Guilin and Shanghai

Our last two stops in China! The contrast between the two could not have been bigger as you will see below. 

Let’s start at the beginning: After 4 days in Yangshuo we headed for Guilin, a town not too far away. We used most of our time there to make plans for the following weeks, stroll around the lakes and watch groups of elderly people dance and do tai chi. We also booked a driver to bring us to the Longji rice terraces for a day. The area was beautiful and we ended up doing a 6 hour walk (with a 1,5 hour detour ;)) along the rice fields. Great day!

After a 9,5 hour train ride (our last!!) we arrived in Shanghai, our final destination in China. Since it was the Golden Week, when everyone in China has their holidays, we had set our expectations low in terms of what we would be able to see and do in two days. Turns out we were right: people everywhere! We still managed to see the Shanghai museum, the Urban Planning Center, the Bund and much more :). Overall a fitting ending to our amazing time in China.

Zhangjiajie and Yangshuo

We arrived late at our hotel in Zhangjiajie after a train ride from Chengdu. It was pitch dark and all we could hear were cars…no people…ahh just what we needed! The next morning we woke up early, excited to visit Zhangjiajie National Park: they say the mountains in this park were the inspiration for the floating mountains in the movie Avatar..although this was never officially confirmed, we could definately see the resemblance! (Although I don’t remember seeiing any tourgroups in Avatar? ;))

Anyway, despite the millions of Chinese tourists, the park was amazing, well organised (we saw the whole park in two days) and we had a great time with two fellow dutchies we met at our hotel :)

After Zhangjiajie,  we were still in need of some peace and quiet and decided to change our plan a bit and spend some extra time in the Yangshuo area. After a loooong day of traveling by car, bus, train and car again, we arrived at our cozy hotel in the countryside…perfect! The next few days we walked, cycled, drank coffee and just relaxed. Such a beautiful place! We also made a trip to Xing Ping and Yangshuo city, which were just too touristy for our liking……so glad we decided to go for a hotel outside of the city!

(dead, but HUGE!)

Xian, Chian and the Yangtze

So, after Pingyao we took another bullet train to Xian, to see the famous Terracotta army. We had been warned that it might not be as impressive as we thought it would be, but I guess having low expectations works, because we really liked it! Especially since we could see the archeologists at work :)

We were a bit done with walking, so the next day we cycled on the city walls of Xian, before getting on the high speed train to Chengdu.

Our visit to Chengdu was all about food (the famous Sichuan kitchen) and pandas! It was so much fun to see them playing and climbing (never knew they were such great climbers!) and watching the fluffy newborns getting fed and just helplessly lying around :D

Some streetfood photos:

The next day we took the train to Chongqing for our Yangtze river cruise and I have to admit: it could not have come at a better time. After four busy cities we were tired and in need of some quiet time..We (and another couple ) were the youngest of the cruise, but it didn’t matter: we had a great time with our fellow senior travellers! The food was great, the karaoke nights were fun, the trip on shores of the river were interesting and the Yangtze was beautiful :) Just what we needed!

During our last night on the boat, we woke up at 2 am to watch the 5 giant ship locks (sluizen) as we made our way past the Three Gorges Dam. Amazing to watch! The next day we did a little tour to see the ship locks and dam up close.

the ship locks from above

Beijing and Pingyao

Hello from China! A country we had been curious about for quite a while now…and so far it has not dissapointed! 

About 1,5 weeks ago, we said goodbye to Iris, who was flying back home, and took the train from Ulan Bator to Beijing. A beautiful train ride from the Gobi desert in Mongolia to green hills and buzzing Beijing in China. In the middle of the night, at the border, the whole train carriage (including us) had to be lifted in the air to change the wheels as China has different tracks than Mongolia…. Fun experience!

We had four days in Beijing and decided to take our time, especially since I was coming down with a cold. So we used our days to (hang by the pool) (drink a lot of coffee) have Peking Duck and see the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, the Drum and Bell Tower, the Hutongs and the Great Wall of China :). The weather was amazing, the people were friendly (and everywhere ;)) and the the sights mentioned above were simply stunning. 

The Temple of Heaven:

Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City:

Around the Drum and Bell Tower:

These outdoor gyms are everywhere :)

Roasting ducks

The Great Wall of China:

Next stop: the ancient city of Pingyao. After a 4 hour ride on the bullet train we arrived in Pingyao, a well preserved city from the Ming dynasty. The old city is currently buzzing with Chinese tourists and tourist shops, but is still worth a visit! Especially when you’re staying in a quiet little courtyard hostel :). Another great way to see the charming town without all the hassle is to walk the city walls. We loved it!

Selling chestnuts to people on the wall

Thanks for reading! Next blog: Xian and Chengdu :)

Mongolia part 2

Hi again! We’re on the rooftop of our hotel in Beijing at the moment..tired, but happy to be here! Before we dive into China, I still wanted to share some photos of our remaining days in beautiful Mongolia. What a magnificent country…need to come back someday :)

So here we go: on the third day of our trip to inner Mongolia we drove all the way from the Orkhon Valley to Mini Gobi….a long but thin stretch of desert right in between green hills and mountains. They say a man once walked there who had a tiny hole in his pocket. The sand he had in this pocket and spilled while walking, turned into this mini Gobi :)

After a little time playing in the sand (we felt right at home ;)) we continued our drive to a beautifully located monestary.

After that, we drove to the next nomadic family that we would stay with. Lucky us: their ger was located on a hill (amazing views!!), their guest ger was beautiful, the family was super hospitable and their dog was the sweetest! The nights are a bit warmer in this part of Mongolia, so plenty of time for star gazing :) 

that little wooden house was our toilet!

The next morning we were surprised by our lovely host with warm flatbread with chocolate paste! (You can see our happy morning faces above ;)). After saying goodbye we drove to Hustai National Park to see wild Przwalski horses. On the way we saw wild vultures and lots of other animals…

We were told it is quite hard to spot the wild Przwalski horses, but after a steep climb up a hill we were rewarded with both an amazing view and two groups of wild horses. 

The next day, bank in Ulan Batar was all about taking multiple showers and catching up on sleep. The day after that (our last day in Mongolia) we went on a little tour past the huge Ghengis Khan statue and the highlights of Terelj National Park, which confirmed our thoughts: we need to come back to this country! Trust me: this country should be high on anyone’s travel list! 

Mongolia part 1

Yes part 1: too many beautiful things to share! 

But let’s start at the beginning: on the 27th we, and many other tourists, took the nighttrain from Ulan Ude to Ulan Bator. Luckily the border crossing went smoothly, so we were still able to get a few hours of sleep.

The friendly driver from Zaya hostel was already waiting to take us straight to our comfy and clean rooms and after a bit of freshening up we set out to see a bit of UB (as the locals call it ;)). 

We were all pretty anxious to get out of the city, so that same afternoon we booked a 4 day trip to inner Mongolia with our own driver called Bimba and guide called Joy :). The next day at 9 we started our long drive to Kharkhorum, the old capital of Mongolia. The drive itself was simply amazing…we saw so many animals (yak, cow, horse, vulture, hawk etc etc) and the landscape around us was just so beautiful! We also had our first Mongolian meal: meat soup with fat of a sheep’s tail…;) 

Kharkhorum and Erdenerzuu (a monestry) were both extremely beautiful and interesting. We took a little tour in the museum and then went out with Joy to see the monestary. After that we drove to our guesthouse (9 gers in a row) and had a lovely dinner (meat ;)). 

That night we had our first sleep in a ger (with lots of spiders!) underneath thousands of stars :). And yes: it was freezing and the beds were pretty uncomfortable, but we enjoyed it anyway!

my red nose means it was a really cold morning!

The next day we did another 6 hour drive (mainly offroad) to the Orkhon Valley. Again: wild animals everywhere and green fields with meandering rivers and hills…so beautiful!! Photos really don’t do it justice..

That (cold cold) night we stayed with a nomadic family (in a separate ger). Very interesting to see their way of life and a true reality check: they live in a ger 365 days a year, moving every season and facing temperatures of +40 celsius and -40 celsius. No bathroom, shower or running water and just enough solar power for one light bulb. Their animals run free and only come back at night, so they can milk them in the morning.( They usualy have a dog to fight off the wolves at night.) The families we met were friendly and hospitable and it was truly eyeopening to see their harsh way of life.

khuushuur: fried dumplings with mutton (sheep meat)

Getting wood for the (much needed) fire

The little ones kept sharing their pine seeds with us :).

Thanks for reading! Part 2 will follow soon…

Irkutsk, Lake Baikal and Ulan Ude

After a very smelly trainride (I guess we got a little spoiled with all the new trains we’ve been riding on ;)) we arrived in Irkutsk at the 23rd of August. We were all a bit tired and cold, so we spent the day just wondering around and having lots of food and coffee :). We did get a nice first look at the wooden houses of Irkutsk:

The next day we took a mini bus to Listvyanka, a small town on the shores of Lake Baikal. The ride was a bit shacky, but gave us a great look at the endless Siberian pine and birch forests…so beautiful! Listvyanka itself wasn’t that great, but the lake was truly amazing: It is about as big as Belgium and is the deepest lake in the world! We took a little boat tour and also visited a farm which had around 60 dogs with which they do races on the lake when it’s frozen over in the winter :).

Waiting for a bus in the middle of nowhere (which came surprisingly fast ;))

The next day we woke up to a hot sunny day and decided to check out the lovely city of Irkutsk. They (like many other cities in Siberia) have painted a green line on the sidewalks which takes you past the highlights of the city. Great idea if you ask me! :)

…..and back on the train for an 8 hour ride (60 km/h :|) pastLake Baikal to our last stop in Russia: Ulan Ude!

And from this giant Lenin head in Ulan Ude we wave goodbye to Russia and hello to Mongolia! Very excited to see what the next part of our journey has to offer :)