China Travel Journal: Guanxi and Guizhou

This travel journal is part of a series of journals, which are all written during a long trip between november 2007 and may 2009.

> Yangshuo

04-05-2008 In our travelguide it's defined as a relaxing backpackers village, so we were already having negative thoughts before we got there. During the 18-hour train ride to get there we could almost smell the fragrance of pot and unwashed clothes of backpackers with dreadlocks and most definately could we hear the voices of the annoying salesmen sticking their very unique merchandise under our nose. However, the driver of the bus from train station Guilin to destination Yangshuo is speeding that much, we're just happy to get off at first. Once we were wondering what those little poles on the solid line in the middle of the road were meant to do, but now we fully understand. They are there to see where you can overtake that slightly less speeding vehicle in front of you, and you do so on the other half of the road, left of the poles and preferably just before a bend, or on the right side, using the emergency lane. Foggy karstpeaks near GuilinSo enjoying the Karst scenery, which seems to have completely surrounded us, is out of the question, but we'd probably not see a lot of it anyway, as it's pooring with rain from the, now, leaden sky.
AAs soon as our heartbeat has gone back to normal speed we see indeed that we've landed in quite an uninspiring town, full of market stalls filled with silly souvenirs. We see Karst hills surrounding town everywhere, but unfortunately too many new flats have been built in front of them to call it a nice view.

05-05-2008 This morning we're feeling a bit more at home, as the weather is typical Dutch: it's pooring! By noon it seems to be dryer, so we make the most of it right away. We leave town on bicycles and cycle amidst some bizarrely shaped hills, seemingly thrown in a flat landscape. The weather isn't improving and it stays grey, so we don't have to wonder how this area can be so green. Fortunately the landscape is enlivened by the funfairlike entrances of the natural attractions, a favourite of the Chinese themselves. A metres high butterfly adorns the wall of a rocky karst formation and the brightly colored chairs on bamboo rafts, on which you can sail through the rapids of an artificial river, brighten up the whole river. To make sure it's not getting too quiet in the middle of so much natural beauty, the many touringcars full of tourists-in-homecountry take care of some background sounds.
We climb Moonhill, one of the most bizarre hills, with a large round hole in the middle and cycle a bit through the area. When the paved road ends and eventually becomes a dirt road, which has now become a mud road, we find this not really mood-enhancing, se we turn around to cycle back. After one day in Yangshuo we decide this is not really our cup of tea and we're ready to move to another place in this area tomorrow, before heading up North to the rice terraces.

> To Xingping

Landscape at Xingping, near Yangshuo06-05-2008 Through the grey morning fog and yet another downpour we drive the thirty minutes by bus to Xingping. As we're almost there it's finally dry and the number of strangely formed karst mountains increases, a wonderful sight with all the wisps of fog between them. We find a place to spend the night where we leave our bags and walk straight into the gorgeous nature along the Li-river.
It takes quite some effort to find our way through the first kilometer of path, which is populated by Chinese who seem to know only to words: "hello... bemboo?" Meanwhile they enthusiastically point at the bamboo rafts they probably find riverworthy, but according to us they're barely match up to the strong current. After about 10 times we've managed to learn the special village greeting as well and we're more than happy to respond by yelling "hello bemboo" back. What a pleasant folk those Chinese. Still we're happy when it's getting more quiet and we follow the muddy path for a while, along foggy hills, tiny villages and fields full of crop in all shades of green imaginable.
When we're back in Xingping late in the afternoon we look around in the village, but the old part is limited and the new one not very interesting.

> On to Ping An

07-05-2008 When we're heading back to Yangshuo we see a watery sun from time to time. We make a short stop to have breakfast, some necessary shopping and a visit to the ATM before we move on to Guilin. When walking around a bit, looking for the bus to Longsheng, we're, like often in China, being approached by various people all willing to know where we're going to to direct us to the right bus. Naturally they're employees from the bus of which they yell the destination, ór they get some sort of provision from the driver when they bring them customers.
When a "Longsheng"-calling lady appears we agree that Longsheng is our destination and we have to follow her. We get a little suspicious when her husband is walking along as well and we leave the station. They see us hesitating, but they convince us that the bus to Longsheng really is leaving a bit further on. As our guidebook is not very specific in where the bus is leaving and we're unable to ask anyone, as there's no English spoken here and we're not able to read the signs as well, we decide to check out where this outing is leading to.
We keep walking for about 10 minutes to end up at a stop, where a bus is stopped for us right away. We hop on, followed by the man and the woman, and see they're obviously not the ticket-salesmen, as this lady is already on board. Still they ask us for "money", apparently the only word they know. We make them understand we'd like to know how much we have to pay and we'd like to get the ticket first. Yvonne in the Bus to Ping AnAn odd ticket is torn from a ducket, but without an amount. Now we don't trust it anymore and we say we'd like to pay with the lady who was already on board, one like those who always travel along to take care of the payments and apparently is the driver's wife. Probablt that's not according to the plan of the couple, as they angrily shout for money once more. 30 Yuan each they want. We insist and are not the least likely to get even 1 Yuan. The driver, whom first even didn't want to let them on the bus, also starts grumbling and as we also start to call "bye bye" the corrupt couple gets off after all. Five minutes later, like nothing ever happened, the sales-lady comes to us and asks for 36 Yuan. For the 2 tickets together!
In Longsheng we change for the third time and in slightly over an hour we follow a road becoming more curvy, narrow and steep to Ping An, famous for its fabulous rice terraces.

> Rice Terraces of Ping An

Fog over the Ping An rice terraces08-05-2008 From our room we are overlooking part of the rice terraces, but still we'd like to take a closer look. When we're walking up to ever better viewpoints we see the mist coming up from the valley. Sometimes this happens with tremendous speed and part of the grand view disappears altogether, to reappear only moments later. This surely is one of the most beautiful images of China we've seen so far.
As we're following a high and narrow path 7 Yao ladies in colourful costumes come around the corner. For a small compensation they'd like to show us their long hair. The hair from all the Yao women in this area is extremely long, even so long that the Guiness Book of Records has noticed. Their hair and one or some strands, once cut, are wound around their heads and covered with hand-embroidered cloths.
After this hair fashion show we continue to a viewpoint called "9 Dragons and 5 Tigers" or something like that. Chinese always think to recognize something in everything and it's always orbs and animals. We, the sober Dutch, decide to rename the Dragons Yao lady with veeeery long hairand Tigers in the "13 Guesthouses and 2 Cafés", as we do recognize thém down there. At the viewpoint we meet another lady in bright pink costume, who wants to show us her extremely long hair.
After saying goodbye we soon run into more Yao women, who all seem to speak English surprisingly well (so, you'll get the idea of how authentic it all is in the village) and in a pushy, rude way we're "asked" to come and have lunch in their village Zhongliu. We thank them, but somehow they just don't get it and there's a whole series of blunt varieties of "goodbye" necessary to finally escape from these women. Unfortunately we keep seeing women with the same mission and perseverance all the time during the next 2 hours, on our way to Zhongliu. However, we have to go through this village to get to the terraces on th other side, but definately don't feel like having lunch here anymore.
Farmer and his buffaloOn this side many farmers are working in their paddies. They are plowing, building little dikes, leading water to their fields and sowing rice. This is, however, less romantic than it sounds and looks: truely everything is covered in mud, some farmers and buffaloes are even in it as far as their knees and the paths are slippery and muddy. The hike takes a few hours longer than expected and when we're coming down on the other side we don't have much energy left to take a closer look at the villages here. The bus takes us back to quite near our guesthouse, but the last thirty minutes we have to walk straight up again.

> The Land of the Dong

09-05-2008 As we're further away from Ping An and Longsheng and we're approaching our destination Sanjiang it's raining harder by the minute. Sometimes the rain even transforms into a real downpour. Even when we're there it keeps rainig and after seeing, but rejecting some of the budget hotels we find it time to pamper ourselves by checking into a luxury hotel. We get the price down to 15 euros a night, so the financial loss isn't too bad, but the girls in monkey suits don't bow less to us.

10-05-2008 Today the sun is back and we catch the bus to Chengyang, a Dong village with a large and stunning Fengyu Qiao, or wind-and-rain bridge. First we have to hand over 30 Yuan each at a brand new ticket booth, before being annoyed by a bunch of women trying to sell souvenirs a when crossing the special, wooden bridge. This turns out to be a recurring source of irritation in China: shiny new ticket booths where you're forced to pay a steep fee for the most silly things, to subsequently having to deal with the pushy and pawing saleswomen, after which you end up in some sort of a circus where the minority dance for the visitors. The Chinese tourists all seem to love it. They get their pictures taken from all sides and buy lots of souvenirs, but we're less enthusiastic. We prefer the villages where no one's dancing or walking around in costumes meant to wear on holidays, but where people just play cards, smoke or work in the fields.
Boy playing in ChengyangFortunately there are plenty villages like this left in the Chengyang area (for as long as it takes) and we stroll around through the ones in the vicinity. The Dong are wearing their blue jackets and black trousers, although many of them swapped their traditional costumes for a shirt and jeans. They live in handmade huts of dark wood and use an ingenious system of waterweels and aquaducts, made of bamboo, to water their paddies. In each village there's a drumtower where the drum was used to notify the villagers that the enemy was on their way, bit nowadays they're used by old men chatting or playing cards and Mahjong. The same happens in the many wind-and-rain bridges, built without the use of even a single nail.

> Zhaoxing

11-05-2008 Our information about which one of the two bus stations is the right one for the bus to Zhaoxing happens to be the wrong information, so we walk another kilometer or so to the other station. The next bus however, is only in about 3 hours, so when we bought the tickets we pay a visit to a cybercafe first.
It's elevenish when we get our luggage from the storage and find ourselves a seat in the bus. So far we've always been able to convince the one or few Chinese smokers to extinguish their cigaret when we felt uncomfortable, but now the entire bus is already smokey, as almost every single passenger seems to be smoking. We don't keep the illusion alive to be able to do something about it, so we open our window a bit more.
What road?!We leave Sanjiang and pass hills covered with endless tea plantations and rice terraces, which we eye shaking and bumping through a blue haze of cigarette smoke. An hour or two later the road suddenly vanishes and we end up in a terrible dredge with red mud, excavators and trucks. The bus bravely plows through it, even though we bump and bounce from side to side that fast we're convinced this is its final trip. Thirty minutes later the constructions are gone, but we don't see any more asphalt, not until the turnoff about ninety minutes before Zhaoxing. We pass some villages of the Dong minority with amazing wind-and-rain bridges and drum towers, where women in traditional costumes are shopping in the markets. From time to time we stop to load some chicken or chicks and when we're almost getting bored with this endless bustrip we wake up from a fierce fight about a seat. In Holland only the elderly part of the bus would interfere with this kinds of quarrels, but here the entire bus is intermeddling and almost thirty minutes of heavy discussion, about who's got to get the seat, follows. Eventually both fighters have to get off the bus even before the decision has been made.
On our way to ZhaoxingWe descend a green hill, dotted with more Dong settlements amidst pretty paddies, to Zhaoxing, which we already see down in the valley. Unfortunately the luxury hotel is full by the time we arrive and we end up in a wooden sleeping shack, once more, even though the room is very pretty, but still providing us with all the sounds of our neighbours. That shouldn't spoil the fun, however, as it's a truely interesting village, where the inhabitants still do the same like they've been doing for centuries and no less than 5 drum towers and at least as many roofed bridges are available for sightseeing. Cows are pottering through the streets, with or without an accompanying attendant and the farmers some down fully packed from their fields.

12-05-2008 By bus we drive back up the mountain for quite a bit, to walk back to Zhaoxing, visiting some nice villages on our way. In all of these villages various, new wooden houses are constructed. Everything is handmade, very precise and exactly Curious Construction Workersthe right size. The cosntruction workers are very curious and some of them watch our photos. Once more Peter is measured to see how tall he actually is.
Farmers are working in the paddies to get everything done on time and there's water in many of the fields now. We cross several streams and enjoy the beautiful weather and the many flowers and butterflies.

13-05-2008 Among the horse carts, hand carts, cows and farmers carrying baskets, brenches and straw we head to the Northern gate of town, following the main road. We're off to Jitang, a village which has no bus connection to the outside world and is situated on the top of a mountain. That means we have to climb, a pretty steep climb. Jitang is amazing, still very unspoilt, but in our opinion less charming then Tang An, where we were yesterday.
Back in Zhaoxing the hairdresser who hurries to do Peter's hair turns out to be a lot more capable than the gabbies who ruined Yvonnes hair. Later Yvonne just needs to do the finishing touch, how well done for just a Euro and a half!

Pig on a balance Chicken on the motorbike

14-05-2008 We're still a bit early for the bus to Congjiang and are just able to see how, under loud protest, two fat pigs are being weighed and sold. Another arrival at the market is the lady who, besides a lot of chicken meet, sells the meat of to clearly reconizable dogs. We prefer an apple and a cupcake for breakfast, at least that seems the safest option.
A few villages down the road we need gas, but the line for fuel seems even more ridiculous today than we've seen in China so far. There are at least 20 trucks in a long line and about 30 people are staring expectantly at the pumps, with their empty jerrycans in their hands. Apparently our driver has many friends or a lot of prestige, as we're allowed to antisocially push in and a little later we're on the road again. Well... on the road. We're bouncing and bumping on a road in construction and seriously have to let Laos down when it comes to the winner of the worst-road-ever-trophy.
Congjiang happens to be a very Chinese town, where hotels are being cleaned according to oldfashioned Chinese standards. So it takes us a lot of energy to find an acceptable room, but eventually we find a brand new and luxurious hotel, where we find a chic room the astronomical amount of 13 Euros a night. Foreign tourists are obviously rare in Congjiang, as we're being stared at all the time.

> Miao and Dong

15-05-2008 There's no bus to Basha, a village existing of 5 grouped Miao- or Hmong- hamlets and that's why we arrange a taxi. We're lucky, as there's just been a delegation of fancy Chinese gentelmen to visit the place, so all the men from the village are wearing their hunting costumes and they're carrying their oldfashioned rifles on their shoulders. For demonstration purposes they Boy in Bashaeven shoot one. Apparently they all have the same hairdresser, as all of them wear the outer edge of their heads shaved and on top the hair is long and tied in a knot or ponytail. Even little boys walk around like this, very interesting.
We're just discussing whether we'll return to Congjiang, ór pay the driver some extra money to take us to Yintan, a Dong settlement in the mountains when being approacehd by 3 Chinese ladies who are traveling. They'd also like to visit Yintan and easily fit into our taxi. Now we can split the costs.
The road is "as bad as it gets" and it takes us quite a while. Our driver has never been here before and after asking directions at a turnoff he takes us to the next village. We've barely reached the first bend in the road when he finds out he's mistaken and this is not the right village. Too bad for him, as we already like this place too much to get straight back into the car. Women and children wear colourful, hand-woven and - embroidered clothes and curiously check us out. The Dwelling in a village near Yintanhouses are looking like Villa Villekulla, but without paint and the drum tower has many carved animals. Chicken and ducks wobble in the streets and huge drying racks for corn and straw are everywhere.
Yintan happens to be 3 more kilometers further down the road and is a similar village, only larger, better maintained, with 2 towers and landscaped paths AND.... ah, a ticket booth. Fortunately the inhabitants here don't seem as spoiled as the people in Chenyang and it's still fun to stroll around here.
Back in Congjiang it's late in the afternoon and we eat, take a shower and pack our bags to move on tomorrow.

> Back to the civilized World

16-05-2008 Our driver knows exactly how to avoid all the buffaloes and large holes on the road to Rongjiang and around noon we change for the bus to Leishan. By the end of the afternoon we reach another of those "Chinese provincial towns", where the choice of edible food is limited and the options for sleeping vary from old and delapidated to almost acceptable, but only for the Chinese. We look at each other and yell at the same moment "next bus to Kaili?" (Kaili is the next larger city about an hour further on.) Unfortunately we now don't have the opportunity to look around in the interesting Miao-villages near Leishan, where the women have truely unique haircuts and wear the most colourful clothes we've seen in all China. We're happy to admire some of them at the station, before our bus to Kaili leaves. Once we're there it's a piece of cake to find a relaxing hotel and we're glad to be in the city where we can enjoy the luxuries.
We're planning to stay here for a few days to unwind and to make plans for an alternative tour through China, without Sichuan, where, due to the earthquake, no foreigners are allowed and even Chinese need a "permit".

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