China, days 13 & 14
Day 13 began in Emei Shan with us leaving the wonderful Miia Longxinfang guesthouse that had been the nicest place we’ve stayed in China so far, which was not a part of our scheduled tour. In the pouring rain we boarded a little mini bus, the overflow going in a van and headed to Leshan where we boarded a little boat for a quick journey to see a huge grumpy Buddha carved into the side of the mountain. Afterwards the others grabbed an early lunch, while those of us not yet hungry waited in the minibus. When finished we headed to the train station for our first bullet train experience. The stations here are immense, clean, huge expanses with tighter security than most airports I’ve been to, even subway stations have bag screening facilities as the norm, the West should take really note, if they can make it work here with the amount of people they have for sure we could.
We waited for the bullet train in two orderly lines, bags at the ready, the train stops for four minutes only and the doors close automatically, there is no running behind schedule here so we all piled in as soon as the train had stopped. The carriages are clean and incredibly spacious and we were soon travelling at 200kmph on track so smooth we could have been flying.
When we arrived at Chengdu station we split up and grabbed taxis to the hotel, the address written in Chinese by Joanna for the drivers. Except our driver still didn’t know where to go so we set off following the other five cabs. Pretty soon we’d lost all but two and then one indicated to turn left and the other sped straight ahead, shit! We all thought, urging our driver to pick one and stick with it. Which he did, following the driver in front who clearly did not realise anyone was trying to stay with him as he wove insanely in and out of the traffic driving in the oncoming lane as much as our own. We were so impressed with the mad skills of our driver we practically paid him double when we arrived safely at our hotel.
Sadly our room was a massive let down and having been through this before in Xian we were all pretty much done, this was not a cheap tour by any means, it was chosen from a good provider and was supposed to provide a standard level of accommodation and this was nothing more than basic and barely that. We exited the lift on the fourth floor and not seeing any signs directing us to room numbers went left and found ourselves in a dingy corridor with rooms with girls photos on. When we peered in to an open one they seemed to be rent by the hour party rooms 😳. Heading back to the lift and turning right we entered a pitch black room, lights found and switched on there were butt filled ashtrays covering dirty tables with velvet clad sofas either side. A battered door revealed a long corridor of hotel rooms, ours was at the end. A big bogey greeted us smeared on the wall just as we entered the room, the donor undoubtedly the same person who sneezed all over the mirror. Mould an inch wide flaked out from the rim of the sink and the bath looked like someone had pooped in it, rust we were assured when we asked for it to be cleaned. The dented wall, windows that would not close, exposed wiring and mouldy walls were all a bonus, sadly there were no other rooms available and it was at this point we decided we’d had enough and wanted our money back and to go home. Calls made, emails and photographic evidence sent we waited for a call back, conversations were had with our guide and the tour manager and it was agreed we would continue for the time being. We were after all due to see Pandas the next day! Luckily there was no hot water for the duration of our stay as I wasn’t planning on taking my clothes off in that room anyway.
After an ok hot pot meal involving lobbing a whole bunch of weird and wonderful vegetables into a pot of boiling soup and risking life and limb fishing them out with an extra long pair of chopsticks we rushed around the local carrefour to get breakfast lunch and dinner for the following day as we were told there would not be sufficient time or restaurants at any of our stops before returning to our hotel and finding the party rooms in full swing, joy.
Having spent a pretty awful night my mind unable to switch off, concerned the boat we were due to board later would be as gross as the hotel and worried we’d be stuck on it for 3 days we were up bright and early. Boding well for the day we boarded our nicest coach so far, an actual coach that had plenty of room for us and our luggage and we drove for an hour to the Chengdu Giant Panda breeding and research centre PANDAS!! They were gorgeous and it was an amazing experience, we’d gone early as pandas mostly sleep but when they are not sleeping they are eating and pooping which we got to see. Big huge pandas only feet from us in large enclosures and in one, trees filled with almost a dozen baby ones GORGEOUS! Once we’d seen many many pandas and oohed and ahhed as much as we were able we stopped at the cafe where J and I bought a dozen of the yummiest fluffy dumplings filled with sugar and custard – so much for having needed to buy breakfast.
Loaded back into our lovely coach we drove for an hour to another immense train station where we would board a bullet train to ChongQing and meet our Yangtze river boat. As it turned out the station did have a few restaurants, so we hadn’t needed to pick anything up for lunch either because one of them was the golden arches and we were soon tucking into a big mac like there was no tomorrow. Thankfully we were boarding at the start of the trains journey so there was no rush to board and we travelled until the last stop where we once again joined a mile long taxi queue. Having found the last journey a little stressful Joanna made sure all the drivers knew where we were going and once again we were off at breakneck speed. Of course, as it turned out they didn’t know where they were going and we were all almost deposited miles away from the dock but not seeing any water in sight we refused to get out of the cab. Joanna to the rescue and a few minutes later we were dockside looking at a very nice looking little cruise ship. At this point I was not getting my hopes up but was ever hopeful, the problem with being an optimist is that even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary I will still believe it will all be ok. I have been finding the need to complain exhausting and upsetting, don’t get me wrong I have no problem complaining when needs be but really who wants to have to, especially on what is supposed to be a dream vacation! Yes yes I know we’ve been travelling forever but this China trip is with Ma and was her Christmas and Birthday presents to us both – for forever!
Anyway a group of men appeared offering to carry our bags down the many steps to the boat for 20 yuan a bag which we happily accepted only for the tiniest man ever to take all three of them! Which was totally insane and horrifying and I can barely lift my own bag, let alone any of the others but he wouldn’t stop and when we finally made it he put them down and said 100! His face breaking into a huge smile when he saw we had already intended to pay him that, he wasn’t even four foot tall and probably weighed less than the lightest of the three bags!
I’ve never been on a cruise ship before and never really intended to. For some reason I thought the Yangtze river part of the tour would be in a dinky boat, maybe accomodating 50 or so, Joanna told us the boat would take 400 to 500 but actually we ended up on a little boat with a maximum capacity of 218. and our cabins are LOVELY, CLEAN and LOVELY with gorgeous little balconies and did I say LOVELY? I am so happy as to be almost delirious, ridiculous how happy what getting what should be a given makes me!
The three of us and Egil, a really great Norwegian guy on our tour that J is sharing a cabin with while I share with Ma, opted to upgrade the meal package for 200 yuan for the trip and have our own very swanky dining room and so far the most delicious food. The main dining room looks fine, just a bit of a buffet style bunfight whereas we have plenty to go around. And once again there’d been no need to buy any food for dinner as they provided it on board. The rest of the evening was spent exploring the boat and settling in to our lovely compact, clean cabins, after a wonderful hot shower of course Xx