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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Xizhou: The Other Old Town of Dali

When asked where she would recommend we go besides the old town, Ling told us to go to Xizhou. “It may not appeal to everyone,” she said, “but many appreciate it for its cultural heritage.” And with that, Ling arranged for a car to bring us there.

A side note on how sweet she is. She lent us her phone so we can communicate with the driver, who does not speak a word of English, through her.

outside-the-village

Where he dropped us off, there was no sign or directions to the village so we walked around until we reached a bridge that seemed to lead to a community.

bridge

I have to say that albeit quite serene, the area was pretty empty.

lake

It felt strange to not meet a single soul for perhaps a good 10 minutes walking around the village.

empty-streets

A ghost town, we thought and wondered if it was why many didn’t like the village. The houses seemed lived in though so we explored further even though half of us felt like it might be a waste time.

bai-architecture

Well, I’m glad we persisted. We realized that the driver, for some reason, dropped us off at the back (perhaps) of the village or that we went the wrong direction (remember we cannot communicate).

squareBecause as we strolled further into the village, passing through courtyard houses, we eventually found ourselves at the heart of the village revealing a vibrant square surrounded by shops selling food, china wares, antiques, and a few souvenirs.

more-shops

shops

Being an enclave for prosperous merchants and scholars, the Bai people put emphasis on education and achievements. During the Ming Dynasty, they commemorate those who did remarkably well in the imperial exams by having their names written on a stone tablet standing on this square. Something like a “Hall of Fame.”

Xizhou was an important as a trading port along the Tea Horse Road and an essential place for military affairs, once housing a landing strip and radio station for the Flying Tigers during WWII.

coffee-shop

Just 20 km away from Dali Gucheng, Xizhou is (still) a sleepy town that lacks the hip vibe of the former. The architecture however fascinates and the square engaging with regular folks going about their business.

people-watch

In fact, the best part of our afternoon here in Xizhou was watching village life take place as we sip our cup of joe. The ordinariness of Xizhou is what makes it extraordinary.

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Hip Old Town Dali

From Yuanyang, we went back to Kunming so we can take the overnight train to Dali.  We traveled northwest to Dali on a soft sleeper train that left around midnight.

sleeper

It was still dark when we were picked up at the Dali train station in Xiaguan, the new city.  Driving to the old town, we watched the city wake up. Our guesthouse is across the highway from the West gate of Old Town Dali (also called Dali Gucheng).

dali-mountain-delights

Even before owner/manager Ling could check us in, the sleepy caretaker warmly showed us our rooms and started to prepare breakfast. Beautiful people, which include Ling’s darling puppy she named after her lovely town, Dali.

dali

Lovely because it sits in the shadows of the beautiful Cangshan mountain range.

cangshan-background-2

Here, we spent a few days soaking in the view, the hip vibe, and the laid back atmosphere of the old town. I felt sad to leave and wished I had planned to stay a little longer.

Here’s why.

architecture

This town grows on you. It is touristy, I have to admit, but it is a real town that oozes with a new kind of hipness.  A real town means that local do live there still.

touristy

What used to be a backpacker’s haven is now swarmed with local urban tourist, but if you wander closer to the East Gate (near the end of Renmin and Yue Yu Streets), you will meet the local young hipsters.

young-hipsters

They run the quaint boutiques, cool cafes and interesting (read: eclectic, fusion, non-trad) eating places there.

xiao-yu

This is Xiao Yu (little fish) talking to Anton.  She loves single malts and serves a few good ones in her newly opened café/bar along Renmin Rd.
coffee-and-tiramisu-renmin-luAside from single malts, she serves a mean cup of coffee and glorious desserts.

They speak English too.

hip-boutique

It’s a great place to shop for one of a kind locally made stuff. But if ethnic clothes, local handcrafts and traditional blue and white tie-dye tablecloths are what you are looking for, go to Foreigner Street (Huguo Lu).

foreigners-rd

cangshan-in-background

Here, you’ll find more usual stuff bordering on souvenirs. Bars and restaurants are the same.

typical-dian-restaurant

You’ll find many traditional restaurants with fresh vegetables displayed at the entrance. Do enter one of them to experience the local cuisine.

dining-scene-foreigners-streetoutdoor seating scene at Foreigner’s Road

yunnan-pork-dishes

Aside from the many types of vegetables Yunnan had to offer, we actually enjoyed their pork dishes served in various ways.

One more thing I love about Dali is the abundance of fresh fruits and fresh juices

fruit-ladies

–fruit ladies (I call them) selling fruits in season in baskets and fresh juice (juiced while you wait) are found everywhere.

juicing

Located at the foot of Cangshan Mountain, Dali Gucheng resonates with the sound of streams scattered around town.

streams-2

streams-3

This water source cultivates many plants, which explains the beautiful blooms such as camellias, azaleas, and many others peppered all over town either being sold in pot

flowers-for-sale

or just beautifying the street.flowers

The city has a long history. About 4,000 years of it when the ethnic Bai people first settled.

bai

Today, they coexist with the local Yi and Muslims.

bai-architecture

The architecture that dates back to the Ming Dynasty, though renovated, rebuilt and modernized, adds big time to the charm.

dali-ancient-city-catholic-church

We also chanced upon a Christian church at the intersection of Fuxing and Heping Roads – charming streets to start with.

intricate-roof-catholic-church

The church is primarily built on wood, following a western layout but also maintaining the Bai architecture and hip roof.

A few days spent here to chill and recharge is really not a bad idea.

outdoor-table

You can either sit and catch the vibe at an outdoor table at one of the cafes or bars on Renmin Road around sundown or go for a foot massage after a day of hiking or wandering around town.

chinese-foot-massageOne of the best foot massage I’ve had in years.

Do try to set aside at least an extra day to just relax and do nothing but absorb the vibe. It will be a good break from all the touring and walking.

More snaps of the Old Town:

tree-lined-fuxing-luTree-lined Fuxing Lu

dali-bookstore

Dali Bookstore (along Renmin Lu.), a quaint little bookstore that has books in Mandarin, French and English.
sunrise-at-erhai-lakeTo the east of Dali lies Erhai Lake.
hip-cafeHip Cafe along Renmin Road
streamsCanals with clean running water dispersed around town.
hip-resto-at-renminOne of the many hip restaurants around Renmin Road.
main-road-old-and-newA fusion of old and new along the main road of Old Town Dali.

 

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A Piece of Heaven

Magical, massive, magnificent—endless terraces in a sea of clouds is a sight to behold. Not foreign to rice terraces, I found myself awed by the vastness and intricacy of the Yuanyang terraces, now the 45th World Heritage Site in China. Breathtaking after breathtaking scenes came before us as we drew closer to the center.

terraces-by-the-road-2

Regarded as the core of the Hani Terraces, where its ancestors settled 2,500 years ago.

hani-people

In its steep mountains and challenging terrain, the Hani people struggled and succeeded in growing rice. Their creativity turned this mountain into one artistic beauty that has placed Yuanyang on the map for impressive rice paddy terracing.

duoyishu-terracesDuoyishu Rice Terraces

With an area of 28,000 acres, it is similar to the Banaue terraces of my country but on a grander scale.

laohuzui-waiting-for-sunset

Three major scenic spots is a must. Scattered in different places, the terraces exhibit different tones and hues depending on the season and time of day. When we were there (in April), the terraces, still filled with water, glows from the sun’s ray.

laohuzui-sunsetLaohuzui Rice Terraces

So different from the one I am familiar with. It is stunning.

Laohuzui. The biggest Hani rice terraces listed in the World Cultural Heritage Site and ideal for sunset shots.

laohuzui-different-view-deck

It has 2 viewing areas, the higher deck closer to the road and a lower one closer to the terraces. Both views are lovely depending on how you want to capture its grandiosity.

laohizui-sunset-2

Bada. It has one of the biggest collections of terraces, and any angle is snap-worthy.

bada-terraces

From top to bottom, the terraces is said to be 3,900 steps.

Duoyishu. Surrounded by mountains on 3 sides and a valley on the east, it makes for a beautiful sunrise scene.

duoyishu-sunrise

The terraces, still filled with water, unveils the reflection of the soft golden sky just coming to light underneath a sea of clouds.

duoyishu-viewing-deck

From our beautiful guesthouse, Flower Residence, it was just t a 20-minute walk to the viewing deck.

pugao-village

And speaking or our guesthouse, we stayed in a charming boutique hotel in a village called Pugao Laozhai.

flower-residence

flower-residence-2

flower-residenceview-from-our-room

flower-residence-meals

Large glass windows to enjoy the fantastic view, wood everywhere, good food, combined with wonderful hosts CC and his uncle (who cooked fabulous meals)

with-hosts-cc

—is a formula sure to impress me, no doubt. A place where one can be happy to just hang out, I wish I had booked more than just a night.

Yuanyang is 2 more hours south from Jianshiu and definitely worth the road trip. A little piece of heaven with spectacular rice terraces so grand it almost guarantees poster-worthy shots at any angle.

duoyishu-terraces-upclose

terraces-by-the-road

laohuzui-changing-season

photograhers-haven-at-laohuzui

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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

locals-socializing-4

locals-socializing-3

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
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