Saturday, September 29, 2007

Disneyland for adults

OCT East, where we have been staying for the past week, is sort of like a Disneyland for adults. It promotes itself as an eco-tourism mountain resort and theme park, where stressed-out urban residents can get ‘back to nature’, but it’s a park in the true sense of the word (i.e. constructed gardens) not a park with roller-coasters and kid’s rides. It comprises a ‘Swiss’ village called Interlaken, a golf course and health spa, the Sanzhou tea plantation (which includes an ‘ancient’ tea town), a large wetlands area, a botanic garden inside a large greenhouse, and a steam train that winds it way along a tall viaduct through some reforested valleys. The train is the closest resemblance to Disneyland, and the main street of the Interlaken village looks a little like the Main Street USA that you find inside the entrance to every Disneyland – except the one at OCT East has more of a Swiss look to the architecture (as you would expect given that it’s called Interlaken).


That part of OCT East didn’t appeal to me at all – it’s all tourist shops and over-priced restaurants – but the ‘ancient’ tea town further up the hill is quite relaxing because it’s not so touristy and there are some nice relaxing walks radiating out from there, either through a real tea plantation, through bamboo groves or through the wetlands at the bottom of the hill.


At the entrance to the tea plantation, there is notice that reads: “Surrounded by mountain, river, tea garden and wetland, it is a lovely area where the bamboo flourishes and rivulet gurgles. Fresh air is rich in ion content, and hundreds of acres of fluctuant tea garden is a great place to learn knowledge of tea. Travellers may wander along the sinuous plank road to seek for loneliness.” I suppose given the air pollution down in Shenzhen, having “fresh air rich in ion content” would be a major drawcard for the locals – and the residents of nearby Hong Kong too. Perhaps given the crowded conditions under which people live in Shenzhen and Hong Kong, “seeking loneliness” might also appeal.


It’s certainly a good place to get some exercise as the roads are not crowded (at least not during the week when we were there – it might be a different story at the weekend). The only thing I didn’t like about the roads around the tea plantation were all the plastic cherry blossom trees that had been ‘planted’ in amongst the real vegetation. I think the guy on the right in the picture below is checking out one of the trees, trying to make out whether it is real or not.


The “sinuous plank roads” (I think they mean boardwalks) go for miles, through the hills, across suspension bridges, and down into the wetlands. The views along the way are very relaxing and on the day that I walked up there (mid-week) I saw only three or four other people in about an hour.


About every 500 metres or so there are clean toilets in either bamboo huts or stone buildings (made to look like ‘ancient’ buildings) so it’s almost like bush-walking with all modern conveniences laid on. However, I didn’t like the music coming out of speakers in the trees (the Chinese instrumental music wasn’t so bad, but it was the constant interruptions by ads for KFC or tofu burgers that I didn’t like) – that really spoilt the ‘back to nature’ feel.


Down in the bamboo groves, mists of water hiss from pipes hidden behind the bamboo to create a foggy atmosphere to help you imagine that you are walking through a ‘real’ bamboo forest.


The only thing I didn’t like in the bamboo forests were all the giant fake insects that were scattered through the forest. At one stage I was climbing a hill in an isolated part of the forest and looked up and saw this giant ant in front of me. Although it took only a second to register that it was not real, my heart missed a beat in that moment.


The wetlands offered some nice boardwalks through valleys and around large ponds. I didn’t see a lot of wildlife except a small snake on one of the boardwalks. I don’t know whether it was poisonous or not (it was brown with a yellow-banded neck) but I stepped back and let it have right-of-way. I don’t think you would find any real snakes like that in Disneyland.


Next year OCT East will expand to include a ‘Red Wine Town’ (sounds interesting) and a “Statue of Guanyin Sitting in a Lotus Throne” according to the promotional literature. If you are not staying at the Interlaken hotel (in which case entrance to all the park areas is free) you can buy a day pass on arrival for 128 yuan (about US$15) which is quite good value. It takes about an hour to reach OCT East from downtown Shenzhen, and about two hours from downtown Hong Kong.

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