A Travellerspoint blog

Stop 8 - Huangshan and around

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Our next stop was the city of Huangshan, an area famous for beautiful mountains and ancient villages. We were staying in a hostel in Huangshan city (also known as Tunxi) which was a nice city with an attractive old town, lots of yummy food and souvenir shops. On our first day we took a bus to the village of Nanping where lots of films seem to have been filmed including some scenes from 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'. The village was quieter than we had been expecting and very much a real working village with a couple of buildings you could look into along with the odd food stall and information sign. It was a great peak into village life and the history of the area at the same time.



Unfortunately we missed the last bus home from this rather isolated village - either that or there never were buses home in the first place - we were not quite sure which. We somehow ended up taking a motorbike ride from a fruit stall man to what we thought was the nearest bus station but whilst we were clinging onto the one person bike for dear life he proceeded to take us to a village even further away... He didn't charge us a penny and was a very kind and friendly person which did make us very happy but we still needed to get home. Luckily this village was more touristy and a guy who spoke perfect English appeared out of nowhere and negotiated a taxi ride for us for a good price. Basically Chinese public transport is hard but people are great.





The next day we headed to Hongcun, this village was more touristy than Nanping so you could not see so much 'real life' happening but the old buildings had been well preserved and there was lots of information. We learned that in these villages the boys were sent away to be merchants at age thirteen but often sent back the money they had made to construct amazing buildings. Therefore the villages were wealthy and beautiful but often the wives of the men were lonely. We also learned that in this area, people place a clock, a mirror and a vase on their mantelpiece to bring them harmony and peace in the house. Since we found this out we have been noticing it everywhere.



We spent out final two days in the area at the summit of Huangshan mountain which we reached via cable car. This mountain is meant to have crazy views and is one of the most recommended things to see in China. However on the day we had booked to go up and spend the night at the top, the rain was torrential and the view from the top was of thick, white fog. Our clothes and boots were soaked and we had to sleep in separate dorms as there were only male and female and no mixed. As much as we tried to be positive it was really not that fun and we ended up going to bed around 8pm. We woke up the next day at 4am to see the (nonexistent) sunrise and although there was still a lot of fog we were in much better spirits. We managed to see some pretty cool views and walk up and down plenty of steps. Some of these were just bolted into the side of the cliff which was a little worrying...

Our next stop was a short half-hour bullet train ride away near Wuyuan!

Posted by Chloemillen92 03:32 Archived in China Tagged china huangshan anhui hongcun tunxi nanping Comments (0)

Stop 7 - Beijing and the Great Wall

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After a 2 night train journey across Mongolia and the Gobi Desert into China (the mountains in the last Chinese section were incredible) we arrived into a very hot Beijing. The city seemed less chaotic than we had been expecting and the easy, cheap metro was incredibly useful and beautifully air conditioned. Our AirBnB was in a friendly, local neighbourhood so the first afternoon we explored the local parks and shops, followed with the most incredible Peking duck (we got given the duck carcass at the end as a nice bonus...).


The next day we headed down to explore some of the hutongs - the traditional alleys that residential Beijing was made from - and to the Temple of Heaven Park. This huge park full of ancient cypress trees was a great place to wander and get lost, but also full of temples like the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests below. The series of temples/altars were perfectly aligned and were used in various ways in the ancient worship of the Heavens by the Emporers. The decorations and tiles were beautiful.


Exploring more of the hutongs we headed for the Drum and Bell Tower square for a couple of beers and were again struck by how relaxed the city was, with Chinese families playing and scooting around until after dark. The Drum and Bell Towers were used to keep time across the city back in the day.


The next day we set off to a small village north of Beijing, Zhuangdaokou, via a couple of buses and lots of sign language at bus stops. The second part of the bus journey took us through mountains to the village, where we found a small guesthouse with a great dog. We got up early the next day to try and avoid the 35 °C heat to hike up the hill to the Great Wall! After getting a little lost in the undergrowth we made it onto one of the "wild" unrestored sections of the wall. The heat of the day had very much caught up with us but the handy watchtowers along the wall make for great viewpoints and shelters from the sun. We hiked along to a restored section and clambered up and down some ridiculously steep steps. The area to the north was beautiful, with nothing but mountains and trees in sight and only a few other people on the wall.

Heading back to Beijing, we went to explore the Temple of Earth Park and found it full of locals playing Chinese chess and cards, practising their singing, playing instruments, doing Tai Chi and brushing up on their calligraphy with huge brushes and water on the pavement slabs.

Posted by Chloemillen92 06:00 Archived in China Tagged china beijing great_wall Comments (0)

Stop 6 - Ulan Ude

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Next stop was Ulan Ude, Capital of the Republic of Burtyatia, a part of the Russian Federation. It seemed a much more friendly city than the others we had experienced in Siberia.


One of Ulan Ude's biggest claims to fame is the world's largest statue of Lenin's head... Actually pretty impressive.



Having wandered around the city and found a great cafe that served 'herring under a fur coat' (best Russian food so far!), we had an early one with plans to walk up to a Buddhist monastery at the top of the hill nearby. The views were pretty spectacular, allowing you to see for miles around and the temple complex was interesting but the temple itself wasn't the most attractive, described fairly accurately in Lonely Planet as a 'Buddhist bust terminal'.

Next stop, Beijing!

Posted by Chloemillen92 08:33 Archived in Russia Tagged russia trans-siberian siberia ulan ude Comments (0)

Stop 5 - Irkutsk and Lake Baikal

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Our next stop was Irkutsk - our main reason for visiting here was to visit the world's deepest lake but the city itself also sounded pretty chilled with a few interesting things to do. We arrived late and took the tram in the wrong direction for about twenty minutes until we found ourselves at the edge of the suburbs. We showed the tram driver where we needed to go and he waved us back on. Thirty minutes later we were inside our strange but comfy alpine themed hostel eating pasta and weird tasting sauce that we found in the supermarket.


The city itself was nice with some interesting wooden buildings and a great selection of traditional Siberian windows! We visited the house of a Decemberist and his family who had been exciled to Siberia as a punishment for his political views and actions. We knew hardly anything about Decemberists before coming here but learned that they were a liberal group protesting against Tsar Nicholas I. The house in which this particular family lived was a weird mix between a fairly fancy European house and a Siberian peasants house. It had expensive bookshelves and beautifully designed fireplaces but the ceilings were wooden and low.





We picked a beautiful and sunny day to visit Lake Baikal and it was really very impressive. The lake is 1642m deep and holds one fifth of the world's fresh water! It was perfectly blue to look at from a distance but up close the water was very clean and c!ear. Although the lake itself was incredible the lakeside village that we had taken the bus to was a bit strange and less attractive that we had anticipated so we ventured out to find a cable car to a view point we had heard rumours of. After an hour or so of walking we managed to locate it and enjoyed a peaceful ride up a very big (and slightly snowy) hill. The views from the top were really worth the effort of getting there and we spent a good hour or so up there taking photos and eating an omul (a lake Baikalian fish) pancake!


After two days in Irkutsk we boarded the train, once again in Platzkart, for an eight hour overnighter to Ulan Ude.

Posted by Chloemillen92 07:42 Archived in Russia Tagged lake russia trans-siberian baikal irkutsk siberia Comments (0)

Stop 4 - Tyumen & train to Irkutsk

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Our next stop was the city of Tyumen and to be honest I am not entirely sure why we thought spending three days here was a good idea. Whilst I'm sure the city is great to live in and would do fine as a stopover on the Trans-Siberian for a night to have a shower and bed, there really is not all that much going on here. We mostly chilled in our hostel (which luckily was pretty nice) Skyped our families and took some long walks to the limited number of 'attractions'.


We had read about a square with lots of cat statues so decided to pay it a visit. From a little online research we found out that these statues were a memorial to the cats from Siberia that had been sent to St Petersburg shortly after the blockade was lifted in WW2 to try to control the rat population. The number of rats had grown out of control due to the fact that few cats survived the blockade. The Siberian cats sent over were very successful hence the decision to build the statue to recognise their part in the war.


We also found this little square which was kinda cool...

We walked almost an hour to have a look at the "Lover's Bridge"...


After 3 days of doing really not a lot (although finding it all pretty funny) we boarded the train for a 40something hour journey to our next stop Irkutsk. This time we were in third class, also known as Platzkart, meaning we were sharing a carriage with 50 or so others. This photo was taken a few minutes before an entire children's ice Hockney team boarded the train. They had just won silver at an 8 day tournament and we had a funny evening chatting to their slightly drunk, celebratory parents.

Posted by Chloemillen92 07:33 Archived in Russia Tagged russia trans-siberian siberia tyumen Comments (0)

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