Round the World

Yangshuo & Three Gorges Dam

For several days it rained cats & dogs in Yangshou. Once it stopped it was unfortunately hot and really humid. Despite the wonderful countryside it was too uncomfortable to explore many of the surrounding peaks. From those I did I got a superb view of the town wedged in between the almost vertical peaks. Though the countryside is beautiful, the town is as ugly as any Chinese town built in the last few decades. Simple straight sided concrete structures, many tiled with tall narrow white tiles like an inside out public toilet.

I caught the bus back to Guilin and then the overnight sleeper to Wuhan. This is another city of around 6 million people with a very spread out centre. With no public transport apart from buses and no way of finding out where the buses went I had to resort to using taxis. Generally this is something I have avoided as it’s too easy and shuts you off from the place, but here I found no option. Next day it was a 5 hour bus journey to Yichang (several million people again) from where I could get to the Three Gorges Dam. The Lonely Planet listed a couple of buses but they no longer seemed to run from the places mentioned. With no Tourist Information booth and virtually no-one speaking any english I had to resort to a taxi for the 40km each way trip.

The journey there took some time as for some reason we could not use the main highway. It seemed almost deserted except for trucks so maybe it’s limited to construction traffic. On getting there a regular tour bus took you round a few vantage points. Its a stunning engineering effort being 2.3km long and 185m high. Along side there are two sets of 5 locks to handle ships up to 10,000 tons up and down and a ship hoist capable of raising and lowering a 3,000 ton vessel. Politically this dam is controversial as it has a lot of side effects, displacing 2 million people and affecting the environment.  It will however generate an immense amount of energy and limit some regular and very damaging floods. Standing there the sheer scale of it is hard to take in.

After a couple of nights in Yichang it was another 5 hour ride back to Wuhan to pick up the overnight train to Xian. As the train arrived at the platform it was clear something was wrong. On the train it was incredibly hot and some of the staff were remarkably sweaty. The air-conditioning system wasn’t functioning. I decided I couldn’t stay all night on the train if it stayed broken and kept my luggage on the platform. As the carriage was designed for AC there very very few windows that open at all and even then only a very small amount. Fortunately they decided the problem had to be fixed so we waited for over 2 hours on the platform whilst they found a new engine and attached it to the train.

I arrived in Xian yesterday morning having had little sleep for various reasons so spent the day sleeping, reading and pottering around a little. On the way back to the hotel I found more evidence that the quality of Chinese taxi drivers varies hugely. Many if shown a name in Chinese take you there quickly and efficiently (as traffic conditions in any Chinese city allow). Unfortunately over a third aren’t of this standard. Some don’t want a journey that short, some presented with a name and address in Chinese haven’t a clue where it is and just shrug. The worst will drive off in completely the wrong direction as happened again last night. Fortunately I have developed a reasonable sense of direction backed up by a compass in my watch. In China, as in Phnom Pehn, it has proved invaluable in stopping me being taken to goodness knows where. Travel tip for China and Cambodia: make sure you do have a sense of direction before getting in the cab and take an active interest in the direction your taxi is heading!!

Tomorrow the plan is to head off and see the Terracotta Warriors and maybe some mountains east of here the day after. After that and maybe another day in Xian its the train to Beijing, seeing the sights there and preparing for the trans-siberian run. Travelling in China is very interesting. The culture is very different to the west and with almost every city I head to having 6 million people or more the scale is tremendous. Its clear the place is changing fast and becoming remarkably more commercial. It’s hard to imagine what it will be like in a decade or two, nor of its influence on the world as a whole.

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