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Boats, Birds n’ Big ‘ills! Guilin - Yangshuo April 2 

After an early morning start (0630 - well, early for us unemployed types) we got our stuff together and got onto the Chinese tour bus for our transit to the Guilin ferry terminal. We now know why foreigners pay the extra to go with a tour service designed for foreigners! The tour guide for the duration of the transit told us through a booming and crackly microphone all about the local businesses we should visit and how knowing her will help us out to get great discounts. I (Jut) stopped concentrating on what was being said when the guide started to tell us about Dog being a delicacy in this region and where to get it. I don’t have a problem with the people eating dog and understand that its a part of Chinese culture and probably a result of long past famines and people doing what they need to do to survive (and getting a taste for it in the meantime) though I can’t say I’m interested in munching down on a little fluffy balled woof woof.

After finally rounding up all the people from the various hotels located around Guilin, we headed out of town to the ferry terminal. The weather was especially crap! We got off the bus right in the middle of a downpour and even with our umbrellas we somehow still managed to get reasonably damp! The people off our bus were then herded by our guide into a little circle so she could proceed to yell at everyone to make sure they were present and had paid. She then issued us tickets. It was extremely disorganised and we found it quite comical to watch our guide lose someone and then disappear to find them. In the meantime the missing person would reappear with an apple or something that caught their eye that was for sale in the stalls and everyone would then be looking around for the guide, who would return with a huff and puff and yell a bit of abuse at her customer for disappearing. We didn’t dare move from our spot until we were issued our tickets!

Waiting for the ferry was truly something else. If I had to paint a visual of it for us western folk to understand, imagine Boxing Day sales 5 minutes prior to the doors opening - except now imagine this with everyone holding an umbrella. And you should have seen them go when the gangway was put in place! I actually think the old ladies were the most aggressive and many managed to push in front of us. Very frustrating to say the least, especially considering that we all had assigned seats anyway. With our seats, we got lucky. We were on the top deck of the two, and shared this with only around 20 people. We had our own little viewing deck in front of us where we spent a good deal of time taking photos along the Lijiang River between Guilin and Yangshuo. People say its better to do this in the dry season with the nicer drier weather, though We’ve got to say, even with the occasional downpour on the way, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking (also with all the rain, mini waterfalls have sprung up all over the place).The way the mist and clouds rolls around the peaks reminded us of the large scale black and white Chinese artworks you see that depict epic mountain scenes. Actually just think of that with less pagodas and that is probably the best way to describe it or as the tour guides kept saying… Just look at the 20 yuan note - yep that’s what we saw.

We got our tickets through the ‘Little Italian’ coffee shop in Guilin. May I add the staff are extremely helpful and make great coffee. The tickets cost us 245 Yuan each which included the bus, ferry, and a basic meal onboard. The trip on the ferry takes around 4 hours and may I suggest you make sure you have plenty of room on your camera for photos! We cant truly describe how amazing the scenery was - the pictures speak for themselves.

May I add Wally got a new camera (identical to mine but white) which I find very humbling. Cheers to the guys at work for the camera, I love it!

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Panda panda panda…

What to do in Chengdu? A must is Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (www.panda.org.cn/English/ ) . We decided to go with an organised trip through our hostel, Sam’s Guesthouse, Chengdu. This cost about 100cny (<$20)pp which included the entry fee of 58cny (<$10). There were only five of us, including three traveling Americans. The drive out takes roughly 30 mins through pretty bad traffic. We could have caught a bus for cheap, but was too much effort and we wanted to get there as soon as the gates opened. Our bus driver got us through the gates and directed us to our first panda, which was fabulous as there was no one around! He left us to our own devices with a time to meet up later.

We were pretty amazed that the were no hawkers, stalls and other tourist traps near the centre, which is unconditionally near every other Chinese tourist attraction. There are three souvenir shops within the place with decent stuff (thousands of stuffed pandas toys).

Back to the panda’s! Having never seen one before I still to this minute believe they were all fat men dressed in large panda costumes! They were all eating when we arrived 8am and soon after either slept (older adult pandas), wrestled (young adults) or got wedged high up in the trees (juvenile). There are a few red pandas and to Jut’s absolute delight, a huge range of local birds running around. We could have held a young panda, however we found the donation to do so was $350, a little outside our budget! There were hardly any crowds, with school kids arriving at 11am. We took a huge amount of photos as the pandas were just surreal (somehow cutting it down to just a few above).

All in all a must for every traveller, especially as there are hardly any giant pandas left! Although we just read there was giant panda scat found in Jiuzhai Valley National Park, where none has been seen before and where we are visiting next! So stay tuned.

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