A Weekend in Shaoguan

Jun and I decided to go to Shaoguan in northern Guangdong for a long weekend to celebrate his birthday. With the recent COVID-19 cases in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, we didn’t want to venture out of the province in case other provincial governments placed travel restrictions. Thus, we chose to see this situation as an opportunity to travel within the province and explore Shaoguan.

Day 1

On the day of our trip, we woke early so we could catch the high-speed train from Futian. After grabbing some breakfast at McDonald’s and going through security, we soon found ourselves waiting in line to get on the train. When we got on the train, we ate our breakfast and then rested until we got to Shaoguan.

When we arrived, we took a Didi to the Holiday Inn. Check-in at the hotel went quickly; we were able to get into our room and freshen up a bit before we ventured out into the city.

We first visited Nanhua Temple, a Chan Buddhist monastery founded in 502 AD. The grounds of the temple cover an area of 42.5 hectares in beautiful terrain surrounded by mountains and near a river. The main area of the complex houses the main prayer halls and is popular with tourists. Outside this core area, though, are more serene areas where you could walk without meeting anyone. Jun and I enjoyed this part of the monastery.

When we left the temple, we decided to have a quick lunch nearby at a dumpling and noodle restaurant. We also bought some ice cream since it was hot that day. We then walked around the plaza in front of the temple. This area was a bit more modern with more abstract interpretations of Buddhist art. I appreciated the juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary art and architectural styles.

The temperature by then was quite hot and we decided to go back to the hotel to rest. When we got back to the hotel, we took some time to relax. Then in the later afternoon, we decided to visit the area around Fengcai Tower.

The tower is located in the center of Shaoguan. It was built during the Ming Dynasty in 1497. It’s the oldest structure within central Shaoguan, which is located on a peninsula. From there we bought some drinks and walked around the area. As we walked through some of the alleys of this part of the city, we got to see smaller shops selling traditional foodstuff and wares. I enjoyed wandering around these meandering alleys. Eventually, we ended up next to the river and walked alongside it towards the tip of the peninsula where the Qu and Zhen rivers meet to form the North River. Located here is an island with Tongtian Tower built on top. You can see this tower from many different angles in this part of the city.

By this time Jun and I decided it was time for dinner and we went to a local restaurant, Meijixian, that Jun found. Jun and I enjoyed our meal and left happy. After dinner, we took a walk back to see Tongtian Tower lit up and ended our day there. We soon took a Didi back to the hotel and went to bed.

Day 2

We woke up early and went down for breakfast to fuel ourselves for the day ahead. On this day we visited Danxia Mountain World Geopark, a UNESCO World Heritage site. About an hour’s drive north of Shaoguan, we both were excited to get there.

Jun ordered a Didi and soon we were on our way to the park. When we got there the driver was unsure where we should alight. We ended up near the cable car station where we wanted to be, but we still needed to walk a bit from where the driver left us.

When we did get to the cable car station, we bought our tickets and soon found ourselves heading up to the top of the Zhanglaofeng area. This part of the park was not busy, and it was easy traversing the area. Going around Zhanglaofeng was nice. From different vantage points, you get to see the surrounding land and the beauty of this place.

After going around this area, we decided to go down the mountain and explore the Xianglonghu area of the park. This area was focused around Xianglong Lake, which was quite serene. There was a really neat bridge made of rock that was fun to traverse. Unfortunately, much of the area is under renovation and we were unable to explore this area in its entirety.

From here we decided to take a boat to the entrance of this area so we could take a bus to visit the Yangyuanshi area. Fortunately, we caught the bus before it left and found ourselves in Yangyuanshi. As we were walking through the village of Duanshi we decided to stop and have lunch at one of the restaurants there, Xiangyue. The food was great and helped us recharge for the rest of the afternoon.

When we finished, we hiked through the Yangyuanshi area. We took it slow here since it was quite hot in the afternoon sun. Happily, there were vendors throughout the park who sold cold water. This part of the park was focused on the rock formation that is reminiscent of a penis, but the rest of it was more of a hike around the central rock formation of Ximeizhai. When we got halfway up it, we decided we had no desire to climb the rest of it in the heat. We then went back down and explored the forested area around Tongtai Bridge. This area was cooler because of the dense tree canopy. The bridge itself was interesting. It’s a natural rock formation, and you can see across from it Ximeizhai. By the time we circled Tongtai Bridge, it was late in the afternoon. We decided we were too exhausted to continue. We soon got a Didi back to the hotel and enjoyed the air conditioning.

When we got back to the hotel, Jun and I decided we were too tired to go anywhere else and ordered room service from the hotel’s Cantonese restaurant, Jiang Shang Lou. Not expecting anything great, we were pleasantly surprised at how delicious the meal was. It ended up being a nice way to end the day.

Day 3

On our last day in Shaoguan, we decided we would keep things simple and visit Shaoguan National Forest Park. It’s a mix of a city and a nature park. We went there so we could see the views of the city from Shaoyang Tower. The walk up to the tower was nice and easy. The views of the city from the top were impressive. It helped us appreciate the beauty of the area and why people settled here.

The best part about reaching the tower was the moderate wind blowing. It helped keep things cool and felt refreshing. Soon, though, we had to go back down and check out of the hotel. After getting back to the hotel we packed our things, checked out, and went to the train station. While there we had a quick lunch and soon found ourselves back on the train heading for Shenzhen.

The entire trip was nice, and it was a great way to spend a few days celebrating Jun’s birthday. It left us recharged and ready for our next adventure!

Sublime Sichuan

For the May holiday in China, the government scheduled five consecutive vacation days. Jun felt that since it coincided with the end of my school term it would be a good time for us to take a long vacation. We both took some extra days and extended our holiday time so we would have nine days off. At first, we wanted to visit Tibet. But the government hadn’t lifted the restrictions on foreigners traveling to Tibet. Jun then decided we would do the next best thing and visit the western areas of Sichuan which are culturally Tibetan. 

Day 1

The start of our trip began after I had attended the annual graduate student conference my university runs. I’m an online graduate student living in China, but my university is based in the United States. As a result, the conference ran from midnight to shortly before 6:00 in the morning. I was exhausted and got about two hours of sleep before we had to leave for the airport.

Those two hours must have been enough because I was able to make it through the day. When we got to the airport, we met with Jun’s cousin who we invited to join us on the trip to Sichuan. Last year when the pandemic hit, she found herself in Sichuan but was unable to do anything as everything closed when she got there, and she had to leave early before cities stopped allowing people to travel to and from places within the country. This opportunity was a chance for her and us to explore western Sichuan!

We first arrived in Chengdu and spent the night there before heading out to the western parts of the province. When we got to Chengdu we first checked in at our hotel and then ventured to Chunxi Road. We went and explored Taikoo Li, which is a shopping district built within older Chinese buildings. In the heart of the district is an old Buddhist monastery, Daci Temple. The grounds of the temple were gorgeous. It was verdant with so many different types of plants that it was a joy to walk around and explore this temple.

Soon it was getting late, and we were hungry. Jun picked a nearby Sichuan restaurant for dinner, Tianfu Zhanggui, that was a wonderful place for a meal. I enjoyed the donut-like snack.

After dinner, we walked around the area near Anshun Corridor Bridge. It was nice to walk this area at night. The first time I visited Chengdu I stayed near here, and it was fun to see what things changes and what things remained the same.

Day 2

Our day started early, which I was not happy about as I wanted to sleep in more. But I got up and went down with everyone else for a quick breakfast. Then it was back to our room to get our stuff and go back down to check out and meet our driver for the next week.

Jun hired a car and driver to take us around the western areas of Sichuan. He ended up being a tour guide as well who informed us of important things we needed to know. He was a great guy and an excellent driver.

Once we got everything loaded in the car, we were soon on our way to our first destination: Luding. This stop was a quick break from driving. Luding is known for its bridge, which is significant in the history of modern China. A significant battle was fought there during the Long March that helped secure this key crossing. Because of the holiday, the line to cross the bridge was long. We decided we would visit the adjacent temple and take a view of the bridge from up there. Jun and his cousin found it interesting because they had read about Luding Bridge and the battle there when they were in school. This information was all new for me.

We then got back in the car and drove to our main destination of the day: Hailuogou Glacier Forest Park. Located next to Moxi Town, the park is known for its glaciers and spectacular forests. It’s the only glacier forest park in China. It was amazing!

When we got there, we took a bus up the main area of the park. From there we hiked up to see the No. 1 Glacier. Then we hiked down the mountain to visit different areas of the park. Everywhere we went there was something new to see. Each area had its unique feel towards it. Jun mentioned it reminded him of a fantasy world. And some sections definitely had the feel of a storybook setting.

By the time we left we were amazed at all that we had seen. We were also very hungry. When we got back to Moxi, our driver took us to the hotel where we quickly checked in and then we went in search of food. We ended up having beef hot pot and some vegetables. For the first time, I ate ferns, which wasn’t bad. Nothing I would seek to order in the future, but still not bad.

Jun and I then went for a walk around the town before going back to the hotel. When we arrived back at the hotel, we were both soon out for the night.

Day 3

Early the next day we checked out of our hotel, got in the car, and went to a restaurant to get breakfast on the go. We were off to our next destinations: Tagong Grassland and Moshi Park. The drive took us through the mountains, and it was quite eerie up there as it was foggy and snowing. At one scenic area, Zheduoshan Snow Visiting Platform, there were so many people there that we decided to skip it and head on to the grasslands. The weather was so bad that it wasn’t worth it. Soon, though, the weather did clear up and we were treated to some magnificent views of the surrounding mountains.

We then drove through Xinduqiao where we would spend the night. We stopped there for lunch before going to Tagong Grassland.

When we got there, we walked around a bit and saw the expense of the area. While it was late spring, the grasses are more prominent in the summer. Our view was quite limited, and we stayed there only a short while.

Our next stop, though, was wonderful. Moshi Park is mainly known for its stone forest. The rock formations in the park developed due to the geologic movements and weathering known for this part of China. They were quite amazing to walk around. In some places when you walked through the formations it felt as if you were in an alien landscape. We all enjoyed our visit.

Soon, though, it was time to go check-in at our hotel for the night and find dinner. The hotel Jun chose was quite nice with really friendly staff. The restaurant he initially chose was, however, troublesome. When we got there, they didn’t have any seats and when we tried to find out how long we would have to wait they never responded. We decided it wasn’t worth it to wait and went and had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. That ended up being a great idea as dinner was wonderful. They had a mapo tofu that was delicious with a unique flavoring I hadn’t had before. It was a nice way to end the day.

Soon, we went back to our rooms and called it a day.

Day 4

After breakfast and checking out, we were soon on our way to Litang.

When we got to Litang we first had lunch there before going to walk around the Old Town area. One thing we noticed about the Old Town was how well preserved the buildings were. The other thing that struck me was how much the architecture reminded me of the American Southwest with adobe-like structures. The first place we went when we were there was a temple sacred in the life of the seventh Dalai Lama. This region is culturally Tibetan and part of the Gelukpa sect of Tibetan Buddhists. The walk around the Old Town was beautiful with the different buildings and sights to see.

Soon, though, we were off to the main sight of Litang: Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling Monastery. One of the most sacred temples in Buddhism, the third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso, founded the monastery in 1580 on the site of an older monastery. The current monastery is a reconstructed building due to events in the 20th century. The interiors of the buildings are amazing and intricate. The sheer size of the rooms was cavernous.

Once we had walked around the temple, we then went up a hill to overlook the temple and the town. At the top of the hill were prayer flags. The views were amazing, and it was nice walking around the prayer flags and experience the calming effects of being in an out-of-the-way place.

Soon, though, we found ourselves back in the car and off to Xianggelila (Shangri-la). While driving we stopped within Haizi Mountain Nature Reserve to see Rabbit Mountain and a glacial lake. Both places were spectacular, but the elevation was making it hard to take in enough oxygen. We were now well above 4,500 meters above sea level and it was affecting us. My head hurt if I exerted myself too much. I was glad when we were able to travel down into the valley where Xianggelila is located.

The night ended with us in Xianggelila. We first bought some provisions and oxygen for our next day when we would visit Yading Nature Reserve. Then we went to the hotel where we checked in and had a simple meal at the hotel restaurant before calling it a night.

Day 5

The entire day had us visiting Yading Nature Reserve. The reserve is on the Tibetan Plateau and is a sacred location for Buddhists. The fifth Dalai Lama sanctified the mountain peaks; as a result, it is now a pilgrimage site with monasteries and stupas located in the surrounding mountains and valleys.

We were lucky that we were there after the official holiday period ended. Jun showed me pictures from two days before our visit and it was full of people. When we were there, we had to only wait a few minutes to catch the bus from the entrance to Chonggu Temple. From there we then took a battery tram to Luorong where we started the hike upwards. The hike took us up to an elevation of 4,700 meters above sea level.

We took it slow and first went to Milk Lake and then Five Color Lake. The journey was amazing. We were stunned by the views at every turn. Throughout the day we would get pelted with snow that lasted a few minutes and then would stop as the sun came out. By the time we reached back down in the valley in Luorong, the sun was back and there were a lot of animals grazing and wandering around.

We were tired by late afternoon and decided to head back to the hotel and have dinner. We ended up eating at a fish hotpot restaurant. While the food was good it wasn’t necessarily my favorite meal. Afterward, we went back to the hotel to relax and rest our weary bodies.    

Day 6

After the exhausting day we had, today was more relaxing as we were starting the end of our trip and the journey back to Chengdu.

While driving we stopped at a new forest in Daocheng and walked around the area. Human-planted, the forest had a planned look to it. Still, though, it was nice to walk around the trees. From there we next went to Zunsheng Talin, a pagoda that marks the entrance to Daocheng. It’s quite impressive in size. When we were there, pilgrims were walking around the pagoda spinning the prayer wheels.

From there we went to Litang to have lunch at this cozy restaurant. They, too, had a nice mapo tofu. Unlike the hotel in Xinduqiao, this version was spicy! The meal was great. The chef at one point came out of the kitchen, looked at me, and shouted foreigner in a happy tone. Quite random.

Then it was off to Xinduqiao. When we got there, we decided to see the sunset from one of the mountains in the area. The first one we wanted to visit, however, was closed. We next went to a mountain closer to town. We first climbed up there and the views were amazing. You could all the way to see Hailuogou Glacier Forest Park. While Jun and his cousin went up the mountain a bit, I spotted a temple. I told them I was going to visit it and would catch up to them. The little temple was surrounded by prayer flags. I had to walk over and under them to get to the temple. When I got there was a rustic quality to the temple. I was the only one there and it was quite serene to have the place to myself. I then went back to where Jun and his cousin were to enjoy the sunset before we left.

We stayed at the same hotel as our first visit and decided to have dinner there as well. Again, the food was amazing. After dinner, we decided to walk to the central part of town. When we got there, we noticed there were many places preparing barbecue. The food smelled great, but we were so full from dinner that we passed on getting anything.

As we walked back to the hotel, we enjoyed being able to look up and see the stars. There was a section of the road without any lights, and you could see different constellations. It was a great way to end the night.

Day 7

Our day started with us driving through the mountains on our way back to Chengdu. While in the mountains we stopped at Zheduoshan Snow Visiting Platform. Unlike the last time we passed through, there were noticeably a lot fewer people here and the weather was amazing. The sun was out, and the sky was a cerulean blue. I was amazed by the views from the top near the prayer flags. We were lucky we decided to wait and visit when we did.

Then we drove to Bifeng Valley Scenic Area. Within this area, there is a panda base we wanted to visit. We were fortunate to arrive at the park during the pandas’ lunchtime. All the pandas we encountered were energetic and full of life. One little panda was so happy that he was striking poses and moving around with pep. While smaller than the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, the Bifeng Panda Base had a more natural element to it with it being in the mountains. Both are great in their unique ways.

After visiting the pandas we then walked through the gorge. Another fantastical place, we encountered waterfalls and greenery that could have been the embodiment of a Tolkienesque world. The walk also helped us acclimate to the warmer weather after having spent the last few days up on the Tibetan Plateau.

After our visit to Bifeng, we were on our way back to Chengdu for the night. By the time we were at the hotel, I was exhausted. Jun and his cousin went to have dinner with one of her friends. I, however, decided to stay in for the night and relax.

Day 8

This way the day we returned to Shenzhen. First, though, we went a visited Qingyang Palace, a Taoist temple, and Culture Park in the morning. The grounds of the temple were extensive and verdant with different plants. It was nice and calming to walk around the temple.

From there we visited Culture Park which surrounds the temple. There we stopped at a teahouse to relax and enjoy the rest of the morning. The tea was great and the views around the teahouse quite serene.

From there we went to Chunxi Road to have lunch at Chen’s Mapo Tofu. The food there was wonderful. After lunch, we took a taxi first to the hotel to get our things and checkout and then to the airport. Everything went smoothly and we soon found ourselves back in Shenzhen. Jun and I said goodbye to his cousin and went home.

Our trip was great. While it wasn’t Tibet as we originally planned, we did get to experience Tibetan culture. The sights, food, and people we encountered were amazing. Our trip ended up as a wonderful escape from the routine. 

Retreat to Ningbo

In late February, I was informed I would have to travel to Shanghai and Ningbo for work. The work trip would end on a Friday in Ningbo. When Jun learned of this, he got excited. His mom had been staying in the Ningbo area for the last year. With the pandemic occurring, he hadn’t been able to see her during that time. Now, here was an opportunity for him to visit her. We decided we would take this opportunity and spend a long weekend in Ningbo; we each took the following Monday off so we could have a three-day weekend.

Day 1

Technically for me, this was the fourth day of my trip away from Shenzhen. But at the end of the workday on Friday I shifted from work to fun. After I finished everything with work, I took the metro to Dongmenkou and walked to the Westin hotel. After check-in, I went up to the room and caught up with some school work before venturing out to get something quick to eat. After dinner, I continued to work on school work and waited for Jun to arrive. He planned to fly into Ningbo late that night and then take a taxi to the hotel. When he arrived, I met him in the lobby as he completed the guest registration process. By the time we got into the room, it was late, and Jun wanted to shower and go to bed.

Day 2

Our first full day in Ningbo as tourists started with us going down to have breakfast. Then we waited until Jun’s mom and her friends arrived so we could go and venture around the city.

When they arrived, Jun and his mom caught up for a bit. Then we went to first visit Yonggengku Ruins Park and the Drum Tower. The surrounding area is a pedestrian shopping area. After walking around a bit we continued to our main destination of Yuehu Park.

The park was gorgeous in the early spring weather. The trees were blossoming, and the air was nice and cool. Everything had that new green aura that left you feeling refreshed. Inside the park are a variety of smaller gardens that offer something slightly different to explore and enjoy.

We took our time meandering through the park until we started to get hungry. Jun found a local restaurant nearby and we decided to have lunch there. It seemed we weren’t the only ones who had that thought. There was a long wait for a table. We decided we would wait and not too long later we were seated at our table and had a tasty lunch.

Jun’s mom and her friends wanted to rest after lunch, so we left them near the restaurant and walked around the park a bit more. After exploring the park, we soon went back and caught up with Jun’s mom and her friends and continued to walk around the park.

Our next destination was Tianyige, which was just off the park. Tianyige is the oldest existing library in China. It is a combination of library and gardens, which Fan Qin founded in 1561 during the Ming dynasty. Today, it is a historic site open to visitors. Jun and I went around the park on our own; Jun’s mom and her friends were a bit tired from all the walking.

It was quite beautiful inside Tianyige. There was a serene atmosphere pervading the gardens and different halls. There was even an exhibition on mahjong that was fascinating. That had some ornate sets from different eras and parts of the world.

Soon, Jun and I left the library and gardens to find his mom. We found that everyone was ready to continue our exploration of the city. During the walk, Jun’s mom informed him that she wanted to spend the night and spend one more day with him. Jun and I decided to go back to the hotel to rest while Jun’s mom and friends booked a room at a different hotel.

We later met for dinner at a restaurant nearby our hotel. Again, we found it was quite popular and we had to wait a bit. It ended up being a smart choice since the food was amazing there. It was so good that Jun’s mom insisted we go back the next night and have dinner there again.

After dinner, Jun, his mom, and I went for a walk along the river in Ningbo’s Old Bund. At night it’s a bar street, but the buildings are quite beautiful, and it was fun to walk around the area. I mostly just enjoyed the walk as Jun and his mom talked.

Later we walked Jun’s mom back to her hotel. Then we went back to ours and called it a day.

Day 3

After breakfast, Jun and I walked to his mom’s hotel to meet up with her. First, we went with her to get some breakfast and then took a Didi to visit Dongqian Lake. We started our trip by walking along Xiaoputuo, a causeway along the center of the lake. It was a nice walk. We got to see peach blossoms, and visited some temples, and just enjoyed the spring weather.

We continued our walk along the eastern shore of the lake and ended up at a café where we had some tea and rested our feet.

From there we walked around the Mashan Wetland and visited Hanling Village. It wasn’t the right time to visit the wetlands as everything was still dormant for winter. In some spots, though, you could see life coming back to vibrancy.

The village, however, was interesting. The main street was full of people that it was a bit uncomfortable to try to maneuver around the area. The side streets, though, had fewer people and were more enjoyable to traverse. At the end of our visit to the village, Jun and I decided to treat ourselves to ice cream as we waited for the Didi to come and take us back to downtown Ningbo.

By the time we got back to our hotel, it was dinner time. We went back to the same restaurant, met up with Jun’s mom’s friend, again had to wait for a table, and enjoyed having a wonderful meal. After dinner, Jun’s mom had to leave, and she said her goodbyes to us.

Day 4

Our last day in Ningbo before having to go back to work in Shenzhen. After breakfast, Jun and I checked out and left our luggage at the hotel. Then we walked to Tianfeng Park to see the tower there. On the walk, we got to see some of the European influence in the city’s architecture. When we arrived at Tianfeng Park, we were impressed with the tower and how tall it was. The steps going up were quite steep but did offer nice views of the surrounding area. From there, Jun and I decided to get lunch and then visit Nantang Old Street.

I visited Nantang a few years back while I was there for work. It was one of the few tourist sites in Ningbo I had visited before this trip. The street is mainly a food street. Jun ended up buying some Ningbo rice cakes to take back with us.

By then it was getting close to mid-afternoon and we had to head back to the hotel to get our things and go to the airport.

Everything went smoothly on our trip back to Shenzhen. Overall, Jun and I enjoyed our trip to Ningbo. Jun was particularly happy he got to see his mom. We both agreed it was a nice break from work and the routine.