A Tale Of Four Cities

Discussion in 'UK Trip Reports Board' started by dolphingirl47, Aug 12, 2018.

  1. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    Day 11

    We were awake before the alarm went off and I checked out the view. It was absolutely stunning, and I am glad I paid a little extra for a view. We got up and ready and then headed downstairs. Breakfast is officially served from 7:00, which was when we were due to be collected. They set up a little early and we were able to grab some fruit and cake for an early breakfast. I even managed to score a couple of plain steamed buns and some sausages. Once we had our quick breakfast, we headed for the lobby. Our driver was waiting for us. We walked to the car and we were on our way. We got to see some very interesting side streets. We also got treated to rush hour Guilin-style. The town is absolutely packed with scooters. However, there was no sound whatsoever. It turns out that all the scooters and even most of the cars are electric. I was absolutely fascinated by this. We got a god overview of the town on the way as well.

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    We pulled up to the hotel and our driver made a call. He then handed the phone to Graham. It was our tour guide who advised that she was running behind schedule and that we should wait for her in the hotel lobby. She advised that she would be with us in about 45 minutes. The hotel was gorgeous, but I still preferred our hotel. After a while, we were joined by another group of people who were staying at this hotel. In the end, Jenny turned up about an hour after we arrived. We could have had a proper breakfast after all.

    The bus was waiting for on the other side of the road. Getting across during morning rush hour was a little scary, but we managed. We picked up people from two further hotels and then we headed to the port. We got a good idea just how big Guilin is on the way. Jenny told us a bit about Guilin and the surrounding area and also about what to expect of the day. We arrived at the port shortly afterwards. We had our passports checked and went through security. Then we headed for our boat. Port is overstating things a little. Apart from the building where we went through security, there were a couple of moorings with 4 to 5 boats moored abreast. We head to go across two other boats to get to ours.

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    Once we were on board, we went to find a table. We were initially sent upstairs and then were sent downstairs again. There was a tea pot and traditional tea cups on each table and as soon as everybody had settled down, hot water was brought around. Unfortunately, the tea came in the form of tea bags, but the tea still hit the spot. Then came the time for the upsell. A buffet lunch was included, but you could purchase fresh fish or seafood from the river to supplement lunch. We passed. We did however purchase an excursion for the trip back, which took in two local villages. The return transfer was included, and we could have gone straight back to Guilin after the river cruise, but the excursion sounded interesting and at 150 Yuan for both of us, it was a bit of a bargain. While Jenny told us about the excursion, she also pointed out various highlights along the river on a map that was on the table and gave us a rough timeline.

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    Soon we were on our way. Initially the area was quite urban even though there did not seem a lot around when we drove up to the port. It did not take long until we reached more rural parts though. The urban landscape was replaced by greenery and the pleasure boats by bamboo rafts. I say bamboo rafts and they look like they are made from bamboo, but I am pretty sure they are made from fibreglass.

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    It was raining quite heavily when we got to the first of the mountains. Fortunately, this was only a passing shower and once it eased off, we headed upstairs to the open deck. There we met a fellow traveller from Texas. He was in China with his grandson and this was their first visit. His grandson goes to school with a boy from China and his family had invited them to stay with them. I thought this was a lovely story. We admired the scenery for a while until the next shower came through and we went back downstairs.

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    Once the rain eased off, we headed back upstairs until the next shower passed through. When I came back downstairs, they had started to serve lunch. Lunch was a buffet. It smelled and looked delicious. The problem was that nothing was labelled, and I assumed that a lot of it was probably fish, which I don’t eat. I played it safe and only had food that I could clearly identify. I had rice, sweet and sour pork, vegetable noodles and plain steamed and fried buns. I also had a selection of tropical fruit and the best cookies I ever tasted. They were like a shortbread, but with sesame seeds. I kept going back for more. Graham tried a bit of everything and enjoyed his lunch.

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    I decided to stay inside after lunch. Graham went upstairs one more time. I think at some stage I must have fallen asleep as time seemed to be passing awfully quickly. Once we got closer to our destination, the river got busier again with boats passing us and also coming the other way. The scenery also changed and there were now fields and small villages along the river. Soon we got to our destination and the first part of our adventure was over.

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  2. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    Jenny waited for us on the dock and told us where and when to meet her again. Then we had some free time. On the riverbank was a fisherman with two cormorants. In this part of China, the traditional way of fishing is with cormorants. However, the locals have worked out that there is more money in letting tourists take photos with the cormorants than in fishing. It only cost a couple of yuan so we both had a go. There were some interesting buildings in the area and a little market selling fruit and souvenirs. They had beautiful embroidered umbrellas made from chiffon. As it was raining pretty heavily again, they would have made a fortune if they had made from a sturdier material.

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    We then headed for West Street, which is the main pedestrian street through Yangshuo. It is also an unashamed tourist trap. It very much reminded me of similar streets in the Rhine valley. Most of the street was lined with souvenir shops, bars and cheap restaurants and take-aways, but there were some shops that were of interest including a tea shop. We got to try various fruit and herbal teas and I managed to buy some herbal Osmanthus tea. Osmanthus is related to the olive tree, but produces very fragrant white flowers that are dried and either used alone as a herbal tea or mixed with green tea. The area around Guilin is famous for its Sweet Osmanthus trees. I had always planned to get some Osmanthus tea, but I expected the kind that is mixed with green tea. We got to try some at the shop and this was absolutely delicious. It has a flavour that is similar to apricots. I ended up buying a tin of Osmanthus tea to take home.

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    As we approached the end of West Street, we saw some interesting architecture. If the weather had been better, we would have gone exploring, but the rain was pretty strong at that time. I took a couple of photos and then headed to a bank to get some cash. The bank was right next to KFC, which was our meeting point. Once I had my cash, we went inside KFC. Jenny was already there as was the gentleman from Texas me had met on the boat. We chatted for a bit while we were waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. Jenny recommended that we use the bathroom before we leave. I thought that was a great idea. I figured Western fast-food restaurant would equal bathroom with throne. Unfortunately, I was wrong and finally had to make friends with a squat toilet. It was not as bad as I thought, but I was still hoping that I would not have to repeat the experience anytime soon.

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    Once everybody was assembled again, Jenny escorted us the short distance to the bus. We then headed to Yulong Village. We came past a traditional house that used to belong to a wealthy merchant family, but unfortunately has been allowed to fall into disrepair. Even in this state, it was still beautiful, and Jenny pointed out various traditional features and what they mean. The house has now been bought by the local government and hopefully will be restored to its former glory. This house was on a very narrow alley and unfortunately it was impossible to get a photo. We then walked across a farmers’ market to the reason why we had come here. Yulong Village is on the banks of the Yulong river, which is a tributary of the Li river we had been on in the morning. This is a lot smaller and more scenic. It also features a beautiful arch bridge that was built during the Ming dynasty. Jenny shared a local legend with us. Yulong is Chinese for Meet The Dragon. According to the legend, there was a student who needed to take exam in the ancient capital of China. When he came to Yangshuo, he was blocked by the river that is now known as the Yulong River. He prayed that he would find a bridge to go across this river so that he would get to the examination on time and promised to build a bridge if he could get to the exam on time. God was touched by his honesty. A dragon appeared in the river to help this student. Not only did he get to the exam on time, but he came top in the exam and out of gratitude, he built the bridge and called it Yulong Bridge.

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    We stayed in this area for about 10 minutes to enjoy the scenery and to take some photos. Then we headed back to the bus. Our final destination was Shangri-La. Shangri-La in Chinese means beautiful place and it definitely was this. Essentially this is another tourist trap, but if it is so pretty, I do not actually mind. There is a beautiful covered bridge, the Swallow Lake, the Peach Blossom village, which is home to the Dong people and the Yuanming Villa, features the traditional north Guilin style.

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    When we got there, we crossed the covered bridge to get to the boat dock. From there we took a short boat ride, which took us past a drum tower, beautiful mountain landscapes and through a cave. Once we arrived back at dock, we walked over to the village.

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  4. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    We were welcomed with a cup of the sweet rice wine that is produced in the village. This was delicious. We then headed into one of the houses. The majority of people in China are Han people. However, about 8.5% of the population of China belongs to the 55 recognized ethnic minorities. Officially Guanxi, where Guilin and Yangshuo are located is not classified as a Chinese province, but as an autonomous region. The reason for this is the relatively high proportion of ethnic minorities living in Guanxi. 62% of the population are still Han people, but the rest of the population is made up of 6 different ethnic minorities. The largest group are the Zhuang people, who make up 32% of the population of Guangxi. The village we visited was a village of the Dong people. They only make up 0.7% of the population, but have an absolutely fascinating culture. They are known for their polyphonic singing and we were treated to some of this. This is an absolutely amazing sound. They are also well known for their intricate silver jewellery and embroidery, both of which was for sale in the village.

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    After the presentation, I decided to check out Yuanming Villa, which is a combined museum and craft centre. Graham decided to wait on the bridge for me. I liked Yuanming Villa, but it would have been even nicer if it had been more museum and less shop. Still, it was well worth seeing. Shortly after I met up with Graham again, we had to go to meeting point, which was outside yet another shop. We were then directed to the vehicle that would take us to where we needed to go. Most people went back to Yangshuo and they went back on the bus. Jenny, a family of 4 and the two of us went back to Guilin and we went by mini bus. I slept most of the way back.

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    Once we got back to Guilin, we were given the option of being dropped off in the centre and making our own way back later or being taken back to the hotel. We were both tired so opted to be taken back to the hotel. The other family and Jenny were dropped off in the city centre and then the driver took us back to our hotel. We had a bit of a nap when we got back. When we woke up, we freshened up a little and then went for dinner in the hotel restaurant. Graham had a beer and I had a pot of Osmanthus tea. Sadly, this came in the shape of a teabag, but was still delicious. Graham had a sizzling beef dish and I had some spicy pork. We shared some rice. The food was absolutely delicious again.

    After dinner, we headed up to the room. Graham went to bed straightaway. I read for a bit, but my eyes kept falling shut and I went to bed shortly afterwards.
     
  5. tiggrbaby

    tiggrbaby <font color=deeppink><marquee>We must work harder

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    What a lovely day! Although rain is a bummer on tours, it did make for nice pics of the umbrellas on the river.
     
  6. Pinkocto

    Pinkocto DIS Veteran

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    So much beauty, I think I would be overwhelmed. The mountains and the fog make fabulous pictures. Glad you decided to do the tour. Too bad Jenny was late starting, like you said you could have had a full breakfast.

    The cormorants are quite big, wow!

    Those wood sculptures are amazing.
     
  7. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    The low cloud also gave a ver mysterious feel to the karst mountains.

    This area of China is just stunningly beautiful.

    I thought so, too.

    This was very much the exception. I have found that people in China are normally overly punctual. I suppose this had to do with the morning rush hour.

    They also turned out to be very heavy. This caught me by surprise as birds normally are surprisingly light for their size, but cormorants seem to be the exception to this rule.

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  8. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    Day 12

    We had planned on a more leisurely day and a lie in, but I was wide awake by 6:00 AM. I read for a bit and then managed to fall asleep again and we both woke up at 7:30 AM. We got up, had a shower and then got ready for breakfast. It was pretty busy that morning and we ended up sitting in the bar area. We tried the coffee and that made Royal Caribbean Blend seem like a gourmet offering. Fortunately, the rest of breakfast was a winner. We both had sausages and egg. Graham tried the bacon, which he said was delicious and I had some plain steamed buns. We both had some cake and fruit. I particularly was drawn to the dragon fruit, which was delicious.

    After breakfast, we briefly went up to the room to get what we needed. Then we checked with reception if they could call us a taxi. This was no problem. We were going to check out what Guilin itself has to offer. Before we went sightseeing though, we had something else to take care of. When we bought our train tickets, we had not realised that there are through trains from Guilin North to Shenzhen North. We also were not sure at this stage how punctual and reliable the Chinese train system was so the plan was to get to Guangzhou and then buy tickets to get to Shenzhen. Knowing that there are through trains changed this plan. I had done some research the previous evening and the train we were booked on terminated in Shenzhen. I had checked if there were tickets available for the same coach for the leg from Guangzhou to Shenzhen, but there were not, and I did not really fancy changing coaches with luggage in Guangzhou. So, there was only one solution. We needed to see if we could change our existing tickets.

    We had learned in Mandarin class how to buy train tickets, but not how to change them. I did have access to the services of Google Translate, but I know sometimes the translations employ a certain artistic freedom. I typed out what I wanted to say and clicked on translate. I then handed my phone to one of the members of staff to sense-check it. I am glad that I did as apparently it did not make a great deal of sense. She asked me what I was hoping to achieve and after a couple of clarifications, she wrote some Mandarin on a piece of paper for me and asked me to show this at the ticket office. I thanked her. We were also given another piece of paper with some numbers and letters on it and were told that the taxi would pick us up near the bridge leading to the village.

    Pretty much as soon as we left the hotel, we were intercepted by a taxi driver. I showed him our piece of paper and he shook his head. We pushed on towards the bridge. As soon as we walked onto the bridge, we saw a taxi parked and the driver was waiting on the bridge. I had assumed that the piece of paper we were given had the taxi’s registration number on it and the registration number of the taxi waiting was different. However, the taxi driver looked at the piece of paper and beckoned us to follow him. We thought it must be some kind of order number in this case and did not think anything off it. We took a similar route into Guilin than we had the previous day and again this did not set off any alarm bells as Guilin station is on the edge of the city centre. Suddenly the taxi driver got a call and there was some very animated discussion and the driver pulled over to the side of the road as soon as he got off the phone. He used the same translation app that the driver that had picked us up from the station the first day and checked with us where we were going. We confirmed that we wanted to go to Guilin station. We never completely understood what had gone on, but we came to the assumption that we were picked up by a taxi that was meant for somebody else. The driver made a u-turn and a couple of minutes later he dropped us off outside Guilin station. Even with the detour, the taxi fare was only about £3.

    We went through security and entered the ticket hall. It looked pretty busy and we had no clear concept if all the ticket windows did the same job. We were amused by the fact that every ticket window seemed to have different opening hours. We got in line in front of the ticket window with the shortest line and we only waited about 5 minutes. I passed over the piece of paper I had been given at the hotel, our tickets and our passports. She read the note and then told us in English that we needed to go to a different window to make changes and advised us the numbers of the ticket windows that could help us. We went over to one of them and again had a fairly short wait. The member of staff there only spoke very little English and tried to explain something to us. I had no idea what the issue was. He then called over a supervisor, who spoke very good English and she explained us that only second-class seats were available, and we were happy with this. We had travelled up in second class and this was very comfortable. She also gave us a receipt as we were due a refund and advised that we would need to send this to the company that we booked the tickets through. The refund was not very much, and it probably would have cost us more to send the receipt in, so we never bothered. We were given our new tickets and we were on our way again.

    Graham quickly used the bathroom at the station and then we set off. Our first destination was Elephant Trunk Hill and the surrounding park, and this is not too far from the station. We had bought a map from the hotel reception that morning and Graham had worked out a route. What we had not bargained with is that this area is packed to the brim with little alleys and there is not always a way through. Still, I am glad that we took this route. We went through a number of residential alleys and other alleys with shops and restaurant for the local population. We got a good impression of how people in rural China live. I also found a greengrocer that had all kinds of interesting fruits on display. This was the first time I came across Durian, which really stinks. They had some out to taste and it is meant to taste absolutely delicious, but the stench put me off. I did however make a purchase. I absolutely adore lychees and they are grown in this part of China. I had seen lychees at the station in Shenzhen and then again near the boat dock in Yangshuo, but I did not want to have to carry them around all day. However, this day I was ready to give in to my craving. I had to double check if what I was seeing were actually lychee as they were huge. Here they are usually less than 2 inches in diameter and the one I saw in Guilin were about the size of a golf ball. After I was reassured that they were indeed lychee, I bought a punnet. We pushed on towards Elephant Trunk Hill and just outside one of the entrances to the park, we sat on a wall in the shade and enjoyed our lychees. Let’s just say the lychees we can get over here will never be the same again. They were so much nicer. They were a lot sweeter, juicer and more fragrant.

    We worked our way about halfway through the punnet, but then we were stuffed. I ended up carrying them around with me after all. We walked up to the entrance, but even though it was manned, it was closed. We were directed to the main entrance. We walked back on the road we had come on and then turned towards the main entrance. The entrance fee was 55 Yuan per person. By UK standards, this was fair, but if you consider that the combined admission for Temple of Heaven and Forbidden City in Beijing was less than this, it does not seem to be quite such a good deal. This was even more the case as there was a not a great deal there. Don’t get me wrong, it is quite pretty, but nothing that warrants an admission fee.

    Just the other of the entrance is Sweet Osmanthus Square. This was the first time I have knowingly seen Sweet Osmanthus trees. They are very impressive and must be even more so when they are flowering. Unfortunately, it was too late in the year for this. Nearby was the Water Moon Pavilion. This is a beautiful traditional building built around a courtyard with a koi pond in middle. This had two floors and we went exploring, but there was nothing in this building apart from a jewellery shop selling jade and pearl jewellery in one of the wings on the ground floor. According to the map, there was also a temple in this area, but we did not manage to find this at this time.

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    We pushed on to see what else is on offer. We came past a wine museum and a cave that gave off rather intoxicating fumes. It turns out that this cave is used for maturing rice wine. Normally tours are offered for this, but it was closed that day. There is another cave and a pagoda nearby as well, but this required a climb up a rather steep hill and we passed. We had a quick bathroom stop before exploring further. The bathroom must be the most unusual one I ever encountered as the building for this was another cave. Fortunately, the facilities were top notch and modern.

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    We then headed down to the waterfront, but there was a not a great deal there. We did see the hill that gives the park its name. Supposedly it looks like an elephant drinking from the river. I did not quite see this. One of the main attractions is Water Moon Cave. We were trying to figure out where this was and then realised that this referred to the stone arch at the side of the hill. This must be the smallest cave in the world.

    We backtracked and found a bridge leading over one of the two rivers that run through the park. On the other side where a number of shops. Graham sat down in the shade while I went in search of something to drink. I had hoped for some tea but had to make do with a bottle of Coke. There was one shop that only sold elephants which amused me.

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    One I had finished my Coke, we walked along the waterfront and came to another bridge. This one used elephant statues as supports. The bridge leads to Love Island and this is the prettiest part of the park. There are various statues around love island and elephant statues in the river. Graham could not resist dipping his toes into the river. The trees are decorated with red ribbons. We had a wander around for a bit and then headed back towards the exit.

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    I decided as it was right there and included in the admission fee, I may as well have a look at the Sanhua Wine Museum. Graham decided to pass and found himself a shady spot to sit down and wait for me. It appeared that museum is a thinly veiled disguise for a huge shop. The so-called museum consisted of 8 rooms. The first two actually had deserved the name museum. The remaining 6 were for shopping. The first room chronicled the history of wine production in Guilin, which is going back to the Song Dynasty (960–1279). The wine produced here is rice wine and they use water from the Li River which is drawn near Elephant Trunk Hill. The next room had all kinds of vessels in which the wine is stored. I found both rooms very interesting, but I am sure a lot of the local population heads straight to the shopping area. This however held no interest for me and I left again very quickly.

    I took a quick photo of the Elephant Screen, which is a wall with all kinds of elephant and plant carvings. On our way to the exit, we then found the temple. I had not expected an open-air temple. It is very pretty. The temple was built during the Tang Dynasty (618–907) and was originally home to a monk who made 6 trips to Japan to spread Buddhism. This is one of the oldest temples in Guilin.

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  9. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

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    When we left the park, I took a quick photo of a pretty building just outside the park and then we decided that we better do something about lunch. There were plenty of restaurants nearby. We ended up in what was essentially a fast food restaurant, but they had a menu with photos, which always helps. We both had a set meal, which consisted of rice, vegetables, half a boiled egg and a choice of meat dish. Graham had duck and I had pork belly. This was absolutely amazing. The pork was tender and full of flavour. The meal also came with some iced milk tea and Graham developed a taste for this. We had another milk tea each and the bill for two meals and the extra milk teas came to about £6 for the two of us. We were absolutely stuffed.

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    After lunch, we definitely needed to walk off all the food we had. One thing that Guilin is famous for is the Two Rivers and Four Lakes Scenic Area. You can get boat trips covering the whole area and this is definitely on our to do list for our next visit. Our destination that afternoon was one of those lakes, the Shanhu Lake Scenic Area. Shanhu Lake is also known as Fir Lake and is home to the Sun Pagoda and Moon Pagodas. The Sun Pagoda is made from bronze and the Moon Pagoda is covered in glazed tiles. Judging from photos, they look truly stunning at night. We originally had planned to come back later to see them all lit up, but this did not happen. Well, there is always next time. You can pay to go inside the pagodas and they are linked by a glass tunnel. We decided to pass on this. Instead we walked around the beautiful gardens by the lake.

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    The footpath is a zig-zag bridge. They are very common in Chinese gardens. There are a number of different explanations why they are so popular. They are supposed to be structurally sounder than straight bridges. They are meant to improve mindfulness and also are in keeping with Feng Shui principles. My favourite explanation is that they keep away evil spirits who can only travel in a straight line. Above all, they are just very pretty. We took time admiring our beautiful surroundings and took a few photos. About half-way was an area with a shop, a restaurant and public bathrooms. I needed the bathroom, but there were only squat toilets there. I remembered that I saw a hotel around the corner earlier and I decided to go and check out if they had toilets in the lobby. They did, and it appeared that they had a throne as well, but the door was locked. I figured that this was occupied, but when nobody came out after 15 minutes, I came to the conclusion that this must be out of order. So, I had to bite the bullet and use the squat toilet again. Talk about cultural immersion! At least this seemed to be the deluxe version.

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    I went back to find Graham, who was in an animated conversation with somebody. After chatting about different parts of China, he tried to convince us to come with him and he would write our names in Chinese letters. We politely declined and headed off. We finished our walk and left the park on the opposite side from where we had entered. We decided that we had seen enough for the day and took a taxi back to the hotel.

    We decided that we may as well check out Lujia Village, where our hotel was located. I rather suspect that this is about as authentic as Ngong Ping Village in Hong Kong, but this was more tastefully done. We arrived at the same time as two coaches full of Chinese tourists. We waited to see where they were headed and then went in the opposite direction. We did not walk very far until we came to a part of the village that felt like a ghost town. The shops, restaurants and hotels in this area where closed. We did find the path leading to the Reed Flute Cave, which was on our to do list for the next day. We retraced our steps and there was at least some life although a lot of the businesses still appeared to be closed. We came past a tea house and there were people sitting inside, but it still looked closed. The only part of the village that seemed to be thriving was the area closest to our hotel. Not only where there quite a few hotels that were open, but they all seemed to be full. There were also a number of restaurants that were definitely open for business, some shops and a market selling snacks and souvenirs. I really do not understand why so much of the village seemed to be closed as there appears to be plenty of footfall there. We had planned to eat somewhere in the village that night, but the restaurants that were open did not really appeal.

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    We went back to the hotel and decided to have another look at the excursions folder. The excursion that we had originally considered no longer appealed as we had seen quite a bit of what was included that day. There was however another excursion that caught our eye. This combined the Reed Flute Cave and Yao Mountain with a visit to a tea plantation. We decided to book this for the next day.

    With this out of the way, we went up to our room. We ended up having a nap. Once we were awake again, we headed downstairs for dinner. Graham had a beer and duck in beer sauce, which is a local speciality. I had some mango juice and sweet and sour pork. We shared a bowl of rice. We were absolutely stuffed again. We decided to take another stroll around the village to see if this was livelier at night and to walk off dinner. It did not feel any different than it had been during the day. We went back to the hotel after a while and had an early night.

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  10. tiggrbaby

    tiggrbaby <font color=deeppink><marquee>We must work harder

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2004
    Messages:
    4,552
    Such a nice day! You got some beautiful pics!
     
  11. dolphingirl47

    dolphingirl47 In Search of the Tag Fairy

    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2007
    Messages:
    31,214
    Thanks. There are even prettier photos to come.

    Corinna
     

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