April 2nd

We went down to the railway station to try and buy tickets to Canton but all we got was “Meiou” [ the Chinese word for no] from the hard-faced woman behind the bars at the ticket counter.

We walked up to the museum near Martyrs Park where there was an exhibition of a corpse with all its entrails removed, said to be over 2,000 years old. However at the entrance, the attendant tried to charge us 15 Yuan each when the locals were getting in for ¥5, so we left it and when and have a look at Martyr’s Park itself. At the top of the hill, there was a tower with steps radiating out in four directions, one lot leading down to a largish lake where pedal boats splashed around an island at its centre and the edges of the water were littered with polystyrene containers.

We sat amongst a stand of conifers and watched groups of school children dressed in tracksuits of blue red or green playing with hula hoops and cavorting about on a grassed area fenced to keep people off. At a sidewalk noodle joint, we ate a bowl of noodles each and some dumplings while we entertained passersby then we went back to the hotel.

In the evening Marco, Sharon, Linda and I went out for a final meal together.

Wednesday, April 1st

Wednesday 1 April

A steward woke us up at 6 a.m. and we left Marco and Sharon asleep and stepped out into the blue/grey dawn.

The river was a sheet of polished glass and the air was cold and fresh. A thin mist drifted across the water, and through it, on the riverbanks, the occasional glimpse of poplars and people fleetingly appeared and disappeared. Sky, land and water were one until the burnt orange disc of the sun showed through the mist beyond the trees, throwing a shaft of gold across the water from the shore all the way out to the boat.

We docked in the dirty town of Yangshuo – where factories spewed clouds of grey and black into the air and the river was a noxious soup of rubbish and waste – at 7:30 a.m. The four of us found a bus going to the railway station. The conductor tried to charge us ¥5 each when everyone else is paying ¥1-50. At the station, we bought a Changsha-bound train and the trip took 2 hours. When we reached Changsha, we made our way to the opulent Xiangjian Hotel where a three-bed room with a shower and TV including a satellite Sports Channel cost us just ¥25 each.

March 31st

Linda and I were both awake early, helped, no doubt, by the squawking of the sound system which began at 6:30 a.m. Outside, it was cold and grey but we had entered the Three Gorges so we got up and went out onto the Observation Deck at the front of the boat to watch the spectacular scenery on both sides of the river, which was flowing fast and sullen.

It was cold, with a strong buffeting wind, but gradually the wind died down and a few rays of sun began to reach down into the depths of the canyon. It was a wonderful sight, with miles of gorge stretching ahead of us into the hazy morning air, and the cliffs towering above us, cloaked at the base with sparse vegetation then rearing upwards to sheer, naked rock.

The Three Gorges, Yangtze River. (these gorges are all now submerged beneath the lake created by the Three Gorges dam)

As the day progressed, the gorge widened, then narrowed, then finally widened to form the lake above the new Xiaotian dam. The ship entered a lock that seemed large enough to hold at least four boats the same size as the one that we were aboard, and after about 20 minutes the water level began to fall until we were roughly 50 metres, lower.

Once we were away from the lock the river widened out even further, and large factories began to dot the banks of the river, strangely juxtaposed against the yellow patchwork of canola fields. Once again the air became thick with a blue haze of pollution: similar to every other part of China that we have seen.

We spent all evening in the second class lounge and a comfortable night in our fourth-class bunks.

Monday, March 30th.

We were awakened at 8 a.m. by a succession of attendants trying to eject us from our rooms saying that there had “been a mistake”, but we refused to move until they guaranteed us good beds in 4th class, which by now was full.

With the help of an interpreter, we worked out a deal whereby we could spend all day ensconced in the second-class lounge on the bow of the ship. We had to make several trips to see the people in charge to try and get our beds made available, but in the end, the deal included free meals and unlimited use of the lounge in the second class along with the second class toilets.

Around 9:30PM we docked at some town where a lot of people got off the ferry and we were finally able to claim our second-class beds.

27/3/92

A rich pageant was rolling by outside the windows of the train as rerolled northwards all day. An endless pattern of paddy fields grew a profusion of crops, the most spectacular being rape (canola), its yellow flowers forming a chequerboard pattern with the brown of the soil and the grey of the sky.

We arrived in Chongqing at 7 p.m. and spent an hour trying to find the right bus into town after we climbed up the 340 steps from the railway station, which is beside the river, to the street. At first, we got a bus going in the wrong direction but someone put us right and we ended up in the centre of town near the garishly-lit Liberation Monument.

We found the Huixianlou Hotel and at first glance, it looked far too flash for us, but they had dorm rooms for ¥20 so we took it. There were only two beds left so we said that we’d sleep on the floor while Marco and Sharon could sleep in the bed. However, in the middle of the night, the rampant rats scurrying around made us decide to double up on the available beds.

March 25th.

About 7:30 a.m. we caught a bus from the bus station across the road from the hotel bound for Liuzhou, on the main Kunming-Chongqing rail line. They’re about 10 other foreigners on the bus, including an English couple called Marco and Sharon, who we teamed up with for the train trip to Chongqing. They already had their , tickets so Linda and I went down to the station and went through the long rigmarole of buying two hard sleeper tickets for the night train. We wrote down the details in Chinese characters which read: 

TWO TICKETS TO CHONGQING, HARD SLEEPER, TODAY.

The tickets were expensive at ¥141 each.

We boarded at 4PM and we were assigned bucks which were very comfortable, and then found that Sharon and Marco were just a few births away from us. That evening, as the train jolted along through the Chinese night, we ate a large meal in the dining car and annoyed the staff by drinking beers there until quite late.

March 24th.

There was another Australian girl and an American bloke staying at the hotel and so the 5 of us hired bikes for the day and went down to the ferry dock to arrange a trip downstream to the town of Fuli.

They charged us 12 FEC each for the 10 FEC trip because the “minimum number for the trip was 6” supposedly and then we set sail on the rundown boat, with our bikes stacked up on the bow.

A couple of other people were also on the boat (making a total of 7) and we resolved to get our additional FEC each back when we returned.

The boat trip down the river was quite short – about 30 minutes – and when we got to Fuli we cycled back to Yangshuo which only took it about 30 minutes anyway. All of it was a lot of money to pay for an hour’s worth of sightseeing and the scenery wasn’t that great anyway. We did get our two quai (the Chinese slang word for Yuan is “quai”) each back though.

After lunch, Linda, Janita and I biked out to Moon Hill, about 4 km south of the town. The scenery out there was much better with a maze of hills interspersed with farmland and small rivers. At the Big Banyan Tree, we were amazed to see a horde of Chinese tourists wandering around. There was an array of touristy camel rides and other paraphernalia that was targeted to the Chinese tourists, who were swarming all over the area. The Moon Hill park was about 2 km past there but as it was now overcast and gloomy we decided not to climb it and cycled on by and down a dirt road that led behind it. We found a spot to sit down and relax for a while in the peaceful rural surroundings with nothing around us but farmland, a quiet stream and a few animals.

The ride back to town was quite speedy as it was mostly downhill and we took the bikes back then retired to Lisa’s for the rest of the day.

March 23rd

It was another cold, grey, gloomy, overcast day but it wasn’t raining so Linda and I spent a few hours wandering around the town. We climbed the hill called Schoolboy Hill at the centre of the park behind the hotel and were rewarded with a good view of the town, which occupies a y-shaped space between the strange, upthrust fingers of the hills.

Back down in the town we ate a snack of noodles in the Green Lotus Peak Café and while we were there our Australian room-mate Janita joined us, so we set off together to do some more exploring. We walked up over a small cutting separating the docks from the town, then followed the riverbank upstream along a path cut along the cliff face and lined with trees and several small pagodas.

There was a market for tourists coming upriver from Guilin and the shopkeepers were rabid capitalists without a doubt. We browsed for a while in the shops full of paintings, jade work and all manner of Chinese junk then carried on along the road out of town which ran parallel to the wide brown Li River.

We turned off the road after about half an hour and walked up a narrow valley through orange groves and mud. The path led to a wall spanning between two peaks and covered with broken glass. Janita, an adventurous little soul, climbed over the locked gate and reconnoitred the area, returning to tell us that was a waterworks and there was no one around, so we also climbed over and sneaked down through the plant to the lower gate, climbed over that and made good our escape back into town.

Back at the hotel, we rested for an hour or so then went up to Lisa’s for dinner and beers.

The Li River at Yangshou (Photo: supplied)

March 22nd

It was a cold wet day so we spent most of it sitting in a cafe called Lisa’s where there was a good supply of nice food, great coffee, music that we knew, and lots of other travellers to talk to.

[Lisa’s was friendly, warm (they provided little charcoal braziers to warm your feet under the table), had great food and music, and the kitchen was full of rats!]

These days, Lisa’s is a hotel as well as a restaurant. (Photo: supplied)