Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guanxi, Yunnan
Part 3

23-24.11: Munich -> BKK -> Hong Kong
25.11: Hong Kong
26.11: Hong Kong
27.11: Hong Kong -> Shenzen -> Shanghai
28.11: Shanghai
29.11: Shanghai
30.11: Shanghai -> Guilin
01.12: Guilin -> Yangshuo by boat
02.12: Yangshuo

03.12: Yangshuo -> Kunming
04.12: Kunming -> Dali
05.12: Dali
06.12: Dali -> Zhongdian
07.12: Zhongdian -> Lijiang
08.12: Lijiang -> Kunming
09.12: Kunming
10.12: Kunming -> Shenzen - Hong Kong
11.12: Hong Kong -> Delhi via Bangkok

Continued from Part 2

30.11: Shanghai -> Guilin
Guilin CTS Hotel - 137 Jie Fang East Road, 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 customer oriented.
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 sweater).

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 leave China.

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 to Guilin.

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 2 RMB.

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).

01.12: Guilin -> Yangshuo by boat
Yangshuo Guanjing Hotel, 15 Binjang Road, 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 morning in 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 much).

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 dry season, 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.

02.12: Yangshuo
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 hill (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 so 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 movie.

03.12: Yangshuo -> Kunming
Yunnan International Business Hotel, 55-61 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 level.

In the morning I check if the reception found the pyjamas trousers which 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 too.

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 than Shanghai.

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 can 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)

04.12: Kunming -> Dali
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 Dali, 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 visibility.

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 slow too.

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 a 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.

Copyright 2005 Alfred Molon