We entered mainland China from Macau (after obtaining our Visa in Hong Kong). We caught a bus to the boarder gate and then joined the queue. It seems that many people from the mainland pop into Macau for shopping/gambling.
Crossing the boarder was much easier than we had imagined, what did make us chuckle was a notice for 'aliens entering China'. Although after being in China for a while we felt like we were on another planet at times!!!
We had decided to catch a bus to the southern city of Guangzhou, from there we would decide our onward route. When we reached our destination we were a little disappointed to find a sprawling, congested, and very smoggy city. Our only restbite from the smog and noise was the leafy oasis of Shamian island, only a five minute walk away. A small colonial island connected to the mainland by several bridges, the French and British once lived here at seperate ends of the island.
We stayed at Guangzhou just two nights by which time we had realised that China was going to be a little more hard work than the other countries we had visted. The distances to cover are vast and language was proving a huge barrier! So we decided that the easiest option was to catch an internal flight to Xi'an.
Xi'an was a much more pleasant place to be and just how we had expected China to be. The people were friendly and it was surrounded by history and ancient Chinese culture. One of the first things we did was to go and see the Army of Terracotta Warriors and it was just as amazing as we had imagined it would be. Discovered in 1974 by a local farmer (who was actually there signing books (and picking his nose ha ha)) it is a huge site containing thousands of life size terracotta warriors and horses belived to be 2000 years old. Each warrior is different, which when you see how many there are is mind boggling!
Xi'an was our first experiene of an old town, which all seem to contain a bell tower and drum tower for signalling the start and end of the day. We visited these and had a go on the drum and were lucky enough to watch a couple of chinese performances, all very strange to our western ears and eyes!!
It wasn't just our eyes and ears experiencing new things but our tastebuds too. While in Xi'an we had a walk around the Muslim quarter, which we had heard was good for food. This street had many vendors, Steve spotted one which appeared to be selling mince beef and fried potatoes...yummy we thought, until we looked a little closer (by which time the food was in bowls in front of us). It was jelly like cubes and something which resembled (slightly) dry stuffing, we tried our best as to not offend and the locals looked very amused at our efforts!! Steve was still hungry after hardly touching his food and went in search of something more palatable...KFC!!!
Steve couldn't wait for later that day when we were to experience more local flavours at a dumpling banquet and show. Lets just say that dumplings aren't Steve's favourite, but he did well to attempt one of the 18+ (!!!) different dumplings we were given.
From Xi'an we took a 6 hour bus journey (the bus station was interesting...not a word of English anywhere) to Pingyao, an ancient walled city 500km south of Beijing. We were the only non chinese on the bus (much to the amusement of everyone) but the journey was going well until we realised we were at our destination, well nearly!! The bus dropped us off on the hard shoulder of the motorway, some 3km from town. Luckily we followed a local to the outskirts where we were met by a hotel owner.
The hotel turned out to be just what we wanted, only small with a traditional coutyard, red lanterns and a kang-style bed (a raised bed heated beneath by a stove). We hired a local guide for the day who gave us an extensive tour of the town, which felt like it had been frozen in time.
The weather has now turned really cold as we have travelled further north. Next stop Beijing and the Great Wall.