Archive | October, 2011

19th October – Wuxi to Chongqing

24 Oct

We woke up to a misty morning and set off through a small village on an increasingly steep and winding road. One young local was being trained on the wheelbarrow.




The mist gradually turned to heavy rain and we made a stop for lunch outside a firework factory. The road was covered in mud and was very slippery. Two km up the road we saw a lorry hanging on the crash railings with only a few bits of grass and shrubs between it and a straight 800m drop to the valley below. They were very lucky indeed!



The road was high and we were glad of the barriers!



We saw a total of six accidents including another lorry which had hit a power line post, which had again saved it from a massive drop down the mountain. Finally we arrived at a bad crash and had to follow a local car down tiny roads to join the road after the blockage
The rain started to ease to drizzle and the views improved. People were emerging and carrying on with their harvesting.



The whole area was terraced here and in between the crops were more tombs.




We continued on and crossed a huge bridge over the Yangzi river. It was very hazy and difficult to see over the high guard rails on the bridge. We didn’t stop.

Finally we got to the freeway and it felt good to be able to relax a little. Nowhere near as much fun, but it is tiring and much more dangerous on the small roads. Mainly because of the better off car drivers, who often have fast cars but little experience.

First stop on the freeway was a lady selling walnuts. Funny the ones she showed us opened easily, the ones we bought were hard as granite.



One thing that is surprising in China is that the police seem intimidated by wealth or status and road rules seem optional for some. Expensive cars drive with either no number plates or they are covered with camouflage cloth. They may have more money but they treat other motorists as though they should move aside for them, often using hazard warning lights to say “hey I’m important, you are peasants, …. move aside”! The slightly more modest cars are more discreet about their attempts to fool the speed cameras.



Don’t get me wrong, the normal Chinese people are really friendly, generous and smiley, but the so called ‘new rich’ can be pushy and arrogant to the extreme! They seem to have forgotten where they came from.

We stopped for the night about 100km from Chongqing in a town. We parked outside Springs guest house and had the noisiest night of our trip so far…… no sleep. Graham was grumpy in the morning …. and Marjool worse!


18th October – Still on the road to Wuxi

24 Oct

In the morning we walked up the steep paths to the terraces above the house where all sorts of vegetables were grown. It was a good place to view the village and river below.



The farmer in the house above was dryng out his maize in preparation for grinding into flour.



We said goodbye to the family and left them a few odds and ends and 20 yuan ( 2 pounds) as a thank you. Like everyone one else they refused several times before they finally accepted. Even when we asked to buy vegetables from the farmers, we had to force them to accept payment. Amazing when they have so little.

The buildings were slightly different as we continued along the valley. The houses had random slate roofs, held on by their own weight.



There was still lots of maize grown here but more and more rice fields were appearing. Here there are few farm animals to feed through the winter and the rice stems are dried and burnt and the ash raked over the soil.



We passed through the odd little town and although it is tempting to look around, there are people moving everywhere. Nobody looks before they cross the road, motorbikes swerve out without looking. Mothers and children, or children on their own, step out in front of you …. it is chaotic and so you need to concentrate!



It was a lovely day and flat spots to stop for lunch are hard to find. People thought we were mad when we stopped here to cook omelette and rice. We soon had twenty or so people sitting watching us from the road. They stayed until we had finished lunch and washed the car!



There were lovely country scenes along the road.



Corners need to be taken slowly as around each bend you can find missing road, rocks in the road, broken down trucks and people walking or cycling in the middle of the road.



We were so lucky that the sky was clear! The view looking back from the windy road was fantastic.



We found a nice camping spot at the side of the river. Spring cooked dinner and we sat around the campfire until late.




That night it started to rain ….. if it was heavy we’d have to move!

17th October – Xian to Wuxi

24 Oct

We set off in the morning and took the freeway to Ankang. Soon after leaving Xian we went into the mountains and the freeway just carved a route straight through! There was just one tunnel after another, and if was not a tunnel it was a raised section of road, often up to 1 km in length. The tunnels got longer and longer and one was over 18 km! Only the Chinese would build a road here. The most amazing thing is that the whole of the country is criss crossed with freeways, and many must be the same in terms of the difficulty in building them, as it seems that most of the country is mountains. It is civil engineering on a massive scale.

We had decided to leave the freeway at Ankang and try the provincial roads that just wind their way through the  mountains, often clinging to the sides, with vertical rock above. The scenery was lovely and it was much easier to stop and take pictures.



Most of the rivers have dams to provide water for the local villages. The bigger ones have hydro schemes.



Because the roads are cut into the rockface they require constant repair and clearing from rock slides. Every so often you have to wait to get past a blockage.



As we travelled I could understand why the guide had recommended taking the big roads. Delays could last days if there was bad weather and as most self driving groups shoot through China due to the guiding costs, there is probably little opportunity to use these roads. A journey that takes a few hrs on the freeway would take us more than two days! It is worth it though …

One advantage is that you get to see people close up, and they are happy to have their picture taken as long as you show them. Baskets are used for everything.



Only slight problem is finding places to stop for the night as land is either very steep or, if flat, is used for crops, even the tiniest piece. Even the verges are often used to grow food. There are a lot of mouths to feed here! We started looking for houses with a flat drive and asked them if we could park on it. Spring the guide often slept in the house.



Lots of people keep a pig to fatten up. In another market later on we found good size, young pigs for 16 yuan (160 p). This was our host’s pig.



Older Chinese people are prepared well in advance. Another thing stored at the back was granny and grandads coffin. I asked what the nice boxes were thinking that they were some kind of storage boxes …. in a way they are! The old lady explained that they like to know where there are going next. She had also picked a spot on the hill for the tomb.




16th October – Xian city – 2nd Day

19 Oct

Xian is a very large and very busy modern city, the numbers of people moving around on the 10m wide pavements is just amazing. Everything is tidy, clean and people are immaculately dressed. The vast majority of people moving around are under 3o yrs old. Cities are not really our thing though and we are ready to go back to the countryside once we have done all we need to do here.

When we left the hotel, we again went through the back streets. It is much more lively and is where normal Chinese people do their shopping. Prices are lower and the sights and sounds are much more interesting. One of the things that we had not seen before was the naan bread ovens, the bread is stuck to the sides of the oven to cook and flipped over half way through.




We loved just looking at the different ways that things are done. Even the butchers shops are interesting as you can see all the action.



Some of the meat looks more tempting than others.



We preferred the look of the bread dumplings and the dried kiwi fruit.




We continued our walk past the bell tower and on to the Canon service centre to pick up the lens. As promised it was all ready and with a new auto focus unit and complete clean, the cost was 48 pounds. Great to have it back as the small camera is great for quick shots but does not take as nice pictures as the Canon.

Tonight we are going to have Peking Duck in one of the special restaurants at the south of the walled city …. yum!

15th October – Xian city

18 Oct

We left before 9.00 am for the drive into the city, which took about 45 mins. There was a lot of dodging and weaving as we stood our ground through the traffic. If you are too timid you would never get anywhere. The big bumper helped! We spent an hour or so driving around looking for a hotel that was within the walled city, that had parking and was reasonably priced. We ended up finding a central one for an average of 30 pounds a night for the two nights.

We needed to catch up with the website, wash clothes and get our camera lens repaired if possible. We had not been able to use the main camera since UB. We did not do much in the way of sightseeing, but did walk through to the Bell Tower and the Muslim back streets on our way to a restaurant for lunch. Afterwards we found a Canon Quick Service Centre, who said that if we got the lens to them by 6.00 pm, would have it ready to pick up by 2.00pm on Sunday!! Great service if it works out.



That evening just went around the corner for noodles. Cost 35 Yuan for three, including three portions of noodles, one curry dish with rice and three glasses of grape juice.

14th October – Xian – Terracotta Army

18 Oct

Left the little guest house at Pingyao and headed south towards Xian. It was a sunny day and there was little in the way of smog until we got close to the Yellow River. The view of the river and mountains would have been great but it was not possible to see far.



The day was not very exciting as we had to cover over 490km on freeways. It was really just a blur of very good roads and frequent toll booths. At the end of the trip we will add the tolls up and give a total.

We arrived at the site of the Terracotta Army and museum at around 3.30 and decided to go ahead and visit as it did not close until 7.00 pm. Entry was 110 Yuan and parking 15 Yuan.The site is set in park like grounds and big hangers protect the pits that contain the remains of the army. There is also a modern museum with lots of photos and relics from the site. There were also pictures of celebrity guests (like the Clintons) walking among the soldiers in the pits. We had to make do with the view from above!




Among the other items on display were replicas of the chariots that the Emperor Qin Shi Huang (first emperor) of China used to ride in. He was 13 when he took the throne and it is believed that work started on his mausoleum 246 BC! He was buried here in 210 to 209 BC. As our boys would say … well old!




Having spent about two and a half hours at the site, we drove into the nearby village and then out into farmland to look for a camp spot. We found a place only a couple of kms from the site. It was actually next to a grave and so Spring was not totally relaxed in her little tent!
Apparently in the small villages people can be buried on your own land. Cremations are recommended in city areas for obvious reasons …. there are so many people here!


13th October – Pingyao

17 Oct

It suddenly rained hard in the night and the wind was gusting around the camper and tent. Spring thought she was going to get blown off the hill and so we had to get up in the night and move the camper to give her some shelter from the wind. By the morning the wind had dropped and the sun was out. Lucky as it cleared away the smog. Sometimes, when you are near a power staion the air is not that great!



However today was a clear one, which is apparently quite unusual in this area. When it was time for lunch we pulled off the freeway and dropped into a little village. They were drying and sorting maize.






As normal as soon as you stop the car, interested people pop their head in to take a look. They are not shy!



Marjool liked the trousers that all the little children wear here. They have a big hole so that they can squat to do their business.



We drove most of the day and caught odd glimpses of parts of the Great Wall. We had avoided Beijing and so did not do the normal Great Wall sightseeing visit. We will have to do that another day!



At around 5.00 pm we arrived at Pingyao. It is a walled city that has been preserved and although it has geared up for tourism it is still lived in by many families who have been there for many generations.



We stayed in a little guest house that was 120 Yuan a night for a room.



We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening wandering around the town.



In one little courtyard we saw lots of really brightly coloured decorations. They are used for funerals.



We ate that night in a tiny little restaurant. It cost around 40 Yuan for 3 (about 1.30 pounds each) including beer and tea! We then walked back through all the little antique shops and alleys back to the guest house. Its strange not sleeping in the camper!

12th October – Datong

16 Oct

The posts for China are now being posted by Ben as we cannot do them ourselves from here. Thanks Ben!

Diesel price is around 7 Yuan here which is around 70p / ltr.

Had a quiet night in the desert and Spring slept OK in the tent. Marjool gave her a hot water bottle ….. she’s got to have someone to spoil (and lets face it, it will not be me)!
We headed south towards Datong firstly on the national routes. Our first stop was in a little village where the houses were all made of mud and straw bricks cut from the ground. Some of the houses were now being abandoned as the young move to the cities. All around the village were pits dug in the clay with covers on. They were about 3 meters down and then went off horizontally for about 2 meters. We found out that the villages store vegetables in them for the winter … just like the Russians.



There was a lovely old couple that we met who explained how life was in the village. They were tiny and very sweet! It was useful to have the guide (which is compulsory for self drive in China anyway) as we can get more detail about local life.




We carried on down the freeway towards Datong stopping at frequent intervals to pay tolls. Local roads tend to be jammed up and so to cover the distances we are using the freeway. Not our preference but the costs would be too high in terms of the daily guide costs if we went the slow way. Shame.



We arrived at the Huahong Grottoes (Yungang) and worked our way through all the new visitor centre complete with brand new temples, stone bridges and artificial lake. The entry fee was 150 Yuan each (about 15 pounds) and parking an extra 15 Yuan. This must put the price beyond many locals. However the Chinese tourists seem very wealthy and generally drive big luxury European or Japanese cars and have the latest Canon cameras. There is a lot money around.

The grottoes date back to 453 and are basically lots of man made caves that have thousands of Buddhas carved into the rock, ranging in size from a few cm to 17m high. Many of them are still painted but others have lost their decoratin and are now bare rock. There are 53 grottoes in total and a series of temple buildings built up against the rock face.





The largest Buddha is right at the end of the rock face.



After leaving the grottes we headed into the hills and found a bit of farmland to camp on. It was actually a terrace and so made a nice flat camp spot. We cooked dinner outside and listened to Chinese music.


11th October – Still waiting for customs clearance – Erenhot

15 Oct

We spent most of the day wandering around the town again trying to find a wifi place. Despite how advanced it seems in China compared with Mongolia, there is no real 3G availability and so the ‘tethering’ that we have been using to link our laptop to the internet via the phone, does not work here. We also discovered that the site that we use to update our blog is blocked here, and so posts from China will not be easy.

As we walked around the town there was lots of little interesting sights like the nut and seed stall.




We now also had our temporary number plate displayed in the car.



After waiting until 3:45 on the second day, we finally had the customs clearance and could leave Erenhot on the southern road! Just outside the town the desert landscape is decorated with dinosaurs and some artificial trees. Interesting!





This evening we stopped in a landscape that is still very barren, put up Springs new tent and had an early night.

10th October – Over the border to Erenhot China.

15 Oct

We set off early and got to the Mongolian side of the border at around 8.30 (it opens at around 8.00) and initially joined a queue. We were soon surrounded by UAZ jeeps full of day trippers crossing the border for shopping. When they would not let us out, we pulled out and off the side of the road into the desert sand, backtracked and then drove all the way to the front of the queue …. much to our surprise and the locals disgust we were allowed in the pole position ….. serve them right for not letting us in!!

The border can only be described as chaotic, with everyone trying to push in front of you at each desk you get to …. time to sharpen your elbows!

First make sure that you get a document like the one below if you want to get your car into China. Without it you may lose another day and 300 or 400 US$.



As you get through the first barrier you are given a document to allow you to record the three steps of the process. First in Quarantine control, second is immigration and third is customs. Without all stamps you cant leave! We managed to get a number of a young lady called Sudaa ( means pearl in Mongolian – I think) who speaks good English.  We have a phone number if you need it! She helped us through the process and was really nice.

We made it through within an hour and drove the short distance to the Chinese border. Suddenly everything was dust free, green with plants and trees and very organised. The contrast was amazing!







When we looked up and saw the flag flying in the breeze, we knew we were there!



We met our guide who seemed really nice and was called Miss Spring … we were to call her spring.

We went through immigration and a customs check that involved a separate clearing company. We then followed a van to a hotel car park where would stay until the car had been cleared.

While we were waiting we wandered around the town which was a really lively place. It was also very clean, tidy and modern in comparison with the Mongolian towns.



At one point we had to meet a policeman who had to check our Chinese number plate. This is the policeman and the guide Miss Spring.



In the evening we went for hot pot, which was lovely ….. it had been a long day, and we still had no idea how long it would take to clear the car.




That night we slept in the car in the hotel car park as we were not allowed to move the car until the clearance process was complete.