Monthly Archives: October 2016

Yangshuo, Gumdrops of My Dreams

Yangshuo: Picture of Xing Ping.

Xing Ping is a village near Yangshuo.

Yangshuo, in northeastern Guangxi Province, is a part of China that everyone should see. Magnificent gumdrop hills dot the landscape. You can climb to the top of some of these peaks for great views of the region. This is also where many traditional Chinese artists gain their inspiration. Quite often, those beautiful paintings of emerald hills and frothy waterfalls are made in the villages along the Li River. The journey from the giant southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen takes less than a day. If you want to relax for a weekend, Yangshuo is a great bet.

Here are some more photos from the area:

Yangshuo: Picture of hills.
The karst hills dot the land.

Yangshuo: Picture of city.
You can hike to the top of the hills to get a great view of Yangshuo from above.

Yangshuo: Picture of hills.
The peaks sprawl into the distance.

Yangshuo: Picture of army boys.
A view from the top.

Yangshuo: Picture of orange salesperson.
Happy oranges for sale.

Yangshuo: Picture of vendor.
A salesman plies the Li River.

Yangshuo: Picture of cormorant fisherman.
This man trains cormorants to catch fish for him.

Yangshuo: Picture of Li River.
The famous Li River.

Yangshuo: Picture of boats.
These boats are waiting to take tourists on a river cruise. Wanna go?

Yangshuo: Picture of farmer.
A friendly farmer plows her fields.

Yangshuo: Picture of hills and river.
The hills dwarf the boats on the river.

Yangshuo: Picture of tractor.
Totally safe.

Yangshuo: Picture of riverfront.
The riverfront near the village of Xing Ping.

Yangshuo: Picture of Xing Ping.
Xing Ping from above.

Yangshuo: Picture of me.
The view from the top of a hill at Xing Ping.

Yangshuo: Picture of field.
A flooded field in the countryside near Yangshuo.

Yangshuo: Picture of waterwheel.
A waterwheel in the countryside.

Yangshuo: Picture of countryside.
It's fun to bike around this area.

Yangshuo: Picture of me.
Those Kodak moments.

More photos from Guangxi Province

The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie

The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie is home to many monkeys. Some of them sure look innocuous.

Those who fear monkeys beware! Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in China is infested with macaques. Admittedly, these monkeys look cute and harmless, and indeed upon seeing them, most tourists are quick to whip out their cameras. But the macaques are aggressive, and not afraid of humans.

I planned to spend several days in the park, so I carried a large bag of groceries with me. I shot photo after photo of the macaques, while guarding my food bag closely. One monkey, about twenty feet away, suddenly rushed at me with unbelievable velocity. I let out a roar and in one fell swoop, I spun to the side and slapped it on the butt. It ran away, but not before digging a single claw into my food bag. From that point forward, I was even more careful. These guys really know how to charge!

Once I had gotten my fill of pictures, I bought three hard-boiled eggs and waited for my turn at the Bailong (百龙, or Hundred Dragons) elevator that would take me 1070 feet up, to the top of the canyon. While I was admiring the elevator, I felt a slight tug at my side. I thought someone was tapping me to get my attention, but it was another bastard macaque! It clawed open my bag and ran away with my eggs. But instead of disappearing into the forest, it simply jumped down to a lower level and ate my eggs in plain view, much to the amusement of the other tourists. Every few seconds, it would look up at me mockingly and let out a screech. Beware!

The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie

The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie
This one stole my hard-boiled eggs, then jumped down and ate them in front of me. Bastard.

The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie
If you're afraid of monkeys, maybe this park isn't for you. You have to walk directly past this disease-ridden macaque to get to the scenery.

The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie The Monkeys of Zhangjiajie

Want more? Here's my complete set of photos from Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Zhangjiajie: Picture of rocks.

Some of Zhangjiajie's rock formations have creative names. This one's called Wulang Worshiping Buddhism.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (湖南张家界国家森林公园) is my favorite place in China (so far). The park is full of sky-high stone pillars, some of which soar over 1000 meters above the forest floor. Supposedly, these natural formations inspired James Cameron to create the “Hallelujah Floating Mountains” for his movie Avatar. Never one to turn down free publicity, Chinese officials renamed one of the pillars “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” (阿凡达-哈利路亚山).

Zhangjiajie can get quite crowded in the summer, so I went in December. I stayed in a hostel in the middle of the park. For the next four days, I wandered around the park's many hiking trails. Most people visit Zhangjiajie as part of a package tour, so they only get to see two main areas. Outside of those areas, the park was nearly empty.

On my last day, I got up before dawn for a sunrise picture of Hallelujah Floating Mountain. But there was a problem: we were in the middle of a blizzard! The snow was wet and heavy, and the road was covered with broken tree branches. I didn't see any vehicles, or even any tire tracks in the snow. When I reached the main touristy area, I had the whole place to myself. The snowfall grew heavier as the day wore on, so I missed that iconic sunrise picture. But the experience of seeing this beautiful place in the winter was once-in-a-lifetime.

Here are some highlights of my four days in the park:

Zhangjiajie: Picture of pillar.
Avatar Hallelujah Mountain

Zhangjiajie: Picture of Avatar bird.
They're really embracing this Avatar thing.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of path.
There are some cool stony paths, perfect for prancing.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of rock formations.
Here are some more rock formations, spotted during my walk.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of sunset.
I sat around and watched the sunset. Nobody else was there.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of selfie sticks.
Selfie time!

Zhangjiajie: Picture of hostel view.
I only had to walk five minutes from my hostel to get this view.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of Singing in the Antiphonal Style.
This pillar is called Singing in the Antiphonal Style .
You can see the thousand-foot outdoor elevator in the background.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of Dan at Soldiers' Gathering.
This place is called Soldiers' Gathering. Some of my favorite views came from here.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of Soldiers' Gathering.
Soldiers' Gathering

Zhangjiajie: Picture of tea farm.
Here is a tea plantation called Fields in the Sky. Again, you can see the elevator in the background.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of village.
This is the village next to Fields in the sky.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of sprawling view.
Here's a sprawling view.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of sign.
Hmm, we'll see about that.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of view.
Oh yeah, that sign wasn't lying.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of ribbons.
Plenty of red ribbons hanging from trees in this park.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of natural bridge.
This one, unsurprisingly, is called Greatest Natural Bridge.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of me.
Selfie, selfie, selfie.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of bridge.
It was snowing on my last day, so the buses couldn't make it into the park. This bridge would normally be packed with people. Today, I had it to myself.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of snow.
Shit's getting' real.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of ribbons in snow.

Ribbons in the snow.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of cabin.
There's a lovely trail leading to the bottom. It's a great alternative to the elevator.

Zhangjiajie: Picture of McDonald's.
At the end of a long day of exploring, what better way to kick back than with a tasty Big Mac? Thank God they installed a McDonald's in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

Want more? Here's my complete set of photos from Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

Interested in going? This website has a lot of info about Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

Tianmen Mountain, a Glass-Shattering Experience?

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of Tony and Dan.

With my new friend Tony, on our way up Tianmen Mountain.

Tianmen (天门山) is a famous mountain, located near Zhangjiajie City in China's Hunan Province. Like nearly all famous mountains in China, there's a cable car to the top. In this case, the ride is almost five miles long, making it (maybe) the longest cableway in the world. There are walkways carved into the sides of the mountain that lead you all around its edges, with sweeping views of the landscape, far below.

I rode to the top with my new friend Tony. Before we were allowed to walk on the glass walkway, we had to put red slippers on over our shoes. Unfortunately, I couldn't stretch the tiny slippers over my hiking boots. Two months before this, a similar glass bridge on Yuntai Mountain (云台山) cracked shortly after opening. Officials claimed that even though the glass was cracked, it “will not pose threat to safety.” Despite this airtight endorsement of the safety of the glass floor, I was still apprehensive about walking across this bridge without the protection of the cute red slippers. Against all odds, I managed and tip-toe across, thus avoiding an international incident.

Tianmen Mountain is almost always foggy, and the day I went was no exception. I may not have gotten the greatest views from the top, but luckily for me, this was only a preview of the region's spectacular scenery. More on that later. For now, you'll have to settle for these mediocre photos of Tianmen Mountain:

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of cable car.
Pick any popular mountain in China, and I bet you'll find a cable car.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of village.
There are still a few villages left in China.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of mountain.
About to enter the clouds.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of station.
One of the drop-off points.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of road.
The cable car isn't the only way up.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of cliff.
Tianmen Mountain has a sheer cliff.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of cable cars.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of walkway.
There's a walkway carved into the mountain. Part of it is glass.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of slippers.
They gave us these slippers so we wouldn't break the glass. They didn't fit over my hiking boots.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of me.
I had to tip-toe across the glass walkway.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of ladder.
There's a ladder down the cliff. Uh, no thanks.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of shrine.
There are a few shrines on the mountain.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of bridge.
The Mercedes of bridges.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of overhang.
The walkway has an overhang. I'm sure there's not much of a drop-off.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of walk.
Don't worry, it's perfectly safe.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of ribbons.
You can write your wishes on a red ribbon. Vandalism at its finest.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of cable car.
Ready to head down.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of escalator.
Here's the other way down – a series of seven escalators, each of which was longer than any other escalator I had ever ridden. These led us through a tunnel, carved into the center of the mountain. Holy shit.

Tianmen Mountain: Picture of wall.
At the base of the mountain, far below Tianmen Cave. The cave's mouth is 131 meters tall and 57 meters wide, yet I couldn't see it from here because it was so foggy.

Here are some more of my photos from Tianmen Mountain


Pingyao: An Ancient Chinese Town

Pingyao: Picture of traditional shop.

One of the more traditional shops in town.

If you want to see what life was like in China hundreds of years ago, one of your best options is Pingyao (平遥), in Shanxi province. The village is surrounded by an ancient wall, now located in the center of the modern city of Pingyao. Cars are not allowed in large portions of the ancient village, so you can roam freely, without worrying about getting run over. And while the main street is quite touristy, you only have to walk a few blocks to see life as it was before modern times.

Pingyao is an especially great place to visit if you need to relax for a day or two, as part of a larger journey around China. The village is conveniently located near the high-speed rail line that connects Beijing with Xi'An. What do you think of Pingyao? Would you recommend a visit to any other ancient towns in China? Let me know in the comment section below.

Here are some of my photos from this lovely ancient village:

Pingyao: Picture of wall.

The old city wall is still intact.

Pingyao: Picture of dirt wall.

Much of the wall is comprised of dirt.

Pingyao: Picture of old street.

Some of the streets are not touristy at all.

Pingyao: Picture of scooter.

Electric scooters are super popular nowadays in China.

Pingyao: Picture of coal truck.

Every morning, the coal truck delivers to the local people.

Pingyao: Picture of coal.

They still use coal for heating and cooking.

Pingyao: Picture of tower.

Here's one of the wall's towers.

Pingyao: Picture of main street.

The main street has a lot of Chinese character.

Pingyao: Picture of steet.

More of the main street.

Pingyao: Picture of decorations.

Many walls have fancy decorations.

Pingyao: Picture of church.

There is one old church in Pingyao. It was closed.

Pingyao: Picture of home.

Here is one of the ancient courtyard houses.

Pingyao: Picture of man.

Whatcha lookin' at, sonny?

Pingyao: Picture of people.

The main street of Pingyao can get quite crowded. Luckily, cars aren't allowed.

Pingyao: Picture of gate.

Here's the main gate in town.

Pingyao: Picture of shop.

One of many traditional clothing shops in town.

Pingyao: Picture of street at night.

A rainy night in Pingyao.

Pingyao: Picture of people with umbrellas.

A few people still made it out in the cold rain.

Pingyao: Picture of eggs.

Thousand-year egg is a specialty in China.

Click for more photos from Pingyao

AtW Podcast, Episode 19: Monica Tooki

AtW Podcast 19: Dan and Monica.

AtW Podcast: Monica and Dan. And lovely birds.

My guest for this episode is Monica Tooki. We talked about her upbringing in two very different worlds – Singapore and Mississippi. We also discussed the Peace Corps and her time living in Kiribati. Monica is an experienced traveler and an expat, with lots of good stories to tell.

[Download] [iTunes] [Stitcher] []

Show Notes:

  • Where is Kiribati? This map will give you a good idea.
  • I briefly mentioned Shackleton's incredible journey in Antarctica. Endurance is the best book I have read about him. Highly recommended.
  • We talked a little about China's one-child policy. Here's a National Geographic article about its potential long-term effect.
  • Seventeen countries (including the US and South Korea) sent troops to fight for South Korea in the Korean War. Three countries (DPRK, USSR and China) fought for North Korea. This article has a lot more info.
  • Earlier this year, South Korea returned the remains of 36 Chinese soldiers who died in the Korean War.
  • Here's an article about the world's oldest man getting his bar mitzvah, 100 years late.
  • Emma Morano is the last person alive who was born in the 1800s.

We mentioned Panjin and the Red Beach in this podcast. Here are some of my photos:

AtW Podcast 19: sunset.

Sunset at Red Beach.

AtW Podcast 19: Picture of seagul.
AtW Podcast 19: Picture of rice.

A rice field.

AtW Podcast 19: Picture of river.
AtW Podcast 19: Picture of red beach.

Can you sea the red?

Check out some more photos from Liaoning Province.