Thursday, December 22, 2016

China Adventures--Spring 2009

I left Seattle on April 12, 2009 on United Air to Beijing, China by using 65,000 frequent flyer miles.  A comparable round trip air ticket would have cost $1,324.  After clearing immigration I rode the Airport Express train to downtown Beijing at a cost of 25 RMB--about $3.50--for a 20 minute ride.

Leshan Buddha
I stayed at the Lonely Planet China guide recommended hostel, the Leo Hostel near Tiananmen Square  and a subway station for $7 per night.  It was here where I signed up for the "Secret" Great Wall of China tour.

My trip to China included visits to all of the major tourist places.  I started in Beijing which included a 5 mile hike along the “Secret” Great Wall of China.

I toured around Beijing for a few days including visits to the Hutongs on this bicycle rickshaw which are characterized by narrow alleys and private courtyards.

I was joined with lots of locals on my  weekend trip to the Temple of Heaven.

I checked out the grounds of the Olympics that were held the previous year.  Both the Birds Nest pavilion and the Water venue were spectacular.

I then began my train travels to see the Shaolin Monks  and Mai, a local woman, offered to walk me around the temple grounds where we saw large groups of monks in their practice fields, others playing around and posing near their dormitories and then a formal performance---Ooh! Grasshopper!

These stele forest contains the remains of wealthy patrons and notable monks.

My next stop was to see the Terra cotta warriors near Xi'an.  I stopped to watch this water fountain show in Xi'an before heading out to view the Terra cotta warriors and nearby First Emperor of China, Qin Shia Huang, burial site which is dated back to the 3rd Century.  To keep the Emperor company, all of his wives were killed and buried with him as were all of the workers and craftsmen who built the miniature city and terra-cotta warriors.

View from Qin Shi Huang's Tomb


Lots of reconstruction work goes into the large number of statutes you see in the above pictures.

Some estimates in the three pits uncovered so far indicate that there are over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 500 horses, and 150 calvary horses along with an assortment of other characters like acrobats, strong men, officials, and musicians.

After returning to Xi'an, I toured a bit more of Xi'an and got some great views of the city from this tower. 

In my travels around China, I saw frequently how quickly highways and transportation routes using trains and subways were built.  They just seemed to plow up the streets and old neighborhoods without delays that are the norm here in the US.

Still I found lots of bells to ring and drums to beat.

Views from the Drum Tower

A beautiful performance inside the Drum Tower

It just took an hour train ride from Xi'an to Hua Shan National Park where I hiked up to all five summits before taking the cable car down as the rains increased and darkness was falling.

The safety chains are festooned with "love locks" which are locks that have been inscribed with the lovers names along with a red ribbon that contains a special message.  The vendors found along the way do quite a business engraving these love locks and painting messages on the red ribbons.

Here is one of the vendor spots.


I ended up buying this flimsy rain jacket since it was raining so hard, and they had closed off the Changkong Zhandao--"Vast Sky Plank Walk" ---so I missed out in traversing the scariest part of the Park.  Below are two pictures of what I missed.

Upon returning to Xi'an I checked out some additional sights.  They have rebuilt the old wall circling the old town with frequent watch towers along the way.  Frequently I would be asked to have my picture taken with other Chinese tourists and here is one.  This father was from an outlying village and was dropping off his only daughter in Xi'an to attend college.

A popular walking street.

I found lots of interesting shops and eating places in this Muslim Market.  About 20,000 Muslims live in Xi'an and own almost all of the shops in this market area.  Nearby is the Great Mosque of Xi'an which is the largest mosque in China.

Great Mosque of Xi'an

I then took a night train to Chengdu.  It was a very comfortable ride even though I got an upper bunk rather than my favored lower bunk.

I arrived in Chengdu early morning and the staff at the Loft Hostel let me shower and then register for a $6 dorm bed.  They had scheduled an early morning tour with other guests and I was able to join them right away to see the Pandas.  They indicated that early morning was the best time to see them because that is when the Pandas were fed. If we went out later, they said that all we would see is a bunch of sleeping Pandas.  I enjoyed seeing the Pandas feasting on  bamboo and sugar cane in Chengdu. 

This youngster was a bit too adventuresome for his skill level and ended up falling to the ground a little after I took these pictures.  He then got up and tried again. 

Here is the nursery and clinic where the young Pandas are checked out and where some tourists pay to hold a young Panda after they wash up and put on the blue gowns.

This park also housed these Red Pandas which looked worse for the wear with chewed up tails and continual pacing in their compounds.

Chengdu’s People’s Park was a lot of fun visiting with its Tea Houses and people enjoying each other dancing, performing, playing badminton or just sipping tea. 

A photo shoot in the park

In addition to having some lunch and tea, I took some time to get a back and foot massage.  They were also offering to clean out your ears with these long sharp looking instruments or stick a candle in your ear.  Some were offering to clip your nose and ear hairs as well.  I stuck to just the massage.  Throughout the park there were small clusters of people singing or dancing or playing badminton.

Near the park was the entertainment area along with a Science and Technology museum with a huge statute of Chairman Mao placed in front.

The Loft Hostel staff arranged a bus ride for me to view the largest carved Buddha in the world at Leshan.  It was a short bus ride out there and I was the only Westerner on this bus. I had planned to take a boat on the river that would drive up and down in front of the Buddha, but the boat line was too long so I just walked the short way to the Buddha statute along an interesting vendor filled pathway.

At more than 230 feet tall, it was hard to take in with such a close up view of the Buddha.  I began viewing it from the top and then I made my way down the staircase to the bottom where the feet were.  It was so big and well finished off that I found it hard to leave.  You can see how big it is when you see the people in these photos by this seated Buddha.  The only way to photograph the entire Buddha is from a boat or across the converging 3 rivers.


Here is the stairway alongside the Buddha

Big toes, huh?

Nearby, I visited some lesser statutes that were carved out of the same stone mountain.

From Chengdu, I traveled to Chongqing by a 2 hour train ride.  I began my 4 day cruise down the Three Gorges  to Yichang and the Three Gorges Dam with stops on the way at the Fengdu “Ghost City” and the White Emperor City along with a cruise on a smaller boat up the Misty Gorge in Wushan.

I am at the travel agency to book my 4 day cruise and double checking that I will have an English speaking guide.  It turned out that I was one of three Westerners among the 200 passengers.  The other two were women from Lithuania who spoke English as a second language.  During the cruise our guide would be describing some of the sights along the way and would spend about 10 minutes speaking in Chinese and then turn to the three of us and provide us with about 20 seconds of a description.  That was OK though since I am not a big fan of long winded tour guides.  The scenery was enough for me.

The boats are being loaded up with food and fresh linens.

They use these large diagonal elevators to move supplies and people from the city center down to the boats.

The Captain greets me and other passengers aboard.

We leave at night as the well decorated buildings, bridges and streets are awash in colorful lights.

With every meal we are greeted by the Captain and the dining service crew.


Here is the English speaking contingent on the cruise doing a bit of cheer.

We ended up making the rounds at most of the other tables for more drink and group photographs.  These passengers really enjoyed the free flowing drinks and repeated toasts.

She was one of the two servers we had during this cruise.  She spoke just a little English while none of the other passengers did.

Here is our other server

Our first stop was at the Ghost City that was filled with creepy characters like this one.  I guess it takes a scary one of these to chase away the really scary ghosts.

Most of the time we traveled through fog and rain.  At this stop a bunch of curious kids wanted to have me in their photographs since they had never seen a Westerner before now.  They were on a bus tour with their families to the White Emperor City where we met.

We continued on our mystical journey through this mist filled gorge.

At Wushan, we transferred to smaller boats to travel up the Misty Gorge---so far all of the gorges we have seen have been misty---where we would see waterfalls and hanging coffins.

On our last night, the crew did a number of dance performances and fashion show featuring lots of various ethnic costumes along with singing.  After that, the MC had each table group get up and perform---dancing, singing or some other performance.  The MC then pointed to me and handed me the mic.  What could I do with about 200 passengers looking on after they had performed and continued to drink with each performance.  So I began to sing, "Three Jolly Coachmen"--the song I used as a lullaby to my daughter when she was little.  They loved it as I pantomimed having yet another flagon.  They clapped along with my singing and at the end toasted me at their tables--along with picture taking.

The next morning we arrived at the Three Gorges Dam and Yichang where we got on buses for a tour of the dam.  Here I got my first glimpse of Westerners who were in large tour groups with other Westerners.

From here I took a bus and car to Changsa and Shaoshan, the home town of Mao during the May 4th youth day. Apparently this is not a real tourist draw for Westerners for I did not see any until arriving in Guilin a few days later.

One way to beat the chaff from the wheat.

Mao's Home

Museum Displays Mao Meeting with other World Leaders.

The Changsa school where Mao was a student from 1913 to 1918 and then returned in 1920 and taught history and later was the principal until 1922.

Here is the Communist Party Headquarters building when Mao was in Changsa.

When I was in Changsa, the nearby college was having a show which included a fashion show, tourism, culinary arts, and language arts.

The fashion show included students in ethnic garb as well as models who wore clothing designed by students and makeup done by other students.  This is the beautiful result.

They even had me try my hand at carving a fish out of modeling clay with close assistance from the instructor and students.

How about these veggies?

Afterward, I had lunch at this nearby restaurant much to the delight of the waitresses as I used my Lonely Planet food guide in Chinese script to order.  

The food tastes OK with no strange parts sticking out.

I took another night train from Changsa to Guillin which was about a 7 hour ride, hard sleeper for about $20.  I stayed at the Guilin Flowers Inn Hostel dorm room for $6 per night.

While I was in Guilin I first headed to the Solitary Beauty Park where I met two Chinese tourists and female guide who joined me seeing some of the sights in Guilin.

At many of the tourist sites in China, they rent out traditional garb so you can have your picture taken wearing it.  Although I didn't wear one here, this beautiful woman did and invited me to take her picture which added to the beautiful scenery.

Not quite Starbucks, but at least they didn't counterfeit the Starbucks logo.

I figured that if you are in China, you should stop at a Chinese Tea Shop that this fellow got me to visit to "help" out his sister who ran this shop.

After walking about, I ended up at this "hospital" where I got a foot massage along with some Chinese medicine.

Now time for a duck dinner.

Followed by some acrobatic entertainment.

We ended the evening at a local bar near my Guilin Flowers Inn hostel.

In the morning, I traveled to see the Dragons's Backbone Rice Terraces and watched the Yao women with their long hair perform for us.

I saw this cormorant fisherman when I returned to Guilin while on my way to another show.

From Guilin, I took my most enjoyable river cruise down the Li River to Yangshuo. 


Once in Yangshuo, I enjoyed visiting the Walking street.  I signed up for a bicycle tour with a local guide for the following day.

While I was having dinner a couple of Chinese students asked I they could join me.  Apparently their teacher had told them to practice their English on tourists while they were visiting here.

Apple and Wei Li--Winnie--joined me and told me about their studies at the Agricultural College.  Told them a bit about myself and indicated I would be doing a bicycle tour tomorrow and invited them to join me.

I met up with my guide, Miki, and only Wei Li joined us for the bicycle tour.  Shortly after we started we came to a vendor that was selling the floral headdresses so I bought them--very stylish.

Miki took us along some of the roads and then the smaller paths right amongst the rice paddies and stopped at some of the farmhouses.

We stopped for tea near the Moon Hill and then headed on to visit with Miki's father and son at their farm.

We continued through the rice paddies until we stopped for lunch by the Yulong River where we picked out a fresh fish for lunch before floating down the river on bamboo rafts.

Wei Li then got on the rafts to float down the river and go over some of the coffer dams along the way and Miki would meet us at the end of our raft trip.

In this clip, you can see and hear us going over one of the coffer dams.

I also saw the Impressions Liu Sanjie performance on the Li River which involved over 600 performers.  The director, Zhan Yimou, is the same person who directed the opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics.

We had a last dinner out before each of us went our separate ways.  Me to nearby Xingping and they back to their college.

I just had a 20 minute bus ride to Xingping, and the rains just began to pour down.  As soon as I got off the bus, I bought an umbrella even though it didn't keep my pants and shoes dry. 

This is about the same view you have on the back of the 20 Yuan bill.  Notice the muddy water joining the Li River.


The heavy rains of Yanghsuo and Xingping got me to take the night train to Kunming and Dali where there were bright blue skies and sunshine.  I bicycled around and visited the local school before I headed off to Lijiang.

My night train bunk mate was a police man from Guilin who was beginning his vacation.

The old quarter which had been restored was where I spent most of my time while in Dali.  Most of the streets there are walking streets with streams running along the streets either just above the landscaped grounds or just under the walkway pavers.

View of the walking street from the guard tower.

This tea shop has a bagged packed tea in this tree shape near the entrance.

Here is where the water comes out to this created waterfall along the walking street.

While I was at a street-side cafe some high school students came up to me to practice their English.  They then invited me to come to their school in the afternoon to speak to their English class.  I showed up and spent about 2 hours in two different classrooms talking to them in English and answering their questions about America including President Obama.  However, what most interested them was what activities my teenage daughter was involved in.  I told them about how she had a horse when she was younger that she took care of and rode and then how she participated in track in middle school and high school, and drill team, track, and volleyball in high school.  What they really wanted to hear about my daughter was the dating practices of teenagers in the US.  What does a father really know anyway??

At the end of the sessions, the teacher appointed a student to treat me to dinner.  It turned out that the student's parents owned a restaurant.  He and a bunch of his friends accompanied me to the restaurant which was just off the walking street.  We had a great time and I offered to pay, but the parents were insistent that I was to be treated.

The following day, I rented a bicycle to travel around the area where I saw some buildings that had not been restored which were near the Guanyin Buddhist Temple.

This vegetable store has one of the walking street creeks flowing by it which they use to rinse the dirt off the vegetables.

You can see the channel where the water flows just under the tables on the left.

I don't speak Chinese but this restaurant manager seemed to be angrily chewing out his workers just before the restaurant opens.  I saw similar group meetings at restaurants and shops during my travels.  Perhaps he is actually complimenting them on their work the day before, but it sounded pretty harsh to me and the workers seemed to cast down their heads every so often.  

They seem to have an art to order operation here in Dali as well.  This is one of the favorite tourist spots for the Chinese tourists who arrive in big tour buses accompanied by their guides with their ever present flags to lead their flock of tourists. 

I took a two hour train from Dali to Lijiang, which was another walking street village with channels of river running through.  After getting off the train station, I shared a taxi with two Chinese tourists who also wanted to go to the Old Quarters of Lijiang.

People have these inscribed messages hung on this trellis for all reasons.  When the wind blows, it makes a wooden chime sound.

While I was near the iconic Waterwheels these models were posing so I took a few pictures as well.

Further down the walking street these people perform frequently this circle dance and tourists are invited to participate.

I stayed at the International Youth Hostel for just $5 per night in the dorms which were just around the corner from this waterway that passes thorough the entire Old Quarters of Lijiang.

I attended the famous Naxi Traditional Ancient Hall performance and in addition you can hear this music played throughout Lijiang.

The following day, I headed up the hill overlooking the Old Quarter for some views and I ended up eating lunch with this Chinese "cowboy". 

Wanggu Lou Pagoda was my next stop and I was talked into wearing this traditional Lijiang garb.

I think my hat is made from a red panda.

In the morning I took a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to Tina's Hostel at the beginning of the Leaping Tiger Gorge.  Several people dropped off their excess luggage before going on this 2 day hike, and I was able to travel with what I normally had.

I started out hiking by myself and was quickly joined up by Lydia from the US, and Rolf from Holland for our first days hike.

We gradually headed up hill our first day out along with several other people.

Rolf and Lydia are rounding the corner to our first big rest stop.

This is one of those "Two Roads Diverged...." places and the signs indicate approximately how many more minutes you will have to walk before coming to specific guesthouses/restaurants.  We took the upper, more scenic route.

We are now approaching our first lunch spot and gathering place for other trekkers.

We enjoyed seeing this beautiful pink bougainville plant as we settled in for lunch and they had rows of corn drying in the sun.

This hiker posed for me in front of the bougainville plant and I do not think she really knows the meaning of her Tee shirt.  I found some very strange sayings and pictures on people's Tee shirts and clothing and other places as well over here.

As you can see this is a farmed area and not the wilderness that you normally are accustomed to seeing in major Parks.  

Lydia is sharing her pictures with this villager.

She was enjoying the treats I was sharing with her.

The Jinsha River flows through the Leaping Tiger Gorge.

Some villagers were out for a hike to a neighboring village for the day.

This trail is as much for villagers as it is for us tourists.

We ended up staying at the Halfway House Hostel with this fabulous view of the Gorge and mountains beyond.

We are approaching this waterfall on our second day of the trek.

Rolf is enjoying his spot in the sun and spray.

These prayer flags denote that we are near the end of our trek.

Now that we have finished the Leaping Tiger Gorge hike, we had to figure out how to get back to the start of our hike at the Tina's Hostel where Lydia and Rolf had stored their excess baggage.  We had two other hikers join us on the last day, one from the US and the other is Chinese.

In the rapids below is the rock that supposedly a tiger leaped on to it to get to the other side of the valley to flee a hunter, and that is how this gorge got its name.  To get to the rock below, we would have had to hike down about 3,000 feet and back up again and we all passed this opportunity.

Fortunately a bus was parked near this bridge so we were able to get back on a very narrow twisty road.  Good thing they have lots of barricades on the more dangerous spots.

After the Leaping Tiger Gorge trek, I visited Shangri La as did Lydia by taking a 2 hour local bus.  We first headed to the Buddhist monastery before it closed for the day.

Anybody remember Alfred E. Newman?

View from the Monastery

We took a bus back to town to locate a hostel for the night and to see some of the downtown area.

As in Lijiang, the folks in Shangri La enjoy group dances in the town square with many wearing some traditional garb.  While I was at the hotel, I met Echo Tong, who was involved in international travel reporting for various Chinese media outlets.

I returned to Lijiang to catch another night train to Shanghai.  While on the train, I bought an interesting dinner complete with some pink mystery meat which I sampled---did not taste like chicken though.

Once in Shanghai I decided to leave the city as soon as I could because of the heavy pollution that blocked out the sun and even smelled.

I took a boat tour along the Bund area of the Yangtze River and the views were obscured by the pollution as well as all of the construction occurring all along the Bund.

I don't even think that Mao would enjoy this polluted view. 

She is one of my tour buddies.

I thought I would try to get an overview of the city by going up one of these tall buildings, but the smog was too thick.

I did enjoy a glass of red wine with another tall building seen just behind me.

Nightfall brought out all of the lit up buildings, and the walking street was filling up as people got off work.

To escape the pollution of Shanghai, I took a short train ride to Hangzhou and the West Lake.  Good to get some fresh air and blue skies.  While there, I enjoyed walking around the lake and watching groups of people playing music, sports, dancing, eating and boating.  I met two young Chinese women who joined me so they could improve their English and learn about me and my travels.  Rachael To and Cynthia Chen joined me for lunch and a later walk about the West Lake before I boarded a bus to return to Shanghai.  Both of these women have had the opportunity to travel a lot outside China.

I was nearing the end of my time in China so I decided that I would head to the walled city of Pingyao before leaving China.  It would be my last night train experience in China.  I have really enjoyed traveling these long distances by train.  My challenge in buying tickets was simplified by using and highlighting the Chinese script for the city I wanted to go to as shown in the Lonely Planet guide, a calendar to show the day of the travel and a description in Chinese script that I wanted a "hard sleeper" if it was a night journey.  My system worked very well since most could not speak or read any English and I was the same with Chinese.  Other than in the bigger cities, there were few people who spoke any English during my travels.

It turns out that much of Pingyao has been restored to a pristine conditions suitable for both Chinese and foreign tourists.  Inside the walled city the motorized vehicles were severely restricted and I found it easy to travel by foot and an occasional rented bicycle.

I stayed at this Yamen Hostel which had a beautiful courtyard and nicely decorated rooms on all sides of the courtyard.

They had a number of these dioramas set up to display daily life during an earlier period.  They also had actors doing re-enactments as well.  This place is kind of like a Chinese version of Knotts Berry Farm in Los Angeles.

I think this had to do with a tax collector and an errant tax payer and the consequences of not paying---jail or worse.

In the spirit world, it even got worse.

To add to the fun for tourists, they would rent you these traditional garbs so you could have your picture taken in this setting.

Who says you can't be emperor for the day?

These inflatables were set up for either a wedding or funeral with fireworks that followed.

A six hour train ride got me back to Beijing and the Leo Hostel where I first started my two month journey around China.  

For my last dinner, I went across the street and had a big duck meal.

Cost of Trip

The 63 day trip throughout China was $3,698 for a daily cost of $59 per day.  Food costs were $1,197 with a daily cost of $19 per day. Travel and tour costs were $1,570 with $277 for the four day 3 Gorges trip and much of the rest of the travel cost was for train travel.

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