China Travels #6: JiuZhaiGou & Xi’an

Thursday 11th June

We eventually arrived at the bus station and were instantly bombarded with loads of local women renting hotel rooms for the night. It was incredible. Incredibly bonkers. They are like sharks that circle a victim in cartoons. Once we were off the bus and were waiting for Lisa’s Uncle, we watched them hunt down another bus load of tourists that just came in. I almost can’t explain how crazy it was. As the bus comes into the station, the women put their hand along the side and run with it until it pulls to a halt. When the doors of the coach open, they then board en masse before the poor people can fetch their belongings and disembark. Wow. I can’t imagine that being a type of job. But hey this is China (that’s my explanation…). Soon enough the Uncle (well, to be technical it’s her mum’s brother’s wife’s brother ๐Ÿ˜‚) appeared in a chef hat and apron! We had been told he has a restaurant but didn’t realise he actually did the cooking!! It was a tiny walk to the place where we sat inside and had dinner. Fortunately for me he didn’t cook anything spicy! He is the first chef in the Sichuan province to understand “no spice” means zilch spice should be put in the dishes. And my, it was delicious. It was so freshly cooked, not oily and well-balanced. We tried to pay him using the red envelope method however he refused profusely. However he did accept the one for Lisa’s actual uncle so we just said take the other as well. It was sooo nice of him!! We then caught a quick cab to the hostel and checked in. Our room was on the top floor which in this case was the roof! We had a proper room and had the added bonus of having the entire sky to stare up at when we stood outside our dorm. We ditched our stuff and checked out the local stores for snacks and food to take with us into the park. We had already bought a few in Chengdu so we weren’t desperate but did buy cherries to share as they are easy to eat on the move and are mostly sweet. Back in our hostel we sorted ourselves for the long day to follow and got ready for bed. How welcome sleep was!!

Friday 12th June

Yay. Rain. Low cloud.ย 

Our alarms woke us begrudgingly early again and soon enough we were plodding along to the National Park Entrance at half past six. We were armed with snacks, cameras, ponchos and even poncho boots for our feet! We originally thought that the park opened at seven o’clock however when we arrived the sign said that it didn’t open its doors until half past. Nevertheless in glad we were there early because we were really close to the front of the queue. When they opened the doors the Chinese rushed forward as if there were only ten tickets to be sold. It made me think of the crazy eager people you hear about who wait outside department stores for the Boxing Day Sales. Luckily we weren’t trampled and bought our tickets quickly. We had decided against catching the bus because it was an extra ninety kuai and many people we had met during our travels advised to not. Instead, they told us to walk for the first hour and catch a bus from there because once you’re away from the entrance, they don’t check bus tickets at all. However luck wasn’t on our side because the wooden boarded path was closed for the first section due to some rocks falling the day before. We tried to be cheeky and sneak on a bus but a warden caught us so we paid for the bus ticket and happily jumped on. In the end this was a great decision because it took us just over half an hour to reach the furthest point in the right-hand valley and saved us an hour to see more. The top was rather simple, the main attraction was closed for repair so we basically walked through a forest for half an hour. It was still lovely to walk through. The air was so fresh as we were up really high (around two thousand metres or more) which was so nice compared to the rest of developed China. It was also pretty cold too. The clouds hung low, rain drizzling down and we could see our breath. We hopped on the bus back down some way to save time and because we would have to walk on the road if we didn’t. We got off at Arrow Bamboo Lake and worked our way down. The National Park is basically a really long natural river that pools into a lake every so often. The walk was easy as it was downhill most of the way and we could only follow the wooden path. I could go on and on how beautiful it was. But no words nor pictures can put it into the perspective it deserves. The lakes were many shades of blue and ranging from a deep navy to a bright turquoise. It was crystal clear. One of the spectacular features were the underwater trees. The trees that surrounded us on the mountain sides were bold greens. I think the pictures definitely and appropriately account for a thousand words.

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We spent eleven hours in the park. Only stopping a few times to eat or catch the bus to go back up the left-hand valley. By the time we left at half past six, we were hungry and rather shattered. We headed back towards the hostel and stopped for dinner on the way. The food was delicious. It was spicy but tolerable because we could also taste all the other flavours in the dishes. The meals we had were probably the best dinners I’ve had this whole trip. Back at the hostel we packed and sat and chatted to a French guy in our hostel for ageess. He was really friendly and had already been travelling for over a year all across Asia. Eventually we got ready for bed but strangely didn’t feel tired. Despite another early rise – five o’clock – we just couldn’t encourage our brains to feel our exhaustion. I think we managed to sleep just after eleven.

Saturday 13th June

Thus this morning was tough. We crawled out of our warm beds (outside is so cold here!) and were down in reception at quarter to six. The taxi was waiting for us and we were off. The journey was smooth and easy. The driver was very chatty so Lisa and him talked for most of it. I understood half of their conversation until he started talking about things I had never studied the words for before. The landscape was very pretty and when the sun rose high enough in the sky, we were able to take a few pictures of the mountains beyond. Unfortunately we arrived at the airport early. It was eight kilometres from JiuZhaiGou so we had estimated this would take about two hours to get to however it took one and a half. We arrived, warned ourselves up a bit (I jumped up and down like a lunatic) and checked in. We sat in a fast food Chinese restaurant called Dicos (which is like a Asian version of KFC). I had a burger but the bun was of rice instead of bread and a hot drink to warm me up. Lisa just had biscuits and nibbled on my chips. We boarded and soon enough were off. The airport is tiny. It is like an airfield on the top of a mountain!

The flight was quick and I was very happy to arrive back in a hot city! We waited for our baggage for a little while then headed out. At this moment we are shattered. I know I mention that we are tired quite often but this time, we are genuinely out of it. We can barely utter words to each other because our brains just don’t seem to be functioning anymore. We headed to the airport bus and bought tickets. I quickly nipped to KFC and bought a cheeky ice cream because it’s really hot here and my throat hurts a little. The Airport Bus took us an hour. Lisa slept for most of it and I read because I can’t sleep. It’s boiling here too. It would be fabulous if I wasn’t wearing leggings, trainers and t-shirt…. Today is a defeated day.

At quarter to two we arrived at the hostel grateful to find air conditioning and relieve our backs from our heavy bags. The Shuyuan Hostel has a good vibe to it and it quite pretty. It is loads of rooms off one long wide corridor that has a small restaurant at the end on the first floor. Even though I had originally wanted to just lie on my bed for forever the air conditioning and fresh clothes gave me the willpower to carry on. As we still hadn’t eaten very well we headed to the Muslim Street which is the very famous food pedestrian street in the city. We passed the central roundabout where the Bell Tower stands and also the Drum Tower. Neither tempted us to go in as we have seen many similar buildings. Plus our stomachs just wanted to eat. As we neared the street my eye was caught by an arch which had balloons spelling out ‘happy birthday’ outside a store. The employees were all wearing pink ‘birthday girl’ hats and I decided I didn’t just want one, I needed one! So I bravely walked into the shop, leaving Lisa to finish her ice cream outside, and the short story is: I was wished happy birthday by the whole store and was given a hat. I think they were slightly gawping at the fact that I could speak some Chinese. As I cheekily added it was my birthday soon too, I was just loved. Now I have a birthday hat! Woohoo!! I left the shop with the biggest grin on my face and with a slightly worried Lisa when I said: “I’m wearing this all day on Monday!”

We found the Muslim Food Street and just wow. There were so many stalls serving varieties of snacks and treats with rows of restaurants behind providing lunch and dinner. We enjoyed ourselves buying a few local foods and watch the life of the bustling street happen around us. It had an excited atmosphere full of colour from the various banners and signs hanging from the buildings and trees. I managed to find a magnet and some postcards and after two and a half hours we made our way out back to the main roads. Then a miracle – for me – happened. We had been hunting for ages for a t-shirt that has the number 21 on it and it was fate to walk into the big shopping centre and find one. I was about to say to Lisa that we should try another shop when I saw it and squealed (and probably scared the Chinese people around me). So I’ve got it! And it’s quite a funky one too! It was meant to be. Especially as it was on sale too! I had a massive grin on my face for a good while and am really grateful to Lisa for her patience during my quest! We then headed back to the hostel so I could leave my hat and top, change my shoes and book the tour to the Terracotta Warriors for the following day. Despite it being over two hundred kuai it sounded so much more convenient, simple, easy and just no hassle. If we went on our own it’d cost about a hundred kuai less but that would mean we would spend up to five hours on transport rather than two to three. After sorting that we headed to the City Wall. The hostel was located just inside it so we were at the South Gate in no time. The wall was impressive however it was a shame that the city was taller than it so we didn’t have a fantastic view of the horizon. Nevertheless we ambled down one side for a while, taking pictures and enjoying our surroundings. The lights and colours decorated the night scene beautifully. At nine o’clock we headed back to the hostel, I felt like I was going to collapse. Despite getting ready for bed early I didn’t sleep until one o’clock and had disrupted sleep since due to people getting up in the night, an older guy removing his duvet cover from his duvet, him also snoring, another guys alarm going off like crazy etc.ย 

There was one moment this evening where I was just sat on my bed alone in my dorm room, arranging to chat to my old housemates first thing on my birthday. And I’m just crying (a little), laughing, spluttering etc as I chat to Dave on whatsapp. I am bonkers! I probably scared Lisa off a bit when she came in after her shower to find me blubbing a little. That’s what being overtired does to you. I cannot wait to get home (the UK) ๐Ÿ’–

Sunday 14th June

I have woken with a thundercloud over my head. Lisa, in contrast, is quite lively. I had breakfast in the hostel and Lisa popped out to grab something. She also came back carrying food for lunch which caused a rumble in my thundercloud because I thought we had agreed to eat the thirty kuai lunch at the Warriors. I’m not mad that she decided to get food because we obviously prefer local meals that are cheap. However I don’t understand why she didn’t communicate with me. Just so I could’ve had time to grab something too. I now had the dilemma of eating the buffet without her or buying something expensive on the street. But, alas, bridge under the water. At nine o’clock we boarded the minibus to the Terracotta Warriors. The guide was lovely! She was enthusiastic, spoke a lot and was very smiley. I warmed to her immediately. Our day at the Terracotta Warriors was good. ย I’m glad that we did include this city in our itinerary around China. It was a really nice to chat to different people and hear their stories and what they’re doing in China. The halls that contained the warriors were cool and the whole thing quite impressive. The photos speak louder than words really. It is just cool to say that we have been to the 8th Wonder of the World! ๐Ÿ˜€ Now for the other seven…..ย 

We were back at the hostel by half past four and I was ready to pass out. I think I’ve caught a cold and the lack of sleep over the past five days has caught up with me. Lisa however was bounding about like a little puppy – well that’s how I imagine her if she was a puppy – and was eager to walk around. I decided to stay at the hostel in the cafe area and slouch on a sofa. I knew if I went with her I’d be dragging my feet the whole way and forcing conversation which would probably come out as incomprehensible babble. So I remained on the sofa. I managed to sleep for a little while and it did do me some good. However I didn’t end up joining Lisa because my body just felt achey and weak. Instead I happily lounged on the sofa, read a book and treated myself to a pizza. And oh my. It was the best pizza I have had in so long. And a fantastic standard for a Chinese hostel. It was just a margarita but it was freshly made, cooked and served up in twenty minutes. An amazing way to start off my birthday. ๐Ÿ˜Š Lisa returned at around nine and we got ready to head to the train station for our sleeper at 22:53 to ๅนณ้ฅ ‘Pingyao’. The train is old so each carriage is a massive open space. Each one has around twenty two rows of tripe bunk beds with ladders at the end of the beds for us to use to climb up. The negative to this was all the snoring men or people walking about cannot be shut out by a door. Nor is there privacy. It also stunk of smoke which was horrible. Other than that, I was too distracted by the idea that I’m turning twenty one to care as much as I normally would. So here we go. Hello Birthday! I am utterly excited and hope that it will be a memorable one! โ˜บ๏ธ

I love birthdays so much. I feel like it’s such an important time of the year where you get to look back at another year you’ve lived, remember the lessons you’ve learnt, laugh at the memories that have been made and ultimately; feel blessed for what you have today.ย 

My main blessing is the people in my life. The family, all kinds of friends, the people I’ve only met briefly, what they’ve taught me and how they’ve included me in their lives. I know I sound so soppy but it means me world to me to have what I do. And I love every one of you (you know who you are)