A Travellerspoint blog

Indonesia - Prigen - Orang Belanda ('Dutchmen') in the wild

How the Indonesian people gracefully named an not-so-pretty creature after their former colonialists


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A warning before you start strolling the pictures. Writing an honest blog with photos means that you show things as they are. There may be one photo that some people (I hope not many) might find a bit offensive. Yet, although nature is threatened, you can't always force animals to behave as some of us might deem appropriate.

This one is still acceptable to everyone I guess...

Indonesia - Prigen (East Java) - lazing on a sunny afternoon

Indonesia - Prigen (East Java) - lazing on a sunny afternoon

When visiting the Prigen Taman Safari park in Prigen, East-Java, we noticed that a pretty sizeable piece of land has been dedicated to a rather unusual primate, the Nasalis larvatus. I don't know how many of you are familiar with the early songs of the progressive rock band Genesis, and in particular the song "Squonk", about a mythical and very sad creature that was said to live in the dark forests of Pennsylvania. But if you do know that song, or if you ever heard about the Squonk, then it is almost inevitable to remember this song when you see our friend Nasalis Larvatus.

The most common English name for this (apologize me) ugly creature is the Proboscis Monkey. If you're English and don't know what a proboscis is, then be informed that the word means "nose", and usually a rather notable one. Now, of course the Indonesian people don't normally use the English or Latin name for this animal. In the colonial times, when the Dutch ruling the country were not univocally popular, local people gave this creature the name "Munyet Belanda" (Dutch Ape) or even "Orang Belanda" (Dutchman).

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There is no unanimous historic explanation of how they came to use this name, but the size of the average Dutch nose, compared to the Asian average may have something to do with it. Or maybe the often pronounced pot bellies of the Nasalis Larvatus made them see a commonality with their colonial rulers.

The consequence is that when I, as a Dutch, would like to introduce myself in Bahasa Indonesia, and say something like: "Salamat pagi, saya Jacques, saya Orang Belanda", they might look me up and down, smile gently (Indonesian people smile a lot), and then giggle their heads off, and say: "ya, cukup jelas bahwa Anda memang Orang Belanda" (Yes, it's quite obvious that you are a "Dutchman").

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The poor creature, however, is having a hard time to survive, due to loss of habitat in Borneo, where they are one of the most characteristic native species. There are many projects where they try to protect them, but at the end it is the wild habitat on which they depend, where they live high in the canopies of tall old trees. So even if deforestation would stop NOW (and it should!), then still it will take decades until the "Nasalis Larvatus" and other species like the Orang Utan can live a worry free life again. Frankly, it should not just be up to the local people. Hopefully, some day, they will manage to confront corruption and permanently kick out those big domestic and foreign corporations that are the driving force behind the total destruction of nature in so many places).

In spite of history, the people of Indonesia still usually welcome us with smiles. I think that especially we, Orang Belanda, Dutchmen, owe them our maximum support in these efforts to keep the country livable, repair ecological damage, and protect the last bits of natural habitat that are still there. I think we have a historical duty.

Posted by westwind57 08:29 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia monkey borneo east_java surabaya prigen taman_safari orang-belanda munyet_belanda nasalis_larvatis endangered_species Comments (0)

Indonesia - Prigen Taman Safari, East-Java

A nice day at out to Prigen safari park, with my daughter and her friend


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After passing the area of Sidoarjo, where the sad events with the mud volcano continue to happen, the scenery became friendlier, and much greener.
On the right side of the road, a solitaire cone shaped volcano (Gunung Penanggungan) peaked high into the sky, and the land was more mountainous as we drove on.

We took an exit into the hills, then reached Prigen vilage and Taman Safari Indonesia II. I am not a fan of zoos, and I somehow had the expectation that the circumstances would not be good for the animals, because the Zoo in Surabaya city seems to have a bad reputation. It wasn't bad though. There are some animals in cages, yes, and aviaries too. And there are a bit too many “shows” for my liking. But on the other hand, they really have made an effort to create habitats, definitely if you compare it with how zoos are operated in some other Asian countries. It is clean, well maintained and spacious. It is definitely not the old concept of zoos like animals in tiny cages.

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The majority of the larger animals live in safari-park style, spacious pieces of land where you drive through. In order to avoid trouble between different types of animals, the route goes through various separated habitat zones. In the center of the park itself there are all sorts of facilities for eating, drinking, toilets, education etc.

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The fact that it is beautifully located on the slope makes it even nicer. At the same time it means (especially when it is hot), that a guy like me from the flattest country on earth may have a sweaty experience at times, climbing the uphill paths :P

201010 surabaya prigen 34 - my daughter and her friend

201010 surabaya prigen 34 - my daughter and her friend


201010 surabaya prigen 41  -  they found each other

201010 surabaya prigen 41 - they found each other


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This morning it was really quiet. The park is really large and it has facilities to handle crowds, but I am glad that we had decided to go this early!
It was a very hot day but being in the mountains with a light breeze and just taking it easy, we had a great time.

Posted by westwind57 18:39 Archived in Indonesia Tagged mountains animals birds road_trip park indonesia friend volcano zoo safari tiger orang_utan daughter east_java surabaya spacious monitor_lizard prigen staphanie fresh_air Comments (0)

Indonesia - Sidoarjo, East-Java - A modern-time Pompeii

I felt the need to spend some words on a tragic, probably man-made disaster


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After a full day of visiting my daughter’s boarding house, friends and the university, I got up early. My daughter and her local friend Stephanie had invited me to join them on a popular day trip for Surabayans: a nature/safari park in the mountains, a few hours south of the city.

On the way down there we passed through a town where something tragic happened in May 2006. It hardly made the news in Western media, but the story made an impression on me, so I wish to write a few words about it.

I saw the first signs of this when we drove near a town called Sidoarjo. Everything became more and more muddy in color. Along the left side of the road there was a long and high levee, like the dikes that we know in the Netherlands. However, here everything was brown, grey, dirty and muddy. People stood on the levee at several places, staring at something. We passed some desolate, dirty villages, a few shops, and there were many political slogans. The typical Indonesian smiles were not to be seen on people’s faces here. The whole place gave a feeling of sadness and apathy all around.

Steph explained: On that day in May 2006, a big oil company was drilling for gas in what used to be a productive agricultural area. Something went terribly wrong. Ever since that day villages have been destroyed completely, slowly but unstoppable. The lives of the people have changed in a dramatic and sad way. In fact, the biggest mud volcano in the world was created here. The word “created” seems appropriate, at least according to the local people and many scientists.

A huge so-called blowout happened, when the oil company was doing deep test-drilling. Suddenly, hot volcanic mud and toxic volcanic gases started to erupt. This phenomenon spread at more and more places. In a few days the mud eruption reached its peak with 180,000 cubic meters (!) per day, and this continued for years. Any idea how much that is? These 180,000 cubic meters equal 2,700 forty feet sea containers of hot and toxic mud; every day!

Most people here are convinced that it was caused by this human activity, and not by natural earth tremors, as the oil company tries to tell people.
The mud soon took several villages, more than 16 of them. Destroying homes, crops, farm land, rice paddies, fish ponds, ecosystem, infrastructure and nature. Eight villages were completely lost at the very beginning. More than 11,000 people had to leave their homes and land. The entire evacuated area of many square miles had to be surrounded by levies to contain the continuously rising mud.

Five years later, in 2011, the quantity of the daily erupted mud had declined to about 10,000 cubic meters per day. That is still a lot, and the mud flow continues. Also, explosive toxic gases continue to come out every now and then. The geological structure of the area has cracked and weakened. Nobody really knows what is exactly developing, just under the surface. The whole area has become a caldera. Some scientists believe the underlying bedrock may eventually completely collapse under the growing weight of the mud.

There are also risks for major roads (the road from Surabaya to Probolinggo for example) and for railroads, which need continuous extra monitoring.

I did not take any pictures. However, I would like to make an exception to my own rule, by posting a picture from Wikipedia here with the appropriate credits to the owner/creator of the photo.

I hope the website allows me, because I believe this picture is more illustrative than all my words, to describe what has happened to what once was fertile, rich, green and lush agricultural land, on which more than 40,000 people made their living.

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Credits for this picture: By Crisco 1492 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30736065

The oil company still maintains that it happened because tremors of from a distant earthquake. Many scientists and the general public are convinced that irresponsible drilling caused this to happen. No wonder that many controversies and political disputes have arisen ever since.

Wikipedia gives an extensive overview, also about the controversies: please click here

This website tells about the status per end of 2016:
click here

And to get a visual impression, see this website:
http://www.stormchaser.ca/Environmental_Disasters/Sidoarjo_Mud_Flow/Sidoarjo.html

It is up to everyone whom to believe about the cause and the aftermath. I just did not want to leave this unmentioned. We were underway to a nice location, and I will write about that in my next entry, but passing through here made me silent for a little while.

Posted by westwind57 17:47 Archived in Indonesia Tagged villages indonesia java roadtrip east_java disaster caldera surabaya mud_volcano geological sidoarjo mud_flow oil_company man_made Comments (2)

Indonesia, Surabaya - East-Java - Dinner with two ladies

Chili crab, cheerful conversation, and civet cat coffee


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Even when they are adults already, as a parent you always want to know that your kids are doing well. I enjoyed seeing how the students in the student house where my daughter was staying went along with each other, and meeting the people at the student office at the university.

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Then my daughter and her local friend invited me out for dinner in a restaurant at a pond which seemed to be called Swan Lake (well the Indonesian name for it of course). They came to pick me up by car and we had a very nice dinner (fantastic chilli crab) outside.

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After dinner we went to a street that seemed to be somewhat of the nightlife spot called Citraland. We sat down outside a place is called "de Kasteel" which is the Dutch word for "castle". It imitates a medieval European castle or royal palace, with bars, dining areas, all decorated in medieval royal style. Outside are even a couple of gypsy caravans that groups can rent for their private parties. Most of the people there were the more affluent young trendy people.

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The reason why we went there was coffee luwak. This is a pretty unique coffee that not everybody may like to drink, after hearing how it is produced. It is made from coffee beans that are eaten by civet cats first. The cats' digestive system does not digest the coffee beans but instead, inside the cat a fermentation process starts, before the beans leave the cat "in the natural way".

The beans are then collected and used for coffee luwak, which is brewed strongly to a point that it is slightly thicker than normal coffee. Apart from the coffee aroma itself, there is a slight sour note that gives the coffee a unique character. This production process is very expensive and good coffee luwak therefore is the most expensive coffee you can buy.

After a long day, when back in my hotel and after taking a bath, I almost fell asleep instantly.

Posted by westwind57 17:19 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia singapore java airport daughter changi surabaya kopi_luwak de_kasteel clark_quai Comments (0)

Indonesia - Surabaya, East-Java - A visit to my daughter

A wonderful time with my little lady and an intriguing history about the hotel


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After landing at Juanda airport of Surabaya, I was of course happy to see my daughter and her best friend there who came to pick me up, and they drove me to the hotel that I booked. My daughter was staying at a "kos", a student home close to the university, where I would visit later.

I was really hot, and although I usually don’t like air conditioning that much, it was very welcome now at the place where we stopped for a strong cup of coffee, which was equally welcome. I will be the first to admit that the late night out with my ex-colleague in Singapore may, just may also have had a little bit to do with that.

The roads were unbelievably crowded, especially with mopeds, becaks and motor bikes. It looked like a miracle that everything still moved. And this was not even rush hour yet!

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Hotel Majapahit, where I stayed, turned out to be in the very center of Surabaya, close to Tunjungan Plaza shopping mall. Although the style is Dutch colonial, the first feel when entering it was very much like the Raffles in Singapore. Everything breathed the old times, like many Dutch people know it from stories and movies.

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The hotel was built in 1910 as the Oranje Hotel by architect Lucas Martin Sarkies, whose Armenian family used to own the Raffles, and the Strand in Rangoon, and the Eastern and Oriental in Penang. So, this was why it reminded me so much of the Raffles.
The history of the hotel may be just around 100 years, but fascinating. Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard stayed here in the 1930's. It was occupied by the Japanese in World War II (who renamed it into Hotel Yamoto). But what happened here right after the war makes me feel humble as a Dutch.

After the Second World War the call for independence in Indonesia got stronger and stronger. At the time, this hotel that was used by the Dutch colonial power. It was a provocation when the Dutch flag was raised at the building. The Dutch wanted to make a statement against Indonesia’s proclamation of independence. The angry local people gathered in front of the hotel, and they tore the blue ribbon from the Dutch flag, so that the red and white of the Indonesian flag remained.

A turbulent time followed with riots, and the unrest lasted until November 10, 1945 when the local people stormed the hotel and took it over. That day is remembered by the Indonesians as Hero's Day. The Oranje Hotel was then renamed as Hotel Merdeka (Liberty Hotel).
Later it was taken over again by the same Armenian family that built it, and was called Hotel L.M.S. (the initials of the founder). When Mandarin Oriental took over the hotel, it got its present name The Majapahit Hotel, after an ancient kingdom at Java. It is now owned and managed by independent management.

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I learned this from one of the old waiters while I stayed there. Knowing the hotel’s turbulent history, it is quite special that all people in the hotel, as well as generally in Surabaya and in Indonesia, treat us as Dutch visitors so friendly and welcoming. I did not feel a trace of resentment during my entire stay. Not even from the elderly people. Many must have very bad memories from the colonial times, but some of them even wanted to speak Dutch with me. Even today, when remembering the people I met on this trip, I am still thankful for their warm welcome.
After checking in I was offered a pineapple cocktail as a welcome drink by the hotel. Because my daughter and her friend were still there we all got one. I needed a shower and fresh up a little bit, before going out with them later that day.

Posted by westwind57 17:12 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia singapore java airport daughter changi surabaya clark_quai Comments (0)

Singapore - a nice evening spending my stopover to Indonesia

One night stopover in Singapore, meeting up with my ex-colleague


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While on a planned trip to Hong Kong, I decided to take a few days to visit my daughter, who was studying for half a year in Surabaya, Indonesia. It’s always a sport to find competitive rates and still book Comfort Economy for the long stretches, but it worked out fine. My itinerary ended up like this: Amsterdam – Hong Kong - Singapore - Surabaya – Hong Kong and back to Amsterdam.

The stop in Singapore gave me the chance to meet up with an ex-colleague as well. Singapore is pleasant for just a few days. Very safe, very clean, and very organized, although it might get a little boring if staying there too long. On the other hand, to live there as an expat like my former colleague, does not seem so bad. None of the expats that I know who live in Singapore, would complain about living there.

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Arriving at Changi airport, year after year chosen as the World's best airport, I took the free shuttle to the hotel in Changi Village that I had booked for this one night, Changi Village Hotel. Reasonably priced, a comfy room and bed, a nice bathroom, great breakfast and not too far from the airport.

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After a shower I took a taxi to the Central Business District where I met my ex-colleague at his office. We decided to go out for beers and dinner at one of the places at Clark Quay, and had a good time talking about the old days, common friends, gossips and his new life in Singapore as an expat.
Time went fast, sitting outside, eating and drinking with such a nice temperature and a soft breeze. By the time we left there was no public transportation anymore, so we must have been sitting there for more than six hours…

Posted by westwind57 07:09 Archived in Singapore Tagged indonesia singapore java airport daughter changi surabaya clark_quai Comments (0)

China - Chengdu - Making our own Caipirinha in the street!

A strange mix of Xinjiang, Sichuan and Hong Kong people, and a European, making caipirinha in a Chengdu street at 01:00 a.m. Tuesday morning


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Before driving back to Jiuzhai Huanglong airport, we went out quickly for a little shopping. Then we saw the first store targeting mainly westerners. The sign said that they apply fixed prices, and charge the same to foreigners as to Chinese. Well, that would be the day… When we went inside, we saw how they can make that promise, very smart. They simply overprice everything and only westerners will be stupid enough to buy there. That’s why no Chinese signs are needed. Chicken or the egg principle. All you need is English speaking staff.

large_1829587_13523143287385.jpgJiuzhaiguo - oversized advertizing screen

Jiuzhaiguo - oversized advertizing screen

Jiuzhaigyo - permanent allweather policeman on the way to airport

Jiuzhaigyo - permanent allweather policeman on the way to airport

Next, we would stay for a few days in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province with more than 15 million inhabitants. With about 8 million in the 9 city districts and another 7 million or so in the outskirts it is one of the bigger urban areas in China.

The city’s reputation of being covered under a yellowish blanket of smog is deserved, but not only from the pollution as such. Its location in a bowl between mountainous areas, and the occasional sand dust from the deserts are contributing factors. Yet, a bit of rain and wind makes a big difference. Chengdu actually belongs to the greenest cities of China, with lots of parks, and many trees along the boulevards. The streets are relatively clean, compared to other cities. All mopeds, scooters and light motorbikes are electric. It has a positive effect of course for the air quality, a disadvantage is that you don't hear them driving, so when crossing a bicycle lane or sidewalk you may have to be extra careful.

Because of its location as a gate to Western China, Chengdu is one of the cities that the central government is heavily investing in. Changing the city from a heavy industry city to a service and high tech center will make a difference for the air quality too. On the south side of the city, a whole new area of offices, "clean industry" zones and residential areas is being developed under the name "High Tech Zone".

Chengdu - green neighbourhood at Century City

Chengdu - green neighbourhood at Century City

Chengdu - Tian Fu square

Chengdu - Tian Fu square

The history of Chengdu goes back to the Bronze Age, when the Sanxingdui culture was flourishing. The city was the capital of one of the many kingdoms until it was annexed into the first version of Greater China under the Qin dynasty in the 4th century B.C. That was also when the name Chengdu was recorded for the first time. Chengdu people are generally friendly, well educated, welcoming to visitors and helpful.

Chengdu - bridge over Jinjiang river with teahouses

Chengdu - bridge over Jinjiang river with teahouses

The reason for staying in Chengdu was because of my girlfriend’s business. Together with a local partner she was to organize a wine tasting event in the Shangri-La hotel for a small group of loyal clients. It was amazing to see how well the people were informed about European wine, and the event seemed quite successful.

Chengdu - western canapes, ready for the wine tasting event

Chengdu - western canapes, ready for the wine tasting event

Chengdu - a small selection of the wines to be presented

Chengdu - a small selection of the wines to be presented

Chengdu wine tasting event - warm snacks for the guests

Chengdu wine tasting event - warm snacks for the guests

That afternoon we went for a foot massage in a little side street close to where we were staying. The place didn’t look like much, just three chairs. We walked in, and there were no clients. A woman was cleaning up the place a guy was sleeping loudly on one of the chairs. The lady woke him up, and somewhat grumpy he got a canister with very hot water, put herbs into it and told me to place my feet into it. After a little while he started silently with the massage. When I tried to ask him in my limited Mandarin, he looked surprised and his distant mood changed completely. We had a very nice talk to the extent possible and where needed my friend jumped in for translation. It turned out that foreigners indeed knew to find his place, and especially he had some Spanish regulars. In the meantime, an old man walked in and took the third chair. We got into a lively conversation with him too. It turned out that he was officially retired from the city government as one of the constructional supervising engineers, and he had been the one to approve construction designs for hotels and other large buildings.

In fact, in his career he had been involved in approving the construction design of the hotel where we were staying. He knew the building inside out and he also had his own opinion about the quality of the food... His wife was an academic teacher at the music university. The man was well travelled and knew Amsterdam and Cologne very well. When we walked out after the massage we shook hands as friends. Like in this case, we found it very easy to strike a conversation with people.

Chengdu has a new subway system existing of two main lines that connect with outskirts quite far out of the city center. It is a very easy system, much similar to the Hong Kong MTR. Even the whole styling and signage is literally identical with the Hong Kong system.
Chinese love to give names to significant buildings. Many of the buildings are also carefully positioned after consulting a feng shui specialist, so that the direction of the building and the way it has been set up is auspicious. Then it gets a name that reflects the purpose of the building.
Next to our hotel was a big office of the Agricultural Bank Of China. Its position is undoubtedly good, because it is next to the confluence of two rivers, which signifies connection and relationship. The name of the building is quite intriguing, because it means something like "Change Your Spirit" building! We could only speculate whether this change of spirit has to take place before or after you have brought your money to this bank... ;)

And last but not least... our Caipirinha night in Chengdu. After the wine show, quite some wine was still left over, and some food too. In addition, we had brought a bottle of Brazilian Cachaça, limes and brown sugar, because we had promised some of last night’s visitors to make caipirinha for them, the national drink of Brazil. The question was, where would we take them.

After a while, strolling around with bags with all our drinks and stuff, we found an outside terrace of a traditional Xinjiang restaurant at, located at an elevated pedestrian crossing of 1st Section 1st Ring Road, next to Xingmei University Movie City. One of us knew the owners. The people of the restaurant joined at our table too, we put all the wine bottles there, as well as the finger foods that we brought. The restaurant people made skewers of grilled meat and provided tea, and one of us got a bucket of ice cubes from a nearby place (ice is hard to find there!). The restaurant only had small glasses, so I decided to make the Caipirinha in a big dishwashing bowl instead, and then pour it into the small glasses. It was a lot of improvising, but we had big fun.

Chengdu - Leftover wines and Caipirinha Party

Chengdu - Leftover wines and Caipirinha Party

Many pedestrians just stopped by, to see what kind of party was happening here, including a few police men. They were very curious to see why a strange white lao wei from Europe was crushing a large pile of ice cubes with a hammer, at 01:00 in the morning with a bunch of Sichuan, Shandong and Xinjiang people sitting around, eating, drinking and laughing. We gave the police guys a sip; they gave us a big smile and thumbs up, and walked on.
It was a memorable, funny night and a great end to our week in Sichuan.

Posted by westwind57 06:25 Archived in China Tagged night restaurant hotel locals wine event sichuan chengdu xinjiang tea_house wine_tasting caipirinha shangri_la Comments (0)

China - Juizhaigou - the quiet side, hot food, local market

A quiet day into a beautiful valley, local bus to an even more local market, Tibetan/Qiang show


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Attention: In August 2017 the magnificent Jiuzhaigou N.P. sustained heavy damage to the natural attractions, and has been closed. The park's official website does NOT mention anything about this. There is talk that it will be open in March or May 2018 again for tour groups only, and with a maximum of only 2,000 people per day. If I find updated info I will mention it in my forum topic ( link ).

The next day, we decided not to go to the National Park again but instead to venture around to some of the Tibetan villages and scenic spots around the area. We rented a taxi in the morning and had a talk with the driver to take us to some less touristic places.

From the village where our hotel and the Park entrance were (Zhangzhashen), we drove to the west, into the mountains to a quite elevated place, to a village called Zhongcha. It is an original Awa (sometimes written "Aba") Tibetan village of farmers that used to live from agriculture and forestry. Since the government has started to combat deforestation in the whole area, some accommodations for tourists are being built next to the original village.

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

Zhongcha village

The only thing missing are the tourists though. Tourists means Chinese tourists by the way, because in a little shop annex guest house the leaflets and booklets are in Chinese only. There is one place where you can rent a horse and go with the local people into the mountains. But not so many tourists will go here, because almost everybody is coming for a quick visit to the national park itself.

Zhongcha village - brushing a clean street, it reminded of Switzerland

Zhongcha village - brushing a clean street, it reminded of Switzerland

Zhongcha village - local people praying

Zhongcha village - local people praying

Zhongcha village - road work, the ladies with their brooms

Zhongcha village - road work, the ladies with their brooms

Zhong cha village, the mushroom sales lady

Zhong cha village, the mushroom sales lady

Many of the local people, especially the women, still wear traditional dress. People seem to live a calm and quiet life, and the contrast with the National Park is enormous. One of the first things that we saw was how clean this place is. We even saw women brushing the streets even though there was no litter at all. The road to Zhongcha is nice. It follows a little stream, higher and higher into the valley. When we got there, around 10 in the morning, the sun was out again, the air was crisp and the sky was getting blue.

We walked around, played table tennis against the locals and bought dried mushrooms from an old local lady. Mushrooms and peppers are dried in the open air, some of the houses had bowls of peppers on the roof, drying in the sun.

Zhongcha village - red chillies drying on a hot roof

Zhongcha village - red chillies drying on a hot roof


Zhongcha village - an international match

Zhongcha village - an international match


Zhongcha village - air dried local mushrooms

Zhongcha village - air dried local mushrooms

Bring sun screen when you go here. The sunlight is strong because of the altitude and the breeze makes that you would probably notice too late if you get sun burned. And especially for people like me, not blessed (anymore) with a full head of hair, bring a hat or a cap.

After an hour we drove off to a beautiful lake along the road to/from the airport, called Gan Hai. There is a parking place and you can walk from the road to the reed-filled lake, with a dramatic backdrop of the Minshan mountain range. Good place for some pictures. There are some traditionally dressed Tibetans selling local souvenirs and gem stones, but they are not too pushy. If you tell them something like "Xie xie, bu yao, bu mai", then they will not push and will giggle among themselves about the silly "lao wei" thinking that he can speak Chinese (I heard that, peepz...).

Near Zhancha, a scenic lake with reed with Min Shan mountains in the background

Near Zhancha, a scenic lake with reed with Min Shan mountains in the background

Near Zhancha, a scenic lake with reed with Min Shan mountains in the background

Near Zhancha, a scenic lake with reed with Min Shan mountains in the background


Near Zhongcha village

Near Zhongcha village

We got back in the car and drove back to the hotel, where we would have lunch. There were not many people in the village, most of them were in the National Park, and the atmosphere was very quiet now. Lunch was yak meat and other Sichuan food, quite hot actually.

Sichuan food - duck feet soles with chillies

Sichuan food - duck feet soles with chillies

Sichuan food - yak meat, veggies

Sichuan food - yak meat, veggies

After lunch we decided to take a local bus to the main town of Jiuzhaigou Prefecture, nowadays actually on the map as Jiuzhaigou town, but originally called Nanping (about one hour drive east of the park entrance). The local people still use that name for the main town. The route to there follows the Baihe river, the same one that runs at the back of our hotel. Some parts of the route are like driving in a canyon, at other places the valley widens up more.

Just before arriving at Nanping town, there is another valley ending into Baihe valley. I was in the wrong side of the bus to take a picture, but for the ones among us interested in geo-sciences, this side valley is the typical U-shaped valley, formed by glaciers rather than by a river. In fact, the whole drive to Nanping is like going through a geology teaching book. It is very visible (and amazing) how some mountains have literally cracked and split by geolocical events by the millions of years that this has been an earthquake-prone geological hotspot. From the bus you can see some dramatic examples.

Nanping town is a local central little town, inhabited by mostly Han people and people from a different minority (Qiang), which can be seen as they look and dress differently from the area of Zhangzhashen. We were lucky, it was market day in the streets, so we strolled around for a few hours.
The people were very friendly and clearly not used to foreign visitors. When we walked through the streets you could see them wonder something like: how did they end up here? The market was clearly not for tourists, and also not like a flee-market, focusing on souvenirs or nostalgia. It was a market for the local people.

Nanping Town market - healthy stuff

Nanping Town market - healthy stuff

Nanping town

Nanping town

Nanping town - be careful...

Nanping town - be careful...

Nanping Town market - very expensive medical roots

Nanping Town market - very expensive medical roots

Nanping Town, very expensive rare kind of medicine roots - remotely related to ginger

Nanping Town, very expensive rare kind of medicine roots - remotely related to ginger

Nanping Town - cow stomach

Nanping Town - cow stomach

We found some interesting things like local bread resembling naan bread being made along the street and a lady making shoes to order. And much fruit, local gingers and in one side street we found the meat market selling many different parts of animals, with a specially wide range of cow stomach varieties.

Nanping Town market - a street bakery

Nanping Town market - a street bakery

Nanping town - interesting stuff at the market

Nanping town - interesting stuff at the market

Nanping Town - the friendly shoemaker lady

Nanping Town - the friendly shoemaker lady

By 4 p.m. we made sure to get on the bus back, because that evening we would visit a Tibetan dance performance and we didn't want to be late. At the bus stop, there was a very energetic young lady (it turned out she was the "conductor") who made sure everybody got on the bus, paid the tickets and got passengers' bags stored between the seats or next to the bus door. We could not believe how many people and how much stuff were loaded before we were ready to go.

Then there was some drama. Next to the bus there was a young girl, maybe 15 years old, apparently saying goodbye to her parents who were going back to a village, while the girl was probably there to work. That's what my friends gathered from the conversation. She was in very upset and in tears and we felt really sorry for her. Later we saw that the father and mother got off the bus only two villages further away, maybe at half an hour's drive. But it confronted us with the fact that what we looks like a short distance in our way of travelling, seems to feel like far away for some of the local people.

Shortly after we drove off we noticed that a military guy in the front seat suffered badly from motion sickness. The lady conductor took initiative, telling the driver at each bus stop to wait, so that the soldier could get out of the bus and throw up along the road. We felt sorry for the Red Army guy but we admired this very vocal young lady; being in control over the whole situation and still being quite considerate, by allowing the soldier to stand in the front of the bus with a plastic bag, keeping the door half open so that fresh air would blow in while we were driving.

My friends told me that consideration like this would be hard to find in more "civilized"(?) places of China, where they probably would simply kick him out of the bus, and drive on without him.

Back to Zhangzhashen we dropped our things at the hotel, picked up the tickets for the show from the bell boy, and walked to the Shangri-La performance hall, some 10 minutes down the street. At this time it started raining and we realized how lucky we had been with the weather during the last two days!

The show was not much to talk about for the quality of the sound and the originality of the performance. On the other hand the enthusiasm of the people made good for that. One funny situation happened, when people were asked on stage to participate in a ritual that originally was designed to win the heart of a lady and the right to marry her. It was some sort of a funny rope-pulling contest. Four young men from the audience participated, and of course the presenter asked the name of the one who eventually won. His name caused confusion, and hilarity as well, because his name translated as Stay-One-Night. Interesting to see how parents give a name to their children; and in this case maybe even more interesting to know why...?

Zhangzhazhen - the Tibetan/Qiang show

Zhangzhazhen - the Tibetan/Qiang show

Zhangzhazhen - the Tibetan/Qiang show

Zhangzhazhen - the Tibetan/Qiang show

On the way back from the show, we strolled at the night market next to the hotel, admiring in particular the food stall where they sold rabbit heads, duck heads and other interesting stuff, before we went back to the hotel after another interesting day.

Zhangzhazhen - it's just chicken

Zhangzhazhen - it's just chicken

Zhangzhazhen - rabbit heads

Zhangzhazhen - rabbit heads

Zhangzhazhen - it's duck heads

Zhangzhazhen - it's duck heads

Posted by westwind57 13:36 Archived in China Tagged mountains snow local nature bus river china valley countryside show quiet sichuan tibetan jiuzhaigou nanping qiang zhongcha dance_performance Comments (0)

China - Jiuzhaigou N.P. in Sichuan - a multicolored jewel

Treasures for the eyes and the camera, once you have left the crowd and chaos at the entrance behind you


View Jiuzhaigou (China), Malaysia, Singapore Autumn 2012 & Netherlands beyond the typical tourist places & Wine Expeditions in France, Italy, Spain and Other Places on westwind57's travel map.

Attention: In August 2017 the magnificent Jiuzhaigou N.P. sustained heavy damage to the natural attractions, and has been closed. The park's official website does NOT mention anything about this. There is talk that it will be open in March or May 2018 again for tour groups only, and with a maximum of only 2,000 people per day. If I find updated info I will mention it in my forum topic ( link ).

Today was going to be the day that I had been looking forward to, and the reason was Jiuzhaigou National Park. I am going to keep the text short, the pictures should speak for themselves.
• Located in the very north of Sichuan province.
• UNESCO World Heritage status since 1992, and the status of World Biosphere Reserve since 1997
• The park spreads over a total area of 720 square kilometers around valleys, which on the map look like an upside down "Y". In the middle of the park, near Nuo Ri Lang waterfalls, the Rize river and the Zechawa river come together to form the Shuzeng river. The Shuzeng river forms the joint part of the "Y" and streams into Baihe River.
• Elevation between 2,000 and 4,500 meters. The entrance is at the lower end of the valley, where the.
• The rivers find their sources in the Min mountain range (Minshan), and both flow through their respective valleys forming many very colorful lakes (due to the minerals, different algae and the vegetation in the lakes), waterfalls and rapids.
• The slopes of the valleys are forested and often very steep.
• Jiuzhaigou means Nine Villages Valley, referring to the nine Tibetan villages in the valley.
• Seven of them are still inhabited by the original people (Awa-tibetans and Qiang people).
• The entrance gets very crowded before opening and it’s a chaos. Once inside, it is fantastic hiking. Yes, there are people, but real crowds only on a few places.
• High frequency shuttle bus system with many stops. Comparable to Grand Canyon N.P.
• For visitors it is not allowed to stay overnight in the park, due to environmental concerns and to reduce the risk of forest fire.
More details after the pictures.

Juizhaiguo - the chaos at the entrance, but there will be a reward

Juizhaiguo - the chaos at the entrance, but there will be a reward

Juizhaiguo National Park - the Tibetan village inside the park

Juizhaiguo National Park - the Tibetan village inside the park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

Juizhaiguo National Park

The park has become a very popular tourist attraction for the Chinese, and the tourism industry focuses on Chinese speaking tourists mostly. There are a few western hotels, including Sheraton resort, and (further away) an Intercontinental resort and a Holiday Inn.

Relatively few tourists from western countries have found their way to this remote area, partly due to the long road drive from Chengdu. The only alternative is a flight to Jiuzhai Huanglong airport. Very few people in the hotels, shops etc. speak English, and if you travel on your own not speaking a word of Mandarin, you may have a hard time getting around in the area. A few words of Mandarin (or just an honest try) will do wonders with the people in the hotel, the village and the park. Most of them are patient, very friendly and smiley and will try to help you. However, the National Park has an excellent website with good English translations and information, and also plenty of documentation available in the visitors’ center.

We got up really early for breakfast in the dining room of the hotel, a huge round room, with a fully Chinese style breakfast buffet. There is coffee (sometimes, and not bad), and the usual "orange juice", which is not juice at all, but luke warm tea with orange flavor. And except for boiled and fried eggs, the food is almost only Chinese food, quite decent though. I was getting used to it, although still craving for the fresh pressed real orange juice that I hoped to find some time later on the trip.

Juizhaiguo - dinner in Qian He international hotel

Juizhaiguo - dinner in Qian He international hotel

What we found there, was a huge mass of people already waiting in front of the office. And when the military men, who assist in controlling the crowds, opened the glass doors of the ticket office, total mayhem broke loose. A collapsing fence in a soccer stadium full of hooligans looked like children's play, compared to the troup of hungry wolves that tried to be first at the ticket counters. The soldiers needed to use force to control the situation and closed the glass doors again, leaving hundreds inside the office like sardines in a can, and many more people outside, ready to raid the next time the doors would open.

Somehow my friend bravely managed to get inside, and after quite some time came out with the tickets. The entrance fee in the season is quite steep: RMB 220 per adult person per day for entrance, and another RMB 90 for using the hop-on-hop-off bus system (which is highly recommended). In the low season (winter, starting in November) the prices are considerably lower. In the low season is possible to buy two days' tickets, which require a passport size photo.

It is possible to visit the three valleys and the main attractions in the park in one (full) day. But if you want to really take your time for hiking, or if you are a nature lover or an avid photographer, you may want to allow yourself two days (or even more). However, the hop-on-hop-off bus system is very adequate and practical, and enables you to really visit a lot of different highlights of the park in one full day.

There are roads (for the buses) and a big system of paths and boardwalks along all the three rivers and all the lakes, waterfalls and rapids.
The place in the park where the two rivers flow together to form Shuzheng river, is a hub with change points for the buses into Rize and Zechawa valley, restaurants, shops and other facilities. There are toilet buildings along many of the boardwalks and the signage is quite good (also the English translations). Maps are available in the visitor centre near the entrance.

Once we were in the park and on our first hop-on-hop off bus, there were still loads of people but it was not chaotic anymore. We would see crowds of people throughout the day at the most scenic places, but on the other hand, there were long stretches of the boardwalks that were quiet.

With so many people around you won't see much wildlife along the main paths. For that you would have to follow the few hiking paths that divert up into the mountains. However, the main attractions of the park are the rivers and the lakes and waterfalls, and in autumn (like now) the color of the foliage often reflected into the lakes.

The famous colors of the lakes have everything to do with the vegetation (algae and water plants) in the lakes, the minerals that are feeding them and the reflection of sky colors. Lakes and other scenic spots have interesting names like Rhinoceros Lake, Five Coloured Pond, Swan Lake, Tiger Lake, Arrow Bamboo Lake and Waterfall, Pearl Shoals and Pearl Shoal Waterfall, Panda Lake, and others, and at the top of Rize Valley there is a primeval forest called Virgin Forest.

Along the valleys there are several Tibetan villages that you can visit, but some are quite commercialized. It is adviseable to bring drinking water, snacks etc. especially if you intend to hike a lot along the paths and boardwalks. These boardwalks are well maintained and sometimes go up by long series of stairs, so a reasonable level of fitness is required.

Posted by westwind57 11:35 Archived in China Tagged mountains lakes snow rivers nature bus china autumn sichuan national_park colors crowd foliage tibetan jiuzhaigou tibetans awa aba qiang Comments (0)

China - Juizhaigou - Flight to a very, very elevated airport

Breathtaking views, and thin air after landing


View Jiuzhaigou (China), Malaysia, Singapore Autumn 2012 & Netherlands beyond the typical tourist places & Wine Expeditions in France, Italy, Spain and Other Places on westwind57's travel map.

Attention: In August 2017 the magnificent Jiuzhaigou N.P. sustained heavy damage to the natural attractions, and has been closed. The park's official website does NOT mention anything about this. There is talk that it will be open in March or May 2018 again for tour groups only, and with a maximum of only 2,000 people per day. If I find updated info I will mention it in my forum topic ( link ).

I never heard of Jiuzhaigou until shortly before this trip. But it is one of the most scenic areas in China, in the very north of Sichuan province. By road it is about 450 kilometers north of Chengdu in a sparsely populated area, where originally the Awa people (sometimes written as Aba) are living, who are very closely related to Tibetans. Actually, it is not very far from the eastern border of Tibet.

It is possible to travel from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou by bus or car, but it will take 8 to 12 hours. There are a few different routes. Some of the roads may be in repair, because of landslides. caused by heavy weather and sometimes by earthquakes. It makes a lot of sense to inquire about the road conditions before deciding which route to take.

The more expensive alternative is flying to Jiuzhai Huanglong airport, the third highest airport in China at an elevation of almost 3,500 meters. Many flights go there from Chengdu (and some from other cities) on a daily basis, but due to its position, the risk of flights not going on time or being cancelled is quite high. Also, the flights are not cheap, unlike many other flights in this part of the world. Due to limited time we decided to fly. We were lucky with a delay of 55 minutes only.

The airport is close to the village of Songpan, and is served by China Southern, Air China, Sichuan Airlines and other regional and local companies. It has been built and expanded to serve both the scenic areas of Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong. The flight from Chengdu takes about one hour. Unless the sky is completely clouded, the view from the plane on approaching Juizhai Huanglong airport is totally spectacular. I can use many words to describe it, but let the attached pictures speak for themselves.

Flight to Juizhai Huanglong airport

Flight to Juizhai Huanglong airport

Flight to Juizhai Huanglong airport

Flight to Juizhai Huanglong airport


From the airport, many buses and minibus companies are available for transport to Juizhaigou national park (about two hours driving) and to Huanglong National Scenic area (about one hour). This kind of transportation is cheap, we paid RMB 45 per person (about Euro 4.50), but beware: the minibuses only will leave until they have passengers filling up the last seat. So it may happen that you have to wait for a while before the minibus leaves. There are dispatchers who try to recruit passengers and make sure the buses get filled up.
The road to Jiuzhaigou National park and the villages around it, is very well maintained and runs through a beautiful area. From the airport on the top of a rim of mountains, it goes down into the valleys, where you will see yaks, Tibetan horses, people in traditional Tibetan dress, remote villages and a spectacular mountain and forest scenery.

Song Pan - hotel complex built as an ancient village

Song Pan - hotel complex built as an ancient village

Juizhaiguo - yaks along the road

Juizhaiguo - yaks along the road


On the way to Zhangzhazhen - Tibetan horsemen

On the way to Zhangzhazhen - Tibetan horsemen


Juizhaiguo, arriving at Zhangzhazhen village

Juizhaiguo, arriving at Zhangzhazhen village


After 2 hours we arrived at our hotel, Qian He International Hotel, almost next to the Sheraton Resort, and about 1.5 kilometer from the entrance of Jiuzhaigou national park, another UN World Heritage, and rightfully so.

Juizhaiguo - the river flowing through Zhangzhazhen

Juizhaiguo - the river flowing through Zhangzhazhen


The village is lively, and clean. Even though many young people from other parts of China work here, the local people seem to be in charge, and they are all proud of their scenic area. Things are well maintained generally, there are shops catering to locals, tourists and even some bar areas along the river. Traffic in the village is busy with many buses, taxis and private car offering taxi services as well. Outside of the village, roads are quiet and almost always very scenic.

Juizhaiguo - dinner in Qian He international hotel

Juizhaiguo - dinner in Qian He international hotel


That evening we had dinner in the hotel, about which I will write a review, and ventured to buy tickets for visiting the National Park the next day.
However, they don't sell tickets ahead, so you will have to get there in the morning (open from 7 a.m.) to get tickets. Be prepared to deal with crowds when buying the tickets. Especially around 7 a.m. it may be a total mayhem. There seems to be a way to order them online and pick them up at the second floor of the ticket office on your visiting day. I could not find confirmation of this on the internet, but if you can, then this seems to be a better idea than struggling yourself in the chaos to buy tickets. After dinner we called it a day and went to sleep early, waiting for our visit to the national park, the next morning.

Posted by westwind57 11:10 Archived in China Tagged mountains snow road_trip flight airport river china sichuan songpan altitude tibetan jiuzhaigou tibetans awa aba jiuzhai_huanglong Comments (0)

China - Leshan - The Big Buddha in the Haze

Leshan Big Buddha, Sichuan Province, China


View Jiuzhaigou (China), Malaysia, Singapore Autumn 2012 & Netherlands beyond the typical tourist places & Wine Expeditions in France, Italy, Spain and Other Places on westwind57's travel map.

After the failed attempt to see Emei Shan due to the fog, the weather started to clear up by the time we got closer to the giant Buddha in Leshan. It is located in a park full of temples, sanctuaries and nice landscaping, where the paths lead to a high point at the river cliff from where you can see the world's biggest stone Buddha (traditional Chinese: 樂山大佛; pinyin: Lèshān Dàfó) from above.
Leshan Giant Buddha, overlooking the confluence of rivers and facing Emei Shan

Leshan Giant Buddha, overlooking the confluence of rivers and facing Emei Shan

Leshan, a much smaller happy looking Buddha, comfortably seated

Leshan, a much smaller happy looking Buddha, comfortably seated


It is by far the world's biggest ancient statue, created in the early Tang Dynasty period. Building started in the year 713 led by a Chinese monk and it was completed in 803 A.D. At its feet, the Minjiang, Qingyi and Dadu rivers flow together, and the reason why it was built was apparently the hope that it would calm down the sometimes wild currents of the rivers, that threatened the ships. The sitting Buddha statue faces the holy Emei Shan (Mount Emei), together with which it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage. Its height is 71 meters and the width of its shoulders is 28 meters.
Leshan Giant Buddha, overlooking the confluence of rivers and facing Emei Shan

Leshan Giant Buddha, overlooking the confluence of rivers and facing Emei Shan


The best point to see it is either from above, or from tourist boats that sail the three rivers. There is also a path down along the cliff where you can see the enormous sitting statue from its toenails, but given the enormous crowds lining up to walk that path, we decided not to do that.

At the viewing point up there, it is quite crowded, and there are also some people with less noble intentions. If you read about Chinese scams with men offering to make pictures of you in crowded areas, the high viewpoints of Leshan are definitely a place where scammers operate. There are some that offer to take a photo, but then they will charge you a fee after they have done so and make a big fuzz if you refuse. Or their "comrades" may try to pickpocket you in the meantime. We saw a team like that at work, and they also tried this on us, without success. They pretended to be Chinese, but they were clearly not the typical local folk.

One of them was wearing a Buddhist monk's dress and had a praying chain in his hand. He was chanting some verses while carefully picking out his targets. I found the combination of his Arab sunglasses and hair dress a bit odd and had been observing him for a while. His whole composure looked more like a Mediterranean mafioso. When he tried to trick one of us, we managed to refuse his "services" by standing around him and pushing him off, and we walked away. Just be warned, because there are several of them up there.

Even though we saw a handful of western visitors here, the vast majority are Chinese tourists. They are clearly from all over the country and from city and countryside. Not everybody is dressed for the hike. There was one young lady whose shoe ware (and not only that) looked a little bit out of place here though, although she seemed to enjoy attracting the looks from other people more than looking at the Buddha statue.
Leshan Giant Buddha park, solid walking shoes recommended <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Leshan Giant Buddha park, solid walking shoes recommended ;)

Leshan Giant Buddha, astrology steles

Leshan Giant Buddha, astrology steles


From here, the view on the Buddha and the river is amazing. The remains of the fog, while the sun tried to shine through, definitely added to the mysterious atmosphere.

After having visited this site, we drove back to Chengdu, where we stayed at the Hejiangting Hanwen Hotel, situated along the river and a modern, convenient but very Chinese hotel. It is located at the busy Binjiang Road.

One of the things that catch the eye when arriving in Chengdu is the frequently heavy smog that colors the sky yellowish. It is not only the traffic and industry, but rather a mix of the inevitable air pollution of a city of 20 million people, its location in a valley and the dust and sand carried in by the winds from the dessert and steppes around the city.

However, when we arrived in Chengdu there had been some rain and there was a little breeze, so the smog was much less than usual. The city looks remarkably clean, with quite some green (parks and trees along the boulevards). It also it looks well maintained, compared to many other Chinese cities.
Chengdu, night scene along the river

Chengdu, night scene along the river


Very close by the hotel is a place where two rivers flow together, and that symbolism makes it a very popular spot for wedding photography. There is a little park at the confluence of the rivers, and next to it is a popular restaurant and bar area aptly called Chengdu Lan Kwai Fong, after the famous bar area in Hong Kong. It is a place where the rich and fashionable young Chinese like to hang out and in fact a very hip, trendy area, with prices matching those of European cities. Even though we were late, we did find a restaurant there for some late dinner. The next days however, would become the highlight of our trip to Sichuan: Juizhaiguo National Park.
Chengdu's version of Lang Kwai Fong

Chengdu's version of Lang Kwai Fong

Near Chengdu's Lang Kwai Fong bar area

Near Chengdu's Lang Kwai Fong bar area

Interesting Chengdu interpretation of Lan Kwai Fong bar area

Interesting Chengdu interpretation of Lan Kwai Fong bar area

Posted by westwind57 09:52 Archived in China Tagged rivers road_trip river china sichuan leshan big_buddha giant_buddha Comments (0)

China - Emeishan - The invisible holy mountain

An unfriendly village and ending up in the cloud - The holy mountain remained invisible. Should we believe it exists?


View Jiuzhaigou (China), Malaysia, Singapore Autumn 2012 & Netherlands beyond the typical tourist places & Wine Expeditions in France, Italy, Spain and Other Places on westwind57's travel map.

Chengdu is one of the biggest cities of China and is the capital of Sichuan province. It is blessed with some particularly interesting places close by. I was going to meet my travel companions in Chengdu, and from there we would visit Emeishan, Leshan and Juizhaigou. I had read something about the places, and was very curious how these places would be in real.

The flight from Singapore to Chengdu in China took about 4.5 hours but in this case time went fast, because I ended up in a conversation with a young lady from Singapore, who was going for a two weeks' hiking adventure to some mountains on the border of Sichuan and Tibet. She was vague about the exact place but between the lines I think I could understand that she was trying to go to Larung Gar/Sertar. It is the largest Tibetan Buddhist institute in the world, reportedly with over 40,000 monks, in the very far west part of Sichuan province. My itinerary was much easier.

Immigration in Chengdu was very quick, but baggage pick up very slow. At last I met my partner and other travel companions from Hong Kong, who were in Chengdu already. The plan was to drive to Emeishan for the next two days. The biggest surprise was our "car". The brand new van that we would originally be driven around in had broken down. In order to still have a car for us, they had quickly emptied a very old rusty little delivery bus into something that could carry six people. Could this thing really get us up the mountains? I had my doubt when I saw it. My friend was laughing her butt off when she saw the look in my eyes, when seeing our vehicle...

"Hahaha, I know you would love this... " my partner said.

With much noise of loosely fitting parts of the car, and one door which we never knew if it was locked or not, we started our trip over the highway to Emeishan City. It was getting dark soon, and because the driver did not know if there would be any restaurant open in Emeishan, we stopped at a very local small restaurant along the road.

Like all other restaurants along that same road, this one also had a sticker of a huge blue catfish posted on the window. You can't believe how many little restaurants there were that all seem to serve just the same thing: cat fish!
catfish restaurant

catfish restaurant


We went in and yes, we could eat there already. In the kitchen they had two buckets, one bucket with just one big and the other with three small cat fish. The decision was made that we would eat the big one. The guy in charge of the place took it out of the water, knocked it on the head first and started to cut it into chunks with a lot of flair, ready to expose his skills before the camera.
catfish preparation

catfish preparation

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1829587_13512895859758


As everywhere in that area, the restaurant people seemed to get their status from being as loud as possible, so our stay there was great fun and not boring ;) These people have no volume switch...

We got our very oily fish and peppers dish served, with local vegetables and a big wooden bucket with steamed rice. We all had been hungry, so this spicy and hearty meal was very welcome.
we must have looked hungry... rice in a bucket

we must have looked hungry... rice in a bucket

hearty meal...

hearty meal...


In the meantime the people of the restaurant were all very willing to help us plan for the further trip to Emeishan that night and the next morning.
There was a huge map hanging on the wall, showing the roads and sights and pathways up the mountain. So our driver, my partner's cousin and the other local people started to discuss what was best for us. Let's use an understatement: they did so in an upbeat and up volume way. All locals disagreed with each other on which road it was allowed to drive and how far up we could go. So, did it give us useful information? Not so sure, but really, these people tried to be extremely helpful (be it with ten different opinions) and they were really very kind and friendly.... totally unlike the local people we would meet later in Emeishan City...
loud discussion about how to reach the top

loud discussion about how to reach the top


From the little restaurant to the city took us about 45 minutes. When we drove into there, it took some time to find the hotel, because so many hotels have almost the same name. Our hotel was Emeishan Grand Hotel; located at the end of town, just close to the bell tower at the foot of Emeishan mountain, next to Bao Guo temple.
Quirky illuminated Emei Shan Grand Hotel

Quirky illuminated Emei Shan Grand Hotel

Gate out of Emei Shan City to get to the mountain

Gate out of Emei Shan City to get to the mountain


The entrance of the hotel was hidden in a kitchy imitation of the mountains (Emeishan means "eyebrows mountain") formed by blue christmas tree illumination. The check-in people were a bit grumpy and rude. The doormen, same thing. The hotel itself was better than expected though, and better than the reviews that I read later on some sites like Tripadvisor. It is a hotel built in the form of several separate pavillions in a park. I think we were in building #3. The air is fresh, you hear the sound of crickets, the hot water works, and yes, the beds are hard but this is China. Most important: everything was quite clean.
Rock carved Buddha Emei Shan City

Rock carved Buddha Emei Shan City

Illuminated Bell Tower in Emei Shan City

Illuminated Bell Tower in Emei Shan City


After installing ourselves we decided to walk around. We saw the illuminated bell tower and the Buddha rock carvings around there which were quit impressive, and suddenly we saw a huge night butterfly that was quite impressive too. When walking through the streets we found that food was actually still available there until late. But the people in the market, and especially the women in a nearby fancy shop that sold dried mushrooms and herbs and tea, quite unhelpful and at straight out rude... as in: who are you to think that you can just walk into my shop and ask questions!
night butterfly on the bell tower

night butterfly on the bell tower


Emei Shan City night market product nicer than sales people

Emei Shan City night market product nicer than sales people


Well, maybe they were like this because business seemed slow or non-existent here. Except for ourselves, we had seen no visitors or buyers in the market, only the people populating the stalls... quite weird! Maybe the local market people had already managed to chase away everybody else...
But please don't misunderstand. In terms of the beauty of the temples and the beautiful nature, I still would say that Emeishan City is worth a visit...
Well at least I think so... because the next day would not really give us a fair chance to find out...
breakfast hall in Emei Shan Grand Hotel

breakfast hall in Emei Shan Grand Hotel


After a good sleep and breakfast in the impressive (Chinese style of grand) dining room of the hotel, we got in our rusty but so far reliable little van for the trip all the way up to the top of Emei Shan. At the edge of the city, we noticed that there were more tourists now around the bell tower and the rock carvings, but only Chinese tourists. We did not see a single westerner anywhere on the mountain.
Emei Shan city bell tower

Emei Shan city bell tower

Emei Shan city park waterfall

Emei Shan city park waterfall


Many tourists come to rub the enormous bell which shows its shiny brass at the point where so many people touched it. There are also people carriers, who carry tourists around on a seat, mounted on two bamboo sticks. Two of them walked by and measured my size critically. I heard them talk about me (Lao Wei) and then they walked quickly on, clearly looking for lighter weight passengers. I am sure non of them would find it worth the few RMB, getting a hernia by carrying me around, because none of them offered their services. There is also a nice little park, actually opposite of the bell tower and the hotel where we stayed, with a waterfall. This waterfall seems one of the landmarks of the town.

And from here on, the poor little rusty van was bound to suffer its worst test of the trip: to carry all six of us up the mountain, a long and windy steep road with many hairpins that takes about 90 minutes from town to the highest point for cars.

But first we took a side road to visit some of the temples on the slopes. Already immediately after leaving the village, there are the first temples. You enter through a main gate, and then there is an inner court and one temple, then a next gate and a next temple building and so on. The atmosphere in the first one was solemn and quiet, but it was still early morning. By the time we got to the second temple, it was a different story: there local tour groups with very loud people, who seemed to think they were in Disneyland instead of in a temple. Their main purpose for them seemed to be the souvenir shop which is invariably part of the temples.
Emei Shan temple on the slope of the mountain

Emei Shan temple on the slope of the mountain

Emei Shan temple detail

Emei Shan temple detail

Emei Shan temple decorations

Emei Shan temple decorations


We arrived at the end of the road, basically a parking lot with many, very loud people. From there it is supposed to be another hour walking up to the top. However, it got foggier and foggier. It was a very dangerous road too, because of the many landslides that happen, as a result of which there are many road works, sometimes just behind the next turn, without warning ahead. Only one thing was very clear: if we would take the walk further up to the top, it would be useless. There would be nothing to see except the cloud that we were in. That is why we decided to give it a miss and not venture the path, which would be wet, slippery and dangerous anyway. Also the cable car (the alternative for the ones like me) was not running due to the fog.

Well, it was not a lost day: driving the road up had been an experience, as well as the toll station (again with unfriendly people there). And the view of thousands of clueless people not knowing whether to wait or not for a better visibility later in the afternoon.
Emei Shan end of the road - our old rusty van

Emei Shan end of the road - our old rusty van


We were not going to wait. We got back into the car, on our way to Leshan, a place where the world's biggest Buddha statue has been carved out of the rock in a cliff along the river. On our way we took a quick lunch in a very local restaurant which was obviously having the local factory workers as their only clientele. A visit by a bunch of tourists including a white one was definitely not a daily event for them, and we became sort of the tourist attraction there ourselves.

Posted by westwind57 03:50 Archived in China Tagged temples road_trip temple china waterfall sichuan emeishan bell_tower catfish holy_mountain Comments (0)

China - Guangzhou - Lost in direction, lost in translation

An unforgettable hilarious adventure in our own hotel

My partner and I were staying in one of the biggest hotels in Guangzhou, Southern China. We just arrived after a long and tiring trip, so we believed we were ready to have a relaxing massage in the hotel spa. What do you do in such a case? Of course you check the hotel's guest services directory.

There was one. In a luxury leather cover and written in Chinese and English, so that was good. When we looked under "massage", there were a few very interesting things that we read. There was an intriguing choice in the massage menu, including things like "Sauna women + massage", "Women attendant massage", en "Ceduxion Foot Massage".

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If this had not make us curious already, then it got even more interesting at the bottom of the menu: "The guests who accept chinese massage or Thai massage here can free enjoy one of Physical Therapy projects. No tip for technician", and: "The independent physical therapy project expense is not suggested".

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So that decision had been made: we would certainly have the massage here and try to find out what that was all about. But the question now was: where to get the massage? We called the reception desk for help. A very friendly lady took the phone. She spoke English, well at least the greeting.

"Can you please tell us where the spa is, for massage?"

"Yes, we can", she answered. Then silence, and nothing.

So I finally asked: "Where is it?"

"In the extra building, fourth floor, sir"

"In the extra building", I asked. "Yes sir, extra building sir"

So we wondered if we would have to go outside the hotel but as far as we could see the hotel was only one building. Just to be sure we wanted to find out if we needed to come there in our bathrobes and slippers, or normally dressed.

I asked the lady friendly, "Should we come there in normal clothes and change there?"

"Yes" she answered.

Just to be very certain I asked: "Or can we come in our bathrobe and slippers?"

"Yes", she answered with such a friendly voice that I could not be annoyed.

I kindly thanked her for so much helpful information, and we decided to start our expedition. We also decided to go there in our bathrobes and slippers, because it had to be the same building. Maybe a different wing was what she meant. In the elevator, one of the bellboys was looking at us as if he saw two ghosts. We stepped out at the 4th floor, and followed a hallway from where we heard sounds. This had to be it, this was clearly public area.

We walked around the corner, in our white bathrobes and slippers, and then we found ourselves in the entrance of... the Karaoke Lounge! The hostess girls at the entrance first looked at us, very shocked. Then in spite of their training and discipline, one of them started to laugh so hard that we were afraid the whole KTV department would hear it.

"OK", my partner said, "I don't really think it is here...".

Well, I shared her observation, and we decided to make it back to our room, get dressed and then give it another try. Back in the room, I just wanted to have another look in the Guest Services Directory. I flipped it open, and my eye fell on the page with instructions about what to do in case of fire.

Well, that was even more interesting than the massage page. There was a lot of very useful information about not getting afraid in case of a fire and what to do with holes with smokes. Two columns of wise advice, and it should have made us feel so reassured about our safety. We read it.... and read it again.... and kept reading it! Look for yourself:

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To finish the story, later that night we had a very nice massage in a different wing of the hotel. But up to today, we are still wondering about the independent physical therapy project. It was not suggested, neither explained to us by the massage ladies, so we may never know :)

Posted by westwind57 05:51 Archived in China Tagged hotel fire english karaoke massage guangzhou guangdong chinglish translation confusion canton sprinkler kanton Comments (2)

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