Minalungao

It’s the first days of summer, and this draft has been on the back burner giving way to other bigger trips I’ve had.

So before I start writing about my next destination, which took place last month in an icy setting and is the exact opposite of what we will be experiencing in the coming days, I’d like to take you to a place in Nueva Ecija. A little gem, they call it. It was a spur of the moment invite from close traveling buddies that I have not seen for quite a while. And as usual, we had an enormously fun day.

The small part of an otherwise well-paved road was only wide enough for our Explorer to safely since its way past the stream, thanks to this boy who helped us navigate our way.

Thanking him after, he offered to be our guide. Enterprising young man. And so for 500Php, the then 14-year-old AJ took us around his playground.

We navigated the short but somehow challenging, sometimes slippery rocks and trail to the cave that AJ said would take only 5 minutes. “Akala ko 5 minutes lang sa loob ng cave, bakit parang 20 minutes na kami ditto sa loob ah?” (I thought it only takes 5 minutes to explore the cave, why does it seem like 20 minutes already?) I asked AJ. “Kasi ang bibilis nyo mag lakad!” “Because you all walk so fast!” he said. He has a point.  🙂

In the foothills of the Sierra Madre lies a protected area in the municipality of General Tinio (sometimes also called Papaya – don’t ask me why) where the Penaranda River flows cutting through magnificent limestone walls.

One can trek to the caves through the limestone wall, swim in the crystal clear, refreshing water or simply soak in the scenery while enjoying a packed lunch on the raft.

Do try to make your way there if you haven’t. An enjoyable day trip it was.

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Yunnan Eats: Cheese, Cured Pork and Fresh Vegetables

On the road, we randomly stopped for lunch. The driver calls me into the kitchen, there we ordered, without a menu but rather from what they have in the kitchen, apparently fresh from the fields. He tries to explain the unfamiliar items while I struggle to decipher what he is telling me. But all is well that ends well.  We had a wonderful food experience throughout the trip.

Vegetables

Fresh vegetables cooked lightly with lots of garlic and some chilies are a staple.   Because Yunnan has a diverse variety of plant species, you’ll find dishes made with ferns, bamboo shoots, flowers, tubers, fungi, herbs and even insects of all kinds.

A kind of root that was actually quite good.
Various types of mushrooms found at the local market in Shuhe.
A typical local restaurant showcasing a variety of vegetables, tubers, flowers and ferns.

Cheese?

Cheese is something you do not expect in China because Chinese as a nation are not keen on dairy products. But in a province that lies on the fringe of China, its mash-up nationalities’ dietary habits are far removed from the mainstream Chinese. The love of dairy products could perhaps be attributed to the mélange of ethnic groups such as Mongolians and Tibetans. The way in which they eat it though is distinctly Chinese.

Called rubing, it is often served with rice, sliced and pan-fried until golden on both sides or cut into cubes and stir fried in a wok.

Another interesting cheese called rushan is grilled and sold by the roadside. It’s crispy and milky in flavor.

Cured Pork

Have you heard of Yunnan ham? We used to get them canned and is an absolute favorite of Anton’s. In Yunnan, we couldn’t find the canned one, but instead, we devoured it in so many other ways.

They love them steamed, boiled, fried… usually to flavor stews and braised dishes as well as soups and broths.

Xuan Wei ham from Xuan Wei City is the most famous. It is to China what Iberian ham is to the Spanish.

Found this in the local market in Shuhe.

And with this, I close my series on Yunnan. Don’t drool too much now. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I had re-living it.

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There’s more to Lijiang…

And this is perhaps THE reason to go. It was ours.

Staged outdoors beneath the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain at an incredible elevation of 3,100 meters, Impression Lijiang managed to keep us in awe all throughout its performance.

A cultural show two years in the making, it is the second of nine series of highly sought after productions by Zhang Yimou. In 2003, Zhang, together with 2 of his assistants, Wang Chaoge, and Fan Yue started working on an outdoor production that would later become an ongoing series.

Impressions Liu Sanjie was the first of these productions and found its place on the banks of the Li River in the scenic town of Yangshuo. We saw that too, which actually led us to this Impression series 9 years later.

The show opened with rows of male entertainers in their traditional ethnic costumes shouting in Mandarin, “we are farmers, we are stars.”

Around 500 Naxi, Bai, and Yi ethnic groups from nearby towns and villages were selected to sing and dance. I particularly love the horse scene where they depicted the important tea trading of the province.  It was surreal.

You definitely have to find your way to Lijiang, if only for this.

But not to be missed too is Lijiang’s beautiful canyon and its mighty Jinsha River.

Touted as the world’s most spectacular river canyon is Tiger Leaping Gorge. Its maximum depth is about 3,790 meters from river to mountain peak and is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area of the World Heritage Site.

Legend has it that in ancient times, a tiger, running from a hunter, leaped across the gorge to escape. It jumped at the canyon’s narrowest point.

To trek the upper trail would have been ideal, but due to lack of time, we saw the gorge on a viewing platform at the lower road along with most of the tourist in buses.

But as you can see, it still is a gorgeous sight to see.

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Lijiang

jade-dragon-mountain

Nestled at the foot of the Jade Dragon Mountain, Lijiang is blessed with gorgeous natural surroundings.

dayan-alleyway

Infused with cultural flavors owing to the profound ethnic heritage of the region, which consequently has lured both the domestic and foreign tourist for perhaps a decade now.

dayan-entrance-waterwheel

A UNESCO World Heritage Site with Dayan Old Town being the most popular town among a cluster of villages, its history dating back to the Ming Dynasty. A largely Naxi settlement first built some eight centuries ago.  They still live there, and some still make silk embroideries, a trade they practice since the time of the Silk Road. Like Dali, Lijiang was once a confluence for trade along the Old Tea Horse Trail, and Dayan is famous for its waterways and bridges. It is a town south of the Yangtze River, and traffic across the river is made easy by stone bridges.

Of course, now it’s crowded with tourists and the atmosphere of the bygone era is lost somehow.

dayan-tourists-and-guides

mcdonaldsThere’s even a McDonald’s just outside the gates.

Because a peaceful town it is not anymore. Still quite lovely but it has more of a theme park-like atmosphere.

dayan-naxi-dancing

Many are for show, like the Naxi dancing at the central square, not to mention the saturation of souvenir shops.

dayan-shops

I wasn’t sure at first if staying outside of town was a good idea but was quite relieved that I chose to stay in another town four kilometers away from Dayan.

shuhe-alley

Shuhe is absolutely divine. We didn’t stay in town exactly, but the guesthouse was just a short walk away through this attractive tree-lined street.

tree-lined-street

A quiet(er) town, Shuhe is a small village hidden in the forest and is another well-preserved city along the ancient tea-horse route.

shuhe

Nothing as quaint as Shaxi and less hip than Dali but Shuhe has its own charm.

Known to local people as Longquan Village and renowned as a “village of leather,” it was considered as an important part of Lijiang by UNESCO.

shuhe-store-linedThe streets are lined with independent shops and restaurants all built of rocks from the surrounding mountains.

shuhe-creek

The channel and waterways still give water to the houses from 2 crystal clear springs in the northern part of town. They beautifully form part of Shuhe’s landscape.

shuhe-typical-restaurant

Ambling along Sifang Street is like walking back through time. Archaic wooden facades surround the square, mostly restaurants and shops.  Some still dress in traditional attire.

Built entirely with stones, Qinglong Bridge is one sight I particularly love.

qinglong-bridge

It is also the first among the many old stone bridges found in Shuhe. It spans a small river that starts at the Jiuding Dragon Pool with very clear water.

Every day, we walk to Shuhe for lunch stay till dinner. It is still a struggle to order as many do not speak a word of English.

cafe-in-shuheEverything is in Chinese, even the menu boards outside the cafes.

We, however, managed well, as you can see.

food

We even found a well-appointed hotel that we went back to for lunch the next day.

drawing-room-restaurant

Hui Feng Inn served excellent food, Jack of Drawing Room Restaurant (found inside the hotel) is from Beijing but loved the place so much, he stayed.

jack

Even our beautiful guesthouse, Lijiang Wa Jia served exquisite meals.

lijiang-wa-jiaThe courtyard of Lijiang Wa Jia

food-at-lijian-wa-jia

Here’s sharing more of the beautiful town with you.

preservation-ongoingPreservation on going

shuhe-qinglong-bridge

Qinglong Bridge
tree-lined-2Another tree-lined street going to Banyan Tree Resort, also in Shuhe.
banyan-tree-entranceThe Banyan Tree.  On a clear day, the Jade Dragon Mountain serves a its backdrop.
canine-2One of the most gorgeous Labradoodle I’ve seen.  The people of Lijiang love their dogs.

canine

spring-water-winds-through-townA pool that cuts through town, is surrounded by stores and restaurants.
horses-on-qinglongHorses still abound here.  At the Qinglong Bridge.
shuhe-naxi-selling-foodNaxi selling food.
shuhe-vegetable-gardenSpotted a vegetable garden.
shuhe-boardwalkA boardwalk along the creek.
shuhe-town-map-etched-in-woodA map of Shuhe etched on wood found in Sifangd Square.
shuhe-charmThe Shuhe charm.
shuhe-quaint-shopsQuaint Shops found
shuhe-many-bridgesOne of the many stone bridges near the square.

 

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Hello 2017

I know, it’s a little late for this but it has been a full 2016 with many great travels that will add to the long list that I wish to share with you.  Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll be seeing here this year.

2017-collage

A very belated Happy New Year to all!!

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Shaxi: Quaintest of Quaint

This must be the quaintest of quaint towns I’ve set foot on in quite a while if not in all of my travels. Found halfway between Dali and Lijiang,

sideng-square-from-trail-cafe

Shaxi is home to beautifully preserved adobe courtyard mansions that offer a glimpse into a forgotten era. It was the most intact trading center for centuries linking Yunnan into Bhutan and Tibet on the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail and this lead to its prosperity during the Tang Dynasty. The network channeled tea, horse, and other valuables among the diverse ethnic groups residing in the eastern Himalayan region. What lead to the trail’s demise was the development of the road transportation and Shaxi became just another village in the 1950s. In 2001, the village was included in the protection list of 101 endangered sites and a Swiss-led team worked for years to restore the deteriorating town.

alleyway

The old town of Shaxi is quite compact and easily explored by foot.

sideng-square

It consists mainly of a few quiet lanes and alleys that radiate from Sideng Square—a fascinating marketplace at the heart of Shaxi where we spent most of that Sunday people watching and just chilling.

chilling

The iconic Sideng Theater seats in the middle of the square.

sideng-theater

The unique 4-storey architectural structure and exquisite craftsmanship are the soul of Shaxi because it is (to this day) where the Bai people perform during celebrations.

Across the theater is the Xingjiao Temple. Both are ancient structures that add character to the square. The temple (now a museum) is one of the best-preserved temples in the entire China because it was sequestered and used as a local government headquarters during the Cultural Revolution.

xingjiao-temple-interior

This ironically saved it from destruction. Coupled with painstaking restoration by the Shaxi Rehabilitation Project (SRP), a visit is worth the while. Original murals can still be seen on the walls of the Hall of the Heavenly King.

hei-hui-river

One alleyway leads to the eastern village gate and outside this gate, the Heihui River meanders from north to south through Shaxi.

yujin-bridge-2

The crescent-shaped Yujin Bridge was the only way for the Bai people go to the fields and do business back in the days. With the towering mountains as a backdrop, this bridge is a sight to behold and is one of the highlights of this leg.

simple-joys

Many find pleasure just to simply lie on the grass and chill.

guesthouse-cafes-and-stores

What used to be tack shops, blacksmiths and caravanserais are now guesthouses and

western-dishes

western-dishes-2

foreigner-friendly cafes (offering English menus and western style dishes), which signals an upcoming tourism boom (read: tourist buses) in this old town.

daytrippers-2

Though its visitors still form a fascinating merge of intrepid and curious travellers, many of its visitors (at the time of my visit) came in groups and spent an hour or so running through the ancient streets taking shots of the temple and theatre.  This tells me that the boom might have started already.

daytrippers

The best time to enjoy the quietness of this old trade post is first thing in the morning or very late at night.

square-at-night

As soon as the last bus headed back to Lijiang, the sanctuary of calm kicks off and we sit in the square savoring the solitude.

night-life

At night, we shared the square with the art students. We sit sipping our cup of coffee while they gather around the plaza playing street games under the moonlight and a few lights illuminating the square.

Scenes of Shaxiearly-morning-in-sideng-square

Sideng Square the day after, during breakfast, before journeying on to Lijiang.
ancient-treeAncient tree scatter around the village.
art-students-on-a-field-tripArt students abound; finding inspiration in this breathtaking old town.
 resort-on-the-riseA resort on the rise.
crystal-clear-waterA crystal clear stream flows through the main street of the ancient village.

resident

funny-english-translationsBastardized English Menu
fried-parametersThe fried parameters look like worms but is a root (perhaps from the ginseng family)
park-by-the-riverThe park by the river, just outside the East gate of the ancient town.
guesthouse-courtyardThe courtyard of our guesthouse (Renjia just off the village entrance) — turned into a drying area.
guesthouse-entranceThe entrance to our guesthouse was through the kitchen.
meal-at-renjiaPerhaps why they serve delicious Yunnan cuisine at our guesthouse.  This was lunch when we arrived.
modern-day-give-awayModern day giveaway — local kids with they games.

knitting

locals

little-girl

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On the Cangshan

at-fabulous-mt-cangshan

Credits:  Quick page created by elseepe (Creative Team Member for JessicaSprague.com) using the “You Are Awesome” collaborative kit created for JessicaSprague.com’s birthday bloghop 2010 by the designers at JessicaSprague.com.

Rising above the city of Dali, standing east to Erhai Lake and facing west to the Black Hui River is the Cangshan Mountain.

trail-2

It has 19 peaks with the Malong Peak, the highest, at 4,122 meters. Picturesque streams run between summits and cascades its way down.

qingbi-stream

What used to be an 8-10 hour trek through the forest is now down to 2 hours. We, however, made it in 30 minutes through cable car, which we rode from the Tianlongbabu Film Studio.

on-the-cable-carOn the cable
remindersFunny reminders right before getting on the cable car.

What greeted as we alighted from our cable car was this giant chessboard.

giant-chessboard-and-cable-car

giant-zhenlong-board

A few meters down, passing through a bridge is Qingbi Stream.

bridge-to-qingbi-stream

We didn’t go any further but sat somewhere and had a conversation with an old gentleman who was visiting with his daughter. He spoke impeccable English, which is quite rare today. He is from Beijing, and he learned his English in a Christian school when he was a little boy. He talked a bit about his life then and how he survived labor camp. He seemed happy and content. It was his wish to see Yunnan hence this visit with her daughter. They left first as we waited for the others to come back from their trek up the Cangshan.

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