Tag Archives: Owen

Beautiful Guilin – Fubo Hill, Reed Flute Cave & Elephant Trunk Hill

Another long weekend, this time due to Dragon Boat Festival and we had booked a long weekend to Guilin.  On Friday afternoon we picked the kids up a little early from school and then set off for the airport.   In true China fashion, we had a delay, but it was only 30 minutes.  We landed in Guilin at 7.15 and a driver from the hotel we had booked (the Sheraton) met us ready to take us to hotel.  We had a late dinner in the cafe and then settled in for the night.

The Sheraton is a nice hotel on the river and there is spectacular scenery all around this beautiful city.  On Saturday morning our guide, Lily met us to start our days adventures.  Just like our guides in Beijing and Xi’an, Lily was knowledgeable, flexible and attentive.  She had arranged a nice minivan for our transportation and we had a good driver to go with that!  We started the morning by visiting Fubo Hill which is a large local park set around a large rock hill.

Fubo Hill Park - a peacock!

Fubo Hill Park – a peacock!

Isabelle and Oliver trying to pull the sword out!

Isabelle and Oliver trying to pull the sword out!

Oliver (and Army General) by the entrance to Fubo Hill Park.

Oliver (and Army General) by the entrance to Fubo Hill Park.

Oliver & Isabelle by the "Huge Bell"

Oliver & Isabelle by the “Huge Bell”

The "Huge Bell" information

The “Huge Bell” information

Owen, Kids and our guide, Lily by the Thousand Men Pot

Owen, Kids and our guide, Lily by the Thousand Men Pot

The Thousand Men Pot

The Thousand Men Pot

Inside of the huge stone hill are caves, with stone carvings, statues and walkways.

Inside of the huge stone hill are caves, with stone carvings, statues and walkways.

Some of the ancient stone carvings

Some of the ancient stone carvings

Information about the stone carvings

Information about the stone carvings

Oliver by a Buddha

Oliver by a Buddha

The back of Fubo Hill Park opens onto water.  There are caves everywhere!

The back of Fubo Hill Park opens onto water. There are caves everywhere!

The Sword Testing Stone

The Sword Testing Stone

Details about the Sword Testing Stone and the Thousand Buddha Rock

Details about the Sword Testing Stone and the Thousand Buddha Rock

All of us by the lovely gardens at the public park - Fubo Hill

All of us by the lovely gardens at the public park – Fubo Hill

After spending a few hours at Fubo Hill Park, we then set off for Reed Flute Cave, which is absolutely stunning.

The cave received its name in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) for the numerous reeds growing outside the cave.  Back then, the local children liked to carve the reeds into flutes and even today, children can be seen around the cave’s entrance offering to sell the reed flutes that they make to visitors.  What makes Reed Flute Cave so marvelous are the stalactites, stalagmites, and columns that can be found inside the cave and the very creative and effective lighting for tourists.  The formations were created over thousands of years by dripping water.  A very small amount of calcium carbonate located in the water adheres to the stone with each drop.  When the drop hits the floor of the cave it also leaves a small calcium carbonate deposit that will eventually become a stalagmite.  These formations sometimes meet and become a column.  They grow on average of one millimeter per year.  The formations can be quite astounding and the ones found in Reed Flute Cave are particularly beautiful.

Reed Flute Cave

Reed Flute Cave

The beautiful lighting against the fabulous stalagmites and stalactites.

The beautiful lighting against the fabulous stalagmites and stalactites.

While walking through the cave, you can use your imagination to feel like you are being transported to different environments.  Some sections seem like a forest of crystal trees, while others seem like underground mountain ranges and even cities.  The strange formations can sometimes seem unworldly.  Many of the formations have taken on recognizable shapes of mythological creatures, or natural images.  There is one formation that even looks like Santa Claus with his sack on his back.  Due to the darkness of the cave, it is quite difficult to get a photograph that can express the same feeling as actually being there.

This one looks like mosquito nets hanging down!

This one looks like mosquito nets hanging down!

 

The kids loved the cave - it is huge and quite breathtaking.

The kids loved the cave – it is huge and quite breathtaking.

We spent ages looking at the different formations - everyone's imagination interprets them in different ways.

We spent ages looking at the different formations – everyone’s imagination interprets them in different ways.

A giant ice cream sundae!

A giant ice cream sundae!

The lighting really makes an impact when you are walking around.

The lighting really makes an impact when you are walking around.

More formations

More formations

The cave is over 240 meters in length and it takes visitors approximately one hour to walk through the entire cave. The cave’s route is U-shaped and the exit and entrance are very near each other. There are over 70 ancient stone inscriptions that can be found in the cave. They are travelogues and poems writing by Tang Dynasty literati who visited the cave and found it so beautiful that they wanted to leave their thoughts behind for future generations of visitors.  It is a magical place with so much to see.  Every 20 minutes there is a video projection in the main great cavern space.  It fast forwards through millions of years of history around the Cave and finishes with a ballet projection.  It is all beautifully done.

The ballet show.

The ballet show.

Stunning lights.

Stunning lights.

Simply Beautiful

Simply Beautiful

Outside the Reed Flute Cave, walking through the grounds by the river and lakes.

Outside the Reed Flute Cave, walking through the grounds by the river and lakes.

The view from the other side (outside Reed Flute Cave).

The view from the other side (outside Reed Flute Cave).

After the Reed Flute Cave we went on to Elephant Trunk Hill.  On the top of Elephant Trunk Hill sits a pagoda named Puxian Pagoda.  It is 14-meter-high, and was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).  The pagoda looks like the hilt of a sword sticking out of the back of the elephant.  There is a ancient legend that in times long ago, the Emperor of Heaven set out to conquer Earth commanding his troops from the back of the elephant.  The elephant worked so hard to provide transportation for the Emperor of Heaven, that it became seriously ill.  The local farmers nursed it back to health.  The elephant being extremely grateful, decided to desert the emperor and stay on earth to help the farmers plow their fields during a time of famine.  The Emperor of Heaven was so angry, that he thrust his sword into the elephant’s back and turned the elephant into the rocky hill.  The pagoda erected on top of the hill stands for the hilt of the sword.  Now this kindly elephant can forever stay with the friendly people of Guilin, guarding the city and welcoming guests from all over the world to this beautiful city.

Elephant Trunk Hill

Elephant Trunk Hill

Kids by Elephant Trunk Hill

Kids by Elephant Trunk Hill

Hugging the elephants

Hugging the elephants

Lots of elephants by Elephant Trunk Hill!

Lots of elephants by Elephant Trunk Hill!

The cormorants who put on quite the fishing show!

The cormorants who put on quite the fishing show!

Back to the hotel pool for swimming in the afternoon. It is the rainy season so we had to sit out for 20 mins but the kids were laughing about it.  We did dinner in the hotel (club lounge) as we were in a bit of a hurry to do the night river boat tour.  It was a beautiful evening to walk from our hotel to the local wharf where there were at least 8 boats waiting to take people out for an hour.  Lily had met us at the hotel to walk with us.  There was a motorbike show outside the front of our hotel with some Evil Knieval type stunts going on!!!

This boat trip was quite the treat as all along the way there were entertainers for us: musicians, dancers, actors and actresses.  All the trees were beautifully lit along the whole journey which took about 1 hour.

The late afternoon view of the sun and moon pagodas.  The Sun and Moon Twin Pagodas is situated in Shanhu (Shan Lake).  The word sun and moon in Chinese character written together mean brightness.  Some say it symbolises the future of Guilin is bright.  The Sun Pagoda is constructed with copper, it has 9 floors and reaches a height of 41 metres. The Moon Pagoda's is made of marble; it has 7 floors and measures 35 meters high. The two pagodas are connected via a tunnel at the bottom of the lake.

The late afternoon view of the sun and moon pagodas. The Sun and Moon Twin Pagodas is situated in Shanhu (Shan Lake). The word sun and moon in Chinese character written together mean brightness. Some say it symbolises the future of Guilin is bright.
The Sun Pagoda is constructed with copper, it has 9 floors and reaches a height of 41 metres. The Moon Pagoda’s is made of marble; it has 7 floors and measures 35 meters high. The two pagodas are connected via a tunnel at the bottom of the lake.

The Sun and Moon Pagoda's just lit at the start of sunset.  Our boat was just about to set off.

The Sun and Moon Pagoda’s just lit at the start of sunset. Our boat was just about to set off.

Beautiful scenery all around

Beautiful scenery all around

Another view from the boat.

Another view from the boat.

Entertainment along the river banks during our night boat ride.

Entertainment along the river banks during our night boat ride.

More entertainment

More entertainment

We passed under many bridges.  Many are modeled after famous bridges around the world!

We passed under many bridges. Many are modeled after famous bridges around the world!

I really liked the detail of the Chinese scripture on this bridge.  Look closely under the arch and you can see how much detail is there.

I really liked the detail of the Chinese scripture on this bridge. Look closely under the arch and you can see how much detail is there.

Beautifully lit trees along the embankment

Beautifully lit trees along the embankment

One of the attractions here is the cormorant fishing show.  The birds dive down and catch the fish and then the fishermen massage the birds necks to get the fish out.  Isabelle and Oliver did not like this as they thought the birds were getting strangled!!

A cormorant about to dive down for a fish.

A cormorant about to dive down for a fish.

The fisherman massaging the neck to get the fish out.

The fisherman massaging the neck to get the fish out.

Artefacts along the river banks.

Artefacts along the river banks.

Wonderful night lights.

Wonderful night lights.

Managed to capture the moon in this one too!!

Managed to capture the moon in this one too!!

Detail of the pagoda

Detail of the pagoda

After the boat ride, it was a short walk back to the hotel but via the Waterfall hotel because at every day at 8.30pm for 10 minutes the hotel has a waterfall of water from their roof plus synchronised fountain display to music.  We stayed to watch and then headed back for a good night sleep after such a busy day!

The waterfall at the Waterfall Hotel.

The waterfall at the Waterfall Hotel.

 

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Visitors (at long last!!) and a sad Farewell….

Our children were so excited about their Auntie Kim and cousins, Harley and Ashley, arriving for a visit with us in Shanghai.  We had planned a whirlwind weekend site seeing in Beijing and Xi’an, plus lots of activities in Shanghai.  Ashley and Harley were mostly interested in shopping at all the fake markets!  They arrived on Saturday April 5th and after a brief nap at home, we were straight into Shanghai life.  Isabelle and Oliver were eager to play with Harley and Ashley!

Sunday April 6th was Jo, Scott, Georgia and Saskia’s last day in Shanghai and we had booked brunch at the Shangri-La to say goodbye.

Scott, Jo Sara and Owen - sad to say goodbye to good friends…...

Scott, Jo Sara and Owen – sad to say goodbye to good friends……

This was a great opportunity to introduce our family to the Ex-pat Sunday Brunch experience and the Shangri-La is a fantastic experience for this! Kim, Ashley and Harley really enjoyed the lazy lunch, endless food and booze!  The kids had loads of fun playing with their fiends for the last time in Shanghai….

On the stairs at the Shangri-La

On the stairs at the Shangri-La

By the beautiful water feature at the Shangri-La

By the beautiful water feature at the Shangri-La

All of us by the Seafood station.

All of us by the Seafood station.

Jo and I.  I am going to miss this lady :-(

Jo and I. I am going to miss this lady 😦

Saskia with Mum and Isabelle with Mum.

Saskia with Mum and Isabelle with Mum.

Scott, Jo, Sara & Owen - we had a lot of fun together in Shanghai.

Scott, Jo, Sara & Owen – we had a lot of fun together in Shanghai.

Owen and Jo posing on the displays at the Shangri-La

Owen and Jo posing on the displays at the Shangri-La

Cousins!  Harley and Isabelle, Oliver and Ashley.

Cousins! Harley and Isabelle, Oliver and Ashley.

After several hours of eating and socializing we decided to carry on the party at the Camel pub.  This has been a regular Tuesday night venue as they have a Quiz Night there every week and we have often met up to test our general knowledge and have some fun during the week!

The kids at the Camel pub - they all played pool here!

The kids at the Camel pub – they all played pool here!

A final farewell - I expect there were some sore heads the next day!!

A final farewell – I expect there were some sore heads the next day!!

The next day, Monday, was a holiday for me (Tomb Sweeping Festival) even though the kids were back to school.  So, after taking the kids to the bus in the morning, the rest of us set out to visit some Fake Markets and shop, shop, shop!

Our first stop was to Tai Kang Lu, a lovely shopping area that has little back alleys full of art galleries, shops and cafes.  We stopped at Kommune for delicious coffee:

Biggest latte I have ever had.  The mugs are very cool and you can buy them (so Kim and Harley did!!)

Biggest latte I have ever had. The mugs are very cool and you can buy them (so Kim and Harley did!!)

Chopsticks on display at Tai Kang Lu

Chopsticks on display at Tai Kang Lu

Entrance to Tai Kang Lu

Entrance to Tai Kang Lu

After coffee and shopping it was off to find Minging Mary’s.  This place is a legend in Shanghai.  It is a fake outlet in the basement of an apartment building.  You have to know where it is and be taken by someone who is known (the first time).  I had heard about this fantastic place (extremely high quality fake’s) but never visited before.  Luckily for us, Owen had been before and knew where to take us!  I did not know what to expect when we walked down some dingy stairs into a dark corridor in the basement.  But, moments later, a man appeared and unlocked 2 doors into huge rooms of merchandise.  Ashley and Harley thought they were in Heaven!!  I must admit, I could not believe what I was seeing.

After a little bit of bargaining, we left (full bags!) and went on the Fake Market at the Science and Tech Museum (the AP Plaza).  Kim, Ashley and Harley decided to skip lunch so they could maximize shopping time!  Good job we had eaten some snacks at Kommune to keep us going.  Once at the Fake Market – Owen showed Ashley and Harley how the bargaining was done and worked hard to get some good deals for both of them.  Ashley restocked his wardrobe in 1 day!!

Ashley showing off his many purchases from the Fake Markets

Ashley showing off his many purchases from the Fake Markets

I had a few days of work to do before we were heading off to Beijing and Xi’an at the weekend (separate posts).  But, on Thursday before our train, we went to Kerry Parkside for a few hours of pampering at Dragonfly.  We had a leisurely adult lunch at The Brew and then all had massages, manicures and pedicures.  Aaah – relaxation!

Ashley's lunch at The Brew

Ashley’s lunch at The Brew

Xi’an Terracotta Warrior Army (秦陵兵马俑), City Wall and Muslim Market

We got off the sleeper train from Beijing at 8:00am ready for another action packed day and were met by our guide, Lily.  She immediately asked if we wanted to freshen up before starting our day, but we knew that it was going to be a packed agenda and wanted to get going.  It was a 45 minute journey in a very comfortable vehicle to the Terracotta Army site and we were well stocked with plenty of water to keep us hydrated.

Lily was extremely knowledgeable about Xi’an, China history in general and especially about the Warriors.  As we were pulling into the Museum, she was telling us the story about how they were discovered (by a farmer called Mr Yang in 1974) and said that he was often at the shop to meet people and answer questions and have photos taken. It was our lucky day as he was just walking into the shop at the same time as us so we all had our photo with him and he signed our book!

All of us meeting Mr Yang who discovered the Warriors.  We got his autograph too!  What an honour.

All of us meeting Mr Yang who discovered the Warriors. We got his autograph too! What an honour.

Lily told us a funny story about Mr Yang meeting President Clinton.  He was being taught some basic English to say and was told to say “how are you?”, with which Clinton would respond “fine, thank you, and you?”  and then Mr Yang should say “me too”.  However, when he met the President he actually said “who are you?”  Clinton then said “I am the husband of Hilary Clinton” and Mr Yang responded “me too”.  Definitely lost in translation!!

The entrance to the Terracotta Warrior Museum.

The entrance to the Terracotta Warrior Museum.

There are beautiful gardens all round the pits.

There are beautiful gardens all round the pits.

Experiencing the very moving Warriors was all the more special as Lily was telling us stories about each section and how they are working on uncovering more, the preservation techniques and the history associated with them.  The detail on each Warrior is outstanding and hard to believe that they are over 2200 years old.

The first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, wanted to be protected in his afterlife and therefore had his army recreated in Terracotta to be buried with him.  To date, over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses have been discovered in 3 main pits.  The figures vary in height according to their roles and the tallest are the Generals.  Other terracotta non-military figures were also found in other pits and they include officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.

In addition to the warriors, an entire necropolis built for the emperor also has been found surrounding the first emperor’s tomb mound which is located at the foot of Mount Li and built in a pyramid shape.   It was designed to be a scaled down version of his imperial palace and includes offices, halls, stables and other buildings.  This is all surrounded by rammed earth walls with different gateway entrances.

The terracotta army figures were manufactured in workshops by government laborers and local craftsmen using materials originated on Mount Li, and some historical documents estimate as many as 700,000 people working on these. Heads, arms, legs, and torsos were all created separately and then assembled – an early production assembly line!  Historians believe that there were 8 basic face moulds which were then made unique with additions of clay and sculpting.  Each worker signed the piece that they worked on.  Once complete, they were placed in military formation around the tomb.  They vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank and most of them originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows. Evidence shows that they were also painted with bright paint – pink, red, blue, green, white, black and brown.  Unfortunately, once the terracotta warriors are uncovered the vivid paint curls and flakes off or fades rapidly – within 15 minutes of exposure.  Lily told us that they know there are many more figures to excavate, but are waiting for the right technology to do that AND preserve the colour.  And, they haven’t even started on the actual tomb of the Emperor yet!

Pit 1 is HUGE.  Approximately 6,000 Warriors in this building.

Pit 1 is HUGE. Approximately 6,000 Warriors in this building.

Tight squeeze to get all of us plus some Warriors in 1 photo!

Tight squeeze to get all of us plus some Warriors in 1 photo!

Although I had seen pictures of the Warriors, it does not prepare you for the scale and magnitude.

Although I had seen pictures of the Warriors, it does not prepare you for the scale and magnitude.

Sara, Oliver, Owen and Isabelle by the Warriors

Sara, Oliver, Owen and Isabelle by the Warriors

Warriors

Warriors

Broken Warriors waiting to be fixed.

Broken Warriors waiting to be fixed.

The slow and delicate process of excavation….

The slow and delicate process of excavation….

Restored and repaired Warriors

Restored and repaired Warriors

More Warriors and us!

More Warriors and us!

Information about the pigments and colours.

Some of the original vivid pigments and colours.

Waiting to be assembled

Waiting to be assembled

More colour examples

More colour examples

Some of the horses

Some of the horses

We all got to pose with some very good replicas!!

We all got to pose with some very good replicas!!

To keep Isabelle and Oliver occupied while us adults were in awe of what we were seeing, Lily kept them fed with Oreo Cookies and other treats!  After seeing the pits, we moved into the museum area.

Information

Information about Pit 3

The kneeling archer.  Even the soles of his shoes are incredibly detailed.

The kneeling archer. Even the soles of his shoes are incredibly detailed.

Each exhibit had information next to it.

Each exhibit had information next to it.

The back of the kneeling archer.  Some of the colour has been preserved and you can also see the detail on the shoes.

The back of the kneeling archer. Some of the colour has been preserved and you can also see the detail on the shoes.

A Cavalryman with his horse.

A Cavalryman with his horse.

Information about the Cavalryman and Horse.

Information about the Cavalryman and Horse.

A Chrome plated weapon.  This technology was not "re-invented" until the 20th century!!

A Chrome plated weapon. This technology was not “re-invented” until the 20th century!!

Technology from 2200 years ago!!

Technology from 2200 years ago!!

Leaving the Terracotta Warrior Museum and on to Xi'an.

Leaving the Terracotta Warrior Museum and on to Xi’an.

After spending several hours at the Museum, we left to have a delicious lunch at a local restaurant. Lily was very conscious of Oliver’s nut allergy when ordering all the dishes and was very insistent with the restaurant staff that everything should be nut free.  The meal was fantastic (she had asked what food we preferred, but of course we all said local!!)  More history and local knowledge was shared with us over this meal.  After lunch we went to visit the City wall and the Muslim shopping area.

When Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), captured Huizhou, a hermit named Zhu Sheng admonished him that he should ‘built high walls, store abundant food supplies and take time to be an Emperor,’ so that he could fortify the city and unify the other states. After the establishment of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang followed his advice and began to enlarge the wall built initially during the old Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), creating the modern Xian City Wall. It’s the most complete city wall that has survived in China, as well being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world.  Source: TravelChinaGuide.

The wall is almost 14km long, with a deep moat surrounding it.  Every 120 meters there is a rampant, 98 in total, that houses a sentry building.  The only way for an enemy to enter the city was by attacking the gates in the wall, so the ancient Chinese built complex structures within the wall!  The City Wall in Xi’an includes four gates and they are; Changle (meaning eternal joy) in the east, Anding (harmony peace) in the west, Yongning (eternal peace) in the south and Anyuan (forever harmony) in the north. The south gate, Yongning, is the most beautifully decorated one. It is very near to the Bell Tower at the center of the city.  Watch towers are  located on each of the four corners of the wall.  The one at the southwestern corner is round, but the other three are square-shaped.

On top of the City Wall at Xi'an

On top of the City Wall at Xi’an

Isabelle & Oliver on the top of the City Wall, and looking through to the City.

Isabelle & Oliver on the top of the City Wall, and looking through to the City.

More intricate and fascinating architecture.  This was an important building, and you can tell because of the animals on the roof edges.

More intricate and fascinating architecture on a Watch Tower. This was an important building, and you can tell because of the animals on the roof edges.

Xi'an City Walls important buildings

Xi’an City Walls important buildings

Hanging out over the City Gates.

Hanging out over the City Gates.

More detailed architecture.

More detailed architecture.

Looking across the gate to administrative buildings on the other side.

Looking across the gate to administrative buildings on the other side.

The view across the City (and moat below) was very good.  Wish it had been a clearer day!!

The view across the City (and moat below) was very good. Wish it had been a clearer day!!

Underneath a huge bell.

Underneath a huge bell.

The Bell Tower

The Drum Tower

The Drum Tower got its name from the huge drum located within the building.  At the beginning of each day, at dawn, a bell was struck – in the Bell Tower.  At the end of each day, the drum was beat at sunset to indicate the end of the day – in the Drum Tower.  On the first floor of this tower is a hall that houses many large drums, decorated with intrinsic and beautiful Chinese writing, which symbolizes good fortune.

Many of the tour guides offer bicycle riding along the top of the City Wall.  I think this is an excellent way to see it all!

Many of the tour guides offer bicycle riding along the top of the City Wall. I think this is an excellent way to see it all!

After we had visited the City Wall, Lily took us to Muslim Quarter, which includes Muslim Street.  The street is about 500 meters in length from south to north and you reach it under the archway under the Drum Tower. This street is paved with dark colored stone with lots of green trees lining the street.  The buildings on both sides of the street are modeled on the styles of both the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasties (1644-1911).  Some of the buildings are restaurants, while others are stores selling lots of tourist souvenirs, but here there is one thing in common: the owners are all Muslims.  This is a big tourist attraction in Xi’an! Xi’an was the starting point of the ancient Silk Road 1,000 years ago in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-9 AD).  A number of merchants and overseas students from the Arabic countries and Persia went to Xi’an for business and studying since the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-9 AD); they settled down on the present Muslim Street, and they were called the Hui people by the locals.  One generation after another, the descendants of the Hui ethnic people now number over 60,000.

Muslim Street

Muslim Street

The street is lined with street food vendors.

The street is lined with street food vendors.

We did not try anything here, although i wanted to!

We did not try anything here, although i wanted to!

Lily was a great tour guide.  We had heard lots of stories about tourists being taken to certain shops and vendors and pushed into buying something, but Lily did not do this.  At the end of the day, she returned us back to the train station and even wanted to come and wait with us until the train time (which we declined as we thought we could do that by ourselves!)  The whole day was a brilliant experience with a lovely lady who ensured that EVERYTHING ran smoothly with no unexpected surprises or additional fees.  Like Jeff the day before in Beijing, Lily is also proud of the history and culture of China and this comes through when she is explaining and discussing it.  This made a huge difference to me – being able to hear from a local all the things that you would never read in a guide book.  She answered all our questions with patience and detail.  It could not have been a better day!

Sharing a meal with a local!

Sharing a meal with a local!

The Great Wall at Mutianyu, 长城/万里长城

After a good night sleep in the hotel, we were up early to to do the hour’s ride to the Great Wall (ChongQing in Chinese).  It was a fairly easy drive, and only the last 20 minutes were busy.  Lots of mini-buses, coaches and vans taking crowds of tourists to this popular part of the Wall.  We were lucky with the weather as the smog levels were relatively low and it was not raining!  Jeff went off to buy our tickets for the ride up/ride down part of the day.  He told us that Michelle Obama and her 2 children had been there within the previous 2 weeks which now made this part of the Great Wall even more popular.  The American public will be pleased to know that their taxes paid for this busy attraction to be completely closed for their visit!  There were street vendors all over the place selling souvenirs, fruit and vegetables.

The busy street vendors.  We bought some dried pineapple here - best ever!

The busy street vendors. We bought some dried pineapple here – best ever!

The plan was to take a chair lift up to the Great Wall and then do the toboggan ride back down after.

Isabelle & Oliver by the entrance to the Chair Lift ride.

Isabelle & Oliver by the entrance to the Chair Lift ride.

The Great Wall at Mutianyu

The Great Wall at Mutianyu

Ashley & Oliver riding up on the Chair Lift.

Ashley & Oliver riding up on the Chair Lift.

Ashley, Harley, Kim. Owen. Isabelle, Sara & Oliver on the Great Wall.

Ashley, Harley, Kim. Owen. Isabelle, Sara & Oliver on the Great Wall.

Another one checked off my Bucket List!  Oliver took this photo of me on the wonky steps on the Great Wall.

Another one checked off my Bucket List! Oliver took this photo of me on the wonky steps on the Great Wall.

And, here is how the wonky steps look from the bottom.....

And, here is how the wonky steps look from the bottom…..

This was an amazing experience.  I did not imagine that I would make it to the Great Wall.  It just shows that if you put items on your Bucket List to achieve (even if you think they are wild and out there, hopes and dreams) you can complete them.  Now, if I can just find a way to complete 77 – take off and land on an aircraft carrier in the ocean…….

We spent several hours walking parts of the wall and listening to Jeff give us some history and facts.  The architecture is quite spectacular.  All the more because it has survived for thousands of years, is so extensive and has some quite brilliant engineering.  For example, archeological surveys have determined that the Wall is over 8,850km (5,500 miles) long; it was started 800BC but was mostly built during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644); there are approximately 25,000 watch towers; it has been estimated that up to a million people died building the Wall over the period of time of construction.

Fire was used to signal to other watch towers, so when the guards/soldiers wanted to eat or stay warm, they had to light fires in chimneys like this one.  It would have been incredibly smokey in here!

Fire was used to signal to other watch towers, so when the guards/soldiers wanted to eat or stay warm, they had to light fires in chimneys like this one. It would have been incredibly smokey in here as there is no outlet for the smoke!

The Great Wall has holes like this to line up bow and arrows to fire at approaching enemies.

The Great Wall has holes like this to line up bow and arrows to fire at approaching enemies.

There are cannons at intervals - pointing at the North (Mongolia) ready to fire!

There are cannons at intervals – pointing at the North (Mongolia) ready to fire!  Oliver is in the line of fire here!!

We were lucky with the weather.  It was actually a warm sunny day.  Smog was relatively low - even so, you can see the haze.

We were lucky with the weather. It was actually a warm sunny day. Smog was relatively low – even so, you can see the haze.

Absolutely amazing.

Absolutely amazing.

All of us with another view…..

All of us with another view…..

Oliver & Isabelle by one of the windows in a watch tower.

Oliver & Isabelle by one of the windows in a watch tower.

Jeff took a photo of all of us at the top of a Watch Tower.

Jeff took a photo of all of us at the top of a Watch Tower.

I was quite surprised at how many steps there were.  When I thought of the Great Wall, I had imagined it quite smooth on the top.  It is definitely a work out to see this marvelous piece of engineering and building.  After all the exercise walking along, we were ready for a thrill ride back down to the village.

We had to wait in line for about 45 minutes as this is a popular way to return to base!  But, it was definitely worth the wait…….

Kim and Sara ready in our toboggans.

Kim and Sara ready in our toboggans.

Oliver rode with Ashley.

Oliver rode with Ashley.

Harley and Isabelle riding down.

Harley and Isabelle riding down.

Once we were all safely at the bottom, it was time for a very late lunch.  Jeff took us to another great local restaurant and we stuffed our faces with more delicious local food.  Our original plan had been to see the Summer Palace after this, but we had spent so much time on the Great Wall, that we ran out of time.  So, Jeff took us to the train station so that we could continue on with the next leg of our journey.  On to the sleeper train for 1 more night, this time traveling to Xi’an.

 

Daddy Daughter Masquerade Ball 2014

Saturday March 1st was THE social event of the year at BISS (at least, for the girls!)

The invitation

The invitation

Daddy Daughter Ball 2014 and it was a masquerade event this year.  This was Isabelle and Owen’s 2nd ball and the excitement level was high (at least, for Isabelle!)  As like last year, the girls have all been talking about, anticipating, discussing dresses, hair styles, nail color and shoes for weeks.  Also like last year, Isabelle designed her dress and right before Chinese New Year we again went to the Fabric Market to have it made.  She envisioned a purple creation of wonderfulness and was thrilled with the results.  We had spent hours looking at all sorts of dresses on the Internet to give her extra ideas, but her original description of what she wanted was pretty much what she ended up with.  (She does say that being a Dress Designer is one of her future career options!!)

In the afternoon we went to Maddie’s house and waited for Phoebe to arrive to paint her nails.  Purple, of course!  Then, we rushed around the corner to our local hairdresser’s to have her hair done.  Last year she had french braids and curls, and this year she chose to have 2 french braids joining at the back and then very straight hair.   Home to get dressed and put a little bit of make up on!  I did some glitter eye shadow for her and pink lip gloss.

Nail Painting with Maddie

Nail Painting with Maddie

Her beautiful french braid (wish she would sit still long enough for me to practice on her - then I wouldn't have to pay $3 to have it done by a professional!)

Her beautiful french braid (wish she would sit still long enough for me to practice on her – then I wouldn’t have to pay $3 to have it done by a professional!)

Owen was also getting ready, super-stud-Bond-like in his tux and matching bow tie.  My hubby and daughter looked amazing.  At 5:45 they left to enjoy the fun of the evening.

My handsome hubby and gorgeous girl.

My handsome hubby and gorgeous girl.

Isabelle was very specific about the detail on her dress!

Isabelle was very specific about the detail on her dress!

Oliver was testing the various masks we have at home and couldn’t resist getting in a few photos!

With masks on!  Isabelle is ready to go with her lovely furry cape.

With masks on! Isabelle is ready to go with her lovely furry cape.

Even Tetley got in on the action.

Even Tetley got in on the action.

This was the plan for the night:

The evening plans

The evening agenda

I think Owen was a little bit relieved to also see this sign:

YEAH!

YEAH!

The Dance Floor

The Dance Floor

Once Daddy and Daughter had left the house, Oliver and I got ready to go to Katrina’s house.  10 lovely lonely ladies (plus 6 sons!) met to share some nibbles and cocktails while the D&D’s were dancing!  Oliver had fun with some friends while the Mums were enjoying adult girlie time.  At 9:30 the party goers returned and we continued it for another couple of hours.  Initially there was lots of action from all the kids, but this is what it looked like after about 30 minutes:

Movie and chillax time!

Movie and chillax time!

Thailand Part 3 – Koh Samui

Chinese New Year holidays were upon us and we were off to Koh Samui, Thailand to escape the fireworks, cold weather and air pollution.

In true fashion, I had left it quite late to book this trip at one of the busiest travel times in China.  So, we ended up returning to Thailand – Koh Samui this time, and taking the kids out of school 2.5 days early.   So on Monday January 27th we set off for Shanghai airport to enjoy 12 days in the warmth, sunshine and clean air of Thailand.  We flew into Bangkok to connect with our flight to Koh Samui island and were totally amazed to bump into Sheila O’Neill who was checking in for a girlie getaway!  We only know 9 people in Bangkok, so to see one of them at that particular time was funny!  We had a quick catch up before we left for our different flights.

We were picked up at the airport by a lovely man driving a very luxurious, spacious van.  A good omen for a great holiday!  A short 15 minute drive from the airport and we arrived at our Villa at Kanda Residences at the north end of Chaweng Beach.  Owen had researched many places for us to stay and had picked a fantastic villa for us.  A 3 bedroom place with a private pool very close to the beach, in a facility that had a good restaurant and a couple more communal pools, plus a private beach.

We quickly unpacked and then all collapsed into our beds.  The last 3 or 4 months have been incredibly busy, stressful and tiring for me.  The last quarter of our year is always busy with major sales cycles coming to a close, a major customer event, plus planning for 2014.  I felt like I had not had a chance to take a breath and enjoy life or my family.  The year had also started in a crazy fashion with our sales kick off, year end reviews, bonus calculations and settling down organization changes.  I was exhausted!  I spent the first couple of days frantically closing HR and bonus issues before I finally was able to relax and completely switch off.  This is a rare time of year where China shuts down and I knew that I could decompress because everyone else would be off too.  So, for the first time in a year, I did not feel under pressure to check email or follow up on anything – it was bliss.

Oliver relaxing in the pool at our villa.  "This is the life, Mum!"

Oliver relaxing in the pool at our villa. “This is the life, Mum!”

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I slept late, worked a little and chilled by the pool.  The kids loved our pool and were perfectly happy to be entertaining themselves with endless hours of swimming and games.  Owen was exhausted from his trip to the UK and slept and read alot too.  We found a Tesco and stocked up on supplies so that we could enjoy our paradise cocoon.  I did not realize how stressed I had been as I could actually feel it lifting as the days went by.  I was sleeping better and enjoying the simple pleasure of being with my family with no itinerary and no agenda.

We booked the resort Spa experts to come to our villa and pamper us all.  The kids experienced their first massage (a “baby” massage – but didn’t tell them that is what it was called!)  We all had our treatments in the Sala by the pool.  They both loved their experience!  Owen had a lovely foot massage while I had a relaxing body massage.  How wonderful to experience that while chilling in the warm weather.

Isabelle and Oliver getting totally spoiled with massages in our villa!

Isabelle and Oliver getting totally spoiled with massages in our villa!

We went into Chaweng Beach a couple of times.  We spent a couple of hours wandering around the market stalls.  We bought a couple of bedside lights for the kids – made out of coconut and shaped into animals.  Isabelle’s is like an elephant and Oliver’s is shaped like a buffalo.  Oliver also got a lovely pair of Foakley sunglasses (that is Fake Oakley!)  We explored the wonderful beach by the villa.  It is very private (there was no-one else there when we were there) and a mix of interesting rock pools and small pebbles.  It is not a beach for swimming because of all the rocks.  But, it is a children’s paradise for finding things!

Rockpool exploration at Kanda residences

Rockpool exploration at Kanda residences

By the steps on the way down to the beach.  The kids are holding onto the shower (made out of bamboo!)

By the steps on the way down to the beach. The kids are holding onto the shower (made out of bamboo!)

Oliver found a coconut and Isabelle found a sand dollar.

Oliver found a coconut and Isabelle found a sand dollar.

It was so disappointing to see so much rubbish washed up on the beach.  This sandal had obviously been in the water for a while, judging by the shellfish that had attached itself.  This was one example of nature merging with man made mess.

It was so disappointing to see so much rubbish washed up on the beach. This sandal had obviously been in the water for a while, judging by the shellfish that had attached itself. This was one example of nature merging with man made mess.

The deserted beach.  This is the Kanda Residence Villas nestled into the hills.  A beautiful place to recharge!

The deserted beach. This is the Kanda Residence Villas nestled into the hills. A beautiful place to recharge!

Daddy with his little explorers.  The buckets came back full of shells, rocks and other interesting "stuff"

Daddy with his little explorers. The buckets came back full of shells, rocks and other interesting “stuff”

Isabelle as Queen of the Castle on the rocks.

Isabelle as Queen of the Castle on the rocks.

Oliver as King of the Castle on the rocks

Oliver as King of the Castle on the rocks

Owen pretending to eat a dead crab that he found in the rock pools.

Owen pretending to eat a dead crab that he found in the rock pools.

We poured over the island information brochures and told Isabelle and Oliver that they could pick 1 thing each that they wanted to do.  Isabelle chose Quad Biking (separate post) and Oliver chose Coco Splash – a water park (separate post), Owen and I chose a private boat charter (separate post).  We booked the boat charter for Saturday February 1st, the water park for Monday 3rd and Quad biking on Wednesday 5th.  This was a perfect combination of planned activities and then days with nothing to do except relax, swim, eat, drink, read and play.

Family in the infinity edge pool at Kanda Residences.

Family in the lower children’s pool at Kanda Residences.

The infinity edge pool at Kanda residences is wonderful.  The views from here are lovely.

The infinity edge pool at Kanda residences is wonderful. The views from here are lovely.

"Hey Guys"

“Hey Guys”

Owen horsing around with the kids!

Owen horsing around with the kids!

Our first meal out was to the Spirit House Restaurant.  We had asked our resort concierge for some recommendations for some good Thai food.  Owen and I both love this cuisine and were eager to eat authentically.  We had a lovely meal in a lovely location (but not sure how authentic it was, especially after our Quad Biking day!!).

Isabelle and Oliver at the Spirit House Restaurant.

Isabelle and Oliver at the Spirit House Restaurant.

Cuddle time between courses!

Cuddle time between courses!

One of the offerings at the Spirit House restaurant.

One of the offerings at the Spirit House restaurant.

Oliver & Isabelle by a wall sculpture in the Spirit House Restaurant

Oliver & Isabelle by a wall sculpture in the Spirit House Restaurant

Offerings to the Gods all over the place!

Offerings to the Gods all over the place!

We bought some Chinese lanterns from a beach vendor and let them off by our pool.

Isabelle and Oliver watching Daddy make sure that the Chinese Lantern is full before letting go.

Isabelle and Oliver watching Daddy make sure that the Chinese Lantern is full before letting go.

Up, up and away.  The white light to the right is the Moon.  This is very soon after the "New Year".

Up, up and away. The white light to the right is the Moon. This is very soon after the “New Year”.

A lovely meal out was at Tree Tops in the Anantara Lawana resort.  The tables are set on raised stages in the trees.  It is a molecular cuisine which particularly pleased Owen as this is what he is studying at the moment!  I had ordered a lychee martini cocktail that was made at the table and then served over dry ice – the kids thought this was really cool as my drink was surrounded in smoke!!  Owen’s cocktail was also made at the table but was not as visually stunning as mine.  A unique feature of our meal here was a Salt Guru/Sommelier.  She brought over a selection of different salts and then gave Owen and I a couple to try with our main meal.  It was a very nice meal.

A "smoking" Lychee Martini!

A “smoking” Lychee Martini!

Our Tree Tops "welcome" drink

Our Tree Tops “welcome” drink

Non-alcoholic version for the kids!

Non-alcoholic version for the kids!

We ate at Eat Sense after our day at Coco Splash.  This was a lovely beach side restaurant with some wonderful Thai food.  It was very busy the night we were there and I was glad that we had placed our order before a massive group of Chinese people arrived.  I had to laugh at the table next to us – it was a table of 12 and ALL of them were on their smart phones.  One of their group was obviously upset by this and made them all hand them over to him.  He wrapped them all up in a napkin and put it under the table!  Then, all of a sudden, the conversation started to flow, laughing and animated for the rest of their meal.  I guess some things are universal and you don’t need to speak Mandarin to understand that whole interaction!  I was pleased to see this – we have a “no technology” rule when we are eating too!

The Wet Bar at Akaryn Samui Resort and Spa was upscale Pizza night for us all.  82 different pizza’s on the menu and we were spoilt for choice.  This was another fantastic beach side table in another lovely resort.  Our table was right by the ocean waves crashing on the sand – so soothing and relaxing to eat with the music of Mother Nature playing behind us.

Pizza by the beach

Pizza by the beach

After one particular hard afternoon of shopping, we realized that it was getting late.  As we walked down the main strip, we were debating about getting a taxi, when Owen saw Red Snapper restaurant across the road.  We did a quick Trip Advisor look up and saw that it was rated high so headed in for our dinner!  Owen and I both had yummy flank steak followed by limoncello spheres for dessert.  This restaurant had some very colorful lights behind the bar.

Our Red Snapper dinner

Our Red Snapper dinner

Lemoncello Spheres that burst in your mouth!  Owen is going to attempt to recreate these at home.

Limoncello Spheres that burst in your mouth! Owen is going to attempt to recreate these at home.

The lit up bottles at the bar in Red Snapper restaurant.

The lit up bottles at the bar in Red Snapper restaurant.

Our last night in Koh Samui and we ate at Coco Rock.  This restaurant is located in the Coral Bay resort very close to Kanda.  It was a beautiful location and the evening light was fantastic for some good photos.  The menu had a combination of Thai cuisine and International favorites.  Owen and I both chose Thai options – Phad Thai for Owen and Massan Chicken curry for me – yummy!  Owen finished off with Tiramisu, Isabelle had ice cream.  Oliver and I were too stuffed for dessert!

On the beach by Coco Rock restaurant.

On the beach by Coco Rock restaurant.

Beautiful light for photos.

Beautiful light for photos.

Me and my girl in our matching vacation dresses bought the day before in a local Koh Samui shop.

Me and my girl in our matching vacation dresses bought the day before in a local Koh Samui shop.

After our wonderful day on the boat, we decided to eat at the restaurant in Kanda (Rockpool Restaurant).  They had some interesting evening entertainment serenading us to help celebrate the Lunar New Year.  Owen and I were not sure how many of the group were ladies or if they were all part of the famous Thailand lady boys that often entertain tourists.  Either way, it was a pretty average performance!!

Entertain at Rockpool Restaurant.

Entertain at Rockpool Restaurant.

Isabelle and Oliver liked sitting up at the big bar table overlooking the ocean at Rockpool restaurant.  Owen took this cool shot of the wind capturing her hair!

I like this photo of the wind in Isabelle's hair.

I like this photo of the wind in Isabelle’s hair.

Even though we were in a private villa, we still had some of the amenities of a hotel/resort.  When we returned from dinner on Lunar/Chinese New Year, we each had a fortune cookie and a delightful little colorful purse with a shiny new coin in it.  A very nice touch from the resort!

New Year gifts

New Year gifts

Thailand is a beautiful Country.  The food is delicious, the people are welcoming and friendly, the air and the ocean are clean (relatively!!) and the pace of life is relaxed.  We all enjoyed a very relaxing holiday here and will definitely try to return to visit another area of this wonderful part of the world.

Quad Bike Fun

Our day started out with a pickup truck to collect us from the villa.  The front cab was already full so we (me – reluctantly) got up into the open back.  The kids thought this was sooooo cool.  We obviously had a couple more stops to pick up other riders at their hotels/villa’s so we got a good tour of Koh Samui island!

A "selfie" of us in the back of our ride to the Quad Bike facility!  A cool way to see the Island.

A “selfie” of us in the back of our ride to the Quad Bike facility! A cool way to see the Island.

We even got pulled over by the police.  I am not sure what our driver was doing to get pulled over, but we were stopped for nearly an hour while he went to pay a fine.  Meanwhile, we were all watching the police pull over anyone not wearing a helmet on the many bikes/scooters that you see on the roads here.  It was comical seeing some of the riders trying to get out of the fine by turning around before the road block.  However, there was a policeman stationed further up the road turning them back around!!  Contrary to popular belief, there is a helmet law in Thailand and you must wear one.  Owen and I joked that the police were hustling for money – we must have watched at least 100 get stopped!

Once we were back on the road, we had a hair raising journey up twisty turny roads towards the top of one of the mountains on Koh Samui.  Breathtaking views across the island and could clearly see Fisherman’s village in Bophut as well as to Chaweng on the other side of the island.  The lush green vegetation on the mountain sides is thick and dense.

The view from the top of the mountain to the coat (Fishermans Village in Bophut in the background).

The view from the top of the mountain to the coat (Fishermans Village in Bophut in the background).

We pulled into the Quad Bike facility and were greeted by smiling, friendly and apologetic staff.  Because of our unscheduled stop, we were late starting…..  However, this did not stop a fast start to the day.

In total, we were a group of 10 – the 4 of us, 2 Aussies, 2 Russians and 2 Chinese.  There was a choice of several different types of Quad Bike and the girls were recommended the lighter, smaller bikes, while the boys had the heavier, more rugged and powerful bikes.   We all got helmets and then listened to the safety and operational briefing.  Owen and I had both been quad biking before.  Our friend Paul who lives on a wonderful piece of land in Indiana, USA had hosted us several times where we had experienced the joy of quading!  I am very glad that I had done this before and knew how the bikes handled, otherwise I would not have been comfortable taking Oliver on mine.

Oliver and I ready to go!

Oliver and I ready to go!

Oliver and Isabelle on the "man bike".

Oliver and Isabelle on the “man bike”.

Raring to go…..

Raring to go…..

I was on one of the “girlie” bikes with Oliver sitting in front and Owen was on the “man” bike with Isabelle in front of him.  We were excited to start!  The group set off with Owen and I taking the rear of the convoy.  We were out for about 90 minutes on the first trail around the mountains.  We stopped for a drink at a place that was building a sleeping Budha.  Again, more spectacular views across the mountains to the ocean either side.  This trail was a little tame for Owen and I, although it was a great introduction for beginners.  It was funny watching the novices tackle the bumps and holes and hills!  Oliver loved it from the beginning and was laughing for most of our trip.  Isabelle said it was a little scary to start, but she thought it was “fun and wonderful” once she relaxed into the experience.

Relaxing at our first stop.

Relaxing at our first stop.

This is how Pineapple's grow!  There was a whole plantation down this particular slope.

This is how Pineapple’s grow! There was a whole plantation down this particular slope.

The "sleeping Budha" being built.

The “sleeping Budha” being built.

Oliver wanted to ride by himself after the morning session!

Oliver wanted to ride by himself after the morning session!

 

We headed back to the facility for lunch and it was superb.  Some of the best Thai food that I have ever eaten.  It was cooked by locals and we had 3 different Thai curry’s and the yummiest fried vegetable fritters, plus rice.  I had 3 plate fulls before I realized that I had definitely eaten too much!!  The sweet watermelon and pineapple were a perfect ending to a delicious meal.  This was a completely unexpected bonus to this great day out.  The only downside was the toilet (yes, I am back on THAT subject!)  Isabelle and I both needed to use “the facility” after lunch and were dismayed to see that it was a squat!!  Needless to say, Isabelle decided to wait…….  I am getting quite used to these now so it was all ok for me!!!

Isabelle and the view from our lunch table.

Isabelle and the view from our lunch table.

After lunch, we were back on the bikes for part 2.  Oh my goodness, what fun we had.  The afternoon trails were spectacular.  We went through lots of water, which Oliver and Isabelle both loved, and the trails were much more challenging.  Lots of hills, tight turns, rugged terrain and large bumps and holes to navigate over.  I let Oliver control the speed of our quad bike and it turns out that he is quite the natural – he knew to keep a safe distance from the bike in front, but was a speed demon through the water so we got soaked multiple times!  I only had to take over on a couple of the more challenging, steeper hills.  He LOVED it.  It turns out that Owen was also letting Isabelle control their bike with similar results.

So. Much. FUN.

So. Much. FUN.

We stopped at a beautiful waterfall where we all had a swim/wade, took pictures at the top of the waterfall and generally enjoyed the wonderful scenery, ice cold water and relaxing environment.

The afternoon break by the waterfall.  This was the top river section that we all had fun swimming/wading in.

The afternoon break by the waterfall. This was the top river section that we all had fun swimming/wading in.

Oliver braving a little rapid.  He enjoyed this "water slide"!

Oliver braving a little rapid. He enjoyed this “water slide”!

At the top of the waterfall.  It was about a 60' drop down, which does not show up well in these photos.

At the top of the waterfall. It was about a 60′ drop down, which does not show up well in these photos.

It was great to have so many people willing to take family shots.

It was great to have so many people willing to take family shots.

I love this family shot as the water appears to be caught in motion behind us.

I love this family shot as the water appears to be caught in motion behind us.

The only thing that we wished for was more photos of us on the bikes!  We were so busy enjoying the action that it was difficult to remember to take some action shots.  What a fantastic, fun day out.  And, the best Thai meal of our vacation!!