This morning we got to the airport and on our flight to Guangzhou. We had the day to spend in Guangzhou before needing to get on our train to Hong Kong. Our guide drove us straight to the city where we walked through the massive crowds of people shopping at various stores. We noticed tons of large warehouses full of shoes and clothes, it seemed to be a major trading hub where everything is made…exported and imported.
We went to the place they told us to have lunch and surprise, surprise it was awful mass-produced tourist slop. I think it was one of the worst we’ve had…we definitely didn’t leave full.
After lunch we drove over to the Chen Clan Academy which had amazing architecture. It is an important heritage site for China and was used to house Chen family members from all over the province to take imperial examinations. The detail in the building was really impressive…the style is folk art with classic Lingnan architecture. There were colorful figures all hand-made decorating the roof-tops and huge massive doors opening into 4 additional courtyards. Each building or hall in the various courtyards held all kinds of crafts…stone, brick, wood and ivory carvings as well as paintings, pottery sculptures and embroidery. The building itself was amazing but all of the arts and crafts inside were also quite entertaining. One of the exhibits entailed all kinds of dragon sculptures in preparation for 2012…the year of the dragon which was our favorite. We stopped in the little souvenir shop before leaving and couldn’t resist buying a few little copper buddha’s to add to our around the world collection.
We only had time for one more quick stop so drove the few minutes over to Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall. It was a monument built-in honor of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen who was a great leader of the Chinese democratic revolution. Inside…in the hallway, there is a timeline of history showing the events and impact Dr Sun Yat-Sen had on the Chinese people…it includes letters, pictures and other relics. Once past the hallway, the main room is a huge theater looking place which holds performances and important conferences. We spent only a brief amount of time reading some of the documentation (what we could find in English) and asking questions about him to our guide.
It seemed like we had only been there for a short amount of time when our guiding was nudging us to get back to the car…we needed to beat the traffic to the train station. We got there, grabbed a coffee and found our train. The train ride was only about 2 hours and when we arrived a nice couple assisted us with how to get to the area of Hong Kong we needed to go to. We ended up taking a taxi straight to our hotel where we checked in amongst the many people in the lobby.
The hotel was large and modern with many restaurants connected to it. Our room wasn’t so big but was clean and had all the necessities. I of course elevated my foot since I had been walking around on it all day and Giff went walking around for a bit to check out the area. He came back with a large pizza and bottle of wine which was a nice way to end our busy day.
Unfortunately, even though we have these 2 days in Hong Kong…we are not getting to see the city. We decided to stay in today and catch up on blog work and computer stuff while taking advantage of the downtime with my ankle elevated. After our full day of “work”, we went to a little bar in the hotel to have a beer and a snack before dinner. After snack time, we walked over to one of the restaurants connected to the hotel for sushi. Dinner was pretty good, we walked around the lobby a bit and then went back to our room for the evening. Tomorrow we leave for Singapore!
We spent our whole day on a boat cruising down Li River…it was beautiful. We had our own table and chairs with a big window, we sipped on tea as we gazed out at the scenery. The river snaked its way through all kinds of mountains…one of the scenes our guide pointed out was from the 20 yuan bill. We kept going back and forth from our seats to the top deck to get pictures and feel the wind on our faces.
After our day of cruising, we ended in a little town called, Yangshuo. It was a cute town with tons of little shops and vendors selling their goods. Things were super cheap too, we picked up a few things along the way to find dinner. The guide had recommended a place, and we found it at the end of town, upstairs in a building with an outside patio.
The menu was really interesting, the first page was a list of holistic herbal soups. The ingredients cooked together created a healthy concoction…each for something different. We ordered one made with lotus root which had a surprisingly strange consistency…although it was hard, when we bit into it…it was really stringy, each bite would leave your mouth covered in a hair-like consistency. It didn’t have such a strong taste but very weird. We also ordered river snails and a veggie stir-fry. No, we didn’t order the dog but…it was on the menu!
After dinner, we were in the car for a couple of hours before we got back to our hotel. On the way, we stopped at one of the street vendors for our first pomelo. We had never had one, and they seemed to be in season since they were on every corner. It tasted like a grapefruit but less juicy. Back at our hotel, we relaxed, got packed and went to bed. Tomorrow we are back at the airport.
So far, we have been visiting a few of the major cities in China but for the next couple days we will be seeing Guilin which is known for its scenery. It will be nice to have some fresh air vs. the very polluted other cities we have toured.
The first thing on the itinerary was the Reed Flute Cave which is one of the highlights on Guilin…it is a large dark cave full of various rock formations and slippery steps. Although the natural formations were amazing, it was very commercialized with many tourists and neon lights to exaggerate the scenery. They had names for the various things like the mushroom for a rock formation looking like a mushroom etc. Giff went on his own with the guide since walking in the dark on slippery rocks didn’t sound smart for my sprained ankle. He said taking pictures was challenging because the lighting was so dark but had fun exploring.
After Reed Flute Cave, Giff and the guide swung by the hotel to pick me up. We went to the Elephant Trunk Hill, a large hill which looks like an elephant dipping its trunk into the Li River. There were a few vendors sitting down near the hill selling their trinkets. A nice bridge connected to an area shaded by trees with a few benches to admire the scenery. We took some pictures and then I sat on one of the benches and waited for Giff and the guide to take a longer walk on the other side of the hill for a different view. The walk was over rocks and went right across the river.
After looking at the scenery, we were on our way to a tea farm. Giff and I have really been getting into the various teas and were curious to see where it comes from and how it is made in China. After a short ride, we arrived to the organic tea estate. An English-speaking representative was waiting for us. He first walked us out to the farmland which looked like rows and rows of short bushes. He handed us each a hat…one of those straw pointy looking hats you see Asians wearing in the rice fields. We couldn’t resist putting them on our heads with our hands together in a prayer pose for a picture. The tea rep picked a few pieces of tea leaves off the bush and started explaining how tea is made.
Right away, we learned that green/white and black tea comes from the same bush! It is just harvested during different times. He showed us how to tell premium green tea over lower quality. When buying green tea, always look at it and smell it. If it has only one leaf and one needle…it is of the highest quality, 2 leaves and the needle second best and three leaves and a needle…lowest quality. When looking at it…it should be green but a lot of white…which is the needle. If it is almost all green then you have many leaves instead of the one leaf to one needle ratio. If it is brown and green…it is old and dried out. The white tea which has even more antioxidants is harvested early spring and all picked by hand, it can’t be picked when its raining nor when there is a frost on the ground. It probably has the most health benefits because it is processed the least. Black tea is the most processed…it is picked and goes through an extreme drying process.
After our tea lesson, he took us upstairs which had beautiful views of the tea farm and into a small private room. There was a whole traditional tea set on a little wooden table, it was literally a huge tree stump polished with matching small tree stump chairs. We took a seat and he prepared the tea tasting. The farm is all organic and most of the crop goes to government people. He had us taste 3-4 different teas and made them in the proper teapot depending on the type of tea. Black tea and green/white teas are not made in the same teapot…green/white should be made in porcelain and oolong/black tea should be made in clay. He always poured hot water over the pot to warm it and always threw out the first batch of tea…he called it washing the leaves. He showed us the proper way to hold our tea-cup, one for a male and the other for a female. He answered our many questions and drank the tea with us.
After tea tasting, we went into their sales room where all the tea is packaged and for sale. There were also tea sets with the tea-pot, teacups and rosewood tables hand carved for having traditional tea ceremonies like the one we just had. Every Chinese family owns one and uses it for special occasions. We shopped around, debating on whether or not we should by the whole set…it was very tempting but we kept asking ourselves if we would really use it back at home. We finally decided against it…we probably wouldn’t use it so often and would have to pay a lot to ship it. We did buy a few bags of tea since this was the good stuff. China does not export their best tea…but we got our hands on some.
After our day of sight-seeing and tea tasting we had some downtime before arriving at a local restaurant recommended by our tour guide. Did I mention this tour guide is very sweet but she is under 21! I don’t think she is quite qualified to be leading tour groups quite yet. When we would ask questions about Chinese history or culture she would sometimes tell us she would ask her dad or google it…not exactly what we’re paying for but that’s ok. The restaurant was very local…I don’t think anyone spoke English in there. She came in with us and ordered for us…then left. We had a lot of fun looking at the menu which had zero English…just symbols, as well as people watching and of course checking out all the random food around us.
We started with their standard pot of tea and a cold beer. Then the food started rolling out…there was a vegetable sautéed, two different soups with meat and noodles and the main course which was beer fish stir fry, served in a wok which was still on to keep the food warm. There was also the spicy chicken which we thought would be good except it wasn’t. In the US, when you order chicken…it is either served without bones and made all different ways or served with bones in set pieces like a chicken leg or breast or thigh etc. What they did with this was cut all the chicken parts into tiny bite-sized pieces with the bones in. So, we would pick up a piece which was tiny and need to take tiny little bites out of the tiny little bit because there was a bone the same size in the middle of it. Do they eat the bones? It certainly did not seem practical at all.
Dinner was good and entertaining, we decided to walk around just for a few minutes to see the town at night. There was a large lake in the middle with trees around it, lit with green lights. There were plenty of people out and about taking a stroll. I went back to the hotel to once again put my foot up and Giff walked around for a while around town…people watching and taking it all in. He ran into some kind of formal dinner party and watched the locals playing music and dancing which he really enjoyed.
Once he was back in the hotel room, we watched some TV and went to bed.
We started early today…the best time to see the giant pandas are when they are eating breakfast and more active. We arrived at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and saw the giant panda statue in the middle of the intersection. We hopped on the little trolley which drove us through bamboo shoots to the main area. The first thing we noticed was the center itself…there were hundreds of different kinds of trees, bamboo, grass and flowers sitting on 100s of acres. The paths made to get from each area were surrounded by tall bamboo sticks and there were many birds chirping. This was nothing like a zoo…no concrete floor with fake trees in a small space. The giant pandas have large fenced in areas outside under the stars…the ground is grass and there is plenty of bamboo to munch on. They also have several trees for climbing and playing and a building for the pandas to get out of bad weather.
The first giant panda was kind of hiding behind his building, we could not get a good look at him so we continued through the park to find another one. There are currently 72 pandas at the center and they are always working on trying to breed these giant panda bears which they call “living fossils” because this species is 8000 years old! On average, a species lifespan is usually 6000 years. Breeding is very challenging and once the mother gives birth, she can kill the baby easily not realizing how to take care of her baby. The mother is about 150 pounds and the baby is 1/100th the size of its mother. So…the giant panda bats at her baby with her paw and sometimes kills it. The mother does however catch on…since she can get pregnant about once a year…she learns with experience how to take care of her baby.
As we walked through the bamboo which by the way, each panda eats about 110 pounds daily…we saw a couple of teen pandas. They were both walking around, one was eating while one put on a show, laying on his back and looking at us upside-down. We got a great video and of course some good pictures. These bears are so darn cute. They are however aggressive…and although they eat bamboo as their main food source, the pandas in the wild are meat eaters. They just don’t eat much meat because they aren’t so good at catching animals. After the teens, we saw some babies…there were about 7 of them and all were about 2 yrs old. They were tired though and literally slept the entire time we were watching them.
In the next area were multiple pandas…one adult was sleeping while an adolescent panda came near him and started playing, chewing on the hammock and falling over as he played around. It was tempting to stay and watch them all day but our guide told us for a very hefty price…we could sit right next to a panda and get a picture. We decided since it was pricey (the money goes towards the research center and you can only get this close to a panda in China) that one of us would do it, and I was the lucky one! As a kid, I use to collect pandas…my room was full of them so to get to touch one was very exciting. They put plastic over my shoes, gloves on my hands and a plastic robe on me and sent me into the panda nursery. On the bench was a 4 month old adorable panda eating honey off his paw. I sat next to him…a bit nervous, it is a bear with claws and teeth after all! He was very busy eating his honey but Giff got some great pictures and I got to pet him. Unfortunately, they only give you about 2 minutes so we felt it was too much money for such a quick experience but still it was pretty cool.
After petting the panda, we spent more time out at the main area where about 4 pandas were sleeping up in the trees. We took tons of pictures and watched the keeper call one of the pandas who after hearing his call slid down the tree and went straight into the building where he was being called…it’s amazing they can be trained like a pet. After the giant pandas, we went over to the area where the red pandas were…they look more like raccoon but bigger and tinted red. There were a few in the trees and the keepers were trying to get them down in order to give them a shot they needed. Maybe the red pandas knew a shot was coming…they climbed as high as they could and held on tight as the workers were shaking the trees in hopes of catching them. It was quite a spectacle to see the red pandas running and the keepers running after them in circles.
We stopped to watch a short movie on the breeding of giant pandas and walked through the panda museum before leaving the panda base. We really had a lot of fun watching these amazing bears who are so close to extinction (due to climate change and environment due to human behavior).
After pandas, we went to a local restaurant for lunch. Our tour guide sat with us and ordered all kinds of food. We had noodles called din din, a local specialty. A hot-pot of sliced beef and veggies in hot oil, and kung pao chicken which is from this area of Sichuan. We also had a sautéed local veggie which was kind of a mix between spinach and broccoli and a dish of wild mushrooms in an amazing soy based sauce. They also served a type of creamed corn soup…we ate our huge lunch, while sipping on local beer and chatting with our guide. It was nice to eat at a local restaurant instead of one of those tourist lunch places the rest of the tour guides have been bringing us to.
After lunch, we were off to the area called wide and narrow lane alley which is one of the older areas in the city. It is a couple blocks full of old buildings consisting of traditional restaurants and tea houses. There are also many vendors selling both street food and souvenirs. We enjoyed walking through the pedestrian only streets and people watching. It would have been nice to have more time to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea.
We had 2 other areas to see in the city before we had to get to the airport so…headed to Ku Fu’s cottage. Giff and I hadn’t heard of him before, but he is a very well-known poet in China. They have found many articles of his writing dating back to the Qing dynasty. The “cottage” is now a museum of sorts…it has several Chinese style buildings amongst green forest and a lake. Inside the buildings are the ancient books with his poems and other pieces dating back to that century. It was actually very relaxing to walk through the serene area…they also had a cottage set up to show what his simple home must have looked like…in the back there was an area where archeologists are discovering additional pieces from that time period. Giff and I decided we really need to get one of his books to appreciate his work since there is an entire museum and several statues in his honor.
After our stroll through the cottage area, we had one more quick stop before it was time to end our quick tour in Chengdu. The area was another few blocks in the city which sort of mimicked the wide and narrow lane alley…there were several restaurants and vendors selling all sorts of things. The difference however, was this area was new…built to look old. We only had a half hour, so quickly walked down the main street taking a quick look.
After our tour of the area, we got in the car and to the airport. We had plenty of time and the flight was pretty easy…only about and hour and 20 minutes. We arrived in Guilin and our tour guide was waiting to pick us up. It was late, close to 10PM, so they took us straight to our hotel where we checked in and went to bed pretty quickly knowing our tour would start first thing in the morning.