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A Slow Boat Through China

Leaving the countryside we hopped on an 8 hour public bus ride to Chongqing. No I hadn't heard of it either. However, here’s a winning bit of pub quiz trivia for you; at 32 million people Chongqing is the largest metropolis in the world! That’s half of the Great Britain! And 47 squillion times Denmark (well nearly)! It may be large but that isn’t a reason to put it on your 'top holiday destinations 2012 list’ – unless you like high rise blocks in all their stages, in planning, in building, lived in and falling down that is.

It is also on the Yangtze River which is where we were to board our boat for a 3 night 2 day 3 Gorge cruise. Although apparently it’s not really called the Yangtze River; the Chinese have several names for different stretches of the river but we westerners struggled with some of them and so we decided to call the whole thing by the one name we could pronounce – clearly Johnny foreigner doesn’t have a say in it
Yangtze River

The cruise we took had again been smiled upon by the God of up-grades and so expecting an upturned sardine can we were presented with 3 floors of cruise ship China style complete with entertainment deck (with ‘disco and cabaret’), buffet meals and an overpriced bar! Hurray! Our group leader kindly directed us to a nearby supermarket where we spent an enjoyable 30 minutes pricing up the local beer to arrive back at the ship with enough crates to build our own. It didn’t go down well with the head barman but if you will put individual fridges in our rooms....

The cruise through the 3 gorges included a couple of side trips – one to the ghost town of Fengdu – a city famous to the Chinese for its temples and sculptures depicting the journey to hell. The town has lately become even more of a ghost town as the river rises due to the 3 Gorges Dam and families move out to seek higher ground. The second trip was billed as watching the old tradition of local tribes pulling the boats by rope though the narrow river tributaries – the picture of how this was done that we saw was very different to the reality – see pictures attached!!

Unfortunately the 3 gorge views themselves were shrouded in mist / smog and therefore the pictures didn’t come out as well as we had hoped for
So you play Mahjong Mr Bond....
. We did pass through some locks at night which had us all up on deck for the first one but after you have seen 4 huge ships reverse park at 0.1 knots for 45 minutes each the novelty wears off. However I have to admit I spent most of the time inside anyway as we had the opportunity to learn the Chinese gambling game of Mahjong – and it’s thoroughly addictive! Rather confusing symbols and it will take a while to be able to play at the speed they do but it was great fun – and meant we spent a lot of time in subsequent cities bargaining for a set. The cherry on the cake (rice grain on the rice?) was the James Bond style electronic table which dealt new tablets/chips to all up through holes which appeared in the table with a buzz and a whirr. It only missed the armbands locking the players into their chairs....

After disembarking we got on another bus to take us past the 3 Gorges Dam and onto Wuhan for our next overnight rail journey. We were told we would pass the dam but either our tour guide pointed it out VERY quietly and we were all asleep or he forgot it and the biggest and most controversial dam in the world for drought in some parts of the country and flooding in others will have to be viewed next time we are passing though.

The next city – one we didn’t know anything about before was Yangshuo – and it has to be my favourite place in China (just add pandas)
Li river at Yangshuo
. It’s a small town set in the beautiful limestone karsts of southern China which are the strangest things – like someone bought a job lot of mountains and then the bag broke and then they all fell out in a haphazard way. It really is fantastic I wish we had had more time and a wide-angled lens! We took a jaunt down the river in little bamboo (well metal painted to be) boats which was lovely (until we had the obligatory tourist stop where people tried to force hats and big sticks with angry looking birds on us for ‘unique’ photo opportunities: "eye pecked out by a bird, sir?"). Then on the following day we all took a long bike ride thorough the countryside and on to a farmers house for a lovely home-cooked meal (easily the best on we had in China – everything was fresh and there was a selection of well seasoned veg for me!).

The town of Yangshuo itself is a backpackers haven in a country of confusion; there were western style meals, souvenir stalls and a bar with a pool table. I know that’s touristy but after immersing ourselves in the ‘real China’ a little bit of recognisable comfort was just what the doctor ordered!

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