Showing posts from October, 2007

Conical hats and stampeding motorbikes.

After a week or so in the quiet and more tranquil northern part of Vietnam, we found ourselves suddenly being thrust into the buzzing and very loud capital of Hanoi. What a contrast! We arrived at the train station rather early, 5.30am to be exact. We hung around the station for a while trying to get our bearings, as well as deciding what to do. We knew that looking for a place to stay this early would be a waste of time, so we decided to get ourselves to the Old Quarter, and hang around in a cafe over a slow breakfast. At least that way, by the time we started looking for a place to stay, some others might be checking out, thus giving us the opportunity to check in.

It's in your face and it's very full on! This is how I would describe Hanoi! It's loud, it's buzzing, there are motorbikes and bicycles everywhere, and to a lesser degree cars, and the incessant honking (emanating from anything that moves) is simply part of the backdrop. Get used to it or get out! No sooner…

Bac Ha or by bus.....doing it Vietnamese style!

As I mentioned, walking to the border and crossing on the Chinese side was easy, and it looked like the Vietnamese side was going to be too! Wrong! Armed with our passport and Vietnamese visa, which we had obtained in Hong Kong, it was supposed to be a "stamp and walk through". In theory! In practice, the visa had been issued for a month from the 16th September to the 16th October. We had been told that we would be granted a month from the date of entry. Wrong again! We would only be granted the days that were left from the date stamped on it. Now, I am no genius at maths, but we arrived on the 8th of October, which meant that we would have to leave Vietnam by the 16th of October. That was so not going to happen! Alex was the one to pick up this "discrepancy”, once the visa on our passport had been stamped. We could not believe it! We tried to negotiate, and tell them that there had been a mistake. Several minutes later we were discussing our plight with several others…

Almost touching Tibet.

So close, yet so far! In Shangri-la (or Zhongdian, as it is more commonly known to the Chinese), I felt that I could smell, hear and almost touch Tibet! Another four hours north from Lijiang, Shangri-la had a totally different feel to it than the rest of China. The faces were different, the architecture different, and even the signs now included being written in Tibetan, as well as Chinese (in addition to the occasional English). I closed my eyes and conjured up every image of Tibet that I could. Coupled with what I was seeing, feeling and breathing, it really was the very closest I would get to the magical land, which now so very close, was yet so very far! Unfortunately, despite the fact that Tibet is a "part of China" one still needs to get a "special permit" to go there. Politics is a dirty word, and in respect to Tibet it has been unscrupulously filthy! It would be worth your while to do a little background reading here on Tibet.

Does the word Shangri-la sound …

Undulating rice terraces and heading out west.

Now, I hope you did your homework, and checked out a map of China. Although we "only" did the south-west section, we still saw quite a large portion. Read on!

Guilin is supposedly like Yangshuo, but it has a larger commercial centre, so we decided to skip it. Can't do everything, says the woman who's going to die trying! Only an hour away from Yangshuo, however, we had to pass through it to get to our final destination of PingAn, another couple of hours away. The road was windy, but spectacular, as we we made our way over and across breathtaking landscapes, rice paddies and minority groups, mainly women. In the area, is a small village, Zhonglu, notable for its long haired women from the Yao tribe, who supposedly hold the Guinness Book of World Records.....for the longest hair in the world. Whilst we passed this place on our way to the terraces, we had no desire to stop or do a tour here at a later point. These people are humans and not animals, and should be treated …