Saturday, October 17, 2009

China 2009

" My 29 days solo visit to China (Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou, Chongqing, Yichang, Luoyang, Pingyao, Datong, Beijing & Tianjin) - fulfiling my dream to see the UNESCO Heritage Sites (Cilivised and Natural Wonders) in China (10/9 - 8/10/09) & sharing the joy in China's 60 year national anniversary celebrations in Tiananmen Square, Beijing "

After my return from the Europe/Tran-Siberian trip on 16 June 09, the idea of visiting China crossed my mind. In mid-August. Air Asia had a sales promotion and I took the opportunity to buy online a return ticket (Rm692) to Tianjin. For this China trip, I had in mind to visit the various UNESCO sites and civilised & natural wonders of the world in Northern provinces of China ie Heilongjiang (Harbin), Lioning (Shenyang) , Jilin (Changchun), Inner Mongolia (Manzouli) and then travel south to Shanxi, Sichuan, Chongqing, Henan & Beijing.

I had a bad start for this China trip as I missed my Air Asia flight from KL to Tienjin on 7 Sept 09 (departing 01.00). I got mix up with the time thinking the departure time is at 1.00pm. As I had already pre-booked all the hostels in China, I had to find an alternative plan so to right the wrong, I decided to buy a one way ticket (Rm400) flying off on 10 Sept from KL to Guilin (departing 06.40) As a result of this last minute change, I have to re-schedule my travel and decided to start my travel from the southern provinces and skip the three north east provinces as planned earlier.

On 10 Sept, I had another bad experience. I missed the airport Skybus at Sentral Station - the last bus left Sentral at 22.30 and I missed it by 15 mins. My wife had to drive me all the way to the airport.

For this China trip, I visited 11 UNESCO sites, 1 Natural Wonder and 1 Civilised Wonder of The World. As my Oct 09 visit coincides with the China's 60 year's anniversary celebration, I took the opportunity to visit the Tiananmen Square and the two iconic Olympic stadiums ie Bird Nest & Water Cube. A happy ending indeed though I had a bad start from the beginning ! You will probably concur with me after seeing the pictures I had posted in this travel blog.

As I was about to pen off, I have just received an email from one of my retiree colleagues forwarding a powerpoint attachment entitled "Secrets of Life" for retirees . I took the liberty to quote some of the words of wisdom expressed in the slides in this travel blog. Happy reading !

UNESCO sites:
1) Leshan Grand Buddha, Sichuan
2) Sanxingdui Museum, Sichuan
3) Dujiangyan Dam, Sichuan
4) Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve, Sichuan
5) Huanglong Nature Reserve, Sichuan
6) Dazu Rock Carving Museum, Chongqing
7) Longmen Caves, Henan
8) Pingyao Ancient City, Shanxi
9) Yungang Grottoes, Shanxi
10) Eastern Royal Tombs of Qin Dynasty, Beijing
11) Site of the Peking Man at Zhoukuodian, Beijing

Natural Wonder of the World:
12) Yangzi River

Civilised Wonder of the World
13) Old Summer Palace

Travel highlights :
1) Guilin, Guangxi Province - A natural wonder . I had been to Guilin, Yangshuo & Li Jiang River with my family members in 2004. Just a stopover for a night and my next destination is Chengdu. Took this picture from a train to Chengdu.

2) Chengdu, Sichuan Province : a) Leshan Grand Buddha (UNESCO heritage site) . 233ft tall. World largest stone sculptures of Buddha, carved out of a mountain. Built in AD713 by a senior monk, Haitong and completed 90 years after his death.

b) Sanxingdui Museum (UNESCO heritage site) - Houses one of the most remarkable collections of ancient sculpture, masks & ritual bronzes in China dating back to 14th century BC !

c) Dujiangyan Irrigation Project (UNESCO heritage site) - Built in 3rd century BC by a famous engineer Li Bing to divert fast flowing water from Min River into irrigation canals benefitting a million hectares of land in Sichuan.

d) Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve (UNESCO heritage site) - Incredible ! A fairyland ! A world natural heritage, a world biosphere reserve and a "Green Globe 21" site. A must see world heritage site in China.

e) HuangLong Natural Park (UNESCO heritage site) - The world largest travertine formation landscape. Quite similar scenery to that of Pamukkale in Turkey when I visited the place in Sept 08. Waterfalls and terraced , coloured limestone ponds of blue, yellow, white & green created a natural beauty out of this place.

3) Chongqing City : a) Dazu Rock Carving Museum (UNESCO heritage site) - Built between 892 and 1249, the site has extensive Buddhist cave paintings , sculptures and carvings. Among the 4 grottes I had so far visited ( Dun Huang, Longmen, Yungang ) , Dazu is perhaps the most sophisticated and unusual. The carvings carried the Buddhist images, Daoist and Confucian statues and themes.

b) Yangzi River Cruise (a natural wonder of the world) - Despite the building of the Three Gorges dam, I think it is worthwhile to take a 3-4 day cruise to admire the natural beauty of the Three Georges and the surrounding environment.

4) Yichang, Hubei Province - The gateway city to the massive Three Gorges hydroelectric project at Sandouping, 40km from Yi Chang. Major battles were fought in this place during the Period of Three Kingdoms .

5) Luoyang, Henan: Longmen Caves (UNESCO heritage site) - More than 100,000 images and statues of Buddha were carved into the cliff walls of Longmen caves during the Northern Wei dynasty from AD494 over a period of 200 years !

6) Pinyao, Shanxi Province : a) Pingyao Ancient City (UNESCO heritage site) - This 6km Ming dynasty city wall has a very well preserved traditional Han Chinese city inside, the old heritage architectural buildings resembled to that of imperial China !

b) Yungang Caves, Datong, Shanxi Province (UNESCO heritage site) - The caves have 50,000 Buddhist statutes and strectch for 1km east to west and were carved between 460 and 465 during the Wei dynasty.

c) Hanging Monastery, Datong - Built during the Northern Wei dynasty. This monastery clinging to the sides of a cliff has 40 connected halls supported by wooden stilts look like toothpicks from far !

7) Beijing : a) Old Summer Palace (A civilised wonder of the world) - Built by Emperor Qian Long using European design for their palaces, fountains and gardens. During the 2nd Opium War (1856-60) , all the palaces were destroyed by fire set by the French and British troops , only broken columns and marble chunks remain. The French and British soldiers looted all the precious & priceless items and some are now on displays in overseas museums. Others are no longer in trace and their whereabouts unknown.

b) Eastern Royal Tomb of Qing Dynasty (UNESCO heritage site) - Houses the tombs of 5 emperors, 14 empresses & 136 imperial consorts. Emperor Qianlong & Empress Dowager Cixi tombs were plundered in the 1920s.

c) Site of Peking man at Zhoukoudian, Beijing ( UNESCO heritage site ) - Discovered by a Swedish scholar in 1921. Some 200 fossils of cave dwellers dating back 18,900 years ago were dug out from several caves / sites in Zhoukoudian. The first Peking man fossil ( 700,000 years ago ) was discovered in 1927 and it went missing during the 1941 Pacific War.

d) Tiananmen Square, Beijing : China 60th Year National Anniversary Celebration (1 Oct 2009) - I was one of the million visitors who visited the Tiananmen Square on 3rd Oct 2009 despite massive security, presence of SWAT police guards, closing of some subway underground stations, huge crowd & shutting of Chang Ann street to ensure the place is free of undesirable elements ! Tiananmen Square was off limits to outsiders & tourists from 30 Sept - 2 Oct to allow 60 floats, 8,000 soldiers and 100,000 civilians to participate peacefully in this grand event !

e) Olympic Park, Beijing : Bird Nest Olympic Stadium - colorful lightings , musical fountains, festive moods ( coincide with the traditional mooncake festival which falls on 3rd Oct ) ; thousands pour into the Olympic Forest Park to share the nation's pride in celebrating the 60 year anniversary event.

f) Olympic Park, Beijing : Water Cube Olympic Stadium - Like the iconic Bird Nest Stadium, the Water Cube Olympic venue is one of the greatest modern architecture ever built in China. A really "feel good" feeling when I was there to admire these buildings.

Travel itinerary:
Kuala Lumpur>Guilin>Chengdu>Jiuzhaigou & Huanglong
Chengdu>Chongqing>Yangzi river cruise>Yichang
Yichang>Luoyang>Pingyao>Datong>Beijing>Tianjin>Kuala Lumpur

Airline Flight Itinerary:
Booking Date: 7-8-09 & 7-9-09
Flight No: AK102
Depart LCCT Kuala Lumpur on Thursday 10-9-09 at 06.40
Arrive Guilin, China on same day at 10.40
Return: D72613 Depart Tianjin Airport on Thursday 8-10-09 at 10.20 ( original time 08.20)
Arrive LCCT KL on Thursday on same day at 16.35
1) Air tickets: KL>Tianjin return -Rm692; KL>Guilin one way Rm400.90 ( incl meals, GoInsure & Skybus)
2) AIG Travel Insurance: Rm113
3) Land transport:
Train tickets-CNY583
Bus & Metro-CNY713
4) Local tour package ( incl transport, entrance fees, meals & hostel, Ins & cable car): CNY2,632
- Jiuzhaigou & Huanglong (CNY980)
- Yangzi River (CNY950)
- Dazu day tour + entrance fee (CNY80) = CNY200
- Shaolin Temple day tour + lunch+ entrance fee (CNY100) = CNY190
Hanging Monastry (taxi) + entrance fee (CNY60) = CNY132
- Eastern Qin Tombs day tour + entrance fee (CNY110) = CNY180
5) Entrance fees: CNY552
- Sanxingdui Museum, Sichuan (CNY80-CNY15 discount for Panda card pass holder)
- Leshan Grand Buddha, Sichuan (CNY90)
- QinYang Gong, Chengdu (CNY10)
- Longmen Grottoes, Luoyang (CNY80)
- Xuan Zang birth place,Luoyang (CNY30)
- Kwang Hua Si, Luoyang (CNY15)
- Pingyao ancient city (CNY120)
- Yungang Grottoes,Datong (CNY60)
- Nine Dragon Screen,Datong(CNY10)
- Old Summer Palace, Beijing (CNY25)
- Site of Pekingman, Zhoukoudian (CNY30)
- Confucian Temple (CNY10)
- Temple of the Land (CNY7)

6) Food & groceries: CNY670
7) Sundries: CNY150
8) Hostels:CNY700

Total Expenses incurred (29 days) = CNY6,000 + Rm805 = Rm3,865

" My wonderful trip to China, in pursuit of the World Heritage sites, civilized and natural wonders of China. UNESCO has over the last 30 years identified and approved 800 sites in 135 countries. By visiting these sites , it provides an avid traveller a historical memory of this planet

The Secrets of life - As long as it is physically possible, visit places you wish. Enjoy the life while you can ! "

D1-D2 Guilin, Guangxi China (10-11/9/2009)

Instead of landing in Tianjin, Guilin had become my first city of call due to my oversight in the mixed up of the flight departure time from KL to Tianjin on Monday 7 Sept 09. This mistake had cost me another Rm400 for the purchase of a one way ticket from KL to Guilin last minute - probably the cheapest alternative I could pick as I was determined to go ahead with my travel plan ! A one way last minute air ticket from KL to Tianjin costs Rm700 ! So I had to restructure my travel plan starting from the southern provinces instead of the north ! I had to advise all the hostels I had earlier booked of this change.

On arrival in Guilin at around 10.40, I took an airport shuttle bus (CNY20) to the city. I stayed a night at the Flowers International Youth hostels (CNY35 dorm), opposite the Guilin train station. I spent the rest of my day lazing in the cosy guest lounge of the hostel and walking around the train station area where I stayed - so nothing exciting but faced a number of hustling from locals whom I tried to avoid at all times on the streets. I paid CNY201 for a hard sleeper train ticket from Guilin to Chengdu, my next destination.

" A small upset for this China trip but if you are quick to fix things up, you will be on the right track again.

The Secrets of Life - Always maintain a peaceful & cheerful state of mind "

D3-D5 Chengdu, Sichuan China (12-17/9/2009)

From Guilin to Chengdu, the train ride took 26 hours. On arrival, I took a bus from the Chengdu train station and checked into the Sims Cozy Garden hostel ( CNY30 dorm) . I stayed for 5 nights in Chengdu as some UNESCO sites are located 2-3 hours by public transport from Chengdu. Some sites are well connected by public transport eg Mt Emei and Leshan Grand Buddha; Mt Qingcheng and Dujiangyan Dam. Also you should consider joining a local tour to Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong as I found it less hassle and more economical by joining a local tour package as this strech of road from Chengdu to Jiuzhagou is presently affected by the Wen Chuan earthquake since May 08 and is not easy to travel on your own.

Sichuan province has 5 UNESCO heritage sites & 2 Natural Wonders of the World:

UNESCO Heritage Sites
1) Mt Emei & Giant Buddha in Leshan
2) Mt Qingcheng & Dujiang Dam
3) Sanxingdui Museum
4) Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve
5) Huanglong National Park
Natural Wonders of the World
1) Wolong Nature Reserve
2) Daocheng Yading

Wolong Nature Reserve ( the only place you can see giant pandas ) has been partially destroyed by the Wen Chuan earthquake. The road leading to Wolong is now under repairs. With the exception of Mt Emei & Daocheng Yading, I had visited all the rest of the UNESCO gazetted sites in this trip. A visit to the Panda breeding centre in Chengdu is highly recommended. The UNESCO Heritage sites I visited were:

a) Leshan Grand Buddha (entrance fee CNY90) - Carved into a cliff face overlooking the Dadu & Minjiang River. 71m high, his ears 7m long, his toes 8.5m long. Built in AD713 by Haitong, a Buddhist monk and completed 90 years after his death.

b) Dujiangyan Dam (entrance fee CNY60 ) - The world's greatest ancient water irrigation project built by Li Bing, the governor of the Shu Prefecture during the warring state period in the 3rd century BC. This project benefitted 10 million acres of land in Sichuan by diverting the fast flowing Min Jiang River into irrigation canals engineered by Li Bing.

c) Mt Qincheng ( entrance fee CNY60 ) - The birthplace of China's Daoism. The mountain is famous for its beautiful landscapes and rich , religious background.

d) Sanxingdui Mueum ( entrance fee CNY80 ) - Houses a large collections of relics of ancient sculpture, masks & ritual bronzes dating back to 4,000 years ago.

Other places of interest I visited in Chengdu are :

e) Wenshu Temple ( entrance fee CNY5) - The largest and best preserved Tang Dynasty monastry in Chengdu.

f) Wuhou Temple ( entrance fee CNY30 ) - Houses a shrine dedicated to Emperor Liu Bei and a temple honouring Zhuge Liang , a famous military strategist of the Three Kingdoms period ( AD220-80)

g) Qingyang Gong ( entrance fee CNY10 ) - The oldest and most extensive Taoist temple in Chengdu.

h) The Thatched Cottage of Dufu (entrance fee CNY30) - Dufu, an eminent poet of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) lived in Sichuan for 4 years, during which time he wrote many poems. The place he stayed has become a holy land in Chinese history of literature.

i) Jinli Street - Shopping for souvenirs and a popular gourmet street for locals & tourists.

" Sichuan is the breeding place for giant pandas; has a long history dating back 4,500 years ago; a number of World Natural & Cultural Heritage sites and great spicy Sichuan food - steam boat style - so fly to Sichuan and see for yourself - no regret at all !

The Secrets of Life - Before middle age, do not fear; after middle age, do not regret . "

D6-D9 Jiuzhaigou & Huanglong, Sichuan China (18-20/9/2009)

For my visit to Jiuzhaigou & Huanglong, I signed up a local package tour with a travel agency located near the Chengdu train station. I paid CNY900 for a 4 day 3 night tour; all meals, entrance fees, transport & shuttle bus service and lodging included. I found out that locals paid around CNY650 and others as high as CNY1,200. So there was no standard pricing and you have to be good in haggling a fair price.

The disadvantage of joining a package tour is that the tourists will be taken to a couple of shopping trips along the way or expect to pay for extra money for any side trips (though this is optional) proposed by the tour guide.

A) The start of my 4 day local tour package to Jiuzhaigou (3,101m) & Huanglong Nature Reserve (3,600m) . Some stretches of old road from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou had been buried by the Wen Chuan earthquake. New roads are now being built and this may take another 2-3 years to complete. Massive traffic jam along the way as some roads had converted into a single lane amd under major repairs. In the interim, a long 14 hour bus ride from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou awaits you, others prefer to fly from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou - merely 2 hours. Or else, try riding a yak to Jiuzhaigou !!! A slow and hardy ride !!!

B) Songpan - A stopover ancient town on the road to Jiuzhaigou. Our bus took a short rest here and I took the opportutnity to wonder around.

C) Jiuzhaigou meaning "Nine Village Gully" refers to the nine Baima Tibetan villages that exist in the valley. Before arriving at Jiuzhaigou, our tour bus took us to one of the nine village gully - I really enjoyed this visit. Our tour group was invited to a holy Tibetan home , entertained with Tibetan tea and offered holy prayers - but come with a price ! CNY100 for a holy blessing from a respected Tibetan priest !

D) Jiuzhaigou town - We put up at a 2 star hotel for 2 nights here, meals included. I shared a room with a 19 year old Chinese worker from Hebei.

E) Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve ( entrance fee CNY220 + CNY90 shuttle bus service) . You need a full day to visit all or most of the scenic spots. So you can start from the higher ground and use the excellent shuttle bus service to ferry you to the rest of the scenic spots along the way. You may skip one or two places if you do not find them interesting. The waterfall areas are wet and slippery, quite strenous to walk up and down the steps. So bring along some energy snack bars to give you extra energy. Some picture taken at various scenic spots:

1) Primeval Forest

2) Arrow Bamboo Lake - This lake was used by a Hong Kong film producer to shoot the popular kung fu show "Crunching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" !

3) Panda Lake Outlook

4) Five Flower Lake

5) Rainfall of Pearl Beach

6) Mirror Sea Lake

7) Norilang Waterfall

8) Rhineceros Lake

9) Tiger Lake

10) Shuzheng Waterfall

11) Panlong Meadow

12) Shuzheng Village

13) Jiuzhaigou Cultural Village

14) Bonsai Shoal

F) Huanglong Nature Park ( entrance fee CNY200 + cable car CNY80) - 56km from Songpan, local package tour to Jiuzhaigou normally includes a visit to Huanglong. At 3,600m above sea level, high altitude sickness can be a problem to the older people & the weaker ones.

" Due to the Wen Chuan earthquake, the number of tourist arrivals to Jiuzhaigou & Huanglong has dropped considerably in 08/09. But this has not deterred tourists from visiting these two world heritage sites as the sceneries are simply stunning ! No wonder Jiuzhaigou is known as a World of Fairytales and a Fairlyland under Heaven !

The Secrets of Life - Treat sickness with optimism "