| Hong Kong, Shanghai,
from Part 2
30.11: Shanghai ->
Guilin CTS Hotel - 137 Jie Fang East
Guilin, Tel. 0773-2864999,
Fax. 0773-2862499. Modern hotel where I have a very nice room for 350
RMB (I guess it's four stars). A bit noisy, because the hotel faces the
main square. The room was booked at the airport for 300 RMB and when I
get back from my sightseeing tour in the evening, the card key cannot
open the door. At the reception they ask me if I want to change rooms
(??). Since this must be a misunderstanding I just tell them that they
please fix the broken card key. It turns out that this was neither a
misunderstanding nor a technical glitch. These idiots purposely blocked
the card key, because they put me into the wrong room. They put me into
a room for 350 RMB per night, while I was booked for a 300 RMB room.
Not 100% clear who made the mistake, but if it was unclear the hotel
should have checked with the travel agent at the airport what sort of
room I was booked in. Now they suggest that I should move to a
different, cheaper room (!). I'm tired, all my stuff is already
unpacked.... I suggest that since this wasn't my mistake and it's late,
they should simply let me stay in the room. Well no, they are very
stubborn and insist that I move rooms. Then I say that I'm not going to
move rooms and will pay the 50 RMB difference. But please, they should
activate the card key *now*. No, they say, you must call your travel
agent ("Frank" - who is Frank ? At the airport two ladies booked the
room for me). Some time passes, then they finally call somebody
(perhaps Frank). More telephone discussions follow and finally, after
my patience is about to finish, I ask if they can settle everything
themselves, and tomorrow morning I will pay the difference when I check
out. The receptionist hesitates for a moment, then takes my key and
activates it. So I go up to my room. And no, the card key still doesn't
work. I go back again to the reception, explain the problem and then a
male receptionist follows me to the room with another card key. He does
something with the door and finally the door opens. In any case this
guy is pretty unfriendly. All in all at the reception they are not too
Weather: fog in the early morning in
Shanghai, visibility of perhaps
200m. It starts getting bright around 6am, but the sun only shows up at
Shanghai's Hongqiao airport around 8am. Very bad weather in Guilin -
overcast sky the whole day, bad visibility, fresh (need a jacket or
Early wake up call at 5:20am after a very short night (I fell asleep
after 2am). I take a shower, pack my things and am ready at 6:15am.
Below in the lobby a taxi driver is already waiting for me. Good
service, as I was afraid of having to walk to the main street with the
bags and look for a taxi myself. We leave the hotel at 6:20am, stop
briefly at the Citibank branch where I get some more cash, then head to
the airport. The roads are empty and the drive takes less than 20
minutes (cost is 50 RMB).
At the airport the usual stuff: I have to produce my passport even if
it's only a domestic flight. This time they don't ask me to open the
bottle of mineral water I'm carrying with me, but they insist that I
take off my shoes, so that they can scan them.
The Shanghai Airlines FM 9335 flight leaves more or less on time at
7:55am (by the way, a flight to Qingdao is cancelled this morning due
to poor weather conditions at Qingdao airport). The plane is an old
Boeing 757, which has seen better days.
By the way, I'm getting more and more confident with my Chinese - I
don't even ask people if they speak English and instead address them
directly in Chinese. At the moment it's simple sentences and very basic
dialogues, because my vocabulary is limited, but I'm hoping to manage
to have a semi-fluent conversation in Chinese with somebody before I
The plane arrives in Guilin airport on time at 10:20am. After getting
my bag, I head towards the exit and stop at the hotel booking counter.
A discussion starts, with the two ladies explaining the available
options. I book a night at the Guilin CTS hotel for 300 RMB
and two nights at the Yangshuo Guangjing hotel for 250
RMB/night. Then the ladies offer a boat tour from Guilin to Yangshuo.
420 RMB, pick up at the hotel at 8am, drive by bus to a place further
south, there get into the boat, lunch on the boat, English speaking
guide. The only problem is that at 420 RMB this tour seems a bit
pricey. I check in the LP guide and there I see that the same tour is
available for 160 RMB with a Chinese guide instead of an English guide.
So I take that, but the price has increased since 2001 - the boat tour
now costs 245 RMB. Then the ladies suggest that I take a full day tour
of Guilin for 500 RMB - even more pricey. I hesitate a bit and then
they suggest the half day tour for 300 RMB. Looking at the list of
places covered, it appears that one could cover these places with a
taxi and should spend less. The LP guide says that the Reed caves are
only 5 km from the city centre. Oh, the ladies say, a taxi will cost
you at least 100 RMB one way (!!!). It later turns out that they were
just lying and that the taxi ride costs only 17 RMB... Luckily I didn't
book the Guilin tour. Then I ask how to get into town. There is a
shuttle bus for 40 RMB - a taxi is 100 RMB, and this time the ladies
are telling the truth, because the airport is 30 km away from Guilin.
Around 12pm I check in at the hotel (see above). After that, at
12:30pm I get out and start my sightseeing tour of Guilin. After
a lunch at a food stall (very good food for 6 RMB) and at McDonalds (22
RMB for drink, milk shake and chicken nuggets to complement the first
lunch) I take a taxi to the Reed Flute cave (Ludi Yan, admission
40 or 60 RMB). The cave is f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c, even better than
the caves in Mulu NP (Malaysia). Huge chambers filled with stalagmites
and stalagtites rock formations, if those rock formations are all real
and not man-made (which I assume), it is really unbelievable. In
addition the cave is illuminated with light of different colours, for
an unbelievable visual experience. This cave alone was worth the trip
After spending over an hour in the cave, I finally leave the cave a bit
after 3pm. I
walk a bit around, having a look at the surroundings. With the sun
shining and a blue sky, the scenery would look great. Then, at 3:20pm I
fetch a taxi and drive to the Solitary Beauty Peak (Duxiu Feng).
Admission is 50 RMB - for a peak (???) - so I hesitate a bit, but then
I buy the ticket anyway. It turns out that it's not just the peak, you
get access to the royal palace complex enclosing the peak and you get a
guide who shows you around. The only problem is that the buildings are
not the original ones. They were destroyed twice by fires, and the
current ones were rebuilt after WW II, so all palaces look artificial
and fake. In addition, the weather conditions are bad - no sun, no blue
sky, only a white overcast sky - and visibility is bad, so that the
views you get by climbing on top of the peak are so-so.
From the top of the peak you can see that Guilin actually is a pretty
ugly town, with modern buildings everywhere except inside the palace
enclosure. The scenery with all those karst peaks dotting the landscape
is not too bad and reminds me of the area around Krabi, Thailand. It's
just the town that is spoiling the environment. I hope that Yangshuo is
better than Guilin.
At 5pm I descend from the peak and get back to the hotel. I take a taxi
and find out that I could have walked, because my hotel is right next
to the palace enclosure. Never mind, let's make a small donation to
support the local economy. I make a small donation also later, after
having been at an Internet cafe and heading for dinner, when I give 2
RMB to a female beggar with child who looked so desperate and hungry,
only to be chased after that by a horde of other beggars who also want
I have my dinner between 6pm and 7pm at a nice upscale cafe facing a
square (forgot the name). Just to try an elegant and sophisticated
place for a change. Smart move, because I get excellent food. The
lady who runs that place probably values quality.
By the way, before and after having dinner, I go to the Internet cafe
next to the hotel. The computers have the Chinese Windows OS, but the
connection is fast. And surprise, surprise, it's less than 2 RMB per
hour. Around 8pm I head back to the hotel have the nice card key
surprise (see above).
Yangshuo Guanjing Hotel, 15 Binjang
Yangshuo, Tel. 0773-8815588.
250 RMB for a room with bath and A/C but no heating, smaller than the
one of the previous night. The room is ok, facing the river, but below
there is the street and it's a bit noisy. Many mosquitoes in the room.
Weather: overcast in the early
Guilin, sunny after 8:30am.
Heavy layer of haze in the air, making good photos of scenery
impossible. Fresh air, but not cold
I get up at 7am and at 7:30am the reception calls and asks me to be
ready by 7:50am - 10 minutes earlier than anticipated. At 7:45am, while
I'm still packing my bag, the phone rings again and a guy says in
Chinese "Li-Jiang" and "Ma-shang" (the latter means "Now!"). But we
only manage to leave
the hotel at 8am, because in the reception they are still confused
about the price of the room (I end up paying 330 RMB).
We then start driving across Guilin, picking up all tourists from the
other hotels. Apparently I'm one of the first the driver picked up. We
finally leave Guilin at 9am and drive to the place where the boats take
off, which we reach at 9:20am. There all people are unloaded and enter
a big shop. By the way, this is the Chinese tour and I and a
Danish girl are the only westerners. This Danish girl has lots of guts
- she's 19, doesn't
speak Chinese and has been travelling for five weeks alone in China
(and it's her first time in Asia).
At 9:50am we walk to the boats. It turns out that the boat ticket costs
190 RMB - the tour costs 245 RMB because it includes the boat trip and
the bus transfers. The boat is fine. Inside it's a long dining room
where the people sit and later will get their food.
At 10am the boat leaves the jetty. Actually it's a convoy of six or
seven boats, one behind the other - we are boat Nr. 4 and have to
breath all the diesel engine exhaust fumes of the boats in front of us.
A few minutes after we leave, I walk onto the top of the boat, where
you can enjoy the nice views, the fresh air (and the diesel engine
exhaust fumes). It's actually quite nice scenery, but due to the poor
visibility the photos all turn out with low contrast and weak colours.
I guess you have to do this trip on a sunny day during the rainy
season, when the air is more clean.
Never mind, shortly after I make it to the roof, I am joined by all
other guests. Everybody wants to be photographed with the karst
mountains in the background. This must be a very special place for the
Chinese. The scenery is fine, but so is also the scenery in the Pha Nga
bay off Krabi in Thailand (and there at this time of the year the
visibility is much better). The lunch at 12:30pm is so-so (I don't eat
We reach Yangshuo at 2:30pm. From the place where the boats dock you
have to walk about 300-400 metres until you reach the town. My hotel is
the first hotel of the town coming from north. After checking in and
unloading my stuff, I start exploring the town. It's very
tourist-oriented and sort of a backpacker centre, with cafes,
restaurants with menus in English, lots of souvenir and handicraft
shops, many tour agencies.
Around 3:30pm I get "adopted" by a lady who shows me a bit around on
her truck (20 minutes for 20 RMB). The scenery is fine, but now is the
no rice is growing in the fields and everything is dry. Later I check
some tour agents and finally choose a tour by bicycle and boat along
the Yulong river (80 RMB for the bicycle + guide, 150 RMB for the
boat). For 200 RMB you can have a local posing for you for one hour in
a scenic place, dressed up as a cormoran fisher with two cormorans and
a boat. It's an option if you are planning to sell the images. I'm
still thinking about it - could be an idea, but who knows if the
pictures indeed sell and you get back your investment.
After dinner in a not so good place, I'm back early in the hotel. There
are mosquitoes in the room, which is a bit scary, because I have no
malaria pills with me and this is a malaria region. I call the
reception and have the room sprayed with mosquito poison. There are
also mosquitoes outside by the way - hopefully I don't catch malaria.
Yangshuo Guanjing Hotel
Weather: Sunny the whole day and
surprisingly warm. It is possible to
walk around just with jeans and a T-shirt the whole day, until sunset.
It looks like I came to Yangshuo in the wrong season. We are in the
middle of the dry season, the rivers don't carry so much water and
there is a lot of dust in the air which spoils the views. And this
place has a lot of views, with its breathtaking rock formations. The
only problem is that the sight is limited, and all things far away look
as a homogenous grey.
I wake up at 9am, but stay in bed until 10am and am then ready at 11am.
A very persistent local guide who hopes to tour me around today (but I
chose another guide), starts ringing my mobile phone at 9:30am (several
times), then even knocks at my room door at 10am.
A bit after 11am I'm at the Light Travels tour agency and inform them
that I will have a breakfast/lunch, before starting my tour of
Yangshuo. I chose this travel agent, but I'm quite sure
that most other tour operators in Yangshuo offer the same service.
Shortly before 12pm I'm back at the tour agency and there Bill, the
local Chinese manager, already has the guide waiting for me. The guide
is Terry, a local Chinese 20-something, who in the winter months works
as a guide and otherwise on the farm of his parents. These are all the
English names - these guys actually have Chinese names.
Terry is a nice friendly guy, speaks pretty well English (which is not
obvious in Yangshuo, as for instance the people at the reception of my
hotel speak almost no English), is a bit short and has a Japanese
girlfriend. This guy seems to be quite successful with women, as many
local men have neither a girlfriend nor a wife (there is a shortage of
women due to the one-child policy of the Chinese government and the
Chinese families' preference for boys).
The tour costs 80 RMB for the guide + the bycicle and 150 RMB for the
boat trip, which I pay to the tour agent. We'll ride a bicycle around
Yangshuo, then fetch a bamboo raft and float for three hours along the
Yulong river, then ride by bicycle again to the moon hill (a hill with
a huge hole), then ride back to Yangshuo.
The bike ride to the Yulong river takes about half an hour, across very
nice scenery. It's a pity that now we have the dry season, because no
rice is growing in the fields (field are empty and dry) and the
visibility is very limited. At the river there are several boats with
people using cormorans to fish. First time in my life I see people
using birds for fishing. There is even a free cormoran, who dives in
front of us, and then passes very rapidly below our boat.
The Yulong river is not carrying enough water so that every now and
then we have to carry the boat over a dam, which is used to rise the
water level. We float along the river passing across great scenery. The
only problem is that the visibility is scarce.
At 2:55pm the boat ride finishes and we ride by bicycle to the moon
(admission: 10 RMB). At 3:30pm we are at the base of the hill. Terry
goes home for some food (he lives near there), while I start climbing
the stairs. It turns out that the place is full of hungry mosquitoes,
which jump on you as soon as you stop. You are basically forced to do
the climb non-stop to avoid the mosquitoes. By the way, there are also
lots of very persistent sellers of soft drinks and beer, who try to
make some business. I feel a bit sorry to say no to these poor old
women, which probably are grandmothers and have to work at their
advanced age to make a living, but I just don't need anything.
Walking non-stop, I manage to be on top in 25 minutes. Luckily it's
December so it's not too hot and you don't sweat too much. The views
from the top are very nice, but spoilt by the poor visibility. I'd down
again at 4:40pm. We (the guide and I) cycle back to Yangshuo (a 7 km
ride according to Terry). Riding by bicycle is ok, because there is not
much traffic and there is a pretty wide bicycle lane. In town riding a
bicycle is more complicated, but still feasible.
I spend the rest of the day checking my emails and having a dinner. In
the evening I find out that the laundry which washed my clothes today,
lost my pyjama shorts. Not too much to do in the evenings
here - I guess all you can do is sit in a bar/restaurant and watch a
Yunnan International Business Hotel,
Nonpin Street, Kunming. Tel.
0871-3619999. I booked this hotel at the airport in Kunming upon
arrival (simply asked for a cheap one), paying 200 RMB. I got a nice
room with private bath, two beds, A/C, TV, phone and nicely furnished.
The airport transfer to the hotel was included in the price, so I'd say
this is very good value. The rates quoted at the reception are far
higher than 200 RMB by the way. The room is on the 17th floor and
quiet. It's just that you can see that this is an a bit older hotel,
and the bathroom for instance is no longer the newest one. But the room
is immaculately clean and OK.
Weather: sunny in both Yangshuo and
Kunming, with a thick layer of dust
in Yangshuo reducing the visibility, but interestingly the air in
Kunming is much cleaner, with good long distance visibility. It's by
the way colder in Kunming, because Kunming lies at 1890 m above seal
In the morning I check if the reception found the pyjamas trousers
the laundry lost yesterday, but no they cannot find them and ask me to
wait some more time. Since it's late already (11am) I go to a cafe and
have a late breakfast/brunch. There I also book a taxi to Guilin
airport (180 RMB), to come and pick me up at the hotel at 12:30pm.
At 12:30pm I drive by taxi to Guilin airport, arriving a bit
before 2pm. There is the usual set of security checks where you have to
produce the passport, even if it's a domestic flight. The plane to
Kunming, which actually should already have been waiting for us at gate
3, isn't there yet at 2:35pm. It only arrives at 2:45pm (our boarding
time is 2:50pm) and still has to unload all passengers and get cleaned.
In Europe in a situation like this the flight would have been delayed,
but here we are in China and the people manage to clean and set up the
plane in a record time. Around 3:10pm people are allowed to board the
plane and at 3:20pm (our scheduled take-off time) the plane starts
rolling away from the gate - I'm really impressed. They managed to make
up for a delayed arrival and now the plane is leaving on time. Compare
that with delayed trains and planes in Europe and you'll be impressed
We arrive in Kunming on time, at 4:50pm. Then I head to the reservation
counter and book a hotel, getting a very good deal (see above). The
airport lies very close to the town, but it takes some time to navigate
across the city traffic (lots of traffic on this Friday afternoon), so
we only manage to reach the hotel around 40 minutes later, a bit after
6pm. It's still bright, by the way - Kunming lies much more to the west
Kunming looks like a modern boom growth town, full of modern buildings,
and with a good infrastructure. After completing the check-in process,
I soon leave the hotel to shoot some photos before it gets dark. Then I
get back to the hotel and get out later again. My first priority is to
have a dinner. I head to the Pizza Hut restaurant and am very surprised
to see that the prices for the pizzas are even higher than in Germany
(?!). So I look for a different place and find a nice cafe (My Favor
Cafe), opposite the Pizza Hut, where for 38 RMB you can have an
excellent buffet inclusive of the drinks (western food). In addition,
they have free
Internet access at three computers and have a WiFi hotspot. Good food
and you can choose from a big variety of dishes and desserts. While I'm
there I also check all my emails.
Then, around 9pm, I go to the Parkson department store, looking for
pyjiamas. I start in the ground floor, asking several people where I
buy a shuiyi (Chinese for
pyjamas). From the ground floor I'm sent to the 5th floor, from
there to the 4th floor and from there to the 3rd floor. The problem is
that this department store is messy, with all items spread across
several floors. It's not that all pyjamas are in one place, all
electronics in another place - to confuse people they put everything
everywhere. In the end I grab a girl and ask her to show me where to
find pyjamas. After a lot of walking here and there, asking, looking
etc. I finally settle on a pair of shorts for 78 RMB.
After I have an exploratory walk around the area and am back in the
hotel a bit before 11pm. I have then a longer telephone conversation
with Shirley and we discuss the India trip. She is still on the waiting
list of Singapore airlines (looks like I'm going to book her on the Air
India flight from Bangkok), but the bigger problem is our baby Alissia,
who can't fall asleep at night without her mommy, and we were thinking
of leaving her for 10 days at the in-laws... (can't bring her with us
to India, as she is only seven months old)
Jinhua Hotel (aka Golden Flower Hotel),
Entrance of Yangren street
Fuxin road, Dali; Tel. 0872-2673343; Email:
wchou@zin:http.//www.GOLDENFLOWERHOTEL.COM . 100 RMB/night for a room
with bath, hot shower, hair dryer, TV, telephone, A/C (but no heating),
nicely furnished with ancient-style furniture. The bathroom looks runs
down and old, although everything functions perfectly (nothing is
broken). Very good value, considering what you get for 100 RMB (perhaps
the price is so low, because now is low season). The LP guide calls
this place "a sore thumb", implying that it is "out of sync with the
rest of Dali". Perhaps the LP guide expects all travellers to dress and
live like hippies, or thinks that everybody should be a backpacker
sharing a cheap guesthouse room with the cockroaches.
Weather: sunny both in Kunming and
cold in both places, but not
freezing (the temperature varies between a low of +4°C at night and
a high of +14°C during the day). Relatively clean air with good
I get up at 9:30am, get ready, pack my things and manage to leave the
hotel before 11am, heading towards the My Favor Cafe. The buffet is not
open yet, but will in half an hour, so I wait there and use my notebook
to access the Internet and check/download emails. With the notebook the
Wifi connection is quite sluggish, for what concerns the access to my
mailserver (downloads instead are quite fast). The Yahoo sites are very
I have a breakfast/lunch there until 12pm, then head back to the hotel
and check out. This Saturday morning the transfer to the airport by
taxi (18 RMB) is quite fast and the whole drive takes only 20 minutes
(we reach the airport by 12:40pm). The flight with Hainan Airlines is
slightly delayed and takes also longer than the scheduled 30 minutes.
The plane is an ancient Boeing 737, just for a change (have been flying
mostly on ancient Boeing planes here in China).
We touch down in Dali at 2:55pm and a bit after 3pm I'm in the taxi on
my way to Dali (trip costs 100 RMB). It takes over 45 minutes to reach
Dali, even if we drive quite fast. Dali itself is a dream town, like in
fairy tale. The historical centre is like somebody would imagine a
Chinese town in his dreams - beatiful gates, arches, houses built in
ancient Chinese style, wooden door with beautiful carvings and so on.
Despite all this beauty, Dali (at least the historical part) is a small
town which can be explored in a couple of hours - more are not
necessary. And in the evening there is nothing to do... No real point
in spending more than a couple of days in Dali, unless you do
excursions to the surroundings.
After checking in at the Junhua hotel at 4 something pm, I immediately
get out again to catch the last hour of sunshine for some photo
shooting. Dali is very photogenic
and I'm surprised that other people
who have visited Dali before me haven't captured its beauty. Until 5pm
I walk around the town shooting photos and even climb on the walls
(ticket is 2 RMB). A 4:30pm I photograph a group of five girls dressed
in their traditional costumes. One of them spots me, jumps up and says
"five yuan" (for taking the photo). That's apparently the reason they
are there, dressed up in the traditional dress (posing for the
tourists). I'm not that much into people photography and until now I
have rarely paid for a model to pose for me, but I agree that the girls
deserve some financial remuneration for dressing up and posing for me.
So I ask them to form a group for me and shoot a couple of nice photos
for 5 RMB.
At 5pm the sun disappears behind the mountains to the west. They are
4000m high (according to the LP guide) and are partly covered with
snow. I go back to the hotel and on the way stop at a travel agent.
There are several buses daily to Lijiang and ... Zhongdian (7 hours).
The road to Zhongdian is open, but in a very bad condition, according
to what they tell me. The bus costs 45 RMB (can't remember whether to
Lijiang or to Zhongdian) and renting a car + driver costs 400 RMB/day.
The temperature in Zhongdian varies between -2 and +8°C at the
moment (not -10..-25°C as somebody suggested in the Internet,
replying to one of my posts).
Based on this information, I will drive with a private car to Zhongdian
the day after tomorrow, stopping at a couple of places on the way
(Tiger Leaping Gorge for instance). I might take a bus from Zhongdian
to Lijiang, or use the car. Taking the bus on the way back would save
me 400 RMB, if the people accept to drive me one-way to Zhongdian.
In the evening I have a dinner at a place with Internet access. While
I'm there I check my emails. I'm back in the hotel around 9:30pm. As I
wrote, there is not much to do at night in Dali. By the way, the
temperature in the hotel room is a freezing 14°C.