Subject: Re: Beijing/Vietnam/India/Morocco
Hello Joan, happy Canada Day to all of us North of the border and best wishes to our neighbours to the South for a joyous Independence Day on Thursday, happy Monday to everyone else. We, Barbara Burgess and I were in China on a small group tour in 2000. The Li River cruise was to be a highlight but unfortunately Easter Sunday that year was a wash out and the trip a disappointment. However, we made the best of it, singing rousing renditions of 'cruising down the river on a Sunday afternoon'. One tip, the lunch was served just as we reached the most scenic part of the cruise, we gave it a miss and went up top. I wish you better luck with the weather than we had and that you get to see the truly amazing scenery in perfect conditions. Our boat and most others seem to stop at caves along the way. As it was the centennial May Day holiday they were very crowded. As caves go I have seen more interesting ones and of course these are bathed in neon and coloured lights so favoured by the Chinese. If you have never been in a large cave system I would go but if you have seen others in your travels I might be tempted to stay on the boat. Don't miss the cormorant fishing it is fascinating. Rent a bicycle and take a trip out into the countryside, Moon Hill village is a favourite spot to head for, or seek out Mrs. Zhou, everyone knows her, she will take you by bicycle to her home and her husband will cook you a traditional lunch. If you are looking for somewhere to stay we found Yangshuo more attractive than Guilin, it's backpacker country so there are lots of interesting bars, restaurants and places to shop for painted scrolls (best place in China to get a bargain on those) perfume bottles, chops, tee shirts etc. You can have coffee at Minnie Mao's or stay at the Faulty Towers Guest House, not that I think you will be taking advantage of the latter. Not sure how authentically Chinese any of this is but it is very pleasant. In 2000 the best place to stay was the Yangshuo Resort Hotel. Guilin has what in Britain would be called a promenade along the river where the locals practice their TaiChi and ballroom dancing and lovely park, other than that it is pretty much a modern Chinese city. The river cruises start in Guilin or a little further up stream if the river is low and go to Yangshuo. We spent one night in Guilin caught the boat to Yangshuo and stayed there for a couple of days.

In Beijing we stayed at the Qianmen Hotel, in a good location close to the Imperial City, Temple of Heaven an area of Hutongs and The Pearl Market. You could take a stiff walk or a short cab ride to these places or there are subway stops close by. The hotel has a theatre where you can see Beijing Opera and I highly recommend going, it is quite a performance, with, tumbling, acrobatics, juggling and sword fights along of course with the singing. It lasts about one hour which is just about right for our Western ears. Screens on either side of the stage provide a translation but I was too engrossed with the action and spectacle to pay much attention. The best meal we had in China was at a small unprepossessing little place close to the hotel, some might call it a 'hole in the wall' but the food was fabulous, the deep fried lotus root to die for. Unfortunately in October of 2000 the area was flattened to make way for a ring road the restaurant and delightful family we met in the Hutongs, relocated to concrete blocks in another area. Beijing is changing at an incredible pace just now. The Olympics has a lot to answer for!

Xian, stayed at the Xian Hotel, a large barn of a place lacking in ambiance but comfortable, probably *** equivalent. The first extra long national May Day vacation put a premium on accommodation and we do not always get our tour leaders preferred hotels. Apart from the Terracotta Warriors which are not to be missed, we particulary enjoyed the Muslim area. Visit the Grand Mosque, the only one in the world where the where the call to prayer is in Chinese and the minaret is a pagoda. Check out the market area with the outdoor food stall, watch the traditional dumplings being made on the street. Go back in the evening for the Night Food Market.

Kunming, are you going there? They have a traditional dish called 'Over The Bridge Noodles' which comes with a delightful fairy tale, but then almost everything in China does.

Like Lou, I am 'rabbiting' on so you can see that China makes a strong impression and I haven't even got to Vietnam.

Tony and I were there in '94, just before President Clinton resumed trading, hotels were few and far between and the food was truly awful. All that and much more has changed. Fortunately the Vietnamese were friendly and welcoming and made up for the other hardships including 10 days of solid rain in the 'dry season'. Not to be missed, Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai Temple, day trip from Saigon (same day), Hoi An lovely 17th century port town, now a sleepy backwater by comparison to it's hey day. Hue for the history, the Imperial Palace mostly bombed out during the Tet Offensive but still worth the trip, I think. Take a boat along the Perfume River. We liked Nah Trang, great beach out of town and an interesting fishing promontory. Marble Mountain, unfortunately with rapacious child guides at the time of our visit. I hope the authorities have curbed them. I can put up with a lot as I realise they have to earn a living for their families but they really were too much. Hanoi is a much more attractive city in my opinion than Saigon, it retains the feel of it's French colonial past. Visit the water puppets and of course take a trip on Halong Bay, magical, Guilin/Yangshuo on the ocean rather than on the river. The caves here are much more natural and no neon in sight.

Books: China, River Town,Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang Looking For China by Judy Schultz

Vietnam After Sorrow, An American Amongst the Vietnamese by Lady Borton The Quiet American by Graham Greene

Movies: China Shower or The Shower, (life in a Beijing Hutong bath house, fabulous - really!) Vietnam Scent of Green Papaya Indochine

Video: Raise The Bamboo Curtain. Rick Ray ( travels to Vietnam Cambodia and Burma'94) Your local library may have or be able to get a copy.

Lots of photos and information about our China and Vietnam trips on

Got to go, have to finish the decorating I started in February. Yes Linda, I am still at it!

Regards from Sue in Toronto