Mighty China Part 2

Community Highlights Asia Mighty China Part 2

With over 30 million people(!) in the city proper, Chongqing is widely regarded as the largest city in the world. In perpetual construction, older builds are razed to make room for modern towers, its skyline filled with cranes balancing on unfinished structures. At night, most buildings completed or not, are lit.
Modern Chongqing is closing in

Modern Chongqing is closing in


Twin Gold Towers Sheraton Hotel, Chongqing

Twin Gold Towers Sheraton Hotel, Chongqing


Huguang Assembly Hall surrounded by modern Chongqing

Huguang Assembly Hall surrounded by modern Chongqing


Huguang Assembly Hall, now a museum and theater, Chongqing

Huguang Assembly Hall, now a museum and theater, Chongqing


Sichuan opera performance and tea, Huguang Assembly Hall

Sichuan opera performance and tea, Huguang Assembly Hall


Crossing the river by cable car, Chongqing

Crossing the river by cable car, Chongqing

The (oddly named) Travelling with Hotel hostel is in the Jiefangbei neighborhood. The one (pretty big) inconvenience, is that Reception is 4 flights up on foot! I have yet to master the ramps often found along the side of staircases to roll the suitcase. Our room, an additional flight up, has an industrial feel with a big bed, nice linens, TV and A/C. The bathroom is a commanding glass box which I think must be weird if you’re not intimate with your roommate, but then I notice there are curtains. Breakfast is included though not particularly good (32 euros).
Travelling with Hotel hostel, Chongqing

Travelling with Hotel hostel, Chongqing


Street vendor selling parts, all of them!

Street vendor selling parts, all of them!

It’s raining hard, but should clear for the next few days, so with the help of the very kind hostel manager, we book a 4d/3n Yangtze River cruise. Based on a few lousy photos, we choose the more expensive option: 110 euros per person per day including meals in the “premium” dining room and 3 excursions. This makes us nervous about the quality we can expect and fearing the worst, we load up on essentials. Much to our surprise, a man in a white naval officer’s uniform with a car and driver accompanies us to the embarkation point. It’s raining pretty hard with thick clouds engulfing the city’s skyline.
Nice day for a cruise!

Nice day for a cruise!

Peering down the many steps leading to a fragmented walkway, I wonder how they accommodate elderly or handicapped passengers? It’s a struggle to keep up with the nimble baggage handlers.
Boarding the Yangtze Gold 2

Boarding the Yangtze Gold 2

The ship is infinitely nicer than expected. Our cabin is bright and spacious with a balcony and all amenities. We will not need our stock of water and toilet paper, but the chocolate won’t go to waste.
Cabin on the Yangtze Gold 2

Cabin on the Yangtze Gold 2

Ship capacity is 400, but this early in the season there are only about 100 passengers. Service is excellent.
Yangtze Gold 2

Yangtze Gold 2

All of the 20 or so Westerners on board and a few chic Chinese couples take meals in the preferred dining room on the upper deck. At the lobby level, the main dining room has the traditional round tables with lazy susans. The food is certainly the same but we’re happy to have our private table and commanding view.
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The ship departs Chongqing harbor at night

The ship departs Chongqing harbor at night

Having sailed overnight, day 1 starts with a Tai Chi lesson followed by a lavish breakfast and the first excursion; a tour of Fengdu Ghost Village. The highly controversial Three Gorges Dam took decades to build and displaced somewhere between 1.3 and 1.9 million people living on the banks of the Yangtze River. 1500 towns and villages were flooded, but in Fengdu, the temples at a higher elevation were spared. There are 400 steps to the top, just as soon as we reach land. Honestly, it’s all a lot easier than it looks.
Long floating walkway

Long floating walkway


Fengdu Ghost Village

Fengdu Ghost Village


At the various temples, there are cheeky rituals to please superstitious Chinese tourists like, the Nothing to be Done Bridge that you have to walk over in so many steps depending on gender and marital status. Naturally, there is a photographer to capture the moment. With everyone watching and cheering, you don’t want to misstep!
Folklore fun, Fengdu Ghost Village

Folklore fun, Fengdu Ghost Village

Back on board, the boat ambles along the river passing cities and towns heading towards the gorges.
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Scenery along the Yangtze River

Scenery along the Yangtze River


Cabaret on the Yangtze Gold 2

Cabaret on the Yangtze Gold 2



The river narrows as we pass through the Qutang Gorge, the first and shortest of the three gorges the ship will navigate. A guide does her best to provide English commentary often competing with the Chinese version spewing from loudspeakers on deck. Every single rock has a name - Dragon’s back disappearing into the blue sky, Goddess Princess, ...
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Yangtze River Cruise

Yangtze River Cruise

From time to time, sign posts indicate the water level which is maintained at about 165 meters at this time of year. In an over-rehearsed pitch, a local guide recites the many reasons why the displacement of millions of people was an opportunity for all and deliverance from endless flooding in the region. Clearly, young people did not really suffer. In fact, it sounds like many welcomed a new home, a new life, but for the older generation, being uprooted was probably a bit more traumatic. Somehow, one elderly couple managed to remain in the area. They continue to cultivate tangerines and raise goats. Who do they know?
Yangtze Gold 2 cruise ship

Yangtze Gold 2 cruise ship

In order to visit the narrow, picturesque passages of the Lesser Three Gorges, we leave the ship for small traditional boats.
Lesser Three Gorges excursion

Lesser Three Gorges excursion

The final excursion is a visit to the Three Gorges Dam one of the biggest power generators in the world. China has an A rating system for its tourist attractions. This one gets the maximum 5 A’s. From all the hype regarding this technological feat, I imagined something bigger.
Entry ticket, Three Gorges Dam

Entry ticket, Three Gorges Dam


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Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges Dam

The cruise ends in the late afternoon near Yichang. Here, there is a funicular to transport people up and bus to the city.
Disembarking near Yichang

Disembarking near Yichang

We pick a hotel near the train station confident we’ll be able to get on an early morning train, but despite 20 or so bullet trains per day from Yichang to Chongqing, we cannot find tickets! Seeing our struggle, a nice Chinese woman steps in to help eventually securing seats for us on a late afternoon train. The room is remarkably nice given the location above a metro station.
Green Tree Alliance Hubei, Yichang (21 eur)

Green Tree Alliance Hubei, Yichang (21 eur)

Back in Chongqing at our favorite restaurant, the menu is impossible to decipher, but you can choose food at a refrigerated display, hand your basket to the waiter, then take a seat while they grill it up.
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Restaurant Chongqing

Restaurant Chongqing

The gigantic oysters Rockefeller with glass noodles are divine. Other goodies include crab and crayfish coated in chili oil.
Oysters Rockefeller Asian style

Oysters Rockefeller Asian style

The Chinese literally eat every part of an animal and this often leads to culinary surprises. Acknowledging the look on my face, the waiter graciously takes back the duck head that I inadvertently ordered.
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We’ve been in China for a month now and it has rained non-stop. Dressed for wet, we join a day tour to visit the Dazu Rock Carvings. The group is Chinese only, but as a UNESCO World Heritage site, we figure there will be plenty of information in English. The word individual is missing from the Asian dictionary. Couples like to dress alike from head to toe. Mom, dad and child will be wearing the same top., etc. The crowds are monstrous, but for the first time guides are not screaming into megaphones. Groups wearing personal listening devices, inch past the intricately carved rocks in a low rumble.
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Dazu Rock Carvings

Dazu Rock Carvings

There are trains all day, every day from Chongqing to Chengdu (2.5 hours) so it never occurs to us that we won’t find a seat, much less that all the ticket counters are closed on Saturday. With the help of a young station volunteer, we wrangle expensive Business class tickets (62 eur pp) on a bullet train departing a station on the far side of the city.
Security, Chongqing railway station

Security, Chongqing railway station

Chongqing railway station

Chongqing railway station

There are only 8 seats in the wagon. Too bad this isn’t a longer journey!
Bullet train, Business class cabin

Bullet train, Business class cabin



We check-in to the (nicer) Chengdu branch of Travelling with Hotel (41 eur/AC/TV/breakfast and elevator).
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It’s a 20 minute walk to the beautiful Wenshu Monastery, considered one of the top four in China.
Wenshu Monastery, Chengdu

Wenshu Monastery, Chengdu


Ladies playing Mahjong, Chengdu

Ladies playing Mahjong, Chengdu

Chengdu is a much smaller city - just over 14 million. Pedestrians do not have the right of way and no amount of gesticulating is going to change that any time soon. Cars, bikes and scooters come from all directions, cross in front and zig zag around you. Even on the sidewalks, you have to be fully attentive!
VW bus food truck, Chengdu

VW bus food truck, Chengdu


Pandamania! Chengdu

Pandamania! Chengdu


Practising Tai Chi on the street, Chengdu

Practising Tai Chi on the street, Chengdu

The hotel manager recommends a Japanese restaurant. As I struggle with the app for a menu translation that actually describes food, the waiter tries to help. No, I don’t want pig brain; pass on the chicken feet. Eventually, I’m staring down at a few vegetables and one giant spare rib! As I contemplate how to handle the Flintstone-size bone with chopsticks, the waiter brings me clear plastic gloves. Ok then.

The Wide and Narrow Alley is China at its most cliché. An ancient neighborhood renovated for today’s (un)discerning Asian tourist. The new, enhanced architecture is quite nice and there’s actually a lot of history there, but it is dwarfed by souvenir shops, food stalls and throngs of visitors. Think themed outdoor shopping mall.
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Wide and Narrow Alley, Chengdu

Wide and Narrow Alley, Chengdu


Poser, Wide and Narrow Alley, Chengdu

Poser, Wide and Narrow Alley, Chengdu


Ear cleaning, Wide and Narrow Alley, Chengdu

Ear cleaning, Wide and Narrow Alley, Chengdu

There is a direct bus to the Giant Panda Research Breeding Base, that leaves from one side of the Wide and Narrow Alley. The first bus is around 8AM. This allows for a nice stroll through the alleys before the insanity kicks in. It turns out you have to purchase the ticket in advance but there’s no ticket window. A friendly couple offers to buy them for us online, flatly refusing our money. Very sweet. China is quickly becoming a cashless society with more and more people using Ali Pay (electronic payment) and scanning barcodes for everything.
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Wide and Narrow Alley, Chengdu

Wide and Narrow Alley, Chengdu

There are many pandas chomping on bamboo and sitting in the funniest positions. But do go early. Pandas are more active in cooler temps and once they’ve eaten, they become even more lethargic. The enclosures are varied and well maintained and the walk around the park is very pretty though somewhat hilly. Crowds swell around 11AM.
Bamboo breakfast

Bamboo breakfast


Chilling at the pool

Chilling at the pool


Hey! What’s with the ears?

Hey! What’s with the ears?


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In the now familiar juxtaposition of old and new, the Daci Temple sits smack in the middle of Taikoo Li an ultra modern shopping area in Chengdu. Avant garde outfits, headphones with antlers, men carrying their lady friend’s bags, women wearing thick beige ice-skater tights, the people watching is phenomenal. But even in this chic environment, burping, spitting and nostril evacuation are accepted modes of behavior!
Daci Temple, Chengdu

Daci Temple, Chengdu


Restaurant staff preparing for service

Restaurant staff preparing for service


Men’s toilet instructions

Men’s toilet instructions

For the day trip to visit the Leshan Giant Buddha, the hotel offers to handle the online booking. With the reservation code, we’ll just pick up the tickets at the station before boarding the train. We learn the hard way to always triple check the reservation because the slightest mistake will result in no tickets issued. Luckily, we are able to purchase new seats on the same train and the hotel refunds us later.

Carved out of a cliff at the confluence of several rivers and hailed as the largest stone Buddha in the world, the 71 meter (233 ft.) tall statue built by monks in the 8th century, is an impressive UNESCO site. The grounds are swarming with visitors. To get from the top of the Buddha’s head to the bottom of his feet takes about an hour down narrow stone steps. Chinese tourists have no shame, pushing. Besides dangerous, it’s incredibly annoying and we find ourselves literally shouting at people, most of whom just smile and power thru.
Leshan Giant Buddha

Leshan Giant Buddha


Narrow stairs at the Leshan Giant Buddha

Narrow stairs at the Leshan Giant Buddha


Other carvings at Mount Emei, Leshan

Other carvings at Mount Emei, Leshan

Trains generally stop in stations for just a few minutes. Pay attention, especially after a long day, because stops are not always announced in English, or you might not hear it over the high-decibel banter or people listening to their devices without headphones. No respect!
Bullet train back to Chengdu

Bullet train back to Chengdu

Han Tang Inn hostel inside the old city wall of Xi’an is cheap, cosy (read a little old) and very well run. The room is tight but comfortable (26 eur).
Hang Tang Inn Hostel, Xian

Hang Tang Inn Hostel, Xian

Although we are getting used to the organized chaos endemic to all of China’s cultural monuments, you really have to keep your wits about you to visit the Terracotta Army (UNESCO). There are few Western tourists and hordes of Chinese in hysterics. Discovered in 1974 by a couple of farmers digging a well, the magnificent (late 3rd century BC) funerary artifacts have yet to be completely excavated. The extraordinary detail here is that every one of the thousands of figures is unique in its features, dress, expression, etc.
The Terracotta Army, Xi’an

The Terracotta Army, Xi’an


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Crowds at the Terracotta Army, Xi’an

Crowds at the Terracotta Army, Xi’an

At the cafe, an employee in his late 30s approaches us to ask if we would correct a text he’s written about the Terracotta Army in English. I almost want to leave it as is because making it grammatically correct kills the poetry of his phrases. Kind of like a Chinese menu.

The 8th century Great Wild Goose Pagoda is a scared Buddhist temple and dominant landmark of Xi’an. At night the complex lights up with lasers and dancing fountains along the plaza in front of the temple.
Great Wild Goose Pagoda, Xi’an

Great Wild Goose Pagoda, Xi’an

It’s our last week in China, and there’s still so much ground to cover. We’ve fine-tuned the drill for booking train tickets and defiantly pick up 3 trips in one go at a train station. We’ve also learned to allow plenty of extra time. Even on Sunday morning at 7:30, the subway is packed, the lines to get through security at the station are long and it’s miles, up, down and around to get to the track (reminder: rolling suitcases are best for China).
Read this metro signage from right to left.

Read this metro signage from right to left.

Given the positive experience at the hostel in Xi’an, we happily agree when a staff member offers to book a room for us in Luoyang. Big mistake! Youth Hostel Luoyang Longmen is shoddy and smells of cat urine. The only really bad experience we had in China (20 eur). This photo makes it look nicer than it was!
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It’s late so we look for something to eat nearby ending up on low plastic stools in a small shack. It’s not the China they’re showing anymore, but the soup is pretty tasty.
Street food in Luoyang

Street food in Luoyang

Longmen is a massive site filled with Buddhist stone carvings spanning many centuries and several dynasties. Most of the art is attributed to the Tang Dynasty at its peak in the 7th and 8th centuries. The caves along 1km on both sides of the Yi River contain thousands of carved Buddhas and inscriptions. As expected, there are large groups and everyone is vying for their photo opp but it’s relatively civilized.
On the path to Longmen Caves

On the path to Longmen Caves


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Longmen Caves

Longmen Caves

Shaolin Monastery is easy to get to from Luoyang by bus. With little time to spare, we spend half a day, but it is admittedly rushed. Built in the 5th century, this Buddhist temple and surrounding forest are inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is also famous for its Kung Fu school. Needless to say, the demonstrations are impressive.
Ladies on the bus, dressed for their visit to Shaolin Monastery

Ladies on the bus, dressed for their visit to Shaolin Monastery


Shaolin Monastery

Shaolin Monastery


Pagoda Forest, Shaolin Monastery

Pagoda Forest, Shaolin Monastery


Shaolin Monastery’s renowned Kung Fu school

Shaolin Monastery’s renowned Kung Fu school


Warming up for a Kung Fu demonstration, Shaolin Monastery

Warming up for a Kung Fu demonstration, Shaolin Monastery

Pingyao is an ancient city, quite literally in the middle of nowhere, but that will change before I finish this post. A brand new city is being built around the old town with rows and rows of tall apartment buildings and wide roads under construction. For now, empty avenues awaiting traffic signals are used by driving schools. The taxi weaves around some very inexperienced drivers. The old town (entry fee required) has few cars and most people get around on electric scooters, golf carts and bicycles.
Keeping warm and dry on a scooter, Pingyao

Keeping warm and dry on a scooter, Pingyao


General view, Pingyao Ancient City

General view, Pingyao Ancient City


Traditional architecture, Pingyao

Traditional architecture, Pingyao


Couple on the street in Pingyao

Couple on the street in Pingyao

The main streets of the ancient city are one souvenir shop or food stall after another, but just one street over locals go about their business, mainly it seems, renovating their homes.
Traditional home, now museum, Pingyao

Traditional home, now museum, Pingyao

An artist at work inside a small alley, Pingyao

An artist at work inside a small alley, Pingyao

Practising Tai Chi, Pingyao Ancient City

Practising Tai Chi, Pingyao Ancient City

As Pingyao is not yet a firm stop on the tourist circuit, it’s fairly low key. We have a lovely guesthouse with a nice cafe and restaurant in front and excellent foot massages nearby. We decide to slow the pace down and stay 2 nights at Fly By Knight Courtyard Hotel (25 eur).
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A man having a cupping massage in Pingyao

A man having a cupping massage in Pingyao

Portrait artist on the street, Pingyao

Portrait artist on the street, Pingyao

Bullet trains are really the only way to travel in China. The hassle of checking-in is far easier than flying except on this one day. Over the last 2 months and countless trains, the small Opinel knife in my suitcase has never been flagged. I want to pull out my much bigger scissors and ask why they pass, but I don’t dare. Our best arguments fall on deaf ears as the police officer tosses it into a box filled with Swiss Army knives. The bullet train from Pingyao to Beijing takes 3.5 hours. As usual, it’s a mad rush once the platform opens. What‘s with the mass hysteria? Seats are assigned.

Our visit to the Great Wall at Jinshanling will remain a highlight of the trip not only for the wonderful experience of walking on this lesser-known part of the wall, but because we were virtually alone! It’s a 2-hour bus ride from Beijing, but for a few bucks more we jump into the shared taxi luring people next to the bus stand. Once the car is full, the driver races past traffic on the shoulder, spitting us out at a highway gas station in record time. By phone, a lady from the tourism office who speaks English, guides us to the shuttle that drops us in a large, empty parking lot where a golf cart takes us to the main entrance. She mentions that near the gondola entrance we’ll find rooms. As we walk along the main plaza, the only people we encounter are construction workers maneuvering cranes and bulldozers.
The village at Jinshanling entrance under construction

The village at Jinshanling entrance under construction


I motion to someone (hands folded under my ear) and we are pointed to a soon to be completed guesthouse. The family is lovely and they set us up in a brand new room.
Guesthouse Jinshanling (21 eur)

Guesthouse Jinshanling (21 eur)

Walking the wall is spectacular but rather hard work. Throughout the entire day, we run into maybe 10 other people! Go soon. Jinshanling will never be the same once buses start to fill that parking lot.
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Jinshanling Great Wall

Jinshanling Great Wall

Hostel Happy Dragon Saga (57 eur) is not particularly nice, be we don’t have much choice as it’s the start of a holiday weekend when we get back to Beijing. Prices for very basic accommodations have doubled.
Happy Dragon Saga Hotel, Beijing

Happy Dragon Saga Hotel, Beijing

Within a vast complex of industrial buildings, 798 Art District is billed as a center for contemporary art. The best part is the architecture. The galleries of which many are closed, are rather disappointing. For the most part it’s crowded cafes and small shops all selling the same junk.
798 Art District, Beijing

798 Art District, Beijing

We’ve seen so much in China, but still have not visited the Forbidden City and a few other important sites in Beijing. There’s just no way to even attempt it on a weekend much less a holiday. We’ll just have to plan better when we return to visit the rest of the country.

This featured blog entry was written by SpiceChronicles from the blog The Spice Chronicles.
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By SpiceChronicles

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 2018 | China | Comments