02.08.2011 33 °C
(Welcome to China) the sign read as we crossed the border, a warning perhaps that we were moving from the very well worn backpacking circuit of South-East Asia and into a whole new world which is remarkably unfamilar to us.
As we left Hanoi last Tuesday and headed North, there was time for Letha to say a final 'Good Morning Vietnam' (as she did almost every morning for 4 weeks...!) and we set on a epic travel day including 3 buses, 4 taxis and a strange electronic minibus that would get us to Nanning, a medium-sized city in the South of China. As the border approaches the flat lanscape turns beautifully mountainess and China really begins there. We got lucky at the border as we were the penultimate people through before they shut for the day, we were so late that the money-changing lady gave us a ride to the nearest town on her way home and saved us some of the taxi fare.
Straight away we were onto what looked like a brand new dual carridgeway, a bit of a shock for us as we'd got used to the pothole ridden roads elsewhere. We stayed overnight in Nanning, where we really disccovered 90% of Chinese speak no English at all, a few percent of the males like to shout 'hello' at Letha (its the blonde hair) and know nothing else. Fortunately the small numbers that do speak some English are likely to approach you and make sure you're okay and not lost!
Having previously been warned by my Dad about China's rapid development we should have really been prepared for the moderness of the cities here. Everywhere is so brightly lit by advertising displays, shopping streets and fashionable little cafes selling coffee, ice cream and desserts. We though Vietnam was developed when coming over from Laos!
A developed country should have provided us with an efficient train ride to Guilin the next day (my birthday) but disappointed. I spent several hours of my birthday sat on a train next to an annoyingly energetic Chinese boy going nowhere. There were plenty of announcements in Chinese but nothing in English, we arrived in Guilin after almost 8 hours on a train. At least we had a seat.
Guilin and the area around has hundreds of beautiful mountains and the landscapes here were really all we'd really hoped to see in Southern China. Near to Guilin is the 'town' of Yangshuo which has been a bit of a backpackers haven in Southern China for decades. The backpackers have now been joined by tens of thousands of, strangely overweight, Chinese tourists which take the boat trips down the Li River past some spectacular pointy karst mountains. We opted for the cheaper and less crowded option of a bamboo raft, the trip was shorter but still got us a good view of the mountains, when the other boats and rafts were away from us anyway!
The original plan for our time in China was to travel on to Shanghai via train but apparently the train is being fully booked out up to 10 days before at the moment, making that option just too expensive. We opted instead to spend longer relaxing in Yangshuo (we found a sociable backpackers hostel and just fly straight to Beijing.
After spending days relaxing by the riverside and biking around Yangshuo and Guilin, we'll be leaving for Beijing tomorrow morning with plenty of great photos. Just five days and I'll be heading home, there is still hundreds of years of Chinese history to see in Beijing though; and apparently there's a wall nearby too.