On a recent trip to Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, I learned of a nineteenth-century train line that’s still in operation. Starting from Kota Kinabalu, the biggest city in Sabah, the train takes you along the coast to the small town of Beaufort. From there, you can take a second train that roughly traces the Sungai Padas River to the coffee-producing town of Tenom. I love traveling on old trains, so this adventure seemed right up my alley. But it was not without its roadblocks (or landslides).
For our last stop on our trip to China, Katie, my mom, and I visited the Hakka tulou region of Fujian province. Tulou (土楼, literally “earthen building”) are the “castles” of the region, fortified to prevent invasion. They were built as either circles or rectangles, and they contain large central courtyards, with housing for up to 800 people.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Gulang Yu (鼓浪嶼 “Drum Wave Islet”) was one of two foreign concessions in China (the other being Shanghai). Because of this, the island is full of European-style mansions and churches. It also has a piano museum and a calligraphic wood carving museum (my personal favorite attraction). Cars and bicycles are banned on the island, so the tourists get to walk around and take it all in.
A few weeks ago, my mom made the long flight to Hong Kong to visit Katie and me. After spending a couple days around our home, the three of us went on a trip. Our first stop was Kinmen Island, which sits close to the Chinese mainland and is controlled by Taiwan. It was a fascinating place, rich with history. The vibe was very laid back and the people were quite friendly.
Gubeikou (古北口) fits the bill perfectly. It's one of the easier sections to hike, it typically draws few tourists, and the surrounding landscape is spectacular. It's only a few short hours from Beijing, so if the Great Wall is on your travel radar, Gubeikou is a great section to consider visiting.
Take Fu Ling, for example. Once a week, the people of this southern Chinese village get together to sell their wares in a market. Local produce, as well as household goods, are sold under one roof. For me, the Fu Ling market offered a great look into a way of life that is in slow decline. Given that the average age of salespeople in Fu Ling was north of fifty, I doubt this market will exist in thirty years. But for now, it is still thriving.