Posts Tagged With: Chengdu

China an overview

 

Well the time has finally come to leave China and move on to the next leg of our little adventure. I guess it is time to take stock of what we have done, where we have been and run through the highlights and lowlights of the time spent in China. We are actually not entirely finished as we will be back in Hong Kong in October and may pop into Macao for a day or two depending upon how the other plans go.

Overall our time in China has been fantastic and I would highly recommend this as a tourist destination for any of you. There are some myths about needing mandarin to travel in China which are quite frankly totally wrong. After a cumulative 7 months full time here we would be lucky to know 20-30 words and have been completely off the beaten path where no English is spoken. The Chinese people are really helpful and a couple of bits of technology gets you through most binds (see Jill’s travel tips section).

So in summary we spent –

205 – Days in China
50 – Cities slept in (more visited or day tripped)
25 – Provinces visited (of 32)
China Map

We have been discussing our best and worst bits and came up with very little on the negative side with the overall impression being ridiculously positive. The other thing we tried to do was to develop a must see itinerary for those seeking to travel here. China however is like Australia and the distances and travel times make seeing everything impossible unless you have unlimited time (there are still things that we missed out on and want to see).

The other thing that stumped us was that some of the must sees (Terracotta Warriors and 3 Gorges Cruise etc.) were some of the least impressive things that we have been to…but how can you really come here and not see them…so despite being so-so I guess they remain must sees. They were ok and it is nice to say that we have been but there is so much better to see in China and if time were limited (which it almost always will be) there are much better places to go.

The other thing was that Jill and I liked different things. She has turned into a mountain goat while here, relishing the stair climbs (that are everywhere)…while I have gone the other way cursing stairs at every opportunity. Obviously there are some things that were awesome for both of us. The Great Wall of China is an absolute must and the best spot is the Mutianyu section (about 60kms outside of Beijing). The other thing that must be done is getting into some of the provinces. Each minority of China is quite different and these differences should be experienced. So here it is…

Traditional Must Sees

The Great Wall of China
Forbidden City
Tiananmen Square
The summer palace
Gate of heavenly peace
Mao’s Tomb
Shanghai
Walled cities
Hanging Monastery
The terracotta Warriors
3 gorges dam
Tibet ?

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Most of these are easy to achieve from Beijing with limited travel times and this could be done in a two week stint if you push a little bit. The warriors is a quick pop across to Xian where the Muslim quarter is a must. Xian is a walled city but Jill’s suggestions are that Pingyao and Datong are better examples and from Datong you can also see the hanging monastery and Yúngāng Caves..head down and out through Shanghai and all of this within the two week journey.

Tibet is a whole other issue. There seems to be a global interest in Tibet given the Dalai Lama scenario but having been there we would never return. The Everest leg was nice and something we will no doubt brag about down the track but way too difficult to be worth the 2 hour photo shoot that we got. Especially given that a lot of the time it is clouded over and you don’t get a nice view (we were blessed with perfect weather). The food was terrible but the road between Lhasa and Shigatse was the highlight but it is a tough schlepp and should not be taken lightly.

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Lesser known gems

These are the things that do not immediately come to mind when you think of China but having been there and experienced them they are VERY high on both of our lists. We would do almost all of these before the last 3 on the earlier list…but they are less famous.

Guilin to Yangshou river rafting
Jiuzhaigou – Jiuzhai national park with blue lakes and waterfalls everywhere
Harbin – ice festival
Kunming – Stone forest
Kashgar – livestock market
Chengdu – panda breeding centre + giant Buddha at Leshan

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This list of places will probably not make an initial itinerary however were really nice spots to either kick back or enjoy a lesser paced time getting to know the real China or seeing sights in a less hectic manner. Nice if you have heaps of time but sadly will be missed by most.

Dali – walled city
Dandong – North Korean border
Shanhaiguan – wall meets ocean + first mountain pass
Mountains – Wutaishan, Mianshan, Taishan,
Xiahe – monastery (more Tibetan than Tibet)
Anshun – biggest waterfall in China
Hohhot – Inner Mongolia
Hangzhou – west lake
Shangri-la – mini Tibet

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After this there were a bunch of cities that we stayed in that we found to be totally charming and full of the local Chinese culture and lifestyle but not necessarily likely to get a tourist visit. We would go back to them as we had a really good time eating, drinking and mingling with the locals. Places like Xining where we relaxed after the Tibet ordeal, or Yinchuan where they had 20 quai massages and free street theatre, or Guangzhou where we lazed eating super cheap food in a street that turned into restaurantville after dark.

Myths

You need to speak Chinese – rubbish…almost every Chinese person you meet will try and help you as much as they can. If you have a smile and a nice attitude you will never go wrong. A translator app on your phone and a dictionary style app like Pleco will get you through every drama.
Don’t eat the street food – rubbish…this is the tastiest, cheapest and best food to eat in China. It is clean, and turned over so frequently that most of the time it will be made in front of you. There is tourist food with snakes, bugs and scorpions etc but these are mostly for show and photographs. The every day stuff is fine.
China is dangerous – rubbish…be aware of your surroundings, as you always should be in any country, and you will feel and be safer than you would on any Australian street.

The bad bits

The absolute epitome of all things that are wrong with China exist and are openly displayed by one group especially…The Dama. This is not to say that these traits are not widely available but the Chinese Aunties (or Dama) are the group that has embraced or inherited all that is wrong with China. They are by no means the cause of it…but when looking at the offensive behaviour that exists in China…7 out of 10 times you will see it displayed by one of these aunties.

By night they are happy middle aged women dancing in the parks and public spaces (pissing off the locals with the loud music but amusing the tourists). But during the day they are the phlegm spelunking, bodily fluid hacking, phone yelling, street blocking, child pissing, line ignoring, elbow throwing, crowd pushing group that is oblivious to and ignorant of all those around them.

In a newspaper rant the Chinese papers tried to explain the attitude claiming that … Growing up during the Chinese revolution these Dama worked hard and didn’t enjoy good life when they were young; they only tried their best to save money. Now their children have grown up. With retirement pensions, they have more free time and money to spend on their own life. This explains some of it but not all.

The older generation has some of the worst Chinese traits, the younger generation has reasonably few of them…but the Dama…the Chinese baby boomer equivalents are shockers. And they are mostly women…probably because the men had chain smoked themselves into an early grave. The middle group that is the Dama is atrocious and the worst China has to see and offer.

But the future is bright. The current generation is influenced by the poor examples set and is revolting against this. They are more polite, more aware that other people exist, and less likely to hock bodily fluids around the streets. There is still a long way to go…yelling still takes place and the ignorance of those around them remains high. Smoking will be the next hurdle to be fought as it is impossible to go anywhere without being swamped by cigarette smoke (despite no smoking signs everywhere). No meal can be eaten without half the restaurant firing up after their food.

A Snapshot

Once again we will finish on a selection of thumbnails of our favourite moments…needless to say after 7 months there are too many to try and put on our little post. If anybody is thinking of a trip here we would be happy to provide any advice or share any insights we may have that may help your planning.

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Last minute thoughts

China has recently introduced 72 hour Visa free cities…20 of them in total. This presents the perfect opportunity for stopover tasters as you head to other destinations. Guilin is one of these and was my favourite spot…72 hrs would be enough time to fly in, poke around, crash, take the raft to Yangshou, poke around, crash then return to Guilin for the flight out. This was debatably our best day and certainly one of our best days in China.

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And the adventure continues…

 

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Jiuzhai national park

 

After leaving Chengdu we made our way on an 11 hr bus ride to Jiuzhaigou (nine villages valley) which is the home of the Jiuzhai national park. Jiuzhaigou Valley is on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and is another documentary special joint that will be instantly recognisable. It is known for multi-level waterfalls, colorful lakes, and snow-capped peaks. But the standout features are the crystal clear lakes with the fallen trees within that are 100% visible due to the clarity of the water.

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On our drive here in the bus we climbed up over the 3500 metre mark…so much so that snow was falling. This is not something we had expected and were dressed much more for the 30 degree days of Chengdu than we were for snow falling at altitude. Thankfully the town was down at around the 2000 metre mark so there was no snow by the time we arrived.

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The place actually has wild pandas (not that you would ever see one) and the Sichuan golden monkeys. this place is stunning. there will not be a heap of text on this post as essentially we hiked around this national park taking a bucket load of photos that will never do this place justice. Neither our phone cameras nor our photographic abilities will be good enough to truly represent his place. But we eagerly took our happy snaps and I hope you enjoy them.

 

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The park is huge and there are about 15-20 crystal clear lakes and too many waterfalls to count. The water cascades over just about everything and at every turn there is a phenomenal sight. They have built a wooden boardwalk style thing so as not to disrupt the nature from us trampling hordes. So much so that the blurb identifies that there is over 70 kilometres of boardwalk that was built through the park. We did not walk the whole 70 but there was at least 15-20 kilometres hiked by us.

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Did I mention that we were both losing weight…I think this sort of walking around the various sights may be helping…but what would I know.

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Alas these photos will never truly do this place justice. The full spectrum of colours was on display and the different shades of green, blue and brown in the waters was something to behold. If you are compiling a bucket list then I would seriously consider putting this place high upon the list.

 

 

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Chengdu…

 

Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province in southwestern China. What it is most known for nowadays is that it is the global home of the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base…the launching point for the world’s largest (Leshan Giant) Buddha…and the home of Sichuan (or Szechuan) cooking. All of these things you would probably have seen on documentaries of lifestyle type programs on the box.

We arrived on a national holiday weekend so the place was nutty and we hid from the crowds for the first couple of days. Planning the next legs of the journey which seems like it will take us into Kyrgyzstan for my birthday in downtown Bishkek. Added to this Jill downloaded the bits that she needed for her next assignment.

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Sichuan province is the home of about 80% of the 1500 pandas that are alive today. It is also where they established a breeding research base about 10 km from the middle of town… which is awesome. It costs about $10 to spend a day there, but the early mornings are the best time as they are up and about and active. For about $120…($140 on weekends) you can volunteer providing keeper duties (shovelling $hit and lugging bamboo…I presume) and be shown through some of the studies…and get a certificate. For double the price…you can do it for two days. For under $350 (2000 yuan) you can have your photo taken cuddling a baby panda. In any case your $10 buys you great views of lots of adult and baby pandas doing panda-esque activities.

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The Leshan Giant Buddha is a 71 metre tall Buddha carved into a cliff face and is the tallest Buddha in the world. Wiki tells me that construction started in 713 and finished 90 years later. A Chinese monk named Haitong hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels traveling down the river. As it happened the carved away stone removed from the cliff face got dumped in the river below…changing the currents…making the water safe for passing ships.

The Buddha was pretty darn big and the hike from the top to the bottom and back up again was not too onerous. It was however made amusing by a hoard of Chinese women attempting to do it in the ridiculous high heeled stripper shoes that they all tend to wear. This is a common theme of hikes within China…Chinese women attend in short skirts and 4 inch+ high heels and climb mountains etc.

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Sichuan (or Szechuan) cooking is possibly the hottest food on the planet. The use of spices and rear splitting chillies puts shame to the hottest of Indian vindaloo’s. The real issue is that everything on the menu is like this…so there is absolutely no respite from the chilli onslaught.

Our first night we hit a joint around the corner and pointed at the pictures of what seemed like three fairly innocuous dishes. The first we both agreed was a photo of crab claws…what arrived was the skull of a small mammal… drenched in chilli and oozing chilli oil…Jill laughed and left it to me…I ate it…and we took the photo back to the hostel to ask the guys there to name that animal…it was a rabbit…much happier now.

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The next was a mushroom dish that had large red and green chillies and seeds throughout… Jill managed three mouthfuls of this while I ate bugs’s skull…before she quickly began downing her amber ale. After splitting the skull apart and eating the meaty bits I moved to the mushrooms which were milder than the skull…then our main came which was a pork and mushroom deal…OMG…this one had a bite to it…

Safe to say that not one of Jill’s side of the family would survive here…some of my lot would be ok…but even the kamikazes will find this joint on the challenging side. The key issue is that there is no respite and the cumulative effect is debilitating. In addition to the chilli there is a special Sichuan pepper which adds another numbing dimension. We did another cooking course…where we learned to use the murderous items from the night before. So upon our return (whenever that may be) we are equipped to replicate some of these gems…any volunteers?

I hate to admit this but I am actually developing a taste for eating tofu… Tofu for me was always tree hugging, hippie, vego freak, meat substitution, rubbish to be mocked mercilessly…along with the people who eat it (cos they don’t get enough protein so are too weak to lift their arms in objection to the mocking). It actually tastes ok when done right…don’t get me wrong… big slabs of cow is still king…but maybe the mocking will be reserved to the stuff like tofurkey or faken.

 

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Chongqing

Well we took another overnight sleeper carriage from Xian to Chongqing which again was very good. The reason for coming to Chongqing was that this is the departure point for a 4 day cruise down the Yangtze River through the 3 gorges and other generally good looking things. We had planned to do a side trip to Chengdu to check out the Pandas but our extension in Beijing kinda threw a spanner in the works on the timings.

As it turns out we have about 5 days here in Chongqing which on the face of it seems about 3 and a half days too long. The main tourist attraction is the Szechwan Hotpot. Which you can find almost everywhere so is not a real challenge. The main challenge is to be able to order and eat one without irrevocably destroying your colon. Now many of you would be aware that I am not shy of chilli and with Mike, Brad, and the occasional Scotty (sometimes fuelled by and other times quenched by beer) however this trip is pushing even my limits at times. I think mum’s mate from Sydney is the only bloke I have met who would do this comfortably.

On our first night in Chongqing we took an evening stroll along the Yangtze River to find a meal and then further again to let the meal settle and see what else was to be seen. We walked along the River bank, for about 8 Kms, and admired the obscene amounts of lights that get lit as they have a full time light show on ALL of the city buildings. Chongqing is a river city at the junction of the Yangtze and the Jialing rivers built amidst the mountains, as such it is steep, very steep. Now we have recovered from our stair traumas and are getting fitter each day with the walking etc…but steep is a whole other challenge. On the up side we have learned to walk to (or close to) exhaustion and pay the $2-3 cab fare back.

On our hike up the mountains (or city streets – depends on your perspective) this morning we had the best dumplings that I have ever had. Now, both fried and steamed dumplings have been a breakfast staple and we have had many including some great variations but today’s were sublime. On our walk yesterday evening, our side of the River was really dull and the other side looked really good. So we took the cable car from one side to the other. As it turned out our side is the cool side.

There is a zoo here so I will go and get a panda and tiger fix in (probably tomorrow). They sell a type of hoodie meets vest thing here that looks like a panda and we are wracking our brains to think of somebody who would appreciate such a thing. Dylan and Sky (Sao) come to mind but they are both too little and the others are all too big. The other challenge would then be to traverse the china postal service to send anything back home.

The next day came and went and we did in fact hit the zoo. It was incredible. Initially we were a touch disappointed when we got to the panda exhibit as the first exhibit was of an empty pen with a sign saying that this was Ling Ling’s pen and he moved in 2003. The second was a similar story but Yum Cha or Dim Sum or something had moved in 2007. The third pen had a panda up a tree. You could get a photo of the white blur of a panda’s ass (which we got) up a tree. We decided to see the rest of the zoo and come back later. The rest of the zoo was sensational with a minor issue of pen sizes for some bears (the only blight on an excellent zoo).

There was a tiger that took exception to a bird in his enclosure and was stalking it like prey and pouncing (unsuccessfully). His other 3 mates were in their own enclosures but were much less animated. The lion had a roaring session (not while we were watching but it could be heard throughout the park) that sent Chinese people racing for the enclosure. The orang-utans were old but were still way cool. And there was a horny pig getting his rocks off in the petting zoo. All of this was in addition to the regular zoo fare of elephants, zebras, camels, ostriches, monkeys, birds etc.

4 hours later and we gave the pandas another crack. The blur had left the tree and was munching on some bamboo but was mostly obstructed. An old couple came past with a guide they had hired who said that they would get better pictures from the other six upstairs…other six…upstairs…what the…I became a stalker waiting for them to leave so I could follow them to this mythical place that was…upstairs.

I didn’t have to wait too long and around a corner we went…then there were stairs to a gift shop…then another corner…and then the mystical stairs of which he spoke. Upon arriving atop the stairs six (count em six) open pens with platforms covered in fresh cut bamboo each housing seemingly famished great pandas munching away. All in clear plain sight, no camera impediments, no throngs of tourists just happy pandas having a feed. Claudia Naug would have been in utter bliss as we stood for about 30 mins watching, photographing and videoing them.

A final point on the zoo. It costs 30 yuan in peak season and 20 for us as it was off season. So based upon today’s exchange rate we got hours of entertainment for $3.46 each. These costs blow out considerably when you add the 4 yuan each, each way on the train. Jill had a 15 yuan ice cream and I had an 8 yuan mystery meat on a stick. All this adds up to the fact that 2 people had a 25km train journey to a zoo, paid entrance, got fed and got home for $13.66.

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Categories: China | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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