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By this Author: travelchic

Hiking at 5000M Elevation

Road trip from Zhongdian to Daocheng

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We planned to travel over 400KM from Zhongdian (now called Shangri-la), northwest of Yunnan to Daocheng in southern Sichuan today. A long portion of the road was extremely bumpy though paved that we had a hard time in the SUV. We had to ask to stop a lot to take pictures and also to stretch. I felt that I had a harder time today than my Sichuan to Tibet trip couple years ago though the road conditions were definitely better this time.

We drove over couple major mountains including the Warming Snow Mountain (No Name Snow Mountain). We decided to hike up to the peak from the road that is above 4800M elevation. It was very cold that we both were in our full ski jackets, thermal hats and gloves. Pan advised us to take it slow because of the high elevation. It took us more than half hour to trek up 150M or so to the peak for a breathtaking 360 view. I am happy to report that China won the race both ways.

We ended up stop at Xiancheng, about 120KM away from Daocheng because it was getting late and Xiancheng was the last bigger town where we could have a decent place to stay. We stayed a new hotel, arguably the best in town. We were so tired that we crashed right away and skipped dinner.

Posted by travelchic 02:55 Archived in China Tagged automotive Comments (0)

Songzanlin Monastery

From Lijiang to Zhongdian

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We woke up before 6AM, put on our ski jackets, and ready for our breakfast hunt. It was so dark inside the Naxi family house-turned guesthouse that I needed to use a flashlight to find the main entrance, which was still locked. My flashlight woke up the girl who was on duty and opened the door for u s.

In this chilling moring, I finally see the beauty of Lijiang. The stone streets were so smooth and shinning. Both sides of the streets were all accent Naxi houses, a mixed of adobe, wood and stone two-story structures. There were no street lights, and none of the red lanterns hanging out the restaurants last night was lit. We saw a few Naxi ladies in traditional outfits walked by carrying some fruit in baskets at their back. It seems the whole town was still sleeping that we were afraid to wake it up. It was unbelievably quite and peaceful. When the sunlight shin through the mist landed on the well washed stone street, I breathed in the refreshing cold air, and wished Icould seize the moment.

We walked into the only restaurant that seems to be open. It turned out it is a four star hotel’s restaurant, which was serving some great Chinese and Western buffet breakfast. We couldn’t resist the good food.

At 8:45AM, we were in Pan’s Mitsubishi Pejora started our seven day road trip to the greater Shanger-la area in Yunnan and Sichuan. The road from Lijiang to Zhongdian is mostly paved and smooth except Pan’s Pejera’s shocks were shot and we were feeling every bump on the road.

After some yummy noodles in Zhongdian, pan brought us to Songzanlin Monastery, which one of the largest Tibetan monasteries outside of Tibet. Like most other Tibetan monasteries, it was built along the hillside overseeing and protecting the town. A narrow road leads to some serious steps, which bring visitors and pilgrims the three main temples at the middle of the hill. Alongside of the road are eight smaller temples each represents a division inside the monastery. Around all the temples are many white Tibetan houses in all sizes.

It was some serious work for us to walk up to the main temples at the elevation of 3500M. Ken was fascinated by the temple as I was trying my best to explain it to him while trying hard to remember what I learned in my Tibet trip couple years ago.

In one of the temple, a young monk came to say hi and asked where we were from. We told him that we were from San Francisco, he was happy to invite us to his room at the side of the temple for tea. His name is Bianrong. He and another young monk, Texi, are both on duty to guard the temple this year. During the whole year, they live inside the temple. They were obviously quite happy to see visitors, and started to warm up some buns and water on the electric heater/strove. While the water about to boil, Bianrong started to prepare the traditional yak butter tea for us. He first put some tea leaves into the water. He poured the boiling water into a bamboo made tube, and then added some special yak butter and salt. The bamboo tube had a stick in the center with a lip. Bianrong pulled the stick up and then pushed it down mixing the yak butter and tea together. After couple of minutes, the tea was ready. I had have yak butter tea before, and I must say that was not my cup of tea; however, this was the first time I saw it made in a traditional way. It tasted so much better that what I had before. Ken simply loves it. Bianrong and Texi insisted us to try some of the buns. Dipping it in the yak butter tea, it was quite tasty. We chatted a lot about their lives while having yak butter tea, some yak cheese, and the buns. Both of them seem to enjoy the lives in the monastery and both were looking forward to go to India to continue their Buddhism study. On the other hand, we were fascinated to learn that, though they were not allowed to have TV, they could have cell phones. During the hour visit, Bianrong's cell phone was non-stop ringing. Like many youth nowadays, they both like surfing the internet!

We spent over three hours in the monastery, probably the longest among most tourists. Pan was so worry while waiting in the car outside.

I started to feel some high altitude effects in the evening. By dinner time, I was not feeling good, which really caught me in surprise. I normally have this high altitude sickness when I am close to 4000M elevation. Eventually, I threw up once I walked out of the restaurant. After that, I took no chance and took a Diamox right away.

Posted by travelchic 08:38 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Transport

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Today is a non-event day. We had a full day of travel back to Shanghai, from where we flew into Lijiang, Yunnan, a province that is east of Tibet, and Vietnam, Laos, and Burma. There are twenty-five minority ethnic groups live in Yunnan, making it the most cultural diverse province in China.

Pan, our driver picked us up at the airport and helped us to find a place to stay in the Old Town of Lijiang – the reason people flooded this town in the middle of nowhere. Old Town Lijiang is a thousand year old town that built by the Naxi people, a minority ethnic group originated not too far from Lijiang.

The moment we stepped into the Old Town, we wonder if we came to the right place. Around the Sifangjie (main square), every house has turned into a gift shop, or restaurant, or guesthouse. People were packed the town square dancing, singing, shopping, taking pictures, or simply wondering around. We felt we were in Disneyland for adults. We had some late night dinner, and went to bed.

Posted by travelchic 07:30 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Searching for the Quiet Spot

Day trip to Suzhou and Zhouzhuang

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After an hour comfortabel train ride, we arrived in Suzhou, a garden city northwest of Shanghai. From the moment we got off the train to the taxi ride across town to the hotel, we experienced some worse pollution, crowdedness and noisiness. We checked out the Master of Nets Garden, the smallest but many think the best of the four famous gardens in Suzhou. These gardens were some rich families’ houses and gardens before. It is a lovely garden but poorly maintained and lack of life.

We were a bit disappointed and hopped on a bus to Zhouzhuang, a little water village outside of Suzhou, hoping to find a peaceful and quiet spot to relax. Zhouzhuang was mainly built in Ming and Qing Dynansties from 1300 to 1900. It is nested among small canals, and lovely accent residential houses mostly painted white with gray clay roof. The moment we stepped in town, we realized once again that we were traveling in China, where one should expect everywhere was packed with tourists, mostly domestic travelers. In some of the narrow alleys, about three to four feet wide, it was so crowded that we had to step into the shops to wait for the groups of tourists walk through. Zhouzhuang was an important commerce town in the Chinese history though it didn’t become a popular travel destination until late 1980s when Dr. Armand Hammer purchased an oil canvas, “Memory of Hometown”, which depicts the Twin Bridges of Zhouzhuang from arguably the most notable painter grown up in Zhouzhuang, Chen Yifei. The painting later became the first-day cover of the United Nations’ postage stamp in 1985. Dr. Hammer presented the painting as a gift to then the Chinese leader Dengxiaoping in his visit to China in 1985.

We took a gondola tour, and walked around the village. I must say that I like this well preserved village that is full of life. We waited until most of the tourists left and walked around town at night again. This time, I felt in love with it. We stayed so late that all the buses were gone by the time we decided to leave, and we hired a local guy to drive us back to Suzhou.

Posted by travelchic 07:27 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

A Day in Shanghai

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We woke up at 6 o'clock to join the Taiji exercise gang on the Bund. We then realized what a great location we were in. The Astor's Hotel situates at the entrance of the canal connected by a steel bridge to the Bund. From the bridge, we had a great view of Pudong, where all the new high rises are, on the other side of Huangpu river.

We headed north to the old city to find some local breakfast places recommended by a convinience store owner last night. Here, away from all the high rises, shopping malls, and restaurants, we are back to the old Shanghai, where grandmas walking to the market, and some folks in their PJ's getting their breakfast togo. In this one block, we spotted the local's favor food stand, a tiny store front, where this lady in her mid-thirties making some very good looking crepe. She obviously has mastered the technique -- using a piece of flat metal pan, similar to any crepe pan, she scoped some very thin wheat paste onto it, then she quickly spread the paste evenly in a circular motion. While the paste is thickening, she cracked an egg in to the center, then smoothed it out. The egg turned in to scramble egg while the crepe was becoming crispy. She then added chopped pickles, parsley, source, etc, then folded it into a long roll before cutting it into two pieces for us. The whole process took less than 40 seconds for 1.80RMB (0.22USD). You cannot get fresher crepe for this price.

We had an aggressive plan today to check out Shanghai. First stop, Yuyuan (Yu Garden), and the Old Streets of Chenghuangmiao now a tourist mecca. We barely spent half an hour there before we headed to the French Concession, a nice part of town that is good for walking. The highlight of French Concession is Xindiandi, a hip shopping and dinning complex took up a few blocks, a development project that restore hundreds of the Shikumen style houses, which were massively constructed in 1920 to 1940. We really enjoyed the little musuem there, which gives a great details on the projects and history of the community.

One of my quests in Shanghai is to have the popular Shanghai crab for dinner. This is a special type of fresh water crab found only in the Chengyanghu (Chengyang Lake) close to Shanghai. In the crab season in October, people all over China are crazy about this little creature, the size of 1/4 to 1/3 of a dungeons crab. The taxi driver dropped us off the Seafood Market, where over a hundred of crab stands were waving to anyone walking by. It was an eye opening experience to say the least. All the stands were selling pretty much the same things -- crabs, crabs, crabs at all sizes, all very small to US standards; different kinds of clams, shrimps, fish, snails, etc. most of them I could not name them nor had seen them before. All the living creatures were swimming in shallow water in the tanks waiting to be bought.

Most of the crabs cost from 25 to 60RMB (3 to 8USD) each. Out of curiosity, I asked for the largest one in a wholesale store. The guy fished couple for me from the bottom tank. They were almost half of a dungeons crab size. The asking price is 340RMB (40USD) each. We found a stand that was outside of a nice restaurant to buy couple crabs, some shrimps and clams. Then sent them to the restaurant's kitchen to cook to the way we wanted. This is the way restaurants around the market serve seafood -- none carries any seafood but take the food customers bring in and cook to order. It was a great dinner that put a perfect ending for the day.

Posted by travelchic 07:26 Archived in China Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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