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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)

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

Breathtaking views, and thin air after landing


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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 ).

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


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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?


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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)

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