Travels in China 2012: Overview

The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu Section, Beijing, China

The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu Section, Beijing, China (2012)

Our 2012 journey to China was a private tour arranged by Great China Travel. We customized our tour so that we could learn more about the minority cultures, Buddhism, and historic sites; and try the local cuisine.

Following the Southern Silk Road (or, Tea and Horse Road), the journey began in Sichuan province. At the capital – Chengdu, we learned about the ancient Shu people in the Sanxingdui Relic Museum and how the Giant Pandas were cared for at the reserve. Then, we learned about Buddhism in Leshan and Mount Emei, one of the four holy Buddhist Mountains of China. After the enlightening experience, we went further back in time with the dinosaurs of Zigong and the Buddhist carvings of the Dazu grottos—both reminders of a world beyond us. Our final stop at Kunming was short, since it was the halfway point of our journey. Of course during our stay, we tried the spicy Sichuan food (at the mildest level as possible) and tried a herbal hotpot meal, despite the humid weather. The tour in Sichuan was organized by a single tour guide, Cathy, and driver.

China 2012

From Beijing to Sichuan province to Yunnan province (courtesy of Google Maps)

Next, we toured Yunnan province—home to the 55 minority groups of China (56 total including the Han (Chinese) people), which make up one-third of the country’s population. The Bai people are the largest group. During the time we visited, the Bai people were celebrating the Torch Festival on August 10-12, which we were lucky to witness and welcomed to join in the revelries. Here we visited several Buddhist sites, including the holy Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang and Meili Snow Mountain in Shangri-La and Deqin. We also explored natural wonders, such as the Stone Forest and Tiger Leaping Gorge. As a grand finale, we returned to the capital—Kunming—and marveled at the Peacock Dance by the minority groups at the theater. It is to note that in Yunnan, we had several tour guides; one at each city so gratuity must be organized as such.

Our final stop was in Beijing, where we revisited famous sites: the Great Wall and the Forbidden City to see how much changed since our visit in 1998. Then, we visited the Olympic Stadium (the Bird’s Nest) and saw a Peking Opera show at Liyuan Theater. We were lucky to have organized a few things with a tour guide, who had picked us up at the airport on August 4th.

Overall, the journey was enjoyable and a great learning experience. The only concern was that we were not able to choose the food dishes; most likely this was due to the budget our tour guide had to meet. For future trips, we plan to explain to the tour coordinator that we would like to choose dishes that we would like and would meet the said budget. This would be the most ideal course to make a trip worthwhile.

Back to the China page

Beijing: A Sprawling Capital of the North (京)

The sprawling metropolitan of Beijing holds more than 11.51 million people (Wangfujing Street, 2012)

The sprawling metropolitan of Beijing holds more than 11.51 million people (Wangfujing Street, 2012)

August 21-24, 2012

Attraction List:

  • Forbidden City
  • Bird’s Nest (Olympic Stadium)
  • Great Wall of China (Mutianyu Section)
  • Beijing Opera at Liyuan Theater
Silk production is still a viable business in China (2012)

Silk production is still a viable business in China (2012)

During our stay in Beijing, including the one-day arrival on August 4th, we stayed at the Park Plaza Wangfujiang hotel—a four-star establishment with free wi-fi and continental breakfast and located conveniently. This was a much better deal than the five-star Ramada Plaza hotel, which did not have free wi-fi. We also toured this city on our own time, having been here previously in 1998.

Traveling by subway is very convenient in Beijing. There are both English and Chinese signs that are tourist-friendly. Travel by taxi is also another option if one does not enjoy walking. The city is very modern with hardly any of the old Chinese-style buildings or peach trees in sight. While there were still bicycles, the majority of the transportation were motor vehicles.

Forbidden City, Beijing, China (2012)

Forbidden City, Beijing, China (2012)

We first visited the Forbidden City, where the emperors once resided. The admission fee was 240 RMB per person. Continue reading

Deqin, Yunnan: Pilgrimage to the Meili Snow Mountain

White stupas overlooking the Meili Snow Mountain, Deqin, Yuunan, China (2012)

White stupas overlooking the Meili Snow Mountain, Deqin, Yuunan, China (2012)

August 16, 2012

Attraction List:

  • Meili Snow Mountain: 5-6 hour (8+ kilometer) hike to Mingyong glacier (August 16)
The mountainous region of Deqin county in Yuunan, China (2012)

The mountainous region of Deqin county in Yuunan, China (2012)

The journey to the Meili Snow Mountain took us on a long drive up the winding, mountainous roads of Deqin county.

The rocky road to Deqin, Yuunan, China (2012)

The rocky road to Deqin, Yuunan, China (2012)

Fair warning though, the roads are undeveloped and rocky. Thankfully, we had a skillful driver who can drive along the narrow road barely wide enough for two cars to pass.

View of Dequin from the hotel, Yuunan, China (2012)

View of Deqin from the hotel, Yuunan, China (2012)

After the long drive, we reached our hotel, where we were able to rest and wash up for dinner. Then, we took a stroll along the white stupas overlooking a gorgeous view of the snowy mountains. Continue reading

Shangri-La, Yunnan: Paradise and the Search for Enlightenment

Climbing to the Songzanlin Lama Temple outside of Shangrila, Yuunan, China (2012)

Climbing to the Songzanlin Lama Temple outside of Shangri-La, Yuunan, China (2012)

We have reason. It is the entire meaning and purpose of Shangri-La. It came to me in a vision long, long ago. I foresaw a time when man exalting in the technique of murder, would rage so hotly over the world, that every book, every treasure would be doomed to destruction. This vision was so vivid and so moving that I determined to gather together all things of beauty and culture that I could and preserve them here against the doom toward which the world is rushing. Look at the world today. Is there anything more pitiful? What madness there is! What blindness! A scurrying mass of bewildered humanity crashing headlong against each other. The time must come, my friend, when brutality and the lust for power must perish by its own sword. For when that day comes, the world must begin to look for a new life. And it is our hope that they may find it here.

Lost Horizon by James Hilton (1934)

August 14-15 & 17-18, 2012

Attraction List:

  • Tiger Leaping Gorge (August 14)
  • Shangri-La cultural show (August 14)
  • Songzanlin Lama Temple (August 15)
  • Shudu Lake and natural park (August 17)

After saying our farewells to Lijiang, we continued on our journey along the Tea and Horse Road (Southwest Silk Road) toward Shangri-La— the closest city to the China-Tibetan border.

Farmland and country homes on our way to Shangri-La (2012)

Farmland and country homes on our way to Shangri-La (2012)

Our ride took us between the Jade Dragon (Yulong) Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain to the Tiger Leaping Gorge.

 

Tiger Leaping Gorge between the Jade Dragon (Yulong) Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain (2012)

Tiger Leaping Gorge between the Jade Dragon (Yulong) Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain (2012)

Standing on the viewing deck, the rough water currents in the narrow gorge roar like a thousand tigers charging toward you. The energy of the water is a reminder of the great strength of nature. Continue reading

Lijiang, Yunnan: City of the Naxi

City square of Lijiang Old City, Yuunan, China (2012)

City square of Lijiang Old City, Yuunan, China (2012)

Attraction List:

  • • Black Dragon Pool (August 12)
    • Old Town Lijiang
    (August 12)
    • Naxi Dongba Cultural Museum
    (August 13)
    • Baisha Village and murals
    (August 13)
    • Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and yak meadow
    (August 12-13)
    • Suke Ancient Town
    (August 13)

The car made its way into the northwest plain of Yunnan province. Lijiang the ancient city—home to the Naxi people—sprawled across the plain is flanked by a snowy monolith known as the Jade Dragon (Yulong) Snow Mountain. The mountain range comprises of 13 peaks that symbolize the 13 swords used by the Jade Dragon to fight a notorious fiend in a well-known legend.

Black Dragon Pool, Lijiang, Yuunan, China (2012)

Black Dragon Pool, Lijiang, Yuunan, China (2012)

In Lijiang, there are many scenic parks nearby the city to take strolls. One famous park is the Black Dragon Pool, where pagodas flank on both sides of a calm stream. Undoubtedly, a place meant for relaxing. Continue reading

Dali, Yunnan: At the Crossroads of the Silk Road

Erhai Lake in Dali, Yunnan

Erhai Lake in Dali, Yunnan

In ancient times, many western travelers on the Southwest Silk-Horse Road made their way to the city of Dali. Imagine walking through the bustling streets of stalls selling many exotic goods and the mingling of languages in the background. It was undoubtedly the pinnacle of international trade and influence. Today, the primary industries of the city are agriculture and tourism. According to our tour guide, Hao, the city is picturesque at all times of the year.

August 11, 2012

Attraction List:

  • Bai people’s village: Tie-dye cloth, wax, tea ceremony, and marriage ceremony
  • Yao people’s village: Happy Embroidery school
  • Commoner bird fishing on the Erhai Lake
  • Three Pagodas of Chongsheng and Reflection Pond

The Bai people are the predominant ethnic group in western China (mainly Yunnan province). We had the opportunity to visit an authentic village, where the Bai people are known to produce tie-dye cloth, wax, metal works, and tea leaves. Our first stop was at the tie-dye cloth makers.

Tie dye equipment in the Bao people's village, Dali, Yunnan

Tie dye equipment in the Bao people’s village, Dali, Yunnan

The cotton is first spun into a reasonably-sized piece of cloth. Then, a basin filled with the deep blue-indigo dye is prepared; several colors are also available too but the blue is the most popular. The cloth is then bunched together and tied together with bits of string before soaked in the dye. After several hours, the cloth is taken out of the basin, untangled of the string, and hung on a clothesline to dry. The end result is a beautiful cloth that is often used to make blankets, table cloths, dresses, handkerchiefs, and more.

Beautiful cloths in various patterns and designs dyed in rich colors, Dali, Yunnan

Beautiful cloths in various patterns and designs dyed in rich colors, Dali, Yunnan

During our time in the village, we were able to understand more of Bai people’s lifestyle. Women dress in colorful, flowing dresses spun from handmade cloth and wear headdresses of silver with tassels or a hair ornament. Unmarried, young women would have two white tassels. If a man were to touch one of her tassels, it signified that he wished to marry the young lady. Married women do not wear tassels; instead they have their hair bounded up in a modest hairstyle. Continue reading

Kunming, Yunnan: City of Flowers and Poetry

Panorama of Kunming (courtesy of BMCL)

Panorama of Kunming (courtesy of BMCL)

After touring the Sichuan province, we made our way to Yunnan province located in the western part of China. In ancient times (circa 2nd century B.C.E.), Kunming was one of the main stops along the Southwest Silk Road that spanned from X’ian to India. Today, it is the home of more than 26 ethnic groups—the largest being the Bai people.

As the “City of Eternal Spring,” Kunming has flowers blooming all-year-round. Every day the bustling flower market opens at 3-5AM, during which many businessmen bid, buy, and sell local flora. More than 40 floral species are grown in the Yunnan province to be used as essential oils, a profitable enterprise.

Attraction List:

  • Bamboo Monastery
    (August 10)
  • Golden Temple (August 19)
  • Stone Forest (Shilin)
    [August 19]
  • Dynamic Yunnan song and dance show
    (August 19)

August 10, 2012

Golden rhinoceros relief symbolizes the founding symbol of the Bamboo Monastery, Kunming

The founding symbol of the Bamboo Monastery, Kunming

Our first stop in Kunming with our guide, Lulu, was a visit to the Bamboo Monastery.

Legend says that two royal brothers pursued a white rhinoceros into the Yu’an Mountain, where the animal vanished. Instead of the rhinoceros, the brothers beheld the sight of six monks holding bamboo walking sticks.

Upon seeing the two brothers, the monks vanished leaving behind their sticks in the ground. The following day a bamboo forest grew in their place, marking holy land. In reverence for the land, a Buddhist temple was built in the monks’ honor.

Bamboo Monastery, Kunming

Bamboo Monastery, Kunming

In truth, the Bamboo Monastery was established in 1280 (Yuan Dynasty). This monastery is famous for 500 lively, colorful Buddhist arhats (luohans) by artist, Li Guangxiu, from the 1880s (Qing Dynasty). Continue reading