Tuesday, July 31, 2012 0 comments

Teaching is Worth the Chalk

Three more weeks of work at the bank!  I’m glad to have had a place with First Farmers for the past year and a half, but I’m looking forward to getting back to what I really enjoy doing: teaching.  I’ve tried to do other things in my life, but I keep coming back to the fact that I’m just a born teacher. 
I decided when I was four years old that I would be a teacher someday—at the time, it was because I wanted to get to write on a chalkboard.  Now, that’s the thing I like least about it; chalkboards give me the creeps.  I live in fear of accidentally touching my fingernail to a board.  That reminds me; I need to see if I can find one of those chalk holders that some of my teachers used to write with.  Maybe that would make it a little better!  When I taught in China before, the chalk we were supplied with was brittle; it would break easily if you wrote too enthusiastically.  My students would laugh when I would say, three or four times every class period, “I hate chalk!!”  I’m dreaming of having a classroom with power point capability, but I know not to get my hopes up. 
Friday, July 27, 2012 0 comments

Travel Advice: Vietnam (Ha Long Bay)

If you go to Vietnam, you need to see more than just the cities.  One of the most famous areas to visit is the beautiful Ha Long Bay.  Search for it in google images and you'll see why.  The easiest way to go is to go with a group from Hanoi; they can book it for you at your hostel.  I don’t normally like group trips, but this one was really good and meant I was able to fit in a lot more activities than I would have on my own.  We spent the night on a boat in the bay, went kayaking, explored a cave, swam from the boat and from the beach on the island, got foot massages, spent a night in beach huts on Monkey Island,  saw a floating city, saw monkeys, ate a lot of prawns, rode bikes or hiked to visit a secret army hospital built in a cave, and enjoyed the scenery. The only precautions I would have are, if you are traveling by yourself, be sure and check if you will get a room to yourself or will be expected to share with someone, and when they tell you that the hike on monkey island to see the monkeys is an easy half-hour stroll, they are lying.  I don’t remember how much the tour cost exactly, but it seems like it might have been around $100 for two days (everything, including food).  The only thing to buy was if you wanted drinks other than water.  Anyhow, it was worth it.  
After Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, many travelers go on to the beaches of South Vietnam; I didn’t have time to do so. But, if you do, I hear they’re really beautiful.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 0 comments

Sand, Shrimp, and Summer

My mother’s goal in life seems to be to have all four of us in the same room at the same time, which has become increasingly challenging as my brother and I are now adults, and I have this little quirk of moving off to other continents.  So, one last time before I move back to China, she organized a little weekend family trip.
The closest place from middle Tennessee to see sand and waves is the gulf shore of Florida, so we started out at the crack of dawn (or, a little before that, really) Saturday morning for Navarre.  Along the bay, there are several little camping area; the one we stayed at (Navarre Beach Campground)  offered little cabins—there were beds for four, a kitchenette, a bathroom, an a screened in porch with rocking chairs, all just a couple hundred yards from the water.  You can’t beat that for $99 a night! 
The campground was just a little ways down the road from the bridge over to Santa Rosa Island; Santa Rosa is a barrier island that runs for miles along the coast, from Pensacola to Destin. The section of the island at Navarre is dedicated to public beaches (including bath houses, lifeguards, a fishing pier, and lots of Florida’s famous white sand).  The western end of the island is preserved from development as the Gulf Islands National Seashore.  Driving through the state park was probably my favorite part of the trip—white dunes and sea grass on both sides of the car, on a brilliantly sunny day with white fluffy clouds, turquoise waves rolling in from the gulf on one side, and the calmer waters of the bay on the other.  Now and then the dunes are interrupted by scrubby trees and driftwood; we saw a huge heron standing by its nest in the top of a dead tree. 
At the very point of the island is Fort Pickens, which was built in the 1800s to defend the bay at Pensacola.  There’s an eight-dollar-per-car fee to get into the park (good for a week), and once inside you can walk the ramparts and pose for photos with the old cannons.  A museum has been built in the old caretakers’ home.  Fort Pickens was sometimes used to house prisoners; its most famous inmate was the Apache warrior Geronimo, who was held there for a time before being moved permanently to Oklahoma. 
When you’re at the ocean, you have to have seafood; we splurged by going to Flounders’ in Pensacola.  We sat out on the covered deck; although it was a hot day, it was fairly pleasant in the shade with a light breeze coming off of the water.  A live musician was singing mellow classics; everyone clapped the hardest, of course, for anything by Jimmy Buffet.  The deck ended on the sand, where a beach volleyball game was halfheartedly going on, and the bay was just a few steps beyond that.  The fried fish I got was honestly the best fish I’ve ever had, and if I ever go back, I’ll probably get a shrimp basket like my mothers—I tried various things off of it, and particularly enjoyed the grilled shrimp and bell peppers. 
Now, I’m not enough of a beach person to enjoy staying at the coast for a whole week like most of my friends like to do (I get tired of sand in everything very, very quickly), but after a long weekend in the sun I feel like I’ve really had summer. 
Friday, July 20, 2012 0 comments

Travel Advice: Vietnam (Hanoi)

Chua Tran Quoc
Besides all the great things in China, there are also nearby countries with even more great places to go; my first stop was Vietnam, despite a lot of shocked responses from my parents' generation.  You do have to have a visa to get into Vietnam.  The  way I did it was to go to Nanning, in Guangxi Province--if you’re already going to Yangshuo/Guilin, it’s an easy bus ride from Guilin.  In Nanning, some of the hostels can help you  get a visa.  It is fairly expensive;  it’s about 650 yuan to get it in one day, 550 in two, 400 in three, etc.  Personally, I decided to go ahead and spend the money to get it quicker; I figured I would spend the  difference anyways on lodging and food in Nanning if I waited.  I stayed at the Lotusland Train Station Hostel , and it was amazing.  They were really helpful handling everything with the visa, and the hostel was super clean and brand new.   

From Nanning, you can get a bus to Hanoi.  Here’s a map that shows the hostel  I recommended, the train station, and the bus office where you can buy tickets; you can also ask at your hostel and they can also give you directions on where to go.  
The trip to Hanoi involves one bus to the border, then you get off and go through customs, and then a second bus on to Hanoi.  Watch for the colorful houses in the towns you pass through--from what I understand, homeowners are taxed by the amount of road frontage they own.  So, nearly every house is only about as wide a garage door, but four or five stories tall. The back and sides are plain concrete, but the side facing the road is painted a vibrant color with elaborate balustrades on the balconies.  When I went, the bus did not stop at a station in Hanoi, it stopped just on a road.  There were plenty of taxi drivers around to meet it; be sure and ask about the rates first as some will assume you haven’t figured out the exchange rate yet and try to overcharge you.  If you don’t have Vietnamese currency yet,  the taxi driver will probably be willing to drop you by an atm on the way--more time they can charge you for!

    If you go to Vietnam in the summer, remember that they do have monsoons.  My experience was that it was beautiful all day long, but then about four in the afternoon a cloud would roll in and, for about half an hour, it would rain harder than I’ve ever seen it rain.  Then, it would clear off again and there would be a beautiful evening.  Just be sure to find a place to shelter about that time; an umbrella is not enough.  

Once you get into Hanoi, there are plenty of things to do.  The city is built around several large lakes, so there are nice areas to walk.  The Old Quarter of the city is worth just walking around exploring; it’s a mix of French style (from the French occupation in the 1800s) with Asian chaos.  There are restaurants of every type, and shops selling everything.  I got the best chicken parmesan I’ve ever had at a little Italian bistro on a back street.   Be careful of the traffic though--not many cars, but swarms of motorcycles.  Seriously, at least a hundred at every stoplight.  I got hit by one once--they were going the wrong way down a one-way-street.  So just keep your eyes open.  

You can visit the Hoa Lo Prison (the Hanoi Hilton), where American POWs were held during the Vietnam War, which was really interesting.  There are plenty of signs in English explaining everything, although they do tend to emphasize other periods of the prison’s history that are more flattering to the Vietnamese than just the American part.  

Another major stop is the Ho Chi Minh tomb and house, you can see how the Vietnamese people revere him as a great hero.  There is a grand presidential palace, but he chose to instead live in a simple wooden house on the grounds. Even if you don’t have the time to go in, at least walk by the tomb.  

Several temples are worth visiting; one famous one is the Temple of Literature and National University, but I don’t think I ever made it to that one; I wish I had.  I went to the Ngoc Son Temple, on the Hoan Kiem Lake.  The lake’s name translates as the Lake of the Restored Sword, and it’s famous for its huge turtles--you can see a stuffed one inside the temple.  There’s a little stone tower built on a tiny island in the middle, and I saw some men go out to it on a little boat.  This was a nice area one the edge of  the Old Quarter;  the tourist office is on the roundabout on the north end of the lake; there is a water puppet theater there, also.

Speaking of water puppets, the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater is interesting.  It’s at the north end of Hoan Kiem Lake. While musicians play traditional music, elaborate puppets act out  historical tales and legends in a pool of water with a colorful backdrop.  It was worth watching even though I, of course, didn’t know the tales.  However, half an hour of it would have been enough, but it went on for over an hour.  And fair warning, the seats are really cramped.  REALLY cramped.  I’m 5’7” and I was literally wedged in a seat; I couldn’t move my legs without standing up.  Try and see if you can get an aisle seat if you’re taller.  Altogether, I wouldn’t  arrange my plans around it, but it’s an enjoyable activity for the late evening once it’s too dark to sightsee, if you have the time.  I suppose you could go, and if you get tired, leave at intermission.  Sometimes it sells out, so It’s a good idea to drop by the box office earlier in the day and buy tickets. 

Also near the lake is St. Joseph’s cathedral, if you’re looking to step into Europe for a moment.  One Sunday night I walked past during the mass time; it was so crowded inside that no more could fit, so the square in front of it was full of people sitting on their motorcycles listening.  It was like a drive-in mass...Just across the road and down  a bit is the hostel I stayed in, the Central Backpackers hostel.  It was a good area to stay, within walking distance of several of the major things; several of the most popular hostels are in this area.    

Another really nice place to visit is Chua Tran Quoc.  It’s located on a narrow strip of land (Thanh Nien Road) separating two lakes; the one on the left is the huge West Lake.  There’s an ancient temple, and a beautiful pagoda built in the 6th century.  It’s a nice place to escape the craziness of the city, and it’s also a nice place to see the sun set over the lake.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 0 comments

Food Adventures (ITC Week 29)

What do you splurge on when you travel?  What’s one thing that you are willing to spend more on while traveling? Why?
I am generally a cheap traveler; the less you spend each day, the more days your cash will last. I stay in hostels, use budget airlines, and I have often carried a jar of peanut butter and a squashed loaf of bread in my backpack so I don’t have to eat out every meal.  However, there are some things that are worth budgeting in; after all, I don’t want to be so cheap that I miss what I came for. 
Meat, gravy, and knedliky in the Czech Republic
The first thing that comes to mind is local food: you’ve got to get lasagna in Italy, sausages in Germany, and barbecue and my mom’s chocolate gravy in Tennessee (not together, of course).  You’ve got to get shrimp within view of the ocean, and waffles in Belgium (which, by the way, are much better than what we call ‘Belgian waffles’ in the States—crunchy, sticky, sugar coated!).  And then of course, sometimes you’ve got to get Chicken Parmesan in Hanoi and Turkish kebabs in Krakow. 

As I’m still trying to outlive my reputation as a picky eater (well-deserved) as a child, I have tried over the past few years to be adventurous and have at least one meal of traditional local food you can’t get elsewhere in each country.  I stopped at a diner in
Jičín, in the Czech Republic, and had their roast meat and knedliky (sliced dumplings), all smothered in gravy.  I ate the official food of the Dragon Boat festival in China, glutinous rice wrapped in tea leaves, when my students offered me one (and I managed to keep smiling and chewing while they were looking, and deposit the rest in the bushes when they weren’t). 

Glutinous rice wrapped in tea leaves
When I traveled with my study abroad group in college, we would live on baguettes, fruit, and chocolate bars for most meals so that we could splurge on Hard Rock in every city.  I’ve kept up a similar philosophy over the years; it’s worth a few peanut-butter sandwiches to afford a nicer meal that will be part of my memory of the place.  Sometimes it’s trying the local food, and sometimes it’s getting some good Italian or American food—as an expat, finding an Italian restaurant that, on the inside, looked like you could be on a side street in Rome, next to my hostel in Shanghai seemed heaven-sent after months of nothing but Chinese.  And then, sometimes I find it entertaining to eat something wholly out-of-place—how are the Polish people at cooking Italian?  (Not great).  How are Germans at Tex-Mex? (again, not so great).  But the Vietnamese can sure handle Italian! 

A dish of stewed potatoes and beef at a banquet in China

Sunday, July 15, 2012 0 comments

Travel Advice in China: Guangxi Province (Part 2)

Part 2: Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

If you go north from Guilin a couple of hours, you can  hike through the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces.  The first step is to take a bus to Longsheng (the town’s name means  Dragon Victory, from an old folk tale about a battle between the good Dragon and evil Tiger); there are a few run-down hotels there if necessary, with different prices depending on if you want  air conditioning or just a fan.  From the bus station, you can take a bus out to the rice terraces; you can start hiking from either end, at Ping’an or Dazhai.  The hike is supposed to take about ten hours; I took a little bit longer as I stopped to take pictures constantly, but that’s a pretty good average.  The hike is not too strenuous, just long; I don’t remember having any trouble even though I'm not very athletic. There are plenty of places to stay if needed in Ping’an and Dazhai, as well as a larger village an hour or two hike from Dazhai.  I paid a  hotel in  Ping’an to hold my large backpack for me, and just took a day bag; when I got to Dazhai I took a bus back to Ping’an to retrieve my things.  

I had to break my trip somewhere in the middle because of a thunderstorm, but I didn't have any trouble finding food and a place to stay in a random little village there.  In fact, it was one of the highlights of the trip, staying with a local family in their wooden house with the fire in the middle of the floor and the nearest designated 'bathroom' (hole in the ground) three houses away in between pig pens.  They didn't speak much English, but we used charades, and I got along pretty well with their little boy as we drew pictures together.  Many local villagers are more than happy to feed or house a traveler; it's a great way to earn some extra cash.  I think she asked about sixty yuan for a night's lodging and two meals.  Just be careful of the local liquor they'll probably offer you; it's strong stuff!

The people who live in the rice terraces are mostly minority tribes; one group is often referred to as the 'tribe of the long-haired ladies'.  These women never cut their hair; most have hair at least to their waist if not all the way to the ground.  They wear it wound into a bit knot just over their foreheads; some of the older women still wear the traditional clothing as well: a knee-length black skirt (long dresses were impractical if you worked in a rice paddy), intricately embroidered belt, and a colorful jacket, usually pink or purple.  Of course, many still wear it because they can get donations from hikers who want to take photos of them.  Some will ask for four or five yuan, and then they will take down their hair and show how long it is, and how they wind it up.

The rice terraces themselves are a fantastic landscape; the people in these mountains have no flat land to raise crops, so they have survived for centuries by terracing all the way up these steep hills and raising rice.  The villages along the way are all made up of large wooden houses that look a bit like barns, tucked into the ravines where it's to steep to even terrace.  Anywhere it's too steep to farm along the path, there were tombs built into hillsides where the families of the villagers are buried.  There are little shelters built in a few places along the path, where both hikers and local porters can stop and rest in the shade.

Be sure and take an extra water bottle and some snacks in your bag; there were often long stretches between villages large enough to offer things for sale. Here's more information.

Saturday, July 14, 2012 0 comments

Travel Advice in China: Guangxi Province (Part1)

Part 1: Guilin and Yangshuo

Guilin is the easiest place to get a train to in Guangxi province.  Many Chinese people go there on vacation, and it’s a nice city, but I wouldn’t recommend doing more than using it as a transportation hub; you can see the same things much more up close in Yangshuo.

From the bus station in Guilin, you can take a forty-five minute bus to Yangshuo.  Yangshuo is a small town on the banks of the Li River, surrounded by karst mountains.  It’s pretty touristy; there are western restaurants and souvenir stands in town.  However, that was a nice break after several months in China: I really enjoyed the grilled cheese and such.  You can easily find a hostel there for about 25 RMB.   I stayed at Monkey Jane’s, but she was fixing to sell it, so don’t know what it’s like now.  There were plenty of them, though.  You can hang out by the river, swim, shop in the market, eat western food until you’re stuffed, and Yangshuo is a great place just to sit and relax. The scenery was worth  the touristiness of the town itself.  

You can rent a bicycle for the day cheaply (15-20 RMB).  You can bike around town, or you can bike out to the Dragon Bridge.  It’s quite a ways over rough roads; it wasn’t really hard but I was pretty sore at the end of the day; I hadn’t ridden a bike in years. Someone at your hostel can give you directions or a basic map, or there might be something in the guide book.  However, I didn’t have to worry about how to get there.  As soon as I got out in the country, there was a Chinese woman in a pink button-up shirt and a straw hat who was waiting with her bike.  She saw me and greeted me, then hopped on the bicycle and took off.  I was going to same way, so I followed a ways behind.  When we came to any kind of cross road or split in the path, she would wait until she knew I was in view, and made sure I saw which one she took.  The path wound through fields and farms and along the river.  It was an amazing view of the countryside and peasant life, and went alongside the river a good bit of the time.  Finally, I arrived at the Dragon Bridge, in a small village; the bridge is very old, but I don’t remember the exact dates right now.  It was a nice scene with the old bridge and all the village boys swimming under it, but the real point is the scenery along the way. The bridge doesn’t look like a dragon or anything; it’s just a bridge, albeit a very old one.  Just so you aren’t disappointed. :)  

Once you get to the Dragon Bridge, there are three ways to get back:  you can bike back by the highway, which is a little faster since you’re on pavement; you can bike back the way you came; or, you can do what I did—hire a bamboo boat and boatman to take you back, not all the way to Yangshuo usually, but at least to where the pavement starts.  It’s not super cheap; I paid 100 RMB (about $14).  However, the boats can hold two, so if you have someone to split it with it’s not bad at all.  They will put the bike on the back. This is why the lady in the pink shirt was going there, to get a cut by arranging these things for visitors.  It was one of the highlights of my travels in China—floating down the river, near sunset, through colorful farms and mountains.

Another thing you should do in Yangshuo is go out to Moon Hill.  You can bike out there, but it’s about 8 km or so and you would have to find a way to secure your bike once you got there; there is also a bus, which I took.  Moon Hill is a mountain with a hole that goes all the way through it, shaped like a half moon.  You can hike up to the crescent, and have an amazing vista of the countryside.  If you’re adventurous, it’s also possible to climb up to the very top. 


Adult Birthdays...Meh

I celebrated my twenty-eighth birthday in the usual adult style—working 9 to 5.  To make it even more enjoyable, it was my hump day, even though it was Thursday, as I as scheduled to work that Saturday (although I really can’t complain about that, as I do the scheduling…) And what a lovely day it was—one of those days when we were short staffed, I was in charge, and everybody had a problem.  Our favorite (where’s the sarcasm font when you need it?) customer came in an threw a full-on, cursing, insulting tantrum, which is rather unbecoming in a sixty-year-old man, and it was gloomy and gray, which made it uncomfortably cold in the air conditioning. I went to Zumba after work, and then home to fix dinner—Mom had promised me barbecued chicken and broccoli salad for my birthday, but she had self-defense training (“Butt-kicking class,” as she and her friends refer to it), so I got to cook my own birthday dinner.  I made pasta with my two favorite sauces, though—Yay for comfort food.  (Edit: I finally got my barbecue chicken and broccoli salad on August 14th!)
However, my coworkers made up for it the next day. India (whose birthday was three days after mine) and I had a joint celebrations; we all brought food for a potluck snack-fest; I brought more of my favorite pasta, Latasha brought chips and plates, Karen brought chicken nuggets and vegetarian crescent roll pizza, India managed to make edible brownies despite her fame as a non-cooker, and Jo brought her trademark pigs-in-a-blanket and a crock pot full of Rotel dip, enough to feed all of us until we couldn’t move as well as several Kroger employees.  They also gave us a few little gifts; my favorite was lip gloss in the shape of a miniature Mountain Dew can. 
Ever since I graduated college, I’ve felt about twenty-six.  I’m not sure why twenty-six, of all ages; I guess I felt like I was still young, but didn’t feel the urge to be a wild twenty-one-year-old out partying.  Most of my friends that I spent a lot of time with during the period from the time I was twenty-two until, well, the last few months really, were quite a bit older than me; most of them, in fact, were married with children.  However, now twenty-six has come and gone, and I still feel about the same.  I still want to be a carefree twenty-something with plenty of time, but thirty is looming in the near future, and the biological clock ticks pretty loudly sometimes; I wonder how many times I can push the snooze button.    
I’ve loved my twenties; I’ve enjoyed being single and free and able to easily pick up and move to whichever far-flung place I found work to do.  Sometimes it just seems like these years have gone too fast.  There’s a song that my Pandora station plays frequently, with lyrics that go, “We are young, let’s set the world on fire!”  I feel kind of sad when I hear it, although I like it—I feel like I’m no longer part of the youth scene; setting things on fire sounds irresponsible. :)
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 0 comments

Travel Advice in China: Xi'an (and Hua Shan)

Xi’an is a city of about 8 million, and there’s quite a bit to do there.  The most popular thing is the Terra Cotta Warriors, which are a short distance by bus from Xi’an.  It’s really easy to get out to the Terra Cotta Warriors:  if you standing in the door of the train station facing out, go left.  There are several parking lots in front of the train station; the one furthest to the left is where you can get the bus.  You won’t miss it; they are well-marked in English, and many of the buses are even have big decals of the warriors on the side.  If you have extra time (I didn’t), the bus also stops at a couple of other tourist sights on the way out.

Xi’an also has its old city walls around it, and you can walk on top of them at several points.  There are several sights within the city; you can find them all in any good guide book or tourist map.  One sight they will tell you is the Muslim mosque, which is interesting; right next to the gate to the Mosque is the street market.  There are several covered alleys with hundreds of booths; nearby are many shops.  This was a great place to buy all sorts of interesting souvenirs and decorative things for you apartment.  Unfortunately, I was there the very first day of my seven-week trip, so I couldn’t buy too much because I didn’t want to carry it all.

I particularly enjoyed the Gao Courtyard House, also known as the Ancient Folk House, on  Baiyuan Men in the Muslim quarter.  It was only five yuan to go in when I was there, and  there was an older Chinese man who spoke excellent English who was my personal guide--he walked me around the whole place and explained why they ‘d built  it  arranged according to the rules of feng shui, and what each room was used for, and the family who lived there.  After the tour, there is a tea shop at the back where you can try six different kinds of green tea for only five yuan.  

Baiyuan Men is right in the middle of the area most frequented by travelers, so I was surprised at how many Chinese people weren’t used to foreigners and stared just as much as in Jingzhou.  I had four different people stop me and ask if I would take a picture with them.  I was beginning to wonder of I was the tourist or the attraction. 

Be sure you see the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower at night--they light them up. Besides, it’s a good area for restaurants and such.  Oh, and go to the park by the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, in the southern part of the city.  Get there early and find a spot to sit or stand near the fountains; at about 8:00 PM they have a fun light show with fountains shooting water into the air and colored lights, all in time to music. Here's more information

The hostel I stayed at in Xi’an was one of the best I’ve ever stayed at anywhere.  It was the Shuyuan International Youth Party Hostel, and it was just inside the south gate of the city.   It was an old courtyard-style home at one time.  When I started planning my travels in China, I thought the hostels would probably be a lot rougher and not as nice as the ones I stayed at in Europe.  I found just the opposite--the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at  were in China.  

Hua Shan

Now, my thing is hiking, particularly hiking in mountains.  If you like hiking or beautiful scenery, I recommend Hua Shan.  It is a mountain about a three-hour bus ride from Xi’an.  It is one of the sacred mountains of Taoism, and it is one of the steepest mountains in China—the south face is a sheer 2000 foot drop.  You can take a cable car up to the north peak—I recommend that, because the hike up to there is very difficult and even dangerous in places, but if you are a super athlete who’s not afraid of heights, suit yourself.  From the north peak, you can hike four or five hours up to the other three peaks; there are hotels/hostels on the south and east peaks.  Be prepared for a LOT of stairs.  And then more stairs.  And more.  And then one little part more like a  ladder. But, the scenery is worth it.  Spend the night at the top, and then get up at 4:30 or so in the morning (don’t worry, you won’t miss it…the Chinese people in the dorm room will turn on the lights and begin talking loudly in plenty of time).  Take a jacket, even if you go in the summer, because that early it’s pretty cold and windy up there.  Some of the hotels rent out parkas.  Follow the trail up to the highest point of the peak you’re on, and watch the sunrise.  It was a spectacular sight.  Then you can hike around between the peaks if you want and then back to the north peak to go down. You can go back to this post I wrote about the trip if you want to hear the whole story. 

Monday, July 2, 2012 0 comments

Travel Advice in China: Anhui Province

Anhui Province: Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) and the Villages

The Yellow Mountain, Huangshan, is one of the most famous places in China for the Chinese people.  You’ll see it constantly in their traditional art, on money (can’t remember which bill right now), etc.  It is a unique landscape.  I stayed in the town of Tunxi (there are several great hostels there), and from there I could get a bus (about an hour) to the base of the mountain.   Tunxi has a train station and a bus station, so it’s not hard to reach.  

The thing most people do is go up the mountain on one day, spend the night at one of the hostels near the summit, get up really really early the next morning and watch the sunrise, and then hike down.  The hostel in Tunxi should be willing to store your bag for you while you’re gone; I just took my day bag with a change of clothes in it with me.  Unfortunately, when I was there, it was too foggy the next morning to see the sunrise.  I hope to get the chance to go again while I’m in China.

There is a cable car up part of the way that makes the hike much more manageable if you’re not super athletic (I took it).  The hardest part of the hike is the ascent without the cable car; once you get past the cable car area the hiking is not very strenuous; the trails are well-maintained and mostly paved.   

Also in Anhui province, and also easily reachable as a day trip from Tunxi, there are two ancient villages which are really beautiful to visit.  Xidi and Hongcun Ancient Villages were listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 2000.  Xidi was begun between 960-1127, so it is over 900 years old.  Most of the buildings were built in the Ming and Qing dynasties, and the whole town is considered a museum of the residences from that time period.  Hongcun is about six miles away, and the town is built in the shape of an ox (only the Chinese would think of this). Read the Travel China Guide article about it for a little more info. 

I went to the village of Xidi. There are buses fairly frequently from the  main bus station--the bus station is not near the train station, but you can take a taxi to it for about  7-8 Yuan. The desk person at your hotel should be able to point you in the right direction.  The bus ride out was beautiful: rolling hills through the countryside on a perfect summer day (okay, a little hot).  It took about an hour from Tunxi.  All the buildings in the village were whitewashed, with slate tile roofs.  Inside (you can go into the temples and a few designated houses), they were full of elaborately carved wooden partitions.  There was a traditional arch near the entrance of the town, and there was a trail to go up to a gazebo on the hillside where you can relax and take pictures of the town from above.  It’s small; you can easily explore it all in one day.  I definitely recommend going and seeing some of the most picturesque little villages in rural China.