China - March/April 2009


This is the diary of a 20-day trip to China which started on 24 March 2009 and ended on 12 April 2009.  The tour was described as an ethnic tour travelling through Hunan, Guizhou and Guanxi Provinces. The tour was devised and organised in China by Lily, now a director of Lijiang County Tourism Bureau, and Frank who runs the Li River International Travel Service. The organiser in England was Jane who liased with the eight people in the party - Graham's sister Jenet and her husband Dave, Graham's former IBM colleagues Rodger and Liz, and their friends from San Francisco, Noel and Jen.

The rate of exchange was £1 = 10 Yuan, Kuai (Pinyin for dollar) or RMB.

Click here for the itinerary and interactive maps.
Click here for Rodger's video.

So now read on...

(But first be aware that most links are to photographs which may take time to load.  A link from a day's date is to a full set of photographs while a link within a day is to a single photograph. You should enable window pop ups as moving the mouse over a link within a day will produce a small version of the photograph.  Click on the text for the link and you will be shown a larger version of the photograph. If you move your mouse over currency values, 'km', 'metres' or 'C' you will be shown 'GBP and USD', 'miles', 'km and miles', 'feet' or 'Fahrenheit' in a pop up window.  If you click on a 'more...' link you will go to some other web site for more information.  Click on a for an interactive map of the place last mentioned. If you have any comments please let us have them by clicking )

Briefly, here's how we spent each day:

24 MarchDeparture
25 MarchArrival in Changsha
26 MarchChangsha
27 MarchChangsha to Zhangjiajie
28 MarchZhangjiajie
29 MarchZhangjiajie to Fenghuang
30 MarchFenghuang
31 MarchFenghuang to Guiyang
01 AprilHuangguoshu Waterfall
02 AprilGuiyang to Kaili
03 AprilKaili to Rongjiang
04 AprilRongjiang to Zhao Xing
05 AprilZhao Xing to San Jiang
06 AprilSan Jiang to Long Ji
07 AprilLong Ji to Guilin
08 AprilGuilin and departures for some
09 AprilDayeshenjing
10 AprilDumpling Lessons
11 AprilGuilin to Beijing
12 AprilBeijing to Home

SummaryNext day Tuesday, 24 March - Departure

Left home at 11:30 and drove to Bill and Mary's. Left car in their drive and got a taxi to terminal 5 where we were just a little early to check in our bags but once the girl had reserved our seats it was time to book in our bags which each weighed under 20kg, the limit for internal flights in China. We made our way to the business lounge and amused ourselves till 4:15pm when we ambled to the departure gate, boarded a bus and arrived at the plane. We clambered up the steps and further on up to the upper floor of the 747 jumbo jet. After we had eaten our meal we were visited by Rodger whilst Liz stayed below.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Wednesday, 25 March Chinese Time - Arrival in Changsha  

We arrived in Beijing at 10:30am (2:30am GMT) and were met by a guide who took us from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 on the shuttle bus. We parked ourselves for several hours and got on the 5:15pm flight to Changsha (more...). The flight was a bit bumpy but that did not stop us sleeping. We arrived at Changsha 20 minutes late and were greeted by Ivy a 23 year-old from Changsha. We were driven in a 60-seater coach to the Grand Sun City Hotel, made our way to our rooms on the 16th floor and retired somewhat shattered at 9pm.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Thursday, 26 March - Changsha  

Had a buffet breakfast at 9am where we met Noel and Jen, friends of Rodger and Liz from San Francisco. We went for a stroll towards a park south of the hotel but it rained so we walked back and as the rain stopped we walked further north. The shops sometimes have English sub titles like 'Type-1976' or 'Happy Talking'. There is much more English signage around then 7 years ago. Gangs of schoolchildren love to wave and say hello to us. At noon we met Dave and Jenet who had flown in from Shanghai an hour earlier. We got on the coach which took us to a restaurant where we sat at a round table one of many in the restaurant and had a variety of vegetable and meat dishes plus a very bony whole fish. We were taken to Tianxin Park where we climbed some steps to arrive at a pavillion which was the only part of Changsha not to have been burnt during the Sino-Japenese war. We saw a short film with projected computer graphics of a style we had not seen before. The Chinese set fire to the place to stop it being invaded by the Japanese. In hindsight they decided this was a bad thing as so many people were killed. The city has been modernised since the early 1980's. We were taken to the Baisha Well by a very circuitous route caused by road works. The Baisha Well has been flowing since ancient times. A Chinglish notice tells us to boil it after drinking it. Ivy says this is a fault. Next stop is the Martyrs Park, the largest park in Changsha with a central memorial dedicated to the martyrs of the Sino-Japenese who all have their photographs displayed with a description of their acts. Outside we are all fascinated by two elderly gentlemen flying a pair of kites at the end of 900 metre, lines. They can let the lines go out as far as 3000 metres. A third kite flyer was not so lucky and his kite is lodged in a tree which he managed to retrieve using two long bamboo canes. We are dropped at the end of a pedestrian street where we can spend 40 minutes. We wander along it admiring the brass statues of artisans at work. We avoid going into the McDonalds and KFCs. Once back in the coach we are taken for an early dinner at the same restaurant we had lunch. The food was slightly different but was all waiting for us when we arrived at our table. It was a bit of a disappointment. We retired to our room at 7:30pm not as tired as we were yesterday.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Friday, 27 March - Changsha to Zhangjiajie  

Met Ivy at 9am and set off in the coach to the Hunan Provincial Museum (more...)where we lined up in pairs to wait to enter via the security gates and X-ray machine. Once in we toured the exhibition of relics excavated from a tomb which had been created more than 2000 years ago in the Western Han Dynasty. A man and two women were entombed in three coffins all enclosed in a giant outer wood encasing. Many of the wooden and silk relics had survived well. The body of one of the women could be examined from above with a modesty sheet placed to preserve her shyness. Bamboo carvings showed that the astronomers knew that 5 stars circled the Sun some 1400 years before Copernicus. Their calculations for the time it takes for Saturn to orbit the Sun was only half a year out from today's measurements. Carbonised fruit and grains were displayed. After this part of the museum we viewed more ancient relics like brass urns and porcelain pots. After the museum we visited a silk shop but did not buy any of the 13800 RMB doubled sided exquisite silk pictures. We crossed the river and visited the Yuelu Academy where famous teachers had taught disciples over many years. It became the University of Hunan in 1982 but has since been closed and is now a tourist site. It reminded us of several temples we had seen elsewhere in China. The gardens were very attractive and peaceful. After a great lunch at a large restaurant we embarked on the coach and travelled Westwards for 270 km to the scenic area of Zhangjiajie (more...). We had a couple of comfort breaks on the way. It rained most of the way. The scenery did not vary a lot. Rapeseed was growing in abundance as well as well irrigated rice paddies. We arrived in Jenli in time to eat in a private room of a restaurant. Jane ate the meat in a duck's head. We were driven a short distance to the Genli International Hotel (more ...) which appeared deserted. Mysteriously a porter appeared and a little after, Ivy with our room keys.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Saturday, 28 March - Zhangjiajie  

Had breakfast in the Western Restaurant but don't know why it is called Western. It was a Chinese buffet with fried eggs and vegetables. Toast, ersatz coffee, hot milk and orange squash were available but no tea. A man from Malaysia came and spoke to us. He had been to Loughborough University studying electrical engineering. It was raining outside. We left at 8:30am by coach and were driven to one entrance of the Zhangjiajie National Park. We bought thin plastic overcoats, trousers and galoshes to protect us from the torrential rain. We queued to have our thumb-prints taken and our tickets read. A park coach took us up a zigzag road to the start of the Golden Whip Stream walk. We walked along a stone block path by the side of the stream. We saw a brown squirrel. Ivy pointed out the tall towering limestone peaks which depicted animals, scholars and couples. We passed by a colony of monkeys playing in the trees. There were several opportunities to buy souvenirs and food and spend a penny. At the end of the three hour walk we left the park and had lunch in a private room of a large hotel. We had, amongst other dishes, frog (we had to ask what we'd eaten at the end of the meal), Mao's pork (slow cooked meat-free belly of pork) and chicken soup with head, wattle, legs and the rest of its skeleton. After lunch we re-entered the park and took a coach to a cable car which took us to the top of a peak where we walked around the Huangshi Scenic Village. Unfortunately clouds were everywhere so we could not see the scenery around though we did climb the steps up to Star-Pickers Tower. We descended and returned to our coach, and back to our hotel for a short rest before going out for the evening meal at 7pm. We were taken to the same restaurant we ate at last night and shown to a different private room. We were due to have a tile style meal which we now understand to mean that some of the dishes would be served on tiles. A whole chicken was boiling in a stock with ginger slices floating around. Jane asked for a knife and cut the meat off the chicken and put it back into the stock, the meat that is. A whole fish cut open showing a pattern of cubes and covered in sweet and sour sauce was declared the best dish. After the meal five of us were driven to a show whilst the others walked back to the hotel. The show was held in a local theatre holding about 1000 people. As the audience were taking their seat a man was auctioning off Chinese paintings. One went for 1800 RMB. The main show consisted of ladies performing in minority costumes traditional dances and screeching traditional songs. One male singer reached ear-piercing high notes to the joy of the locals and the dismay of the foreigners. Two twin sisters performed unusual balancing acts on a table. A sword swallower demonstrated with straight, corkscrew and curved swords. A man balanced on a board atop alternating rolls of what looked like cardboard. Ivy provided us with brief descriptions of the acts. After a few more song and dances we went outside and stood on the steps to watch two men lying on beds of nails on top of a man lying on a bed of glass. A rock was placed on the top man and a fourth swung a stone breaker until the rock split. Next a man lay on the floor and three large concrete beams were placed crosswise over his chest and five volunteer men each weighing over 100 kg stood on the top beam. The host chattered away and eventually the construction was de-constructed and the man on the floor rose and took a bow. In the final act a man walked over red hot pieces of metal and then through the bonfire which had been burning at the bottom of the steps. We all left having been well entertained and deafened. It was a late night for us as we turned in at 11pm.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Sunday, 29 March - Zhangjiajie to Fenghuang  

Had breakfast at 8am. The mat in the lift changes each day to tell you what day of the week it is. Today it says, in English, it's Sunday. We packed our bags and boarded the coach at 9am. The sun is burning away the clouds. We are taken to the entrance to the park and have our thumb-prints checked against our tickets. We board a park bus to a cable car entrance. We climb the numerous step and get into a 6 person Austrian built ski bubble and climb the mountain. The views are magnificent. At the top we queue for a coach and Jane buys some cooked chestnuts. The coach takes us to a scenic spot and we walk around. The party splits up and we eventually make it to a pagoda. We are shown the fairy dispersing flowers, a rock formation requiring Chinese imagination. From the top of the pagoda we see magnificent views all around us. We amble back to the coach stop and make our way down the mountain to an electric train which takes us on a short journey to view the three sisters peaks. At the station Jane bought some oranges. At the end of the journey are the three sisters peaks and a lot of souvenir shops. We retrace our steps and the coach takes us to a restaurant in Zhangjiajie City where we have a good meal including noodles as requested. Some girls sing for us. A short journey takes us to the gallery of an artist who paints with ground coloured stone and small pieces of wood. We recognize some of the scenery he has painted. The coach drives us to our next destination with several comfort breaks. We passed lots of rapeseed grown in very small terraced plots, tea plantations, women washing their clothes in rivers, brick kilns and finally at 7:50pm we arrive at the Phoenix Grand Hotel, Fenghuang (more...). We have a meal in an annexe, as the hotel is still being built, and retire to bed.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Monday, 30 March - Fenghuang  

There are no English TV channels not even CCTV9 so we have to guess what the news is. It appears that northern Australia is being over-run by large toads. It is wet outside. After breakfast we are taken to the entrance car park to the old town. We enter it via a large paved circular area with a grand bronze phoenix standing in the middle. The old town has a lot of narrow streets with shops selling souvenirs, sweets, silver, smoked meats and toys. The local speciality is ginger sugar which is extruded and cut into bits. It is quite pleasant. Another speciality is bits of peanut wrapped in spun sugar so it resembles silk worms. It melts quickly in the mouth. We are shown around a famous writer's (Shen Congwen) earliest residence and also where a prime minister (Xiong Xilin) lived. They have collections of old furniture and photographs. We visit the Yang family temple and see more old furniture and farm implements. We reach the Tuo Jiang river and get onto a covered wooden boat steered by a man with a long bamboo pole. We don life-jackets. We go down the river and over a short weir. The houses are all on the river's edge. Some are supported by poles. The boatmen sings a folk song to us as does a Miao girl dressed in costume sitting on a bamboo raft. Women wash the clothes in the river. We are dropped on the opposite bank outside a museum which we quickly tour. We climb up to the Rainbow Bridge which crosses the river and admire the views up and down the river. We have lunch, more meat and bones. Amongst the various dishes are matchstick thin boiled potato. Some young Chinese girls think Graham is handsome and want to have their photograph taken with him. We cross the river via a series of stepping stones. We leave the old town and buy some stamps but do not get money from any ATM. We wander back to the hotel for a restful afternoon. Graham wandered through a paved park where men were rolling 6cm wide discs down a plank. It appeared they were seeing whose could roll the furthest. Jane returns later having made a few purchases. At 7pm we dine. Different dishes tonight. The speciality of the evening is a pile of deep-fried peanuts, bees and family served on a bed of triangular pieces of red glutinous rice. Most people only eat the peanuts. The organiser and her husband crunchily eat the insects. They do not taste of anything except the sauce they are served with. Ivy has her photo taken with us all. The drinkers push the boat out and have a 98 RMB. bottle of Great Wall red wine. Graham continues to abstain.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Tuesday, 31 March - Fenghuang to Guiyang  

We get up at 5am and leave at 6am for the airport. It is dark and the road is very narrow and bumpy. We eat our packed breakfasts, two hard-boiled eggs, a piece of sponge cake and a sesame bun washed down with water. We travel close to the Great Southern Wall. Eventually we join the main road and arrive at 6:40am, much earlier than Ivy had thought. The baggage is unloaded from the coach. We say goodbye to Mr Ji and wait for the airport building to open which it does at 7am. It is warmer in than out. We cannot check our bags till 8am. When we do we have ours searched. The culprit is a foot spray which has an inflammable liquid label. We pass into the departure lounge and say goodbye to Ivy. Jane has to give up the hand wash which is inflammable. We warm ourselves under the hot-air blowers. We board the 50-seater plane which takes off at 8:45am and arrive 35 minutes later at Guiyang (more...), the capital of Guizhou province. We are met by 28-year old Michael and are taken to our smart mini-coach. Mr Liu is the driver who used to be in the military so is a very experienced driver. We are driven to Jiaxiu pavilion which is in the centre of the city. We spend half an hour walking around it and the river it straddles. The latest craze is spinning tops and it is easy to tell where it is taking place by the sound of the cracking whips. We are driven to a hotel for lunch. We have an excellent dim sum lunch in a private room on the sixth floor by the large restaurant. Michael's manager welcomes us all to Guiyang and asks the tour organizer and her husband to come out of the room. The manager presents them with an ornate silver plaque which will be kept in the coach until we arrive at our hotel. After lunch we drive to a temple but as there is too much construction work we divert to a flower and bird market which we stroll around asking Michael what all the herbs, fishes and birds are. Jane buys some vegetable seeds. We wander back to the coach and visit the Qianling Mountain Park. We get off the coach part way up the mountain and walk by wild monkeys to the Hongfu Buddhist monastery at the top of hill which has all been reconstructed since the cultural revolution. We descend the hill and take a short stroll by the lake visiting the memorial to the Sino-Japanese war war opened in June, 2005. It is having a new coat of white paint. A lot of white pigeons are cooing at its base. We are taken back into the city to our hotel, the Ramada Plaza where we can have a rest till 6:30pm. We are driven to a local speciality restaurant where we have an array of local dishes including some dim sum and various soups. Two lots of young maidens in ethnic costumes sing to us and feed us with food and drink from the table. They always seem to end their songs with a pain inflicting very high pitched 'yeehaa'. We return to our rooms for 9pm.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Wednesday, 1 April - Huangguoshu Waterfall  

We have the most Western of buffet breakfasts with the addition of noodles. It is damp outside but not raining. We leave at 8:30am. The highway on the outskirts of the city is under repair but once we get to the toll gate on the Qing-Shen Expressway the surface is good. The landscape is dotted with conical hills made of limestone. Occasionally we see someone sweeping the highway, something we don't see on the M25. The coach takes us to an old Han village called Jichang which is off the beaten track and up a cart track. However the streets are paved and the elder women wear blue dresses and lots of wrinkles. The men smoke long wooden pipes. We are shown to the hall of a dilapidated Buddhist temple and sit on simple wooden benches to watch a performance. Two teams of five stand at either side of the dancing space. They have wooden masks which rest on their foreheads so they can see through black cloth which obscures their faces. This is Ground Opera. A man plays an old drum whilst the other member of the orchestra bangs a brass circle. Each member of the opposing teams performs a sword dance with a member of the opposite team. The teams represent armies. Eventually it ends and we then walk around the temple and visit various houses in the village. It is all rather primitive but all appear to have a television. We return to the coach and are driven to Anshun City (more...) where we have another good lunch. After lunch we are taken to the Huanggoushu Waterfall, the largest in Asia (74 metres and (81 metres wide). The approach to the falls is through a wonderful garden of bonsai trees and interesting stones interlaced with Koi-filled streams and ponds. We climb down many steps to just above the river level and walk along its edge and through caves behind the waterfall. It is a wonderful site. We return via a very long elevator which, in two sections, climbs 80 metres. On the highway back we pass a speed camera in the form of a plastic policeman pointing the camera at the motorists. The coach takes us back to Guiyang city and a vegetarian restaurant which happens to be a Buddhist establishment so no alcohol is available. We eat an Emperor's vegetarian meal which consists of several dishes of tofu disguised as fish and meats and not a lot of green vegetables. It is an interesting and enjoyable experience. We are taken to our hotel and retire to our rooms.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Thursday, 2 April - Guiyang to Kaili  

Another Western style breakfast after which we check out and depart at 9am in a south-easterly direction. It's damp outside and the cloud is low. We are driven to Kaili (more...) where we are staying tonight and visit a folk museum. Here we see and hear from our excellent tour guide Michael information about the Dong and Miao minorities for which Kaili is the main centre. The Miao are descended from a butterfly and their dresses are covered in butterfly designs. The Dong have symmetrical patterns on their costumes. We check in at the Heaven Sent Dragon Hotel. It has a computer with internet access in each room but CCTV9 is the only English speaking channel. We have lunch in the hotel and then go in the coach to a Miao village. On the way we stop to admire the scenery and take photos. We arrive at the Miao village of Qingman where we are greeted by a row of seven Miao ladies in their traditional costumes they give each of us a sip of the local distilled rice wine. Out of politeness Graham accepts. The ladies escort us up the village to a school and then to a private house where the owner offers us more of the liquor and once again Graham accepts out of politeness. We are shown around the house and the owner plays a bamboo reed pipe and the costumed ladies dance for us. We descend to where we entered the village and the stalls of souvenirs are opened. A few purchases are made. Back in the coach and off to the next village along a long and winding unmade track. We stop by a coal mine to watch a man ploughing his flooded rice paddy using a water buffalo. His wife looks on waiting to take her turn. We arrive at the village Shiqiao which specialises in paper-making from the bark of a mulberry-family tree. The bark is beaten and than cleared of impurities. The fibres are soaked for 24 hours and mixed with a magic ingredient which stops the sheets sticking together during the pressing and drying processes. We are shown the complete process, including the drying of the paper, and then stroll around the village in the rain. Back in the coach and an hour later we are in our hotel. Thirty minutes later we are on the coach and heading for the evening meal. We sit around a circular table as usual but this time a wok is placed over a gas stove in the middle. In the wok is a fish and vegetables in a red broth This is a local speciality known as sour fish soup in hotpot. We have several other dishes as well, including mashed potatoes. It is a very tasty meal which everyone liked - 'hooray'. We retire at 8:30pm

Previous DaySummaryNext day Friday, 3 April - Kaili to Rongjiang  

We leave at 9am and head south. We have a brief stop at an impromptu buffalo market place. We travel down a road that is being widened. In preparation for the work, stones, sand and cement have been dumped at the edge of the road so making it a single track in parts. Our first stop happens when a rock carrying truck loses a front wheel by two piles of sand and blocks the way completely. We are the first to arrive but gradually others do so. Our driver turns the coach around in case passage is impossible. Nobody seems to know what to do. Then a coach arrives from the opposite direction. A lady gets out and encourages some men to find shovels and spread the piles of sand. After about an hour we are on the move again and make our way to Jidao village which we approach down a steep bank and across a river. We park and are greeted by about 100 people lining the entrance street. The younger girls are dressed in long Miao skirts and wear elaborate head-dresses. We take sips of rice liquor at three places and climb up to the village square where we sit on small benches and are entertained by all the people. At the last act we join in the dancing with them. We wander around the village seeing weaving and spinning and get back on the coach. (We found out later that the village performance had cost 1500 RMB at a discounted rate.) We are driven to Lei Cong Shan Hotel in Lei Shan which is pretty much deserted. We have lunch (speciality is glutinous millet) and then climb the mountains of the Lei Cong Shan National Park. We stop at various places to take photos. We visit the Datang short-skirted Miao village and take photos of the welcome party of two. We wander around the village passed the granary barns on poles in water. Now the grain has been replaced by wood. We zigzag and hairpin passed many terraced paddy fields and after dusk at 7:30pm arrive in Rongjiang at the Huyu Hotel, the best in town. The room is the least luxurious we have had. The bathroom is a wet room. One basin, a toilet and a shower which wets the whole floor. There is a water dispenser in the room but it does have a very dirty carpet. Fortunately Michael has given us all a pair of slippers. The room is adequate for the one night we are staying. At 8pm we go to the restaurant next door to eat and retire after the meal which included glutinous rice pieces with duck. There is no English television channel although there is an Ethernet connection.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Saturday, 4 April - Rongjiang to Zhao Xing  

We start the first of a three day tombstone cleaning holiday (called Qing Ming) with a Michael special breakfast. Michael has brought along from Guiyang, cornflakes, milk, coffee granules, orange juice, jam, peanut butter and biscuits, plus sliced bread and a toaster. What a star. The hotel provides the room and fried eggs. We eat the feast and depart. It is pouring with rain. A party of French people also stayed at the same hotel. We are driven to the Basha Miao village where we see a woman beating a piece of indigo dyed material with a large hammer. The material is painted several times with egg white to make it shiny but not water-proof. We watch a boy's initiation ceremony but in our case it was an older man who had part of his hair shaved off with a sharp sickle and what was left he tied into a knot at the front of his head. We walk around the village in the rain and are driven to Cong Jiang for lunch which was very tasty. The two dishes we had not sampled before are hare with chillies and sweetish pumpkin. We have a two hour journey along very bumpy roads to Zhao Xing (more...) which is the largest Dong people's village in China with a population of 4000. We register at the hotel reception but walk several hundred yards by the river along a narrow pavement made from pebbles on their edge. It is like a foot massage. Our rooms are on the third floor of the VIP extension of the hotel. They are unexpectedly comfortable with wooden walls, ceiling and floor. A dubbed version of Postman Pat is being shown on the television. We wait for our bags to arrive and then are guided by Michael around the village in the rain and look at a couple of the five drum towers. Several meat stalls are selling dog. Apparently they often eat it here but Michael assures us that dog is not on the menu tonight. As it is a tombstone cleaning day people are letting off firecrackers all over the place. Heavy trucks are parked on the main street because the drivers have a day off to clean the family tombs which are situated on the hillsides. During our walk we shelter several times under, or rather in, a Rain and Wind Bridge during the heaviest of the rain storms. After dinner we go to a show. The show takes places in the Dong Cultural Centre which is on the same floor as our rooms. We are the complete audience. The performers are 8 young girls and 6 older men all dressed in Dong fashion. They sing, play a stringed instrument called a pi bing, and dance for us. We join in the final dance. The show lasted 30 minutes and was very entertaining. Outside the Drum Towers are lit up. We set our alarm for 6:30am as we have to leave at 7:30. The heavy rains may have caused some problems with the roads so it may take longer than usual to get to where we are going.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Sunday, 5 April - Zhao Xing to San Jiang  

We breakfast at 7:30am with the leftovers provided by Michael yesterday. We check out at 8:30am. It is raining. We climb up out of Zhao Xing and stop at the Dong village of Tang An where we go for a stroll to see the drum tower, opera stage and three stage water tanks, drinking, vegetable washing and clothes washing. We descend and follow the Duliu River for miles on an unmade bumpy surface until the road gets too bad that we have to make a diversion. The diversion takes us up and over a mountain. The road is better surfaced but narrower and winds more. There are many tea plantations and we stop to admire the scenery and take photos. Once back in the coach Michael explains the different teas and how they are made. He is a mine of information. At 2pm we are glad to reach San Jiang and check into the San Jiang Hotel, the best in town. We have lunch, sliced lily bulbs are the new taste this time, a cross between bamboo and a water chestnut. At the end of lunch we say goodbye to Mr Liu and Michael. We are now in the hands of a guide from Guilin called Michael Zhao who introduces himself to us. We move our luggage into our rooms and then go for a wander around the streets. Our first stop is by the bridge where people are sitting under the trees playing a card with long thin cards. An old lady invites Jane to sit with her but Jane declines. We continue the stroll and meet up with Rodger and Liz. We buy a few things in the supermarket next to the hotel and return to take afternoon tea with Rodger and Liz whilst watching the start of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Due to torrential rain the grand prix was aborted. After our evening meal Michael offered to take us out for a walk around town but we all declined and we went to bed.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Monday, 6 April - San Jiang to Long Ji  

This morning's breakfast is a 'set meal'. It is served on individual plates, three slices of bread, some jam, a fried egg and two pieces of cakes to be washed down with either tea or coffee. We check out and are introduced to our new coach and driver. The new coach is a more modern version of the previous King Long we had and the driver is Mr Lai. The sun is shining today. We are driven about 19km to the Chengyang Bridge Scenic Area. We park and walk a short distance along the road to a rain and wind bridge where we are joined by a local guide whose pearls Michael translates for us. We walk over the longest Wind and Rain bridge in China. It is made of wood and covered in tiles and sits on five rock columns. Not a single nail or rivet was used in its construction. We are given a short tour around the village of Ma'an and then watch a Dong people's performance. It is a pity the bamboo reed pipe only has a very small range of notes. We are fed watered down rice wine and after a few more acts join in the final dance. We take a longer walk around the neighbouring village and have lunch. The speciality today is deep fried whole fish, about the size of sardines, served on a bed of small hard sweetcorn. Afterwards we return to San Jiang and then have a 90 minute drive to Jin Zhu village where we leave our main luggage. We are driven another 7km and leave our coach to take a scenic area coach up the zigzag road to the Ping'An Terrace Rice Fields in the Long Ji scenic area. At the bus terminus we get out and walk for about twenty minutes up many steps to the Ping'An Guest House which is rather like a Tyrolean ski chalet. We meet Jonathan, Michael's manager from Guiyang. We are allocated rooms and then go for a walk up to the highest point above the village. There we see fantastic sights of the terraced rice fields some of which are flooded with water and unplanted thus looking like mirrors. The terraces were originally built (starting from the bottom) in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). After we reach the top and take photos we go for a trek to another high point and then return to our lodgings where we all sit on the verandah and have a drink, iced tea for Graham and water for Jane. After the meal we retire to our rooms. Fortunately there is a notice saying no noise between 11pm and 7am as the walls are thin and wooden and there are a lot of noisy foreigners here.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Tuesday, 7 April - Long Ji to Guilin  

Four have a Western set breakfast of bread and jam, coffee, banana, and fried egg and the rest of us have the Chinese set breakfast of noodles and vegetables, tea, banana and fried egg. We gather our belongings and walk down hill to the entrance, get on a park coach which takes us down the windy road to our coach. We get to the village where we had left our luggage and retrieve it. By noon we have reached Guilin having passed fields of orange trees, duck farms and tea plantations. We check in to the Universal Hotel by the Liberation Bridge and meet on the second floor for lunch. We are greeted by Frank and Lily. Lily gives each couple a large twelve faced silk ball similar to what was used during dating ceremonies on wind and rain bridges. After lunch we go for a short river boat ride up the river to Fubo Rock and back down again. We pass Elephant Hill and Michael's brother's apartment block. After landing we are taken to a silk warehouse where several purchases are made. After being dropped off at the hotel we wander around the streets looking for some beginners script writing books and eventually find them in a book supermarket close to the hotel. At 7pm we meet Frank and Lily in the lobby and they take us across the road to a restaurant which overlooks the river. We sample osmanthus fortified wine and longevity wine from Bama in south-west Guanxi. Graham is given permission to join in. Lily drinks many toasts with each of us. The meal starts with sparrow and pork soup. We also have river snails and meat off the bone, spring rolls, deep fried battered aubergines and many other dishes. After the meal we walk the length of the night market guided by Michael. Lily leaves us to write a response to her Communist Party examination and to recover from the toasting. We return to the hotel about 10:30pm.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Wednesday, 8 April - Guilin and departures for some

We have divided into two parties for today's touring. Three are leaving at 8am to go in a taxi to further down the Li River to board a boat to get a closer view of the karst hills. The rest of us board the coach and are taken to the Guilin cable car. It is not raining but is a bit overcast. On the way to the cable car we hear that the others' taxi has a puncture and a replacement taxi is sent from the dock to fetch them. We get to the cable car and race a group of army men up the mountain. The army wins in 19 minutes. There are many azaleas on the mountain. The resin is being collected from pine trees. A luge runs down from half up the cable car ride. At the top we walk further on up to near the top of the mountain through gardens and souvenir stalls. Several young girls have their photos taken with Graham. We descend the mountain in the cable car and are transported to the Guilin Tea Research Institute where we don coolie hats and are shown a tea plantation. We go inside with our informative male tea guide and take part in a tea drinking ceremony. In the shop we purchase some High Mountain tea which is caffeine free and does not come from a camellia plant. We are taken to a Brazilian barbecue restaurant which is part of the government run Ronghu Hotel. The meat is presented at the the table on long skewers and we choose which ones we want. Quail and camel hump are the new meats to try, together with baked oysters. We end the meal with soft ice cream. For part of the afternoon we wander the streets. At 3:30pm we say goodbye to Rodger and Liz, Noel and Jen, and Michael and Mr Lai. Whilst Jenet and David go shopping we go with Lily to a department store and then to a coffee bar, G+, that only opened three weeks ago. Lily has pomelo tea and the both of us have coffee. The owner comes from Shanghai and speaks very good English with an American accent. At 5:30pm we meet Frank and walk to a restaurant via the old Ming walls of Guilin. On the way we pass by Zhonghua Lu which Graham translates as Central Flower Street but it brings a grin to Frank's face and he explains that 'Zhonghua' means 'Chinese'. At the restaurant we meet up with Lily, Jenet and Dave and their driver. We have Chongqing hotpot and drink Ba Bao Cha (eight treasures tea) which is watered by a can with a very long spout. The speciality this evening is cow's brains. After Jenet and Dave have left we have a long chat with Frank and afterwards he walks us back to our hotel via Fubo Hill and the waterfront. People are dancing in an underpass. We go back to the coffee bar, where we are warmly greeted, and Jane sorts out her emails as an internet connection is free there.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Thursday, 9 April - Dayeshenjing

We are woken up early by torrential rain. We have a Chinese breakfast in the hotel's Mountain River Restaurant and are picked up by Frank and Lily at 9:30am. We are driven eastwards for about an hour. Some of the road is of the massage type. After an hour we arrive at Dayeshenjing (or Fairyworld) (more...). It is Frank's first visit here. It was opened last December. We are greeted by Mr Duan, the manager of the site. As it is raining we go into the restaurant and sit round a table and drink tea. A young lady called Millie joins us and she can speak and understand a little English. It continues to rain so we have lunch sponsored by the manager. We try the local rice liquor and wine. It is only polite to do so. Whole deep fried river fish and long cured pork were served. The soup is a very tasty ginger and chicken. The rain abates and we start our walk up the valley on a path of stone which crosses the river frequently using wooden bridges with no hand rails. We follow a branch of the river through King Kong Canyon. We cross the water via stepping stones that remind us of Fenghuang. After about 30 minutes we arrive at the Da Ye waterfall. It is 106 metres and about 5 metres wide. It is impressive especially as there has been heavy rain recently. We return to the restaurant by a less demanding route. We have more tea and view one of the ninety one rooms. They look more comfortable than the room we had in Rongjian. We say our goodbyes and return to Guilin, Lily buying us some strawberries on the way. Frank leaves us to go and sort out some worries in his office and Lily comes to our room for a chat. For dinner we walk down the street to Niko Niko Do, a Japanese department store. On the sixth floor is a restaurant where we take a card and walk around various counters selecting the dishes we want. When we get back to our table some of the dishes are already there. More arrive including rice noodles and horse meat. We return to the hotel in the rain and Lily drives home to her apartment.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Friday, 10 April - Dumpling Lessons

We get up to a cloudy sky but without rain. We eat the Chinese breakfast and stroll down the streets looking for small ear muff headphones. Jane bargains and we get two pairs for 70 RMB, saving 26 RMB. Just after 11:30am Lily picks us up and walks us to Frank's apartment which is not far from Niko Niko Do. Frank's apartment is on the third floor. It has four bedrooms, a dining area, a lounge area, a kitchen and a bathroom. There is also a small balcony on which Frank is growing a shrub whose leaves, when chewed and swallowed, helps reduce cholesterol. Frank shows us how to wrap a small amount of meat mixture in a prepared circle of pastry to make dumplings. Jane is excellent but Graham is reminded why he gave up dentistry and has to be helped by Lily. Meanwhile Frank is preparing the rest of the meal. Frank is a good cook and we wash his creations down with a 10% dry red wine from somewhere near Guilin. After lunch Frank performs a tea ceremony for us. Next we get into Frank's Kia and are taken to the Guilin Botanical Gardens. It is a very pleasant walk with a lot of the trees labelled with English or Latin names. Many paths have heavily scented areas where the Four Seasons Osmanthus bushes are in flower. The theme from Titanic is played through a lump of concrete planted amongst the shrubs. The park employees drive battery powered motor-bikes. After much searching Frank finds the martyr's memorial. It is hidden in a grove of trees off the main pathway. It is a memorial to Brigadier Qin Lin of the Kuomentang. He was blown up so only his belongings are buried here. We finish our walk and are driven to the gizzards restaurant (in Chinese 'tie ban shuo') we went to two years ago. We meet Jim, Lily's husband, who presents us with a large tin of green tea. We have an excellent meal and walk back to our hotel avoiding all the cars, electric motor-bikes, and cyclists. The temperature is quite hot and steamy with the occasional rainstorm but tomorrow it may well be 30 degrees when we arrive in Beijing.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Saturday, 11 April - Guilin to Beijing  

It's been raining most of the night. We have another leisurely morning spent packing. Lily and Frank meet us at 11:30am and Frank drives us north towards Long Ji. After about an hour we turn off the road and head for the Butterfly Valley Yao Village. Neither Frank nor Lily have been here before. We drive along a narrow road till we get to the car park at the entrance. We walk through the gateway and gradually climb the stone entrance path for 500m until we reach the houses of the village. It is very quiet and rustic - Chinese style. We look for the hotel and restaurant. It is near the Drum Tower which Yao also have in their villages. The lunch is duck and taro root, with vegetables and a fern pancake. The duck was a free range but old and tough specimen. We walk through the village via the drum tower back down to the car park and are driven to the airport where we say bye bye to Frank and Lily. We are sorry to say goodbye as we have had a wonderful few days with them. We board the 5:20pm plane to Beijing and take the shuttle bus to the Sino Swiss Hotel. This is the only hotel we have been in in China which has a fourth floor. Four is unlucky to the Chinese so we think they are all foreigners on this floor. Mr Bean is on HBO.

Previous DaySummarySunday, 12 April - Beijing to Home

We get up early, have Chinese breakfast which was not the best, and got the 8:45am shuttlebus to Terminal 3. The plane takes off at 11:50am. The films watched on the flight were The Reader, The Changeling, Frost/Nixon and a delightful TV programme 'Britain from the Air'. The plane lands at 2:50pm and Wazim from Parker Cars wafts us off to our car. We call in at Emma's to see the effects of chickenpox on our grandsons and get back to our house at 6pm for an early bed except that Jane discovered she had not turned the freezer back on after defrosting it before we left. What a smell!

Tips for Hotels

  1. If the room entry card says 'Insert this side up' and you do and it does not work try again after turning the card over. It may also say ''Insert this side up' and might work.

  2. If you cannot get the TV to work using the remote, before changing the batteries and testing the wiring, try pressing the TV button on the control panel between the beds.

  3. If the hot water in the shower never gets hot try turning the tap the other way. Just because turning to the left at the basin gets hot water do not assume the shower is plumbed in the same manner.

  4. Don't expect a double bed. Most hotels are for business men who prefer to share a room but in their own bed which is usually wider than a single bed.

  5. If you want to purchase or steal anything in the room check the price list first. There is usually one that lists the prices of everything from bottles of water to toilets and air-conditioning units.

Click here for more holidays.