All posts in Blog

05 Sep

Day 8: Yangshou, Bamboo Rat and Karaoke

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / September 5, 2009 / 0 Comments

We skirted Yangshuo on our way to see a couple of the local tourist sites. First the Big Banyan tree, a 1400 year old tree. This one with a fence around it so you can’t climb it, although people were still doing lots of touching. We were there by 8.10, but the monkey men were already there, and the crowds were building. After a photo op with Tory and her Simian friends, we were then on to Steve’s cousins house where he has a restaurant on top of a hill in the country side. The hero of the meal was a still living Bamboo rat in his little trap caught whilst we were ballooning. Restaurants in town do not have a license to serve this gopher type animal, so this was a special treat. After photos, we were asked if we wanted to see it killed – ‘Noooooo’! We did however, catch a glimpse of the bamboo rat being blowtorchedto de-hair the critter before before being tossed in the wok.

Here the pace slowed down a little (after a whirlwind trip with so much to see and the only down time being in the car through mad traffic on poor roads). Our fearless guide has had our days programmed for 12, 14, even 18 hrs, and has barely left our side). Once witnessing the dispatching of the rat, we relaxed on one of their balcony dining areas, beer and water to hand, and read, listened to the birds and cicadas, or dozed in the balmy breeze. After a spot of fishing on the Li river yielded no reward, just an hour of getting hot and thirsty

Time for lunch!! Bamboo rat, a beef like meat but with so very many small bones, and cooked with large amounts of chili. The feet and tail were used to make a soup, then sour beans for Mr Wu, Rice, Greens, and a treat for Steve – a plate of deep fried Cicadas!! This time, Tory tried the cicadas first, but really, one’s enough. Not the taste so much as the knowledge that you have all those legs and antenna in your mouth, getting stuck in your teeth, tickling your throat as they go down. As a rule, in this part of China we could eat very very well, very cheaply. Plain restaurant meals for the 4 of us are only around the 120 – 200 Yuan mark ($20 – $35) with beer included. Meals with more dishes run to 300 Yuan ($50). But delicacies such as Bamboo rat, snake, turtle push the price of the meal up to 600 Yuan, turning a very cheap holiday into an unexpectedly expensive food safari.

We are enjoying our quieter day, with an afternoon of resting and washing, then exploring the tourist town of Yangshuo. We are finally seeing some westerners here, mostly in pairs on backpacking holidays, and the market stall holders are pushier in plying their wares. A treat that had to be sampled was their Green Bean flavoured icecream! It was a dull green color (like overcooked green beans), but had a kind of herbal tea flavour. Not bad, but not gonna replace chocolate icecream on my list of favourites.

We had the local speciality – ‘Beer fish’ for dinner – whole river carp cooked in a beer and tomato sauce. Then it was off for the cultural experience of the local light show – a massive tourist show put on in an amphitheatre by the river. Spotlit mountains (as only the chinese can – they also light them in beautiful colours!), a cast of hundreds and a performance the scale of olympic games opening proportions. Chinese singing can get bit much – sometimes it sounds just like bagpipes – but the show was visually spectacular. The evening was rounded off with a few drinks in a karaoke bar with Steve and one of his employees, in a private room with karaoke up very very loud.

Chinese version of a Hummer – actually very cool!

Tory enjoys a Green Bean Ice-Cream

Mmmm Rat Feet Soup

Mmmm Rat Liver

Mmmm Cicadas – Deep Fried!

05 Sep

Day 8: Early Morning Ballooning

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / September 5, 2009 / 0 Comments

4.32am. The all too familiar ring tone of our guide Steve rings through the timber hotel room. We ‘awake’ from the torture instrument that the Chinese call a bed. This was the worst so far in this journey. under the sheet it looks like a mattress but it feels like a freight pallet with a mattress material cover. The edges are solid timber and the middle core is probably ply wood or bamboo.

Bags packed, we climb into our vehicle and with eyes half awake we embark on the drive to Yangshuo. In the distance the strobing glow of lighting sillhouettes the karst peaks and I’m beginning to wonder if taking a balloon trip in China was such a good idea.

We arrive at the base of the mountains in Yangshuo as the team are firing up the first canopy. The red burst of flames echo into the valley as the balloon takes shape and slowly rises up. Given a complimentary cap to guard our hair from the heat above, we hop into the basket and say our last prayers to the ‘travel gods’

Lift off! We rise rapidly above the valley floor into the cool tropical air. A few more bursts of from the burner and we achieve altitude. A gentle breeze takes us along a path which roughly follows the river below. Once we are up 2 more balloons have since inflated and are rising up to greet us. The pilot feathers the burners and air vent causing the balloon to bob and weave it’s ways amongst the peaks. At one moment we are 20m from the river snaking its course and then within 15 frames of my camera – several hundred metres into the upper limits of perceived safety.

As the flight continues the early mist starts to clear and reveal the rising sun. Already at 15º to the land below, it glows a hot pink shrouded by a dragon fist of early morning cloud.

This was truly postcard stuff. A decision to try this experience many months ago has paid off. We saw a thatched green escarpment as far as the eye could see. Fruit and rice, vegetables and chinese greens each in their own compartmentalised space at varying stages in their development. Combined with the mountains fading into the distance it was a moment in time. Once the sun was up, it was time for us to get down, chased by 3 ‘ninja’ balloon catchers around small fields of rice, taro, greens, and oranges. After a false start (too close to the only power line, and no wind at low altitudes to move us away), we were caught and brought down for a soft lading. After a 2 km walk we were back to the car, whilst our able pilot and his ninja crew folded up the balloon.

05 Sep

Day 7: Li River to Xing Ping

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / September 5, 2009 / 0 Comments

Another car trip, this time to the Crown Caves on the Li River. We started with a little train ride to the cave entrance, a boat ride along the river in the cave, and elevator ride up to the top of the cave to enjoy the scenery, and in total, 2 hrs spent underground with an amazingly extensive and commercialised cave system. Fluorescent tubes, coloured lights, funny names, guides using megaphones and no rules about not touching the stalagmites or climbing off the path to cuddle one to make nice picture. Another turtle to give money to and pat, another cheesy photo op. to commemorate your visit . Not like this for national parks and wildlife at home.

We then got on a bamboo raft for the 2.5 hr journey downstream to XingPing, just out of Yangshuo. The hills, karst peaks, are breathtaking, and the river ride was a great way to experience it. Our bamboo raft driver was Steve’s uncle, so we stopped at the village of Loao Cheng Tou for lunch and to visit his Aunt and young cousins. Toilets aside, the cleanliness everywhere has struck us. Everything is clean swept, and this very very basic village was spotless. We saw aunties house, very few belongings, a few pieces of utilitarian furniture, but so house proud. Not forgetting our food safari – our cheapest meal for 4 so far. Dried Little River Fish, Pork and Sour Beans, 2 plates of greens, Duck Egg rice, 4 long necks beer, a couple of soft drinks and bottles of water, all for 130 Yuan – $20.

Markets, old village in Xing Ping
XingPing is Steve’s home town. A mix of the old town and new marketplaces. In the late afternoon he took us to his mountain – a hill he owns just out of town, for us to make nature photograph from the top. This impressive hillside affords a wonderful view of XingPing and the Karst peaks.

It keeps on being 35 degrees, humid and very very still, but this afternoon was the clearest so far. Makes us very excited about the hot air balloon ride planned for tomorrow.

05 Sep

Day 6: Back to Guilin

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / September 5, 2009 / 0 Comments

A morning stroll through the village afforded more new experiences – a picturesque village with wooden buildings, water lilly ponds, and fresh food markets – freshly butchered meat surrounded by flies. After a walk up a hill for making of natural photograph it was back in the car with the exact same harrowing experience but in reverse. I only wish I had taken photos of the roadworks to illustrate the point. To save my spine I regularly asked the driver to stop for icey cold pijiu. Adfter many rivers, rice paddies and spectacular views we were back in San Jiang for another lunch experience with Steve and his dodgy, stereotype looking business partners. Walking into the now familiar restaurant we walked past a curious bamboo plate balancing on the fish tank, I got in for a closer look. Someone had extracted a bee hive cut it open and jiggling within was about 1000 bee larvae squirming in the their honeycomb confines – complete with Queen bee attending to her babies. Noticing our curiosity we were pounced on asked if we’d like to try. Mmmmm, no thanks. Anywho, food time again – Lamb Hotpot (Lamb Soup), Sour Beans with Chilli, Steamed Catfish, Baby Water Buffalo with greens and garlic.

Our next leg of the journey was from San Jiang back to Guilin. The road improved, but the four 4hr trip was broken by a wander around a small town with a wind rain bridge (there are many in Dong towns), and a visit to the school for a toilet break. It was the worst toilet Tory had seen so far. Eight hip height cubicles with a central trough into which all matter flows. And as this was the end of the summer holidays, not much flow, but plenty of sit around in the sun. Mmmm. The next toilet stop at a petrol station (did we mention the beef we had yesterday? – made for many trips to local toilet facilities) was the second worst – mens and ladies toilets adjoined, such that all had to squat over a central trough, and watch anyone else’s business wash by. Soiled business dispeneries were placed in open bucket next to you. Charlie found it all a bit much.

Dinner was not very appealing that night, back at the restaurant in Guilin, As a treat, Steve had arranged river turtle for us – again, gutted and cleavered; feet, toes, lips, gullet and all, and shell to suck on. I was very brave and tasted it, but really, frogs and turtles remain somewhat slimy even after cooking, when they are served with skin on. Duck soup, wild rabbit hotpot, lipu taro (local root vegetable) with smoked pork belly and greens rounded out the meal. Getting a little tired of picking out bones with every bite – eating more vegies now 🙂 We finished the day with a walk around the night markets – every bit as tacky as night markets anywhere.

01 Sep

Day 5: The Road to the Dongs

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / September 1, 2009 / 0 Comments

Hiking back down the hill following our tireless Sherpas – god bless their cotton socks. A purchase of some jim jams and some other assorted souvenirs for the offspring we were into the car and a 3 hr drive to San Jiang which is home to the ‘tall Pagoda in all of Guilin’

A pagoda is a traditional ceremonial building and this one in particular was very tall – of which I was too scared to climb to the top. Tory was not and giggled as she passed my sweaty, scared carcass.

Again another feast followed of Wild Pig Skin Soup, Meat with Mushrooms and other assorted veggies and rice. I’m beginning to think our guide believes that I’m an alcoholic because as soon as I sit I have 2 cold long necks to next to me each time. Although Im not complaining yet!

Little did we know that the the following 4 hrs would be some of the worst driving experience I’ve ever had. It makes the drive to Mt Squires in the Simpson Desert feel like a Gelati licking stroll along the parade.

The autonomous government of the day thought it imperative to build a new highway through the mountains for a length of 150km by hand. It seemed that there may have been a workforce of 20 something (females mainly) laying concrete and screeing with whatever odd trowel at their disposal. Whilst this was happening the road eventually became a one lane goat track which accommodated every bus and truck that was decided to venture north or south along it. With no-one ever ever ever ever (and ever) yielding right of way this made for some very harrowing driving by our man Wu. To illustrate this point we saw 2 over turned lorries on the side of the road wing mirror deep in the paddies. Happening only minutes before we arrived.

This drive of course was to visit the Minority Village of the Dong people. Arriving after dark we were treated to the bamboo flute show. A local band in celebration for the Summer harvest. I purchased a bottle of rice wine (empty long neck filled from plastic tub in village square) and sat down with the locals to enjoy some local hospitality. What tasted like warm chardonnay mixed with cheap vodka, it was good juice in its purest form.

Dinner was hand made Sweet and Sour pork made by our guide Steve in his friends cafe kitchen, we were also treated to the bum burning experience of the local delicacy – fried dried beef with local mountain chili. Think of Territory Jerky steeped tabasco and then fried in oil and then topped with rounds of chili, served in chili oil. It had some chili in it. Tasty as buggery and as painful as the next day. Apparently.

01 Sep

Day 4: Rice Terraces and Frogs

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / September 1, 2009 / 0 Comments

An early morning Bamboo raft ride on Li river to ‘make a nicer natural photograph’. So many locals out and about – swimming, washing clothes, washing bodies or just bobbing along in the current that was very swift in the shallower parts of the river. Those not in the water were exercising on the banks – any old movement seems to go – back bends, arm circles, (looked very much like they were waving, but it seems, they were not). Others played badmington or practiced chi ball.

Long drive out of town, through gradually poorer areas of Guilin, past market gardens, and into the country side – very small landholdings where people grow chickens or ducks, or leafy greens that can be bought at the market on the day they are picked. First stop was Huang Le village, a town recognised by the Guinness book of records for having the most women with long hair, up to 1.8m in length. After enjoying a cultural show, with faux marriage ceremony (apparently, the women pinch you on the bum if they like you), tea with crunchy rice bubbles in it, and demonstration of the long hair, we walked through the timber village and over a precariously swinging bridge back to the car.

More driving up steep, winding roads, an occasional rockslide to skirt, and hairpin bends with no guard rails and a relaxed approach to staying on the right side of the road, we arrived at the car park for Ping An village. For 20 Yuan ($3.50), little sherpa women from the village will load our packs in there baskets and carry them the 45 minute walk up the stony path with rough hewn steps, muttering at us when we pass.

First stop lunch. For lunch we had chicken and rice cooked in the tube of a bamobo stem. And washed down of course with Ying Ping Bing Pijiu (bottle of icey cold beer). After lunch we checked into the hotel in the side of the mountain – of which all the materials had to be carried up on the back of woman in a basket or by donkey.

In the afternoon a leisurely hike through the Li Jiang Rice Terraces was breathtaking – showing us the luminescent staggered vistas for miles into the distance.

Again we are back to eat some more – it seems that this holiday is turning a gastronomic journey of southern china than a health retreat based on the assumed hiking we’d be doing.

Dinner was Wild Mountain Frog (again the animal is cleaved into bite sized chucks) fried with the obligatory wild chilli and garlic. Tory was not too excited to receive the said frogs hopping equipment. As well as frog we had the Chicken Soup and vegetable with egg. After dinner, Tory was treated to an hour long massage whilst I enjoyed many more cold pijiu on the balcony bar overlooking the valley.

31 Aug

Day 3: Guilin and Surrounds

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 31, 2009 / 0 Comments

What a city! A city the size of Adelaide. A city in which we stopped only 3 times in the traffic on the way to the hotel from the airport. A city that does not stop. The traffic doesn’t stop. The locals drive on the side of the road that they want, there are no traffic lights (or very few of them) no one gives way, no one looks before walking across a 5 lane main street and amazingly I saw one one injured, killed or abused! Road rage on Adelaide level simply does not exist here. It is a constant ballet of lawn mower engine powered rickshaws, double decker buses, pedal powered trikes, families on scooters, bikes and pedestrians without a care in the world. Amazing!

First stop Li River Cruise. We got onto a boat full of Chinese Tourists ready to travel down the river and lakes that surround Guilin City. Unbelievably the Chinese people are avid travelers within their own country and are equally delighted with the sights and sounds as we are. After motoring through the chain of lakes and manicured gardens we made our way back to the original mooring upon which we were set upon by several giggling school girls who had never seen westerners before. Very well dressed and polite they asked us, through our guide if they could have their picture taken with us. I only wished now, that we had out picture taken whilst they had theirs. In all it’s splendor, 2 x 6ft + fair haired, fair skinned westerners posing with two 5ft school girls from a far away province on a family holiday. Priceless. Surreal couldn’t cover the feeling of our first day in China.

After our cruise it was onto the Pearl Museum and Silk Factory for the obligatory tours of some of Gulins more famous exports. After an interesting guided tour of the silk worm and their skills – we were ushered into, yet again, another souvenir trap that seemed to extricate Yuan from the westerners pocket in a blink of an eye. Narrowly avoiding a Silk Quilt purchase I made my way to the tea canteen and delighted the locals with a 2 beer can purchase before 12 noon. Not in keeping with Eastern tradition, but necessary on holidays.

The Reed Flute caves were the largest caves I have encountered, lit as only the Chinese can – fluorescent white and blue lights, garish green signs giving rock formations such names as “Looking through window curtains at cloudy mountains”, “bumper harvest of vegetables”, “forest of stone”, “mushroom mountain”. The hour long tour culminating in a visit to several cave tortoises, the oldest being 1000 years old (true!!). He was positioned on a yellow silk throne, blinking myopically, waiting for visitors to wet a 5 Yuan note and adhere it to his granite like shell. At night he gets carried from his throne and placed back in the shallow pool – his home from the past eon.

Lunch was at the Super Guilin Restaurant. On first appearances a cheesy tourist trap but with authentic Guilin food and private rooms we were kings amongst men. Our first dish was Cave Fish (no doubt relieved from his subterranean dwellings during our previous tour). Now with the hero ingredient chosen, we were escorted to a private room, plied with local beer, and brought a sumptuous meal of whole baked fish, sizzling beef, Rice Hot Pot with spare ribs and a saucer of leafy greens. After eating it was back downstairs to inspect the pens for tonight’s banquet. Guinea Pigs? Rabbit? Chicken or Duck? Wild Pheasant, Snake? We selected mountain cobra and the pheasant from the collection of wire cages and boxes. The snake combined with the wings, head and feet of the pheasant were to be made into Dragon phoenix soup for our dinner. Once the serpent was swiftly dispatched by a pair of scissors we were on our way.

The afternoon was spent at Yaoshan Mountain – the tallest in Guillin at 909m. A chairlift ride up, some photos, and a toboggan ride down again – weeeeeeeee! Then an educational visit to the Guilin Government Tea Science and Rsearch Institute for compressed tea, oolong tea and green tea. Very informative 🙂

Cormorant fishing
Amongst the darkened concrete terraces and seedy stairways we accepted the invitation to view a cormorant fishing trip along the Li River. We hopped onto the ferry with 100 chinese tourists and cruised along side the men and their rafts. Within no time the sizable black birds, necks tied with packing twine had hopped into the water and were under the waves searching for their fishy quarry. Amazingly the water was very clear and with the help from the lanterns attached to the bow of the rafts we could see the cormorants at work. Darting amongst the river pebbles the first bird earned his keep. Back onto the raft the handler grabbed him by the neck flipped him upside and shook loose the fish from his tied throat. A couple quick commands and the bird was back in the water looking for more prey. At the day the birds are relieved from of their garrottes and fed a portion of their catch as a reward.

Once the head has been removed from the snake, it is bled into a tea cup mixed with a pure spirit and presented to the diner.

In this case the diner being me – chickened out and gave the concoction to our hapless guide, Steve to drink.

31 Aug

Day 2: Hong Kong

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 31, 2009 / 0 Comments

Today we venture into Hong Kong City and Kowloon. To give us an excuse the explore the city i have chosen 2 stores that I need to visit before we hit the Chinese mainland tomorrow. The stores are Lomography (lo-fi toy camera boutique) and Tin Cheung (hi-rent Canon retail experience). With pre-programmed iPhone maps we were on our way.

Keeping pace with Tory’s power strides around, in-between and amongst the generally height challenged locals we made our way to the first stop: Lomography. As we walked the cities streets a whole new world opened up to us. Past street vendors, fruit stands,live fish markets and men building skyscrapers with bamboo scaffolding, this city of Hong Kong seemed eons away from the sleepy burbs of Adelaide.

In no time we had made the 1.8km walk from central station to the Lomography Store. But it was closed. It seems that stores in HK don’t open until 11.00. Luckily there was a 7-11 across the road. We purchased some water and an Icey cold beer and sat in the manicured gardens across the way. After slaking our thirst and watching Tai Chi enthusiasts (from now on I refer to them as ninjas) we decided to explore through Bird Nest Street and Herbal Medicine Alley.

On our way to said alleys – we happened upon the a large centre that offered live fish markets and and other delicacies – or from what I could assume given the smell. My mandarin is a little rusty. Once we were inside you would’ve thought it was the set for Tarantinos new ‘Hostel’ offering. But it wasn’t. It was animals of every shape, breed and flavour being diced up into every imaginable serve, cut or purpose. The stand out was a shaved goat that had been essentially drawn and quartered but complete with head, eyes and beard that followed my gaze is a slipped past. On the way out a wire cage of croaking toads caught my camera’s attention – who knows what fate awaits them.

Leaving the markets we made our way to the above mentioned alleys. Piled in boxes, crates and clear tubes was an array of every kinds on mushroom, herb or dried animal once could imagine. Whilst Tory documented our find I went on my way to find the hero shot and there it was. A tomato box of of neatly stacked, tied and skewered flying lizards. Complete with their original metallic colored scales and piercing eyes – I couldn’t quite think how you would prepare them – it was possible they were an asian form or medicinal jerky, but didn’t try.

Next stop, Kowloon. Our Kowlooon journey across the water was required as I desperately needed a CF card and battery grip for my new rig. Once purchased I asked the camera guy if he knew a place that sold cold beer. He looked at his watch and so did I in unison. And explained that it was far too early. Funny, my watch said 1.10pm – far too late I thought for the first ale of the day. Picking that I was Australian he pointed me to a promenade at the end of the street. Once arrived – I understood his directions and wry smile. It was Australia street, selling cold beers, steak and pizza by the tray full. We pulled up stumps and enjoyed several rounds and some tasty pizza (by asian standards) and left after an hour of air-conditioned comfort.

After a short train journey we arrived at Tung Chung Station I had the taste for more cold beverages. Tory had the taste for more (or some) shopping as I had out-shopped her at this stage. I left Tory to her devices and in 5mins was enjoying a $7 bucket of Hoegarrten at the Novotel Front Bar. Within an hour and with 2 hrs to spare Tory joined me and enjoyed our last moments in HK with a round of berry Daiquiris.

Next Stop China Mainland (Guilin)
A 1hr flight from HK to Guilin seemed easy enough. But the 1.5hrs of customs, bus transfers, customs, baggage checks and swine flu paperwork got our nerves to say the least. It was now 9.30pm and we were finally on our way from Guilin airport to the city. After an hour of some of the worst roads imaginable we arrived at Eva Inn on the banks of the Li River.

31 Aug

Day 1: Arrived in Hong Kong

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 31, 2009 / 0 Comments

We are here! Arriving at the city that truly doesn’t sleep – the heat and humidity was instantaneous and ever present on our first adventure. Once through customs, our journey began. With a cursory nod from the taxi service counter attendant – we mistakingly venture on a 5km walk around the airport trying to find our transport to our hotel which was only 3km away. After an hour of searching we found ourselves back at the original counter and realizing the original nod (translated to English) meant stay here and wait for car. Covered in sweat and the patina of international air travel we were on our way.

Arriving at the Novotel Airport we were greeted with a 4 star experience that wasn’t expected. The Novotel, a newly built 23 story luxury hotel awaited in all it’s over the top Asian glory. And attached to it was the largest outlet / shopping mall experience I’ve seen. In it’s 4 level resplendent glory the underground mall wound itself to the Tung Chung Metro line that would deliver us to the city in the morning.

After some great bargain hunting from Columbina, Lafuma, DKNY and KingKow we made our way back to the hotel for dinner and drinks. Dinner was great but let me add here that I had the best Mango Daiquiri ever made – cold, icy and what seemed like a 3 mango punch and the equivalent amount of rum made the start of the trip promising in the very least.

22 Aug

Sydders and Pales

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / August 22, 2009 / 0 Comments

Ok we’ve landed in sunny Sydney and apart from a security check on my passport whilst on the plane I’m all good. With only 16 mins to go before we board I thought it apt to enjoy my last Coopers Pale. This in preperation for the next 8 hrs of luke warm chunga (insert Desperado movie quote relating to flat warm beer).
Tory could type some words of wisdom here but alas she was lured away by the sparkle of the Clarins counter.

Until next time,

— Post From My iPhone