I have to admit that while the scenery and the experiences in rural and small(ish) town China was amazing, after 5 weeks it was great to get to Shanghai a truly international city, no more being stared at or photographed, slightly less gobbing and people with headphones. The comforts and ease of international citys though, come at a cost, literally. Our daily budget, which we had been well below over the previous months, was in for some serious testing here.
We had checked into the ETour hostel right next to Peoples Square and within reasonable walking distance of most of the major attractions. According to booking.com the hostel was a well located, had a nice ambience and apathetic and disinterested staff, it lived up to the write-up perfectly.
The thought crossed our minds to stay for dinner then the budget demons kicked in and we headed off to find something closer to our price range. Having missed the pub meal in Chongqing I was still hanging for a good beer and western food, so we headed to West Nanjing Road stumbled upon the Goose Island Brew Pub, what can I say- it was worth the wait, really nice craft beers including an excellent IPA and quality pub grub.
After spending the morning updating our blog and attending to some business issues we headed to the fashionable French concession and in particular the traditional ‘longtang’ (alleyways) of Tianzifang and Xintiandi. Both areas have been converted to trendy festive retail precincts. Tianzifang, despite the souvenir stalls, has a sort of cool, rustic, bohemian vibe while Xintiendi is full gentrification, hip brands and bars.
Returning from Zhujiajiao we headed to the fashionable French concession and in particular the traditional ‘longtang’ (alleyways) of Tianzifang and Xintiandi. Both areas have been converted to trendy festive retail precincts. Tianzifang, despite the souvenir stalls, has a sort of cool, rustic, bohemian vibe while Xintiendi is full gentrification, hip brands and bars. Fortunately, for our budget, we did Xintiendi last and the idea of paying 14USD for a pint of Pauliner didn’t appeal so it was back to the Hostel for a Lawson’s microwave dinner and 1USD Tsingtao’s.
We learned that my brother, Doug was going to be in Shanghai on Monday, the day after we were planning to head for Beijing, we looked at options and decided that we could do a side trip to Suzhou and be back Monday afternoon still leaving 3 days to see Beijing. Belinda was also keen to see Chinese acrobats which was also available in Shanghai. The next morning we headed out to find the acrobat theatre and buy tickets and after a little running around scored 2 tickets for the evenings performance. We then headed to the train station to buy tickets for our side trip to Suzhou and onward to Beijing.
We felt that a cocktail would be a lovely way to end the night, we found a trendy looking place and ordered. However after waiting more than 25 minutes still no cocktails, we walked out and back to the hostel. Well almost to the hostel, there happens to be Bar Constellation just around the corner so we popped in. This is a very cool, speak easy style whiskey bar, and it is serious- over 100 whiskies that I could count, and damn good cocktails as well.... Our daily budget was in for some serious testing in Shanghai!
On Thursday we caught up for lunch with Ilma, a work colleague from my HASSELL days, It was great to see their new office, catch up on all the HASSELL gossip and see that her and her family and the Shanghai team were doing well. Ilma took us to very nice establishment restaurant next door to the office where they served seriously good Beijng classics... inside an old rail dining car!
At the corner of Peoples Square is the rather grand Shanghai Urban Planning exhibition building where we headed after a dumpling lunch the next day. The exhibition is surprisingly interesting, even for non-architect/planning types, explaining the history of planning in Beijing as well as the future plans. It also houses a very impressive and vast model of the Shanghai that is kept up to date with each new building being added as it was built.
Heading back toward the subway Bea noticed a small hole in the wall restaurant called ‘Mutton Noodles Only’. No real confusion over the menu. As it turned out it had only been open about a week and a half. It was owned by a young guy from the province just west of Shanghai and this was the speciality of his home town. It was really really good, simple, thin but firm textured, wheat (I think) noodles served in a fragrant and tasty mutton stock with a hint of chilli and ginger. Slow cooked mutton was served on the side that you then mixed with the noodles. The young owner was really stressed about the business but with simple food this good he deserves to survive. As we continued on to the Metro, Bea recommended it to a group foreigners looking for a place for dinner.
On our final day in Central Shanghai we headed back to RAM this time to see the exhibitions before continuing on to the M50 Art space, a area of old mills that had been repurposed as art galleries, working spaces, studios and creative outlets. The space had an attractive bohemian ambience with wide range of artistic endeavours being pursued and exhibited. One exhibit that caught both mine and Bea’s attention was the work of Liu Dao an eclectic collaboration of writers, painters, multi-media artists and tech-geeks exploring the convergence of art and technology.
We continued our art appreciation day by heading back into the leafy suburbs of the old French concession on the edge of which, in the basement of residential tower block B is an unusual exhibition of Communist Propaganda Posters that included descriptions of the historical circumstances behind them, really fascinating.
There is however a limit to the amount of art one can absorb. Trying to interpret contemporary art can really strain the brain so we headed to the Camel sports bar to watch Fremantle play Richmond. Trying to interpret Fremantle game plan is even more of a brain strain than contemporary art.
There are a few, specific, must see or do’s on each of our lists for this trip. Cruising down the Yangtze River (China’s mightiest and the World’s third longest river) was one of Pete’s and once he had shown me the details I was pretty excited as well.
The cruise would take four days (well two and a half!!) and three nights to sail from Chongqing, through the Three Gorges to Yichang and the controversial Three Gorges Dam, until recently the worlds largest generator of power from a renewable source.
We boarded and were told check in wasn’t until 5pm, so we left our bags and went for a walk to see what we could find for a picnic dinner (dinner that night wasn’t included on the first night). Luckily we came across a Carrefour which importantly had tonics, something we had been chasing since finding a bottle of gin a couple of days earlier. We picked up assorted picnic foods and a bottle of wine for dinner as well as other pre-dinner snacks for the journey and headed back to the boat.
We passed up the 6am Taichi the next morning! but headed to breakfast just after 7.00am and we soon learnt not to be so eager, if anyone has witnessed a mass group of Chinese at a buffet station, they will know why!!!
Our first shore stop in the morning was at Fengdu, one of the cities that had to be relocated to higher ground with the construction of the Three Gorges dam, apparently the old city still exists deep under the lake waters (how cool would it be, to be able to scuba dive a city!). Here we had a choice of either an “additional” tour to City of Ghosts or the “included” tour Jade Emperor Scenic Area. We chose the latter. We were split into smaller groups, several Chinese groups, a large organised European tour group and the “left over” English speakers which included a lovely couple from north England, Ian and Caroline on a “ski” holiday (Spending Kids Inheritance).
Jade Emperor scenic area has a temple, at the top of a very steep mountain, known for its Chinese ‘astrology Gods’. Many will know that there are particular years, some lucky and some unlucky, depending on your sign and the current year. If it is to be your unlucky year, you visit this temple to make offerings and pray to your astrology god.
Back on board for our buffet lunch and the boat continued to cruise down the river (straight passed the Ghost City). We noticed Ian and Caroline weren’t in the dining room and thought they were just skipping lunch, it wasn’t until later that day we learnt that they really were having a “ski” holiday and they had taken the “Presidential Suite” (only 2 on the boat). They were being treated like gods, whilst us plebs were.... sheep! The afternoon was pure cruising and R&R. We lazed on our balcony admiring the breathtaking views and watching the footy on Petes iPad... mmm time for a round of G&Ts. I think Ian and Caroline were sipping champagne in their Jacuzzi (not jealous, honest).
Before dinner, we were invited to a Captains welcome cocktail party. Greeted with a glass of bubbles (they were trying to pass it off as champagne, but I swear it was some sort of non-alcoholic grape drink) and some snacks. The senior members of the boat crew were introduced together with a very young looking Captain. Following our “cocktail party”, buffet dinner was served, let me just point out here, that the food on the boat was.... ‘fuel’. Unmentionable, but certainly edible. After our feed, we retired to our cabin for some after dinner drinks.
The next day and again no 6am Taichi for us, a leisurely ... later.. breakfast and a lazy morning. While some guests took another “additional” tour we went to an interesting talk about the history of the Yangtze River the Gorges and the effects, both good and bad that the dam has had, such a as the extinction of the Yangtze River dolphin.
Boats used “trackers”, teams of men who would pull the boat along with ropes tied around their waist, to a beat of a drum and walking (often on all fours) along the narrow ledges along the waters edge or carved into the cliff face. A large boat required approx 300-400 men. Nowadays the dam has caused the river level to rise by 100m and easily passable for any type of boat.
Not long after the first gorge we entered Wu Gorge, another spectacular sight of jagged steep cliff faces. High on a peak of one of the mountains overlooking the gorge is the “Goddess Princess” a small girl shaped monolith that is said to bring people luck if you say hello to her as you pass. We were reminded that she doesn’t speak English, so we had to say “Ni hao” instead.
While we took in this wonderful gorge from the foredeck with other guests, Ian and Caroline did so from their vast balcony above (not jealous, honest).
The next morning the boat docked at the entrance to Xiling Gorge, the Three Gorges Dam blocking its path and forcing us onto busses for the visit to the Dam site and on through the gorge to Yichang. Whilst the dam is pretty amazing and serves a great purpose of power to the country.... yep it’s just a dam, hence no photos, google it if you have to. The dam however also consists of a large 5 tiered lock system for the mass of boats that travel the river. It can take approximately 3 hours for a ship to pass through this system.
They also have a unique “boat lift” system, which is literally an elevator for a boat. One boat at a time sails in and the container of water and boat are transported either up or downstream. Unfortunately it was currently broken down and we couldn’t view this system, that would have been interesting.
After the dam, it was back on the bus and 2.5 hour trip into Yichang. Given we had an early morning train to Shanghai, and nothing to see in Yichang, we stayed at the GreenTree hotel that was attached to the train station. Called our Mums for Mother’s Day, got some junk food takeaway (we were over average Chinese food) and... watched some more footy.....
It is said in China that Chongqing girls are the most beautiful in China as it is so steep they are fit and because it is always foggy they are fair skinned. While I cant comment on the women, the reasoning is sound!! One of our female guides also noted that they were as spicy as the infamous hot pot...again no comment.
Chongqing was the starting point of our Yangtze cruise but we arrived a few days earlier so we could visit the Fairy Mountains (a few years back we entered a competition to design a resort there) and see Chongqing old town.
We arrived late in the afternoon and found the building our hostel was in... for the first time we realised we had made a big mistake... It may have been just across the road from a city centre metro station but the building was dilapidated and the abandoned cars in the forecourt didn’t instill confidence, the grimy flight of stairs that had the familiar smell of public toilet reduced our confidence further. What a surprise then when we entered the hostel to find a bright, clean hostel with friendly helpful staff and large comfortable rooms. Big thumbs up for the Traveling With Hostel.
Having spent so long in the desert I needed a western fix and a cold beer, we had read about a place in the Hongya Cave development so we took the opportunity to get our fix and see this rather impressive... and tacky, reconstruction of ‘old, stilt house’ Chongqing set on the hillside of the Jailing river. We spent the next hour traipsing around trying to find the pub being sent in all directions by the helpful, yet clueless, staff before eventually finding the gutted shell of the pub I so desperately craved.. I left a guttered shell and headed back to the hostel for cheap beer and rather good hostel food (ended up as a cheap night).
The late Ming Dynasty Ancient Town of Ciqikou ‘Old Chongqing’ lies just west of the CBD and this is where we headed the next morning. This ancient town, that rises from the Jialing river, has now been fully restored into a tourist hotspot.
Beside the Hostel was a mosque under which was a local ‘halal’ hotpot place, speciality lamb, yes please. We headed there for dinner and Bea learnt what real hotpot was all about, not that mild Chengdu stuff.
We were to board the Yangtze cruise boat the next afternoon, so with the morning to kill we headed out to the fishing town fortress. We had checked on line the night before and there were plenty of train tickets available, so were surprised when we got to the station to be told that there was only one seat left, the look of dejection on our face must have been obvious as the supervisor suddenly managed to find two seats, together! Given this we felt it wise to get the return tickets at the same time, quick calculation x time for train y time for sight seeing train back at z.oclock which we promptly booked.
We arrived back with plenty of time to pick up our bags and head to the Yangtze River and Victoria Lines, MS Selina.
150km south down the Silk Road lies Jiayuguan, another important historic oasis and administrative centre along the route, famous for its Han Dynasty Fort and restored sections of the ancient Great Wall.
The scenery along the journey into Jiayuguan was impressive. This area is also known for its wind turbines. I personally have always loved these things, I think they are like pieces of art. Not as big as I have seen before but impressive because of their vast numbers.
We have mentioned previously that the trains almost rival that of Japan in their efficiency. Unfortunately comments like that have a way of biting you on the butt. We booked the late train knowing we would arrive at 11.01 plenty of time before the hostel closed at 11.30...our train unfortunately broke down about two thirds into the journey and didn’t arrive until 12.30am!! Luckily we were able to contact the Silk Road Xiongguan International Hostel from the train and they patiently waited up for us. Unfortunately this hostel has seen its better days. Let’s just say... It was “ok” and it was cheap!
It was a pretty turquoise green lake that felt quite out of place in the middle of a desert.
Loaded up and ready, we boarded the train for Chongqing -22hours away!
Despite the lack of lamb!! the overnight train trip from Xian was pretty uneventful. This time we took the ‘hard sleeper’ a train carriage full of 3 layered bunk beds, 6 to a compartment (no doors) so it was noisier than other overnighters so sleep was hard to catch and to make it worse we were the first compartment right beside the door where the smokers were standing... so many people in China smoke, ugh!
The change in landscape overnight was dramatic, night fell over lush farmlands and forested hills, dawn rose over sand, gravel and wind farms.
After 22 long hours the train pulled into Dunhuang in the early morning. After a short bus ride into town and some confusion on the exact location of the hotel (as it is starting to be a common theme that the location on booking.com map is not exactly correct!)... we checked into the, very well located, Xing Xin business hotel, we had taken the 24hour room option not the hourly rate!
Dunhuang’s incredibly long history as a trading town where diverse cultures intertwined could not be better highlighted than at the Mogao Grottoes where we headed in the afternoon. Situated in the Gobi desert the first caves were dug out in AD 366 as places of Buddhist meditation and worship. It reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) with 492 caves, 18 monasteries and more than 1400 monks and nuns. It is considered to be one of the most important collections of Buddhist art in the world.
At 7.00am the following morning we joined a small van of local tourists to visit Yadan National Park, Jade Gate Pass and Hechang Cheng. The commentary was in Chinese however the driver came to me and typed into translate that I was welcome to ask him anything! The tour guide herself had a little English and didn’t prattle on much so was bearable! They were both very helpful despite the language barrier.
I must admit that this “Great Wall’ was not the one of my imagination but was pretty impressive especially when you learn that this, and the ruins of Hecheng Cheng wall a little down the road, were part of the original wall erected by Emperor Wudi around 121 BCE.
We continued our long drive deeper into the Gobi Desert and our final destination, Yadan National GeoPark, a surreal and weirdly eroded landscape whose geomorphic formations looked more like a scene out of Star Wars with massive lines of fighter ships. Yeah, a strange description I know... but just these massive mounds of earth protruding from the ground looked more like space craft. The ground was strangely covered in a black gravel, as if someone had spread it around the monoliths for effect, then you notice that the entire desert landscape is covered in this gravel.
We finally arrived back at 7.00pm and headed to the night markets to find some dinner. We sat at an outdoor table munched on a few lamb kebabs, downed a few cold beers and watched the throngs of visitors being harassed by the local vendors, desperate for customers.
We prepared ourselves well and brought along a bottle of red wine for the evening. It was actually ok for the price. We opened our wine and shared it with our companions, whilst our guide cooked up a lovely campsite meal.... instant noodle bowls with some added extra veggies! (This is a staple meal in China and perfect for camping). He also provided bread rolls and fruit.
The temperature was dropping and it was great to put on the jacket and feel cold again. We sat back and admired the vast sky of bright stars!!! I even saw a shooting star. Perfect finish to a great day.
The tents were very basic and we were sleeping on an extra sleeping bag, so I had a few problems as my hips don’t take to hard surfaces. We had some heavy winds during the night and it was not the most pleasant of sleeps. Early the next morning, I poked my head out to find that there were only 2 camels and the guide’s tent was gone. The other tent was still up but no one inside. Quite a disconcerting feeling, being left alone in the desert! I had heard a conversation the night before that the French couple had to go back early in order for them to take another tour, but I thought that meant all of us leaving early. I hoped the guide intended to come back for us. His camels are pretty valuable to him, so I was sure he would.
About an hour and half later, after we got up and started to pack up our tents, we saw the guide riding his camel with the other camels in tow back to our camp.
After a simple breakfast of 3 in 1 coffee, left over bread rolls and fruit, the three of us mounted our camels and trekked back to our starting point.
A long, hot shower was a welcome relief when we got back to our hotel. We checked out at midday and headed to the train station for our next destination... Jiayuguan.
I had visited Xi’an a few years back while traveling to China for business and really liked its vibe. Chompu and I visited the terra-cotta warriors, indulged in the famous dumplings and got lost in the vibrant Muslim quarter, I couldn’t wait to show Bea around the town I had so enjoyed years back.
We arrived at the Han Tang House hostel late in the evening and booked both the terracotta warriors and the evening dumpling feast (and show) for the next day.
It’s a bit of a recurring theme in these blogs but Chinese domestic tourism has completely changed the tourism landscape over the last 10 years. When we visited the terracotta warriors previously we took a taxi down a road lined with shops selling imitation warriors to a small ticket office before wandering through the three main exhibition halls. The actual farmer who first discovered them back in 1974 (while digging a well) was hanging around near the exit signing books for people.
We headed back to the hostel late afternoon where we had arranged for the hotel to show Dockers V Western Bulldogs, unfortunately their best plans failed with the poor internet and we ended up watching the dockers victory on the iPhone over a few beers.
After an uneventful 7 hour train ride, we arrived in Chengdu. Contrary to the nightmares we had read, usually on sites who want to sell online tickets to tourists, trains in China have proved to be easy to book, reliable, efficient and very comfortable. I must admit, I expected language issues, delays, missed trains, and unclean carriages. China is proving me wrong in many ways. (Although I still really hope one day, the use of earphones just may take on!!). We are booking our tickets online and easily picking them up at the station. Most of the trains are high speed and almost rival Japan for quality and efficiency.
After checking in to Lazybones Hostel early evening, we took a short walk around the area to both familiarise ourselves with the new city and also to get the legs moving again after sitting down for so long. It was a buzz with people in noisy restaurants and delicious smells from everywhere. I was liking this place. We were now in Sichuan and were looking forward to the famous “sichuan hotpot”.
The keeper took us inside Yashi’s indoor enclosure to give him his daily vitamins and medicine. We were given several pieces of sugar cane to feed to him, as his after medicine reward! I would have loved to have had a hug... but last winter the Government banned all physical contact with the pandas by non-professionals, as they felt it was inhibiting the relocation program (fair point I presume... but I did so want a hug!). Worley is besotted with the pandas and she had been saving up for a long time, to be able to do the panda holding, but was too late... poor thing was devastated.
We had quite a bit of free time following the feeding to wander around the rest of the park visiting the other pandas and photo taking. They were now all out in their outside enclosures, wandering around and mainly munching away on the newly smashed up bamboo by their respective volunteers. It was great to be up and close to them and see them in such beautiful and well kept enclosures. I wasn’t aware... but pandas are solitary animals, except for mating time, so each panda had its own enclosure (except for a couple of young twins), so it proved to be a large reserve. The reserve also housed a couple of very cute red pandas and a moon bear (who proved to be illusive).
Now it was time for the pandas afternoon treat, so again we headed back to Yashi armed with more sugar cane and yet again we got to feed him. So cool to be able to look eye to eye in these gorgeous creatures.
Our next duty of the day was to make “panda cakes”. These are steamed buns made of corn, starch, wheat etc that would be given to the bears the following morning.
After the cake making, our work was complete. We were issued with the obligatory certificate, souvenir postcards and informed we could keep our bright green uniforms! An hour or so later, I was back in the hostel.
As cute as the pandas are, Pete wasn’t interested in the volunteer day, so he spent the day wandering the city. He made another attempt to cash some of the traveller cheques... OMG it worked! After some confusion (of course) and lots of discussions and being sent to another branch... he finally got to cash some of the cheques! After two months of travelling, Pete took the opportunity to get a much needed hair cut. I must say it didn’t turn out all that bad for a discussion via photos and google translate!
That evening, we went in search of a good hotpot. Pete had done research on the best spots, so we headed to the area, via a walk in the main park, where a few people were still dancing, exercising and just hanging out. I tried to find “lovers corner” which Worley had described as an old school “tinder” site. Parents would write and pin up information about their unmarried children in order to find a suitable spouse, as they felt their children were working too hard these days and had no time to find a suitable partner. (Worley was not impressed about this method!) Funnily enough the divorce rate has risen significantly... go figure.
The hotpot place we were looking for was located in a bustling series of streets, made up as an ‘old town’ and heaving of local tourists. Domestic tourism is certainly alive and well!
After a bit of confusion about the location of the restaurant, where we had a very helpful young guy from another restaurant try and assist us, we eventually found our place and it was heaving with “hotpotters”. Tables full of people dunking assorted ingredients into boiling spicy pots of goodness
The next day we spent the morning on travel preparation housekeeping... it was getting too close to our trans siberian travels and we didn’t have any tickets for the important leg. We were also interested in doing a cruise down the Yangtze, and we planned on doing that close to Chinese holidays so spent some time arranging that also.
We cashed a few more traveller cheques, since we finally found a branch that did it. Then took a wander around the city, stopping in at the museum. The museum was architecturally quite striking and I was really surprised at how well the exhibitions were laid out and presented and how enjoyable they made the place. We wandered further and visited the monastery and a few other sites. Just a pretty general sightseeing day.
That evening, we had read about a Chinese chef who was breaking boundaries with the Chinese cuisine and had attempted a degustation Sichuan meal. Now as we all know, Chinese food is about big plates piled high of food, placed in the middle of the table on a big lazy Susan. This guy had his work cut out for him! I must admit he did it very well. Twenty one courses (dishes) incorporating Chinese ingredients, flavours and methods of cooking... all with a modern twist. This is a new concept in China, so it was bloody expensive!!! It is for the young rich Chinese who have money to burn.
After our first train journey in China it became apparent that security weren’t keen on Bea’s pocket knife being on board and we were risking confiscation with each trip. Bea put out a face book SOS to any friends that maybe coming through Kunming to take it back to Thailand for us, the knife had been a farewell gift from SRK 15 years ago, so it had sentimental value. Fortunately John Anderson was going to be in Kunming in a few weeks and was willing to transport ‘Excalibur’ back to safety. The new route allowed us to stop over in Kunming and drop it to his hotel, which was way more posh than anything we had seen recently!
The Li River below Guilin and the towns of Yangshuo and Xingping are famous for the vast area of granite Karsts that surround them. We had read that with the sudden growth of domestic tourism, Yangshuo had gone through a growth spurt and had lost most of its charm, so we booked into a guest house in a small village a little out of town. A decision we didn’t regret as the bus drove through. We regretted it even less after 2 hours and 6km of walking to find an ATM that would take international cards... and was working!! $#%@‘ng banks. (Ask Lek how much I hate banks). It was the first time in a month and a half that I started to loose it. Luckily the guest house was lovely as was Lilly the host. After a walk and a couple of JD’s at a small riverside bar, I began to appreciate the landscape we were in.
On our return Bea read a description of the walk “A 30-minute –extremely sweaty –climb up steps to the magnificent natural arch that adorns Moon Hill is rewarded with both lost calories and some exhilarating views” a perfect description.
After lunch we headed to Xingping an ancient town on the banks of the Li River, where we would spend the weekend.
After checking into the ‘This Old Place’ Hostel, a very cool and well run hostel on the edge of the old town next to the main boat landing on the Li river, we took a wander around the old town. Xingping old town is over 1750-years old and while it’s small, has attractive old streets and loads of history, unfortunately behind these streets new developments are rising that could destroy its beauty. The landscape in which it sits, on the banks of the Li river amongst the stone karats is quite spectacular, in fact the view from the boat landing is printed on the back of China's ¥ 20 banknote, allegedly (some artistic license has been taken).
Unfortunately we were only able to stay one night in ‘This Old Place’ so the next morning we headed down a lovely old street toward our new accomodation, turned the corner out of the lovely street then another corner into a scarily ugly area of new construction being built in the heart of the old town to the Hi Grey Hostel. Which was both high and grey, and totally unsympathetic to its surrounding, a real shame.
Later that afternoon, armed with some dodgy directions, we headed off to fish village a one and a half hour trek away. The directions were even more dodgy than we imagined so after several U-turns and back tracks and 2 hours of walking up hill we realised we weren’t going make it to the fish village so we headed back down to dinner, a nondescript bowl of vegetable soup and a plate of bones masquerading as duck.
The next morning, unperturbed by the previous days fail we headed across the river to walk to the Tengjiao nunnery and Shawan village. This was a very scenic trek along the banks of the Li river slowly climbing along the sides of the hills that surround it. Halfway to the nunnery there were panoramic views down the river toward fish village - looked dull, glad we didn’t go!