Posted: under China.
I’m up at 6.45am to check the weather. It’s still dark and raining. Mo said that sometimes the monkeys get up and hangout on the ledge for a while before leaving for the day and that is one of the best times to see them. I got up again a bit later but it was still raining so I stayed in bed till breakfast at 8. There was no one around for breakfast. I ate quickly and then walked to the viewing tower. It had stopped raining now. The tower is right in front of the ledge a troupe of monkeys sleeps on. The monkeys hide themselves for a while but finally a bunch of them come out to the ledge. I am a bit far away but see many of them. I zoom in as far as my 250mm lenses will allow and get some okay photos.
The White-headed Leaf Monkey is one of the rarest primates in the world. It is only found in southern China with population estimates of only about 1000 individuals. It’s a medium sized primate, nearly all black with a white head and white tail. Though Chongzuo was my last stop in China, it was one of my most anticiapted. I’m even happier than yesterday that I got to see and photograph the monkeys this morning. I could probably stay all day in the watch tower but my 60 day China visa expires today and it’s time to leave!
My ideal plan is to get to Cao Bang in Vietnam on the 2pm bus from Lang Son, but if that doesn’t happen, I will spend the night in Lang Son and go to Cao Bang tomorrow. I leave the park and take a bus back to Chongzuo town. From there I take another bus for 2 hours to Pingxiang. From the bus station there I take a taxi to the border. It’s a fairly quiet border. No crowds and no hassle. I exit China quickly and painlessly.
After 2 months in China, I’m ready for a change even though I really enjoyed it here. I’m looking forward to some warm weather though in Vietnam and seeing some old friends. China is definitely a place I would love to come back to. There are many places I missed this time. I also found the food great and the people friendly and helpful. The wildlife is very elusive and hard to find but that’s a challenge I’m always up for! I already know some of the places I want to visit next time. The major downfall being the cold and dreary weather, since I can only travel during the winter. Every place I went, guides would say, “Oh you should see this place in summer! There are so many flowers, insects, mushrooms, etc!” Yeah, I’m sure there is and maybe one day I can visit in summer.
Jan 19 2012
Posted: under China.
It was misting heavy but warm when I arrived in Chongzuo park. I haven’t had to wear my winter jacket since leaving Yangshuo, and hopefully I won’t need it again! I walked up to the park office and the place looked deserted. I had tried to call to let them know I was coming because accomodation apparently has to be arranged beforehand, but since I couldn’t get through, I just showed up. There was a caretaker guy there and he called someone who spoke perfect English. Her name was Mo and she was a researcher at the park. The caretaker and I took a golf cart to the rooms and I met Mo a few minutes later. They set me up in a fairly large and nice room. Including breakfast and dinner, the room was one of the most expensive I had in China.
The park is well known for its population of White headed Leaf Monkeys and that is why I came. Though it was already almost 5, Ididn’t want to waste any time and headed out on the trail. The is essentially a 45 minute loop through the park, which is not very big. The park consists of a few large limestone hills, kind of similar to the scenery of Guillin and Yangshou. I walked nearly the entire loop when I took a small turn off up to a large door in the hill. I heard a crashing sound and looked up and saw about 5 monkeys in a tree! They were far away and it was really misty but I was happy to see them.
Later a group of about 20 teachers from Beijing arrived. We all ate dinner together though none of them spoke to me. Maybe they didn’t speak english? The monkeys sleep on a ledge in front of a cave high up on the hills. They sometimes put a light on them to make sure they are there. Mo said the light might be on, so I walked the trail in the dark with my headlamp. It only took 10 minutes to get there but the light was not on. I couldn’t see anything. Back at the dining area I noticed they put up a bright light outside the back of the building with a white sheet below it. To nocturnal insects, this says, hey come check me out! The sheet and the walls around it were teeming with tons of moths and a few other insects. I set up shop here for about an hour photographing the most interesting ones. There were at least 15 different species of moth.
Jan 18 2012
Posted: under China.
I took the first bus to Nanning at 8am. It was over a solid 6 hours to get there. It was rainy lightly but much warmer than Yangshuo. I took the local bus from the bus station into town and then walked to Lotusland Hostel. My passpost with my Vietnam visa was there waiting for me. I took a bed in a 4 bed dorm for nearly the same price as the private room I had the last 4 nights. This was the most expensive hostel yet and to me, not worth it. They only had shared bathrooms, only one of the three computers worked, the DVD player didn’t work and to top it off, they had bedbugs! I woke up in the middle of the night scratching. I had huge mosquito sized bites all over my body. I switched beds and thankfully slept the rest of the night itch free. Nanning was just a stopover for me anyway. The next day I left on a bus for Chongzuo, my last stop before leaving China.
I tried taking the public bus to the bus station but it was so frustrating. I waited at a bus stop and every bus but the one I needed stopped. The number 6 just kept driving by and I ended up taking a taxi. From the station I got a bus that was leaving very soon for Chongzuo. It was about two and a half hours to get there but I wasn’t where I wanted to be yet. That was Chongzuo Ecopark, another hour from the town. Thankfully a bus was leaving within the hour. This gave me some time to get some food and my last bit of Yuan I will need for China.
As I was waiting for the bus, some guy was angrily yelling near where the buses were parked. He was really pissed about something and was walking around yelling, really at no one in particular. It almost came to blows before we left but the situation seemed to calm down and nothing happened. I wish I knew what he was saying!
Jan 18 2012
Posted: under China.
Since I had a pretty lazy day yesterday, I was ready to do something more today. I rented a mountain bike and rode to Dragon Bridge, 10km out of town. It was relatively easy to find. The bridge is 600 years old and just for pedestrian traffic. It is one large arch and still in pretty good shape. After I try to ride a different way back. At first it’s through a small village but then the trail becomes very skinny and goes around different crops. I’m not sure which way to go and it’s not easy riding as the trail sometimes has a drop off on both sides. I don’t like this at all. Finally I reach the river and there is a way across. I cross it and end up back on the road I took here.
Later that night I met up with the same group from 2 nights ago, though the German girls had left. We weren’t sure where to eat. I was craving Indian again and suggested that. They all agreed and we ate there. We went out for beers again after our dessert on the street. Most of us were leaving Yangshuo the next day and it was another fun night together.
Jan 18 2012
Posted: under China.
The day after I visited Gold Water cave, I just spent around Yangshuo the town. I went to a local park and climbed a small hill for a scenic overview of the town. I did a bit of shopping. That night I met up with 2 German girls I had met the night before. They came to the same local place I was eating and we got to talking. We agreed to meet up tonight for dinner. With them came an English couple, a Dutch guy and an American girl. We all wanted to try the popular local speciality, beer fish. Sounds like a great combination! I asked at my hotel and they told me about a local, less touristy place to try it. We ordered the beer fish, which was kind of expensive but was a lot of food, and some veggie and pork dish to go with it. I really enjoyed the beer fish and the sauce it was in, I think everyone did. After that we went out for a dessert at a street vendor. Small pancake/cupcake like desserts that have either chocolate, peanut butter, taro or red beans inside. They make them right there and I asked if they could mix the chocolate and peanut butter together in one. They did and it was delicious! We all went out for beers after that at Lucy’s Place. It was a fun night.
I got a ticket for Silver Cave which included transport there and back, entrance and a guide for about $14. The cave was about 15km out of town. Once we got there and the tour started, I left our group and did the cave at my own pace. Our guide only spoke Chinese, so there was no point having to stay with the group. The cave didn’t start out too amazing but then became very impressive. The ceiling was very high and continued this way. The formations were epic! I really enjoyed it. It again had the different colored lights typical of popular Chinese caves but this time they seemed to stay on the whole time, instead of turning off after a group passes. I had most of the cave to myself and it was quiet. I would just let groups pass me. We had about an hour and a half in the cave and then it was time to go back.
This cave was by far the most built up and touristy I had been in. There was a whole complex once you left the cave, forcing you to go through the gift shop as you left. Sounds like some of the attractions in Niagara! I just relaxed when I got back and then went out for dinner. Though I have been eating Chinese food, I was surrounded by restuarants serving any type of food I wanted. I had been avoiding them but thought it a shame to at least not take advantage of it once. So I went out for Indian food. It was tasty and just in the range of the budget I was willing to spend. Once I got back to the hotel, I checked my email and saw a message from Stan, the Dutch guy from the group last night. He was inviting me to meet them at dinner again but now it was too late. We made plans to meet the following night.
Jan 18 2012
Posted: under China.
After breakfast I checked out of 11 Hostel and into Dongle Inn, just around the corner. I have my visa for Vietnam getting sorted out and I can pick it up in Nanning on Friday. I was going to go to Nanning to do it, but would rather stay here. Now I can and have more time to explore around Yangshuo. With my visa sorted, I now have 4 more nights I can stay in Yangshuo. The hotel gave me an even better deal for 4 nights, about $8.50 per night for my own room. I was paying $4.50 for the dorm, so this isn’t much more. I get settled in there and then hangout with Sunny, the receptionist from the hostel. She knows a place to rent a bike for me and gets me a cheap ticket to the Gold Water Cave. After a local lunch of noodles, I ride out to the cave. Sunny has to work at 4pm, so she can’t join me.
The cave is down the same road as Moon Hill and just a few hundreds metres before it on the opposite side of the road. This cave is very special and different because it has a mud bath inside and hot springs. The official price to visit the cave, the mud bath and hot springs is a whopping 320 Yuan ($53)! Sunny got me the ticket from a travel agent she knows for a quarter of the price at 80 Yuan. The weather is about the same as the day before but I got very hot wearing my winter jacket while riding so today I just wore my thin raincoat with a longsleeve shirt underneath and it was much better.
The cave goes by a bunch of names like Buddha cave, water cave, black buddha cave but I am going to use the name on the official sign at the cave, Gold water. I get a pair of sandals to use later in the cave and my own private guide. It’s not busy at the cave so that’s really good. I can go my own pace and it’s really quiet. The formations in the cave are very impressive, some like I’ve never seen before. They are lit up like Reed Flute Cave, which I guess seems to be the way popular Chinese caves are done. Many of the formations have animal names but they take a lot of imagination to actually be able to see them! We descend a 19m high spiral staircase to a lower level of the cave. There is a sign stating that there is a $1000 fine for destroying any formations in the cave. This is funny and highly contradicting because the Chinese destroyed some of the cave building the staircase and concrete pathway through it! Did they fine themselves!?
Even though the cave has been altered greatly for visitors, I still like it a lot. Next we pass the mud bath area, where they put up small walls to create a pool for a mud bath. The water is very cold at 12C and I don’t think I will take a mud bath. Just a bit further down the path is the hot spring area. Again they made little walls to create a small pool for bathing. I change into my boxers and get ready for the hot spring. I have a last minute change of mind and decide to do the full experience of the cave. I get in the mud bath area. It’s super cold but I step in, the mud is up to my knees and the water level is just above the mud. I lie down and cover my body and face with the mud that is supposed to be good for skin.
After about 4 minutes in the cold mud I’m ready for the hot springs. I get out of the mud and walk down the path but first I have to wash off the mud before going in the hotspring. I go in a small pool that is slightly warmer than the mud and wash it all off. I’m finally ready for the hot spring! The water is shallow and perfect at about 40C. I lie down up to my neck. I only have to share the hot spring with a young Chinese couple. After about 25 minutes in the water, I’m ready to get out. There is a 30 minute time limit and they have a big clock there so you know what time it is. I change and then ride back to the town. Riding back I feel better and my body feels a lot warmer. It was a great experience. I’ve been in plenty of caves of all different types and sizes in The Philippines, Laos and Vietnam but never have I been inside with a natural hotspring. It was a great combination of two things I love. Now if I could only find a rainforest with movie theatre in it, I could die a very satisfied man!
Jan 18 2012
Posted: under China.
After spending a few days in Guillin, I was ready to go to Yangshuo, a smaller city surrounded by even more beautiful karst scenery. There are about 3 buses every hour to Yangshuo. I walked to the station and was on a bus in 10 minutes. Very surprisingly, our bus left with only 3 passengers! We didn’t even stop to pick up anyone on the way. I arrived in Yangshuo an hour and a half later. I walked to 11 Youth Hostel. I took a bed in a 6 bed dorm for really cheap. However, once I saw how small the dorm was, I knew I wouldn’t want to stay long here. I went looking for another place to move into. If I’m going to be spending a few more days here, I want a room I really like. I find a place just around the corner with a nice room and balcony for not much more than I’m paying for the dorm. I will move there tomorrow.
Some parts of Yangshuo are very touristy. A main pedestrain only street is lined with shops and restaurants. It’s great for shopping but can be hard to find just some local food. I eat some tofu from a street vendor for lunch. I rent a mountain bike from hostel and ride the 8km to Moon Hill.
Moon Hill is a karst mountain with a huge moon shaped hole through the center of it. The road leading there is smoothly paved with wide shoulders that bikes and scooters can use. I hike up the trail to reach the moon hole itself. From there I take a smaller trail leading to the very top of the hill. The views are epic from the top though the weather isn’t great. It’s very cloudy and hazy, which creates a more mysterious atmosphere but the views aren’t as far or as colorful. Seems it’s typical winter weather though for the area. On the way down I find a really cool moth on the ground. It was dead but in excellent shape. I was surprised to see it. It was mostly white with some black spots on its head and very colorful pink legs!
I ride back into town and eat at a local place. I had to ask at the hostel where I could find just some local food. Turns out there was a small row of local places just behind the McDonald’s! I get to pick which veggies I want and then they put it in a pot of rice and cook it all together. It was really tasty. After I just hangout at the hostel and watch a movie with the staff there.
Jan 10 2012
Posted: under China.
Guillin is in northeast Guangxi province, an area known for its spectacular karst mountain scenery. That’s the main reason I came to this part of China. I have seen this type of scenery before on land in Vietnam and in the ocean in Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam. I love it and that’s why I wanted to be exploring it again.
Last night at the hostel I met German couple Kasper and Kristine. They invited me to join them to visit Reed Flute cave today. We took a public bus to the cave, 5km away. There is a less frequent free bus going to the cave but with the public bus only costing $ .17, we just took the public bus.
The cave is huge and really popular. It’s most amazing sections are lit up by different colored lights. Sometimes the lights look really cool and add a cool effect to the photos but other times I would rather just see the formations with a more neutral light shining on them. The cave is very large and impressive, some of the oldest and largest formations I have ever seen in a cave. It is stunning!
I brought my tripod and got some really cool shots with a long exposure. It is also much warmer in the cave than outside. It’s only about 7C outside but the cave is about 20C. The major downfall of the cave is its popularity. There are large and loud tour groups going through the cave. Their guide tells them about the cave through a megaphone like device. So annoying! Also, once the group passes through a section of cave, they shut off the lights!
I feel like I’m being rushed through the cave to see it. Later I take my time and have sections of the cave to myself. I go slow and take time to take photos. The cave has been highly altered as well to put a concrete path going through it to make it easily accessible. It’s one of the more altered caves for visiting that I have been in. I prefer a more natural cave and path but I can’t deny the cave is impressive nonetheless.
We go back to the hostel and I take some time to figure out my plan for the rest of China. My visa expires in a week and I want to have a plan to see what I still want to see, get my Vietnam visa and leave China before my time is up. I go out around 4.30 to take photos of 2 large pagodas in the middle of a lake near the hostel. I eat at a local place and then go back to the pagodas to get photos of them lit up at night. I check out my photos in the warm lobby of the hostel, though my room is warming up. I’ve had on the AC unit in my room for a while and it slowly doubled the temperature from 7C to 14C.
Jan 09 2012
Posted: under China.
It was cold and rainy when I left Kunming. My train wasn’t until 7.20pm and I spent most of the day hanging around at the hostel. I only went out to buy food for the 18 hour train ride to Guillin. I took the public bus to the train station at 6pm. I easily found my traincar and my bed. I settled in under the blankets. It was very cold on the train. The blankets provided, as usual with anywhere I have been China, were very warm and I stripped down to my boxers. After the lights went out at 10, I would just put on a shirt and my boots if nature called during the night.
The turned on the lights in train at 6am but I was still able to sleep until 9, when they turned on some music. I had my dragonfruit and some instant noodles for breakfast. I had anticipated arriving in Guillin around 1pm but that time passed and we still weren’t there yet. We finally arrived at 2.30, almost 20 hours after leaving Kunming. It was another cold and slightly wet day.
I tried to find a taxi to the Backstreet Youth Hostel but they were all full. An english speaking local stopped to ask if I needed any help. He tried asking some taxis and motorcycle taxis to take me to the hostel but they all wanted too much. I didn’t feel like being ripped off and Bobby, my new friend, said he was going in the direction of the hostel and offered to help me find it. That was nice of him. We made it most of the way and when I was confident I could find it on my own, we parted ways. It took me about 30 minutes to reach the hostel from the train station.
I took my own room for 120 Yuan ($20). It was overpriced compared to the exact same type of rooms I’ve had in other hostels but I didn’t care. It had been 9 nights since I have had the privacy of my own room. I have either been on a bus, train or sharing the room. To lessen the sting of the highpriced room, the hostel has deal that gives the third consecutive night for free! I wasn’t going to stay 3 nights here, but now I think I will take advantage of this offer. There is enough to do around Guillin for a couple days before I head to the smaller and more picturesque town of Yangshuo.
I didn’t sleep too well on the train. It’s like a bunch of small catnaps instead of one long uninterrupted sleep. I washed some clothes and went to sleep for a little while. I thought I was out of the bitter cold but my room here is a chilly 7C! They failed to inform me when I checked in that there is heat in the room! What!? I only saw an airconditioner but they tell me that will heat the room. I turn it on. It doesn’t do much but eventually the temperature rises to a balmy 11C!
I go out to eat dumplings near the hostel. It is located just a minute away from a pedestrian street lined with restuarants and shops. I relax for a bit and write in my journal in the heated common area in the lobby of the hostel before crashing early.
Jan 06 2012
Posted: under China.
I’m on the 9am bus to Kunming. It takes an hour for us to descend the fog enshrouded mountains of Yuangyang. I couldn’t see anything at all out the window. It cleared up once we hit the lower lands of Nansha and headed towards Kunming. We arrive in Kunming at 4pm and I take a taxi back to Cloudland hostel, where I stayed some 2 weeks earlier. I get a bed in the exact same dorm room as before! Becky, who I spent a lot of time with at the rice terraces, is also here.
(Note – For the last 4 posts I’ve been using a small laptop computer belonging to a staff member at a hostel. Sometimes it just jumps lines and all of a sudden I’m typing in the middle of paragraph somewhere. Not sure why it does this but I have tried to fix my mistakes when it does but it’s possible I missed some of these errors. Just wanted to let my readers know in case you see a few letters in a sentence that obviously don’t belong.)
My next destination is Guillin, east of Kunming in Guagxi province. It’s a long train journey away and I want to buy my ticket tonight to leave tomorrow. Unfortunately, since Jan. 1, hostels are not allowed to book tickets for foreigners. This is a huge pain in the ass as is was so easy to pay a bit of commission and any hostel could book a bus, plane or train ticket for you. Now I have to go to the station myself and brave long lines and possible language difficulties.
I took the bus to the train station which was 20 minutes away. I went armed with my Mandarin phrasebook and a handwritten note in Chinese characters from one of the helpful staff at Cloudland explaining where and when I would like to go. I entered into one of the shortest lines to buy tickets. Contrary to what a Chinese traveler at the hostel told me, I didn’t have to wait in line for hours. I was at the ticket counter in less than 3 minutes! I gave the guy my note and he showed me the computer screen confirming my details for the ticket. It all looked good, so I bought the ticket. For something different, I took a scooter taxi back to the hostel.
Back at the hostel I showed my ticket to a staff member. She looked it over and I was beginning to get worried when she didn’t say anything. Turns out everything was fine with it, she was just surprised at the price. It was almost 100Yuan ($17) less than the price when they used to book tickets for foreigners! Not sure why this was, but I’ll take it!
With my ticket for tomorrow sorted out, I showered, ate dinner and sat down to watch a movie. Someone had put on Seven, which I had seen many times but not in years and it was a chilled evening watching it again.
Jan 06 2012