Katie and I headed out with several friends to Panjin, to check out the “Red Beach.” Suaeda Salsa is an algae that thrives in highly alkaline soil, such as that found in parts of northeastern China. The algae is green for most of the year, but for around a month in the fall, it turns a Martian red. Around the same time, the tourists arrive in droves, including us. To explore the area, we rented 3-person bikes, which were a lot of fun but not very fast. (Wouldn't you think they'd be three times faster than a normal bike?) We spent the afternoon avoiding the throngs of Chinese tourists who were rolling up in buses, and checking out the beautiful landscapes.
Dalian to Yantai
At the end of our “Red Beach” weekend, I said goodbye to everyone else in our group and took a train to Dalian. From there, I rode a ferry across the Bohai Sea. The ferry got me to Yantai even faster than the high-speed rail would have. This is because I would have had to skirt the edge of the Bohai Sea to go overland. Check out a map of this part of China (specifically Dalian and Yantai) to get a better idea of why this is.
From Yantai, I took a bus down to the former German colony of Qingdao. This was quite the interesting city; the old section still resembles Germany:
Ferry to Incheon
From Qingdao, I boarded another ferry, this time all the way to Incheon, Korea. The trip took about 22 hours; it was interesting to get a feel for just how close China is to Korea. And we got to experience going through the Incheon locks, which was fantastic, even though it took a few hours. It felt like I was at the Panama Canal all over again.
For the fall Golden Week, the second-biggest holiday in China, Katie flew out to Seoul to meet up with me. We stayed at our friend Monica's place and spent a few days exploring the city. From there we took a train down to Busan and visited our friend Ellen. It was fascinating to travel to South Korea after having already seen North Korea. The two countries seem totally different, but because of their shared pre-war history, there were a lot of similarities as well. I might write a longer piece about this comparison later, but for now you'll have to settle for a few photos:
I also recorded a podcast with Monica while in Seoul. She told many great stories about her young adulthood, living in Kiribati. Click her to listen.
Yun Shui Cave
One weekend our friend Jeph took Katie and me in his Camaro to the Yun Shui cave, near Beijing. The cave was colorful, and the hiking was fun. But the best part of the day was the “road trip” feel that's hard to experience when you don't own a car. There are a lot of cool places to explore near Beijing, but most of them are hard to reach without your own transportation, so I really appreciated the opportunity for this road trip.
Mutianyu to Jiankou Hike
We went with a big group on a hike to the Great Wall, starting at the restored section of Mutianyu and ending at the “Wild Wall” at Jiankou. Though I had been to both of these places already, I had never done the full hike between them. It was awesome to finally be able to connect the dots. For Katie and me both, living close to the Great Wall will be one of the things we miss most about Beijing.
Katie and I met with Shalon and Kroy, our friends from home in the remote Qinghai province. Unfortunately, I had a really bad chest infection that kept me from being able to walk or talk or do much of anything other than cough. On one of my slightly healthier days, we took a trip to a Buddhist temple called Ta Er Si. For me, the most interesting part of this temple was the traditional Tibetan sculpture made entirely of butter. We almost overlooked it, but the smell gave it away.
The four of us took an overnight train to Xi'An. This was my third trip to China's former capital. Kroy and Shalon went to see the famous Terracotta Warriors, and at night, we all got together to walk through the city's second-biggest attraction: the Muslim Quarter.
Just before Katie and I flew out of Xi'An, I recorded a podcast with Shalon and Kroy. We discussed their trip so far, and what was still to come.
We escaped the pollution of Xi'An to fly down to Lijiang, in Yunnan Province. Yunnan is in southwestern China, where the weather is warm and the air is clean. We did a short trip to Lugu Lake, on the border with Sichuan, then celebrated Christmas with a hike along Tiger Leaping Gorge. This was one of China's highlights, and for good reason: the scenery was spectacular. From there, we headed up to higher elevations at Shangri-La. This place was beautiful, but quite cold. At least I was finally feeling healthy. I don't know if the clean air was what did it, but it sure didn't hurt.
While I was in Shangri-La, I recorded a podcast with Jun, owner of the Tavern 47 hostel. Jun told me how he had gone from making a 6-figure salary in Seoul to owning a hostel in a little village in China.
After Shangri-La, we had one last stop to make for the year, to the village of Shaxi. This place drew me in right away.
We celebrated the new year at the Hungry Buddha restaurant in Shaxi. As usual, the town was quiet, though a few people managed to stay up until midnight. Goodbye 2016, hello 2017!
Katie flew back to Beijing on January 1, but I remained in Shaxi. This town was so beautiful, its atmosphere so relaxed, its hostel so welcoming, that I decided to stay there for a month, until Katie's next break, for Chinese New Year. We made grandiose plans to buy folding bikes and cycle around Yunnan Province. Stay tuned for updates on this trip.