Xingcheng 兴城 Part One: Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

Taken straight from our diary. Part One of our visit to Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城.
Part two will be about Xingcheng Beach兴城海滨浴场 and Juhua Dao.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老城

Shanhaiguan 山海关 10/09/2016: Margie’s Diary

We get up, all ready and packed, and march to the train station with our bags, feeling quite fit and ready for action. Shanhaiguan 山海关 has really grown on us; I can even appreciate the beauty of the park to my left, with its secluded pavilions and stone seats and tables. Pity we never got to drink a cold beer at any of them.

Fishing fleet at Xingcheng Beach兴城海滨浴场

We wait for our train, together with quite a few other people, and get on. A man exchanges seats with me, so Adam and I can sit on a two-seater together; the train is not full anyway.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

This is called hard-seat 硬座, but it isn’t anything like the hard-seaters of old. In fact, the seats are padded and covered in a blue material, with little white head rests. Most of the passengers are sprawled over the seats and fast asleep.

Getting Married at Xingcheng Beach兴城海滨浴场 Next Article

I try to use my time well by writing in my diary in order to catch up.

The train stops at a number of places and, at one of these, a group of extremely noisy old-age pensioners get on. They seem to be part of some package tour and are obviously having a whale of a time! They don’t stop chattering and joking and going around offering each other sweets and snacks.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

All too soon, after 1½ hours, we are at Xingcheng 兴城. We exit the train station and find ourselves on a dusty road, not quite sure how far we are from the centre and /or our intended hotel. So we hail a cab, which is cheap.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

The Jin Zhong zi Binguan 金钟子宾馆 looks somewhat aged from the outside, making me a bit weary. After Shanhaiguan, I would really appreciate somewhere clean ….. The receptionist, a very efficient young lady with glasses and a bun who reminds us of a Chinese friend of ours in Spain, sends me to the fifth floor to inspect a couple of rooms.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

The floor fuwuyuan 服务员 (the person responsible for cleaning the rooms on a particular floor) is waiting for me. There is evidence of plenty of cleaning being done here: piles of dirty laundry everywhere, cleaning materials, as well as an enormous hoover lying around, fresh bed linen on a cart and so on.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

 We can either have a clean , tidy but small room for 198 Yuan, or a humongous suite of uncomfortable wooden furniture and a glass-fronted bathroom with a real tub for 298 Yuan …. needless to say Adam goes for the small one ….pity.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

Anyway, it’s hot and steamy so we clean up and head out.  We are looking for a bite to eat before visiting the old city.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

Adam quite likes the look of the main drag, says it reminds him of the China of old. The clothes shops, displaying the uniquely Chinese fashions of a provincial town in the 1970s, the blaring music, the bridal boutiques with their garish green and purple dresses, adorned with feathers and artificial flowers and so on. Then, there are street stalls everywhere, selling anything from grilled squid kebabs to jeans, tools or fruit.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

We tried to find something to eat in the Happy Family Mall 大家庭 but to no avail as the food  court mentioned in our guide book had ceased to exist. In a second Happy Family Mall a bit further along the road there were some Baobing 刨冰 counters (shaved ice with fruit and syrups), but that was about all.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

We decided to postpone lunch until we got to the Old Town, which proved to be an excellent decision. Moreover, we also spied a train ticket booking office in the second Mall where it was easy to book high- speed trains back to Beijing 北京. Xingcheng 兴城 has its own high-speed railway station about 40 kilometers away at Huludaobei 葫芦岛北站 (See coming and going).

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

We keep heading straight as the receptionist had told us, but somehow miss the signpost indicating the entrance to the Old Town. Adam tries to ask several people, but they don’t seem to understand his Chinese. Even a couple of white- coated pharmasists – who we took to be more or less educated – cannot understand “Gucheng” or “Laocheng”; the Chinese for Old Town.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

When we eventually get there, we can see that the main drag has already been spruced up for tourism, with many of the shops selling the typical tacky souvenirs that are ubiquitous at Chinese tourist sites.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

However, there are a few attractive folk- inspired clothes shops, one of them called ‘Grandma’s’, with brightly coloured, flowery, padded jackets and such. Moreover, there are a lot of men pounding ‘nougat’ with huge hammers, whilst shouting and calling out to potential customers. They remind us of the nougat sellers in Xian’s Muslim quarter.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

There are also a couple of handsome carved ‘Pailou 牌楼’ (stone archways) across the street, but we are more preoccupied with finding somewhere to eat at this very moment…….

Pailou 牌楼 Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

We quickly spy a clean looking and attractive restaurant that has a few people in it. It proves to be an excellent choice and we enjoy some of the freshest and tastiest prawns and squid on this trip.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

Other customers are wolfing down seafood dumplings; another of the restaurant’s specialties.  Judging by the photos on the wall this place is either quite famous, or part of a larger chain. Added bonus: the beer is very cold.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

We’ve really enjoyed the food and beer, but have lingered a bit too long. It’s about 15.20 and most sites, for which we have bought the expensive through ticket, close at 17.30. We’d better get a move on!

Confucius temple 文庙

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

We soon realize there isn’t that much of rush, as the sites aren’t great. We decide to do the Confucius temple first, which claims to be the oldest in northeast China. It’s true that it is well maintained and the gardens are lovely, with little stone bridges and gnarled old trees, but the halls are mostly empty.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

We peek into another old residence / museum, but it seems an entirely re-built, largely modern construction, so we don’t linger.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

General Gao’s House 将军府

More interesting is the handsome residence of General Gao Rulian, which dates from the 1920s. It has some beautiful brick carving, spacious and luxuriously furnished rooms that combine sleeping, sitting and studying areas, as well as a large peaceful garden complete with a rockery.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

The general and his wife apparently lived here after his retirement and dedicated themselves to studying and cultivating their inner life. I think I could get into that if I had such a lovely, spacious house!

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

The general must have been an enlightened chap, because he was in favour of women’s education and set up a kind of college for them!

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

On the way out, we admire the exquisitely carved brick screen that stands in front of the entrance.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

In the far corner of the old city, practically in the countryside, is the City God Temple. It’s a rather ramshackle construction where we meet a young girl studying to be a nun, who badgers us into helping her with the pronunciation of English phonetic sounds. And that is about it for sights.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城 a tomb or a flower garden at the City God Temple

The old town is very dilapidated, scruffy and semi-abandoned, apart from the aforementioned parts that have been rather tackily done up. All a little bit underwhelming and certainly nothing to rival Pingyao. What on earth was Lonely Planet thinking?

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

We climb up onto the restored city wall and walk round almost the entire old city. From here you can really appreciate the abandonment.  There are crumbling old houses that are still inhabited, right next to others that have caved in, some with bushes and trees growing through what was once the roof, others that have completely collapsed.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

Whole pieces of land have reverted to nature or been turned into vegetable plots. We see a couple of men herding sheep and goats….  Xingcheng Old Town is a sad and desolate place, a poor place, though not without a certain melancholy charm and potential. All these plots of land inside a walled city, surely they must be prime property? How long before a new-Old Town will rise on this spot and attract tourists from all over China?

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

For the time being, the bits of the town we like best are around the city gates, where some of the real life still goes on. Towards dusk, vendors start setting up stalls, selling fruit and veg, or preparing food; kebabs and grilled meats among the most popular.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

Around the gates there are also some real businesses, such as funeral parlous, bike shops or bird cage sellers.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

Accommodation:

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

The Jin Zhong Zi Binguan 金钟子: a good option; friendly staff, comfortable rooms and a decent restaurant. What more could you ask for?

Food:

Food is good in Xingcheng 兴城. It might be worth coming here just to sample the fish and seafood.  The town has a large fishing fleet and fresh sea produce is everywhere.

Fishing Fleet at Xingcheng Beach兴城海滨浴场

There are three good areas:

The old Town 老城 has one or two very good, atmospheric restaurants and lots of stalls at night outside the city gates. Unfortunately, we didn’t take down the name of the one we ate in. It is on the main street,  as you come in through the main entrance, on your the left, before the first crossroad.

素菜饺子 Seafood Dumplings Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

A second option is by the beach, where seafood restaurants with buckets of live food line the street. Huge portions of fresh prawns go for about 100 yuan.

Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

The third option is in or around the Jin Zhong Zi 金钟子 Binguan. The hotel restaurant cooks up some pretty good seafood and spicy dishes. Opposite the hotel there is an excellent Muslim restaurant (pictures above and below), which we tried on our last evening. They serve up great veggie dumplings, fantastic eggplants and an unusual soup of sea snails and Chinese turnips.

兴城 snowpeas 荷兰豆 Xingcheng Old City 兴城老成城

They also serve my favourite vegetable; snowpeas 荷兰豆.

Getting there and away

We arrived in Xingcheng 兴城 from Shanhaiguan 山海关 on a slow train that took less than two hours. The train takes a pretty rural route, stopping at a number of places along the way.

We returned to Beijing 北京 from the new high- speed railway station at Huludaobei 葫芦岛北站 (40 minutes away by taxi). It is a brand new station in the middle of nowhere. The train left at 10.50 on the dot and we arrived in Beijing sometime after 14.00.

We bought our tickets to Beijing 北京 from a ticket office in the Happy Family Shopping mall. Very easy and very convenient.

The Great Wall on Water: Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Photo of the week presents the Great Wall at Jiumenkou 九门口长城 in Liaoning Province. One of the only parts of the Great Wall to be have been built over a river.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

The Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城 is a majestic sight, one of only a few parts of the Great Wall 长城 to have been  built across a river. It stands on the isolated border between the northern provinces of Liaoning 辽宁省 and Hebei 河北省 and close to the ancient garrison town of Shanhaiguan 山海关.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

For history buffs Jiumenkou Great Wall is a must. Don’t be put off by the tourist facilities that have been set up to accommodate Chinese tour groups. Hang around a while and any crowds will disappear. We recommend going for a walk up either side of the valley to explore some fascinating unrestored remnants of the wall and wait for the groups to go; you’ll soon have the place to yourself.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Here is the account of our visit taken from the dairy Margie Keeps:

On our previous day at Shanhaiguan we agreed with a lady taxi driver on 150 yuan for the two sites; the Great Wall at Jiumenkou, and the Great Wall at the edge of the sea.

Abandoned Watchtowers Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Though supposedly only 15 kilometers from Shanhaiguan, it takes us almost 45 minutes to reach the site, along a narrow, winding and climbing road. Above us are the remote and abandoned watchtowers perched dramatically on the jagged mountains.

Abandoned Watchtowers Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

These lonely towers were once the most important defense positions of the Chinese empire. It was in this area where the marauding northern tribes would try to break through and enter the Middle Kingdom. And it is where the Manchus pored over the wall and into China to overthrow the Ming Dynasty and start the Qing Dynasty.

Abandoned Wall Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Now, the watchtowers stand abandoned, their purpose for existing rendered obsolete. However, for the visitor, they are a majestic sight.

Abandoned Watchtowers Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

When we get to Jiumenkou, we find a parking lot, visitors’ reception area and other bits and bobs. Of course, visiting a ‘bridge’ is never just that in China, of course they have developed the site.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Well, this time I can only say that they have done a great job! The restored bridge section near the river is stunning and beautifully reflected in the clear water of the river.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

To the left, there is quite a long stretch of restored wall, winding its way up the forested hillside, up to two or three watchtowers, while on the right we can see a glorious unrestored section; its crumbling walls and fading watchtowers stretching as far as the eye can see.

Unrestored Great wall at Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

It`s really interesting to be able to see both versions, restored and un restored, at the same time.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

We get our tickets and climb on to the bridge first and walk across it: it’s a curious, angular or pointy structure, with interior courtyards and tunnels as well.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Looking down from the wall, you can see straight into a small farmers’ village, dedicated almost exclusively to apple orchards all around the wall, with many of the apples individually wrapped in brown paper bags. Can you imagine how time consuming that must be?

There are ladies with baskets, hawking apples all over the place. The village of one story white-tile houses looks messy – as they all do- but not poor. The apples must sell well. And what a glorious location: imagine having the Great Wall running past your back garden …..

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

On the right at the far end the wall is blocked, so you can’t clamber up the unrestored bit. We therefore turn left and start climbing: it’s very steep at times, but the wall is broad And well maintained; unscary.

With each turn, or ascent of a watchtower, the views change and we can make out yet another watchtower, or stretch of wall in the distance! It really is a magnificent sight and we have gorgeous blue skies to go with it as well.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Halfway-up, a peasant lady has actually set up an apple and refreshments stall in her orchard, right by the wall and she is doing a brisk trade, flogging apples and bottles of water over the wall.

Apple seller on Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Closer to the top I notice a young couple stuffing pieces of handkerchief down the back of their little daughter’s shoes.

Everone is taking Photos Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

The poor thing obviously has blisters, so I offer them some plasters. They then take pictures with me. It’s all quite companionable.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Round about watchtower 3 the restored wall becomes less and less restored and eventually peters out. A sign tells people to stop, though a couple of Chinese men have ignored this and climbed up the mountain to very end of the wall anyway; leaving their rather annoyed companions to wait for them.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

We head back and obtain a couple of beers from a little stand down below, which we drink on a shady bench, looking over the bridge and the crumbling wall.

It would be total bliss if it were not for the blaring music and tourists dressing up in emperor and empress costumes and/ or taking selfies. However, the setting is beautiful and nothing can spoil that!

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

As our driver had predicted we have spent over two hours here, having a very good look around, and are now ready to move on.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

There are other things here, such as an aviary with ‘rare foul’, but we don’t want to waste time trying to find it. It time for our next destination: Old Dragon Head, this is where the Great Wall once met the sea.

Jiumenkou Great Wall 九门口长城

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang 麻塘革家寨的斗牛: Guizhou Province

From Our Diary presents Bullfighting in the Gejia 革家 village of Matang: Guizhou Province

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

The day we visited Matang was a big day for the village. It was the culmination of the five-day annual bullfighting festival, an event held to commemorate the day that rebel leader Zhang Xiumei met his end at the hands of the Imperial troops in August 1873.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Luckily, bullfighting in China isn’t as bloody as in Spain: basically, two buffalo are incited to fight each other by crashing their heads together, until one decides he has had enough and runs away. However, the bulls do get injured and sometimes fatally and that is why we decided to make our exit before that actual fighting got underway.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

The Matang festival is a pretty big event and loads of buses from Kaili and all the  nearby towns and villages had already begun arriving when we got to the arena, a huge sand- pit about 2 kilometres from the village.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

People were getting there early to obtain a good place and with 2 hours to go before the first fight, space was already at a premium. Whole clans of Miao and Gejia sat precariously on the high slopes, overlooking the bullfighting arena.

Gejia spectators 革家人

Meanwhile, the owners of the star buffalos were proudly displaying their huge, well-groomed, shiny beasts to impress the onlookers.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

I’ve always looked upon water buffalo as quite docile creatures, but having seen some of these monsters and their aggressive manners, I have come to change my mind.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Heavy drinking and gambling is part and parcel of any local minority event and this was no exception: shady- looking types with Al Capone hats and cigarettes dangling from the corners of their mouths stood near the buffalo, waving big wads of hundred Yuan notes.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Many of the punters had that glazed look of one glass (or bottle) of Baijiu (Rice wine) too many. Thieves and pickpockets were also out for a day of rich pickings. However, one unfortunate thief was discovered and pursued by an angry mob who cornered him and gave him a pretty heavy thrashing.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

He was spared any further damage by the timely intervention of the truncheon- wielding Military Police, who appeared from nowhere to separate the culprit from his assailants; their truncheons indiscriminately whacking anything in the way.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Though the fighting buffalo were well looked-after and pampered, the Gejia don’t seem to hold their dogs in equally high esteem. When it came to food, it was dog, dog and more dog.

Dog Hot Pot

Fried, grilled and most popular in a hot pot, dog meat was everywhere. Live animals, waiting to have their throats slit, huddled pathetically together near the pools of blood from their departed brothers and sisters, aware of the fate that was about to befall them.

Dog Hot Pot

Dead dogs lined the road side, under the blaze of blow torches blasting their skin off, and cauldrons full of dog parts bubbled away with the smell of chillies and Sichuan pepper.

Dog Hot Pot

Hoards of people gathered around the improvised hot pots, gnawing away contentedly on bits of canine flesh. Not really a place for a dog-loving vegetarian like myself. 

Practicalities:

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Coming and Going

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Matang is about an hour from Kaili’s local bus station (not the main bus station). Buses don’t go directly to the village, but drop you at a turn- off from where it is a two- kilometre walk. Any of the regular buses going to Chong’an or Huangping will drop you there. When returning, just get back to the main road and flag down any passing bus.

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Accommodation:

Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Villagers were putting the final touches to a wooden guesthouse near the entrance. Some fancy toilet buildings were already standing.

Food:

Dog hot pot.

What to eat at Chinese Bull Fighting in Matang 麻塘革家寨的斗牛

Shalu Monastery 夏鲁寺: Tibet: From our Diary

This an updated version of the article and photos of Shalu Monastery that we published on the old holachina.com web-site. Since 2009 Shalu Monastery has undergone massive restoration so it may be quite different from when we were there.

Shalu Monastery: August 2007

Amazing flaying Murals in Shalu Monastery Tibet

We visited the monastery of Shalu 夏鲁寺 on the second day of our excursion, as a  side trip on the way from Gyantse to Shigatse. Shalu was actually off limits to foreigners and we didn’t have it listed on our permit. Our excursion was a spur of the moment decision.

However, our Tibetan driver nonchantly said there would be no problem. And hey this was 2007! Travelling in Tibet hadn’t been so relaxed and open for decades.

Inside Shalu Monastery

The talk among travellers in China in 2007 was that very soon foreigners wouldn’t need permits to travel around Tibet anymore; such was the optimism due to the up and coming Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Flaying murals in Shalu Monastery

Little did people know that within a few months, all the good intentions the Chinese authorities had about opening up Tibet would be shattered by the riots in Lhasa and Tibet would be closed to foreigners for quite a while. Even now (2019), Tibet is still nowhere near as open as it was back then in 2007.

The village of Shalu Tibet

Getting to Shalu Monastery

About 20 kilometres before Shigatse, our van turned left off the main road and went onto a bumpy track full of potholes and puddles.

Tibetan Farmer in the fields near Shalu Monastery

We passed sturdy farmhouses, some of them still under construction, and large fields full of grazing yaks. Wheat was being grown everywhere and the whole area looked quite prosperous.

Tibetan Farmer in the fields near Shalu Monastery

The monastery of Shalu was the seat of the Bu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, named after its founder Buton Rinchendrub, a famous 14th century scholar.

Welome to Shalu Monastery

The original Shalu Monastery was destroyed by an earthquake in 1329, but it was rebuilt by Buton in 1333 under the patronage of the Chinese Mongolian emperor of the Yuan dynasty.

Shalu Monastery

Many Han Chinese artisans and Newari artists from Nepal participated in its reconstruction, giving it its distinctive architectural style, exemplified by the green-tiled arched roof and steep eaves of the central hall, the Shalu Lakhang.

Shalu Monastery

Apart from the architecture and the many large statues of important religious figures, what mostly grabbed our attention were the incredible murals.

Murals in Shalu Monastery

Like in Samye, the tall walls that go behind the main altar are covered from top to bottom by amazing paintings, dimly lit by an occasional light bulb.

Murals in Shalu Monastery

Apart from the usual, slightly repetitive, Buddha figures, there are many exquisite and exotic scenes of a non-spiritual nature, such as caravans of distinctly Arabic-looking merchants leading camels, slim Indian-looking courtiers at play, or beautiful young ladies.

Murals in Shalu Monastery

The murals in the side chapels, attributed to Nepali painters, mostly depict large elegant Buddhas in lotus position, demons and many-armed gods, surrounded by floral motifs. Given their shining state, they must have been retouched recently.

Murals in Shalu Monastery

Not all the murals were so beneign. Gruesome scenes of animals and humans being flayed or disembowled also lined the walls.

Flaying murals in Shalu Monastery
Flaying murals in Shalu Monastery

During our exploration, friendly monks unlocked most of the smaller, side and upper storey chapels for us, allowing us to appreciate the treasures inside, such as ancient statues and thankas.

Statue in Shalu Monastery

The sight of all these precious objects and paintings, clearly venerated by the monks, gave us a real sense of ancient history and tradition.

The Library Shalu Monastery

The monks lead us into the library which is normally kept firmly under lock and key. The collection of manuscripts and scrolls at Shalu is huge and very important for Tibetan Buddhism. Then, as we came out of the library we bumped into a young German who was staying at the monastery studying Buddhism and learning Tibetan. How on earth did he manage to get a permit to do that in Shalu?

Curious local kids Shalu village

Shalu Village

Shalu village is completely traditional as well, it’s a warren of towering white-washed houses, protected by walls and intersected by narrow muddy lanes.

Muddy streets in Shalu village

Interestingly, while we were exploring, the Shigatse – Shalu bus, an old battered vehicle, turned up, showing us that this is another excursion you could easily do on your own.

Locals washing clothes in Shalu village

Getting there and Away

Mural Shalu Monastery

We had hired a Car and driver in Lhasa to go to Gyanste and Shigatse. Shalu Village lies somewhere between the two towns. As mentioned above, we saw local buses from Shigastse arrivng in Shalu. The only problem will be permits, and whether under stricter control the authorites will turn a blind eye to foreigners visiting Shalu.

Street in Shalu village

Accommodation:

The monks in Shalu told us that they had some guest rooms. However, we just visited on a day trip and stayed in Gyantse and Shigatse.

Gyantse Practicalities

Over view of Kumbun and Gyantse

In Gyantse we stayed at the Jianzang hotel which lies on the main street of the modern part of town (Yingxiong Nanlu) and is certainly one of the nicest places we stayed at in the whole of Tibet, or even China. The hotel is embellished with bright, colourful murals and lovely potted plants and flowers, while rooms are large, clean and comfy. We paid 180 Yuan for a double with bathroom, though there were cheaper rooms and dorms as well. The hotel also has its own rooftop restaurant and staff are very friendly.

Adam being mobbed by kids in Shalu

Food:

You will have no trouble finding several places to eat along the same main street. The Yak bar and restaurant, for which you have to go upstairs, is a pleasant, laid-back place with Tibetan sofas and low tables, specialising in western-style food such as chips, pizzas and burgers. We decided to give the guidebook-recommended Zhuang Yuan a miss after one look at their menu, outraged at the idea of paying nearly 30 Yuan for a portion of chips.

Gyantse Fort

Instead, we walked into a large Chinese restaurant, a few doors away and identified by a green sign, where we had an excellent meal.

Shigatse Practicalities

Monks At a festival in Shigatse

We stayed at the Shigatse Post Hotel, a new-ish place (2007) right opposite the posh Shigatse Hotel, down Shanghai Lu. Our double room was painted and furnished in Tibetan style, complete with thankas and white ceremonial scarves, all very bright and clean; good value for 180 Yuan.

Monks At a festival in Shigatse

Going down Shanghai Lu towards the centre we found plenty of food, though restaurants were mostly of the simple, snack food variety. A ten-minute walk from the hotel will take you to the night market.

Kongtong Shan From our Diary

Kongtong Shan and Bus Insurance Hassle: 崆峒山甘肃省

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

Update

Pingliang has become a large prosperous town in the last decade and has expanded enormously. Along with that expansion there are more hotel and eating options than what we have listed here. Kongtong Shan has become a huge domestic tourist spot and has undergone a lot of renovations. Many of the old temples have been rebuilt and some of the authenic atmosphere of a taoist hideaway has disppeared forever. That said it is still a beautiful place. Transport to and from Pingliang has also improved. Especially the bus connections to other major cities such as Lanzhou, Tianshui and Xian. You also don’t need to purchase the Gansu Travel Insurance anymore (Click here.)

Part one: Lanzhou – Pingliang 

The first part of the adventure involves no more than going to the Western bus station and convincing the ticket sellers to sell you a ticket to Pingliang. In the summer of 2002 we had a tremendous battle with them, because they simply refused to sell us a ticket, even though we had previously purchased the (in)famous travel insurance that was obligatory in Gansu at the time. Finally we had to resort to the PSB to sort the problem out (click here for a full account of our bus hassle).

Pingliang and Kongtong Shan: 崆峒山

Once you get there, Pingliang is a small town which makes an excellent base for a visit to the Taoist Mountain of  Kongtong Shan, one of the most sacred in China, which is a mere 15 kms away.

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

The best approach is to take a taxi to the reservoir (around 20 Yuan); a steep flight of steps will take you up to a road, skirting the reservoir, and on to the first temple. This is a beautiful ancient Taoist structure, guarded by venerable old priests, some of them with the pointy goatee and bun, characteristic of many followers of Tao.

After this, you come to the ticket window, from where different paths will take you up the mountain in around 3 hours, passing many small temples, nunneries, colourful gardens and Continue reading “Kongtong Shan From our Diary”

Chong’an Market 重按市场: Guizhou 贵州省

Chong’an Market 重安

Guizhou Province 贵州省

From our diary (August 2005) Updated

Chong’an Market 重安市场

Arrival

Chong’an Market 重安市场

The early morning mist and heavy cloud cover bestowed an eerie atmosphere over Chong’an 重安. The river was motionless and silky smooth like a millpond.  The town and the surrounding scenery seemed as if suspended in a  landscape painting. Silence reigned.

Chong’an Market 重安市场

Then there was a shout, a curse and the haggling began. Chong’an Market was open for business.

Chong’an Market 重安市场

The huge market held in Chong’an every five days is one of the best and most colourful in Guizhou. The local Miao 苗族 and Gejia 革家 ethnic groups swamp the small scruffy town in a frenzy of buying and selling that lasts the entire morning and carries on into the early afternoon.

Like the huge Sunday markets in Anshun and Rongjiang, Chong’an market is a farmers’ market, not a place to pick up souvenirs, but Continue reading “Chong’an Market 重按市场: Guizhou 贵州省”

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 Continue reading “Cizhong 茨中 Yunnan: From our Diary”

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.

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              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, Continue reading “Faces of Xiding Market 西定市场 Yunnan”

Slow train to Chengdu 成都的临客: Photo of the Week

Slow train to Chengdu

成都的临客

 CITS (China’s official travel agency’s description of an L Train 临客)

“L – Temporary Train In Chinese: LinKe (临客)
L trains operate only during the peak travel season, such as the Chinese Spring Festival and the National Holiday. These trains are not listed in the official fixed train schedule. It is not advised to take L-trains if you have other options as they are known to be relatively slow and regularly subject to delays”.

Slow train to Chengdu

“46 hours”. I doubted my Chinese at that moment, but the ticket seller repeated the departure and arrival times, there was no mistake. Bagging next day hard sleeper tickets from Beijing to Chengdu can be a taxing experience at the best of times, but in early August, you’ve got about as much chance as winning the lottery. Unless … unless, of course, you are willing to take the slow train 临客 , or L Train as it is known in China!

We got two middle berths, which are the best, as during the day you can escape the crowded lower berths, where everyone sits, and they have more space than the often claustrophobic upper berths.

Pandemonium broke out when the gates were opened at Beijing West Station 北京西站 to allow the passengers on. Those without reservation ran frantically, pushing and shoving the old and weak out of the way, to grab one of those precious seats. It was a simple case of survival of the fittest; get a seat or stand for 46 hours.

Legs

With a reservation in our hands, we took a more leisurely stroll to the train. Unfortunately, Continue reading “Slow train to Chengdu 成都的临客: Photo of the Week”

Xiahe夏河: 1990 From our Diary: Final Report of our 5 Part Review of Xiahe

Xiahe 夏河: November 1990 From our Diary

Gansu province, China

PREVIOUS ARTICLES: 1 Xiahe revisited 2 Xiahe & the Labrang Monastery 3 Excursions from Xiahe 4 Xiahe; a Reflection

Introduction

This is the final part of our travel report on Xiahe and the Labrang Monastery in China’s Gansu Province. The article is an unedited extract from the diary that Margie kept during our two year trip around Asia and the Middle East. The trip began in Lahore, Pakistan in early October 1990. By late November 1990 we had reached Xiahe.  Though we have now visited Xiahe 3 times (see previous articles), it was our first visit that really stood out, probably because  we hadn’t really experienced Tibetan culture before.

Xiahe Monks 1990

Wednesday 21/11/ 1990 (Lanzhou to Xiahe)

We have to get up early to catch the 7.30 bus to Xiahe; the only one of the day. The scenery gradually becomes more and more interesting. The whole morning we have been driving through a winter landscape of soft brown, reddish and yellowish shades. Every available scrap of land is being used: all the mountains have been terraced and divided into tiny vegetable plots, while the fields are used to grow potatoes, cereals and barley. There are haystacks everywhere and corns on the cob on every roof, drying. The villages, of a pinkish-brown hue, form an indistinguishable part of the landscape.

Looking out of the bus window, we can see many non-Chinese people, walking along the road. Most of them closely resemble Uyghur people, and they are wearing greatcoats, animal skins and furs, as well as heavy leather boots. The majority seem to be Muslims, judging by the white skull caps of the men and the black velvet and lace headscarves of the women. Many of the men also wear the large, round, horn-rimmed sunglasses that seem to be typical around here.

We stop for lunch just outside Linxia, a large Muslim market town, situated atop a reddish loess plateau. We can see lots of yaks milling about; as well as a whole pile of severed yak heads lying in a cart. Apart from yaks, there is a busy traffic of donkeys, pony’s and bicycles. Lunch, of course, consists of Continue reading “Xiahe夏河: 1990 From our Diary: Final Report of our 5 Part Review of Xiahe”