Jianshui: An Ancient Town Side Trip

Ancient-Town-JianshuiCredits: Now is paper in green and orange; 4ever paper in argyle, love, and solid blue; 4ever striped ribbon—all by Splendid Fiin; Queen of Quirk star element.

Many stop for lunch, but not many stay the night. An optional gateway just 117 kilometers northeast of Yuanyang, we thought that it would be nice to spend a leisurely afternoon and evening in Jianshui County.

coffee-shaved-ice-and-beerRelaxing on shaved ice, coffee and beer ordered mostly through google translate.

It may not be the highlight of our trip, but it was a pleasant interlude, watching the day pass by in a small, sleepy town.

Walking around Jianshui brings you back to the Ming Dynasty.

exploring-Jianshui-2

Many of the structures still keep the tradition architecture of that time. It is like walking through a museum of ancient buildings and residences.

exploring-Jianshui

Small enough to walk around, we covered most of the must-sees in one afternoon.

lunch

After a sumptuous lunch in one of the very few “foreigner friendly” (menu presented on a tablet with photos) restaurants in Han Lin Lu, we headed out to explore the town.

restaurant

Not far from the restaurant in Jianxin St. is a fascinating example of the Qing era, the Zhu Family Garden.

zhu-family-ancient-architecture-

Transporting you 150 years back into imperial times, it showcases the elegance of the Zhu family’s architectural complex from raised eaves, intricate carvings to the spacious 20,000 square meter compound—

zhu-family-courtyardcourtyard
zhu-family-intricate-carvingsintricate carvings
zhu-family-looking-out-to-gardengarden

comprising of ancient buildings, family houses, ponds, lovely gardens and courtyards that took thirty years to build.

tree-lined-street

The main road, Lin-an Lu is shaded with old trees and on its eastern end stands this three-story Chaoyang Tower with a panoramic view of the town.

Chaoyang-Tower

Built in 1389, the gate tower stands in the middle of Jianshui County and with exactly the same style as Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, it has been labeled as the “Little Tiananmen”.

locals-socializing

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A lovely place to while away time, many locals spend their free time socializing at the square.

confucius-temple

On the opposite end of Lin-an Rd. is a well-preserved and one of the largest Confucius Temple in China.   The temple is constructed in traditional Chinese architecture with a history of more than 700 years.  We actually skipped this and instead walked around town and amused ourselves with the everyday goings on.

everyday-stuff-2A favorite past time, I reckon
everyday-stuffA lovely background sound it made while we were having our coffee

A contrast to lunch, in an alleyway in a small barbecue shop, dinner was the famous BBQ tofu

grilled-tofu

and a Jianshui original, rice noodle soup call Guo Qiao Mixian.

dinner

And with that satisfying dish, we ended our day ready for tomorrow’s trip the Yuanyang.

More of Jianshui:

guilin-innThe entrance to our guesthouse, Guilin Inn
locals-in-the-squareA man on the square
locals-socializing-2Singing in the square
restaurant-interiorInside the restaurant at lunch
view-of-Lin-'an-from-Chaoyangthe view of Lin’an Road from the tower
zhu-garden-pondone of the many ponds of the Zhu Family Garden
Posted in China, Jianshui, Yunnan | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Little Bit Of Kunming

At the airport, I approached the guy holding a sign with my name on it. I spoke to him in English, he to me in Mandarin. “We have a problem,” I turned to my travel group. Our driver guide speaks zero English, and he does not understand my (elementary) Mandarin. He called his boss, and we made it to our hostel.

Wang

The problem is that the boss is leaving for her own holidays in a few days. In the end, Wang and I managed. In fact, he played a part in making Yunnan high up on my “best-loved” trips.

Across-the-Bridge-Noodles

He ordered for us and taught us how to eat Yunnan’s famous “Across the Bridge Noodles.” He also suggested that we take the cable car to Western Hills. And just for this view, it was worth it.

view-of-DianchiDianchi Lake from the cable car.  The road winds around it.

Also known as Kunming Lake, Dianchi is the largest freshwater lake in Yunnan Province and the sixth largest in China. With a stunning landscape and an elevation of 1885 meters, it is often called the Pearl of the Plateau.

view-from-western-hillsview of the river from the hills

Though severely polluted, the lake is the primary water source of Kunming’s industry and agriculture today. At one point, Dianchi made up 40% of the drinking water for the city but had to shift to other sources due to the lake’s severe algae blooms. It is teeming with fish still, and the people who live on the east side still fish for a living.

On the western suburbs of Kunming lies Western Hills, also called Sleeping Buddha Hills because from a distance, it looks that. Another name given is Sleeping Beauty Hills because when viewed from a different angle the hills look like a lady laying beside and her hair trailing into the lake.

Western-Hills

The hill stretches from the wooden Huating Temple to the Dragon Gate along the steep cliffs. I didn’t reach the Dragon Gate but instead enjoyed the view from the lower cable car station.

cable-car

One can also go up the hill on a steep and narrow path, but many prefer to go up through cable car and then walk down. We opted for cable cars both ways.

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Yunnan

Collage

With the most ethnic groups among all of China, this southern part of China started to fascinate me when I was researching on Guilin a decade ago. And Yunnan had been on my mind ever since.

Sharing external borders with Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. Internally, it has as neighbors Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan, and Tibet. With its location, it is not surprising that Yunnan is diverse in its culture and people.

Across-the-Bridge-Noodle-SoupA specialty of the Yunnan Province, guoqiao mixian, which translate to “Across the Bridge Noodles”.  The name made popular by a lady who used to bring noodles to her husband across the bridge.  Full Story here.
snow-capped-mountainImpression Lijiang a Zhang Yimou show with the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain as its backdrop.

Its landscape ranges from snow-capped mountains to dense jungles to sensational terraces.

Amazing land it surely is and I have been charmed, captivated. Join me in the next few months as I reminisce about my journey into dramatic landscapes, breathtaking views, fascinating cultures and magnificent cuisine.

Kunming

kunming-at-night

The hub and the capital of Yunnan served as our jump off point. Surrounded by temples, lakes and limestone hills, the city has its own allure, but we didn’t spend a lot of time in the city. Unfortunately.

Green Lake

boating-in-the-lake

I chose to stay near the lake precisely because we didn’t have that much time for exploration. The lake is in the heart of the city’s business, food and culture.

Lao-Fang-ZhiA few steps from our hostel is Lao Fang Zhi, a house of over 100 years turned restaurant that serves awesome hot Yunnan dishes. 

A beautiful park designed and created way back in the 17th century. Surrounded by willow trees and dotted with vibrant lotuses, the park has become a favorite among nature lovers.

willow-lined

A stroll around the lake is a pleasant way to watch how the locals spend their time.

dancing-in-the-park

A lot was going on. In one part of the lake, music filled the air, and people were dancing.

embroidery

In another, aunties sit around chatting and doing some embroidery while some are contented just to admire the lake and soak up the atmosphere.

lily

At night, the lights come alive and radiate a different ambiance.

green-lake-at-night

And with this, we start our journey into an endearing province of China that seemed to have been left alone. Stay tuned.

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Bukchon and Samcheon-dong: A Fusion of Old and New

hanok-roof

Wandering around Bukchon, a village with over 600 years of history in the midst of metropolitan Seoul was a stroll into the past and the present.

residential-It was home to aristocrats back in those days when the village was downtown Seoul hence the many traditional houses dating back to the Joseon Dynasty.

cultural-center

Called hanok, more than a few of these traditional houses remained remarkably well and are still actual homes to the Seoulites if not operating as cultural centers, guesthouses, restaurants or tea houses.

view-of-the-metro

The walk around Buckchon will immerse you in an atmosphere of ancient Joseon Dynasty with old hanoks in small alleyways that lead to great panoramic views of modern Seoul.

samcheongdong

Next to Bukchon is Samcheongdong-gil. One of Seoul’s most stylish neighborhoods harmoniously juxtaposing the old Korea and the modern artsy galleries and cafes as numerous art galleries, shops and restaurants set up shop in renovated hanoks.

mountain-viewMt. Bukak is partly responsible for the charm and mystic of Samcheong-dong.

This charming enclave begins where Insadong ends. Not the typical tourist area, and the rows of boutiques, galleries, and cute coffee shops make for a delightful afternoon wander.

charming

Captivated once again by Seoul’s unique charm, delectable bites and warm-hearted people, it is beyond any doubt that I will be back, and hopefully much sooner this time.

tea-house

Annyeong Seoul… till we meet again.

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Korean Street Food: A Food Tour

Food has always been a big part of my travels.   It is, after all, the best way to connect with a place and its people. Food is Culture.

And in Korea, street food is part of its culture. The food scene in Seoul is deliciously varied and steeped in tradition. And its streets will fill you in on its true flavors. Ubiquitous food stalls and kiosks are the best places to eat on the go in a city that needs fuel to get going. Food is quick, hot and cheap in a Po Jang Macha, as locals call them.

demo

Our adventure started with a dish of Haemul Pajeon (Seafood Pancake) demonstrated first to us by a chef at O’ngo Food Communication’s kitchen in Jongno-gu. A food tour we joined to experience Seoul through our belly. I tried many times to replicate this Korean pancake in my kitchen but could never get the crunch. Now I know. A pinch or two of baking soda will do the trick.

Pajeon

On hindsight, hard as it may be, I shouldn’t have gorged on that favorite dish of mine because the rest of the tour had us weaving through good eats after good eats around Insadong.

First stop was the Nakwon Market. Definitely not a Gwangjang (the market of all Seoul markets) but it caters to the neighbourhood and it doesn’t get as local as this.

nakwon-market

It is here where I had my first taste of baechu geotjeori, which translates to Napa cabbage lightly salted.

kimchi-variety

It doesn’t have the oomph of the classic kimchi, but it is mildly salty and sweet making it more rounded. Its crispy texture is refreshingly addicting that leaves me craving for it to this day.

fresh-kimchi-and-gimbap

A kimchi made to be eaten fresh without fermentation,

making-gimbap

it is made daily by this lady who also makes an outstanding Gimbap, a dish that I was never compelled to try (because I thought it is an inferior version of the Japanese sushi, quite the contrary) but have since become a convert.

gimbap

Gimbap: Rice rolls stuff with cucumber, crab sticks, turnip and wrapped in seaweed then brushed with a bit of roasted sesame oil.

Her stall is packed with locals, and you can guess why.

A few street foods later,

bungeoppang

Bungeoppang: It’s a waffle with either a red bean paste (azuki) or a cream filling (similar to a Bavarian) shaped and sealed in a bungeo (carp) like cast iron mold. Crispy edges with a soft sweet middle.

egg-bread

Gyenranppang: On the same stall you’ll most likely find this chicken egg bread or simply egg bread. A version of the bungeoppang. The dough is topped with an egg and cooked in a mini oven.
rice-cakesVarious rice cakes

silkworm

Beondegi: Seasoned silkworm pupae steamed or boiled and eaten as a snack. Chewy in texture, taste is ok, but the smell is a bit off. Overall, ok to try once.

we found ourselves in Bukchon Son Mandu.

Bukchon-Mandoo

Oh the deep-fried pork dumpling is to die for.

pork-mandu

A combination of pork, scallions and glass noodles on a dumpling that is fried to a perfect crisp. We were back the following day for a full meal.

bukchon-mandoo-full-meal

That good.

We then capped the tour with more food. A sumptuous BBQ lunch.

bbq-lunch

Left to wander on our own, we found more street food that fancied our eyes more that our stomachs but still gave in to the lure.

making-dragon-beard-candy

Ggultarae or Dragon Beard Candy: These guys do a great show, attracting many audiences. They start with a block of fermented honey and a bowl of cornstarch (chanting as they work) that is stretched until it turns into fine soft strings. It is then stuffed with hazelnuts, walnuts or peanuts. Yummy!
mochiFruit filled mochi — preserved persimmons on the left and fresh strawberry on the right.

sweet-potato

Spotted, not in Insadong but in Bukchon (on my next post), is this heavenly sweet potato that Korea is so known for.

Seoul is a haven for foodies and a wonderful city to be on a food trip.  Check out my past posts here and here.

Bukchon Son Mandu
42-5, Insadong-gil, Jongno-guSeoul, South Korea (Insadong)
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Rainy Days in Seoul: Taxi rides, Museums and Bibimbap

rainy-days-in-SeoulCredits:  Template from the You are Awesome bloghop

As luck would have it, we woke up to a rainy Seoul on our first full day in South Korea’s capital.

rainy-dayBreakfast at the guesthouse.

What to do? We deferred our plan to walk around Bukchon Hanok Village and instead, per the suggestion of the guesthouse staff, we headed to the National Folk Museum in Samcheong-ro in Jongno-gu.

The hassle-free way to get around on a wet day is by taxi. So driver dropped us off in front of the Gyeongbokgung Palace. The museum is located inside the palace grounds, but we didn’t know that. So imagine us bewildered when he stopped the car and tried to tell us (in Korean and sign language) where to go. And so we got off but couldn’t figure out why. While studying the map (in the rain) to get our bearings, he came back and gestured for us to get back in. He decided to drive us all the way to the gate. A quick left and a U and there we were at the side entrance of the Palace, closest to the museum. He was actually trying to tell us to cross the street, walk a little further, turn left, and we will find it. But he didn’t speak English, and we didn’t understand Korean hence the confusion. He didn’t charge extra.

National-Folk-MuseumThe museum shows the lifestyle and traditions of everyday Koreans at different periods that stretches from prehistoric to the end of the Joseon Dynasty.

traditional-villageThere is also an open-air exhibit that takes you back in time through a replica of a street in a traditional village in late 19th century when a new modern culture was rising in Korea.

grinding-millThere you’ll see a grinding mill, a street car; hanok-style buildings and stores.hanok-style-stores

For lunch, we took a very short taxi ride (the driver scratching his head but couldn’t explain that it is just across the street, practically!) to Insadong. But because it was also drizzling, he obliged. I am amazed at how kind and gracious these people are. Thank you!

Lunch was an entirely satisfying meal of bibimbap and bulgogi at Gogung. I forgot how I adored these well-known dishes, which I first came across about 3 decades ago, when Seoul and I weren’t quite as hip. GogungThis beautiful mixed rice with vegetables, chili paste and eggs called bibimbap kept us full without breaking our pockets. Gogung, known for its Jeonju style bibimbap, is in the basement of Ssamzie-gil, a colorful shopping and cultural complex in Insadong-gil.

insadong-gilThe main street, Insadong-gil

An iconic Korean street, Insadong is a vibrant neighbourhood with streets and narrow alleys lined with antique shops, art galleries, and all kinds of shops, from beauty to crafts.

alleys-insadong

insadong-stores It is also home to many traditional restaurants and teahouses. Tomorrow a food tour we signed up for will bring us back here. So stay tuned for more of Insadong and its street foods on my next post.

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Rainy Days in Seoul: Staying at the Hongdae District

main-road-mapo-gu

Blame it on K-drama and a thwarted meeting last June, we found ourselves walking the streets of Mapo-Gu, backpacks in tow, looking for our guesthouse on a cold and rainy day in November. We don’t want to waste that visa and ticket, yes?

We got off the subway, followed the instructions provided by the guesthouse complete with photos. Easy to find, on a quiet street not far from the main road sits a charming brick building housing a photography studio and an office on the ground floor.

Lee-Kang-Ga

Lee Kang Ga will be our home for a few days while we explore Seoul (some of it, that is). The cozy guesthouse is on the top floor with residential units in between.

wall-artI chose to stay in the Hongdae district for its urban street arts and indie music culture. Brimming with mostly young people wandering about, the vibrant streets (especially at night) are alive with music and a lot of cheering. You’ll see dance performances, musicians singing or playing their instruments in all sorts of genre.

shopping-at-hongdae

Filled with independent stores and boutiques, it is also a fantastic place to shop if edgy fashion is your thing. It is clearly a place for the young and the young at heart.

As it is a university belt, restaurants and coffee shops abound. Although a phenomenon in all of Korea, the area boasts of exciting themed cafes.

hongdae

Every night was a different discovery of the local taste. One night we devoured on (fried) chicken and beer.

chicken-and-beerIf you don’t know this combination, then you are not watching enough K-dramas.

“Have you tried makgeolli?” Andy, from our guesthouse and (must add) the kindest staff I’ve encountered so far, asked. Apparently also superb with chicken, he ran down to the nearest convenience store, bought us a few bottles of Korean rice wine. He ordered a box of fried chicken to go with it.

Mageolli

Pronounced Mak-a-lee, this milky alcoholic beverage is fizzy and refreshing, slightly sweet and tangy and easy to drink.

Every night, we gather at the rooftop kitchen and dining area to exchange stories and share a few bottles of beer, soju, makgeolli or wine with other guests and staff.

hanging-out

It was a lovely vibe of different cultures and age groups. And till today, I still fond memories of those nights.

In the heart of Hongdae, Andy pointed us to one of his favorite “grilled beef” restaurants. It didn’t have an English sign so he sent us a photo of the sign in Korean and instructions on how to find it.

Korean-beef

Found on the 3rd floor atop a 7Eleven store, it was packed with students and young professionals. And on a corner table, we indulged in excellent Korean beef. What made it really special outside of its quality and reasonable price is the array of flavoured salt that one dredges on the meat.salt-variety

Equally as important to Koreans are pork bellies. Samgyupsal or pork belly wraps could possibly outshine any beef dish in Korea. Koreans are in love with pork bellies and so are we. On our way to the Nanta Theater in Hongdae, we spotted “The Ginger Pork” and instantly knew where dinner will be after the show.

Ginger-Pork

Thick fatty slices of pork bellies grilled on a grill plate, eaten together with garlic, green onion salad and some ssamjang wrapped in fresh lettuce leaf.  It was a glorious way to cap  a fantastically energetic show.

nanta

And speaking of Nanta, do find time to watch this impressive non-verbal comedy show that is entirely about cooking/food. It’s a lot of fun. In Hongdae, the theatre is housed in the beautiful Yellow Stone Building.

Yellow-Stone-Building

There are more to explore in the Hongdae district and 4 nights is simply not enough. In fact, we only scratched the surface and definitely calls for another visit. More of Seoul in my next posts. Stay tuned.

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