Tonghai’s Xiushan Park

One of China’s hidden gems – Xiushan park is a verdant paradice in an otherwise rather grey city.

Bonsais in Xiushan Park Tonghai, Yunnan province 秀山公园

Tonghai Xiushan Park 通海秀山历史文化公园

Tonghai’s Xiushan Park is one of Chna’s hidden gems. It’s very easy to reach from Kunming and well off the- beaten-track

Bonsais in Xiushan Park Tonghai, Yunnan province 秀山公园
Xiushan Park Tonghai, Yunnan province 秀山公园

Part of a route from Kunming: Tonghai 通海-Jianshui-Yuanyang- Vietnam

This town to the south of Kunming makes for great stopover on the way to the stunning rice terraces of Yuanyang (Click here) and its rich minority culture, or Hekou, the border crossing for Vietnam.

秀山公园 Xiushan park

Getting to Tonghai 通海

The journey from Kunming to Tonghai  takes less than three hours, a straight bus-ride down the motorway with very little in the way of visual distractions. Tonghai itself is a small agricultural town, a few kilometres from the Qilu lake, on whose shores a village inhabited by descendants of soldiers from the Mongol armies survives to this day.

通海 古城 Tonghai Old town

Tonghai Today

The town, which is currently undergoing a beautification campaign, like so many others in China, is nothing to write home about. Unfortunately, many interesting old buildings, mostly dating from the Qing dynasty, have already fallen prey to the sledge hammer, while others are undergoing dubious reforms.

通海 古城 Tonghai Old town

However, Tonghai’s saving grace is its interesting population mix and, most of all, the wonderfully atmospheric Xiushan park.

Xiushan Park Tonghai, Yunnan province 秀山公园

Tonghai’s Xiushan park

Xiushan park is a large temple park in the style of China’s famous Holy Mountains, set on Xiushan mountain, overlooking Tonghai city and Qilu lake. Its total lack of cable cars, souvenir stalls and tourists make this park easily one of the most pleasant and laid- back in China.

Xiushan Park Tonghai, Yunnan province 秀山公园

Those relatively few monks and pilgrims there are, earnestly pray and leave offerings for the gods, simple yet beautiful gifts of flowers, rice, candles and incense. Meanwhile, the locals sip tea and play Mah-jong, Chinese chess and cards in the courtyards of the temples.

Xiushan Park Tonghai, Yunnan province 秀山公园

Minimalist Bonsai gardens and ancient, gnarled trees of a variety of species, such as camellias, cypresses or firs, many of them held up by metal bars, add beauty and a kind of timeless charm to the place.

Dragons in Xiushan Park Tonghai, Yunnan province 秀山公园

Besides trees, dragons are the protagonists of the park, either wrapping their bodies around pillars, cavorting above doorways, or splashing in fountains. All in all, it’s a lush and peaceful place.

Xiushan Park Tonghai, Yunnan province 秀山公园

Entrance to the park is 15 Yuan and foreigner visitors still attract the curiosity of the locals in these parts.

Xiushan Park Tonghai, Yunnan province 秀山公园


Places to Stay and Eat:

Xiushan Park Tonghai, Yunnan province 秀山公园

We stayed at the Tongyin hotel, supposedly the poshest and most expensive one in town, for 145 Yuan, including breakfast. You can’t miss it, it’s the tallest building in town, two minutes away from the bus station, on a main road. There is no shortage of  cheaper hotels, most of them new, near the bus station and on the road into town from Kunming.

Xiushan Park Tonghai, Yunnan province 秀山公园

Food options in Tonghai are not great. There are a number of small hole-in-the-wall type restaurants near the bus station with lots of meat and hanging carcesses, or the entrance to Xiushan Park, as well as at least one smart restaurant inside the Tongyin hotel. A couple of decent supermarkets provide for self caterers.

meat and hanging carcesses

Coming and Going

Buses to Tonghai leave from Kunming’s main long-distance bus station regularly throughout the day. There are plenty of buses in the other direction as well. Regular buses leave for Jianshui,  every two and half hours.

Hell scene in a temple Xiushan Park Tonghai, Yunnan province 秀山公园

The End of the Small Shop (Xiaomaibu 小卖部) Landline Telephone.

Once ubiquitous and now no more: the red landline telephone in your local shop.

During my many visits to Beijing over the last 20 years, I was always struck by how convenient it was to make a landline phone call from just about anywhere in the city, and especially in the hutongs. Just about any small shop 小卖部, be it a liquor store, veg or meat shop, dumpling store or dry cleaners, they all had one or two red telephones on the store counter from which you could ring anywhere in China very cheaply. You just asked for permission, picked up the phone and paid the store owner a few Mao 毛 at the end of the call.

The End of the Small Shop (Xiaomaibu 小卖部) Landline Telephone.

Over a period of just a few years, the Chinese started embracing smart phone technology to a degree that leaves many western countries lagging far behind, scenes like the one in the photo above have ceased to exist. The last time I visited I couldn’t find one single shop that had a landline phone outside, and with my mobile not working; I was quite desperate!

China Travel in Times of Coronavirus

In these times of Coronavirus, travelling around China in the way we used to, has become virtually impossible. Although the situation in China is gradually improving, it’s still far from stable. At any moment, a new outbreak could take everything back to square one and put the country back into lockdown mode. It’s hard to say when we’ll be able to go back and resume our travels. However, that won’t stop us from continuing to post at!

Coming next: Datong: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Datong: the Good; Dragon Screen; Datong

Our next article will be a quick look at China’s coal town, Datong, a rapidly transforming city trying to give itself an image makeover; from soot city to tourist city with varying degrees of aesthetic success.

Datong: the bad, overrun Yungang Cave Grottoes
Datong: the Ugly; the destruction of the old historical old town

The best of Guangzhou: still to come

The great Dimsum Restaurants of Guangzhou

We still have loads of unpublished material, as well as updates and great photos to upload. Maybe this quarantine we are undergoing at the moment in Madrid will enable us to be more productive!

Coming Next / Now Posted

Wuyang River Scenic area near Zhenyuan

舞阳河, Zhenyuan 镇远 Guizhou 贵州:

Now posted

Wuyang River Scenic area near Zhenyuan 舞阳河, Zhenyuan 镇远 Guizhou 贵州:

Coming next is the scenically located

Guizhou town of Zhenyuan镇远 Now Posted

Zhenyuan Guizhou Province

Here’s to virtual travels!

Still to come

Here are a few examples of what we still have to post.

Exquisite Figurines at the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall 陈家 Guangzhou广州
Lingnan Style Gardens Foshan Guangdong
Pingyao from the second of our three visits
Taiyuan Museum

Wanzhou Kaoyu Grilled Fish from Chongqing

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 the Chongqing dish that is hot in Madrid’s Chinatown

Lotos Roots;  one of the usual condiments for  Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼
Lotos Roots; one of the usual condiments for Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼

 Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼. A local specialty from Chongqing, China called Wanzhou Grilled Fish (Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 ) is now all the rage in many restaurants in Madrid’s Chinatown neighbourhood of Usera.

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼
Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼

What is Wanzhou Grilled Fish / Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼

It is a grilled /roasted whole fish covered in a dry dressing of Sichuan peppercorns, dried chilies and and served in a big pan filled with a soup like sauce that is not to dissimilar to the stock used in Sichuan hot pots 火锅 (huoguo).

The dish originates from Wanzhou (formerly WanXiang) in Chongqing municipality: It’s now popular all over Mainland China.

The original way of making this dish is to first grill a freshwater fish (Carp 鲤鱼 is popular) over charcoal and then cover it with various condiments that you order from the menu.

Some of these condiments might include lotus roots, potatoes, bamboo shoots, glass noodles, edible fungus, and beansprouts.

In Madrid the fish is usually Sea Bass (Lubina in Spanish)鲈鱼.

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼

Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼: Grilled Fish from Chongqing 重庆: Where to eat it

A great place to try Wanzhou Kaoyu 万州烤鱼 is in the Sichuan restaurant:

川辣香都 The Sichuan Capital of Fragrance and Spice; Calle Gabino Jimeno 6: Usera, Madrid

This restaurant used to be the very popular Sabor Sichuan 川百味: It now has new owners but it till serves excellent and authentic Sichuan food.

Photo of the Week: The Nujiang Valley 怒江峡谷

This photo taken in 2010 of the breath-taking scenery along the Nujiang Valley 怒江峡谷,near Bingzhongluo  丙中洛 in south west Yunnan.

For more on our trip to The Nujiang Valley click the numbers: 1 2 3 4

International Women’s Day in China

During the One Child Policy (一胎政策) which finished in 2015, the Chinese government tried to persuade the population not to discriminate against having female children.  Unfortunately, the campaign was not successful and has resulted in there being far more males than females in China. Traditional families, especially in the countryside chose to have a male child over a female child.

This is a government propaganda sign in Rural China (Bakai, Rongjiang, Guizhou Province) reminding the local population that males and females are equal.

Boys and Girls are the same.

However, due the gender imbalance, the government is now asking women to lower their aspirations and be less picky when choosing a male partner for life.

There is still a lot of work to do.


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

Lijiashan 李家山

Amazing cave dwelling in Shanxi Province

Lijiashan Cave Dwellings  李家山窑洞

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).

Lijiashan Cave Dwellings 李家山窑洞

Route and Map 2016: Beijing to Xian

2016 Beijing To Xian


This summer we travelled with a friend who had never been to China before. So to give him a good introduction we made a route from Beijing to Xian passing through the province of Shanxi. Its a route that took in some magnificent Buddhist cave art, wonderful old towns and castles, the Great Wall and included some of the most beautiful temples in China. Finally finishing up with the Terracotta Army in Xian.


Old Castle town near Jincheng
Old Castle town near Jincheng

Li Qun Wood Cuts

Li Qun 力群 Wood Cuts 木刻绘画

in the Wang Jia Mansion

Li Qun 力群 Wood Cuts 木刻绘画

Li Qun Wood Cut
Li Qun Wood Cut

Here are just a few of the beautiful wood cuts we were able to enjoy when we visited the rambling and extraordinary Wang Family Home in Shanxi Province a few hours from Pingyao.

Wang Jia Mansion
Wang Jia Mansion

We had no idea that there was a Li Qun exhibition on when we visited. It was a fantastic surprise. Some of his wood cuts are really stunning works of art.

Li Qun Wood Cut
Li Qun Wood Cut

For more on Li Qun Click here: I hope you enjoy the photos we took. I am afraid there is some reflective glare on one or two of the photos due to the wood cuts being protected by glass.

Here is a summery of  his philosophy on art:

Art for Serving the Masses

 The following text comes from:


“Li strongly believes that art should serve the interests of the masses–the workers, peasants and soldiers. The masses should be the only subjects of art. According to Mao, the lives of the masses must be the sole source of the raw material of art, and the artist’s work is to process the raw material made from observations of the masses into a more typical and idealized form.

Continue reading “Li Qun Wood Cuts”

Chinese New Year 春节: The Nightmare of Going Home

Chinese New Year

The Nightmare of Going Home

By Train

The New Year Rush
The New Year Rush

Getting train tickets in China has always been a hit and miss operation, especially if you want sleeper berths for long distance trains. At Chinese New Year, getting a ticket becomes something akin to winning the lottery.

Train Mayhem
Train Mayhem

This BBC clip sums the situation up quite well, and shows the growing divide between the haves and have nots in modern China, where just having access to a computer is an advantage。

We've got a seat!
We’ve got a seat!

Glad to be home
Glad to be home