Thought I better start writing a blog, it's been nearly 3 weeks now since I got rid of everything and decided to try by hand at travelling China for an extended period of time.
Beijing is always a great place to start, it's easy to get around, people are friendly and helpful and there is much to see and do. It's also bloody hot and the air pollution is something else, it's pretty bad.
Found a great backpackers in an old Hutong and stayed there for the first week and a half meeting people and drunking Peijoi (beer that's 30p for a large bottle), Great Wall, Forbidden Palace, Summer Palace, markets, cycling around on crappy bikes - the lot. Its was frantic but quite draining. I met a Nick, a South African who speaks Chinese and decided to come with him to Xin Jiang to see the Grasslands, something I have never thought to do. Why not? I said and off we went the next day to Urumqi. This was not China anymore, well the police prescence and constant reminder of who was in charge was everywere. Most of locals were Uighurs or Kazakhs, basically the whole area was one of the 'Stans' (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc.).
We had no plan, didn't know what we would find but then met some other Chinese solo travellers who adopted us and we went with them - not that we really even knew where to! 10 hour bus north to Buerqin, weren't allowed to stay in the hotel because we were white so had to stay in the Red 'Tourist Hotel' it was very nice actually. Very tense atmosphere, probably do with the 8 Han Chinese who were hacked to death in the middle of the street in the middle of the day a week earlier :S Then, a taxi off to somewhere else, we had a horse to take our gear and we trekked all day through the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen.
This was the Chinese part of Siberia, as far as you can get off the radar and no guide books to describe this adventure. I didn't see other white people for about a week, it was the real deal. We arrived in Hemu which was like the wild west crossed with lord of the rings. A full moon and a lighting storm, only horses and no electricity. It didn't seem real, felt very lucky to be here, it was pure chance that I was here at all, going with the flow to see where I'd end up. It pays to go freestyle! I certainly wouldn't be here without Nick's ability to speak Chinese as there was absolutly no English written or spoken anywhere.
The next day we all hired horses (22 quid) and rode about 100km across spectacular grasslands, passing the odd yurt, lots of horses, goats and camels and no roads. Very cool. At sunset we arrived at HeHu or the Black Lake just as a specatcluar sunset was happening. We raced the horses in, though they were a bit slow and small, again it felt like I was in Lord of the Rings.
Stayed in a yurt, and drank horsemilk yoghurt and horse butter. Freeezing cold at night but treated to another nightime electrical storm which continued to make it all the more surreal.
More riding the next day to Kanas, more breathtaking scenery, a sore ass and a cranky horse but not the amazing arrival this time as it was full of fat Chinese tourists arriving on busses and staying in 4 star hotels. Oh well, the lake was nice though we had to stay in a shed and no showers for days so time to get back to Buerqin and a nice stay in our communitst hotel.
Now I'm back in Urumqi after a hellish 11 hour sleeper bus that stank arse and was over 35 degrees - hours of fun!
Heading to Dun huan on my own in a few days so lets see what other trouble I can get myself into ;)