China revisited (Part II)

Thu 13-10-2011: arrival in Xi’an at the crack of dawn. Our hotel is across from the train station, but we are so early that the rooms haven’t been cleaned yet. Taking a nap is impossible when one of the maids comes in to remove the bed sheets but doesn’t replace them…
We leave the hotel at 10am to go to the city wall for a 14km bike ride. The bikes are pretty rickety, the wall has potholes and I cycled approximately 4 times in the past 5 years. Yeah, not going to happen…
For lunch we go to a dumpling restaurant where they serve dumplings of which the shape shows what type of filling it has: a bird for chicken, a bunny for rabbit, a walnut for (you guessed it) walnuts etc.
Close to the restaurant are the bell and drum towers and the Muslim quarter with its many souvenir shops. I even spot a Walmart across the street! We return to the hotel after a short visit and thankfully my room has been made! I pop in next door at McD’s for dinner but that’s all for the rest of the day – the lack of sleep is really catching up with me.

Fri 14-10-2011: visit to the terracotta warriors outside Xi’an. In order to get VIP parking (and not having to walk 45 mins from the parking lot), we stop at a government shop en route. I give in to temptation and buy some souvenirs.
At the TW-complex we are in luck when one of discoverers is signing books. (We are told he makes a rare appearance but that might very well be a ploy to get us to buy an autographed book…). I flee the movie theater where they show a very bad quality film about the history of the terracotta warriors because it’s giving me ahead ache and decide to go ahead and visit the 3 pits. Pit 1 is the most well-known because it houses the rows and rows of warriors. Pit 2 shows some of the cavalry and pit 3 apparently is the command center with the generals.
A lot has not yet been uncovered as the archeologists haven’t figured out yet how to excavate the statues without them losing their paint within 20 minutes or what to do about the mercury that was used to simulate a river.
After lunch at a very touristy restaurant, we return to Xi’an to spend the rest of the day at our leisure.

Sat 15-10-2011: an early morning flight to Guilin, which means the alarm goes off at 4.30am – YAWN! The ticket printer breaks down at the airport, which causes us to barely make our flight in time. On the up-side: we are at the very front of the plane, which means we are off immediately upon landing.
After our arrival, it’s another 1,5hrs by bus to Yangshuo. The whole group has lunch at the Twin Peaks Café in West St (Yangshuo’s main street), after which we leave to go rafting on the Dragon River. This sounds a lot more exciting than it is: there are a few minor rapids (and yes, when I forget to lift up my feet in time, my jeans are soaked up to the knee…), but mostly it is very relaxing.
At night, we attend a light show about the history of the ‘Drum People’ (the traditional people in this area). The show has a cast of thousands – very impressive!

Sun 16-10-2011: there is a long bike trek on today’s program, but I don’t feel up to it due to the long hours yesterday. Instead I spend my day exploring Yangshuo and relaxing.
During breakfast at a local tourist café, I noticed they served my favourite guilty pleasure from home: fries with mayonnaise and peanut sauce (a.k.a. patatje oorlog). When in Nepal a few years ago, I had it, so now that I’m in China, I need to eat this as well! I vow to return for dinner, and just as I’ve finished the last of my fries (which are a bit greasy but taste ok), I’m joined by F, W and C, who also decide to try a patatje oorlog. After a little while, D&M and L&M also join us for drinks. M shows us the waving-Mao-watch she bought because she thought it was funny, and what do you know? A street vendor comes in and F treats the rest of us 3 girls to a Mao-watch as well ;-)

Mon 17-10-2011: free time until 3pm when we leave for a boat tour on the Li River. The day before, you could sign up for different morning activities such as tai chi or a cooking class. Decisions, decisions… I chose the cooking class.
Our teacher Jessica first takes us to the local market to buy ingredients. There are a seafood section, a vegetable section and a meat section, amongst other things. Especially the meat section causes a bit of culture shock and some of the group have difficulty stomaching it. Let’s just say that, yes, it is true that they still eat dogs in China…
The cooking class itself is a lot of fun and we make (and eat) 3 dishes: dumplings (fried and steamed), stir-fried noodles with vegetables and kung pao chicken. We are pretty good chefs if I do say so myself!
After the class, we decide to have a drink at the Twin Peaks Café where we meet N and R, and are later joined by F, W, C, K, D and M too.
The boat tour that afternoon is lovely. Great panoramas and we stop at a little village along the way as well. After the boat tour, we have our last group diner of this trip on the shores of the river.

Tue 18-10-2011: we are supposed to leave Yangshuo at 10am but the airco on the bus has broken down. Fortunately it is fixed quickly, and we are on our way only 1hr later.
Instead of spending 21hrs on a train to Guangzhou, we are taking the bus on the newly finished highway. This highway is SO new, that there are hardly any gas stations (read: restroom stops) along the way yet. This makes for some tricky timing to prevent ‘accidents’…
We arrive in Guangzhou in the early evening and a few of us decide to go to a Cantonese restaurant along with local guide Rose. There is a bit of a misunderstanding when R wants to order a snake dish and the waiter comes in with the live snake in a bucket to show us its size… This makes M, D and C so uncomfortable that they decide to leave. The rest of us decide to stay and we manage to convince the staff to let us choose our own dishes from the menu. In the end, we settle on some ‘safe’ vegetarian, chicken and beef dishes. R has chosen a crocodile dish instead of the snake (it was only possible to order the entire snake, which would be too much for our party). I tried it, and you know what? It does NOT taste like chicken ;-).
Despite its rocky start, the evening turned out very well – and tasty! – and has since been referred to as the ‘snake incident’…

Wed 19-10-2011: another early start as our bus leaves on 6.45am for the ferry terminal. The ferry takes us in about 2hrs to HK over the Pearl River. Upon our arrival at the Panda Hotel, not all rooms are finished, so we decide to go for lunch first.
After lunch it’s possible to go on a tour to Victoria’s Peak, Aberdeen and Stanley Market, but I prefer to explore HK by myself. After jumping in the metro to Tsim Tsa Shui (and changing lines unnecessary along the way…), I take the Star Ferry to Central. The Escalators (boasted as being the world’s longest escalator with 800m) are a bit disappointing: instead of a few tall escalators, there are a lot of small ones. I expected escalators to rival the ones in the London and Prague metro stations! Nonetheless you cover a lot of height, which becomes very clear when I need to descend quite a bit to get to the HK Hard Rock Café (respect to the ladies in heels in Central!).
After dinner, I take the metro back to Tsim Tsa Shui for the river bank laser show. I’m a bit early, which gives me the opportunity to walk along the Avenue of the Stars, HK’s own Walk of Fame.
The laser show is very nice but only takes 10 minutes. I decide to look for Daiso, a Japanese department store that is supposed to be located at Mong Kok. With the help of some locals, I eventually manage to find Jusco, a store that carries Daiso products. When I get back to the hotel at 10.30pm, utterly exhausted, I see a banner advertising the fact that the exact same store is also located in the shopping mall underneath the hotel. Figures…

Thu 20-10-2011: final day of our trip! S joins me to visit the Giant Buddha at the Po Lin monastery on Lantau Island. The statue is high up in the hills and you can either take the bus or a cable car. We choose the cable car, which provides awesome views of the area (you could also take a glass-bottom cable car, but after our Shanghai adventure, we decided to chicken out and take the ‘regular’ cable car instead). It almost feels like an amusement park ride!
There is a bit of a touristy area before you get to the Giant Buddha, where we do some souvenir shopping. After some very greasy fried dumplings for lunch, we make our way to the statue. There are 260 steps to climb up to the statue, and both of us decide to appreciate the view from the bottom ;-)
I contemplated visiting Victoria’s Peak in the afternoon since I did not have enough time the day before, but the rest of the trip is taking its toll and I cannot get myself to do it. Instead I join S at the hotel pool for a bit of reading and lounging. We are later joined by F, W, N and R.
After dinner, it’s time to say goodbye to those who are staying a bit longer in HK. Then I do some final bento-shopping at Jusco. N has told me a few days ago that she’s interested in bento as well, so I surprise her with a little bento starter kit, which is very much appreciated ;-)
We finally leave for the airport, and our flight leaves promptly at 11pm.

Fri 21-10-2011: after some 12hrs in the air, we touch down at Amsterdam where my parents are already awaiting my arrival. After saying my goodbyes to the rest of the group, they whisk me off to their car, and barely 1 hour later I’m home .

It was an amazing trip, but I can’t help feeling happy to be sleeping in my own bed again!

Here are some pics of all the stuff I brought home...

1) Mao hat for my dad; 2) statues of the terracotta warriors fro friends; 3) shopping bag from Beijing; 4) postcards and other paper goods; 5) miniatures for my souvernir showcase; 6) signed book about the terracotta warriors; 7) Mao notebook and watch; 8) carved rabbit 'chop' (with my name in Chinese), a hanger with deities (?) that I thought was cute and rabbit chop sticks (rabbit = my Chinese star sign); 9) key chains for my mother; 10) magnets for a friend.

1) insulated water bottle carrier; 2) 2 bento boxes; 3) large & small rice paddles; 4) Japanese grater (for garlic, ginger etc); 5) sandwich cutter; 6) triangular bento cups; 7) cute shaped containers; 8) jelly cooling elements (oops - upside down!); 9) cute sauce bottles; 10) small mellon ball (or other stuff!) shaper.

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