So I have finally made it to mainland China!! I had to stay in Hong Kong three extra days because I got caught in Typhoon Mangkhut (my third typhoon of this trip!). It was really bad and streets were littered with broken windows and fallen down trees however, I managed to stay safe in my hotel.
When I got out of Hong Kong, I made my way to the border and crossed over to Shenzhen where I stayed for one night only. I cannot say I really got to see much of the area as there was trouble with trains so I ended up having to walk a lot of the journey so by the time I had crossed to mainland, it was really late and I was exhausted.
From Shenzhen, I made my way by bus to Yangshou where I proceeded to have the best fews days which more than made up for tough and tiring journey it took to get there.
The minute I got to Yangshuo, it was all things go straight away as I had already missed three days in mainland China and I had not been able to do anything in those days because of the typhoon so I was eager to make the most of my time. I went out for a walk where I had lunch. One of the people on my table ordered beer fish which is supposed to be a speciality in the area so I was able to try some and it was delicious! I was expecting it to actually taste of beer but it did not at all and was really spicy and flavourful.
The main town area was really fun to look around and there were lots of little stalls selling various foods. I made friends with a lot of locals who were fascinated by my dark skin and braided hair so a lot of my time was spent stopping to take pictures with people. I am generally quite happy for people to take pictures with me especially when it’s just genuine curiosity. A lot of people were also calling me beautiful so I suppose that helped too!
That evening I went to the Liu San Jie impressions light show. I had heard great things about it as it was choreographed by Zang Yi Mou who also directed the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. It was also a comparatively more pricey activity than a lot of the other things I have done so far so I went there with high expectations.
The waters of the Li River make up the stage and the mountains lit up by the moon and night sky made up the back drop. This all came together to make a simply magical atmosphere. I had great seats in the centre of the second row so I got a wonderful view of it all.
I was told that it is supposed to be the largest natural theatre in the world and I was simply blown away by the sheer number of people in the show. There must have easily been over 500 people in it! And they were all so perfectly coordinated. There were also about 3000 people in the audience. It was like no West End show I have ever seen and I have seen my fair share of shows!
The set and the lights on their costumes was the best part of the show. But in terms of storyline, the show was pretty lacking. I was not expecting to understand everything that was going on but there was literally no discernable plot even though I had researched what it was supposed to be about prior to going.
So if you are reading this post as an inspiration for your own trip to China and are thinking about heading to Yangshou and have some time and money to see the show, then definitely go for the scenery and atmosphere which is truly spectacular but do not go expecting much of storyline. It felt more like a variety show with a mixture of different bits of dancing and singing.
The following morning, I had another early start to explore. Yangshuo is known for its beautiful karst mountain landscape so I was keen to explore the area up close. A bike ride was the perfect way to do this! I was able to cycle alongside the Li River and go right up close to the Moon Hill. I spent nearly 6 hours cycling around. There were lots of great paths which only bicycles can go down so it was amazing!
The scenery was absolutely breathtaking and made a nice contrast to all the skyscrapers I have been seeing over the past week in Hong Kong. The landscape looked something straight from a post card. Yangshou will probably make it to my list of top 10 places I have ever visited.
From Yangshou, I took an overnight train to Chengdu which took about 16 hours. I was expecting the worst but in reality, it was not that bad. The actual space was tiny with three beds in a bunk but it was a great opportunity to meet local people.
I actually spent most of the time playing with this little girl who ran up to me early on in the journey. I taught her how to “high five” and sang songs with her. It was very cute and also killed a lot of time. After that, I ate my first ever pot noodle and then slept for most of the rest of the journey and by the time I woke up, I was pretty much in Chengdu.
Once in Chengdu, I went straight to the hotel but I was still so tired so had to stop for a nap before I could go out to explore.
Later on in the day, I went out and got a taxi from my hotel to jinli street which is a popular area of Chengdu with food stalls, places to shop and performances in the square. I absolutely adore street food and had been told this would be a good place to get some without having to worry about getting a dodgy stomach.
Chengdu is also known for its hot and spicy food so I went a little crazy sampling all there was on offer. My favourites were the chicken sticks with sesame seeds and the spicy shrimp sticks. I basically just get a bit of a kick out of food when it is on a stick!
I was also able to see a performance of the Sichuan opera here which is also known as the face changing show. It was a basically a man all dressed up with a mask and he changes it to different masks really fast. It is really hard to explain but it was so much cooler than it sounds! He was literally changing faces in front of your eyes so it was impossible to tell how he did it. It was very impressive.
The following day, I woke up super early to get to the giant panda breeding centre. I had been so excited to see pandas before I came so was keen to get there early before it got super busy.
It was such an amazing place and I got to learn so much about pandas. I do not really like going to zoos but this did not feel like one at all. I think it is wonderful all the work they do there to stop pandas from going extinct. I had a great time watching the pandas – all they do is eat and sleep all day! It looked like a fabulous lifestyle. I also had the opportunity to see some new born baby pandas and they were the cutest little things I have laid eyes on.
Whilst in Chengdu, I took the opportunity to take a day trip to Leshan to see the Leshan giant buddha which was a few hours away by bus. Which in China terms, means it was not that far away. The leshan buddha is supposed to be the biggest buddha in the world and is carved out of the mountain. To see the extent of it properly, I had to take a boat ride! It was pretty impressive.
What is even more impressive than the size of the giant buddha is the story behind the building of it which I really enjoyed learning about. It was built by a monk called Hai Tong who wanted to build it after many people had died in boat accidents at the hand of the rough waters. The local people believed that this was due to an evil water spirit so the monk decided to build the giant buddha to protect the people.
He was able to collect a lot of money from the local people who even though they did not have much money themselves, they still gave because they felt it was such an important project. When the government found out about the money Hai Tong had collected, they tried to take it off him but he instead scooped out his own eyeballs out telling them they could have his eyes but they could never take the money that was meant for the buddha which scared them off.
The combination of the story behind the buddha and the size of it made it even better.
The journey back from Leshan back to the hotel in Chengdu ended up taken nearly 6 hours. I loved learning about the buddha but I am not quite sure it was worth the 8 hour round trip for the 30 minutes I ended up spending there.
However, on the way back I was able to stop off at the Suji old town which was a small village on the way back to Chengdu. It was really interesting to experience more of local life and see a different side of China.
The minute I stepped out of the bus, I had a group of school girls surrounding me who were so excited by me. I had people bringing up their kids to meet me – it was kind of crazy! I do not think I will ever get used to all the attention I get whilst travelling.
From Chengdu, I am going to go and visit the mountain area and see the monks there so it’s going to be another really long long overnight train. I think the sheer size of China is one of the hardest parts of backpacking around it but I am embracing it and trying to see as much as possible!
It’s just me, Dammy, on the adventure of a life time