After our lovely time in Chengdu, I said a tearful goodbye to the Fraser Suites and we headed towards Xi'an for four days. We knew we had to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, and we were super excited for a change of pace foodwise. Xi'an is in a section of China that is heavily Muslim, so there would be mosques to see instead of Buddhist temples, and the city has a famous food stall market in the Muslim Quarter that was supposed to be amazing. And it was, although the rest of our time there left us a little less than thrilled. Like I've been saying for a month now, we cannot get used to the lack of awareness for other people - the pushing, the walking into others and having no one bat an eye. It's not like Chinese people are trying to be rude or pushy or anything! It just is. Like we watched a woman on her phone walk straight into another person and neither of them flinched. We are definitely the weird ones here being like WHY ARE YOU PUSHING ME and we will never get used to that!
I was so psyched for our four days in Chengdu. My excitement was 80% because of the pandas, 70% because Sichuan food is the best food in China (and beyond!), 50% because a big city promised to have lots of bubble tea, and 99% because we were staying in our fanciest hotel yet (how good am I at percentage totals) and after months of travel I am jonesing for some luxury (clean sheets, btw, is what I consider luxury now). Guess what suckers, it ALL delivered! And how! The bubble tea was everywhere, the food was amazing, the pandas were ADORBS, and the hotel was so best ever that I actually cried when we had to leave. I'm a mess of a dork. The only negative was that people/crowds/pushers/shovers are getting on our last nerve and it's getting old and exhausting for us to deal with. But other than that Chengdu was a great time. Maybe because we spent most of the time in the hotel. Worth it.
Dear little baby laptop diary,
Today, August 9, is our third year anniversary! No not you I don't even know you! Z and I got married three years ago today! Yay for us! Happy anniversary! Unfortunately, our meticulous schedule has us departing on a 26-hour train today,from Guilin (we had to get a car back there from Yangshuo for the station) to Chengdu. Not the most typical way to celebrate the occasion, but we are on an adventure. Because of this special day - but really because the last few trains have been abysmal experiences - we booked out the entire cabin for the first time. The ticket booker we used said they buy the other beds very often for people who want it to themselves, and they buy the other two beds as children's tickets (so they cost less), for fake children. Or, as we were hysterical to see the agents refer to them as, "ghost children". They book the kids' tickets under fake names, so we were excited to see what fun Chinese names our fake children got.
After weeks of hustling around China on crappy trains, we made it to the 'relaxation' portion of our 5+ weeks in this country - four days in Yangshuo, on the Li River. The area is quiet, a make-your-own-adventure sort of place, with incredible natural beauty both on and away from the river. I prefer water beauty, so the boat ride from Guilin to Yangshuo down the Li was my absolute favorite (abfav) part, which is a slight shame considering it barely counts as the beginning of this section. It only gets worse from here! No it was all fiiine. We'll get there. The journey takes about four hours, and despite the chaos of the boat station (it cannot be called a marina or a ship terminal; the typical Chinese chaos makes it a boat station), the boats themselves were sleek and nice - with the usual full-volume phone noises and screaming children (and adults), naturally.
August 3-4, 2017
Dear little baby infant laptop,
Don't go to Shangrao.
Just don't do anything that would make you have to go through it or near it or involving it.
I will forever feel guilty that I insisted on adding Huangshan to our itinerary because well ffs it's one of the top five sights in all of China. But because the weather for our climb was so horrendous, it was kind of a waste. And because of that wasted visit, we had to get a train from Huangshan to Guilin - but the only route featured a 4 hour layover in Shangrao.
I SAID DON'T DO THAT!
After our time in the city of Hangzhou, we left on a short train to Huangshan, one of China's most important, and most spectacularly beautiful, sights. This is what's known as the "Yellow Mountain", and Chinese people will come from all over the country to climb up to the summit. It's a strenuous climb, and there are a few route options to choose from - including via cable car, which is cheating!, we said, gung ho on doing a great day of hiking and climbing. Huangshan was the entry on our itinerary that I added myself. I had seen pictures of the mountain, and was in awe of how beautiful it was. I have to SEE the big f-ing thing, I said! I have to see this myself! Turns out, the universe had other ideas for me. I mean, I was there, I climbed up, oh how I climbed, but I didn't actually see...anything.
Hangzhou is an interesting mashup of a place. From the research we did, it seems like a small village on a big lake, with a neverending forest section that we'd be staying in, surrounded by hills and such lush trees, a calm respite from standard hectic China. But, like...Hangzhou has 9 million residents. I had never heard of it before planning this trip, and it was flipping TWO Philadelphias. And bigger than New York and London! Damn there are so many Chinese people! So even this like 'small village' that I hadn't even heard of before this trip is a gigantic freaking city! Luckily, we were indeed staying in the west side of West Lake, the part that is all forests and much less people. And it's beautiful. We went into the crazy busy downtown, but West Lake is the real draw of a visit here.
After our time in Shanghai, we decided to make a stop at a nearby water town before heading to another big city, Hangzhou. Water towns are these tiny traditional villages on canals and what nots that are supposed to provide a charming break from big cities. Nanxun, though little known, is supposed to be the most beautiful water town. It's touristed by Chinese domestic travelers, but not very visited by Westerners. In fact, it's not even in our 1000-page guidebook. But the few things we saw online about it tempted us to give it a shot. And thank goodness we did, because Nanxun is the most beautiful village maybe in all of China. Now I haven't seen all of China yet, but Nanxun is special enough that I would bet on it. If you can get there, you must. I really loved everything about it.
Honestly, if you ask me about Shanghai's food or what I ate, my very first thought is, "When can I go back?" I didn't even scratch the surface of what there is on offer for vegans, but what I tried was incredible.
Oh, and if you came here from the previous post just to find out what toon bags are, that's at the last section, but why would you want to skip all this food before that? Do you SEE how delicious it is? I mean you can't see deliciousness but just look how good. Dammit I love Shanghai's food!
Whenever I talk about Shanghai, I sound like Stefon. "China's hottest city is...Shanghai. It has everything - street misters, yogurt jars, film noir, unidentifiable meat on sticks, toon bags - it's that thing where they stuff a handful of toon into an edible sac and you try to eat the whole thing without choking." And I mean 'hottest city' in all the possible ways. Shanghai was so cool and fancy and swanky, well, most of it. It had an incredible skyline that we could sometimes see through the smog, and the fanciest luxury stores and air conditioned malls EVERYWHERE. And, also, it was the hottest I've ever been. In fact, Shanghai was experiencing a heat wave of temperatures the highest they've been there in 140 years - just in time for us! It was rough. But, fortunately, the city has so much to offer that it was able to break through our sweat-fueled crankiness and impress us. Screw the Ozdust Ballroom; Shanghai is China's most swankified place in town.