashgar
- Day 12 & 13 In Kashgar; visit famous Sunday market; optional full day excursion through the Pamir mountains to Karakul Lake
- Day 14 Drive via Kyrgyzstan border to Tash Rabat
- Day 15 Drive Song Kul Lake
- Day 16 Drive Bishkek; via Lake Issy Kul
- Day 17 Drive via Kazakhstan to Tashkent
- Day 18 In Tashkent; city tour
- Day 19 In Tashkent; overnight train Urgench
- Day 20 Arrive Urgench; drive Khiva; sightseeing in the Old City
- Day 21 Drive Bokhara
- Day 22 In Bokhara; tour
- Day 23 Drive Karmana; continue to Yangikasgan; 4WD to camp, optional camel riding in desert
- Day 24 Morning at Lake Aydarkul; drive to Samarkand
- Day 25 In Samarkand; visit Gur Emir Mausoleum and Registan Square
- Day 26 In Samarkand; visit Ulug-Beg observatory and museum; afternoon optional visit to Marakanda
- Day 27 Drive Tashkent; fly London
- Wikipedia: Central Asia - Silk Road - China - Xinjiang - Kyrgyzstan - Kazakhstan - Uzbekistan
- Wikitravel: Central Asia - Silk Road - China - Xinjiang - Kyrgyzstan - Kazakhstan - Uzbekistan
- FCO travel advice: Asia and Oceania - China - Kyrgyzstan - Kazakhstan - Uzbekistan
- BBC country profile: Country Profiles - China - Kyrgyzstan - Kazakhstan - Uzbekistan
- Lonely Planet: Asia - China - Kyrgyzstan - Kazakhstan - Uzbekistan
- BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | Freedom to travel in China
- BBC NEWS | In Pictures | In pictures: Life in Urumqi
- BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | Separatists blamed for China attack
- BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | Fatal blasts hit Chinese province
(forecasts from www.accuweather.com)
- Beijing, China (Beijing)
- Urumqi, China (Xinjiang)
- Khotan (Hotan), China (Xinjiang)
- Korla, China (Xinjiang)
- Kuqa, China (Xinjiang)
- Aksu, China (Xinjiang)
- Yarkand, China (Xinjiang)
- Kashgar, China (Xinjiang)
- Naryn, Kyrgyzstan (Naryn)
- Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (Bishkek)
- Tashkent, Uzbekistan (Toshkent)
- Urgench, Uzbekistan (Khorazm)
- Khiva, Uzbekistan (Khorazm)
- Bokhara, Uzbekistan (Bukhoro)
- Karmana, Uzbekistan (Nawoiy)
- Samarkand, Uzbekistan (Samarqand)
- Home (for comparison):London, United Kingdom
After a small bout of nervousness on Wednesday, it was a great relief to get this email at work on Thursday:
Your passport has been collected from the embassy and has been posted to you today. You should receive it on the next working day.
Thank you for using Travcour UK Ltd.
My nerves resurfaced when there was still nothing in our post box this morning.... especially as the Royal Mail's online tracking system was saying that the delivery had been made yesterday. So I went to enquire directly with the car park attendant, and after a bit of searching in various storerooms and shelves on his part, I spotted my envelope in the small items drawer... incorrectly addressed to 207 BJH - not that I cared at that point!
Four lovely visas, all present and (I hope!!) correct...... now I can start piling up things to take on the spare bed!
I spent last night and this morning trying to work out how much money I need to take with me on the Central Asia Overland trip.
I always find this the most difficult part of the planning - and if you get it wrong and you end up short of cash without an ATM to hand (highly likely in some parts of this trip!), then you're really stuffed. One big attraction of the Wild Frontiers' approach is that it's all inclusive - all you need to plan for is your souvenir spend, booze and sundries. In contrast, the Explore! model means I need to estimate how much I'll need to cover meals, drinks, tips and optional extras as well, in addition to the local payment.
This is what the trip notes offer by way of guidance:
You'll need some extra money to cover meals not included in the tour price, other sightseeing, photography fees (approx. £20) souvenirs, drinks with meals, entertainment, laundry, etc.
Local Currency: China: Renminbi/Yuan. Kyrgyzstan: Som. Uzbekistan: Sum.
Recommended Currency for Exchange: Take your spending money in US$ cash, as many bars and shops only accept hard currency (and often lack the facility to change travellers cheques). We recommend you take new (post 1990), good condition dollar bills.
Where to Exchange: In major towns. Your tour leader will advise you.
ATM Availability: Very limited, do not rely on this.
Credit Card Acceptance: Limited to major restaurants and stores in cities only.
Travellers Cheques: Not recommended for these tours.
Additional Information: Remember to keep your currency declaration form. It may be needed when you cross the next frontier.
Up-to-date information re:global exchange rates can be obtained at https://www.currency-express.com/explore/
Payable in USD cash(not Travellers Cheques) to your Tour Leader at the start of the tour.
Local Food and Drink: CA: 17 breakfasts and 2 dinners; CAU: 27 breakfasts, 1 lunch and 3 dinners are included on this trip; please be prepared to pay for all other meals. Approximate meal costs are given below:
UK China Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Kazakhstan
Tea/coffee £1.20 £0.30 £1.00 £0.20 £1.20
Soft drink 0.80 0.60 0.50 0.50 0.70
Bottled water 0.80 0.60 0.50 0.75 0.40
2 Course Meal* 10.00 2.00 5.00 3.00 5.00
3 Course Meal** 18.00 5.00 7.50 10.00 10.00
*Cheap local fare in a small cafe or restaurant.
**Typical food in a simple, reasonably comfortable mid-range restaurant.
Local Staff: In this area, tipping is a recognised part of life. Some local staff will still look to members of the group for personal recognition of particular services provided. Accordingly, you should allow £40 for tipping.
Tour Leader: At your discretion you might also consider tipping your Tour Leader(s) in appreciation of the efficiency and service you receive.
The following excursions and/or activities are usually available and may be arranged locally. Estimated costs are provided below for guidance only, are on a per person basis unless shown otherwise, and may depend on the number of participants.
BISHKEK Ala Archa Gorge £8.00.
KASHGAR Karakul Lake £20.00; Camel riding at Karakul Lake £2 per hour; Uighur folk performance £5.00.
So, to work out roughly how much money I'll need over the 28 days, I've created a spreadsheet summarising the information from the trip notes, and applying the food and drink estimates. I've assumed the 2 course meal plus 2 soft drinks for lunch and the 3 course meal plus 2 soft drinks for dinner. I've also allowed for two bottles of water a day (I drink a lot!). I've then added in dollops of dosh to cover souvenirs and other expenses, and then rounded up generously. Here's my template, tailored for this trip:
I'll post an update on actual spend on my return.
I then need to work out how best to take it. If possible, I'd rather not be travelling with wads of cash. But the trip notes make it sound like I need to be self sufficient, for 27 days, in US dollars.
Now, I know for a fact that ATMs are common in China, at least in the main commercial and tourist centres. Hazel and I used ATMs throughout our two week trip there last year. We didn't take any travellers' cheques or US dollars. The Beijing Olympics, and the PRC's focus on attracting the tourist spend, will have resulted in increased investment in infrastructure - which in tourist money terms means ATMs. A quick look on the Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum confirms that there are ATMs in Kashgar, which is our final stop in China. Plus I can even pre-order Chinese Renminbi from Marks & Spencers! So I'm planning to take enough Renminbi to cover my estimated core spend on meals and drinks, and will rely on US$/Kashgar's ATMs should I need more, and Kashgar's banks and/or M&S buy-back should I find I've got to much of the readies. M&S rates beat those offered by my bank and Currency Express, the online exchange operator Explore! mentions.
It's access to cash and likely spend in Central Asia proper that is a mystery. Time to read the guidebook and to work out what denominations of US$ will work best, balancing the desire to have as few notes as possible against the flexibility in the amount I can change/use at any one time.
The other annoyance is that the trip notes provide estimates in GPB £ - so I have to convert that into US$, which means that the original estimate in local currency has gone through a double conversion, and any errors/inaccuracies in the estimates are magnified twice over. They are only estimates after all! I'm also narked that I didn't buy my US$ when it was $2 to the £!
One final tip. I use XE.com's Full Universal Currency Converter to find out current exchange rates, and always like to take a ready reckoner with me, usually just one easy to remember conversion statistic. So, here they are, based today's rates:
- China Yuan Renminbi: 100 CNY = 8.26486 GBP
- Kyrgyzstan Soms: 100 KGS = 1.63118 GBP
- Kazakhstan Tenge: 100 KZT = 0.474864 GBP
- Uzbekistan Sums: 1,000 UZS = 0.429303 GBP
Next weekend*, packing planning.
(* or possibly the one after. I don't like getting to the "piling up things on the spare bed" stage until everything is definite - which means knowing I've got my visas. I don't like to tempt fate.)
Telephone calls and emails with Travcour today, asking for more paperwork to support my application for a Chinese visa - they need proof of how I'll be leaving China. Tricky, as we are travelling out of China in a minibus over the Torugart Pass into Kyrgyzstan. I'd already sent in the letter that Explore provided to accompany the Chinese visa application which states this, so I've emailed off a copy of the itinerary together with my e-ticket showing Tashkent as my departure point coming back to London.
Update: 05 September 2008 - Travcour emailed to say that they will attach a copy of the itinerary with my application and a note explaining the route, and will let me know if there is a problem when they submit it to the Embassy on Monday.
I presume this means that they've got my visa for Kazakhstan. Hope so!
Central Asia trip visa applications all completed and posted off to Travcour, together with a b.i.g. cheque (just over £300). Fingers crossed for four shiny visas in c. six weeks time: China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan.
Update: 08 August 2008 - Travcour emailed to say that they have received my application pack.
Next trip: Beijing to Tashkent, September/October 2008, courtesy of Explore .... I know, breaking the Wild Frontiers habit... but their Silk Road Odyssey is full, doesn't include the Western China overland element or an overnight journey on the Uzbek train system plus autumn is better time of year than the summer for getting four (4!) weeks off work....
Happy Birthday to me!
Itinerary: Central Asia Overland
Day 1 Fly London/Beijing
Day 2 Arrive Beijing
Day 3 Visit Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City; fly Urumqi
Day 4 Visit museum; Drive Korla
Day 5 Drive to Kuqa
Day 6 In Kuqa; visit ancient sites
Day 7 Drive to Aksu; visit virgin forest
Day 8 Drive across Taklamakan Desert to Hotan
Day 9 In Hotan; visit Cottage Industries
Day 10 Drive Yarkand
Day 11 Drive via Uighur knife factory; drive to Kashgar
Day 12 & 13 In Kashgar; visit famous Sunday market; optional full day excursion through the Pamir mountains to Karakul Lake
Day 14 Drive via Kyrgyzstan border to Tash Rabat
Day 15 Drive Song Kul Lake
Day 16 Drive Bishkek; via Lake Issy Kul
Day 17 In Bishkek; optional visit Ala Archa gorge
Day 18 Drive via Kazakhstan to Tashkent
Day 19 In Tashkent; city tour
Day 20 In Tashkent; overnight train Urgench
Day 21 Arrive Urgench; drive Khiva; sightseeing in the Old City
Day 22 Drive Bokhara
Day 23 In Bokhara; tour
Day 24 Drive Karmana; continue to Yangikasgan; 4WD to camp, optional camel riding in desert
Day 25 Morning at Lake Aydarkul; drive to Samarkand
Day 26 In Samarkand; visit Gur Emir Mausoleum and Registan Square
Day 27 In Samarkand; visit Ulug-Beg observatory and museum; afternoon optional visit to Marakanda
Day 28 Drive Tashkent; fly London
I'd originally gone for the Secrets of Central Asia organised by Peregrine Adventures, which looked brilliant - lots of time camping/hiking in Kyrgyzstan, travel through the Fergana Valley and crossing into China via the Irkeshtam Pass. Got lots of info from them and an invoice.... only to get an email saying they'd mucked up and there weren't spaces after all. To be fair, the trip was a combo of two separate trips, and it was only one that was already full booked, but they were advertising the combined trip as a single tour.
Anyway, foiled on that front, I had a good look at what else was available, and as WF's Silk Road Odyssey was fully booked I've ended up on Explore's Central Asia Overland trip, September/October this year. What sets is apart from all the other Central Asia trips is the 10 days in the far west of China, another place that's been on my wishlist for a while.... plus that overnight train journey in Uzbekistan (I might see that in a more negative light after the event!!).
My main reservations are about going with Explore, given that they're more mainstream and the group size is relatively large. But then again, I would have thought anyone booking for 28 days in Sept/Oct to go to that part of the world isn't going to be that mainstream.
I'm just back from three weeks in China. Hazel's dad's been based in Shanghai for two years asking when we were going to be visiting, and I'd been looking at spending a week in Shanghai and Hong Kong with work, telling them about www.elexica.com and why Simmons & Simmons has it, so it was an opportunity too good to miss.
Holiday-wise, Hazel's dad, Zhang and the team at Rail Partners put together a fantastic itinerary involving lots of long train journeys and internal flights to the sights, and staying in 3-4 star hotels rather than in backpackerland (mainly because IWW got us great rates through the excellent elong online travel service). Yes, a sign that we're getting old(er) I guess.
Gap filling and photos to follow....
Itinerary and what we got up to
- Saturday 13 / Sunday 14 October (photos): Fly London Heathrow to Shanghai, Virgin Atlantic. Arrive Shanghai early morning, airport bus No 6 to Shemun Yi Lu (18 RMB). Power nap then afternoon walk around Shanghai to get our bearings - walking through People's Square and along Fuzhou to the Bund where we took a lot of photos of Pudong's ultramodern skyline and the Huangpu river, complete with boats carrying electronic advertising hoardings. Return walk took us along Nanjing Dong Lu, with all its shops and shoppers. Dinner at the Malaysian Chinese (Nonya) restaurant on Dagu Lu.
- Monday 15 October (photos): Coffee out at a Western cafe on Dagu Lu then rendezvous with Ivor to pick up updated itinerary and train tickets. Lunch then bus to Shanghai train station (2 RMB). Shopped for overnight supplies before relaxing in the soft sleeper lounge before boarding the Shanghai to Xi'an overnight train T138 (depart: 15:57, soft sleeper: 516 RMB)
- Tuesday 16 October (photos): Arrive Xi'an 07:58 (but late in). Put day packs into left luggage (we travel light) and catch public bus to Terracotta warriors (left luggage 3RMB per item; bus: 7 RMB; entry: 90 RMB, audio guides 40 RMB), return to train station and catch taxi to check in at Tianyu Gloria Plaza hotel (room: 498 RMB). Walk past endless electronics shops to Big Goose Pagoda (entry: 25 RMB; pagoda climb: 20 RMB), walk to Little Goose Pagoda (closed) to eat at Maogong Xiangcaiguan restaurant. Walk back to hotel (too much walking today ...don't underestimate the size of the Xi'an city blocks!). Overnight in Xi'an.
- Wednesday 17 October (photos): Taxi to Xi'an old town, explore the Muslim quarter, the Great Mosque (my favourite part of Xi'an), the Drum Tower, the Bell Tower, walk along the restored town walls (40 RMB) from the South Gate to Heping Lu / Yanta Lu gate. Walk back to hotel. Taxi to airport (along empty 4 lane motorways). Xi'an to Guilin by air (China Eastern Airline MU2307 dep: 13:40 first class flight: 1826 RMB). Airport coach to central Guilin, taxi to Guilin Bravo Hotel (room per night: 658 RMB). Walk around the Rong Hu and Shan Hu lakes, featuring pagodas and pretty nighttime lighting of the lakes, trees, paths and bridges. Eat in at the Guilin Bravo hotel, overdosing on pak choi, greens and water chestnuts... I wouldn't agree with the Lonely Planet guidebook's assessment that there is "...good food available in the hotel's Chinese Japanese and Western restaurants". Overnight in Guilin.
- Thursday 18 October (photos): Li river cruise (booked via the hotel). The river scenery is lovely, but you lose something when you're following 50 or so other cruise boats in convoy and after a long wait at the departure quays which are themselves an hour or so minibus journey from Guilin. Potter around Yangshuo where we indulged in coffee, lemon meringue pie and recent editions of the China Daily English language newspaper at the Dream and Hope Coffee House. Highly recommended: close enough to the main drag to keep an eye on the action, but far enough away for there to be peace and quiet and mercifully few street hawkers. Return to Guilin by minibus, and a tortuous rush hour fellow passenger drop off. Eat out at the ?Charlotte? lakeside restaurant (much better than the Bravo Hotel's Chinese restaurant). Overnight in Guilin.
- Friday 19 October (photos): Potter around Guilin, walking around the lakes in search of a good coffee (success in the shape of a specialist coffee shop on Shanhu Bei Lu, where an Americano came with fried eggs and toast and a view of the morning dance exercise sessions on the pavement across the road) heading for Seven Star Park (Qixing Gongyuan, 35 RMB) for a stoll up the limestone karst hills for views over Guilin, and around the kitsch Disney-esque tourist attractions at river level, plus the zoo where we watched several sessions of fish feeding frenzy. Taxi to Guilin airport (100 RMB fixed fare) for flight to Shanghai Hongqiao airport courtesy of Shanghai Airlines (FM9332, dep: 20:25 arr: 22:35 first class ticket: 2146 RMB). IWW on hand to lead us through the airport onward connection conundrum - taxis avoid the airport from 10-11pm so that they benefit from the late night fare surcharge that comes into effect at 11pm. IWW elbowed us onto the Airport Express bus into the centre of Shanghai (4 RMB) and thence a short hop home in a taxi.
- Saturday 20 October (photos): Day trip with IWW, car and driver to the water towns over towards Tai Lake. First stop Tongli (80 RMB), second stop Zhouzhuang (100 RMB). Both were busy with Chinese visitors (although apparently we were there on a relatively quiet day) and it was rather like wandering around a Disney recreation than a living town. Delicious dinner at the Four Seasons hotel's Japanese restaurant taking advantage of the all you can eat sushi menu and all you can drink draft beer deal, and the cigar-friendly, jasmin tea (with complementary biscuits) serving lounge.
- Sunday 21 October (photos): Tour of Shanghai with IWW by bus, foot and taxi, featuring the Old City (mostly under demolition), Yuyuan Bazaar (another modern replica housing shops geared for tourists - of which there were loads) and Yu Gardens (40 RMB) (similarly heaving), the Memorial for the site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China, sandwich lunch at patisserie Paul in Xintiandi followed by a stroll through the lovely french-style Fuxing park (featuring open air performances of traditional dance from the north/west of China) and the French Concession. After a rest chez IWW we headed out again for the Bund and evening ferry ride to/from Pudong for night time photos of both sides of the river. Dinner at the mediterranean place on Dagu Lu. Hazel's downfall was to go for the lamb pitta....
- Monday 22 October (photos): Taxi to Shanghai Hongqiao airport for early morning flight to Kunming (CA 1797 dep: 07:45 arr: 11:05 economy fare). Met at airport by one of Zhang Min's contacts with train tickets and a ride to the train station - lovely people. Bags into left luggage then a leisurely potter around Kunming city, taking in various cafes, the Carrefour (they're in lots of the cities - a bit of a strange experience shopping in a familiar French hypermarche, in China), various small parks, the relocated City gates, Jinmabiji Square and surrounding alleys and the East and West pagodas. I don't think the LP does it justice. Overnight train to DaLi (N810 dep: 22:13 soft sleeper: 136 RMB)
- Tuesday 23 October (photos): Arrive Dali train station 07:28, No. 8 public bus from the train station to the old city (30 mins or so). Stroll around Dali old town, and indulge in a traditional Tibetan breakfast on Huguo Lu before joining the ever descending crowds to admire the water channels, the old town streets, the "still real" market, the town walls and gates (2 RMB each). The public bus service having disappeared (or at least proving impossible to track down) we caught the 13:45 minibus from Dali to Lijiang (45 RMB). Taxi to Lijiang South Gate (7 RMB) and navigate our way to the Lijiang Wangfu hotel (520 RMB per night). Explore on foot to get our bearings. Again, lots of domestic tourists thronging the streets. Dinner in a restaurant Qiyi Jie overlooking the Yu river (I think... or else it was a large water channel!).
- Wednesday 24 October (photos): Explore Lijiang - the traditional shop houses (albeit not as trad as they once were), the waterways, town square, Black Dragon Pool Park (60 RMB - the guide book gets is right, it does offer outrageously photogenic views of Yulong Xueshan - Jade Dragon Snow Mountain - and the park itself has a beautiful lake with bridges and pavilions and temples). Back in the old town, climbed up to Looking at the Past Pavillion (15 RMB), tried a glass of Yulong tea in a cafe with views out over the old town roofs. Dinner was sizzling vegetable and tofu hot pot at the Blue Papaya.
- Thursday 25 October (photos): Up for 06:30 breakfast and hotfoot through town to catch the No 7 bus to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain National Park (10 RMB; departs from the square opposite the statue of Chairman Mao. Park entry costs 80 RMB plus an additional 80 RMB payment for something I forget, but it seemed reasonable at the time, and there was a laminated sheet with an explanation in English of the various charges), stopping off en route to rent a full length down jacket for Hazel. At the main visitor centre we joined the well organised system for the cable car ascent to the snow fields of Yulong Xueshan (40 RMB). we spent a good few hours climbing the stairways up to 4680 m and taking lots of photos, although the peaks and glaciers themselves remained determinedly shrouded in cloud. Return bus to Lijiang - with the same driver and lady conductor - via Baishui (with beautiful turquoise lakes and "moon" waterfall) and Baisha, which now calls itself Jade Peak Village - clearly with the tour group in mind. Second visit to Black Dragon Pool Park (for frustratingly cloud-free views of Yulong Xueshan, and "grannie" tracking). Indulged in coffee and cake at Don Papa's - a french patisserie despite the Italian sounding name (it also does pizza!) - before exploring the backstreets on the west side of Dong Dajie where life is a little bit less tourist-driven. Chilled out in Sifang Jie (Market Square) watching the tourist groups and the "get your photo taken with a Naxi horseman in traditional fur-plus-rifle outfit" operation). Dined out on momos at Lamu's House of Tibet - very chilled. Overnight in Lijiang.
- Friday 26 October (photos): Another very early morning breakfast to allow for (relatively) tourist free photos in the old town, including watching the grannies gathering in Sifang Jie and taking more photos of snow capped Yulong Xueshan peeking out over the rooftops. Indulged in mid-morning coffee at Don Papa's, thawing out on the suntrap roof terrace before more mooching around the backstreets and ultimately ending up at the modern market by the South Gate, which I loved. Taxi through the countryside to Lijiang airport (80 RMB; 30 mins) for Shanghai Airlines flight to Shanghai Hongqiao (FM9452; dep: 14:30 arr: 18:50; economy flight: 3158 RMB).
- Saturday 27 October (photos): Shanghai Museum (20 RMB) with IWW then a DIY No 36 bus trip to Jade Bhudda Temple (20 RMB x 2). Dinner out at The Naked Cow - 3 bottles of fine red wine, tasty beef for H and IWW, scrummy pizza for me - and a final jasmine tea and cigar session at the Four Seasons.
- Sunday 28 October (photos): Shanghai metro Longyang Road station, where Hazel headed off on the Maglev to Shanghai Pudong International Airport, leaving me to backtrack a little to explore the Pudong side of the river and to read Black Swan Green in a quiet riverside park before strolling back to base. Four Seasons for all you can east sushi dinner.... and the end of the holiday part of the trip.
- In London terms, Shanghai is Canary Wharf to Hong Kong The City. It's got glittering newly built office blocks on every street, and very little "old" building left - and, with the exception of the listed buildings of the French Quarter, most of what remains is being rapidly demolished to make way for modern housing and office blocks. The pace of change is phenomenal - the Time Out Guide to Shanghai quotes Sir Norman Foster as saying, "The process of urbanisation, which in Europe took 200 years will take just 20 years in China". In Shanghai, the change from low rise shophouses to skyscraper apartments, commercial centres and office blocks has taken place in less than 10 years.
- Most of the places we visited outside of Shanghai were mainstream tourist destinations. What I wasn't ready for, however, was the sheer scale of domestic Chinese tourism, and it is as clear an indicator as any of the country's prosperity. One consequence is that very few of the mainstream destinations manage to retain any sense of reality and historical sites are surrounded by (or in some cases, converted into) businesses targeting the tourist yuan. If you're looking for "ancient" China, you'll need to look beyond the places we went to. I'm still hankering after the remote deserts, mountains and towns of Xinjiang, and the snow festival of Haerbin.