Tag: travel

China Travels: Leshan

China Travels: Leshan

After a day of exploring Chengdu, we hired a car to take us on a day trip to Leshan.

Leshan Giant Buddha

The reason to make the 2 hour drive was to see the Giant Buddha, a 71m tall statue carved into a red sand stone cliff. It’s the largest Buddha statue in the world and was carved over 1,200 years ago. To visit it, we headed to the Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area. After climbing lots of stairs and passing by some temples, we first saw the Buddha from the top. Mostly we saw the massive head. On one side of it, they carved stairs into the stone, so you can walk down on the side and see it from different angles. When you finally stand in front of the Buddha, it’s a pretty cool perspective, you mainly see huge toes 🙂

The Giant Buddha is carved into a cliff facing a river, or to be more precise it’s at the junction of three rivers. So to be able to really see the whole statue, we took a short boat ride.

Huanglongxi

On our way back to Chengdu we stopped in Huanglongxi, an ancient town. It’s 1,700 years old and the buildings have been restored to look like they used to back in the day. It’s pretty touristy now and all the old houses have shops and food vendors inside them. Especially on a nice day like we had, I still think it’s still a nice place for a stop and a stroll along the stream.

And that’s it! The next morning we hopped on a plane back to Shanghai. Within one week, we managed to do quite a bit of exploring and saw some really cool places. The list of things to do in China remains long of course 🙂

China Travels: Chengdu

China Travels: Chengdu

As you could probably tell from Thorben’s post, the next stop after Xi’an was Chengdu. Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province. It’s famous for 2 things: Spicy food and PANDAS!

Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

I was very very excited about finally getting to see Pandas, so on our first morning we headed straight to the Panda base, or formally called the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Since pandas usually give birth in August we were lucky to see little fluffy adorable panda cubs!

We spent around 4 hours at the base. Mostly we watched the pandas eat and sleep (or eat while lying down) which is basically all they do all day. A sign in the park titled “Why do giant pandas always eat and sleep?” explained that the nutritional value of bamboo is very low so “They are not lazy, they are energy efficient!”

Lazy or not, they are so cute and clumsy and just all over awesome! I took way too many pictures and videos. If the guys wouldn’t have gotten bored I think my sister and I would still be there watching them 🙂

In addition to the giant pandas, the base housed quite a few red pandas. They are not as “energy efficient”, so they are not as easy to spot because they move a lot more, climb in the trees and are hidden in their enclosures. We got really lucky and had 2 awesome encounters. The first was early in the morning when it was just us and a couple little pandas came really close and Thorben was able to take great pictures. When we came back later in the day the keepers showed up to feed them, so many more came out to get some goodies.

They are so so so adorable and again, we had to be dragged away 🙂

People’s Park

After all the excitement of the morning, we headed to a tea house in People’s Park and spent a few hours relaxing and drinking tea. The guide book said getting your ears cleaned in People’s Park was the thing to do so Thorben went for the full Chengdu experience 🙂

Wenshu Monastery

Between the tea drinking and our next activity (spoiler: another food tour) we had a bit of time so we explored the Wenshu Monastery. It was very pretty with many different buildings and a little park, so definitely worth a visit.

Sichuan Food Tour

The last thing we did in Chengdu was to go on another food tour. Our guide Alina from Chengdu Food Tours showed us lots of different local foods, most of it pretty spicy. We started with bread buns stuffed with meat and rice noodles from a little street booth. Our next stop was a restaurant close to the monastery where they served sweet and spicy noodles, more rice noodles and rice cakes. At a local market Thorben went for the full Chengdu experience again and tried a rabbit head, including eyes, tongue and brain … yum. I passed, in case anyone was wondering 😉

After the rabbit head we tried some pickled vegetables and had a mixed vegetable salad, something a bit more western friendly. The market also gave us the chance to try some different baijiu – we took our favorite with us in a 0.5l plastic bottle 😀 We finished the night at a local “fly” restaurant (fly because it’s so busy it’s buzzing) with some more spicy food.

China Travels: Xi’an and the Terracotta Army

China Travels: Xi’an and the Terracotta Army

Last week it was Golden Week and there is much to tell but before that, I have to finish recapping our week of China Travels 🙂

After Luoyang, the second stop of our trip was Xi’an. The major attraction is of course the Terracotta Army, about an hour outside of the city, but Xi’an itself also has lots of cool stuff to see. Here is what we managed to do:

Muslim Quarter

On our first morning we walked past the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower to the Muslim Quarter. There is a ton of different street food and we tried a few different things including sticky rice, pomegranate juice, scallion pancakes, yogurt, lamb skewers and a bun stuffed with lamb meat. Thankfully, we also took a food tour the next day so we could try even more goodies.

Great Mosque

The Great Mosque is located in the Muslim Quarter and it’s one of the biggest and oldest mosques in China. It consists of several courtyards and different archways and buildings. It’s built in traditional Chinese style and looks more like a temple. However, there are some inscriptions in Arabic and Islamic art, so it takes a little exploring to discover it’s really a mosque.

City Wall

Xi’an also has one of the oldest, biggest and best preserved city walls in China. It wraps around the inner city and has a total length of 14 kilometers. It is a massive wall: 12 meters tall and also 12-14 meters wide at the top and you can walk or cycle the whole thing. We walked a portion of it and it is really impressive!

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

We came for the water show in front of the pagoda which is supposed to be really cool, but sadly it was not running the week we were there. So all we got was a couple of photos of the outside and silly selfies 🙂

Morning Food Tour

As already mentioned a few times, I love going on Food Tours to discover all the local goodies. In Xi’an we went with Lost Plate, which offers a breakfast tour by tuk tuk. We tried fried beef stuffed buns, a spicy stew with meatballs and veggies, some bread, a persimmon and a sesame red bean “donut”, some moon cake (it was right before mid autumn festival) and finally delicious hand-pulled noodles in a beef sauce – I think everyone’s favorite dish. Or maybe it was the fried beef bun? 🙂 In any case, we all left full and happy.

Terracotta Army

And finally, one of the trip highlights: The Terracotta Warriors of China’s First Emperor. We visited all 3 pits and it was really cool to see, definitely an item on the China Bucket List. It’s crazy to think that the statues are over 2,200 years old but were only discovered 40 years ago. While most pictures only show the rebuilt part, the site is still a huge work in progress, so it would be cool to go back in 20 years to see it again.

Xi’an by Night

While we were lazy at the hotel, Thorben headed back to the Bell Tower, Drum Tower and Muslim quarter to capture some pretty pictures by night.

China Travels: Luoyang

China Travels: Luoyang

The first stop on our week-long China trip was Luoyang in the Henan province. From my research, it’s mostly famous for 4 things: The peony gardens and festival, the Shaolin Temple, the White Horse Temple and the Longmen Grottos. At least that’s what we did, minus the peonies because they only bloom in the spring.

Shaolin Temple

The Shaolin Temple or Shaolin Monastery is about a 2 hour drive from Luoyang. It’s on Songshan Mountain, one of the 5 holy mountains in China. The Shaolin Monastery is the birth place of Kung Fu and also an important place for Chinese Buddhism. We visited the main temple, had lunch in the vegetarian restaurant and then saw the pagoda forest, where many of the Shaolin monks are burried.

The Shaolin temple also includes a Martial Arts Training center, which is the most famous school Kung Fu school in China, and we saw many kids practicing outside. At the boarding school, the kids study half the day and practice Kung Fu the other half. The last thing we did during our visit was to watch their half hour performance. According to our guide only the best students get picked for the show and in exchange they get free tuition. It was really impressive and I couldn’t stop singing”Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting” for the rest of the day 🙂

White Horse Temple

After visiting the birthplace of Kung Fu we visited the birthplace of Chinese Buddhism on our second day. The White Horse Temple is the first Buddhist Temple in China and was built almost 2,000 years ago.  The temple was named after the two white horses who carried 2 Indian monks, their scriptures and Buddha statues to China. In the past 20 years, more temples have been added in the new, international section. There are Buddhist temples built by India, Thailand and Myanmar to celebrate the relationship between the countries.

Longmen Grottos

The last place we saw were the Longmen Grottos. 2345 grottos (or caves and niches) in various sizes are carved into the lime stone. We walked along the river for about 1km to see many of them. In addition, there are over 100,000 Buddhas sculptures and carvings. The smallest Buddhas only reach 2cm, the biggest one is 17m tall. They were carved by different dynasties, and construction started over 1,500 years ago. Depending on the beauty standard at the time of carving, the Buddhas either have a round face and a double chin or look more slim.

We also tried some local food in restaurants our guide recommended. Pro Tip: The portions in Luoyang are much bigger than in Shanghai.

After 2 days of sightseeing we hopped on the bullet train and zipped over to Xi’an. Almost 400km in 1:26h! Taking the train in China is great 🙂

Moganshan: Bamboo, bamboo and more bamboo

Moganshan: Bamboo, bamboo and more bamboo

Last weekend it was outing time! Our company here gives each employee a budget and an extra day off to go on a trip, aka the outing, with coworkers. Thorben’s department always does something pretty fancy:  Japan last year and Vietnam this year – I’m still bugging him to finish his blog post. My department wanted to take it a bit easier so we stayed in China. Our destination was Moganshan, which is a 3-hour drive from Shanghai.

Moganshan or Mount Mogan is both the name of the mountain and the village we spent 2 1/2 days in. Our hotel was located on the edge of the town and – as everything in this area – was surrounded by bamboo. Besides lunch and dinner we didn’t have any planned group activities. The weekend can be summed up in a few words: Relaxing, reading, hiking and eating. Many of my coworkers brought their spouses and kid(s), so you could also call it “31 Chinese and Marina in a bamboo forest.” 🙂

On Saturday and Sunday we got quite a bit of rain, so when I ventured outside the air was pretty misty. I joined some colleagues on a little hike to a waterfall on Saturday and then on a bigger one through the bamboo forest and up the hill for some good views on Sunday. Sadly, just because there is bamboo doesn’t mean there are pandas. They prefer a different he climate, so I’ll have to wait a bit longer to see some.

Monday morning we had beautiful weather but unfortunately our bus already picked us up at 10:30am. I took advantage of the sunshine for as long as I could and took lots of pictures. If anyone asks, that’s what Moganshan looked like the entire time 🙂

Overall, it was a very relaxing weekend (especially after all the kids returned to Shanghai Sunday after lunch 🙂 ) in beautiful surroundings.

Nanjing or why not to travel in China during National Holidays

Nanjing or why not to travel in China during National Holidays

Today is Labor Day in China. As May 1 falls on a Tuesday this year, the office was closed Monday which meant that Saturday was an official working day. I have to say I’m not a fan of the 6 day work week … but definitely a fan of the 3 day weekend 🙂

To take advantage of the extra day we’d planned to spend 2 days in Nanjing and then relax at home (read: do laundry) on the holiday. The fastest train was sold out but we managed to get there in less than 1 1/2 hours. Gotta love train travel in China.

We didn’t do as much as I had wanted to because it was a little too hot, too crowded and the air was quite polluted. This is what we managed:

Nanjing Massacre Museum

Sunday morning we headed to the Nanjing Massacre Museum, or the “Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders” as it is officially called. Just walking inside and seeing the sculptures is really depressing but I’d still recommend going. The exhibition inside is very well done, with lots of pictures, artifacts, information and videos.

Fuzimiao or Confucius Temple area

Next, we headed to Fuzimiao, the pretty area around the Confucius Temple. There are lots of shops, mostly tourist traps, and because of the holiday it was really busy. From the pictures I saw it looks beautiful at night all lit up but we didn’t manage to go back when it was dark.

1912

For dinner we headed to 1912, a little walking district with lots and lots of bars and restaurants. There are many western places but we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant and tried a local specialty: Nanjing Salted Duck.

Purple Mountains

Trying to avoid the crowds a little we got up early on Monday and went straight to the Purple Mountains. Looks like everyone else had the same idea and when we got to the Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum a little after 9 it was already very very busy.

Thorben said that when he went to the Purple Mountains during a business trip a few years ago it was a really nice peaceful place. To get some room to breathe and escape the picture taking (not many foreigners in Nanjing), we decided to skip the main sights and exlore the smaller walking trails. This worked pretty well and we didn’t see too many people after that.

After a quick shower at the hotel we decided not to head back into town for the afternoon but take an earlier train home. The heat and bad air quality combined with the huge crowds and long queues everywhere kind of killed our sightseeing mood. And our air conditioned and air filtered apartment just sounded way better 🙂

Overall, Nanjing is a nice place with lots of great things to see – but like many people said, it’s best to avoid public holidays. From now on I’ll just keep doing what we did before – leave China when there’s a public holiday (or hide at home).