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. 


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


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.


Dog hot pot.

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

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

From our diary: August 2003

Anshun 安顺 is a medium sized city in the western part of the Chinese province of Guizhou.
Having a spot of Lunch at Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

China has changed so much and so rapidly over the last twenty years that trying to make sense of what has been happening can be almost impossible. In such a short space of time China has been catapulted from a largely agrarian society into a modern industrial and high tech country. While pockets of old China remain, evidence of modernization reaches even the most remote corner.

Trader with weighing tools Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

The Chinese have a saying: If the old doesn’t go, the new won’t come ( 旧的不去,新的不来, jiù de bù qù , xīn de bù lái ). Nowhere is this saying more appropriate than when used to describe the virtual disappearance of the Sunday Farmers Market in Anshun; a quirky barometer to show just how far and fast China has changed.

Poor horse: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

just over a decade ago hordes of peasants, farmers and merchants, who made make up a vast array of a jack of all trades, would descend upon the Sunday market in Anshun in their thousands to sell their wares and ply their goods:

Fish net seller: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Some would produce their wares on the spot; basket makers, tobacco pipe craftsmen, chili sauce grinders all jostled for space with sellers of human hair, street dentists and Taoist soothsayers.

Hair seller: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Professional pickpockets took advantage of non-too street wise peasants from the countryside to relieve them of their hard earned profits.

Dentist: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

It was organized bedlam that now, due to modernization, has been reduced to a few dilapidated streets and left waiting for the final death knell.

Traders:Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Below is our account from our diary of the first of our three visits to Anshun’s Sunday Market 安顺星期七农民市场. Some of the photos are from our later visits in 2005 and 2007.

Anshun 2003 安顺星期七农民市场

Pipe smaker:Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

The receptionist looked at us with a puzzled expression and asked: “What market?”.

Pipe smoker: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

“The Sunday market”, I replied, almost in despair, in my faltering Chinese. My spoken Chinese tends to lose a lot of its coherence when the reply to a question is not at all what I’m expecting.

Farmer: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

“There are some good shops near the bus station, all the tourists go there”, she insisted.

“No not those; we have already seen those”, I responded.

Household goods seller:Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

“Oh I don’t know. There is a  local market where all the villagers come to buy and sell their products, but you wouldn’t be interested in that one; there are no souvenirs, or anything else for foreigners to buy”.

More Pipe smoking: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

“Yes, that’s the one!”. I could have given her a hug. “How do we get there?”


Street Scene:Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

The city of Anshun, a mere two-hour bus ride away from Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, is a pretty ordinary modern town.

Chilli Crushers: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Nowadays, its new concrete buildings are encroaching relentlessly upon the few remaining pockets of old wooden architecture.

Peasants: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

However, we had been told that Anshun’s Sunday market was well worth seeing and, as it turned out, we were not disappointed.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Compressed into the north-western part of town, the market mostly follows one long street, spilling over into side streets and small squares.

Basket weaver Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

All goods are rigorously divided into sections: there is a square for vegetables and chillies, an alley dedicated to tobacco and pipes, a hairdressers’ and dentists’ corner, streets full of artisans, another square where carpenters work on wooden and wicker furniture, etc. etc.

Buying bamboopoles:Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Fascinating artisans.

Watching the artisans at work is fascinating, especially now that so many of the old trades have become redundant and have almost disappeared from the modern cities.

Here, you can still observe street dentists extracting a tooth, see people having their bodies cupped, or watch a bearded sage selling ancient Taoist tracts.

Taoist Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

You can try and guess which of the five bamboo poles that the farmer is carefully inspecting and testing, he will eventually buy. Marvel at how quickly the wicker workers can put together a chair or a basket.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Encourage groups of young men pounding mounds of chillies into a pulp. Work out how much that mass of human hair, lying on a set of portable scales, might be worth.

Broom seller:Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Finally, you might also catch a professional pickpocket at work, using a giant pair of tongs to extract a purse or wallet from his unsuspecting victims.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

A sea of blue.

Bouyi Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

However fascinating the artisans are, the real highlight of this market are the people. Anshun is the heartland of the Bouyi ethnic group, whose origins are Thai, and who are related to Guangxi’s Zhuang nationality.

Sellers in the rain Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Many of the Bouyi, as well as a few Miao, come to the market, dressed in their Sunday finest, for a few hours of hectic buying and selling.

Choosing the right bamboo pole Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Most of the women wear indigo blue tunics over baggy black trousers and aprons. On their heads they wear black or white headscarves, folded into small turbans.

Trendy Minorities Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

A few of the younger Bouyi girls wear brighter colours, such as turquoise or light-green, and combine their traditional clothes with high-heeled shoes, creating quite a stylish and fashionable look.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

The older men tend to dress in blue Mao jackets and cloth caps. Many of them have distinguished long grey wispy beards and smoke elongated and extravagantly carved pipes.

Hairdresser Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Try and find a quiet spot from which to observe this blue-grey sea of shoppers and traders, pushing and shoving their way through the jam-packed, narrow streets.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Most of the time you will pass unnoticed, as the people are so engrossed in their shopping; other times you might become the actual focus of attention, as many of the Bouyi from further afield have rarely seen foreigners.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

What to eat

Horse chao Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Food at the Sunday market is not that appetising: fiery dog- meat hot pots and other such local specialities very much dominate the menu.  It might be worth waiting for the excellent daily night market to set up its stalls to enjoy a decent meal.

Spice Seller Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

What to buy

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Finally, as far as shopping is concerned, our receptionist was right: apart from the delicately carved tobacco pipes and rustic wicker products the market hasn’t got much to tempt travellers with.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

If you really want to buy something in Anshun, you are better off going to the shops on Nanhua Lu, next to the bus station.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Here you can find a good selection of Batiks, a Bouyi and Miao speciality, such as wall hangings, table cloths, ethnic jackets and bags at a fraction of the price you will be charged in touristy places such as Kunming or Dali, or around Beijing’s Houhai lake.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Other Anshun Attractions

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

The countryside surrounding Anshun is dotted with Karst Mountains, jutting out the ground, with the medieval, stone villages of the Bouyi nestled in between. Some of these, such as Shitou Zhai and Tianlong, have become tourist attractions in their own right and can easily be visited by bus.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Moreover, some 64 kilometres from Anshun is Guizhou’s number one tourist site and China’s most famous waterfall, Huangguoshu. In full flood the waterfall is a spectacular sight, while the surrounding area, with other, smaller falls and little villages, offers wonderful opportunities for walking and exploring.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场


Coming and going:

Basket sellers Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Anshun is easily reached by frequent buses from Guiyang. It is also on the Guiyang – Kunming train line. Moreover, buses link Anshun to the interesting town of Xingyi (starting point for exploring the Maling Canyon) and other destinations in the remote western part of Guizhou.

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Update; Anshun is now connect by high-speed trains to various parts of China.

Places to stay:

Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

In recent years, Anshun has been put firmly on the Chinese tourist trail, not for the market but because of the waterfalls, and hotel prices have risen accordingly.

Bamboo pole anybody? Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Bear in mind that at weekends and especially during the summer months the city can get quite full and finding a reasonably priced room may take a while. Most of the hotels that feature in the popular guidebooks seem to be eternally full.

Fruit and eel sellers Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

We stayed at the clean, bright and friendly Huayou Binguan n Tashan Xilu (tel. 322 6020) , excellent value for 150 Yuan. The hotel is in the centre of town, to the left of the roundabout on Tashan Donglu. Unfortunately, it was completely full on our last visit.

Teeth for sale: Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

In 2007 we really had a hard time finding a room. Eventually we were pointed to the huge Fu Yun Hotel, right next to the bus station on Guihuang Gonglu lu. Light, airy rooms, arranged around an atrium, were 210 Yuan, a modest breakfast included. Staff were extremely friendly.

Anshun’s special reed pipes. Now very expensive Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

Other cheap options that may have vacancies are the Ruo Fei Binguan on Nanhua Lu, and the Anju Binguan next to the train station.

Places to eat in Anshun:

For photos of Anshun night Market click here on Shitou Zhai and scroll down.

More pipes Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

There are restaurants all over town, but nothing beats the night market. Try one of the many tents, where you can roll your own pancakes with an incredible selection of cold vegetables, pickles and noodles. The hot pots are good too, though they are not for those with a weak stomach. The food is spicy enough in Guizhou to rival any of its neighbouring provinces, such as Sichuan or Hunan. 

Garlic Seller Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

For vegetarians there is a real treat, something that seems unique to Anshun: at the top end of Gufu Jie there are two tents that specialise in vegetable pancakes. For 4 Yuan you get ten small pancakes that you can stuff with any of the vegetable fillings, meticulously prepared and attractively laid out on plates. Sauces and chilli are provided for dipping.

Old man in the rain Anshun marlket Anshun Sunday Market: 安顺星期七农民市场

The Hair Seller of Anshun: Photo of the Week

Hair seller Anshun Sunday Market 安顺市场 卖头发的农民

Not so long ago Anshun’s Sunday Market was one of the biggest, most vibrant and exotic in China. Kilometers of streets filled with farmers, traders, ethnic minorities, craftsmen and a gaggle of pockpockets. These days the market is a mere shadow of its former self and is restricted to a few delapidated streets.

These photos were taken in 2003 and show the hair seller at the market.

Hair seller Anshun Sunday Market 安顺市场 卖头发的农民

His bags are full of human hair that are sold in small bundles mostly to women who attach it to their own hair, either to cover thinning or to make it look longer. The bundles are sold by weight.

Hair seller Anshun Sunday Market 安顺市场 卖头发的农民

We will be re-posting our article about Anshun’s Sunday Market market very soon. Article now posted.

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 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


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


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.

Bucolic Stone Village near Anshun安顺 with an expensive Entrance Ticket

Shitou Zhai 石头 home to China’s best Batik.

Baishui River (白水河 Shitou Zhai 石头寨

Click here to read updated article and new photos

Baishui River (白水河 Shitou Zhai 石头寨

Tunbao Village 屯堡 and Dixi Opera

Step back in time and visit this fascinating ancient village in Guizhou Province.

Residents of Tunbao village shopping in Anshun Market

We didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived at Tunbao village 屯堡 (sometimes known as Tunpu), next to the larger town of Tianlong 天龙. We had heard that it was home to a special group of Han Chinese who still dressed in Ming clothes. They are descendants of part of the army sent to quell unrest in the region during the reign of the Hongwu emperor; the founder of the Ming Dynasty 13681398.

Dixi Opera in Tunbao Village

Although we had wondered whether it was going to be some themed, Disney-style village to amuse Chinese tourists, we were actually pleasantly surprised.

Young Tunbao Children

The first  thing we discovered came as a total shock: the women in Ming  dress were the same ones we had seen haggling at Anshun market, or working the fields in nearby villages. We had previously mistaken them for Buyi (Bouyi) 布依族; ( an ethnic minority who live in this area), but from our previous visit to Shitou Zhai we had learnt that they wear darker clothes, embroidered in the different way.

Tunbao Village

The ladies in Ming dynasty clothes were definitely authentic; there were not only old ladies, but many young girls too, who continued to sport these traditional garments. There seems to be an area of villages and towns around Anshun where this practice continues.

The Ming costume basically consists of long, calf- length blue tunics, black trousers, dark aprons and the embroidered cloth shoes that are common in this area of Guizhou. The tunics are usually bright blue, but can be turquoise, purple or pink as well.

Tunbao Ladies in Anshun

The ladies wear their hair in a bun at the back of their head, with a small white cap around it, held in place by a long pin, and they usually wear long dangling earrings as well. As is often the case, the men don’t wear anything special.

Tunbao village isn’t undiscovered. There is a 25- Yuan ticket that includes a guide, which we declined. However, it is far from over-run and a very picturesque place, which offers a much better example of the local stone village architecture than the touristy and over-priced Shitou Zhai.

While souvenir shops line the main street, the sales pressure is low and the haggling good-natured. Local woodcarvings and Dixi opera masks seem to be the main products.

The stone houses are well preserved and still lived in, many have a multitude of traditional farming implements spread all over the courtyard, as an indication that farming is still one of the main occupations of the villagers.

Tunbao 屯堡 boasts a few real architectural gems: one of these is the ancient Three Religions Temple 三教寺 (Sanjiaosi) which combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. In the Temple courtyard there’s a delightful wooden pyramid, adorned with carved figurines and ceramic bowls with tea-oil lamps.

Old ladies in their traditional blue dresses sit around sewing shoes, some are real ones, while others are miniature versions, something that seems to be another speciality of the village.

The second gem of Tunbao is the 19th century church school, built by a French priest, an unusual oval stone building with adjacent wooden halls that house a Dixi museum.

Dixi Opera

Dixi Opera in Tunbao Village

Dixi is the local style of opera, in which actors wear colourful wooden masks and extravagant costumes. The museum has a whole collection of these masks, some of them huge and frightening creations.

Dixi Opera in Tunbao Village

On the stage in the courtyard, regular mini-performances are held, whenever there are enough people around. The performances are lively and the mock fights are excellent.

You may have to wait around a bit in the plant-filled courtyard (look out for the dragon-shaped mini-tree) for a few other tourists to turn up.  The actors a quite happy for you to enter their dressing room, nose around and ask questions.

Click here to Visit Tiantai Shan and Wulong Si from Tunbao Village

Practicalities: Tunbao 屯堡

Getting there and away:

Buses leave regularly from Anshun’s 安顺 main bus station to Tianlong. It takes around 45 minutes, up to an hour, depending on the route they take.

Food and Accommodation:

There were a number of restaurants serving local dishes and a few small inns (kèzhàn).

Practicalities Anshun 安顺

安顺夜市 Anshun Night Market Gufu Jie


Accommodation can be tight in Anshun, especially at weekends, holidays and in summer. You may have to search around a bit before finding a bed, most of the hotels that feature in the popular guidebooks seem to be eternally full.

In 2003, we stayed at the pleasant Huayou Binguan on Tashan Xilu (tel. 322 6020), where comfortable airy rooms went for around 150 Yuan and staff were very friendly. Unfortunately, it was completely full on our last visit.

In 2007 we really had a hard time finding a room. Eventually we were pointed to the huge Fu Yun Hotel, right next to the bus station on Guihuang Gonglu lu. Light, airy rooms, arranged around an atrium, were 210 Yuan, a modest breakfast included. Staff were extremely friendly.

Other cheap options that may have vacancies are the Ruo Fei Binguan on Nanhua Lu, and the Anju Binguan next to the train station.


Wok cooking at Anshun Night market Gufu jie 安顺夜市

The best food in Anshun is definitely to be had at the night market. At seven o’clock on the dot, stall holders start appearing from nowhere, pushing their carts, and within minutes the entire length of Gufu Jie and its surrounding streets become crammed with stalls and tents, selling all kinds of snacks and more elaborate dishes. Cauldrons bubble and grilles crackle and practically the whole of Anshun seems to turn up for the feast.

安顺夜市 Hot pot / Huo guo Gufu jie

Huo guo is extremely popular and the Anshun variety is one of the hottest we’ve ever tasted!

安顺夜市 Grilled fish at Anshun Night Market

Another popular dish is grilled fish: you take your pick from an aquarium and watch while your choice is plucked out, bashed several times on the floor, gutted and placed in a metal griddle on top of a barbecue. You pay according to the weight and type of fish (around 60–70 Yuan for two). The whole, grilled fish is served on a hot plate, covered by spicy vegetables and aromatic herbs. Washed down with a mini, portable barrel of draught beer it makes for a very tasty meal.

安顺夜市 Grilling the Fish Gufu jie night market Anshun

One more dish that seems all the rage is barbecued mixed meats, mostly innards and offal, which you cook yourself on a round hot-plate, teriyaki style.

Veggie Feast Gufu jie 安顺夜市

For vegetarians there is a real treat, something that seems unique to Anshun: at the top end of Gufu Jie there are two tents that specialise in vegetable pancakes. For 4 Yuan you get ten small pancakes that you can stuff with any of the vegetable fillings, meticulously prepared and attractively laid out on plates. Sauces and chilli are provided for dipping.

Veggie Feast Anshun Night Market Gufu Jie 安顺夜市

Noodles, Xinjiang lamb kebabs and a host of other snacks make up the rest of the market. Fruit shakes and shaved ice with various toppings, called baobing, provide the desserts.

Quanzhou 泉州: Revised and Updated

Quanzhou: A fascinating Chinese City with a long history.

Quanzhou 泉州/Zaitun: the City of Light! Or not!

The City of Quanzhou is a must for any History buff, such as myself. It was made famous by Marco Polo, who described ‘Zaitun’, the name by which Quanzhou was known then, as ‘… one of the two ports in the world with the biggest flow of merchandise…’.

Pagoda at Kaiyuan Temple Quanzhou

Quanzhou’s historical grandeur and importance have received further recognition in the book ‘The City of Light’, written by the historian David Selbourne; a work which has raised considerable controversy. Based on the diaries kept by a Jewish merchant, Jacob D’ Ancona, the book describes a city of enormous wealth and riches, built on commerce and trade with the outside world, as well as a vibrant political culture, with merchants, bureaucrats and intellectuals involved in heated arguments and violent discussions over the best way to confront and contain the impending Mongol invasion that would soon engulf all of China and bring down the Southern Song dynasty.

Traditional Fujian House in Quanzhou and excellent restaurant

Whether fiction or reality, Jacob’s diary makes for an interesting companion on a visit to Quanzhou. One of the most fascinating parts of the book is Jacob’s account of the many different foreigners living and trading in the city, in the years preceding Marco Polo.

Bustling Streets Quanzhou

He refers to Franks (Western Christians), Saracens (Muslims) and Jews, among others, all living in the city in their own communities, according to their religion.   Who were they? How did they get there? What were their impressions of China, and finally, what traces did they leave?

Traditional Fujian House in Quanzhou

A visit to the maritime museum and new Islamic centre provides ample evidence of the early presence of foreigners in Quanzhou, such as tombstones and carvings from the different religious groups.

Chinese Junk: Martime Museum Photo taken from:

Besides the many Arab gravestones, there are Christian, and even Hindu, memorials as well. The Museum also houses a fascinating collection of miniature models of all types of Chinese sailing vessels, eloquent witnesses to the advanced stage of Chinese shipbuilding, in comparison with Europe.

Martime Museum Photo taken from:

Finally, the Qingjing  Mosque, established as early as 1009, is further standing proof of the long historical ties that linked Arab traders to the legendary port of Quanzhou.

The Qingjing  Mosque, established as early as 1009 Quanzhou

For the modern- day visitor, Quanzhou is at first sight just another bustling modern Chinese City. However, unlike most of its Southern counterparts, Quanzhou still retains many of its traditional streets and examples of Fukianese architecture.

Old Streets in Quanzhuo

The square in front of the Confucian temple Fuwen Miao, in particular, has some beautiful low, red-brick houses, with the characteristically sweeping roofs that end in a kind of projecting forks.

Confucian temple Fuwen Miao

The vicinity of the beautiful Temple of Kaiyuan Si is another, recommended area for walking and exploring. Here, the traditional Fukianese courtyard houses rub shoulders with colonial-style buildings, housing all kinds of traditional shops, selling anything from candles and incense, to embroidered shoes and dried food.

Squid Seller Quanzhou

Moreover, the temple itself is well worth a visit. It was built in the Tang dynasty and reached its peak of importance during the Song dynasty.

The temple grounds are huge and shaded by venerable, ancient trees under which the locals gather to play cards, or practise tai chi.

Kaiyuan Temple Pagoda

They are home to numerous halls, some of which double as museums, and two outstanding, five-storey pagodas. Many of the halls, as well as the pagodas, have wonderful carvings.  Besides its architectural and religious charms, the Kaiyuan Si also harbours the hull of a Song dynasty sea-sailing junk, which was excavated near Quanzhou in 1974.

Monks in Kaiyuan Temple

On a practical note, Quanzhou is not an expensive city to visit. Good hotels can be found in the centre, along or just off Wenling Lu, for around 150 yuan, for a standard double with breakfast. 

Quiet old Street in Quanzhou

We stayed at the City Holiday Hotel, a typical three-star business hotel for 164 yuan for a standard double (Tel. 0595 – 22989999). It was pretty good value with spotless rooms, friendly service and a reasonable breakfast.

Street scene Quanzhou

As for eating, you can find some of the best and most reasonably priced seafood in the whole of China on Meishijie, (Delicious Food Street).

Traditional shop In Quanzhou

Apart from the prices, what makes Meishijie such a great place to eat is that there are restaurants specialising in all the regional styles of Chinese food, but with the added benefit of using some of the freshest fish and seafood you will find in China.

Old House Quanzhou

We discovered an amazing restaurant in the middle of the city in a traditional building serving wonderful seafood but we can remember the name or address. Sorry!

Old Restaurant

For old world comfort there is the Gucuo Chayuan/ 古厝茶坊 Gucuo teahouse in the old city. China, Fujian Sheng, Quanzhou Shi, Licheng Qu, Houcheng St, 后城122

Old Houses in Quanzhou

Finally, Quanzhou makes a good base for further exploration of the area, such as excursions to Chongwu  崇武镇 , or Anping Bridge 安平桥 . You can also visit nearby Xunpu Village (Oyster Village). Oyster shells are used in the construction of some of the houses.

Anping Bridge 安平桥
Chongwu  崇武镇
Quanzhou at night

Zhangbi Cun 张壁村 / Zhangbi village: Photo of the Week


Zhangbi Cun 张壁村 / Shanxi Province 山西省

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 is a tiny, beautiful, bucolic village in rural Shanxi Province.  The village is famous for its underground castle, Zhangbi Gubao张壁古堡, a labyrinth of tunnels dating back to the Tang Dynasty (more than 1400 years).

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

Here are a few of the photos we took. There will be more on Zhangbi Village and its underground castle in the coming weeks.

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

Zhangbi Village can be easily visited on a day trip from the ancient walled city of Pingyao 平遥.

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

The best way to get to Zhangbi Village is to hire a car and driver. You can also take in the Wang family courtyard 王家大院 on the same excursion. It all makes for a great day out from Pingyao. We paid 400 yuan and which also included stopping at Shuanglin Temple 双林寺 8 kilometers outside Pingyao。

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


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”