Karst landscapes and modern cities
13.02.2010 - 25.02.2010
View Asia on Fiorela's travel map.
We are in the lovely Kingdom of Cambodia after spending a little over two weeks in Viet Nam and little less that two weeks in China. We enjoyed our time in "Nam" but -I must confess- not as much as in other countries. Our original plan post Laos was to get to Hong Kong and stop in several points of interest on the way, but we realized that we didn't have enough time nor money to make the journey worthwhile. So we decided to skip HK and focus in a few Chinese spots before we headed back to South East Asia, namely: Vietnam and Cambodia.
Our first impression as we entered into the highly developed China is worth mentioning. What a contrast! I got amazed on how much a border crossing can affect the landscape: U.S quality roads, dozens of tall bridges and long tunnels cutting through mountains made up for a change not only of scenery but on our perception of the local reality: to modify (subdue) rather than adapt to the environment. The land -from the border at Boten to Jing Hong- was used for mass production of agricultural crops and to erect thousands of tall buildings. There was almost no single spot of land being left aside. No wonder how they manage to feed not only 1.3 billion Chinese people but a big chunk of the world's population as well.
We had been warned about the Chinese being a indifferent and sometimes even rude to foreigners. However, after spending a few days in China we were gladly surprised to see that they are very playful, smiley and were even curious about us. For example in Jing Hong as we were sitting in Peacock park a group of men -who were playing cards besides us- approached me and watch me as I wrote my diary. They tried to ask what I was doing and where I was from (at least that is what I understood , but our language barriers didn't gets us further than communicating I am from Peru and politely rejecting their invitation to join their card game.... imagine trying to explain/understand a card game in Chinese!!!!
Chinese people really like playing and dancing in public areas. We also noticed that they like to play jokes on each other and laugh constantly... But not everything about the Chinese is "nice and easy".... For example they spit non-stop everywhere and smoke even on elevators ignoring the "No Smoking" signs as if they were just part of the decoration. Also, if they don't want to interact with you, they ignore you or make a rude gesture with their hand telling you to go away. So it is true, they can be anti-social and rude, but you can also find lovely people. I guess it depends on your luck and patience... we found very friendly people who spoke some English and treated us very kindly, without mentioning the Chinese friends we made in and out of the country.
We arrived in China for the New Years / Spring Festival celebration. On our first night we heard the most intense and longest display of fireworks I have ever witnessed. It would not end for hours, the fireworks figures and lights where really beautiful. No doubt the Chinese invented them. We walked on the streets of this "small" city wandering how in the world we were going to find accommodation and food without speaking any Chinese. But thank God, using body language, we managed to find a very cheap and clean Hotel and get amazing food -although no Chinese- at a Myanmar little restaurant that the Myanmar Muslim immigrants from the Jade market took us to. Jay says they had the best samosas he's ever tried. In Jing Hong we were also approached by a Taiwanese guy who spoke both English and Spanish and told us about the signs of the end times. He seemed to be learned in apocalyptic prophecy... very interesting. I can give more details by e-mail to those interested in this topic.
Anyways, our short stay in Jing Hong was more than satisfying. Our next stop was Kunming the capital of the Yunnan province. There, just after leaving the train station we met another interesting character. This time it was a Russian "real" backpacker. This guy slept in parks, caves, lakes, or wherever he can find a spot from which he would not be kicked out -by the police. He had just spent the previous night in an internet cafe because:"it was way cheaper and quieter than hotels." He joined us for about 4 hours on our quest to find accommodation in that huge city. We didn't mean to be rude but we had to reject his invitation to sleep in a suburb park under the stars... not that it didn't sound adventurous and fun but having stuff that can be stolen and the capability to afford a hotel we had to decline.
The main touristy thing we did in Kunming was to pay a visit to the Stone Forest. It is a natural "Disneyland" kind of park filled with Chinese tourists and surveillance cameras on every corner. It was funny to see Chinese tourists who dressed like the local ethnic groups to pose in front of a camera and get their picture taken. The park itself had hectares of big rock formations; some of which had received peculiar names such as "Mother and boy" and "Old man with a hump on his back." Yet, what made the visit worthwhile was spending time with three Chinese guys who tried to teach us-in vain- some Chinese and joined us for a short hike around the very well established trails of the park.
Our journey continued East ward. We took a very comfortable overnight train to Guillin followed by a two-hour bus ride to Yangshuo. Jay and I agree that our stay in that pictoresque but touristy small town was the best part of our second visit to China. For about 5 days we walked around the narrow alleys filled with souvenir shops, wandered in the local markets, strolled along the river side, rode bikes to near by old towns, took boat excursions along the Yulong and Li Rivers and ate cheap and tasty local food. I believe what made our experience more enjoyable was the fact that we had met some volunteers at the Hosteling International hotel who gave us very good advice on where to go and what to do even though we were not guests of the Hostel.
Among our favorite excursions in Yangshuo were to rent twin bicycles and to go bamboo rafting along the Yulong River. The scenery was amazing and the ride was very relaxing. After two hours on the raft we biked around an old town -which I consider to be a privilege since old buildings seem to be almost extinct from modern China. Another great thing we did was to climb "Moon Hill." It took us about 30 mins to get to the top of the hill of about 300 meters. At the top we were rewarded with glorious views of the surroundings. We loved our time in Yangshuo... Specially because we were allowed to explore on our own at large.
It was in Yangshuo that we realized we didn't have enough time nor money to make it to Hong Kong so we decided to take a train to Nanning instead. The train ride was long (although it only lasted 5 hours) and hot (there was no AC in our compartment). We were happy be sitting next to very nice English speaking people. So in addition to interesting chats we were also treated Chinese snacks... it looks like it is the Chinese thing to do when you travel: to eat lots and lots of sweets. We didn't see or do much in the Capital of the Guangxi except for eating on the street stalls and the Night market at Zhong Shan Lu. This market had all types of seafood and strange animal dishes for sale. We didn't want to try anything weird so we went for the dumplings and fruit and salad buffet.
Our Next stop would be Hanoi, the Capital of Viet Nam, but I will tell you more about Nam on our next entry.... Until then!!!