Qikou Town 碛口in Shanxi Province山西省

Qikou Town 碛口

Shanxi Province山西省

Qikou Town 碛口

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

Qikou Town 碛口

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

Qikou Town 碛口

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

Qikou Town 碛口

Qikou is an ancient port on the Yellow River (see our previous article on The Qikou Inn for more information). Nowadays there is scarcely any river traffic; Continue reading “Qikou Town 碛口in Shanxi Province山西省”

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

 Qikou Inn 碛口客站

Qikou kezhan

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

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

Qikou Kezhan

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

Qikou kezhan

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

Qikou Kezhan

It’s a handsome, two storey, grey-brick building with two courtyards, a small tower and a lovely, covered terrace overlooking the river. Rooms are cave- like, with huge, rounded, latticed windows and bamboo screens hanging in front of the sturdy wooden doors. The beds are Continue reading “Qikou Kezhan (Inn) 碛口客站: One of China’s most Charismatic Hotels”

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

Changing Times in WutaiShan 五台山

Even Wutaishan is Changing 五台山

photo of the week

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

Changing times in Wutaishan 五台山

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

Tianning Temple and Pagoda

Tiannng Temple and Pagoda 天宁寺塔
Tianning Temple and Pagoda 天宁寺塔


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

Tianning Temple and Pagoda 天宁寺塔

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

Tianning Temple and Pagoda 天宁寺塔

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

Taoist Monks in BaiyunSi 白云寺

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

Tianning Temple and Pagoda 天宁寺塔

After visiting the White Cloud Temple we headed south west crossing under the six-lane elevated highway that heads towards Beijing West train station and entered Fengtai District. From there we basically followed Continue reading “Tianning Temple and Pagoda 天宁寺塔: A Beijing Hidden Gem”

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


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.


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


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


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.


              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”

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

Shanxi Province 山西省: A journey through the cradle of Chinese culture

Shanxi Province 山西省

Yungang Caves nearDatong
Yungang Caves 云冈石窟 near Datong大同


Our last two trips to China have taken us to the North-Western province of Shanxi. We’ll be posting a series of articles that look at some of the most spectacular sites Shanxi has to offer.

Temple  Land at Wutai Shan
Temple Land at Wutai Shan 五台山

We’ll be recommending what to see and do in places that range from the amazing cave art of the Yungang Grottoes云冈石窟 near Datong 大同 and the temple- studded mountains of Wutai Shan 五台山 to more remote places like Qikou 碛口, a Ming dynasty village on the Yellow river, the cave houses of Lijiashan 李家山, or the castles near the bustling city of Jincheng 晋城.

Grilled Squid at Taiyuan-s wonderful night market
Grilled Squid and lamb at Taiyuan-s wonderful night market

Pingyao 平遥 won’t be forgotten. We’ve now visited this wonderful city 3 times since 2001. There will be a comprehensive review of all the incredible things to see and do in and around this unique historical city.

Shanxi Opera in Pingyao
Shanxi Opera in Pingyao 平遥

For now, here are a few photos to whet you appetite. Continue reading “Shanxi Province 山西省: A journey through the cradle of Chinese culture”

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: http://en.cafa.com.cn/iconic-chinese-woodcuts-artist


“Li strongly believes that art should serve the interests of the masses–the workers, peasants and soldiers. Continue reading “Li Qun 力群 Wood Cuts 木刻绘画 in the Wang Jia Mansion”