A Travellerspoint blog


Summer Palace & Tiananmen Square

overcast 27 °C
View Beijing to Southern China by car on hammr's travel map.

Wednesday was an overcast day. The temperature was 27 C (82 F for my American friends) and very humid.

Jeremy and I visited the Summer Palace in the morning. It is large and ornate but what really makes it impressive, is the size of the large man-made lake behind it, the park, the bridges and the buildings that encompass it. My pictures really didn't do it justice but I have attached photos of the entrance, the view across the lake to the Budhist temple behind the palace and a closer view of the waterlillies close to the temple. The palace encompasses an area of 2.9 square km and 2.2 square km of it is occupied by the man-made lake.

At noon, I hate to admit that we ate Scottish food ( McDonalds). Then we took the subway from the Summer Palace to Tiananmen Square. It is also quite large and we didn't go in but I have attached a picture of the entrance. We also did not have time to go to the forbidden city which is in the confines of the square.

We continued on the 'packed' subway and after being pushed one last time into a full train, we popped out near the apartment.

We met Mingsi and her mother, who had successfully driven from Shenyang to Beijing and we ate supper at the original Beijing (Peking) ' Roast Duck ' restaurant. The food was fabulous and I had the opportunity to test my skill with chopsticks again. I have included pictures of the chef carving the duck in front of our table and a picture of all of the food. I would liked to have tried my hand at carving the duck, but I could tell that he was far more experienced at it and I would probably have butchered it. They even gave me the birth certificates for the 2 ducks.

Tomorrow will bring new adventures as we head south.

Posted by hammr 09:16 Archived in China Tagged attractions Comments (0)

Day 3 - Luoyang (Ancient Tombs)

sunny 38 °C
View Beijing to Southern China by car on hammr's travel map.

Saturday, July 28

We ate breakfast in the hotel and it was more 'traditional' ( at least for me).  I had 'halogen eggs' ( hard-boiled eggs cooked in tea), fried zucchini , deep-fried chicken sticks, Italian noodles, yogurt that you drink with a straw, spring rolls, fried dumplings, scrambled eggs,  pork-filled buns and bread with butter and jam.  

We left Kaifeng for the Shaolin Temple, however we made a short side-trip and decided to go directly to Laoyang. There were more corn fields along the highways, however, we started to see more wooded valleys along the way.

We arrived in Luoyang in the afternoon and checked into a Jinjiang Inn, which is a good quality popular hotel chain in China. We went to the Luoyang Museum of Ancient Tombs where we saw numerous tombs and their artifacts from the tombs of several emporers.

For supper we had sweet and sour pork, baked chicken, rice and breaded beef strips.

The highways between cities are very new, in very good condition and there is not much traffic. The cities, on the other hand, are a completely different story. There are wide bike lanes on the roads, the road lanes are clearly marked and there are traffic lights at all major intersections, HOWEVER, these are only treated as 'suggestions'. Cars drive in any lane and even in the lanes going in the opposite direction. Bikes drive everywhere and they will regularly pull out in front of cars. Pedestrians will cross roads anywhere and at any time. So basically you have everyone breaking the rules and it looks like a symphony of unpredictability. Everyone is constantly cutting in front of other people and they each act as if they are they most important person on the road. It is no surprise that all cars have several dents and scratches. Driving in the cities is not for the faint of heart.

I found it quite interesting that although there are numerous new, state-of-the-art hydro transmission lines all through the country, the wiring in the 'non-tourist' areas of the city are not very well maintained.

There are several sights to be seen in this area, so we will be staying here a few days.

Posted by hammr 06:55 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 4 - Luoyang (Longmen Grottoes, Chariot Pits & ShaoLin)

sunny 39 °C
View Beijing to Southern China by car on hammr's travel map.

Sunday, July 29

After a traditional Chinese breakfast in the hotel, Jeremy, Nicole and I drove to the Longmen Grottoes to see cliff carvings. This is a walking tour that takes approximately 4 hours ( especially in the 39 C heat ) and includes climbing a lot of stairs along the sides of the cliffs in order to get a closer view of the carvings.

We were finished by noon so we proceeded back to the hotel for a spicy Szechuan meal. We made it there just before the restaurant closed for the customary break between 2 and 5 pm. While we were in there, the table next to us was drinking a lot of beer and one of them insisted that the waitress bring them more beer. She informed him that it was a restaurant and not a ' bar ' and that she could not bring him anymore beer. When he became very agitated, the waitress told him (in Mandarin) that he was embarrassing China in front of the 'foreigners' (that would be us). One of the other fellows calmed him down and they all left.

After lunch we went to see the Museum of Luoyang Eastern Zhou Royal Horse and Chariot Pits. These pits were recently excavated and they contain the skeletons of the horses and the carriages used by the royal family. They were impressive and very well preserved.

In the evening we drove to Dengfeng to see a musical called the ShaoLin Zen Music Ritual. On the way into town, a car beeped its horn next to us on the road and tried to sell us a hotel room for the night. When we told him that we had a room, he proceded to do the same thing to other motorists. We thought this was highly unusual until someone on an electrical bicycle did the same thing.

Nicole bought some tickets from a scalper (we have pictures to prove it) for 200 RMB ($35) each instead of the box office price of 250 RMB. This was a spectacular show with state-of-the-art sound stage and lighting. What made it even more spectacular was the fact that it was performed outside, between 2 mountains, with hundreds of actors over a large area.

I experienced my first occurrence of being a foreigner. While we were waiting for the show to start, Nicole pointed out that people were taking pictures of me...the strange looking, tall foreigner with the big nose! One person turned around to take a picture , but the 2 young ladies sitting next to me were more discreet. One took a picture of her friend but when I caught a glimpse of the photo, I was in the center of the picture and her friend was barely in the picture. What a waste of a picture!

Posted by hammr 18:47 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 5 - Drive from Luoyang to Xian

overcast 33 °C

Monday, July 30

A travel day.

We had planned to stop at Luanchuan but there were no highways so we decided to skip this stop and drive straight to Xian. This is a 5 hour drive and while we were on the way we decided to stop by and hike up Hua Shan mountain, however, by the time we got there (3 pm) they informed us that we didn't have enought time to make it to the top, so we decided to continue to Xian.

Each time we stopped at a rest stop, Nicole would buy another ice cream. One time she was fast asleep and she instantly woke up when we pulled into the rest stop. Its a good thing that we only stopped 3 times. She likes her ice cream!

We arrived in Xian at 4:30 pm. We decided to use the rest of the day to plan activities for the next couple of days. One of our primary objectives is to see the Terra Cotta warriors.

We checked about obtainng entrance visas to Tibet and the rules have changed significantly since June and it appears that they are trying to limit visas to organized groups. This will require some more investigation.

Posted by hammr 03:27 Archived in China Comments (1)

Day 6 - Xi'an (Li Shan Mountain & Terra Cotta Warriors)

semi-overcast 29 °C

Tuesday, July 31

We had a quick breakfast at the JinJiang Inn and then left for Weinan mid-morning.

Our first stop was Li Shan Mountain. It was the birthday of a Buddha ( I am not sure which one) and Nicole thought it would be a good day to see the celebrations while we were there. What she didn't realize was the everyone else in China also thought it would be a great day to visit the area and that a market had been set up to celebrate the day and attract more people. It took us 40 minutes to get to Weinan and it took us almost 1 hour to drive to 3 miles up to the entrance near the top of the mountain, squeezing in-between people, motorcycles and cars going every direction. At the entrance to the attraction, we started our hike by walking through a large Aviary and then we passed through a huge market that was so congested that it would have made a claustrophobic person scream. After we got out of the market area we proceded up the steps to the top of the mountain where we took pictures of the beautiful landscape.

I had been warned by Nicole that they don't see many ' foreigners' in the smaller towns and ' staring' is not considered rude, but I hadn't really paid much attention to it until the last few days when I experienced it first-hand. While I was in the crowded obervation area, I noticed several people taking pictures of me. I could see a couple of young ladies giggling and trying to take my picture discretely (similar to the previous day) however, when one of them noticed that I saw her take a picture of me while using her friend to block the view, she quickly tried to hide her camera. I used sign language to indicate to her that she could take my picture if she wanted and the other young lady quickly came and stood beside me for a picture. After taking a few pictures, we hiked down a newer, less-travelled, but much easier trail back down the mountain.. On the way down, a little girl going up the mountain with her mother, gasped when she saw me and quickly covered her mouth to hide her surprise. As she walked up past me, I could see her looking back down at me. I can only imagine how much fun the locals would have with some of the people I know...!

When we got to the bottom of the mountain, we realized we were a long way from where we had parked our car and since the traffic was still very congested, we decided to take the local bus to go see the Terra Cotta warriors. We grabbed a quick lunch before entering the gates, The ' museum' consists of a series of buildings that house the collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife, and to make sure that he had people to rule over. This is a ' must see ' attraction in China. It is hard to fathom the size of these pits and the intricate work involved in constructing all the warriors, their horses and the buildings that originally housed them underground. I took a lot of pictures but, like the Grand Canyon, pictures do not do it justice. You can read about this and look at pictures but, as with most things, it is always best to see it for yourself.

As we left the museum area, Jeremy and I were asked by a family to have our picture taken with them. Nicole had stopped to buy a pomegranate, and caught up with us in time to take a picture of the father and his two daughters with us. I think they were hoping that Jeremy was single!

From the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit, we took a 'local' bus to the point at the base of the mountain where our car was parked. The bus stops for anyone on the side of the road and it keeps picking up passengers until there is no more room. The cost is usually 1 or 2 RMB ( 20 cents ) to go anywhere in town. When we got off the bus, Jeremy 'bartered' with a taxi driver to take us back up the mountain to our car. The taxi driver wanted 50 RMB but with Jeremy's excellent bartering tactics, it ended up costing 30 RMB { $ 5 } for the 3 of us. Everywhere we go the people are surprised at how good Jeremy's Mandarin is, and that has helped us a lot as we travel through the southern provinces. Even Nicole has commented that she has a harder time understanding the local dialects than Jeremy. We have come to an agreement that her Chinese is ' too perfect ' and she can't understand the ' slang ' as well as Jeremy can, however, Jeremy has a hard time ' reading Chinese characters although he can read pinyin.

Back in Xi'an, we went to a ' hot pot ' restaurant where we met an Israeli couple who were travelling around China for 5 weeks, similar to what we were doing. The only difference is that they were flying from one city to city. They were also making there plans each day and the only thing they had planned in advance was there flight to Beijing and back home. We had a wonderful meal together, getting to know each other and sharing stories about our trips.

After our experience in Lishan, I must comment again that Chinese city driving is something to behold. Cars, motorcycles and pedestrians all fight for space on the road, turning in front of and barely missing each other. If the lanes are full, cars, bikes or motorcycles will freely travel in the lanes going in the opposite direction and then honk at cars who are " legally " travelling in those lanes. I have seen electric bikes diagonally cross an intersection against a red light. Pedestrians will walk anywhere, even the middle of the road and totally ignore traffic. Horns are used readily and regularly. Some streets have a " no horn " sign because it is so prevalant. I had read about this but I didn't understand it until I experienced it firsthand. It is not for the " faint of heart ". Jeremy has commented that most of the drivers have little experience and they learn from the ' experienced' taxi drivers. Everyone drives as if they are the most important person on the road.

Highway driving is a lot easier because most Chinese do not leave their towns. Many of the highways have been built in the last couple of years and they are not congested although I am sure that will change in the next few years.

Tomorrow Jeremy and I will head south for a couple of days while Nicole returns to Beijing for a wedding reception.

Posted by hammr 16:45 Archived in China Tagged attractions Comments (1)

Day 7 - Travel to Baoji

semi-overcast 29 °C

Wednesday, August 1

In the morning, Nicole bought a train ticket back to Beijing and an airplane ticket back to Xi'an on Friday.

In the afternoon, we went to the Hanyang Museum (188 BC until 141 BC). This museum was as interesting as the Terra Cotta warrior museum and very similar in nature, although the artifacts were not as impressive as the Terra Cotta warriors. The documentation was very good and it wasn't as congested. The exhibition contained archeological digs which depicted the different ministries of Emperor Liu Qi. The exhibition was large, although only a small portion of the tombs have been unearthed.

After leaving the museum, we went to the Suzuki dealer to have them check out the car because the " check engine " light had come on during the climb up the mountain the previous day. The first dealer we drove to didn't exist anymore and we had to go further into town to another dealer. It turned out to be a temporary electrical problem and they cleared the alarm history for us.

We had a quick meal of beef and noodles and then stopped at a Starbucks for a coffee near the train station, where we left Nicole so that she could return to Beijing for her cousin's wedding reception.

Jeremy and I drove to Baoji and arrived at the JinJiang hotel at 8:30 pm. There are a one or two attractions that we will be visiting before returning to pick up Nicole at the airport in Xi'an on Friday morning.

Driving throughout China I have noticed that there is a lot of construction going on. They are continually building high-rise apartments in all of the cities and when they are almost finished some of the buildings, they are already building new ones. Baoji, is a small city in China, only having a population of 3.5 million as compared to 8.5 million in Xi'an or the 20 million in Beijing. All of the cities appear to be growing rapidly.

Posted by hammr 08:11 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 8 - Baoji ( Mount Tiantai )

semi-overcast 25 °C

Thursday, August 2

Baoji is a beautiful city with manicured streets, clean buildings and nice parks. Even the uniquely designed bridges were aesthetically pleasing. They have renovated most of the old buildings and have built a lot of new ones.

After our ' normal ' breakfast, Jeremy and I headed to Tiantai Shan (mountain). We picked up our tickets ( 30 RMB or $5 each ) at the base of the mountain and started our hike. The saleslady warned us that there were a lot of bugs and she wasn't kidding! Numerous large predatory bugs latched on to our shirts and went along for a ride as long as we let them. The bug spray and the constant slapping were only mild deterrents to these pesky critters and hopefully the few that were able to successfully extract pieces of flesh from our body have died from their meals.

Tiantai Shan is a lush mountain area. The trail grew narrow and slippery and the forest became more dense as we approached the top of the mountain. I took many pictures, but when we got near the top we were shrouded in mist from the clouds and could not see very far. It was good exercise and we did not meet many people along the trail but I think that will change as the hike becomes more popular.

There were signs at the start of the climb depicting oxen, wolves, owls, snakes, birds and butterflies. We saw thousands of bugs, lots of butterflies, a bird and one lizard! Jeremy wanted to see a snake, but I am sad to say we never had the fortune of meeting one.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped to look at some construction a few miles below the entrance gates. Signs were posted on a fence depicting villages, lakes and parks that were going to be built in the area. It looked like they were building a theme park and a village that looked like it belonged to ' smurfs' had already been completed. From everything I have seen so far, I am sure that the construction will be completed by the end of the year and there will be thousands of visitors to the area next year.

We checked out of our hotel and decided to cruise around Baoji for a few hours. We stopped on a side street and looked for a local restaurant to eat. We bought a slice of the home-made spicy Chinese pizza and a pastry from a vendor, picked up a few drinks at a little store on the same street and then we went into the restaurant next door for lunch. We ordered a couple of bowls of home-made spicy noodles and ate it with our pizza, pastry and drinks. The restaurant was run down and it wasn't very clean, but I thought that the food was good. I have had the opportunity to eat everything from fancy meals to " street food " during this trip and I have enjoyed it all.

After lunch we set our chinese GPS for our trip back to Xi'an and were about to enter the highway, but the toll gates had been blocked off. We asked the police what was going on but he just told us that we could not enter the highway. Guns and knives are illegal in China and the police do not carry guns, so when we saw carloads of police around town and armed soldiers stationed at several locations, we assumed that something was going on but we never did find out what it was. We headed east and finally were able to get back on the highway to Xi'an. We arrived at our hotel by 6 pm.

Tomorrow we will pick up Nicole from the airport and head southwest.

Posted by hammr 07:23 Archived in China Tagged attractions Comments (0)

Day 9 - Drive from Xi'an to Guangyuan

sunny 28 °C

Friday, August 3

Nicole's flight had been delayed, so Jeremy and I had a late breakfast before picking her up at the airport. We picked her up just before noon, returned to the hotel to pack our bags and then we left Xi'an shortly after noon and headed southwest for Guangyuan in the Sichuan province.  

It wasn't long before we were in the mountains and lots of tunnels. Lots and lots of tunnels. The Chinese like to go straight through the mountain instead of around it.  We had barely entered a 5 km ( 3 mile ) tunnel when we were confronted by a traffic jam.  After waiting for 15 minutes I decided that I would walk ahead to see what was going on and call back to let them know, but 15 minutes after I left,  the traffic started to  move and after another 15 minutes Jeremy and Nicole passed me ( because they couldn't stop in the tunnel ).   The air was filled with fumes and I quickly regretted my decision to walk.   When the traffic slowed down for a bit, one car stopped and a lady got out and started to walk in front of me.  After a few minutes she waited for me to catch up to her and she asked me ( in Mandarin ) some questions as she tried to keep up with me.   It sounded like she wanted to know how far it was to the end of the tunnel and I tried to tell her ( with gestures ) that I didn't know.  When I realized that she was distressed I walked a little slower so that she could keep up with me and after a little while, I saw Jeremy and Nicole parked in a pull-out section in the tunnel so we crossed the lanes when there was an opening in the traffic and got into the car.  We drove for another 10 minutes  before we cleared the tunnel  and stopped at a service area.   The lady told Nicole that she had started walking because she was scared when they were stopped in the tunnel.  When she found her husband, he thanked me and scolded her.

Almost all highways in China have tolls and when we exited Shaanxi province we had a 205 RMB ( $35 ) toll.  We stopped for a break just past the toll booth and a hitch hiker who was traveling to the same town as us, asked us for a ride.  We decided to take him along after Nicole and Jeremy talked to him for a little while and asked him to give us his ID card.   While we were driving, he gave us information about some of the places we were going to visit. We dropped him off at our hotel in Guangyuan just before sunset and took a picture with him before he left. After we checked into our hotel, we went to a little restaurant to have a Szechuan meal of Kung Pao chicken, patato julienne and fish scented julienne meat, before we settled in for the night.

Tomorrow is another driving day as we head farther west and a little north.

Posted by hammr 03:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 10 - Guangyuan to Jiuzhaigou

sunny 30 °C

Saturday, August 4

We had a quick breakfast in the hotel, most of which I didn't recognize. There were all sorts of vegetables and noodles, as well as hot soy milk to drink.

We left Guangyuan early so that we could make the 322 km ( 200 mile ), 8 hour drive through the country side. The drive was spectacular and Nicole and I spend much of our time taking pictures of the landscapes and some local plant life while we were driving and whenever we stopped for breaks. Most of the trip was along a scenic river through the mountains. The roads were in good shape, however, there were a lot of rock and mud slides that had piled on the road surface blocking off large sections of the road. The route wound through the mountains and most of the time we had to drive 60 kph (37 mph ) or less. There was one area where a flood had destroyed the highway and it was still under repair...mostly gravel and potholes.

We stopped in a small town for a Szechuan lunch. We were the only ones in the restaurant. They made us a whole chicken, chopped up (bones and all) with lots of spices and vegetables. Nicole let me eat the head and feet. I took pictures of the meal and the owners were trying to take some pictures of me, so Nicole offered to take pictures of them with me (not because of my looks....only because they don't see ' foreigners' in this area of the country very often).

We reached Jiuzhaigou by 5 pm, located our hotel and checked in.

Tomorrow we will be visiting a nature reserve.

Posted by hammr 03:56 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 11 - Juizhaigou National Park

overcast 24 °C

Sunday, August 5

It was a long day but it was a spectacular.

We got up early and left our hotel so that we could beat the crowds at the Juizhaigou National Park since this a popular attraction in China. Wrong again - strike 2 !!! China has a population of 1.35 billion and they were all there!

Nicole stood in line to get our tickets and then we joined the crowds trying to get on to the buses that would drop us off at the various sights. I think that I will have to give up fishing because now I know what it feels like to swim upstream. Even when we were all going in the same direction people would push and shove to get ahead. Getting on to the buses was a real treat and I usually went along with the flow because there was no other choice. As the day wore on, the crowds dissipated to a tolerable level. In the morning the 2 m ( 6 ft ) walkways were filled for miles with people edging their way forward to see the natural beauty of this park...once you started, there was no turning back. By the afternoon there was enough room too walk at a brisk pace.

Chinese children are taught english in school and Nicole told us that their parents in southern China usually encourage them to talk english to the ' foreigners '. When we got on one of the buses, a father encouraged his son to talk to me. He said hello and asked me what my name was. I told him my name and he told me his name. When the other children heard us talking they also said " hello " and tried some of the english phrases that they knew. When we arrived at the next stop, the boy and his father found me and asked if I would pose with him for a picture, which I obviously did. A little later on when I was taking some pictures of a waterfall, a group of parents asked if Jeremy and I would pose with their children. It was a strange feeling having all those cameras taking pictures of us. Somewhere in China there are several pictures of me...now that's a scarry thought!

Even with the crowds, this attraction is worth seeing. There is a 1500 meter (5000 ft) elevation difference from the entrance gate to the highest point in the park ( 3000 meters or 10000 feet), although the highest mountain is much higher. The park is known for its spectacular waterfalls and lakes which feed the river that we followed the previous day to get to the park. There is so much power available from the water flowing down from the mountains that it drives the turbines for several power generating stations in the valley. I believe I counted 5 of them, all on the same river.

I took hundreds of pictures of the majestic mountains, calm, turquoise-coloured lakes and spectacular waterfalls...and this is from someone who lives close to Niagara Falls. The park boasts 17 groups of waterfalls. Some flowed over rocks with great power while others flowed through wooded areas cutting paths around bushes or trees against a backdrop of lush mountains. I have posted a few of my pictures.

The temperature was in the low 20's C (70's C) most of the day. The top of the mountains were covered in clouds and it rained near the top which made it seem a little cooler.

For supper we went to a local ' hot pot ' restaurant and I tried the cow's stomach and throat, bamboo shoots, spinach, broccoli and meat steaks. It was all very good.

We will be staying in Juizhaigou another day because there is so much to see here and then we will be heading to Chengdu.

Posted by hammr 18:36 Archived in China Comments (1)

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