When we arrive in China, it feels like we have left the best country for last. What surprises me about Beijing is how relaxed people seem to be, despite the crowds and pollution. I instantly like the city. We try to go to the Forbidden City, but after two hours of being shepherded through x-ray searches and barriers, we give up on trying to find it. “The Forbidden City’s still forbidden,” Chris muses.
We take a 300km per hour train (which happens to be showing a Steve Coogan film) to Guilin. We head to a town called Yangshuo, and we are here because one of my all-time dreams is to visit the Li River. Apparently, it’s also a dream for thousands of other people. We try to walk, but there’s so many people that we get trapped in one place. The bright lights of KFC and McDonalds illuminate the night sky and the neon lights of hotels and restaurants try to attract customers. A giant outdoor TV screen advertises various Chinese travel destinations. Hardly the tranquility I had visualised. I had been a bit prepared for lots of other tourists, but stupidly I hadn’t prepared myself for the trafffic, the noise, the fast food chains, and the hotels that tourists inevitably use. I am gutted.
“Is it always this busy?” I ask a local.
“Well, it’s summer break and it’s the weekend…” she replies.