A Travellerspoint blog

July 2010

Time flies...

Reporting from Jinqiao

overcast 34 °C

Our holiday is over. We are home again, and while we enjoy the comforts of home, it is hard to believe all that we have done in the last month.

It seemed to take ages to get to our departure date. Getting ready with preparatory shopping, lying out our stuff to take, debating on the merits of which bags to take and whether or not to take the pram (so so glad we did), booking accommodation and reading guide books to line up which things we wanted to see and do. They say that preparation is half the fun, and it's true. The anticipation of all the holiday and fun times ahead was exciting; getting ready is fun.

But this holiday, was fantastic as well while we were on it. Sure there were tears along the way, from all of us at some point - dropping the camera, getting grumpy on our marathon walk, being sat on by your sister, having your hair pulled by your brother, and the list goes on. But the experiences we shared as a family were amazing, and tailoring it all to accommodate our small children made it all the more enjoyable for us. We took it slow, to give them time to settle in to new hostels, to let them play in the sun and rain, to jump in a puddle (or 50), to look at the fish, to sometimes try new food and sometimes throw a tantrum that it was 'too Chinese', to shout 'Ni hao' at strangers and hide when they wanted to take their photo, to fall asleep in the pram and to hang out as a family.

And now it is over, and getting up yesterday morning at 5.30 to catch that plane home, with butterflies in our tummy - would we wake up? Would we get there in time? Walking in our front door, to see the recognition of familiarity in our kids faces was excellent. Jie Jie immediately went to her bedroom to say hi to her menagerie of toys that were left behind, and Didi went straight to a toy farmhouse in the lounge room. He pottered around slowly, checking everything out in each room.

We were delighted to come home to the cleanest and tidiest house ever (Thank you Ayi), with flowers decorating the dining table. We were happy to phone Element Fresh and have them deliver 2 delicious salads for dinner. We enjoyed unpacking the bags and reminding ourselves of where we'd purchased each new thing. We weren't so happy to experience the 15C temperature increase and the heavy humidity again!

It's also nice to have a fresh pair of shoes, something different to wear and a fully stocked bathroom!! Home sweet home!!

Posted by aboo10 22:00 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Reflections of Shangri-La

Reporting from Kunming

sunny 17 °C
View Summer in China on aboo10's travel map.

Here we are, back where our trip really began, in the same hotel - the Camellia Hotel, and to finish our trip off properly we went to the same restaurant we went on the first night of our trip! Hard to believe that 23 days ago we arrived here in Kunming, and have now stayed in Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La.

Shangri-La was an amazing town. Most people only go to Shangri-La for about 3-4 days, we stayed 12!! Half our holiday was in Shangri-La!

We loved the little cobbled lanes in the old town. We loved the Dancing Square in the centre of the old town, where locals danced each night for an hour from 8pm. The couple of times we were out that late, Jie Jie and Didi loved joining in.

We loved the world's biggest prayer wheel, visible from so many spots around the Old Town. And also the temple. So photogenic. We loved the square directly below this temple and prayer wheel, and all the activity that went on there! One day we were there and the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Orchestra was performing, followed by a (long) show about the Long Walk (of historic and cultural importance). We loved visiting the museum which showed some artefacts from the same Long Walk. We enjoyed the snow experience in that museum too.

We loved the myriad of curios shops, especially the ones with the big looms in the door, usually with a minority tribe woman weaving some beautiful fabric. I don't think I bought enough.

We loved the countryside. The yaks, the goats, the cows, the pigs, the chickens - all apparently free range, and free to walk down the city streets. We loved the mountains, and the rocky crags. The views all round. The thunderstorms and lightning displays. I loved reading "Lost Horizon" while here, and picturing what was described!

We loved the yak yoghurt, yak cheese, Tibetan food and Yunnan coffee. We weren't so mad on the Yak Butter Tea. Jie Jie loved a particular restaurant's spaghetti and meatballs and wanted it every time we asked what she'd like to eat.

We loved our hostel - DragonCloud. We had two rooms each of which opened out on to a common courtyard, and from getting up in the morning until bath time in the evening, the kids were outside, playing with the dogs or rabbit that lived there and distracting the staff from their real jobs! Jie Jie often joined the manager behind the desk and greeted new visitors or handed them new rolls of toilet paper!

We loved walking around the new town. We were amazed at how much stuff is available somewhere technically so remote. We wondered who would buy all the fresh fruit, vegies, meat and yak cheese that was put out fresh each day. We loved how it is cool enough, and then cooked at a high enough temp that meat skewers could be out on a table all day.

We loved all the excursions that we went on.

We loved that we were able to visit.

We loved Shangri-La!

Posted by aboo10 04:16 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

Standing on top of the world

Reporting from Shangri-La

sunny 15 °C
View Summer in China on aboo10's travel map.

As I said yesterday, the skies were blue, there was no rain so what did we do?? Our option 1, that we'd deferred from the day before of course! What was it?? A cable car up through Blue Moon Valley to the top of Meili Snow Mountain!
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How lucky are we?? We were standing at 4500m overlooking the most spectacular landscape! There is a boardwalk up the top, so we couldn't just go off and hike (phew), but it wasn't easy walking because at that altitude oxygen is thin, and there were still loads of steps to climb. Didi was carried by poor Mike in the carrier, and Jie Jie, trooper that she is, walked the whole thing, although bribed with chocolate koalas along the way! At the end didn't want to climb up to the highest peak again, which if the truth be told is actually higher than 4500m (maybe 4550m), but Mike went up again.

I'm not going to describe the view, because I really can't do it justice... I think this time the photos speak for themselves!! I've also put comments on the photos in the album, so check that out for narrative!

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Posted by aboo10 18:18 Archived in China Tagged ecotourism Comments (2)

Baishuitai

Reporting from Shangri-La

rain 17 °C
View Summer in China on aboo10's travel map.

Good morning, I planned to write this last night, but after a big day out fell asleep instead!

We are in Shangri-La until this coming Thursday, and had 2 excursions on our wish list. Waking up yesterday morning and finding it raining, meant that our first option was not ideal as it was local, but our second choice was going to take us 100km away from Shangri-La and therefore possibly to fairer weather! Good move.

We hired a car and driver to take us to the White Water Terraces (Baishuitai) approximately 2 hours drive away. Yes, only 100km, but extremely mountainous and winding roads, often blocked with goats or yaks. The scenery out there was gorgeous - at one point we were driving along a valley with a river meandering through it, and mountains towering above; simply stunning.

The bends in the road got a bit much for Jie Jie, and despite having slept in the car for over an hour, about 15km before our destination, she spewed in the back seat... oh dear... we stopped, and she finished the job on the side of the road. And you know the domino effect...

Afterwards, we were cleaning up, and Jie Jie went and hopped in the front seat and put the seatbelt on, then turned round and said "well, let's go". We had a bit of a to do to fight her back into the backseat, and in the end decided to let her sit in the front on Mike's knee... OMG, how irresponsible are we?? But technically we weren't breaking any laws!

Ten minutes down the road we arrived at our destination. I have to say, we weren't holding high expectations for this visit now as all we could see from the parking lot was one smallish white cliff. As usual, we took our time getting kids, carriers and paraphernalia organised then headed up the steps to climb up to this cliff. At the top of a flight of steps, there were about 10 horses, all saddled and a group of (minority tribe) women all keen and ready to take us up the hill. Because of Jie Jie's tummy episode, we had made her walk initially, with the intent of carrying her later, but then it seemed too easy to let her ride up the hill (mountain), and it has been something she has been pestering us about for the last 3 weeks. So for 40RMB, it seemed like a bargain, and we didn't bother bargaining! She was delighted.

We walked up a slightly rotting boardwalk, with Jie Jie being led just beside us, never out of sight! We were beckoned over by an old man at the bottom of the white cliff, who insisted on giving us some incense sticks, and saying a prayer for us, and then directing us to put our head in water running down the limestone rock. The water was freezing. He then indicated that we should give him some money for that ceremony, and the smallest note I had was a 5 - I handed it over, and there was a whoop of laughter - which we translated into "hah, we got them". Felt a bit cross then!

Continued up up up, and saw the actual white terraces that formed the cliff. They were pristine. The water was so clear, almost tropical blue green. It was like an expanse of limestone cascading down steps to form pools of varying sizes. It is caused by erosion, and at the same time deposition of limescale, like the inside of a London kettle.

We met another man, who told us about 7 sites that we needed to see up the top, and that he would show us around for a mere 20RMB. After being done by the prayer guy there was no way we needed him to show us round! So we wandered by ourselves, and think that we saw it all. It was certainly beautiful. There were little streams and small waterfalls, creating pools with water so clear. We really were blown away by the tranquility and peaceful environment.

The horse lady had offered to take Jie Jie down the mountain again for 20RMB, but I bargained her down to 10! She waited while we explored the top sites. We think that overall it was money well spent, for lack of whinging, and saving my back. Didi was on Mike's back the whole time, and although lighter, was constant weight!

Down near the carpark there was a little market selling fresh produce. Apples that looked so crisp, and funny little apricots. I bought a bag of walnuts and a bag of a sweet spicy smelling pepper - I think it might be Sichuan Peppercorns, but not 100% sure. I hope Ayi can work her magic with it, because I've got no idea!!

Our driver had done an amazing job cleaning the car while we were gone, not a scent of vomit left. We opted to all sit in the backseat, and again Jie Jie and Didi fell asleep. And woke up as we hit the main road into Shangri-La. We tipped him 100RMB for his efforts (I mean they charge you $50 in a taxi in Sydney for the same, not that I know from personal experience) and he looked absolutely thrilled. Lovely man, our driver!

We were back in town just after 6pm, and went and had dinner. Remarkably both kids ate pretty well, and dinner was non-eventful. We finished dinner and Jie Jie joined a drumming session in the shop opposite the restaurant. And then as we were walking through the dancing square, which has locals dancing every night for one hour from 8pm, she joined in that again. The locals loved her!!

Fantastic day - now to seize today!! Blue skies - so maybe we can do option one today!

Posted by aboo10 17:45 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

Perfect Day

Reporting from Shangri-La

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Yesterday we were up, dressed and ready for breakfast at 8.30, and basically ready to start our day - this is actually an achievement as we are world record holders in dithering. The night before I'd packed a bag with swimmers, snacks, changes of clothes and en route entertainment as we were planning a full day out!

After breakfast, we headed around to the tour centre in the Dancing Square (I am aware that I haven't yet filled you in on Shangri-La, so just bear with me, and wait for a later post!) where we met our driver for the day. In the Old Town of Shangri-La there are no cars, so we walked with our driver to the edge of the town where his car was parked, and there we met our (English speaking) guide. We were off to Ringha Monastery.

Ringha Monastery is about 30 mins drive from Shangri-La, and we certainly went through some pretty countryside. We were in a 4WD and we passed many farms, a reservoir, crossed some small rivers, and saw loads of yaks, goats and pigs. We were on a pretty rough road, and then we stopped, and our guide pointed up a very steep hill and told us that the car couldn't go any further. Oh. So out we hopped and prepared ourselves for the climb. I carried Didi in the structured carrier, and Mike carried Jie Jie in the Ergo. And wow - did we know we were at altitude when we started exerting ourselves climbing this steep hill covered with pine trees.

It was just amazing as we got closer to the monastery. The whole area was festooned with prayer flags, of all different colours. They were blowing in the wind, making this incredible whispering sound. Close to the buildings, were piles of stones which have had prayers etched on, by both monks and by pilgrims, and then stacked, and apparently if you touch them as you are walking you will be blessed too. The prayer flags surprised me, because they were wrapped around trees and across paths, and we were ducking and weaving to get through them. Pilgrims come to the outside of the monastery and also release chickens or other farm animals, scatter grain or make other types of offerings in an attempt to get good karma.

The monastery itself is about 700 years old, and was fairly basic in structure, to me it was kind of like a farmyard. There was a Lama (living god) in the temple chanting the whole time we were there. The 5th Dalai Lama meditated here and as a result this monastery is permitted to display images of that Lama. (Without going into much detail, this is the big issue with the Chinese Govt, and is the main reason for unrest in Tibet.) This monastery, because it was visited by a Dalai Lama is able to continue promoting its own heads according to religious tradition. Other monasteries have now had government appointed Lamas.

In the temple there are 5 Buddhas, and according to tradition, when a child is old enough, they come with their parents to the monastery and ask the Lamas which Buddha they are supposed to worship. As a result each Buddha has offerings in front of it which pilgrims have brought, and these may be a few biscuits, fruit, oils, grains or even money. In front of each Buddha there were several cups of water, this water is refreshed each morning, and villagers come each morning to see if they can receive some of the discarded water as it is considered to be holy water as the Lamas have prayed to all the Buddhas during the previous day, and then this holy water can heal, save or help answer prayers.

After we'd finished our tour of the monastery we headed back down to the car. Kids still on our backs. The views were stunning, and we admired them all the way down. Hopped in the car and headed to Tianshenqiao Hot Springs for a frolic in the volcanic mineral waters.

Wow - what an amazing place. The pool channelled water which was running through rocks and was constantly moving as alongside the pool was a fast flowing river. Above the pool was an enormous cliff, and surrounding us in all directions were mountains. It was truly stunning. The water was green, so it looked more like a lake than a pool,

We got ready to swim, and rented rings to loll about in. The salts on our skin felt amazing, and we were all surprised at how hot the water was - just like a bath! Didi loved sitting on us in our ring, and Jie Jie loved the independence of her own ring, but found it quite hard work swimming against a current, no matter how slight it was. We loved the tranquility of the pool - there were little shelters with peaked roofs to get out of the sun, and also a natural sauna (which we skipped, although reports were that it smelled a little sulfury anyway).

After about an hour and a half, Didi started looking like he was going to fall asleep in the pool, so we thought we should make a move. Both kids slept soundly in the car home, and like logs during the night!

Some friends from Canada saw us at dinner, and said that it looked like we were all (parents and kids) very relaxed and had a successful trip out. I think that's the day in the sunshine, swimming and seeing some of the sights of the region!!

Posted by aboo10 06:56 Archived in China Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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