The Dragon Trip is THE tour to take to see all around China. The whole loop (people can jump in and out where they want) goes from Hong Kong to Yangshuo, Chengdu, Xi’an, Beijing, Moganshan, Shanghai, Fujian and Macau, before ending in Hong Kong 25 days later. It covered everything that I wanted to do, and more.
The group I’m with is one of the largest that the Trip takes: 24 people, with another joining in Yangshuo. The group after us only has nine!
Our first day began with a trip to Victoria Peak; the highest point of Hong Kong Island, and dog walker and jogger central. Our group is made up of several couples (Jason and Claire; Natalie and Jamie; Max and Jaz; Matt and Holly; Mike and Steph; Alice and Iain; and Sarah and Paul) and a few solo travellers (Hannah, Meggan, Nick, Eliza, Ella, Rosie, Tom, David (in his 50s, but who gleefully describes himself as a ‘seenager’) and Emma). The nicknames came out quickly; we ended up with, for example, Perks (Hannnah), Quirks (Meggan) and Doodle (Eliza). Nick gathered several (mostly derogatory) names; the most affectionate was TP (for toilet paper – don’t ask), and the least was Twatcracker.
We crossed the border to mainland China, followed by a metro; a bullet train (300 km/h!); a three-hour train; and two-hour bus to Yangshuo. Long days of travelling quickly became a fixture in our lives, because China is really quite big.
Yangshuo is very stereotypically Chinese: sheer mountains (karsts) rise up out of flat ground, covered in greenery. I want to say that there was mist, but it was really just smog. This, unfortunately, became a fact of life in China very quickly, and ruined several sunrises. So far, the only smog-free place we’ve been (I’m writing this about three weeks through the trip) has, weirdly, been Beijing.
We began our second day began with a Chinese cooking lesson, putting together dumplings, kung pao chicken and vegetable noodles. First, though, we visited a food market. I’ve never been anywhere more Asian! Not only did it have several old men smoking and playing mah jong, there were also dead dogs, live eels in pots and caged cats (despite their situation, they still had the ‘Fuck you’ attitude of cats everywhere. I call this ‘cattitude’).
We also went on a two-hour bike ride through the countryside, with some amazing views, and bamboo rafting. Finished the day at a rooftop bar, Mojo’s, which became our spiritual home in Yangshuo.
More outdoorsy stuff came in the form of a hike up to Moon Hill – a massive arch of rock. All of us struggled to do this; we had to climb 800+ steps in humidity that made it feel more like we were swimming instead of walking. Embarrassingly, we found the same old women at the top trying to sell us water who’d been at the bottom, which made all of us feel just a bit inferior. Ater descending, we cooled off at the nearby Gold Water Caves. These are full of some amazing rock formations, but the bit we were most interested in was the mud baths at the very bottom.
A massive pool of mud, which was cool but not cold, spread out in a basin alongside the path; this quickly got into every crack and crevice. We had mud fights, slid down a stone slide into the deepest (and stickiest) part of the pool and floated in the (very buoyant) mud. After this was the hot springs. After a day of hiking and – not to put too fine a point on it – chafing, these were heavenly. It felt like a very hot bath, although there were other pools which became progressively colder if you wanted to refresh yourself.
Our last full day in Yangshuo took us to our guide Sally’s home village, to see what life is like in rural China. Most of the houses are new: up until a few years ago, most of the 200 people there lived in mud huts. None of them had running water, though. Instead, a spring fed three pools in the middle of the village: one for drinking, one for washing and one for laundry.
We walked through the village (unfortunately missing seeing the donkey and pig: a major local source of entertainment) and sat in Sally’s parents’ front room while Sally told us about Chinese life. The One Child Policy, for instance, was enforced more lightly in the countryside, and so Sally has a brother and sister. It could also be avoided by paying the authorities for each additional child (boys were worth more)
I took the risk of using the neighbour’s toilet as we were about to leave (Sally’s parents don’t have a working one yet). After finding a scorpion on the wall level with my head, let’s just say that it’s a good thing that my shorts were already down.
This day was also notable for being the one in which Sally gave Nick his lasting nickname: Shuiniu, Chinese for ‘Water buffalo.’