Kame Tseja– When asked about her hobbies, our guest nomad described herself as “a Natural born chief rocker, traveler, cook and baker, can read anything in print and enjoys keeping fit…..because endorphin’s and vanity”! Sometime in 2013, she took on Mainland China for 4 months to satisfy her wanderlust. Read all about her work and travel experience in Shanghai. Instagram:@kamzzzzzz , Twitter: @kamkamT
The Dragon Trip
Spring was in the air and Kame was ready for the next phase of her Chinese adventure- The dragon trip!!! I squeezed my luggage into a backpack and said goodbye to my friends that weren’t coming on the trip. Two interns, Tim and Florian, were going with me and we were all excited. The Dragon Trip organisers had sent us a tour booking pack with practical information on what to expect and bring on the trip as well as our comprehensive 21 day itinerary. We got into a cab and met with our tour guide who took us to SH Honqiaou Station, where we boarded a train to Hangzou.
DAY 1: Just under 2 hours after boarding the train from SH, we arrived in Hangzou around 9pm. At this point, the reality of backpacking actually started to hit me. I am usually a hotel snob- the more stars, the better. I don’t know what I was expecting tbh, I didn’t think it would be The Ritz, but I had not thought too deeply about what hostels round China would be like before I got on the trip. We got a room with bunk beds, dropped our stuff and walked round Hangzou till we found a pub where we ate.
DAYS 2-3: We woke up early the next morning, had showers and headed to Hangzou’s famous West Lake (Xi Hu). We spent the morning walking round the lake, soaking up its beauty and eating Chinese ice lollies. All too soon, we headed back to the train station and boarded a bullet train to Deqing where we met another group of 15 Dragon trippers. Our destination was Moganshan and this is probably one of the most peaceful, beautiful places I have ever visited. Somehow, it made me feel very close to God. Moganshan (meaning Mount Mogan) is a bamboo nature reserve, and we stayed at a village high up in the mountains.
Getting there was a very scary experience, the roads were tiny, winding and very steep, but it was worth it. We stayed at the most beautiful stone mountain lodge, and standing on the front porch, all you could see were bamboo covered mountains in all directions. The air was crisp and it was very quiet. We dropped our bags and hiked through the woods to the mountain lagoon. It was too cold to swim so we skipped rocks for a while before heading back.
The village was a small one, with only about a hundred people. Chickens and dogs ran freely, and a clear, gently bubbling stream ran the length of the village- it was straight out of a story book. Dinner was served courtesy of a nice family who we got talking with. For about £1 (N450) per person, they converted their garage into a dining room, and while we watched, they caught fish from the stream and some of the running chickens and made the most sumptuous spread for us. There was local bread, roasted, grilled, shredded, boiled and stir-fry bamboo- we were after all in the Bamboo Mountains! Next morning, we hiked the famous Moganshan trail to Chairman Mao’s summer house. At some point I thought my lungs would burst and my legs would fail. It was a tough one!
Back at the village, a kind old lady pulled us into her home, made the boys sit down with drinks and put me to work with her in the kitchen making lunch! It’s funny how we didn’t speak a shred of each other’s language, but we had such a good time cooking together. That evening, we parted ways with our first tour guide and boarded a bullet train to Nanjing, China’s ancient Southern capital.
DAYS 4-7: Nanjing went by very fast! We met Jane, our new guide, and toured around the city on bikes stopping at Linggu Temple and the Yangtze River Bridge. We wandered around the Confucius Temple, Sun Yat Sen Museum, Ming Xiao Ling, saw the famous Nanjing Massacre Museum, the Ming Palace ruins and climbed the prettiest Pagodas. Most of these activities cost between £1.50- £8 (N650-N3,600). After 2 days, we boarded the train to Suzhou, an ancient city known for its canals, classical gardens and being the silk capital of China. Our tour guide informed us that there was a mix-up with the hostel we were meant to stay at, so we would have to stay at a hotel!!!! At this point, I was pretty used to hostels, and I was having too much fun to care, but it was a good 2 day break and I hadn’t slept so well since Moganshan! We visited the Garden of Master of Nets and learnt about the ancient trade in the City at the Silk Museum. After dinner, we took a boat tour down the river before getting a true taste of the city with Dumplings at Yaba Sheng Jiang (£1/N450 for a whole bowl you couldn’t finish) and sampling the night life with a few beers. On day 7, we boarded a bullet train back to SH, so we could catch the night train that would take us up to Guilin.
The night train is an experience like no other! We were on the train for 26 hours. We had triple bunk hard sleepers (economy) and it was so much fun! We had stocked up on drinks, ramen noodles, games, and books and we had a blast. I can’t emphasise how important it is to go on a trip like this with the right people. Do not be deceived by the pictures, it is not all roses and enjoyment. The toilet on the sleeper train was essentially a hole in the floor that fed out onto the tracks, and it wasn’t pretty…or fragrant! They played annoying delightful Chinese music for about 13 of the 26 hrs and the bunks were hard. But the guys I was with made it a very good experience despite all.
DAYS 8-11: I think these were the best 5 days of my trip! Typing this up is bombarding me with sweet memories I wish I could relive. Everything was on point. The hostel was pretty decent, the weather was warm, the guide was very experienced and hella funny and the city was tourist activity haven! We got transferred to Yangshuo from Guilin by bus, and the fun began. The scenery in Yangshuo is intensely stunning, for lack of a better description. Karst mountains, rivers, caves- it is an outdoor activity dream! The first order of the day was lunch where we met a new set of dragon trippers that were on the HongKong- HongKong route who we would share the rest of the trip with. One of the girls in the group was a fellow intern in SH, and it was such a joyful reunion we weren’t expecting! That afternoon, we went bamboo rafting on the Yulong River, 2 people per raft with the ‘driver’. He even let us take turns steering the raft, at which point I almost drowned us. My God- that area is beautiful. It took about 40 minutes to get down the river, but you didn’t even feel the time passing.
We cycled back to the hostel and that evening, where we went Cormorant fishing along the river. Cormorant fishing is a traditional fishing method where fishermen use trained cormorant’s to fish. Getting on the rickety small boats was quite scary but when you overcome your fear, its amazing to watch. The birds dive into the water and come up with their mouth and throat full of fish which they ‘vomit’ into a basket. That night (and every other spent in Yangshuo) we played drinking games, smoked Shisha and drank waaay too much at Monkey Jane’s Rooftop bar. I also found a limit to my adventurousness- I REFUSED to drink of the ‘special’ shots at the bar. It was a clear bucket filled with Chinese liquor, some herbs and a couple of dead snakes. Yes, I said SNAKES! Tufiakwa! For what now?
Next morning, some of us opted to go for a Chinese cooking class. It started off by the Chef taking us to a local market to buy what we needed to cook. To our foreign eyes, it was a very strange market. You could buy frogs, snakes, cats, dogs, and other highly shocking things. Point and kill cat and dog oh! To say I was uncomfortable is a gross underestimation. The rest of the cooking class went well, everyone ate what they cooked and we left with printed recipes as part of the package. That afternoon, we rode our bikes to the base of Moon Hill, where we hiked for over 2 hours to get to the top. Excruciatingly painful, but the view was worth every single step. We shouted our names and heard them echo over the mountains. We then explored a deep cave complex that had natural mud baths and hot springs to melt our aches away. That night, before reporting for duty at the Rooftop bar, we visited a Chinese ‘doctor’ hot cupping parlour. Basically, very hot bamboo cups were put on your back to suck out all the impurities. Omo! See pain! You wake up the next day with a painful swollen, dark purple back, but apparently, that’s the process.
Yangshuo was almost over, but there were still fun activities to take my mind off how much I’d miss this little gem of beauty in the South, not too far from the Vietnam border. We visited the site where the painting on the 20Y note was gotten from. I also tried going to a Chinese salon, where everyone was afraid to approach my hair (LOL). And just like that, it was time to head back to Guilin where we boarded a train to Chengdu.
DAYS 12-13: We arrived Chengdu around noon, and took the metro to our hostel. We spent the afternoon getting massages from blind masseuses. I don’t know how to describe the experience, it was just very different and intense and left me relaxed. That night, we tried the famous Chongqing hot pot. A big pot of boiling broth is put on the table, and you throw in slices of meat and vegetables and fish them out when they’re cooked. What is so special about this is the Sichuan pepper which has a numbing, hot and cooling effect at the same time- it is hard to describe the sensations you get in your mouth. Being a Naija babe who likes pepper, it wasn’t too bad, even though the numbness was weird, but my other oyinbo friends turned bright red!
I was really looking forward to the next day- we were going to see Pandas! By 7.30 am, we were already at Xiongmao Jidi, The Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre. We spent all morning trekking through the complex ogling the cute animals and learning about them. By noon, we were back on a minibus on our way to see the largest stone Buddha in the world, the Leshan Buddha, carved on the side of Mt. Lingyun. It is 71m high, took 100 years to carve and very majestic! We reached halfway down the side of the Buddha (using stairs of course), trying to get to the bottom to take pictures with it as a backdrop, but there were so many tourists and we didn’t have a lot of time, so we gave up and took pictures from the top. That night, we boarded yet another night train to Xi’an.
DAYS 14-18: Our hostel in Xi’an was right next to the Ming Dynasty city walls and we rented bikes and rode on the walls. Later on in the evening, I volunteered at a local soup kitchen for homeless people. This made me really emotional and appreciate the opportunities I had. I was grateful to God and my parents afresh. The next morning, we went to Lintong where we spent the day marveling at the wonder that is China’s Terracotta warriors. Pictures do it no justice, some things just have to be seen live. Later on, we had a guided tour of the city’s Muslim quarter and Great mosque, and saw Xi’an light up at night.
We journeyed up the Qingling Mountains to a rustic farm where we were meant to spend the night. The old couple that owned the farm prepared a feast for us! There was freshly baked bread rolls, rabbit stew, and more. It was really cold up in the mountains and it started drizzling. While it rained, we huddled up in the barn, around a fire while grandma told us stories (translated by our guide) of her childhood, when pandas were plentiful in those mountains. The next day, we headed to Dengfeng, the nearest town to the Shaolin Temple, 6 hours away by coach. We lodged at a goat farm hotel and headed to a nearby Kungfu orphanage where the young orphans put on a show for us. You have to respect kungfu masters, my whole body ached and I wasn’t even doing the thing properly! We spent the whole of the following day touring the Shaolin temple (Like OMG, actual Shaolin temple!!!) before boarding our last night train of the trip to Beijing.
DAYS 19-21: Beijing- China’s capital city. We traveled by bus to an undiscovered section of The Great Wall and began the 2 hour hike to get to the actual wall. All you can see from the top of the wall is more wall and vegetation, and it is remarkable. After resting, we assembled our tents on the wall and climbed higher to watch the beautiful sunset. My first camping experience was a blast! We made a fire, roasted food in it and huddled close singing and drinking late into the night and then it was bed time. That was the most uncomfortable night in my whole existence. We were 2 per tent, but it was deathly cold and the stones from the wall dug into my back all through the night. I woke up needing to pee and I was terrified! It was pitch black, and my imagination started going wild, but I survived! We woke up to catch the sunrise and hiked back down the wall. Back in Beijing, we toured The Forbidden City and sampled the famous yummy Peking duck.
Day 21 and I found myself on one last bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai. My flight to Dubai was at night, so I spent the afternoon getting my nails done and having lunch with a friend. My 4 months in China was officially over. I had gone from Suzhou in the West, to Guilin in the South, to Beijing in the North and numerous places in-between. I had learnt patience, from being photographed and looked at like an alien, and I had made friends for life along the way. This had been the most profound experience of my life, and to top it off, my thighs were super toned from all the physical activity!
Couple of pointers for people looking to go on The Dragon trip:
It was an organised tour. The dragon trip company http://thedragontrip.com/ organises backpacking trips in China and Japan. The 21 day SH-SH package cost £850(In April 2014) and included tour guides, all transport and accommodation and some activities. Some of the activities mentioned on the trip, we had to pay for and cost between £2- £20(N900-N9,000). They were mostly optional, so you are not forced to if you can’t afford an activity. Food was cheap and the options were plentiful! Meals cost anywhere from £1-£15(N450-N6,750), depending on where and what you ate. We weren’t doing any particularly fancy dining, so feeding costs were minimal. We had tour guides throughout the trip who could speak both English and Mandarin, and this solved the problem of the language barrier.
Couple of things to note for people looking to visit China:
- VISA REQUIREMENTS: This is probably the most tedious visa I have ever gotten! I had to ask my parents why they didn’t birth me in Obodo Oyinbo. Sigh. So mine wasn’t a straightforward tourist visa since I was going to work in China for about 3 months. CRCC Asia also did not agree to process my visa because I didn’t have a US or UK passport, so I was essentially OYO (On my own). The hardest part of getting a work visa required me to get an official letter from a Chinese government institution- which is basically impossible to get unless you have “connections”, or you buy it off Alibaba for between $100-$300(N30,00 – N90,000) (ha!). I almost cancelled my trip due to the visa requirements, but luckily turned out my mum had a Chinese friend who helped sort everything out (I don’t know how much it cost for the actual visa fee). Now, when traveling to China, you usually get only 30 days on your first trip so I was planning on attempting to renew it while in China, but they made a mistake on my passport and gave me a whole year….Yasssss hunnay! However, there was a 30 day limit on each stay, so I had to exit the country 3 times in the time I was there much to my parents’ account’s dismay and my absolute delight as I used the bonus travel opportunity well! I would recommend starting the process way ahead of time (2 months) using a specialized Chinese Visa agent to sort everything out- your life would be so much easier. The visa start date doesn’t commence immediately, but is post dated to the day you fill in the form.
- FLIGHTS: Needless to say, China is far- from everywhere! I flew Emirates from Lagos to Dubai (6/7 hours), 2-hour layover and finally Dubai to Shanghai’s Pudong Airport (8 hours). The whole trip took about 17 hours, so not too bad. The jetlag when you get there on the other hand is a pain! It took me over a week to feel normal.
- ACCOMMODATION: For the pre dragon trip, I stayed at Rayfont Celebrity Hotels & Apartments in the Xuhuai area. I didn’t pay for the accommodation directly as I paid a lump sum to CRCC Asia and they sorted out the accommodation. I however checked for a friend who was coming to visit and a room per night cost around £20(N9,000). The Grand Kempinski Hotel where I stayed for a night cost around £200(N90,000) for the Executive Bund View room.
- LANGUAGE BARRIER: Shanghai is quite cosmopolitan; you can get by without much Mandarin. Most road signs, supermarket isles, restaurant menus, etc. had English translations to cater for the amount of foreigners. You would usually also find someone in the vicinity able to speak some version of English. Paired with body and sign language, I was able to survive without much stress. I knew nothing but Nǐ hǎo when I arrived, and not much else by the time I left. This was probably because most of my friends were fellow foreigners. During the the dragon days, I got by downloading a translator on my phone and showing the screen to taxi drivers, waiters, etc.However, our guides could speak both Mandarin and English and they helped a great deal.
- TRANSPORTATION: In Shanghai, I lived 5 minutes away from a metro station, so this was the obvious choice for transport. A one way trip would cost 20-30p, depending on the line/zone. Taxis were the other form of transport I used. They are metered and affordable. It is important to note that it can be very difficult to get cabs sometimes and cabbies refuse to stop when they are changing shifts.
*P.S. Note that my trip was from JAN-MAR 2014 so prices may have changed.
Read part 1 here