Travels: Guangxi Province, Guilin, China

Eroded landscape along Li River
The eroded landscapes around Guilin is one of those sceneries that one would think about when China comes to mind. The picture of many little karst hills in the countryside, and a calm river in the foreground with a lone fisherman. This is one of those areas I wanted to go before leaving China, and as famous as it is (meaning many tourists) I guess this is one of those places that has to be seen to be believed. So then it is, I have managed to organize a trip to Guanxi province just after the Sichuan trip on the way back to Shanghai just to see it with my own eyes. Will be flying into Guilin directly from Chengdu.

20 November 2008: Landed in Guilin at 9 pm after an hour and a half from Chengdu. Small airport, obviously so compared to Chengdu and probably not a good comparison at all. Slept during the landing and since it was late at night, it was probably impossible to see anything. Temperature is a nice 13C at night. Balmy compared to Chengdu in the single digits.

Film used during the trip, including Sichuan Province

My luggage is one of the first to appear, good considering I was the last to check in! In 1 minute I was out of Guilin Liangjiang airport (yup, the official name) and into a Golden Dragon brand bus bound downtown. I’m not a guide book so I have no idea where this bus ends but it does go to Guilin Train Station and its where I am going. Dumped my backpack into the luggage hold and its time to wait 30 minutes. The cost of the bus to the train station from airport is 20 RMB. According to what people tell me, as long there is a flight arriving, there will be an airport bus.

Within 30 minutes the bus dropped me at Shanghai Road with a finger pointing to the direction of the train station, quite obvious it requires a bit of a walk. Looking at the GPS maps on my E71, I managed to find a signboard leading to the Flowers Youth Hostel in Guilin. I will have to walk through little alleys and small restaurants selling dodgy food (i’m sure it tastes good though) and mini travel agents. Hostel is on the second floor of a maze of buildings. No fanfare, I’d arrive, get the room, get a shower and do a little blogging and sleep to prepare for the next day to Yangshuo.

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Travels: Sichuan Province Part 4, Jiuzhaigou National Park, China

Cotton-like plants are found all over Jiuzhaigou Park, with one of the colourful lakes forming the perfect backdrop
Jiuzhaigou is one of those places in china where it is said you can never miss and you have not been to a certain place if you have never seen it. It has definitely appeared many many times in pictures. First time I heard of it was a few years back when it was said it was very difficult to get to. I don’t know when they went or heard about it, but I see there are airports near the park, and there are official tourist buses going from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou with daily bus (yes, singular) and in the parks are roads going to all sights and mini buses plying the route. Surely not in accessible, but nevertheless, still a place not to be missed. We shall see if this is a boast or truth.

16 November 2008: Taking the 8 am bus to Jiuzhaigou from Chengdu’s Xinnanmen station. The bus station looks like a special station for tourist areas, but on the inside other than the metal detectors and xray machines, it looks like any other station. The buses look newer and the windows are fixed, so naturally I was afraid of the species known as the smoking chinese. But looks like the locals going to tourist places are a special type. During the whole trip, the guy in front of me had a half burnt cigarette in his fingers for hours but kept the urge to light it. In fact, no one smoked on this trip in the bus. Amazing show of patience. The only two things that irritated me were some passengers playing their songs on their mobile phone speakers and a guy eating process meat that smelled like coffee flavored chicken and a hint of chloroform. Smells nauseous. Overall, the trip was a lot nicer than the 12hrs bus to Xiaojing in part 2. Bearable.

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Travels: Sichuan Province Part 3, Danba Town, China

Chillis left out to dry at Jiuju Village, Danba
More corn pictures, sorry...

Based on time killer recommendations from Joy from Sim’s Cozy over at Chengdu, I will make a one day stop over at Danba as the only way to get back to Chengdu from Rilong is to go through Xiaojing and Danba. It helps too that there are 2 daily buses (0630 and 0700) from Danba.

Ancient watch tower up close, Zhonglu village

Danba seems to be famous for two things. Everyone says the girls there are beautiful. Even best in china, but I have heard of that before in Suzhou. And as expected its because of the climate that gives them a nice complexion. And everyone here also says that the good looking ones are in Chengdu. Danba is also popular for the couple of tibetan villages around the town. Danba lies at the confluence of rivers, and in a deep valley. Some of the scenic villages are perched high on top of steep mountains. 14 November 2008, Rilong to Danba: It was a 0700 pickup by the same Mr Zhang that brought me to Rilong from Xiaojing. We arranged a trip to Danba for 300 RMB, about 150 km away and a day trip to 3 villages around Danba for an extra 100 RMB. Plus the 150 RMB I owed him from last sunday. While I know the driver normally runs a mien bao car (private hire vans that pick up anyone anywhere between set destinations), I allowed him to pick up 2 ladies to drop near Xiaojing. With the 17 RMB we made, he brought me to the best beef noodle place in Xiaojing. From what I can see, salt, soya sauce, plenty of hand pulled noodles, mountain cow beef, bamboo shoots, coriander and plenty of chilli and you have a serious bowl of best noodles I have tasted in china so far. I have seen many mountain cows in Siguniang and its the first time I have tasted it.

Mountain road on the way to one of the mountain top villages around Danba

After a heavy bowl of beef noodles in Xiaojing it’s time to continue to Danba. I will visit the villages first before buying bus ticket and finding a place to stay in Danba.

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Travels: Sichuan Province Part 2, Mount Siguniang, China

View of the tallest of 4 Siguniangs from Rilong's Changping Gou village
The plan for this trip is a week long trip, including a 3 day trek up to see Siguniang Shan and a day in one other valley in the area around the town of Rilong. Then on the way back to Chengdu, it’s a night over at Danba to see the old villages on the mountain side. Expecting to spend 6 days for this leg, and the backpack is full to the brim, including a full camelbak filled with day long supply of Nongfu spring water, which seems to be on sale everywhere in this country.

Siguniang shan is surrounded by 3 valleys. The most accessible one is Shuangqiao gou where there is a tourist bus herding tourists, the next would be Changping gou where most treks up the mountain start but Changping gou also has its own trek path on the valley floor that requires a bus ride to get to, and Haizi gou, where you will have to trek its slopes to reach base camp for those who are planning to go up Siguniang shan.

9 November 2008, Chengdu to Rilong: The first bus from Chengdu to Xiaojing leaves at 6:25 am. From there, I will have to take a taxi to Rilong. From what I have heard, the direct bus to Rilong does not run anymore from Chadianzi Station here in Chengdu because the route passes by Wenchuan which was the place worst hit by this year’s large earthquake in this region. So longer trip. On the map, Xiaojing looks not further than 300 km but today’s bus trip is expected to take 8 hours. Gasp!

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Travels: Sichuan Province Part 1, Chengdu, China *Partial*

Its been a long time waiting and before I could even prepare for it, I got off MU5407 here in Chengdu (airport code: CTU) on a one week and a half trip. Total I will spend outside Shanghai will be 2 weeks and this includes Guilin which will be the subject of another post once I get to it. Flight was bearable, food was Crap as usual, and again full of oversized babies and their grandparents. Inflight meal consists of a paper box filled with an assortment of buns, crackers, pickles and strange mix of edible stuff. Thank god for ipods.
Chengdu Airport Bus queue

8 November 2008, Shanghai to Chengdu: From the airport, bus 303 seems to go to Chengdu city. Was reading about bus 300 but I did not see it. Bus trip cost 12 RMB and comes with insurance, although it seems lost in my mind how we will claim our own insurance should something untowardly happens along the way. As with any bus in china, this bus even comes with its own tour guide. In my half baked putong hua, sounds like its 30 minutes away. Good. Nap time.

Spent the afternoon walking around Chengdu and there is a nice street where everything is old and has a market. Naturally my leica came out to play there. Chengdu definitely looks more refined than other cities in China, other than Shanghai and Beijing of course. Its quite obvious this is not a poor place.

Transporting items by bicycle is common in the backstreets of Chengdu

Everywhere you go in Chengdu there are hotpot restaurant. I’m tempted to try them but I travelled alone so it will be wasteful to gobble down a whole load of soup with floating chilies. But I promised myself I need to try it or I have never been to Sichuan.

Waiting for the bus, China style...

Language: I swear I don’t have too much of an issue with the local Sichuanese dialect, at least I understand it as much as I do putonghua, which is not too bad, but people I meet here sometimes tell me its difficult to understand locals. The dialect sounds like a bastardized version of putonghua in a song singing way.

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Travels: Overnight in Hangzhou West Lake, China (26-27 October 2008)

This marks the first time I’m taking a train from the new Shanghai South train station. I have been here a couple of times but it is impossible to get train tickets to Hangzhou on the day itself, especially for weekend trains. When that happens go to the back of the station and take the long distance bus instead. It is a little more expensive and takes longer to get to Hangzhou. But what matters is that it’s the train today. Plan this trip is to spend a night at the west Lake in Hangzhou and shoot morning at the lake. Too bad weather will be bad this weekend but lets see what comes out of it.
Hangzhou should look better in spring and one of the equinox days, but I’ll treat this trip as a scouting trip. Found a hostel (Mingtown Garden Hostel) on the west bank of the lake, strategic for morning pictures on the lake. Lenses I brought goes from 12mm to 50mm on DX sensor, and a rangefinder for night shots. I’m rather self sufficient this trip. I have a towel, and change of clothes. Packs quite small into the backpack. Will be using primarily this E71 for GPS duties, but I just can’t leave the Garmin behind so that is in the bag as well. I really need to think about leaving things behind and not duplicate for the duties I will be performing during trips!

Packed quite heavily for a weekend trip. Normally I’ll just bring a small pack for a night, but I’m trying to simulate my next medium duration trip next month. Going with a 30 litre pack with external attachments. On the left side is attached a gitzo 1541T tripod and my mont bell jacket attached on the right. In a small bag inside the pack is a leica M2 with 35mm f1.2 Voigtlander and in the second think tank speed demon belt pack is a Nikon D300 with 2 lenses. This is quite a heavy setup. Will need to lighten up for the longer trip. The backpack balances quite well, but definitely no room for a sleeping back if I need one. Will be travelling with the ipod touch and just a phone/blog machine this time. No blackberry. That will stay home.

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Travels: Shanghai Sheshan. China

View from Sheshan (Nikon D300, 12-24mm f4)
Was planning to go to hangzhou this weekend but its impossible to get a train ticket nor hotel room next to the lake so sod it, this saturday will be a shanghai trip. And I went through my mind thinking where in shanghai I always wanted to hike to but never had the time,and Sheshan comes up.

Sheshan Basilica (Nikon D300, 12-24mm f4)

Sheshan is a place where it seems only people on company team building trip goes to and stay in one of the 5 star resorts. In fact that was the only time I went there and I did notice there is a metro line that goes there, not too bad. Did see a cathedral object top of a hill as well and a little wikipedia research tells me this is the only real hill in shanghai. 

Sheshan Basilica on top of the hill (Leica M3, 50mm f1.5 Summarit, Lucky SHD100)

Ok I confess. The reason for the trek today is to test out my new configurations before my holiday in November. For one, updated my blogging phone from Nokia E61 to the new and very nice E71. The phone is a lot smaller and easier to carry but nothing is free, the keyboard is very small now. But the predictive text seems to be making up for it. My pack is also heavy as I have packed a D300 and Mamiya RZ67 and a new hiking tripod, the 1541T from gitzo. Plenty of heavy gears I can assure you!

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Anhui & Jiangxi Province, China: Day 3 (6 Sept 2008)

Free Range Chicken at Xidi (Ricoh GR Digital)
Tunxi Youth Hostel lobby wall (Leica M6 + 50mm f2 Summicron + Kodak Tri-X)

Anhui Province: Up at 6am after sleeping 8 hours to worry about whether my stuff are all dry. Doesn’t help that my hostel room already starts to smell damp, not from my airing, but just a general matter of things when you don’t pay too much for a room. Considering the night before was a bed made of board with 1cm of cushion, the one last night was a lot better.

0714hrs Huangshan Youth Hostel, Anhui Province: Up for breakfast. Looks like it will be another cloudy day. Since I have been out for some days now, thought I’d indulge in a little coffee and english breakfast, which here probably means bacon and many eggs with toast. Waiting for my lazyman tour to the villages so I can take things easy today before catching the 9pm train back to Shanghai.

I have also realised I might need a larger camera bag as I cannot store my extra 105mm lens in the Thinktank Speeddemon bag. It sits right in my left pocket in my cargo shorts. Not exactly very comfortable. Maybe a lens drop in case will do next time.

Water Lilly Leaves Hongcun Village (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

0823hrs In tour bus at Tunxi, Anhui Province N29.71073 E118.30611: Someone please remind me why in China it is a lot better to go on your own than to join a tour. This is a small bus with a dozen people in it, all locals except for me I guess, there are a couple with Beijing accent, and complete with the stereotypical always-smoking chinese male in his 30-40s. No chinese with rolled up long pants yet… I can’t do that as I’m on bermudas. So we are going around Tunxi city picking up passengers. My GPS are not getting the full signal it should be getting because of the dense buildings in the city. And I do have a tour guide as well, too bad she speaks only Chinese. This will be fun… Looks likely we have picked up all the passengers, and should be on our way out thru the south west of Tunxi…

Drying Chillies (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

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Anhui & Jiangxi Province, China: Day 2 (5 Sept 2008)

Morning in Xiao Likeng (Leica M6 + 50mm f2 Summicron + Fuji Neopan 1600)
Morning in Xiao Likeng (Ricoh GR Digital)

Jiangxi Province: Had a nice long 8 hour sleep last night here in Xiao Likeng in Jiangxi Province, afraid of the mosquitoes because of the countryside, but the sleep last night was peaceful enough with the windows wide opened and sound of cascading water outside all night long as the room was just next to the fast flowing canals. There doesn’t seem to be too much to do here so most inhabitants are asleep before 9pm, which you can tell by the lights all going off. Villagers walk around at night by bring along torch lights as there are no street lighting. What do you expect from a little village like this, right?

So here I am waking up at 6:30am, ready and packed up to go. The good thing about packing light is that I can check out of the inn I was staying in and could just go around the village to take pictures of the morning activities. Other than kids walking to school, the majority of villagers crowd around the pavillion square in the morning. There is a motorcycle with a big basket on its back full of chicken, and 2 guys with large chunks of pork, presumably you ask for a certain size and he will cut it to scale. It was not busy like a typical market, so I guess its just catering to the few hundred that live here. 

Villager doing morning shopping for live chicken (Leica M6 + 50mm f2 Summicron + Fuji Neopan 1600)

Likeng Pork Seller (Leica M6 + 50mm f2 Summicron + Fuji Neopan 1600)

0815hrs Jiangwan, Jiangxi Province N29.37054 E118.04676: Met up with my motorcycle driver at 0730hrs sharp, and this guy has been a good tour guide (Mr Yu, mobile number: 1387 0330 588). On a cold and misty Friday morning, he first stopped me at a concealed lookout on the road, to take a nice lanscape view of Wengkou Village. He was probably surprised to see a guy with 3 cameras. Took a couple of photos of the village situates at a bend of the river, the wind still calm so you see perfect reflection. Too bad for the thin fog, but i took many photos from the same spot.

View of Wankou Village from the highway (Ricoh GR Digital)

Square top (Ricoh GR Digital)

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Anhui & Jiangxi Province, China: Day 1 (4 Sept 2008)

Day 1: Xiao Likeng (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)
GPS Plots for Jiangxi and Anhui Province trip

Xiao Likeng Village (Leica M6 + 50mm f2 Summicron + Kodak Tri-X)

This is another one of those quick decisions. Before I know it, I’m already on the 2235hrs N418 train to Huangshan. This is an overnight train that will take 12 hours to get to Huangshan City, also known as Tunxi. I’m no stranger to Chinese hard sleeper trains.

As usual, picked up the middle bunk. Hard sleepers have compartments with 6 beds, 2 columns of 3 bunks. The cushion is at least 5cm thick, enough for me. The trick is to get the middle bunk, for me at least. Top bunk smells of smoke (someone is always smoking in the non smoking train) and there is always someone sitting on your bunk at the bottom. Ticket cost 169RMB one way and it is now possible to buy return tickets in Shanghai.

Untitled (Nikon D2H + 105mm f2.5 AIS)

Packing was quite difficult. On one hand I wanted to pack light as I could be village hopping a bit, but I’d want to also pack quite a number of photo gears. At the end, decided not to pack long pants, purely shorts, 3 t-shirts, socks and underwear, of course, and premium disposable toileteries from my many trips to Tokyo. The D2H comes along with spare EN-EL4a battery, 40mm ULTRON, and 105mm AIS lens. Thought about my new 12-24mm lens but had to cut down on weight. theres also the Leica M6 with 8 rolls of film and a 50mm Summicron lens. And the trustworthy Ricoh GRD.

Blades of Grass (Nikon D2H + 105mm f2.5 AIS)

Anyway, train is zipping along now and it should be time to sleep. And then I had another eureka moment with this system. When you board the train, a conductor comes along and switched your train ticket for a credit card thingy. I then realised that is how they keep track of who is going where. Between every stops they will come to wake you up and exchange your card thingy widget back to your ticket. That way they know who has a ticket, where they are going and will be able to catch fare dodgers! Genius!

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