Places for off the beaten path in Lanzhou

If you plan to visit Lanzhou for Silk Road tours, you should know these places for off the beaten path.

1. Bingling Si

The Bingling Si Grottoes can be visited in summer. I am told that access is only by water, and that the water in the Yellow River is too low most of the year. I visited the second week of August. Skies were clear and the air was mild. No humidity.

This is an extraordinary trip. I was expecting this to be a highlight of my trip to China, but I was not really prepared for the incredible beauty of the site.

There is a tourist ferry that takes you to the grottoes for about 95 rmb (unit for China money ) per person. I am told the trip takes approx. 2 hours each way and that you get about 90 minutes at the site. I knew beforehand that I probably wanted more time at the site, and that there would be the option of taking a private speedboat. Someone will approach you at the parking lot before you reach the ticket office for the regular boat. We were given and accepted the price of 600 rmb. A driver takes you 30 minutes by car to the powerboat launch area, and the speedboat ride is 30 minutes. The firs time you round the bend in the car and see the Yellow River, it is a magnificent sight. We spent 2.5 hours at the site. If you like rollercoasters, you will love the speedboat ride. It is wild. When you hit a wave, you will be sent into the air, I assure you. Think of it as a 30 minute rollercoaster ride. Still, I was able to take great photos on the trip.

There are grottoes to visit with the regular admission price of 50rmb per person, but these are fairly unimpressive. Once you are at the site, you will have the option of visiting two additional grottoes which are accessed from the giant staircase. This will cost an additional 300rmb per person, so this winds up being an expensive trip. I felt it was well worth the experience. The staircase is next to the giant buddha. You will also be approached at some point by somebody who will offer to take you by jeep to a further monastery. We did not do this. There is also a small, very nice museum at the grottoes with some beautiful relics and several places that serve food, bottles of cold water and tea at the dock where the boat lands. You could really make a longer day of it, if you wanted. Just make sure that the boat driver knows how long you intend to stay.

2. The Gansu Numismatics Museum

I have never been to this museum, but I keep seeing it on Dong Ganxi Lu, on the north side, about 400 metres from the Lanzhou Binguan. It seems to be in a branch of a bank. Must give it a try because it seems the kind of quirky place that you don't expect in a city like Lanzhou!

3. The old harbour

One block west of the Baiyuanguan Temple, is a bridge over a particularly badly polluted stream - not much more than an open sewer. Yet in the old days, this short stretch of mud and grass was where the boats and barges were tied up and unloaded and the city's wharves. Nothing to see there these days, but at least it is open and a break from the grim buildings in this area.

4. Xihu Park

Xihu Park is one of the more tranquil spots in this busy city, especially in the summer months for last minute China travel deals, when locals head for the river bank for their evening stroll. This park has several lakes, but also has the usual clutter of very old and very suspect-looking playground and funfair equpiment. Like in all parks across China, one of the joys of the park is watching the city come out to play, and Xihu park is particularly popular with people exercising their caged birds. It is also peopular with the park calligraphers, who wander around the lanes painting their art on the ground with sugared water so the calligraphy remains just for a few hours before evaporating.

5. Down to Sichuan province

One good recommendation is to travel overland from Lanzhou south to Chengdu in Sichuan province. Along the way, you will pass by some of the most breathtaking scenery around, including must visits to places such as Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong.

6. Bingling Siku- Ancient Buddhist Grotto

Bingling Buddhist Caves are some of the earliest yet least known caves in China. Built in the 5th century Jin Dynasty, these caves have been added to by successive dynasties and are still in decent shape. The giant Buddha is more than 27 meters tall. The artwork shows a transitional style from Indian to Chinese. The setting is also spectacular. Built into the side of a canyon just next to the Yellow River, the surroundings will astound. If you follow the dry usually riverbed up the canyon you will go through a narrow pass that opens into a surreal maze of hole filled towering cliffs. A 20 minute walk will bring you to a small temple across from which are more small unopened caves on the cliff face. Look out for yaks and the occassional flashflood. The Yellow River gives the only access to this amazing site. To get there during the summer, take the ferry from the dock by the Yongjing Dam. Outside the season, you might be able to get a speedboat to take you for several hundred RMB. Round-trip and a 3 hour wait included. Yongjing is a small town just a few minutes away from the dam and dock. You can get here directly from Lanzhou but I came via Xiahe and then went on to Xining in Qinghai (a popular destination for popular China travel package). Have fun.

  1. 2013/06/28(金) 16:35:36|
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Dunhuang Warnings and Dangers You Should Know

When visiting Dunhuang for your affordable China tours, you should avoid the following.

1. Possibility of Washed-out Bridge at Mogao Grottoes

If it rains, be warned that you might be walking 1.5-2 hours in the desert to get from Mogao Grottoes to the shuttle buses or any other form of vehicular transport! That was what happened to us. The river at Mogao Grottoes was a raging Milo-looking mess and the bridge was washed out, we had to walk a long way to get to the public buses to get back to town -- same goes for the tour buses. I wasn't happy at not being able to see the grottoes (on the insistence of my travel companion to not "waste" my money since I'd visited previously) and still had to walk across the desert, in the hot sun, with my backpack!

2. Beware sandstorms!

Sandstorms are very unpleasant (like thick orange fog with added grit and strong winds), and should one occur, all doors and windows have to be closed, and the Mogao caves will be closed to visitors (to protect the cave paintings from the sand, and also for the safety of the visitors).

We were told that sandstorms generally only happened in April, but we witnessed one in July. It is probably a good idea to allow enough slack in your itinerary so that you can reschedule a visit to the Mogao caves for the following day if necessary.

3. Awful guide books!

If you want to buy a guide book locally, note that the big book (“Dunhuang and Silk Road, Silk Road travel” by Sea Sky Publishing House – with a buff coloured cover) is unintelligible. It is written in English, but the language is so difficult to follow that it is basically useless. If you don’t believe me, try understanding this short piece (about the Sleeping Buddha cave): “Sakyamuni, to be dead before long, was being there lying serenely, percieving his disciple’s grieved howls by his deva ears and looking at this combative battlefield containedly by his deva eyes.” It seems to have been translated by someone who has never actually used English and did it word by word from a dictionary!

It is rather sad that the Chinese-produced guide-books completely ignore much of the ‘history’ of the caves, preferring to gush with superlatives and hyperbole. By making everything so wonderful, the books are impossible to use to see or understand the true highlights. The Mogaokou are presented as some kind of flawless perfection, rather like the airbrushed retouched photo of a supermodel, so diluting the true story and the fascinating ‘texture’ of Dunhuang and its art. It shouldn’t be the case, but the only decent lay and specialist guide books are printed overseas. Much the same can be said of all guidebooks about China: the utter inability to print anything but sycophantic stuff about how great/beautiful/wonderful/perfect everything is simply tedious. Frances Wood, Judy Bonavia or a handful of others manage to covey more history, romance, glamour and real perspective in a few simple sentences than the copious paragraphs of honeyed goo that the Chinese writers dish up.

4. Dunes are hard to climb

Don't think dunes are a piece of cake! There is a big walk up to the top, and the heat is on normally.

The best time to climb is in the evening, just before sunset, as you will have the chance to see the sunset from above, and is a bit cooler...

Dunhuang is an optional destination for popular China tour package.

  1. 2013/06/27(木) 17:15:34|
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Sports & Outdoors when visiting Burqin

1. Horseback Trekking

If you want to go on a horseback trek, you should get off the share-taxi at Jiadengyu, before the Hanas Lake (an attraction for Silk Road travel) park entrance. However it'll still cost 50 RMB/person from Burqin/Bu'erjin long-distance bus station.
At Jiadengyu you can find horses and grooms going to Hemu village, this'll take about a day.
Horses cost 150 RMB/day, grooms (mandatory) cost 200 RMB/day and you'll also have to pay for HIS horse which's another 150 RMB/day.
From Hemu village you could persuade the grooms to go on to Black Lake (a part of the Hanas Lake park) which's another 2 days (not sure) on horseback. This way you'll be able to evade the park admission fee.

Equipment: If you have a lot of luggage, I would recommend that you drop the stuff in Burqin before you go to Jiadengyu and Hanas Lake. Luggage storage is always available at long-distance bus stations in China. This is especially the case if you're going to do any horseback trekking for your China vacation deals, which starts at Jiadengyu. On your return, you should go directly by share-taxi from Hanas Lake to Burqin without stopping at Jiadengyu at all.

2. Rubber Rafting

Rafting is also available, IIRC they cost around 120 RMB/person. Each rubber raft fits about 6-8 people.

Equipment: You'll be kitted out with full-body wetsuits.

For more via China tour agents.

  1. 2013/06/26(水) 16:38:05|
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Ifnormation about Lake Karakul (Karakuli)

Lake Karakul is about 200 km or 4 hours drive south of Kashgar (a must-see destination for Silk Road tours) along the Karakorum Highway. It is also slightly north (~20 km) of Tashkurgan, the last settlement in China on the Karakorum Highway which cuts through the Kunlun Shan, the Pamirs and Karakorum and skims close to the Hindu Kush and Tian Shan within China. That's a lot of mountain ranges for a bit of careless driving on India's part 50 million years ago - smack into southern Asia and no 'No Claims Bonus' - or insurance for that matter.

The only mountain range I've not mentioned is the Himalaya - to get to that, you need to continue south on the Karakorum Highway from Tashkurgan (Chinese immigration), over the Khunjerab Pass into Pakistan (remember Chinese and Pakistani visas) and down through Sust (Pakistani immigration), Hunza and Gilgit before you see the Himalayas. Continuing south will take you down the Indus Gorge past Taxalia (the now abandoned birthplace of Tantric Buddhism) to the end of the highway in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Another useless fact is that at 4730 m, the aforementioned Khunjerab Pass in the Karakorums is the highest international border crossing in the world - it's only open part of the year (1st May to 31st October) as the pass gets closed by snow in the winter.
So when you visit the lake for your China travel deals, you should check if some pass is closed.

The big fella in the background is called Mustagh Ata at 7546 m high, however, off to the left and bigger again is the less well known Kongur at 7719 m (not in view - it was in the huff, hiding in cloud when I was there). The lake itself is either at 3,600 m altitude or 3,900 m - I'm not sure. This means take care with the altitude as even short visits can lead to altitude sickness. The lake itself is spectacularly situated amongst the eastern extremities of the Pamir mountains, the bulk of which are in nearby Tajikistan. You've also got Afghanistan nearby to this point and turning off to the right southbound from Kashgar before reaching Lake Karakul will take you there instead of Pakistan.

For more via China travel agents.

  1. 2013/06/25(火) 16:57:35|
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Where to go for off the beaten path in Turpan

1. Turpan Museum

Turpan Museum is a small local museum, which most people skip, when visiting Turpan, the must-see destination for Silk Road tour . But I recommend ot visit. Bets way to visit is to take a tourguide with you. I was very lucky, that I had an expert tourguide with me, who showed me aorund in the museum. Unfortunately all exhibits are described in Chinese.

The exhibits show finds from the excavations at Gaochang, Jiaohe and other places. There is also a collection of mummies form the Astana tombs.

Other reasons, why I like the museum: as most museums in China it is a quiet place, no visitors, aircondition. The atmosphere is like in a church: solemn quiete a place, to escape the heat and the dust.

It is located on Gaochang Road, easily can reached by a short walk from Oasis Hotel

2. Grape Valley and Raisin Houses

As Turpan is mainly inhabitatet by Muslim people (Uygur) the wine, that is grown in and around Turpan, is not grown for the making of wine but for producing raisins. Turpan raisins are very sweet and a speciality which people know and cherish all over China.

You can see strange looking houses between the fields of grapes. This structure are made to dry the grapes into raisins. The holes in the wall have the prupose to let the wind into the room and circulate. It is an optional destination for affordable China tours.

3. Around Turpan

If you leave the center of the city, with it's chinese style "bizarro-world" architecture, you can actually find some Uighur rural farm style houses. These are mostly complexes with a large central gate, the walls mad from mud-brick. The farm area reminds me more of western style agriculture for some reason This is where the grapes grow in the summer, and many houses have vines growing over the porch/front yard area.
It would be fun to walk up the tree lined roads in the summer and see it all.

4. Buildings For Drying Grapes

Around Turpan in the area of the grape valleys you can see these buildings. They use them to make raisins in. The raisins are made naturaly. No machine is needed to make them. They just put the fresh seedless or other grape in it, after some days, you can enjoy the world famous Turpan natural raisins. We got to taste some at a grapevalley, delicious! You should try the grapes after popular China tours.

5. Make time to see the REAL...

Make time to see the REAL grape valley, not the fake one designed for the tourists. You can talk to some of the farmers there and they'll likely invite you in to see how they live - this is outside a farmer's house, where they sleep and eat under vines in the summer.

You can obtain more via China travel agents.

  1. 2013/06/24(月) 16:59:26|
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The Useful Favorites in Kunming

1. Siberian gulls at Cuihu park

Favorite thing: Siberian gulls spend harsh winters of their homeland in Kunming (top destination for affordable China travel packages). We saw them every day at Cuihu park untill March or begining of April when they were about to fly back to Siberia.

Cuihu is admission free park in city centre near Yunnan University and it's one of the popular places to spot gulls, especially in the spring. It's amazing that birds draw so much admiration of locals who come there to take photos. Also this park is always full of people - visitor and local; local come to play traditional Yunnanese and Chinese music (communist songs included and popular), mahjong, chess, tai ji quan in front of the park by the water, dance and body excercise. Many of different kinds of entertainments here.
Here are a few shots from my second visit to KM when I spent a day there. There aren't yet leaves on the trees and it's before peaches and plums would blossom. Gulls flied over heads in large masses, there were more of then than 4 years ago! I am glad they are so plenty.

Fondest memory: Birds at Cuihu park are amazing.

2. Springtime All Year Round

Favorite thing: Ever think of going on a holiday in China where the climate is always spring? Then, Kunming should be the answer. It’s a place where spring is all year round thus popularly dubbed as The City of Eternal Spring. It’s the pleasant climate and the colorful blooms that are in abundance in all parks and corners of the city that makes Kunming a lovely place to spend a holiday. But if you are still persistent about the details of the local weather, I would say January is relatively colder and July is a little hot. But the foliage is said to remain green all year round.

The areas in and around Kunming are rich with natural beauty spots - dotted with lakes, forest, hills and caves. An attraction within the city limit is the picturesque Cuihu Lake Park (an optional destination for China best tours). One can sit for hours at end by the beautiful lake garden enjoying the sights of lake gulls flying free, graceful and busy soaring high and diving low targeting fish and fry in the water and tidbits from the your hands.

Then just walk around the shady lakeside where willows weep in the breeze. It’s simply fascinating – and this is Kunming.

Fondest memory: Kunming is a city to relax and enjoy your holiday. If you stay at any of the hotels in the city center, try to be up early, have a good breakfast and take a walk to one of the major parks in the locality. I’m sure it’s a good place to start up the day – mass dancing (or mass drill if I should say) in the bright morning sun. It’s here where you can see a few hundred couples – mostly elderly folks doing the cha-chas and the rhumbas. Simply mingle in with the `troupe’. No problem as everyone is welcomed. If you don’t have a partner, try an `excuse me dance’. You may have a chance.

For those who are not easily attracted by the latino foot tapping cha chas but still want to give their leg muscles a stretch, move on to the other corner of the park and join the Taichi group. You don’t need a sword to do the Taichi in the park..

3. Wedding in Kunming

Favorite thing: I don't think, that you are going to be married, when next time you'll visit Kunming. BUT.......
you never know. Kunming is not like Las Vegas, where you can get married day and night, or New Caledonia, where many Japanese couples go to marry, nor Tahiti, the traditional wedding destination.
Anyway, everything for your wedding in Kunming is ready. Around Beijing Road, there are many establishments, who will organise everything for your wedding.

4. Getting good directions

Favorite thing: The best way is to make sure you know where you going before you set off, take the time to study your map. Once you leave the safety of your room/hotel/hostel, you kind of on your own. I have spent 1 whole day looking for a shop (there was a map the back of the business card..that was not correct) I was in the general vicinity, but every person I ask pointed me in the wrong direction ( even the police). It was not they were trying to steer me on the wrong direction, but they had no idea too. After walking about 10 miles I went home. found out the address, and then used a "correct map" To find out where it was. You can buy these maps just about any place for 3 RMB (China money's unit). There are Chinese/English and also have the bus routs.
You will amazed, like you have some sort of magnetic power. By just standing in one spot looking at an open map, there will be many people who will stop and try to help you. Most people will come up out of curiosity, or some people see a foreigner and want to practice English, but for the most part it seems (in the city area at least) want to help you find your way. But becarful or you'll end up lost

Fondest memory: walking around for 6 hours looking for the place to fix my camera

5. 5 RMB Hair Cut

Favorite thing: I think I have beat
hooiluangoh in the hair cut department, for just 5 RMB I got a hair cut. Sure I did not get a wash or blowe, but fot 5RMB....who cares. I was just happy to pay so little. I'm used to paying $20-30 back home. It was not the best cut I ever had, but it was ok.

Near the west gate of the Yunnan Normal University, there are 3-4 small barbers shops. The seem to get cheaper the farther from the school you get. I'm sure I could of got a cheaper cut if I went a little way more down the street.

Fondest memory: Having the lady just "Barrowed" the scissors form the next chair, cigarette in mouth...and just started cutting.

6. Fruit seasons in Kunming

Favorite thing: As a malaysian, I have always thought fruit season means Durian / Mangoesteen / Rambutan season.

In Kunming, you find

Winter (Oct to Jan) : strawberries, navel oranges, grapefruit.

Spring (March, April) : cherries, mulberries, chinese cherries.

Spring - summer (May onwards) : pipa, chinese peaches (yum yum), mangoes, yangmei (this is another yum yum found only in China), li (go for the green ones they are very sweet, absolutely fabulous).

Fondest memory: Try the yangmei (about RMB 1.50 per 100g). I have only eaten the preserved ones at home, but over here, the fresh ones are quite something to eat.

Note: you can't eat too much because it contains an acid that will make your teeth feel soft, and yangmei does not keep well even in the fridge.

You should pay more attention to these for your China vacation packages.

  1. 2013/06/21(金) 16:40:48|
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The favorite attractions in Xian

1. Terracotto Army, a must-see for your China tour deals

Favorite thing: 1>This army of 6000 warriors defends the tomb of the first China Emperor, Shi Huangdi (3° century JC). Each of them is an individual because the heads are made separatly and put on the bodies. The features of each are original and may be true. There are 4 buildings to visit : the Chariots Builing, the Sites 1, 2 & 3. The largest is the Site 2 with the army. IMPORTANT : it is now allowed to take photographes.

2>Before Emperor Qin Shi build his tomb and took thousands of terracotta warriors with him, ist was custom, that emperors had real people, who died with them in their tomb. It had been tombs excavated, which contained women and men, who died from poison or suffocated, after they had been closed into the tomb.

Chinese people beleive, that life after death is similar to live on earth. People and things, they have in their graves, will be of help in their life in heaven.

After Qin Shi the emperors took statues into their tombs, which were much smaller. Today people are burried with paper models of all the luxury, which makes life easy and comfortable.

3>see the Imax movie at the Terra Cotta Army site. We went there last. I recommend that you go there first; then tour the pits and excavations. Do not miss the bronze chariots and riders.

Did you know that the terra cotta soldiers are dug up in broken pieces and shards, then reconstructed in a workshop and returned to the pits after being pieced together?? A real Chinese puzzle.

4>There are several buildings containing the statues. Quite impressive. From Xian (you can start your Silk Road tour ), take a bus to the site. #2) GREAT MOSQUE -Never knew that there was a prominent Muslim population in China. It was fascinating to see this part of China, in Xi'an. #3) OLD XI'AN - Near the Great Mosque. Take some time to walk around the walled portion of the city.

Fondest memory: The main attraction has still to be discovered : the tomb. We already know what we will see : a sarcophagus floating on a river of mercury, in the middle of treasures, with the skeletons of the Emperor's wifes and of the workers (so, the secret is kept), all in a palace. Currently, the tomb is under a hill and the Chinese people wait to have time and means to make the research.

2. Hua Qing Hot Springs (an option for popular China tours)

Favorite thing (from customers): 1>I really enjoyed Huaqingqiao most. My timing was especially appropriate since it was the day they buried Zhang Xueliang in Hawaii, the general who kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek. You oculd see the bullets littering the walls and the signpost that said 'Jiang was captured here' up the hill.

2> From Xian we drove out into the countryside and stopped at this famous hot springs bath. It was built by an emperor for his most favored concubine, Lady Young, for she loved to bathe here. Apparently, this ruler spent so much time doting on his mistress that he let the country slide into ruin. In each of the small buildings is a differently shaped bath.

3>The place is very quiet and relaxing, except when you share the visit with a huge group of tourists. It's a nice garden with many ponds and pagodas. As it's sunday, there are many chinese people walking up and down, and souvenir stalls.

You can consider these tow attractions in your China tour packages.

  1. 2013/06/20(木) 17:03:13|
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A garden on the sea in China

A visit to the man-made Beiji Island in northeast China brings to mind an ancient saying that states that time has the power to transform seas into farms. But what turned the coastal region into a sea of flowers was not the vicissitudes of time, but the power of human technology. If you are interested in it, you should include it in your affordable China travel packages.

Although reclamation is not a cutting-edge technology, turning salinized land into a garden is difficult, particularly for Beiji, which was designated as the site for the 13th World Landscape Art Exposition.

A day prior to the expo's opening on Friday, the tiny island is blooming with millions of flowers thanks to the application of new technologies that resist sea water erosion and coastal winds.

In one garden, thousands of tulips imported from Holland are in half or full bloom, forming scarlet, yellow and white belts that wind halfway across the island.

A total of 130,000 trees and 30 million flowers have been planted in the park to complement garden designs created by artists from across the world, the expo's organizers said.

Previously made up of foreshores and disused shrimp farms, the expo park came out of a massive reclamation project that has poured 20 million cubic meters of sand and soil into the sea since 2011.

"The expo required a large piece of land, but we decided not to occupy any farmlands. That's why we chose the barren saline-alkali foreshores," said Yi Xinyang, an official in charge of the construction and design of the expo for China tours.

But filling in the sea resulted in one problem: despite copious marine elements and a balmy oceanic climate, trees and flowers can barely survive on the island, as its foundation is full of seawater.

"If you dig 1.7 meters down, you' ll find the island's foundation is filled with seawater, which salinizes the upper layers of soil and causes the plants to wither," said Liu Yulan, a gardening expert who worked to green the island.

To solve the salinization problem, Liu and her colleagues introduced desalting technologies, including paving a layer of gravel and non-woven fabric beneath the soil to stop the upward movement of underground saline water.

Other technologies include "breathing" concrete ground, the loose structure of which allows rainwater to be absorbed quickly, thus helping to wash out the salt and desalinate the underground water.

The measures have ensured the survival of 95 percent of the 130,000 trees that became the first "settlers" on the island one year ago, Liu said.

Delicate flowers were the last to settle down. Horticulturists planted them mostly in low-lying inland areas, with surrounding hills hemmed by tougher trees to deflect strong gales.

Human labor still plays a big part in maintaining the fragile ecosystem. On windy days and during typhoon season, staff need to patrol the island to reinforce trees with support pillars while keeping an eye on the potential backflow of seawater.

Some of the island's rarer trees are even given "IV drips" that provide them with nutrients to sustain their growth, Liu said.

"When tourists appreciate the island's natural beauty, we hope they will also keep in mind that the scenery would not be there without the immense effort and devotion of many technicians and horticulturists," Liu said.

You can consider the island in your China vacation packages.

  1. 2013/06/19(水) 17:13:16|
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A touched travel story - The Middle Kingdom ride

Imagine travelling 11,600 miles. That’s more than twice the distance from Beijing (sure-fir city for China travel deals) to London as the crow flies – or the distance needed to circumnavigate China, as Canadian brothers Ryan and Colin Pyle found out on their epic journey motorcycling all the way round the country’s border roads.

The subject of their newly released book, The Middle Kingdom Ride, this odyssey earned them a Guinness World Record for ‘the longest continuous journey within a single country by motorcycle’. Taking just over two months to complete, the ride was one of extreme highs and lows – quite literally. The brothers battled altitude sickness along Highway 219, known as the ‘Road in the Sky’ because its average elevation is above 4,000m, and camped overnight in the Turpan Basin – the third lowest point on Earth. They faced temperatures ranging from 42°C to -15°C and, after subsisting on a diet of Oreos and whatever else they could forage at rest stops along the way, they each lost 9kg in weight.

Their trip, extraordinary by any account, is all the more remarkable because neither brother had travelled by motorbike for more than two days continuously before they determined on this marathon undertaking. ‘We’re not gearheads, we don’t make our own bikes, or even fix them,’ says Ryan, speaking from his home in Shanghai. ‘But we thought: Why wrap four doors around you when you can feel the open road on two wheels?’

The idea for this expedition first formed in New York in March 2010. Colin was working in a soulless finance job in Toronto, the kind, says Ryan, ‘where you earn good money but don’t really like yourself’. Ryan was frustrated too. Since 2001 he had built up a successful career in China as a freelance documentary photographer, collaborating with the likes of The New York Times on major stories such as the Sichuan Earthquake. Then the 2008 financial crisis hit newspapers hard, slashing his income in half – and the work he was able to get no longersatisfied him: ‘I wanted to show what China was really like, to show that there was more to the country than what the newspapers were willing to pay me to cover.’

As the brothers shared their gripes in New York’s Central Park, their complaints transmuted into a joint resolve to go on an adventure. At first they thought of hiking, then of driving through China’s varied landscapes. But ultimately, they couldn’t escape the lure of the motorbike. ‘It’s a beautiful tool,’ Ryan enthuses. ‘It allows you to fully connect with your environment in a way that a car can’t. You smell the smells. You feel every kilometre. It’s a holistic experience.’

But that same property almost caused the Pyle boys to hang up their riding gloves on their first day. Setting off from Shanghai (popular travel city included in top 10 China tours) on 15 August 2010, the pair faced bad traffic in Jiangsu province. ‘We had our full equipment on because we wanted to be safe, which meant ten hours of cooking in our suits,’ remembers Ryan. The cocktail of exhaust fumes and intense humidity left Colin with heatstroke.

When Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman motorcycled across Europe, Asia and North America for the TV series Long Way Round, they were accompanied by a security expert and a doctor, as well as an extended camera crew. By contrast, the Pyles left with one person in tow – Chad Ingraham, their friend and videographer, who followed them in an SUV, capturing their escapades on film (the DVD is released next month). They couldn’t rely on medical assistance on the road, and their day-one setback left Colin with doubts. ‘He began worrying what the whole trip would bring,’ says Ryan, before adding, with the obvious pride of an older brother, ‘but to his credit, he bounced back.’

The rest of the journey would be even more eventful. In Jilin, the brothers stayed overnight in a town that was off-limits to foreigners and were escorted out by police guards the next day. Elsewhere in northeast China, they narrowly avoided flash floods that left dozens dead. Having embarked on this epic journey in the hope of escaping his day-job covering breaking news, Ryan found newsworthy events following him wherever he went. On the road out from Beijing to Inner Mongolia, they became entangled in China’s worst-ever traffic jam, which stretched back over 60 miles on Highway 110 and eventually lasted more than ten days:‘We were heading west, the jam was in the other direction, but there were trucks on our side of the road trying to head east. It took six hours to go 30km. When we stopped to ask drivers how long they’d been there, some said three-to-four days. We didn’t believe them until we got to our hotel that night and switched on the TV.’

It wasn’t until they left crowded eastern China that the Pyles really began to enjoy themselves. They relished the wide, wild expanses of the west, tearing along near-empty roads through the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, over deserts of Xinjiang (destination for Silk Road travel), past Tibet’s mountain ranges and Yunnan’s dense forests. But these areas came with their own trials: dirt highways prevailed; the brothers shared the way with military vehicles and mineral-laden trucks, and battled clouds of dust or sinking pools of mud, depending on the weather. It was here that the off-road training course they had taken in Germany earlier that year came in handy. ‘On those aggressive roads, you’re bouncing all over the place,’ explains Ryan. ‘It’s not like sitting back on your fat Harley. You have to stand up to minimise the impact of the bumps, and in Tibet that meant standing for eight-to-ten hours a day, which really hits your arms and back.’

It’s lucky that aches and bruises were the only injuries they suffered. On the Karakorum Highway, Ryan fell badly during a freezing hailstorm. But his worst moment during the trip was watching Colin slide off the road at 30mph in the rain in Yunnan: ‘You can endure pain for yourself. But this was my little brother. I was meant to be taking him on this adventure, not getting him hurt.’ Fortunately, what looked like a nasty fall, turned out to have a relatively soft landing, as caught on camera by Chad. In one of the YouTube clips from The Middle Kingdom Ride, a muddied, shaken, but still smiling Colin turns to the screen and says, ‘The bike works, I work, so we’re carrying on.’

  1. 2013/06/18(火) 16:34:23|
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Relief from the madding crowds II

After years of restoration, the pagoda is now open to the public and as well as offering some lovely panoramic views of the town it is also home to one of the world's largest jade reclining Buddhas. Newly produced and shipped from Myanmar, the statue is 8.9 meters in length and 32 tons in weight.

The petite town is also home one of the oldest and longest and best preserved slab stone streets in East China. Consisting of 2,072 stone slabs, the 800-meter street boasts such a surprisingly effective drainage system that even after a heavy downpour, there are few pools of water on the street.

The town's most famous son is Gu Yanwu, a renowned thinker and scholar of the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) who famously said "everyone should be responsible for the rise and fall of his country". Today his former residence is one of the town's main attractions.

It takes about an hour to get to Qiandeng by car from Shanghai (hot destination included in packages of China travel deals). While there are few restaurants and cafes, the ones there are offer rustic east China cuisine at a reasonable price. After lunch you can spend the afternoon taking a relaxing boat trip or enjoy a Kunqu Opera performance in one of the teahouses.

Accommodation is limited and mostly low budget.

Qinhu Lake, Taizhou - 480 km from Shanghai

The Qingming Festival traditionally involves people paying their respects to their ancestors by visiting their graves. However, at Qinhu Lake in Taizhou, Jiangsu province, people celebrate a tradition that dates back to at least the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Every year the Qintong Boat Festival is staged on the lake. Beginning on the second day of the Qingming Festival, it is a weeklong carnival in which hundreds of skillful boatmen converge on the lake to compete in dragon boat races, there are also a variety of theatrical performances and folk dances.

The festival is becoming the biggest temple fair on water with the support of the local government, so you can expect to bump into other people.

If you really don't want to see anyone, the lake is part of the country's second-largest wetland park, which is home to more than 113 species of plants and 73 species of animals, including some rare species such as red-crowned cranes and rein deer.

Tourists can alternate between a boat cruise and walk to explore the huge park for your    popular China travel package, although it is more usually suggested to explore the park in a vehicle. However, it is more intimate to see the flora and fauna by boat and on foot.

The reeds have just turned from winter yellow to tender green, signaling spring is in the air, which means this is a good time to visit the park as many of the animals are putting on their courtship displays.

You can consider the above in your China vacation packages.

  1. 2013/06/17(月) 16:13:45|
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Relief from the madding crowds I

Three destinations that are off the beaten track but still worth a visit for your affordable China travel packages.

Holidays in China are synonymous with crowds and traffic jams, even the Tomb Sweeping Day, which is when Chinese people traditionally visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects. So to help you enjoy a crowd-free vacation, China Daily has selected three destinations around Shanghai that are off the beaten track but still well worth a visit.

Changzhou - 179 km from Shanghai

One of the earliest cities in China to be opened-up, Changzhou in Jiangsu province is considered by most Chinese people to be an industrial town rather than a tourist destination. But with beautiful natural scenery nearby, historical relics and huge modern theme parks, the city offers many delights for those willing to look beyond the industrial skyline.

Just 40 minutes by car from the city center lies the Nanshan Bamboo Forest, a huge, pristine, natural museum housing a variety of bamboos. You can either take the cable car to the peak of the mountain, which commands an overall view of the sea of bamboo, or take a relaxed stroll through this natural generator of oxygen.

If you are interested in history, Yancheng in Jiangsu is worth a visit, althougth it is not contain in top 10 China tour packages. The small town might be one of the few places in China that has escaped war, and more importantly, the wrecker's ball, and it is still one of the oldest and most well-preserved ancient towns in China. A boat trip along river can't fail to please, while the marshes and wetlands are home to some unique and endangered species. Just a few steps away from the old town is the vast expanse of the newly built amusement park dedicated to what life would have been like back in Confucius' day. With an investment of about one billion yuan ($159 million),the park is a rather surreal combination of a Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) theme with state-of-art amusement facilities.

If you like the local delicacies, such as fresh spring bamboo or hand pressed tofu, the chef at the Shang Palace restaurant in the newly opened Shangri-La Hotel in Changzhou is not only adept at cooking all kinds of authentic local dishes, as he is a master of some of the traditional kitchen skills that are fast disappearing, he is also very bold when it comes to creating new dishes with bizarre ingredients like insects.

The hotel is also introducing a special spring package to celebrate the local cherry blossom which ends on April 6. The less-than-1,000-yuan package includes a night in the hotel's standard room, breakfast buffet for two and two free tickets to the theme park.

Qiandeng Town, Kunshan - 63 km from Shanghai

The historical Yangtze River (Yangtze River cruises) Delta is known for its ancient towns, mostly water towns, where busy urbanites go to experience a slower pace of life. The small, 2,500-year-old Qiandeng Town in Jiangsu province really does offer some relaxing time out from the city, as unlike some of others it is not yet commercialized and it has managed to escape the hordes of tourists that disturb the peace in the other ancient towns.

Qiandeng offers an authentic water-town atmosphere, with its chessboard layout of paved roads and canals. The Qinfeng Pagoda, which is also called the "beauty pagoda" because of its graceful, slender figure, has stood at the center of town for 1,500 years, withstanding storms and war as well as the passing of time.

  1. 2013/06/17(月) 16:10:35|
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More than just a splash: Shenzhen's Dameisha Beach Park

Who doesn't enjoy the feeling of the sea wind in your hair, the sound of crashing waves and the joyful screams of tourists as they dance and prance through the sand? Dameisha Beach Park), located on the coast of the South China Sea, is idyllically surrounded by mountains and features a 1,800 meter-long stretch of beach. Shenzhou is an optional destination for affordable China tours.

Not enough for you? The park is divided into a leisure area, a sports area, an entertainment area and a barbecue area, as well as offering jet-skis, beach volleyball, water slides, motorboats and countless other attractions. Dameisha is the longest beach in Shenzhen and boasts clear blue waters and soft sand. Sound alluring? Read on to learn more about the many wonders and attractions of Dameisha Beach Park for your popular China tour package.

1) Sun Square

The Sun Square can be found in the middle of Dameisha Beach Park, and features structures designed by Australian architecture company Tension Membrane, which offer changing facilities and a place to have a shower and generally freshen up after a dip in the sea. The buildings are designed very much with nature in mind, and fit in perfectly with the surrounding palm trees and golden sands.

2) Moon Square

Situated in the western part of Dameisha, the Moon Square also features buildings designed by Tension Membrane and plays host to various shops selling handicrafts and local specialities. For the adventurous, there's also a place to go bungee jumping if you're feeling brave enough.

3) Sunlight Corridor

The Sunlight Corridor serves as a path between Moon Square and Sun Square, and features beautiful polished stones for visitors to relax on. The corridor is also home to a dense makeup of tropical plant bougainvillea, which throw up a whole palette of colors in the immediate area especially when the sun is at its highest, which, mixed with the natural fragrance of the surrounding flora, makes it a very romantic setting indeed.

4) Wishing Tower

On the right hand side is the Wishing Tower where you can face the endless sea, embrace the clouds above and peer around at the epic mountains that surround the area, and, of course, make a wish. The tower also has motorboats for rental, as well as a nearby barbecue stall and bar, so if you prefer making a wish over a beer or two with some friends, you can head there instead.

5) Barbecue Area

As mentioned before, the Wishing Tower has a nearby barbecue area just 200 meters away, which unsurprisingly gets pretty busy, especially during the summer months. You can rent a pot for 50 RMB for four hours, which also provides you with six chairs for friends to enjoy after your tired China travel. If you've got a bigger group however, you can spend a little more and get eight chairs for 85 RMB (plus the pot) and they'll even throw in a bag of coal, some forks, and a table.

Add: Dameisha Beach Park, 9 Yanmei Lu, Yantian District, Shenzhen

Opening hours: 06:00-01:00

Price: Free

Getting there: take bus 103b, 103, 308, 380a, 380b, 387, b703, j1, m207, or n21 to Haibinyuchang stop

You can obtain more via China travel agents.

  1. 2013/06/14(金) 15:57:36|
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On the Buddha trail II

Longmen Grottos

Datong, Shanxi Province

When the Northern Wei moved their capital from Datong to Luoyang in Henan province in 493 AD, the dynasty turned its artistic and spiritual attention to the nearby caves at Longmen (120RMB entrance; 0379 6598 0972). Their work was continued by successive dynasties, including the Tang, from 493 to 1127 AD. Following the philosophy that more is more, they created a collection of carvings at Longmen that were even more numerous than those at Yungang, with over 2,000 grottos housing 100,000 sculptures within. Longmen Cave is a must-see in Luoyang and make contribution to local China tourism.

Today, visitors can feast their eyes on a dense array of disordered niches that run along several levels of the exposed cliff surface, on the west bank of the River Yi. Few are sign-posted but be sure to look out for the oldest cave, Guyangdong, which still shows stains from its original colour pigments. At the later caves, the features of the statues are more Chinese, and the bodies fuller, reflecting Tang Dynasty ideals, and heralding the flowering of a fully fledged Chinese form of Buddhism during this period. In particular, don't miss the central Buddha in the Fengxiansi, built in 675 AD, which measures over 17m and is around 15-20 times larger than any others at this site.

Sadly, though, history has left its unforgiving mark. The middle caves bear the scars of early 20th-century Western relic hunters – missing heads, hacked off whole, now sit in the likes of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. There was also much damage inflicted during the Cultural Revolution, evident in the countless defaced tiny Buddhas that fill recesses everywhere you look.

While you're there Check out White Horse Temple, north-east of the city, supposedly the first Buddhist temple in China. And 80 kilometres further afield is the Shaolin Temple, a must for kung fu fans.

Where to stay Christian's Hotel – this boutique hotel with themed floors provides a free pick-up and drop-off service (doubles from 819RMB per night).

How to get there Trains from Beijing West take 8-10 hours and cost from 106RMB for a hard seat to Luoyang. From Luoyang station, take Bus 81; the journey to the caves should take around 40 minutes.

Dafo Buddha

Leshan, Sichuan Province

What it lacks in numbers (there are only 90 stone carvings at this Buddhist site, which costs 90RMB to enter), Leshan makes up for in sheer size. The Dafo, or 'Big Buddha', is, with a height of 71m, the world's tallest stone Buddha. Its nose aloneis over three times the size of a grown adult. Carved out of a red cliff face in the 8th century, this leviathan watches serenely over the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers. The spot was chosen because the tempestuous currents here had claimed the lives of many a local. Old Dafo did indeed deliver safer waters – although scientists speculate that the rock displacement caused by the statue's construction may have been the real reason the stronger eddies were killed off.

No matter, the pilgrims who flock here believe it is a sign of Buddha's divine presence. There are two ways to see Dafo. You can take a ferry ride from further down the river (70RMB; boats leave from Leshan City Pier). This has a smaller queue and you'll be able to see two other large figures, either side of Dafo, not visible from the shore. But the boat only stops for ten minutes or so in front of the statue – just enough time to you to snap a picture – and it doesn't get that close. See Dafo ashore and you'll have to queue – sometimes up to an hour – for the privilege.

But as you snake your way down the stairs, you can admire the smaller carvings on the cliff side and chat with your fellow pilgrims – the countryside believers caressing prayer beads, the Nikon-toting city slickers, and even the occasional orange-clad monk. Once at the bottom, you can crane your head up to admire Dafo in all his gargantuan glory for as long as you like.

While you're there Join the locals supping and playing mahjong in one of Leshan's many teahouses or climb the nearby 3,099m Mount Emei, one of China's four holy Buddhist mountains for China vacation deals. On the summit, you'll find both a portly golden statue of Bodhisattva Puxian riding his six-tusked elephant, and Suicide Cliff – the near-vertical face of the mountain where clouds rush upwards as if to meet the heavens.

Where to stay An-e Hotel is a relatively new, clean hotel located a short taxi ride from Dafo. Doubles go for 168RMB.

How to get there From Chengdu's Xinnanmen Bus Station, take the bus marked Leshan for a two-and-a-half hour ride. To get to the Giant Buddha from the town centre, take Bus 13 or it's a 15RMB taxi ride.

Sumeru Grottos

Guyuan, Ningxia Province

The grottos (50RMB; 095 4261 0325) at Mount Sumeru (also known as Xumishan, the Chinese transliteration of the original Sanskrit) are somewhat of a mystery. Historical records offer little detail about this Buddhist site, with most information coming from the cave inscriptions themselves. Located in the autonomous region of Ningxia, north-west China, close to the Silk Road's origin at Xian, the grottos are far less well-known than others in China, so have fewer crowds. Sumeru Grottos is an option for popular China travel package.

With the craftsmanship attributed to travelling monks and artists, the caves have been dated to between the 4th and 10th centuries, and are thought to have been an important Buddhist shrine in their heyday. There are more than 300 statues in the 100-plus caves, the most prominent being the 20m-tall Tang Dynasty Buddha, which sits majestically in a throne-like enclave carved into the distinctly rusty-red sandstone; the mountain and its surroundings are awash with the same tone. Other caves are filled with colourful wall paintings and statues; many of the earlier ones dance with obvious Indian and central Asian influences.

However, don't be surprised if you find over half of the caves bare. This time, it's not a case of dastardly fortune hunters pillaging their hearts out. Instead, experts speculate that these empty caverns were once the abodes of monks.

While you're there Head to Ningxia's capital, Yinchuan, for its interesting Hui Muslim neighbourhoods, the nearby un-restored Ming Dynasty walls and the strange, pyramidal earth mounds that are the Imperial tombs of the Western Xia Dynasty.

Where to stay Yijia Hotel, set 5km away from Guanyuan's railway station, offers the smartest accommodation in town and free in-room internet access, for 239RMB for a double room.

How to get there Trains from Beijing Station to Yinchuan take 13 hours and cost 281RMB for a hard sleeper. From Yinchuan take the six-hour train to Guyuan, which costs 54RMB for a hard seat. To get to Sumeru, take the yellow bus from outside the Number 2 Hospital in Guyuan to Xumishanlukou. The journey should take around an hour and a half.

If you want to know more, you can contact with China travel agents.

  1. 2013/06/13(木) 16:08:51|
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On the Buddha trail I

Want your next holiday to be a bit more spiritual? We pick out China's best spot to ogle historic masterpieces of Buddhist art.

Mogao Grottos

Dunhuang, Gansu Province

Academics can't quite agree how Buddhism first arrived in China from India, but one of the most plausible theories is that it came along the Silk Road (Silk Road travel). On the fringes of the Gobi desert, near the important Silk Road stop of Dunhuang, you find the Mogao Grottos. Inside, they hide one of the biggest collections of early Buddhist art in China.

While the Buddhist caves further east are famous for having huge statues fashioned out of rock, the sandstone at Mogao was too soft to be carved. Instead, travellers who make it all the way out here to China's Wild West, are treated to a gallery of busy, and boldly coloured, murals and clay figures, preserved for posterity by the dryness of the desert. Spanning a period of around 1,000 years – a period that began somewhere around 360 AD – the art produced in these caves is a testament to the cultural melting pot that was created as merchants, monks, pilgrims and painters from all over China, and as far east as Afghanistan, converged here.

The earliest paintings feature serene, robed Buddhas in an Indian Ghandaran style or show Central Asian influences with bare-chested, bejewelled Buddhas and scantily-clad flying angels. The level of detail preserved is startling, with even the most sinuous brush-stroke on the painted folds of fabric surviving, while later murals are more Chinese-looking. Mogao is not without colossi too: 35.5m standing and 17m reclining clay Buddha statues await visitors.

While you're there Check out Dunhuang's bustling night market and take an overnight camel trek into the rolling dunes.

Where to stay With its Gobi desert backdrop and impressive architecture that mimics the entrance to the Mogao Caves which is listed as the attraction of top 10 China tours, The Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel was good enough for Bill Gates .

How to get there Return flights from Beijing to Dunhuang cost from 4,000RMB with Air China. The caves are located around 15km outside of Dunhuang. A special bus (marked 莫高窟) can be caught outside the Silu Hotel, 6 Huanchengdong Lu.

Yungang Grottos

Datong, Shanxi Province

While the murals at Mogao evolved over a period of 1,000 years, the Buddhist cave art at the Yungang Grottos (150RMB entrance) was completed at a pace more familiar to those acquainted with the startling speed of Chinese construction today. In a period of just 60 years (460-520 AD), during the reign of the Northern Wei Dynasty, over 51,000 Buddhist figures were carved into 252 caves along a one-kilometre stretch of the Shi Li River.

Be prepared to be blown away by the giant Buddhas – from the 17m-tall crossed-legged statue sitting in Cave 5 to the giant figure lying sideways-on in Cave 3. In the latter, there are no barriers, so you can get really close and appreciate the craftsmanship – just make sure you don't stand on the statue, as some other tourists do for popular China tours.

These grottos positively brim with tales. Carvings, bright frescos and inscriptions depict Buddha's life, all the way from his miraculous birth through to his enlightenment. Look closely at the fi ve caves, numbered 16-20, known as 'Monk Tanyao's five caves'. These are some of the earliest on site and each houses a giant sitting Buddha carved to the likeness of a different Northern Wei emperor. Aside from serving to prove the vanity of rulers throughout the ages, these statues have remarkable features. Notice the high-bridge noses, deep-set eyes and wide shoulders – all reminders that the Wei were a nomadic clan of Turkic, not Han, origin.

While you're there Visit the Hanging Monastery 64km south-east of Datong and trek the nearby Heng Mountain, which is held sacred by Daoists.

Where to stay Offering centrally located, comfortable and modern accommodation, the Yungang Jianguo Hotel has doubles from 346RMB per night.

How to get there Trains from Beijing Railway Station to Datong take around six hours and cost 58RMB for a hard seat. The grottos are situated 20km out from Datong. To get there take Bus 3 from the Xinkaili bus stop.

You can learn more via China tour agents.

  1. 2013/06/13(木) 16:04:19|
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The holy side of Qinghai

I can tell the cabbie is angry. I've already asked him to stop three times so I can photograph the breathtaking vistas outside. But when he kicks me out of the taxi it still comes as a surprise: 'I'm not going any more,' he barks. Having come all this way, though – from Xining, the provincial capital of Qinghai, via rickety bus to Huzhu, where I had chartered the taxi for the day – I am determined to get to my end destination: Youning Temple.I cajole the driver on, through villages burning wheat chaff and past rocky mountainside, and on arriving at Youning, I am richly rewarded for my efforts.

Most travellers who come to this province rush on to visit the very photogenic Qinghai Lake which is the top attraction for top China tours. Youning, by contrast, is firmly off the tourist map. A 17th-century monastery founded by the Mongolian fourth Dali Lama, it's the kind of place where there are no entrance tickets, camera-clad daytrippers are few, and most people visiting are local pilgrims. It's a little slice of what Qinghai is all about: here is where Han China ends. Sardine-tin urban centres are replaced by a hard-scrabble assortment of soaring peaks, yak butter-scented monasteries, villages populated by Tibetans and other ethnic minorities,and piercing blue skies with only you underneath them.

Like most monasteries in the province, Youning makes the most of Qinghai's great open spaces. It is a sprawling affair, with the main building set on the edge of a forested valley, and dozens of smaller temples and stupas perched on top of the surrounding mountains. After a brief visit to the principal prayer hall, I urge the driver onwards, along a winding, ribbon-like road, to reach a trailhead up to one of the mountainside shrines. From there, I ascend a series of stone steps on foot.

Boldly coloured prayer flags flutter overhead, increasing in density until I reach the end of the stone stairs, where a ladder protrudes through a trapdoor. At the top of the ladder is the prayer hall, musty and dark with a row of copper Buddha statues along the wall. But the real draw is the view: a rugged sunset that inspires the serenity and reflection appropriate to a holy place. Not a bad way to end my first day in Qinghai.

The rest of my trip is spent in Tongren, a town that is famous for producing vibrant devotional paintings known as thangka. The monasteries here are not so much the spartan cloisters you would associate with monastic living, but more like art schools, where boys as young or eight or nine trade in their secular lives for a chance to learn valued artistic skills. At Tongren's Wutong monastery, I am introduced to a balding monk – his crimson robe matching high-top sneakers; these and a deluxe watch demonstrate just how profitable thangka painting can be. He grabs a piece of chewy milk taffy, left as an offering to one of the colossal Buddha statues, and casually tosses it to me. 'Here,' he chuckles. 'Buddha candy!'

Slightly taken aback by this stunt, I follow him past the impressive collection of paintings, some dating back hundreds of years,and he points out a series that displays, in vivid, bursting detail, the China tours' journey towards enlightenment of Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism. One piece, I learn, was saved from destruction when a portrait of Mao was painted on its reverse and the original image was turned to face the wall.

We pass a group of teenagers, their eyes only a hand's length from the canvas, studiously rehearsing the painting technique with their retinas. Paintings can take months to produce, and the best ones are identified by their fine brushstrokes, softly graded colours and figures that are meticulously detailed down to the thin wrinkles on ageing faces. Some galleries give visitors a magnifying glass to appreciate the full detail.

attraction of China

The monk concludes my visit by showing a print of a painting he'd done for the Louvre. I briefly wonder whether he thinks I am a potential client. For a souvenir, his works area little out of my price range, but at least I am able to take away with me the memory of their vivid scenes.

Where to stay for your popular China tours.

Lete Youth Hostel has clean dorm rooms from 35RMB, and helpful, friendly staff. 15th Floor, Building 5, International Village Apartment, Xining.
Qinghai Hotel is a good option for those looking for higher-end accommodation, with double rooms from 500RMB. 158 Huanghe Lu, Xining.
Telecom Hotel in Tongren has twin rooms with clean bathrooms from 130RMB. 38 Zhongshan Lu, Tongren.

Getting there

Hainan Airlines flies to Xining from 1,540RMB return (including taxes, booked through To go to Youning Temple, take the hourly public bus to Huzhu for 60RMB from Xining long-distance bus station, arriving in Huzhu around 90 minutes later. At Huzhu, grab a cab and negotiate a round trip to the temple for around 100RMB. Buses from Xining to Tongren (34RMB) leave every 30 minutes from the Jianguo Lu bus station and take four hours.

You can consider Qinghai to contain in your China tour packages.

  1. 2013/06/09(日) 16:03:34|
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Heights of fortune - Changbai Mountain & Wulong Mountains

Ancient superstitions surrounding the numerology of the Dragon Boat Festival's date continues to inspire Chinese to climb mountains on this day.

The tradition of climbing mountains during Dragon Boat Festival comes from the historical associations between misfortune and double 5s - the holiday falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. Ancient Chinese would scale peaks to collect such auspicious plants as Asiatic wormwood and peach branches to hang on doorways to ward off evil spirits. While the custom of using flora to fend off demons is rarely seen today, the practice of scaling alpine heights persists. We look at some of the country's most majestic mountains to ascend during the festival, which falls on June 12 this year.

Changbai Mountain, Jilin

Changbai Mountain is a dormant volcano with an eruptive history in Jilin province's southeast. It is a hot destination for summer vacation of affordable China tours.

Its most celebrated scenic spot is Tianchi Lake - the country's highest crater-lake and its deepest overall. It's hailed as one of "China's most beautiful five lakes".

The lake spills over a cliff as the Changbai Mountain Grand Waterfall. The cascade is adjacent to a 1,000-square-meter hot spring that bubbles from 13 mouths.

Visitors welcome the hot water, since temperatures on the mountain are freezing through much of June.

Snow sports are a major draw at Changbai, whose forest hides a 120,000-sq-m training base that hosts international skiing and ice-skating competitions.

Most locals are ethnically Korean, and celebrate their own as well as Han festivals. These observances include more than 300 traditional games, such as tug-of-war and wrestling. They spend Dragon Boat Festival swinging and standing on seesaws.

The local cuisine includes stewed dishes and Korean-style pickled vegetables.

Locals also make rice cakes and steamed buns stuffed with sweet bean paste, which they freeze in crocks. They bury meat in snow, making use of the mountain's natural refrigeration.

The alpine range is known for three treasures - ginseng, pilose antler and marten - and rare herbal medicines. The mountain also provides liquor ingredients, honey, nuts and fruits.


The Changbai Mountain Airport is China's first airport built for forest tourism of China. It offers round-trip flights to major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

The Baihe Train Station is accessible from Changchun by Train No K953 or from Tonghua by No 4241. It's a three-hour bus ride from the station to the mountains.

Wulong Mountains, Hunan

The Wulong Mountains are a steep range in northwestern Hunan province that contains various topographies - stone forests, karst caves and waterfalls.

More than 700 tree species, including about 20 rare varieties, cover the mountains. Some of Wulong's redwoods are more than 1,000 years old.

Wulong was the lair of about 100,000 bandits before New China's founding in 1949. It was a battlefield and stage of many tragedies. Hikers have discovered human skulls and bullet casings in Baixiao Cave.

You should consider Wulong Mountains for your popular China tour package.

TV series set in that period are also shot on the mountains, where the stories actually happened.

Today, the mountains are serene, and 16 ethnic groups peacefully coexist on their slopes.

They've created a melting pot of cuisines that are celebrated for peppery chicken and duck hotpots, double-cooked pork and crock-baked mushrooms.

Most street snacks are made of rice, and the Tujia and Miao ethnic groups are particularly fond of rice tofu.


The Wulong Mountains scenic site is open from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm daily.

There are many buses operating between Jishou city and the mountains. Travelers can take Train No K267 from Beijing to Jishou, No 1607 from Shanghai to Jishou or No K503 from Guangzhou to Jishou.

Wulong is 28 km from Phoenix Old Town (a very hot tourist destination for China vacation packages).

It's much cheaper to stay in hotels in the neighboring county than in the mountain area.

It's not easy to find a campsite near the mountains.

  1. 2013/06/08(土) 15:29:43|
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What is Astana-Karakhoja Ancient Tombs?

◆Introduction to Astana-Karakhoja Ancient Tombs

Known as a magical "Underground Museum" in Turpan, Astana-Karakhoja Ancient Tombs of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is a burial ground of Tang Dynasty (618-907) and should not be missed for your packages of Silk Road travel. It is located in the south of Flaming Mountains, about 42 kilometers southeast of Turpan city and 6 kilometers from the Ancient City of Gaochang. The name "Astana" means "Capital" in the Uighur language. And "Karakhoja" is the name for a legendary Uygur Kingdom hero who protected the people by slaying a vicious dragon. Served as a public cemetery for Ancient City of Gaochang, these tombs were gradually formed from the 3th to 8th century and have a history of more than 2,000 years. Occupying an area of 10 square kilometers, it stretches from northeast to northwest of the ancient city and about 5 kilometers long from east to west and 2 kilometers wide from north to south.

Astana-Karakhoja Ancient Tombs are mainly for Han people, some ethnic minorities such as Cheshi, Turkic, Hun are also buried here. The tombs were a peaceful and secluded resort for residents of Gaochang City to rest after death. From prominent officials, excellent general, normal soldiers to common residents, they are people from different class, career and ethnic minority and were buried at the same place, which reveals the relations between different ethnic groups here are harmonious and equal. In 1988, Astana-Karakhoja Ancient Tombs was listed as one of the country's key protected cultural sites in China and make contribution to local China tourism.

◆Chinese name: 阿斯塔那古墓群 (A'si Tana Gumu Qun)
◆Location: located in the south of Flaming Mountains, about 42 kilometers southeast of Turpan city, 6 kilometers from the Ancient City of Gaochang, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.


- Peak season (Marc.1st – Nov. 30th): CNY179 for a 6H combined ticket, which includes the Ancient City of Jiaohe, Ancient City of Gaochang, Emin Minaret King’s Mansion, Astana-Karakhoja Ancient Tombs, Thousand-Buddha Cave;

- Low season (Oct. 21st – Ap. 20th): CNY126 for 6H combined ticket;

◆Opening time: 08:00 - 21:00 (peak season); 10:00 - 18:30 (low season)

◆How to get there:

- take Xiali taxi: CNY80 / person for return fare, CNY50/person for single fare;

- take buses at Turpan Coach Station, get off at Sheng Jin Kou, and then take pedicab (2CNY/person).

◆Best time to visit: all year round

◆Travel Tips:

1. Unopened areas are forbidden here in order to avoid danger.

2. No photos in the tombs.

3. Do not touch the mural paintings in the tombs.

4. No smoking in the tombs.

If you are interested in the tombs, you can consider it included in your itinerary of China vacation deals.

  1. 2013/06/07(金) 16:05:44|
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To the Village of Snow

Harbin has always been the center of attention as far as winter tourism in China is concerned with its ice and snow festival every January. However, 300 miles outside the city; lies a small village said to be the ultimate winter destination.

Closed off by surrounding mountains, the village, aptly named Xuexiang, or "home of snow", has steadily build up its reputation among tourists over the last few years. It consists of around twenty wooden houses decorated with strings of golden corn and red chili hung to dry. In winter the snow here can reach up to two metres. This absorbs sound creating a winter wonderland.

There are two skiing resorts nearby. One is called Bayi, but this does not open to tourists for affordable China tours because it is the training ground for professional skiers. The other, Shuangfeng ski resort, southeast of the village, is where most tourists gather during daytime. The resort offers an extensive choice of winter sports including skiing, snowboarding, horse-sled, dog-sled, snow sculptures, a snow maze and a bar in a snow hut.

The snow here is natural and pristine. Normally snow begins to fall from October in Xuexiang, burying the village under a white blanket all winter.

In addition to outdoor fun, the village has a long list of local snacks. Some of the best include stewed chicken meat with mountain mushrooms, steamed river fish and home made tofu. And to add to the feast, locals serve various kinds of homemade wine.

However tourists are advised to dress up warm as the average temperature can drop to minus 18 degrees centigrade. Waterproof boots and sun glasses are also recommended. The sun sets around four in the afternoon so a torch can also come in handy. And be careful your camera doesn't freeze!

Entrance tickets to the village cost 60 yuan per person and the ski resort charges 120 yuan for two hours.

The best time to visit Xuexiang is between December and March. For more, you can contact with China travel agents.

  1. 2013/06/06(木) 16:47:57|
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Jinli Ancient Street: Delightfully commercial?

"Seen one ancient street, seen them all" might cross the mind of any seasoned China traveller. In a way, it's true.

However, what makes Chengdu's Jinli Ancient Street so popular with both travellers, as well as locals, is the extraordinary atmosphere, the unique architecture and, of course, the amazing Sichuan style street snacks. Jinli is an option for packages of affordable China tours.

For any first time visitor to Sichuan, a walk down Jinli Street in Chengdu's southern district is most definitely recommended. You'll get a real taste of China and the surroundings will surely meet your expectations of a traditional Chinese street.

Jinli Street is a delightful experience, both during the day and after dark.

Typical tourist attraction?

Dating all the way back to the Qin dynasty, Jinli Ancient Street has a long history. Where it was used as a trading street more than 2,000 years ago, the street of today has become one of China's many tourist attractions. Some even say it has become too commercial.

Having undergone heavy renovations and restorations, which were finished in 2004, the 350-metre long, cobbled-paved street has ancient buildings lining both sides.

There are tea houses, antique shops and souvenir stalls, where you can buy an assortment of local handicrafts. There are also countless restaurants and little eateries where you can find all the well-known and popular Sichuan spicy snacks.

Everything is wrapped in warm-coloured wood and capped by the oh-so typical curled rooftops. Red lanterns in all shapes and forms hang from every possible place, enhancing that Chinese look and feel.

Western influences

Even though it's fun to stroll down the street during the day, it's only after sunset that one will experience Jinli Ancient Street's real charm which make contribution to China tourism. The lanterns light up, transforming the street into an almost romantic setting, where no one seems to be in a hurry.

It becomes a place where people enjoy intimate dinners, where lovers wander hand in hand across the small bridges, and where tourists are treated to a real taste of what it's like to be in China.

Chinese culture has also been preserved. On traditional Chinese holidays and during festivals, such as the Dragon Boat Festivalor the Mid Autumn celebrations, Jinli Street becomes the stage for many festive activities.

A soul forever lost

Let's not get carried away here. Most of the souvenirs sold in Jinli Ancient Street's many shops are overpriced. Some people believe that the renovation and restoration of the old street might have preserved the body, but its soul has been forever lost.

On top of that, the street has definitely been spoiled by Western influences. Home is never far away, as tourists can simply have a burger and fries instead of tasting the local snacks after your tired popular China tours.

Describing Jinli Ancient Street as too commercial is just a matter of personal opinion. Oh well, maybe it has something to do with that Starbucks on the corner...

Admission to Jinli Ancient Street is free and, although many buses will take you there, it's just as easy to take a taxi.

You can get more via China tour agents.

  1. 2013/06/05(水) 15:55:49|
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To chitchat in Chengdu tea houses

Tea houses, one of Chengdu’s features, are traditional places that give the most expression to Chengdu’s leisurely pace of life. Going to tea houses is the hobby of the Chengdu people. There, you can taste strong flavor of the old Chengdu: bamboo chairs, 3-piece tea sets (tea trays, porcelain tea bowls and lids), and “tea doctors” who hold dozens of tea sets on their palms at swift pace and tilt up tea pot spouts when adding tea for customers. Tea houses are also important places for people’s communication and entertainment. You can relax yourself after your tired China vacation deals.

Tea drinkers go to tea houses for chatting, business talks or friends get-togethers. Some customs such as Sichuan opera performance and ear-picking are still popular in tea houses. Many tea houses are frequented by Sichuan opera lovers who meet and practice the opera there. Heming Tea Shop in the People’s Park and Jinjiang Juchang Tea Shop are among the typical tea houses in Chengdu.

There has been an old saying in China that Sichuan has the largest tea house in China, while Chengdu has the largest tea house in Sichuan. The largest tea houses in the old Chengdu had three or four halls and courts and could accommodate more than one thousand customers. That was indeed a magnificent scene.

The Chengdu people love drinking tea. Both the prevalence of and their indulgence in tea-drinking surpass that of the neighboring province Yunan, world famous for tea-producing. A cup of light tea after getting up in the morning helps the Chengdu people clear their lungs and moisturize their throats; a cup of light tea after dinner is good for promoting digestion and getting rid of fatness; after diligent work, a cup of light tea is surely a perfect dose for eliminating tiredness and refreshing yourselves; a cup of light tea is a good listener to close friends’ unrestrained talks; again a cup of light tea proves to be a competent mediator for clearing up disputes between relatives and neighbors.

Tea houses, or tea stalls are everywhere in Chengdu’s urban districts, towns, downtowns and countryside. “Music tea houses” alone, tea shops with background music going with tea, is counted in hundreds. Even nowadays, with quick pace of life, the Chengdu people are ready to enjoy leisure and still fond of tea. It is said that the Chengdu people consume several tons of tea every year.

Old-fashioned tea houses in the old Chengdu (a hot destination included in best tours of China)

There are many old-fashioned tea houses in Chengdu, which are occupied mostly by the elderly. They visit the tea houses even in the early morning. Some old folks are used to taking tobacco pipes over one-meter long when drinking tea. Sometimes when the pipe goes out, they are able to press the lighter on the ground and light up the pipe again, mimicking the action of fishing. In the tea houses, tea drinkers can spit on the ground as if there is no one else around, and wear nothing on the upper body with so much ease. These old-fashioned tea houses are often noisy, and the tea drinkers, strangers to each other, usually come from different places. They drink tea and chat with each other in the same tea house, but they care their own business. When their interest is aroused, they can talk about everything, from the stars in the sky to national or even international affairs, from ancient tales to street gossips. However, when the talking and drinking comes to an end, they head for their own ways.

Old-fashioned tea houses are simply and naturally decorated. Their antique flavor indeed embraces a different charm. Tea doctors are ready to serve you when you set foot in these tea houses. You can have your own way here. For example, a pot of light and fragrant tea proves to be an economical choice. More often than not, artisans will offer services like face-shaving, foot treatment and hair-braiding. Just because Sichuan is rich in bamboo, most of the furniture in tea houses is bamboo chairs. There are also a few cane chairs. Tea sets are generally Sichuan-style “lid-bowl”, or lidded bowl. The lid is used to stir the tea leaves, while the bowl is placed on the tea tray. After a few drinks, you can lean on the back of the bamboo chairs, with more comfort, ease and leisure than sitting on those armchairs, redwood chairs or sofa chairs in Guangzhou’s restaurants. Chengdu’s tea houses carry a strong personal touch. You can just pay for a cup of tea and idle away a whole day. If you have engagements elsewhere and have to leave but intend to return there, you can put the bowl lid on the chair when you leave. The shop owner will not clear off your tea sets, and other customers will not occupy your seat. You can indulge yourself in the tea houses as long as you like, without being resented or given hostile look. That is absolutely different from Guangzhou’s tea houses. In Chengdu’s tea houses, you can drink tea only. No dishes are served except for tea snacks like melon seeds and peanuts. This is another difference from Guangzhou’s tea houses. Chengdu's teahouses are indispensable for local China tourism.

New-style tea houses in Chengdu

The rapid development of China’s market economy brings dramatic changes to all aspects of social life. But one thing never changes that the Chengdu people always need a place for leisurely tea-drinking and chatting. Well aware of that, Chengdu’ businessmen lose no time in getting hold of the business opportunities. As such, all kinds of high-class tea houses emerge as required by times. The decoration of these tea houses cost hundreds of thousands or even up to one million yuan. With western furnishings and graceful tea sets, they are as magnificent as royal palaces. You can enjoy light music and piano performance, too. Of course, prices in such luxurious tea houses hike up considerably. Such classes of tea as the past “Sanhua” (third-grade jasmine) are no longer tolerable here. A cup of tea costs at least a dozen yuan or even up to several dozen yuan, and so-called “gentleman tea” and “lady tea” are distinguished in some tea houses. Young people are the major customers. They wear suits or dress themselves with fashionable and pretty clothes and go to tea houses with confidence and ease. They go there for dating, business negotiations, business operation planning or information exchange, or for other specific purposes. A new tea custom has come into being.

The atmosphere in these tea houses changes dramatically. Materialistic desires are exposed. Businessmen’s manners penetrate throughout the tea houses. The leisure and ease of the old-fashioned tea houses in the past are gone. For example, Sanjiang Tea Shop in Chengdu has become the information center for Chengdu businessmen to discuss business and exchange commercial information. Certain owners engaging in long-distance shipping often conclude business contracts here. While the Zitengge Tea Shop in Chengdu People’s Park has been made a place for gatherings of the literary and art circles. Cultural and artistic lectures and literary coaching in various forms are often held in the tea shop, attracting teenagers seeking for extracurricular studies. In Chengdu nowadays, writers are fond of composing their works in tea houses for the agreeable environment in all seasons. Young literature lovers often invite a few intimate friends for literary gatherings in modern tea houses. Students preparing to sit at exams like to give themselves a lift by drinking some tea and review their lessons in tea houses. The Yuelaifang Music Tea House opens for business from dawn till over ten in the evening everyday, but still it is packed with people all the time, though it is equipped with more than 500 seats. Customers in this tea house are uniquely young people. This helps to set new tea customs in new era. In addition to new-style tea houses, even old-fashioned ones in Chengdu begin to take on a new look. Bamboo chairs remain, but placed in a new matrix. Different from the past arrangement, the chairs are put in orderly rows, all facing the TV set in the inner hall. When the evening falls, a dense crowd of employees seat themselves in the tea houses. Only for a few yuan, migrant workers can enjoy tea and video the whole evening. Teahouses are also essential element to learn the local culture to color your China tour packages.

The three-piece set for tea-drinking in Chengdu

In Chengdu’s tea-drinking custom, there has been always the “three-piece set”, namely the “gai-wan-cha” with the tea cup, the lid and the tea tray.

In Chengdu, tea houses don’t use tea pots to make tea. It is even rare to use Yixing dark-red enameled pots to make tea. Generally, tea cups and lids are porcelains from Jingde Zhen, while tea trays are made from tin and tea pots are copper tea pots. The tea made with these tea sets is of appropriate color, fragrance, taste and form, and most important of all, of proper Sichuan flavor.

So Chengdu teahouses should not be missed for your popular China travel package.

  1. 2013/06/04(火) 16:21:06|
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China Travel Entry Regulations

Before travellling to China, it is quite necessary to gain some knowledge towards the documents you need to handle. Most of your puzzles can be solved in the following introductions, click each one to have more detailed answers. The following China travel entry regulations should be read before your journey to China.

Entry Regulations

·The entry regulations in China

What you should do when entering China is to fill in the Entry Registration Cards and have your passport and visa checked, including other procedures such as a quarantine check and frontier inspection. All your goods, luggage and packages should also be checked. People with VD, leprosy and infectious pulmonary are not allowed to entering China. Dangerous, harmful or toxic articles prescribed by Chinese law are prohibited into China and you must declare them to the Frontier Inspection Station. Usually the airline/ship will give each passenger an entry card and a customs declaration form to fill out prior to arrival.

·A limited quantity of duty-free goods which are allowed to carry into China for your China travel deals:

2 liters of alcoholic beverages

400 cigarettes

50g (2 ounces) of gold or silver

US$ less than 5,000

Chinese RMB with a total value less than 6000 yuan

Reasonable amount of perfume

1 still camera and reasonable amount of film

·What should be declared when entering China

· Animal and their products, plants, biological products, blood products and human organs;

· Cigarettes with the number of more than 400 pieces, cigars 100 pieces, tobacco500g and alcohol (above 12 degrees) 1,500ml

· (for Chinese residents) Items worth more than CNY 5,000;

· (for foreigners) Items reaching a value of CNY 2,000;

· Foreign currency worth more than US$ 5,000, or Chinese Currency exceeding CNY 2,000 (China money);

· Communication devices and transceivers;

· Separately transported luggage;

· Cargoes, advertising items and commodity samples;

·The procedures to declare at customs

For the convenience of inbound or outbound visitors, on February 1st, 2008, China made simplification of the custom declaration procedures. People who have nothing to declare can pass through the green channel directly. And people who carry articles that need to be declared must fill out a Chinese custom declaration form and pass through the red channel. However, for children under 16 and accompanied by their parents, there is no obligation to fill in the declaration form themselves. For those who hold diplomatic or courtesy visas should present the effective certificates or documents to get more efficient services from China Customs. When departing from China, travelers can choose either to complete the same declaration form listed with relevant items or to fill out a new one.

If you want to know more, you can contact with China tour operator.

  1. 2013/06/03(月) 16:59:51|
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