On from Xi'an we were looking forward to seeing the rice terraces and karst scenery on the Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo, and were curious about Shanghai and the famous Bund. We loved it all.
We arrived in Guilin in the early evening and were met by Lily and Mr Lo, our new guide and driver. As we drove to our hotel - the Guilin Park on the lake - we could see that the surrounding landscape is beautiful with huge karsts dominating. These limestone karsts are a distinctive shape, usually tall and narrow with a rounded top.
The following morning we woke to rain. It was, after all, the rainy season, so not entirely unexpected. A long drive to the rice terraces through magnificent scenery: brilliant green paddy fields, tea plantations, clouds drifting between mountain peaks.
When we arrived at the village where we were to have lunch it was again raining. Lunch was authentically local: young pea pods with smoky bacon, fried white cabbage, bamboo shoots and egg, seaweed and egg soup, rice - all good and in huge quantities. We did not wish to offend but really could not do justice to all this good food.
The girl serving us was lovely, a student at Xi'an University studying English and Tourism.
We climbed to the top to view the terraces, passing farmers working the paddy fields oblivious to the rain. A horse drawing a manual plough pushed by a farmer covered in plastic, wading through water almost knee-deep.
At the top we had a thunderstorm which was quite worrying. Afterwards the clouds cleared sufficiently for us to see the beautiful landscape of rice terraces named "Seven Stars and Moon" before the weather closed in again.
At least we only had to walk in the rain - the people here must work in it if they are to harvest good crops.
This is a place we plan to return to but we're not sure what time of year is best. We love the green of the terraces at the moment but at this time of year you always run the risk of rain storms!
Next time we'd like to stay in this area and do some walking in the fabulous mountains and terraces.
On our return we stopped at a Tea Plantation and the second tea tasting of our visit. One in Beijing had been exceedingly messy - here it was much better and we tasted five different teas: green (smelly and tasting of gooseberry, much stronger than hotel tea), lychee and black which is quite sweet, jasmine, ginseng and oolong, osmanthus (local flower - Guilin means "osmanthus flower") and oolong - we both liked this and the green tea best.
Back in Guilin the river was flooding.
Quite a climb, the view from the top of Fubo Hill is impressive. The peak lies in Fubo Park - both named after General Fubo of the Han dynasty. The view of the karsts behind the city is fantastic.
The following day the river was very high and there was some discussion as to whether the boats would be allowed down the river so we were able to spend some time on our own exploring Guilin while it was decided what would happen.
At 8a.m. lots of people were eating noodles in numerous cafes, usually furnished with very basic wooden tables and chairs.
We came across a market which was fascinating: sacks of many different types of rice, counters covered with meat, beautiful fruit and vegetables, mushrooms, spices, duck (we'd seen duck farms on our drive the previous day) - some of the smells were rather strong!
Back at the hotel the river trip was on. Before arriving at the jetty we visited Reed Flute Cave - named for the reeds growing at its entrance which are used in flutes.
Inside the cave, which was formed millions of years ago, is a colourfully lit sequence of stalagmites, stalactites and other rock formations. Part of the cave was flooded which made for some beautiful reflections.
Left: a colourful page from the scrap book for Guilin. So many of the entrance tickets were beautifully designed it was a shame to throw them away!
At the jetty a very large number of boats were to go in convoy down to Yangshuo. We shared our table with six friendly oriental gentlemen.
The scenery is utterly spectacular. We had no sun but the mist drifting between the karsts was very atmospheric.
We must come back and spend more time here - the scenery is just stunning. The river was running so fast that we made the journey in only two and a half hours - normally it takes four!
It was a short walk from the landing stage to our hotel - the Paradise (Bill C. stayed here - the hotels where he stayed are very proud of it).
We wandered around Yangshuo which is great for bargains, then decided we had had enough Chinese food and opted for pizza and a bottle of wine. Not bad at all, and the crepe suzette was excellent.
It rained all night and in the morning the small courtyards in the hotel looked flooded, though not yet reaching the covered walkways. We walked down to the river, borrowing hotel brollies, and it was really speeding along.
We enjoyed a very scenic drive to the airport: lots of karsts and also water buffalo (good climate for them!). We had an excellent lunch there: beef/onion/peppers - quite spicy, chicken in a crispy coating (but quite bony!), beans and very good egg fried rice.
We visited the water village at Zhujiajiao (from Shanghai) with dire warnings of not to eat anything as the river water, none too hygenic, is used for washing fruit and vegetables.
The town grew rich from the Ming dynasty trade in grain, silk and pottery as it lies on the large Jinghang Canal connecting Suzhou and Shanghai.
We visited the City God Taoist Temple where red ribbons covered with prayers for good health etc. are tied to trees. We were subjected to a very persistant "priest" who pestered us to make a donation or buy something.
Taoism is different to Buddhism, though many Taoiosts will also follow Buddhism. Taoism has many deities and believes in the oneness of nature.
This is a true water village with the buildings sorrounded by canals and built right on the water. All of the homes seem to have a landing stage and the main mode of transport in the past must have been via the waterways.
It's a very picturesque place, and we had time to wander on our own, visiting a small museum which had a lovely little exhibit on the development of the plough from a simple stick used to dig a hole, adding a cross-bar to stand on (i.e. a primitive spade), to a curved stick for digging a furrow. We discovered that what we thought was ploughing on the rice terraces was probably ploughing in manure to enrich the soil. The pharmacy is very interesting too, with a wall of drawers and lovely blue and white pottery.
On to the silk factory for lunch, though we declined a visit to the factory itself where we could see ranks of looms spinning thread from cocoons. Chinese food was beginning to pall a bit by this stage.
The Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai is a lovely building, its corridors festooned with red lanterns. Statues of fierce gods glower and in the courtyards trees are festooned with red prayer ribbons.
The reclining white jade Buddha is truly lovely (no photography of the Buddha allowed, sadly).
On to the Yu Yuan Gardens, a classic Chinese garden with pools, bridges and rocks; Ming Dynasty architecture, with circular Moon entrances, typical of the south, and the usual annoying Rolex sellers - the only brand in the whole of China it seems!
We ate lunch here in a tea house but it was not as good as other Chinese food we have had.
On the way back to the hotel we visited the Confucius Temple, where we prayed with incense sticks and were prayed for by the monk with three strikes of the bell - it was very moving.
On our own in the afternoon we crossed the Bund and made our way to the Beijing East Road. This is full of shops which, as we have seen throughout our travels, line the street, completely open, and are closed at night by an iron shutter. Here all kinds of hardware is on sale: nuts, bolts, cable, string, tubing, car radiators, gaskets, electronic components, bicycle tyres being repaired and the usual mass of humanity hurrying along.
We were able to choose the end point of our holiday: either Shanghai or Hong Kong. We weren't too keen on Hong Kong - its main attraction seems to be shopping which does not appeal, and we'd heard good things about the Bund so we opted for Shanghai. We were not disappointed and both really liked this city.
Met with the usual efficiency at the airport, the drive to the hotel revealed a city, like Beijing, with a lot of construction work going on. Whereas the architecture in Beijing is massive and blocky, here it seems much more modern. The Shanghaiese are obviously sensitive on the subject of the Olympics and keen to point out that they host the World's Fair in 2010 with the theme "Better City – Better Life"!
Our hotel is the Panorama at the north end of the Bund, close to the Huangpo River, and the view of the Bund from the bar on the 31st floor (which also does an excellent Tequila Sunrise), especially at night, is fantastic. We had a beautiful serviced apartment which was great - lots of space to spread out.
The Bund is certainly an impressive street - it gets its name from an old Anglo-Indian term bunding: the embanking of a muddy foreshore. It was the heart of old Shanghai's commercial district in the British concession, and a working harbour in its heyday.
I like Art Deco so we set out on our first day to track down a couple of examples: the Peace Hotel, which turns out to be closed for 18 months for renovation, and the Metropole Hotel, which is open. It's nice, and does a good cocktail, but for Art Deco go to New York, and of course London has some fine examples. We didn't see any fine decorative detail such as can be found on Art Deco buildings elsewhere.
Although M on the Bund comes highly acclaimed, we didn't find anything to tempt us on the menu. In the same building, albeit in the basement so without the views, is Lin Bar & Grill, which does excellent fillet beef and Spanish Suckling Pig, washed down with a more than acceptable Tuoling red.
It seems the world and his wife take a walk along the Bund in the evening. The long waterfront Promenade is popular with the locals and there are lots of food vendors, including candied plums which are fantastic - messy but fantastic!
The restaurant in the Panorama is on the 30th floor and a window table has excellent views of the river, which is a fully working river. A continuous convoy of huge barges laden with sand, gravel, coal, timber makes its way upstream.
One evening we took a boat trip on the Huangpu river - a stately promenade down and up the river in front of the Bund on an illuminated boat. Followed by a very good meal at TSens on the Bund: prime rib of beef with extra chips (albeit delivered after we'd finished the meat!), California Merlot and freshly baked bread. Finished off with a drink in the Panorama with the view of the Bund that I doubt can be bettered.
We took the subway to the French concession to see the colonial housing areas. The Sun Yat-sen house seems very British in its interior and lawned garden. Dr Sun Yat-sen was the first president of post-imperialist China. He lived in this house from 1918 to 1924 and the interior holds many of his personal possessions.
Mr Morris's Tudor-style house (he was a newspaper magnate) is a peaceful oasis and now a fine hotel.
In the parks we wandered through, kite-flying is very popular.
Returning home we travelled to the airport on the Mag Lev train - only 7 minutes to travel 30 km, with a top speed of 431km/hr,there's a display of its speed on the train. A fitting way to end a wonderful holiday.