Prime Minister Chen’s Castle: Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

Prime Minister Chen’s Castle

Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

What to see and do around Jincheng晋城 Shanxi Province Part One

Prime Minister Chen’s Castle: Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

The southern Shanxi city of Jincheng 晋城 will never win any prizes for beauty or charm. It’s a typical medium sized Chinese City, dominated by the ubiquitous white tiled buildings, interspersed with an occasional glitzy glass tower. The only attraction in town is a recently built temple complex with a Ming Dynasty  pagoda.

Prime Minister Chen’s Castle: Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

So why go there? Well, if you like unspoilt Chinese towns where time seems to have stood still, incredible vernacular architecture, walled castles and ancient pagodas, then Jincheng is the perfect base from which to explore them.  Jincheng also has a fantastic Huoguo restaurant, a decent hotel and friendly cab drivers.

We spent two nights in Jincheng; it was enough to see what we had planned to visit. However, there are a lot more sights to visit than appear in any guidebook.

We visited four places:

Prime Minister Chen’s Castle: Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

 Guoyu Village: Guoyu Gucheng: 郭峪古城

The Haihui  Temple and Pagoda complex: Haihui Si: 海会寺

Xiangfu Castle: Xiangfu Gubao 湘峪古保

Part One:

Prime Minister Chen’s Castle: Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

Prime Minister Chen’s Castle: Huangcheng Xiangfu: 皇城相府

Ask anybody if they have ever heard of Prime Minister Chen’s Castle and you’ll probably get a shrug of the shoulders and a look of ‘what are you on about?’ However, in China, [Read more →]

Songpan’s 松潘 Bridges: Sichuan Province

Songpan’s 松潘 Bridges:

Sichuan Province 四川省

Songpan Bridge 映月桥

The mountain town of Songpan 松潘 has undergone a lot of changes in recent years but some original remnants of its wonderful ancient architecture still remain. Two of those structures are the emblematic ancient covered bridges (Gusong Qiao 古松桥 and Yingyue Qiao 映月桥) that span the fast flowing Min river 岷江。 Below are our photos taken before the recent development.

Songpan Bridge 映月桥

Songpan is an ethnically diverse town with Tibetans, Hui (Chinese Muslims) and Han Chinese all living together.  It’s a great place to relax and has numerous tea houses along the river and next to the bridges.

Songpan Bridge 映月桥

For more pictures of Songpan during its summer festival Click here: Songpan Festival 松潘

For more pictures of Songpan and its people click here:People watching in Songpan松潘

Click on read more for larger photos: [Read more →]

Lijiashan 李家山窑洞村

Lijiashan 李家山窑洞村

山西省

Lijiashan 李家山

Lijiashan 李家山 is probably one of the best examples of Northern China’s cave dwelling architecture 窑洞风格. Situated in a steep valley above the Yellow river 黄河, it exudes bucolic charm. However, if you are not going to stay the night or go off hiking, an hour or two is enough to see everything and have a cold beer.

Lijiashan 李家山

Lijiashan (from Margie’s diary 26/8/2016)

Qikou 碛口Guesthouse 13.00

The driver, who had taken us to Qikou 碛口 from Lüliang Lishi 吕梁离石, has convinced us that Lijiashan village is much too far too walk. For another 30 Yuan he’ll drive us, wait and take us back. But first we can have a beer and something to eat. As we fancy the home-made noodles which have to be ordered for three, our driver joins us for lunch. We have cucumber salad, aubergine with beans, plus the delicious noodles with a simple fresh tomato, coriander and chive sauce.

Lijiashan 李家山

The ride to Lijiashan is not far (5kms), but the road is windy and at times exceedingly steep. It’s also a scorching day and there’s little or no shade from the merciless sun, so we are pleased we took the lazy option.  The village is really tiny, much smaller than I’d expected. Our guidebook had written a whole column about it. The setting is nonetheless lovely: the village is surrounded by green hills, some of them terraced, and there are lots of fruit trees and plants.

Lijiashan 李家山

There are cave-dwellings, mostly abandoned, as well as more elaborate complexes, set around courtyards with cave-rooms at the back. Most buildings are dilapidated, though some [Read more →]

Qikou Town 碛口in Shanxi Province山西省

Qikou Town 碛口

Shanxi Province山西省

Qikou Town 碛口

Arriving in Qikou after one of those frustrating and often terrifying China back road trips, we were rewarded with grand vistas of the mighty Yellow River and seduced by an enchanting classic Chinese ancient town, as yet not converted into a tourist theme park.

Qikou Town 碛口

It had been a frustrating ride because of a huge, infernal traffic jam, caused by one of the thousands of overloaded coal trucks that ply the Shanxi roads, which had rolled over and blocked the narrow, mountainous and potholed road. Terrifying, because our tiny car, dwarfed by the lurching trucks, kept having to dodge them as they overtook each other on blind corners.

Qikou Town 碛口

However, as we opened the first of many cold beers on the grand terrace of the Qikou Guesthouse, any nasty lingering memories of the trip were soon dispelled.

Qikou Town 碛口

Qikou is an ancient port on the Yellow River (see our previous article on The Qikou Inn for more information). Nowadays there is scarcely any river traffic; [Read more →]

Qikou Kezhan (Inn) 碛口客站: One of China’s most Charismatic Hotels

 Qikou Inn 碛口客站

Qikou kezhan

This must be one of China’s most charismatic hotels! It may not win any prizes for luxury, but its location and ambience are unbeatable.

The Inn or hotel, reportedly built some 300 years ago, is set right on the banks of the Yellow River 黄河, just before one of the river’s huge, sweeping bends. On the other side, the dry and barren hills of Shaanxi 陕西省 province stretch as far as the eye can see.

Qikou Kezhan

For centuries, Qikou town 碛口古城was an isolated but significant outpost as, for kilometer after kilometer, along either bank of the Yellow River, there were no other towns in sight.  In its heyday, it served as an important trading port between the provinces of Shanxi 山西省 and Shaanxi 陕西省, with hundreds of boats docking at its wharf. Today, standing on the few remaining, rickety wooden boards and overlooking the placid brown waters, all this activity is hard to imagine.

Qikou kezhan

The Inn has had an equally colorful history, first as home to the various merchants who plied their wares along the Yellow River and later as a base for the Red Army during the War of Resistance against Japan.

Qikou Kezhan

It’s a handsome, two storey, grey-brick building with two courtyards, a small tower and a lovely, covered terrace overlooking the river. Rooms are cave- like, with huge, rounded, latticed windows and bamboo screens hanging in front of the sturdy wooden doors. The beds are [Read more →]

Lijiashan Cave Dwellings 李家山 窑洞 (photo of the week)

Lijiashan 李家山

Amazing cave dwelling in Shanxi Province

Hidden away up an eroded valley a few kilometers from a remote stretch of the Yellow River is Lijiashan 李家山. It is one of Shanxi Province’s hidden gems.  A village almost exclusively made up of traditional cave dwellings 窑洞.  It’s a place to spend a few days disconnected from the modern world, read a good book on one of the sunny terraces of the local home-stays and sip a cold (or lukewarm) beer. All the home-stays are cave dwellings built into the side of the mountain.  If the sky is clear, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular starry nights (full article coming soon).

Changing Times in WutaiShan 五台山

Even Wutaishan is Changing 五台山

photo of the week

Twenty years ago Wutaishan was a remote and spiritual destination that felt a million miles away from the modern world. On our recent visit we could see that times had changed as the picture below shows.

Changing times in Wutaishan 五台山

Tianning Temple and Pagoda 天宁寺塔: A Beijing Hidden Gem

Tianning Temple and Pagoda

Tiannng Temple and Pagoda 天宁寺塔

Tianning Temple and Pagoda 天宁寺塔

天宁寺塔

Gazing out of the taxi window, stuck in one of those infernal Beijing traffic jams on our way to the cavernous Beijing West Train Station 北京西 for the umpteenth time, I always found my eyes fixing on a huge pagoda majestically rising above the sprawl of residential buildings. I can’t count the number of times I said to Margie, “we must find out what it is”.

Tianning Temple and Pagoda 天宁寺塔

However, once on the train and out of Beijing, our thoughts moved on to the new adventures that lay ahead and our curiosity in the pagoda waned until the next time we were yet again on our way to Beijing West 西站 and the pagoda again caught our attention.

Tianning Temple and Pagoda 天宁寺塔

Sometimes, we asked our friends living in Beijing if they knew the pagoda. Most just shrugged their shoulders and told us it was obviously the famous Bai Yun Si 白云寺 (White Cloud Temple). However, that just couldn’t be so.On the map, the Taoist White Cloud Temple is on your right as you drive west towards the station, this pagoda was on the left. It had to be something else.

Taoist Monks in BaiyunSi 白云寺

With a few days to spare in Beijing on our last trip, we decided to find out what this mysterious pagoda was. And what a find!

Tianning Temple and Pagoda 天宁寺塔

After visiting the White Cloud Temple we headed south west crossing under the six-lane elevated highway that heads towards Beijing West train station and entered Fengtai District. From there we basically followed [Read more →]

Cizhong 茨中 Yunnan: From our Diary

Cizhong 茨中

Village of Wine

 And is it still there?

Cizhong Church

Cizhong Church

Having just read a devastating  article about the future of Cizhong due to the Damming of the Mekong River (No Recourse: Upper Mekong Dam Spells End for Tibetan Village), we decided to publish this review from our diary that we had never previously put up on the blog.

The Journey

31/8/2007

The Road from Feilai Si near Deqin winds its way to the bottom of the Langcang Valley (Mekong River Valley) in a series of dramatic hairpin bends. On the right the mystical mountain of Meili Xueshan teases and torments the traveller with rare glimpses of its summit and glaciers in a game of hide and seek in the monsoon summer months.

Meili Shan hidding its peak

Meili Shan hidding its peak

For one second it’s there in all its majestic glory and then the next it’s gone, hidden behind swirling clouds or an impenetrable mist.

Road to Cizhong

Road to Cizhong

As the road reaches the river at the bottom of the valley, the barren rock faces on the left that threatened to come crashing down on our puny vehicle give way to fertile green fields dotted by white villages and prayer flags.

cz2s

Welcome to one of the most romantic places in China; the tiny village of Cizhong in China’s South West Yunnan province.

cz4s

The Village

While there are many other beautiful villages in the area, Cizhong stands out because of the lovely Catholic church that dominates the centre of the village and its surrounding vineyards.

Cizhong's amazing Tibetan style church

Cizhong’s amazing Tibetan style church

The church was built by French missionaries nearly [Read more →]

Faces of Xiding Market 西定市场 Yunnan

Faces of Xiding Market Yunnan

西定市场

Bulang Women Xiding Market

Bulang Women Xiding Market

Xiding Market 西定市场 in Yunnan`s Xishuangbanna Region is one of the best. In the previous post we put up we hadn’t got the photos ready. So here is a second post with the photos. Some things will have changed. But travellers still report that it continues to be an authentic rural market that attracts a number of different minorities including Bulang, Hani, and Dai.

Hani Women

Hani Women

              We abandoned our driver, his car buried deep in the mud, and mounted a motorbike. Ironically, the previously treacherous mud bath soon became a reasonably smooth, semi-asphalted road. The drive was stunning:

Our Taxi van being towed away

Our Taxi van being towed away

we passed Dai villages with their traditional raised wooden houses, thick jungle and vistas of mist-covered hills and valleys flashed by, and just when it seemed that the scenery couldn’t get better, we arrived in Xiding, looking like an island floating above the clouds. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, the town revealed itself as a bit of a dump.

f95s

              The small, grubby market town of Xiding may seem a strange destination, especially if you have to spend so much time and effort trying to get there, but its Thursday market is one of the most authentic ethnic markets in Xishuangbanna.

Hani Women

Hani Women

A hive of activity from dawn to midday, the market attracts nearby Dai, Hani (Aini or Akha), and Bulang minorities. It is said that Lahu also drop in, but we didn’t see or recognize any. The only real sign of Han-Chinese presence are the huge military barracks overlooking the town, a reminder that the Myanmar border is only a few kilometres away.

Bulang women

Bulang women

                The market occupies a large square, just up the road from the bus station, as well as some of the adjacent streets. There is nothing touristy about this market, [Read more →]