Mt Emei and Giant Buddha Leshan

17 02 2018

Fans or martial arts novels written by Jin Yong will be familiar with the “Emei Sect”. I am one of them and have always fantasize on going up Mt Emei, a beautiful and mysterious mountain located in Sichuan province in China.

Even if you are not a Jin Yong novel fan, Emeishan is also pretty popular destination for nature lovers with its verdant trees, splendid waterfalls, cute but super mischievous monkeys, mysterious sea of cloud and many other beautiful sights. The Golden Summit standing at more than 3000 meters above sea level gives one a magnificent view of the vast plain in the east and the snowy mountains in the west and is famous for the four sights of Emei: the sea of clouds, beautiful sunrise, the holy Buddha rays and the saint lamps.

For Buddhist, this is one of the “Four Sacred Mountains” together with Mt Putuo (which is the holy mountain of Avalokitesvara or Guangyin in Chinese), Mt Jiuhua (which is the holy mountain of Ksitigarbha also known in Chinese as Dizang), and Mt Wutai (which is the holy mountain of Manjusri or in Chinese Wenshu). Throughout the mountain, devotees are seen bribing joss sticks in prayer for good luck, with some devoted pilgrims prostrating with every 3 steps they took up to the Golden Summit. It is not surprising that Mt. Emei was enlisted as one of UNESCO world natural and cultural heritage site.

About an hour from Mt Emei lies another UNESCO World Heritage site – the famous Leshan Giant Buddha. This magnificent 71 meters high Maitreya Buddha statute carved out of a cliff showcase the wisdom and perseverance of ancient people’s wisdom. Legend has it that there were frequent incidents of boats capsizing her and thus Monk Haitong decided to commission this remarkable engineering feat to build this Giant Buddha. Miraculously, after the Buddha was built, boats can travel safely along the river. Divine intervention?

Many visitors can choose to walk from the top to the foot via the plant road with nine turns (Jiuqu Zhandao, 九曲栈道) which has 217 stone steps with the narrowest part only 0.6 meter. The park also has a 170 meters long sleeping Buddha statue, the largest and longest sleeping Buddha statue in the world, the Lingyun Temple located next to the Giant Buddha and Wuyou Temple located near the Buddha feet.

Tips:

  • Getting to Leshan and Emeishan from Chengdu is easy via the high-speed train. It takes 1 hour to reach Leshan station and another 20 minutes to reach Emeishan station. You will need to take the taxi (or bus) from the station to the Leshan Big Buddha or Emeishan sites. Note that for Emeishan, the sites are not in the city so ensure that the driver drops you in the mountain area and not the city area.
  • To travel between emeisan and Leshan, there is a long distance bus which costs RMB 11 one way. This is the cheapest way to go to Leshan from emei. Once in Leshan, you can then take the taxi to the Big Buddha site. If you take taxi, one way costs between RMB 120 – 150. You may want to arrange for the taxi to pick you up as it can be challenging to get a taxi along the street.
  • If you want to see the full image of the Buddha, the only way is to take the ferry and view from the river. If you go into the Leshan Buddha site, you will be claiming from the top of the Buddha to the legs but will not get the full view. The climb is rather steep with uneven high steps so it is not suitable for elderly.
  • Mt Emei is divided into various scenic areas. The Baoguo Temple area at the foot of the mountain has one of the oldest temple in Mt Emei. Wannian Temple area and the nearby Qingyin Pavilion midway up the mountain has some of the most scenic sights in Emei for nature lovers. The Golden Summit area is a must-see and if you are lucky, you get to see the famous sea of clouds, Buddha light and Saint Lamps.
  • To get to the Golden summit, you need to take the bus from emei tourist center to Leidongping carpark. From Leidongping carpark, it is around 15-20 minutes walk up flights of stairs to the cable car station. Thereafter, it is a short cable car ride up to the summit station. To get to the Golden summit, it is another 10-15 minutes walk up but this is less tiring than the first leg from Leidongping carpark to the cable car station. You can take the sedan chair too if you cannot walk.
  • Temperature at the Golden summit is typically 15-20 degrees lower than at the foot of the hill so be prepared with warm clothes. You can also rent the warm jacket at Leidongping carpark for RMB 30.

Food:

  • Most of the food can be found around the Baoguo Temple Food Village area. Majority of the eateries serve Sichuan food. If you can’t take spicy food, you can ask for restaurant to recommend less spicy or no spicy food.

Side trips:

– Why not plan a trip to Chongqing? Take a look at my blog here.

– You will likely come to Emeishan or Leshan from Chengdu. Check out what this city has in store for you here.

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Chengdu – The land of the kungfu panda

9 01 2018

What is the first thing that come to your mind when someone mentions China? To me, it is the “real” homeland of Kungfu Panda. Indeed, Sichuan province in China with its bamboo forests is the famously known as the land of the Pandas.

So of course, I can’t miss a visit to the Panda center to see these cute black and white animals. There are a couple of Panda centers, the most convenient one is located in downtown Chengdu. For those traveling to Dujiangyan, the Dujiangyan Panda Base is a good alternative (which is the one that I went). One tip though – the pandas do take afternoon nap so avoid going around noon to early afternoon as they will be sleeping. But it is kind of cute to see them cuddle up and snoring away in their sweet dreams (yes they do snore and pretty loudly lol).

Dujiangyan irrigation system is a must-see if you visit Chengdu. Just around an hour plus drive outside Chengdu, this is one of the UNESCO world heritage site. It is amazing to see how an irrigation system with no dam can be so cleverly built 2,000 years ago and how this still remains in use today.

A short drive from Dujiangyan will bring you to Mt Qingcheng. This mountain is divided into the front side of the mountain and back side of the mountain with the front side famous for the Taoist temples and is the origin site of Taoism, a religion originating from China. The back side of the mountain is famous for its scenic spots and trekking though many drivers are reluctant to drive to the back mountain which is another 2 hours drive from the front mountain.

For those who love Chinese poetry, a visit to the thatched cottage of Du Fu, a famous poet during the Tang Dynasty, is a must see. Du Fu spent three and a half years living in this cottage.

Not far from the cottage is the Jinli Street, which used to one of the busiest commercial streets during the Shu Kingdom some 2000 years ago. The nearby “wide and narrow alley” got its name with its wide alleys and narrow alleys. Now it is lined with many bars. Why not get your ears clean too (if you dare)?

If you have read the famous novel “Three Kingdom”, you will be familiar with Zhu Geliang, the famous wise advisor and Prime Minister to Liu Bei of the Shu Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms period. The Wuhou Temple which is a memorial temple for the famous Zhu Geliang.

Once done with the sightseeing, why not head to Chunxi Road for some shopping? 🙂

Tips:

– It is very cheap and convenient to travel around Chengdu by taxi or the subway. However, most taxi drivers cannot speak English so if you can’t speak mandarin, get your hotel to write instructions for the taxi driver.

– There is free transport between Wuhou Shrine and Dufu Thatched Cottage. You just need to buy the entrance ticket for the other sight and look for the free transport sign at the entrance.

– The taxis boot have limited space due to the gas tank in the book. You can only put one 29 inch luggage, one 25 inch luggage and a backpack. So you may want to pack light if you are travelling with a group of four.

– Pandas usually take a nap in the afternoon so if you want to see them playing, go in the morning or late afternoon.

– There are a lot of ancient towns around Chengdu such as Huanglongxi ancient town, Pingle ancient town and Luodai ancient town so if you are interested, head to one of them.

Trips from Chengdu:

– Leshan Big Buddha and Ermeishan are just a short train ride from Chengdu (via fast train). Please see my link here.

– Many tours of Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong start from Chengdu so you can plan them into your itinerary too. Note that these places have high attitude so you may want to consult your doctor before going.

– Chongqing is just a few hours train ride away from Chengdu. If you are interested to see the Yangtze River or take the cruise, check out my blog here.

Food:

– Sichuan food is well known for its spices (more of “mala” vs hot which makes your taste bud numb). If you cannot take spicy food, ask for mild spice (or no spice). There is one nice (and very cheap) local eatery opposite the Chengdu East Railway station though the waitress may not be able to speak English (the shop name is in the photo below). They do have photos so you can also point to the dish that you like.

– If you visit Dujiangyan and Mt Qingcheng, do try out at the restaurant called 小轩堂(Xiao Xuan Tang).

– You can’t say that you visited Sichuan if you had not taken the mala hotpot. Most hotpot has 2 soups, one spicy and one non-spicy. So for those who can’t take spicy food, you can still join your family/friends in the mala hotpot feast.





The Carefree Traveller’s Book of ABC ~ D is for Datong

8 04 2012

The city of Datong in the Shanxi province in China is just a couple of hours drive from Beijing, the capital of China. The historical city of Datong was the capital of Northern Wei Dyanasty and the “support capital” of Liao and Jin. Being situated at the northern part of China at the bolders of Inner Mongolia, this city used to be the political and military centre of ancient China. The “importance” of Datong can be seen by its numerous historical and cultural relics such as the famous Hanging Temple and Yungang Grottes.

To read more on Datong and the other interesting cities/towns in the Shanxi Province, visit https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2007/10/14/shanxi-in-search-of-duke-of-mt-deer/.





Shanghai – The city of contrast

2 07 2010

For most first time visitors to China, the first city that they are likely to visit is Shanghai. It is of little wonder why. Shanghai is the financial hub for China and the gateway to the vast Chinese market for many foreign enterprises. For many who may still have the perception that China is generally not very developed, unclean, tourists unfriendly, etc, the modern city of Shanghai seems to provide first timer with the “courage” and some comfort level to set foot on the Land of the Dragons.

Being one of the major transportation hub, I have visited Shanghai numerous times as I enroute to the scenic Jiangnan region and other parts of China. The famous Shanghai Bund, the Oriental Pearl Tower, Xintiandi area offers a modern vibe providing a contrast to the “old Shanghai” feel of Yuyuan, Chenghuan Temple, Old Shanghai Street, Longhua Temple and the Jade Buddha Temple. Regardless of whether you are looking for shopping and a night of partying, or if you are seeking for some cultural immersion, Shanghai will not disappoint you.

Tips:-

– Go up the Oriental Pearl Tower for a nice view of the city.

– Yuyuan and the Chenghuan Temple area has many stalls selling souvenirs and nice local food.

– Taxis are relatively cheap and a fast and more comfortable way to get round the city.

– The Xintiandi area is the trendy hangout area, with nice clubs that you can go partying the whole night.

– The famous Nanjing Road and the Huaihai Road are great shopping districts, with nice shopping malls and boutique shops lining the roads.

– For clothes (or to tailor some), head off to Lujiabang fabric market.

– Shanghai do have a not so glamourous look with its 4 main counterfeits markets namely (i) 580 West Nanjing Road, (ii) Science & Technology Museum Market, (iii) Qipu Road, and (iv) Yu Yuan Gardens. Amongst these 4, 580 West Nanjing Road offers better quality stuff and the Science & Technology Museum Market have less pushy store owners and is the most convenient (right inside the metro station).

– Make a trip to Peace Hotel located along The Bund. If you can afford it, you can choose to stay in this posh hotel. Otherwise, do plan for a meal or some drinks in the hotel, especially the famous Old Jazz Bar.

Food:-

– Tang Fish Head Pot (at Xuhui District 400 Guilin Road) serves nice fish head pot (like steamboat).

– For dining outside of the touristy area, head off to Tsai’s Kitchen (serves Taiwanese food) at 518 Caoxi Bei Lu, Xuhui district.

– Qian Guo Ju at 1716 Nanjing Xi Road serves nice hot pot.

– Nanxiang Xiao Long Bao at the Yuyuan is always the “hot” favourite amongst visitors. I would say there are nicer xiao long baos at the local eateries but this shop is still a “must-try” for its fame and the view of the Yuyuan while enjoying the food. Do try out the “crab soup baos” which is to be eaten with a straw to suck out the soup. Also, the local appetizer “kao fu” which is braised dried beancurd is one of my favourite Shanghainese dish.

Side trips:-

– Zhouzhuang, a nice little water village with beautiful architecture & little canals is located just outside Shanghai and can be a good day trip, or a good stop on the way from Shanghai to Suzhou.

– Jiangnan region is well known for its nice scenery and the water villages. Famous destinations in Jiangnan include Hangzhou & Suzhou which are just a couple of hours drive from Shanghai. Therefore, Shanghai is usually used as the gateway to tour the other cities in Jiangnan region.





Beijing – Journey back to the Ming & Qing Dynasties

1 05 2010

As a new traveler to China, one of the first few places to visit is usually Beijing. Well known as the historical and cultural city, this city served as the capital city for many dynasties and has continued to be so from the Yuan Dynasty till to-date. Thus, it was little wonder that I was captivated by Beijing since my first trip there in the early 1990s and have made repeated visits to the city thereafter in different seasons (and with the fast development in China, each time I revisited the city, it looks different.

There’s a Chinese saying that if one does not visit the Great Wall of China, one will not be a good man (不到长城非好汉). As one of the wonders of the world, the Great Wall of China has left me speechless. Standing majestically almost horizontally across the whole country, the Great Wall of China is indeed one of the most magnificent architecture of mankind. I have visited various parts of the Great Wall but all during winter – the most frequently visited one is the Badaling portion, but I prefer the Mutianyu part which has less visitors. In winter, the Great Wall is really beautiful, mostly covered with snow. However, if you looking at doing hikes, I will suggest that you visit it during late spring to autumn.For the adventure seeking ones, the Jinshanlin to Simatai hike is the best part of the Great Wall, with little visitors and you can see the fully original wall like it is 500 years ago (I have not tried it but I read reviews that it is really really good but difficult hike, and it is definitely not accessible during winter).

Other must visit places include the Tiananmen Square (with its famous flag raising ceremony everyday in the morning), the Forbidden City (which is the residence of the Ming & Qing Dynasties emperors), Temple of Heaven (where the Ming & Qing emperors prayed to the heaven yearly), Beihai Park (the garden for the emperors),Summer Palace aka Yiheyuan (another garden for the Qing emperors), the Ming Tombs (which is the tombs of the Ming emperors), the famous shopping street of Wangfujing, the famous Qianmen (front gate), the famous Olympic Bird’s nest Stadium and Cubic Swimming Hall, etc. To see the Old Beijing, you can take a Trishaw ride around the “Hutongs” and visit one of the old tea-house for a cup of tea while listening to some Beijing Opera.

Recommended Side Trips:-

– Tianjin, about 1.5 hours drive from Beijing (or only 30 minutes via the high speed railway) is a good day trip. The famous Cultural Street lined with shops with typical Chinese architecture sell many nice souvenirs. A good place to fill your hungry stomach after your shopping “exercise” is the Food Street, which sells many types of traditional local food. Must try in Tianjin is the famous Goubuli bun (literally means “dogs ignore” bun).

– Chengde is another famous side trip from Beijing which is 2 hours drive (make sure you take Jingcheng Expressway as the old route takes 4 hours). It is the summer resort of the Qing Dynasty emperors as it is situated at higher elevations, giving a cooler getaway from the warm summer. The Summer Resort is famous for its scenic beauty, earning the reputation of incorporating all the nice sceneries “under the sun” in one park. The Eight Outer Temple surrounding the resort is also a “must visit” attraction. An overnight stay is required for Chengde (the hotels are fine but definitely not as good as those in Beijing so don’t expect too much). Best time to visit is of course in summer as the name “summer resort” suggest. I did the most “amazing” thing of visiting this place in winter many years back (I must say it’s not at my choice), and there’s only 1 word to describe it, COLD!

Must Eat:-

– Beijing Roast Duck is a must-eat. Try the Quanjude restaurant at Qianmen. This is the original shop and the most famous one. I know there are many not so good reviews of this restaurants but I like the food. Also, I think it is unfair to compare it with the other more upmarket Chinese restaurants as this old restaurant is a piece of Beijing’s history so I will still recommend this place.

– Do try out imperial court cuisine, which is the style of food served to the Emperor and his court. The Fangshan Restaurant in Behai Park is the most famous one. It was opened in 1925 by the former Qing Dynasty imperial chefs to “Fangshan” (meaning to imitate the imperial court cuisine in mandarin). I love the ambience in the restaurant and the presentation of the food is also a treat to the eyes.

– Have a cup of tea at one of the old tea-house while listening to some Beijing Opera, my favorite being the “Lao She Tea House” at Building 3, Qianmen Xidajie.





Zhujiang Delta Tour (Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Pangyu, Zhuhai, Macau)

14 03 2010

Shenzhen

Shenzhen is just an hour train ride from Hong Kong. I found it a nice shopping place as things are cheaper than in Hong Kong. However, there is not much of sightseeing in Shenzhen. The only place that I visted was the Window of the world, which is a fantastic replica park situated at the Overseas Chinese Town. Here you can see the vivid replicas of the world’s wonders. It’s a nice park for photo taking but apart from that, there’s nothing much.

Guangzhou

3 hours drive from Shenzhen, you would reach Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong Province. I love the Shang Xia Jiu Bu Jie (literally meaning up down 9 steps Shopping Street but it is a long long street) which offers great shopping (better than Shenzhen). If you like, can also took this Zhujiang cruise to view the night scenery. One thing to note is that many hotels do not have heater so during winter season can be pretty cold so do bring pullover to wear to sleep. Otherwise, avoid winter.

Pangyu

Pangyu has this Yuyinshanfang, which is famous for its unique and elegant Garden art and there’s a big Goddess of Mercy that you can see there (quite similar to the big one in Hainan Island). It’s kind of a good place to stopover for a night if you are travelling between Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Zhuhai

Zhuhai is a nice city by the sea, famous for its Mermaid Statue (called the fish girl). In terms of sightseeing, there’s nothing much (most sights are near the Mermaid Statute). However, it is a great place to shop, I feel much better than Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Oh, one must do in Zhuhai is to eat the seafood! Really cheap and nice! If you plan to visit Macau, you can consider a day trip to Zhuhai (only need to cross the bridge and clear customs).

Macau

Macau is accessible via a short walk from Zhuhai, just need to cross the bridge. Things to see are the famous St.Paul’s Church, Guia Fortress, Chapel of Shengmuxue, Senado Square, A-Ma Temple, and Macau Tower. For those who want to try their luck, there are so many casinos there, including the nice Venitian (but warn you it is pretty far from the main macau). Must try the Portuguese tart and other Portuguese food and buy the almond biscults!





Beautiful Zhangjiajie, Fenghuang Ancient Town, Shaoshan & Changshan

9 01 2010

I have always wanted to visit the imfamous “Ten Miles Gallery”. So, I have decided to spend my last few days of 2008 till the beginning of 2009 in Zhangjiajie, a scenic place in China Hunan province with a friend. This is really one of the most scenic trip that I have been on…. to top it off, it SNOWED!!!

ZhangJiaJie

Flew from Singapore to Xiamen and transit domestic flight to Changsha, a city in the Hunan Province. From Changde, we coached around 4 hours to Zhangjiajie. The day that I arrived in Zhangjiajie was a rainy day and tour guide recommended that we first visit the Longwang Cave (Dragon King Cave), regarded as one of the biggest and oldest caves in China. The cave is pretty interesting. I still recalled that I was freezing outside the cave (it was winter and the temperature drops to only a few degrees celsius plus the wet weather). But once I step into the cave, it was so warm! The cave was lighted with various coloured lights and we are able to see nice rocks formation.

The next morning, the rain has stopped and we tooked a nice boat ride on the tranquil Lake of Baofeng at Suoxiyu Valley (and its waterfall), the highest lake in Hunan. As we are worried the good weather might not last, we decided to ascend Mt Tianzishan while the weather is good. The cable car ride up Tianzishan was like a ride into a fairyland. Mt Tianzishan is noted for its stone forests, cloud seas, twilight and winter snow. We are indeed lucky that it started to snow when we are on top of Mt Tianzishan! The green pine trees with white snow created an extremely beautiful painting. From Tianzishan, we proceeded to Helong Park, Xihai, and Yuanjiajie, famous for the First Bridge under Heaven and Back Garden. Thereafter, we took the fastest and highest lift called the Bailongdianti back down.

The next day, the snowing continued as we toured Huiangshizai, followed by China’s first National Forest Park. Highlight of this tour included the Legendary Golden Whip Stream (Jinbian Stream), with numerous impressive sights along the stretch of 5km stream. Thereafter, we visited the imfamous Ten Mile Scenic Drawing Corridor to explore the picturesque gallery of mountain and river sceneries.

Before we left Zhangjiajie, we made a last stop to Tianmenshan, which can only only be accessed via a 40 minutes cable car ride from the Zhangjiajie city. Tianmenshan, meaning the Heavenly Gate Mountain, is famous for a special “Heavenly Gate”, which is a very big whole on one of its peak. The route up to the Heavenly Gate is called the “Road to Heaven”, which is a super winding road. It was snowing very heavily when we ascended and the top of the mountain was covered with thick snow. Due to this, we were unable to ride on the “Road to Heaven” änd can only see the Heavenly Gate from afar. But still, it was pretty nice having snow fights, making snowman and playing with the snow at the top of the mountain.

Fenghuang (Phoenix) Ancient Town

After Tianmenshan, we started our long journey to Fenghuang Ancient Town. Enroute (about 3 hours), we stopped at Furong Town. It used to be named Wangcun Village untill a famous movie entitled Furong Town was filmed here. From Furong town, we coached another 5 hours before we reached Fenghuang Ancient Town. It was the night of 31 December 2008. The tiring journey, with winding roads was all worth it. This ancient town is so beautiful! As it was New Year’s Eve, a lot of people were gathering at the river to put water lights for good blessing for the coming year. Needless to say, I did that too!

Happy New Year 2009! We started off with a sumptous breakfast of bao and noodles at a road side store (the hotel did not give a good breakfast so the tour guide decided to forgo the hotel breakfast and brought us to the road side store). After which, we proceeded to visit Fenghuang Ancient Town. The ancient town is exquisite
and delicate and has witnessed great changes in history. Inside, there are ancient stone lanes, the unique suspension houses of Tu and Miao tribe and view the Ancient city wall. I would say Fenghuang is really one of the nicest Ancient Town that I have visited.

Shaoshan

From Fenghuang, we took the newly opened expressway to Changde, which took only 5 hours. From there, we coached to Shaoshan where the late leader of China, Mao Ze Dong, was born and grew up. We visited the Mao’s Family home, Mao’s bronze statue and Mao’s Memorial Hall.

Changsha

From Shaoshan, it took another 3 hours to reach Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province. Changsha is famous for the Yuelushuyuan, an anxient school at the foor of Mt Hengshan, Mawangdui Museum (the tomb where you can see the real corpse of a thousand years old lady) and Hunan embroidery (Xiangxiu). We went to this place called “Fire Palace” for dinner and I would say the food is really nice. Do try out the smelly tofu (it’s not smelly at all) and the boba (a sweet glutinous rice ball) and the spicy Hunan cruine. At night, do take a walk at the commercial walking street.

I would say this was the most memorable trip. Zhangjiajia and Fenghuang are indeed places worth visiting!