We are now more or less half way through our China adventure, the only downside is that we don't have more time. Getting across China from north to south in one month is an awful lot of driving and certainly doesn't allow for all of the stops we would have liked. Camping is also an issue, the Chinese don't really do "Camping" they don't have campsites and there is barely a spare spot to camp anywhere, every piece of land is either covered in buildings, car parks or growing crops. We spend a lot of time camped in car parks, which is ok when you want to be the first people into an attraction but not so good on the toilet and shower front! Consequently, we did treat ourselves to a few hotel stops which is tough but we manage!
The second half of the journey also takes in the Chinese National holiday week - when apparently 750million of the 1,401,586,609 population take to the roads! We are passed Beijing which is the worst traffic spot but the roads are still busy, the silver lining is that all motorway tolls are waived which helps the budget for hotel stays!
We have a particularly fraught journey to the Terracotta Army, which involves Tigger having two little bumps with some loony Chinese drivers - this is a testing time for the navigator and pilot and proves that driving is China is a law unto itself!
The first bump was just a clip of wing mirrors but the second was contact. What happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object? The small Chinese car bounces off of the robust German Syncro! " No. My little persistent friend, I am not letting you push in front of me. See. The road is running out so you must give way now. No? Oh well. Guess you will have learned a little street wisdom from that encounter. Bye! " But really, don't judge me too harshly. I had resisted this for days and days but this was the straw that did it sadly. Back to being calm and going with the flow again.
The number of lucky charms is increasing the further we go - think we need them!
We camp in the car park as per normal and get into the museum early, but it is still very busy. Top tip if visiting - there are three vaults to visit, it's much better to see them in reverse order so you save the best until last - vaults 2 and 3 - excavation is still ongoing and therefore don't have so many warriors on show, some of those that are displayed are still in process of being restored. Vault 1 is the biggest and has the most restored warriors and consequently the most impressive, with around 2000 warriors on display. We took binoculars in as well - odd you may think but each and every one of the warriors sports a different facial feature and expression, they really are individuals. You also get to see where the original discovery was made by a Chinese farmer digging for a well - it's amazing they were ever found as the location of the well is right in the corner of the site he only just found them!
Vault one is the largest and most impressive with nearly 2000 warriors on display
And the warriors needed their trusty steeds as well - 520 of them!
Just caught these in the morning sunlight
You can even see the detail of the hair
The next stop is one I have been looking forward to since we entered China, Pandas! Chengdu is the home of a research and breeding facility for giant Pandas. In the 70-80's, their habitat was dying out and 250 Pandas starved to death in the region. Six very sick panda's were rescued and originating from them there have been 116 births resulting in 172 little bundles of gorgeousness! Chengdu is the largest artificial breeding centre for captive pandas in the world, they use artificial insemination but have also successfully bred Pandas naturally.
The Panda's lived up to all my expectations, they were adorable and not the least bit shy, in fact, some of them were positively posing for us! When looking through our photos to select some for the blog I realised we have hundreds of Panda pics, so difficult to choose which ones to include so excuse the indulgence!!
I was a little sceptical it was going to be very zoo like , which it was to an extent but the enclosures were spacious, clean and full of fun things for the pandas to play on - however when we were there the only thing they were interested in was eating and boy do they like bamboo! They eat between 12-38kg of Bamboo a day which is also supplemented with other tasty treats such as fruit and special panda biscuits little clip of a bamboo munching Panda
There is nothing more delicious than some bamboo
I think this one was posing!
Who wouldn't love a panda?
We also go to see some baby pandas in the nursery - too cute!
Actually, what you are looking at here is a load of toys with flat batteries. The Duracell bunny has legged it down to the souvenir shop! By the time we got there all the working ones had been snapped up leaving the duds behind. So we didn't buy one.
More driving, more camping on sides of roads and car parks. John had found a firework shop on route so one evening is Firework Night! We usually stop somewhere during the day as a group for lunch, which is generally at a service station where the locals typically swarm around taking photos and asking to have their pictures taken with us - fame at last! On one particular stop, there was a group of people who insisted on doing some sort of dance routine for us in the middle of the car park with their boom box View the car park dance just for us! - never a dull moment here
A small box of fireworks to sate Johns Pyromania
Watching them, watching us!
Leshan's giant Buddha wasn't on our original itinerary, but really glad we made the effort to visit (thank you Mark and Mirijam) The giant Buddha is carved into the side of the mountain and apparently is the world's largest stone Buddha standing at 71meters high. Somebody recently pointed out to me that most Buddhist countries seem to have the biggest Buddha in the world of some sort, which is probably true! However this Buddha was impressive his head alone is 15m and each eyebrow 5.5m! His shoulders are 28m wide and his fingers 3m long each! To get from the top to bottom involves walking along and down a flight of steep and narrow stairs that zig-zag back and forth undercutting the flight above. How on earth did this get carved out by hand back in the 8th century when it was built by Chinese monks? Like all Chinese attractions the Buddha isn't cheap to go and see at 90 Yuan per ticket, but you not only get the Buddha but some beautiful temples as well. A trip well worth the visit and the ticket price.
The stairs were an attraction in themselves
We are covering a vast amount of km and the scenery is ever changing as are the roads. Take a look at this elevated road running parallel to us. The weird thing is that this is the road we are on and we will end up there very shortly. To understand what is going on look at the next picture.
This a snapshot of our GPS. The road runs along beside the mountain then goes into it spiralling up (or down depending on which way you are going of course) and exiting just above itself. I guess this is because there is not enough room in the valley to climb high enough at an acceptable gradient. What a fantastic feat of engineering. I thought the app had a virus or a glitch!
Our convoy is to be split up in the next few days as Elton has developed a problem and parts have to be ordered from Germany. Voyager One stays with Spring and Elton, which makes Cupcake, Mothership and Tigger a convoy of three. We are heading for Lugu Lake which is a beautiful drive but all on National roads and slow due to the increased traffic. We are hoping to camp by the lake for a couple of days and get some respite from all the driving. We arrive at the lake too late to find a proper camp spot so we end up in a lay-by (one up from a car park) for the night, hoping for better things in the morning. The national holiday has made everywhere mad busy and Lugu lake isn't the camping idyll we had hoped for. Cupcake and Tigger are able to go slightly off road a bit away from the lake and up the mountain and find a spot in the woods to camp but Mothership hasn't got our off-road capabilities (even if it does have a sitting room, shower, toilet and kitchen - no not jealous, much!) and has to find an alternative camp so we arrange to meet the following day.
Lugu Lake from the shore
And from our campsite spot
Dub Camp at Lugu Lake
Although we are now only 3 vehicles we need to stick to the itinerary so we can meet with the others once Elton is fixed. We keep in touch with Spring by phone and she contacts us every night to make sure all is ok. Our next destination is Leijing but unfortunately, the road we need to take is closed so we have to take the scenic route. What was supposed to be a leisurely 4hr drive turns into more than 8hrs on mountain roads. The mountain drive is beautiful though and takes us through rural China, 51% of the population live in rural areas and despite having unparalleled economic growth in recent years we are able to see the huge gap between the impoverished villages and the booming cities Here is a little clip we took from the car as we passed through one of the villages
Woman from the Yi Tribe - Ethnic group in China
Drive along the mountain road
We arrive in Lijiang exhausted just as it is getting dark, one of our main objectives for getting to Leijing that evening is that we have a hotel booked! And what a wonderful hotel it is, situated right in the old town with the comfiest beds ever, I'm not sure if we will ever leave!
Lijiang is an ancient town in the Yunnan Province and another Unesco world heritage site. Many of the old town buildings have been restored, there are two small rivers running through the town amongst winding cobbled streets making it very pretty. Yes, it is touristy, (mostly Chinese tourists) but it is still a very attractive city and so colourful! It was busy as well but if didn't seem to matter, either that or we are getting used to the Chinese way of life. While wandering around the bustling streets we come across some more random dancing - boy the Chinese just love to dance, never happier than when dancing! video clip here
All in all a lovely place to spend a couple of nights recovering from some mammoth drives.
Need a towel?
Lots of flowers and chilli peppers.
Even the food was pretty!
Black Dragon Pool is a large park and lake situated on the edge of the old town, there is an entry fee but the park is very pretty featuring temples, pavilions and pagodas, and well, very Chinese! not a bad way to spend an afternoon
Revived after our two days in the hotel we get back on the road, destination Tiger Leaping Gorge. Another long days drive and arrive at the gorge late afternoon. The Gorge is impressive but the weather isn't so good and finding somewhere to camp for three vehicles isn't easy. We eventually find another lay-by and camp the night, the following day we had planned to go for a hike, but it's miserable and raining so we turn around and head back out - we do stop at the tourist look-out point and hike down (and back up!) what seems like hundreds of steps to get close to the raging river
Could be worse places to spend the night! Lay-by camp
Camp veiw of the gorge
According to legend, a tiger once leapt across the gorge using the stone in the middle of the river as a stopping point, also the river really is raging and very noisy, and supposed to sound like a tigers roar - hence Tiger Leaping Gorge!
We have an extra day in hand as Spring always builds a spare day into the Itinerary for emergencies - we decide to head to Dali lake in the hope of the ever elusive good camp spot - and this time we find it, right by the lake. But the weather isn't on our side so our day of R&R is spent in the van watching DVDs and generally doing nothing. Actually, this is fine as we didn't realise how tired we were and a day doing nothing turns out to be a bit of a treat, even adventurers need a day off!
Trusty Ted gazing over Dali lake
And there were some great views along the way
Our China adventure is at an end - Impressions of China? It's been great, we have enjoyed the country, the culture and the people, our only regret is not having longer and maybe having to stick to a rigid itinerary. It would have been nice to be able to go where the fancy took us but it was still an adventure. China also isn't as cheap as you might imagine, most sightseeing attractions had an entrance fee of between 90-120 Yuan (£10-15ish) And motorway tolls were the steepest we have come across since leaving Europe.
We were especially impressed with the friendliness of the people. We had heard so many stories of how unfriendly the Chinese were but this wasn't our experience at all. We weren't impressed with the spitting, done by all and sundry, old men, young men, old women (especially!) and young girls, it's a national pastime! Another national pastime appears to be posing for photos including when you are taking a selfie!
Food has been amazing from high-end restaurants (a treat in Pingyao) to street food, mostly it was all wonderful, however, some things on the menu were a little too adventurous even for us!
Yummy street food
And some not so yummy food!
Four legs are better than two! (unless you are forking out for Jimmy Choo shoes!)
And last but not least China wins the amusing sign competition - so far! So we will leave you with these to chuckle over.
Next stop Laos and some volunteering work
Hmm! might give this one a miss
Your guess is as good as mine!
Seems London has moved since we have been away, and I think Dublin has a real problem!