The beauty and the beastliness of Yunnan province, China

China, Hitchhiking, Walking
Rooftops in Nuodeng, Yunnan province

Rooftops in Nuodeng, Yunnan province

I’m ill. I lay in bed with a fever, shivering but sweating. I ache. I groan. Chris showers me with sympathy. In my sick delirium, I search the internet to diagnose myself. I read about all of the possible diseases I could have, and all of them fit my symptoms. Why oh why didn’t I look into getting some vaccinations before coming here? Is my disdain for pharmaceutical companies really worth getting sick for? I decide that I definitely have dengue fever. Then I look up malaria risks in China. Every province has a low-to-zero risk, except for Yunnan province, where I am laying ill. It has a high risk. That’s it. I have malaria. I instruct Chris to go to the chemist, buy me some rehydration salts (my answer to every single illness, no matter what the symptoms, whilst on the road) and to find out if there’s a doctor or hospital nearby. He comes back with the news that there’s only a doctor specialising in Chinese medicine in the town. Aaaaaagggghhh, I’m going to die here, I think.

China! Fighting the crowds on the Li River

China
Don't be fooled by this apparent tranquility! The Li River at Yangshuo

Don’t be fooled by this apparent tranquility! The Li River at Yangshuo

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.

A cliche photo of China!

A cliche photo of China!

You are forbidden to cross the road in Beijing.

You are forbidden to cross the road in Beijing.

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.