Wednesday, April 27, 2011

No Bus to Zhaoxing, So Off to Dazhai Village, Jinkeng Rice Terrace

Day 8 (30th March 2011)

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. to pack up to go to He Xi Bus Station. The trip to Zhaoxing would take 4 - 5 hours. When I arrived at He Xi Station at about 6:00 a.m. it was still dark. There were people at the station there already. The station light had not been switched on. When the ticket counter opened, I asked about the bus to Zhaoxing.

The ticketing clerk, a different lady from a day earlier, replied by asking back whether there was a Zhaoxing bus parked at the station. If there was none, then there would be no bus to Zhaoxing for the morning. There was none. A tout offered to take me to Liping where I could take a bus to Zhaoxing, but I was unprepared to do that, as this would be too much hassle. In addition, this would also mean that I would have problem getting a bus back to Sanjiang later on, and thus, disrupt my travelling plan. As such, I abandoned the idea of visiting Zhaoxing and instead push forward my plan to visit Dazhai, a village in the Jinkeng Rice Terrace further away than Ping'An from Longsheng. It formed part of the Longji (Dragon Backbone) Rice Terrace.

Before leaving He Xi Bus Station, I decided to shoot a short video of He Xi Station. After that, I took a tuk tuk for RMB3 for the short trip to He Dong Bus Station, where the buses to Longsheng were based. At He Dong Station, I was again one of the earliest passengers there. I bought the ticket for RMB18 for the 7:00 a.m. bus to Longsheng.

At the station, there was a luggage screening machine like those used at the airports. As I thought I need to screen my luggage, I reached for my back pack and at that moment, panic struck when I realised that the back pack was not behind my back. I looked around and I was sure I did not leave it anywhere at the station. It must have been left in the tuk tuk when I came over from He Xi Station. There was no way of getting back my back pack. It was as good as gone. At the same time, behind my mind, I had the feeling that when I was shooting the video of He Xi Station before leaving, I was not carrying the back pack, meaning I could have left my back pack at He Xi Bus Station. I was not sure but decided to go back to He Xi Station just to confirm it. There was a chance that it was still at He Xi Station. It was already 6:30 a.m. and I quickly got on a tuk tuk. By this time, I realised that the tuk tuk fare was RMB2, and not RMB3 as I overheard some one mentioning it at the station, and that I have been duped just now and the day before. On reaching He Xi Station, I quickly walked into the station and there was my back pack on the seat where I sat while waiting for the ticket counter to open. After taking my back pack, I took another tuk tuk back to He Dong Bus Station. The time was 6:40 a.m.

The bus from Sanjiang reached Longsheng at 8:30 a.m., after 1 ½ hour journey. I did not stop for breakfast but instead went around asking for the bus to Dazhai Village to see the Dragon Backbone Rice Terrace.

The bus to Dazhai left the station at about 9:00 a.m. but stopped just outside the station to pick up more passengers. It finally left at about 9:20 a.m. for Longsheng. The fare was RMB9. Mid-way through the journey, at about 9:45 a.m. the bus stopped at an area with nice building and buses parked outside. Some guys in uniform stepped into the bus and a guy thrust out the entrance ticket he was holding and asked for RMB60. That was the way the entrance tickets were sold to "outsiders" who were taking public buses to the Dragon Backbone Rice Terrace. There was a lady who came in too and she started soliciting for business asking me to stay at her hostel. I ignored her, because I knew I could find my accommodation on reaching Dazhai Village.

The bus went up and around winding roads. The scenery was beautiful with a stream flowing beside the road. Finally, we reached the parking area to Dazhai Village at about 10:30 a.m. The whole trip from Sanjiang had taken 3 ½ hours.

There were no old women, or for that matter anybody, who approached me to carry my back pack, although I saw them sitting underneath a building. They were probably waiting for a tour bus, not a public bus. The entrance to Dazhai Village was blocked by an inspection office. I showed the guy manning the post my ticket and proceeded to enter the place after it was stamped. About five minutes' walk away was a row of souvenir shops selling handicrafts. The tout who came in the same bus was still trying to convince me. In the end, I decided to follow her. There were really two villages there; one was Dazhai Village and the other Xinzhai Village and they took different route. The tout was from Xinzhai Village and I later ended up at her hostel for a room which cost RMB50, after bargaining.

(Download this 3,000 x 2,000 px map for your reference)

Xinzhai happened to be perched mid-way up a hill whereas Dazhai is at the foot of a hill. Xinzhai seemed to be less developed and I noticed only one other hostel there. This is a village occupied by the Hong Yao or Red Yao ethnic people.

The tout happened to be the owner of this hostel. Later, during my stay, she told me that she worked as a maid in Shenzhen for ten years. On her return, all her saving went into the construction of this hostel. Her husband who was a carpenter laboured to build it. Amazing! Presently, her husband was away at work and her only son was at school at another place. She stayed with her in-laws and basically took care of the hostel business alone, being the salesman, manager, cook, gardener, and everything else. I really admired her grittiness.

She suggested that I should see the terrace field the same afternoon. There would be no sun rise to see in the morning as the atmosphere would be covered in mist. After cooking me the lunch, I asked her how to get to the top of the hills. She advised me to follow the main path (i.e. the wider path) and to keep to the left path. Not being fully fit, I was glad when I finally reached what I presumed to be the Viewing Point No. 3.

On the way up, I saw a total of less than five women working on the terrace, planting vegetables, etc. It was still spring and too early for ploughing. The air was foggy and the field was covered with brown and decaying paddy stump from the harvest in autumn. It was not exactly at its most glorious sight. Nevertheless, the view of the terrace at some angle was very beautiful. I could only imagined its beauty when it was covered in water with the reflecting sun or when it was green with growing rice. I came at the wrong time and when I asked when was the best time to visit, the lady said, "June".

After 45 minutes, I finally reached my destination. I could have climbed further up to reach the top, but I presumed this to be Viewing Point No. 3. This was good enough for me already. I was back in the hostel by 2:00 p.m., disappointed that the vista had not been greener and the air clearer.

At about 4:00 p.m. I decided to explore Dazhai Village. I walked to the main road and from there walked to Dazhai Village. If I had known then, I could have used a foot path just outside the hostel where I was staying to go to Dazhai Village.

Dazhai Village was much more developed than Xinzhai Village and the layout was more organised. It looked more beautiful and modern too. There were many hostels here, and there were more tourists here too. There were a group of Russian speaking kids (how do I know?) at the village too. It seemed busier than Xinzhai. However, if you prefer the traditional look of a Red Yao Village, you should stay at Xinzhai.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Overnight in Sanjiang

Day 7 (29th March 2011)

I did not take breakfast this morning. I was not willing to spend my money at Chengyang.

After checking out, I asked the caretakers how I would be able to get to Sanjiang. They told me to wait on the main road for "mian bao che" (literally, vehicle for transporting bread - how do they look like?) or buses.

While waiting for the public transportation on the main road, a tuk-tuk came across from the other side of the modern bridge. I asked the driver whether he was going to town, and he replied that he would be going later but not then. He was saying there were many vehicles passing through which would be going to Sanjiang. Just as we were talking, a loud horn was heard at a blind corner of the road (this is a practise around this region, including Dazhai, to warn vehicles coming from the opposite direction at blind corners of on-coming traffic). He said that would be the bus and when he physically saw the bus coming around the corner, he confirmed that it was going to Sanjiang. I quickly waved it down. The fare was RMB6, not RMB7 as mentioned by the caretakers.

The bus arrived at He Xi Bus Station, which was situated at a road junction. I would be staying close to this station since the buses going to Zhaoxing would depart from here. There would normally be two buses going to Zhaoxing in a day, one early in the morning and the next before noon. I intended to take the early morning bus so that I would reach Zhaoxing in the early afternoon.

Since I was still early, I took the opportunity to inquire about the bus to Zhaoxing. The reply was rude and the ticketing clerk said for that day, there was no more bus. There might be a bus early the next morning at 6:30 a.m. and another at 11:30 a.m. The fare was RMB32 and I intended to purchase the bus ticket there and then but was told by her to buy it the next day.

I saw only one hostel here, Bai Huo Hotel, which was across the road from He Xi Bus Station. I did not check out this hostel immediately since the five-foot way was being paved, making entry to the hostel troublesome. So, I decided to look for another hostel close by. I checked the four streets in the four directions and did not see any other hostels nearby. Sanjiang Hotel is situated across the bridge and too far away. In the end, I checked this hostel out and the rate was RMB68, with hot bath. It was clean and so I decided to take it.

(Download this 3843 x 2586 px map of Sanjiang for your reference. It is only 844 kb in size)
Sanjiang is a city under very fast development. There was construction work everywhere you look. The town was dusty and there were tuk-tuk everywhere, more than any other cities on this trip of mine.

There was nothing on offer in terms of tourism, except for a Dong Drum Tower. Taking out my GPS-enabled Blackberry, I walked over the bridge to look for it, but it was hidden from my view. I walked too far away and could not locate it by sight. By this time, my feet were already aching badly, after many days of walking. I decided to return to the hostel and later took a tuk-tuk to see it. The lady tuk-tuk driver charged RMB3, when it should have been RMB2.