Tag Archives: Site-seeing

Beautiful Guilin – Riverboat tour to Yangshuo

Up early as today was river cruise day!!  I think that everyone else staying in our hotel were also doing the river cruise as we had to wait for a breakfast table at 7.45 on a Sunday morning!!  Lily met us at 8.30 and we then did the 20 minute ride to join the 100’s of other people boarding the river cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo on the River Li.  Our boat held about 130 people but did not feel crowded.  All the boats were like this and they were leaving every 10-15 minutes.  It was a 4 hour leisurely ride to Yangshuo, but it went fast and was a lovely time through spectacular scenery – this really is the most beautiful place in China.

The River Cruise Route.  A 4-5 hour ride through spectacular scenery.

The River Cruise Route. A 4-5 hour ride through spectacular scenery.

The Government pay the fishermen to take trash out of the river so it is very clean as a result.  🙂

Follow the boats to Yangshuo......  Down the Yantze river.

Follow the boats to Yangshuo from Guilin…… Down the Li river.

All of the boats are very similar.  We spent quite a bit of time on the upper deck taking photos!  We saw some of the local tradespeople sailing up to the big boats selling fresh fruit, vegetables and fish.  Some of our lunch was sourced this way!

A local vendor selling his wares - boatside!

A local vendor selling his wares – boatside!

It all looks good!

It all looks good!

Despite the colour of the water, the Li River is one of the cleanest in China.  After stormy weather, the River turns this muddy colour.

Despite the colour of the water, the Li River is one of the cleanest in China. After stormy weather, the River turns this muddy colour.

The cruise of this section of the River Li is 83km long and is split into 3 rough sections.  The various attractions (villages, peaks, hills, rock formations) have interesting descriptive names, which calls for much of your imagination to see if the descriptions match the view!  The tour guide on each boat (as well as Lily) explain many of the legendary stories about these attractions  – most are mystical fairy and love stories.

In the second section, which is from Ox Gorge (near the Bamboo River Dock and the Millstone Dock) to Water-Dropping Village, we witnessed the most charming scenery of the cruise: Wangfu Rock (Yearning-for-Husband’s-Return Rock); Crown Cave – A crown-like crag earns the hill this name. What makes the hill a worthy stop for both river cruise tourists and those who arrive from Guilin City by bus tour, is its twelve kilometer long water-eroded cave. It is a wonderland of various stalactite, stone pillars and rock formations in the cave. Since it is open to tourists in 1995, illuminating lights, sound control tour guide system and escalators are equipped in the scenic area and sightseeing cars and boats enable visitors to tour inside the cave. The government plan to build this site as an all-round tourist area including cave visiting, country sightseeing and ethnic minority exploration. It is estimated to become an important excursion site along the the river.   Not very far from the Crown Cave on the western bank, a huge rock descends into the river and cuts off a footpath by the water edge. Villagers have to take a ferry to reach the other side and continue the way. So, this spot gets its name Half-Side Ferry (for usually ferry means to transport people by boat across a body of water and reach the opposite bank).

Down stream from Yangdi to Xingping, the river passes an endless procession of distinct peaks and bamboo groves and stunning landscape.  This part was the highlight of the cruise.  Pinnacled peaks pop up and surprise visitors at each bend of the river.  Water buffalos patrol on the fields; ducks paddle in the waters; peasants reap paddies in front of village houses; fishermen use the cormorants to catch the fish and return them to the boat and kids go home singing songs.  An idyllic and beautiful scene of life on the river, far removed from concrete cities.

Nine Horse Mural Hill (jiuma hua shan) is a 100-meter-high cliff face,  61km from Guilin and 4km from Xinping.  It has been weathered and is a stratified rock surface in various shades of colors.  The legend is that the colors represent nine horses that assume a variety of poses: some seem to be running, some just lying there and others playing.   It is said that a herdsman (Monkey King) from the heaven brought his horses to Li River and while there, an artist saw those horses and wanted to draw them.  Unfortunately, the horses were so scared of him that they ran into the cliff and never came out again.

Legend says that if a person can point out all the nine horses on the precipice, she or he would be the winner of the next “Imperial Examination”.  It is reported that Premier Zhou Enlai and President Bill Clinton were able to recognize and identify all of the nine horses.  Legendary stories are given to hill rocks and peaks and it is a delightful experience to appreciate the stunning landscape while listening to tour guide’s interpretation of the stories behind it.

Can you see the Nine Horses?

Can you see the Nine Horses?

Sailing on downstream, south from the Mural Hill about 500 meters, peaks become steep and the river becomes wide and quiet. A huge yellow flagstone lying under the waters can easily be seen. It is like a cloth piece and people called it Yellow Cloth Shoal. There are seven green peaks standing nearby. A legend goes that the seven peaks are fairy girls from the heaven who took baths in the river.  Enthralled by the charming scene, they stayed here and become into the peaks.  The green peaks under the blue sky reflected on the quiet waters create a spectacular scene.

The scenery is spectacular.

The scenery is spectacular.

One of the Riverboat views.

One of the Riverboat views.

Another view!

Another view!

A waterfall captured from the Boat.

A waterfall captured from the Boat.

Another View!

Another View!

A Panoramic view

A Panoramic view

One of the caves that we saw along the way.

One of the caves that we saw along the way.

It was a little breezy on the top of the boat!

It was a little breezy on the top of the boat!

Oliver and Isabelle practising Kung Fu on the top of the boat.

Oliver and Isabelle practising Kung Fu on the top of the boat.

Cormorants are good sized birds who enjoy diving underwater in search of fish. The local fishermen use the cormorants to catch the fish and return them to the boat.  They drive the birds into the water where they dive below the surface in search of fish.  When the birds catch a fish they return to the boat and the fisherman removes the fish from their throat and places it in the basket.  The secret is that the fisherman places a cord around the bird’s neck to keep the bird from swallowing the fish.  I am not sure if I like this approach, but it was certainly a good show.

Cormorant Fishing

Cormorant Fishing

The river takes a big turn at Xingping and this was the most beautiful scenery.  For anyone who has visited China you will be familiar with this scene as it is reproduced on the back of the 20 RMB note.

Owen holding the 20 RMB note at the spot on the cruise where it is reproduced from.

Owen holding the 20 RMB note at the spot on the cruise where it is reproduced from.

My turn!  Had to be quick taking these photos as the boat moves quite rapidly.

My turn! Had to be quick taking these photos as the boat moves quite rapidly.

The kids enjoyed the upper deck.  It was empty for most of the trip.

The kids enjoyed the upper deck. It was empty for most of the trip.

A kiss for my honey!

A kiss for my honey!

Part of the Village.

Part of the Village.

An old castle complex can be seen from the boat that is over 500 years old.  Some of the courtyard buildings have weathered through ages; the simple but elegant flying-eaves, roofs with colorful paintings, lattice windows and unique timber structures present the folk residence from the Ming and Qing Dynasties.  Local Chinese call it the ‘village’ because that nowadays it is inhabited by villagers.   Many of the villagers have the same surname of Zhao, so it is rumored that they are descendents of the imperial family in the Song Dynasty.

It was a fun and relaxing way to spend half a day!

It was a fun and relaxing way to spend half a day!

The very last section of the river cruise took us from Water-Dropping Village to Yangshuo.  Along this section we passed Snail Hill, Green Lotus (Bilian) Peak and Schoolboy (Shutong) Hill.

One of Yangshuo’s renowned photo-ready hills, Snail Hill is about 1 km (0.6 mile) south of Xingping Town, and is 64 km (40 miles) from Guilin. The veins that twist up from the bottom to the hill make it look like a big snail. That’s how it got its name!  Underneath is Snail Cave, full of Stalactites, in the shapes of birds, beasts, fruits and flowers.  There are three snail stones which are hanging upside down- 0ne is as white as snow, one is as dark as midnight and the other is as green as emerald.  Legend says that they are the babies of the big Snail (the hill!)

The nearby hut, named Tengjiao Nunnery, was originally built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It consists of two sections: Sanbao (three treasures) Hall and Kuixing (God that governs literature and writing) Pavilion.  Every year, on 3rd of the 3rd lunar month, 6th of the 6th lunar month and 9th of the 9th lunar month, people around will take their children here to pray for good marks in their education!

Schoolboy Hill rises up on the right bank of the Li River. It is the smallest peak along the bank of the river.  According to legend, a long time ago, there was an evil dragon in the Li River which often hovered on the river and endangered the local people.  One day, a schoolboy received a sealed book from his teacher. The book taught him how to conquer this vicious creature and when the dragon saw this book, it fell down to the river.  For fear that the dragon might play a trick of opossum, the schoolboy, holding the book, stood by the riverside and changed into a hill (Schoolboy Hill) to protect the local people.

Yangshuo is a very small town on the Li River that has been made famous by the River Cruise business.  It is 90km south of Guilin.  When our boat docked we walked along West Street which is lined with cafes, restaurants, market stalls and hotels.   We stopped to get some Haagen Daas icecream and were outraged to be charged almost $50 for 2 little pots.  We returned the cups and said that we didn’t want it.  Our guide was horrified at the whole affair.  Instead, we headed to a delicious Mango shop and had Luscious Lemon juice and Magnificent Mango smoothies at Mango.  This place is covered with signed cup holders so we left our notes too (evidence up on the wall).

Signing our names and adding to the wall in the Mango shop

Signing our names and adding to the wall in the Mango shop

After this, we walked back to meet our driver who took us to another part of the River for Bamboo river ride.  This was a huge highlight for the whole family! They are floating bamboo rafts that hold 2 people.  Owen and Isabelle were in 1 and Oliver and I in another.  We bought some water pistols and had LOADS of fun drenching everybody. We also got soaked as a result of the payback.  Both of our guides stopped to get us beers – which were being kept cool in the river!!

The start of the Bamboo River Raft ride

The start of the Bamboo River Raft ride

Owen and Isabelle's raft

Owen and Isabelle’s raft

Squirt and splash time

Squirt and splash time

Oliver getting brave!  The river is only a few feet deep!!

Oliver getting brave! The river is only a few feet deep!!

Enjoying my beer that was chilled from the River

Enjoying my beer that was chilled from the River

Owen had 1 too!

Owen had 1 too!

Spectacular

Spectacular

This was a brilliant way to spend a few hours.

This was a brilliant way to spend a few hours.

Ready, aim, fire and soak!!

Ready, aim, fire and soak!!

The water pistols were remarkably powerful and we could get quite the distance on the squirt!

The water pistols were remarkably powerful and we could get quite the distance on the squirt!

Our driver was waiting for us at the end of the ride, so we quickly dried off and then had a 90 minute drive back to hotel in Guilin.  All exhausted after a very active day so it was dinner in the Italian restaurant in the hotel.
Monday morning we flew back to Shanghai.

Can highly recommend this as a long weekend visit in China.  The scenery is spectacular and there is so much to do to accommodate all ages.

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Vietnam for CNY – Tunnels and Beach

Getting off the plane in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, I was very nervous again, especially when I saw a sign with my name on once we got off the plane. The man took my passport and paperwork and told me to take a seat. The rest of our group went off to get their visas processed.  This was a very worrying time for me as I thought I was about to be put on a plane back!  It was a long process of waiting for the officials to get all the paperwork done.  Eventually we made it through and our driver with our minibus was waiting to take us to the hotel.  We stayed at the Renaissance in down town Ho Chi Minh City which has a fabulous pool on its rooftop!

Renaissance Riverside Hotel

Renaissance Riverside Hotel

View from the rooftop pool area - across down town HCMC!

View from the rooftop pool area – across down town HCMC!

And looking the opposite way - down the Saigon River.

And looking the opposite way – down the Saigon River.

Fabulous rooftop pool at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel.

Fabulous rooftop pool at the Renaissance Riverside Hotel.

"Happy New Year" in Vietnamese

“Happy New Year” in Vietnamese – Year of the Snake

Beautiful flower display in the hotel lobby.  With 2 beautiful children!

Beautiful flower display in the hotel lobby. With 2 beautiful children!

We all enjoyed a delicious lunch at the hotel – I love Vietnamese Pho, which is a noodle/bean sprout/beef soup that is divine.  I think I will be living on that for the week!   The best thing about Pho is that you can have it in so many different ways and you control the flavor.  It is usually served quite simply with the rice noodles submerged in special meat broth with your choice of meat on top.  A separate side plate allows you to add as many or as little of the bean sprouts, onions, basil leaves, lemon, chilli and coriander to your liking.

Delicious and yummy Vietnamese Pho.

Delicious and yummy Vietnamese Pho.

Off to explore the city in the afternoon – we walked from the hotel around alot of the streets and into the main Lunar New Year display (can’t call it Chinese New Year in Vietnam!!).  Of course, many places were closed because of this celebration, but everywhere had beautiful flower displays and therefore, good photo opportunities.

All of the streets had colourful entrances.

All of the streets had colourful entrances.

Isabelle, Dan, Oliver and Luke

Isabelle, Dan, Oliver and Luke

Beautiful flowers and displays to celebrate Lunar New Year.

Beautiful flowers and displays to celebrate Lunar New Year.

Kids by the flowers

Kids by the flowers

Isabelle pointing to a rice field display.  This is how rice grows!!

Isabelle pointing to a rice field display. This is how rice grows!!

A boat!!

A boat!!  We had many tourists behind us taking photos of these lovely children!

The Happy New Year signs for welcoming the Year of the Snake.

The Happy New Year signs for welcoming the Year of the Snake.

An arty photo by me as I took this myself!  Cool tall mirror reflection made for a good shot of me with Isabelle.

An arty photo by me as I took this myself! Cool tall mirror reflection made for a good shot of me with Isabelle.

So colourful.

So colourful.

Snuggles and huggles with the kids.

Snuggles and huggles with the kids.

Local Vietnamese playing games out on the street.

Local Vietnamese playing games out on the street.

This lady was trying to get us to buy her wares.  She looks so fragile and the buckets look so heavy.  No wonder she is sitting.

This lady was trying to get us to buy her wares. She looks so fragile and the buckets look so heavy. No wonder she is sitting.

Balloon Man.

Balloon Man.

New year decorations are just like our christmas lights but with flowers, corn, and other symbols to highlight the start of spring.  It was wonderful to see everything lit up – it really does extend the holiday season!  It is very hot in Vietnam and the kids had had enough after 2 hours so it was back to the hotel to take advantage of the roof top swimming pool.  All 4 children had plenty of fun here – they are all water babies.  The hotel recommended a restaurant for dinner for us and it was very good.  We ordered a lot of dishes that we could all share and everything was delicious.  Isabelle and Oliver were adventurous and tried some new things too!  We were even entertained by a local playing on a musical instrument.

Our musical entertainment over dinner.

Our musical entertainment over dinner.

Night time lights.

Night time lights.  Check out all those scooters.

The following morning, our driver picked us up to start our 90 minute drive to the north of HCMC to visit the tunnels at Cu Chi.  It was a bumpy ride as the roads are terrible!  One of my over-whelming memories of Vietnam will definitely be the scooters and motorcycles.  They outnumber any other vehicle by at least 20-1 and they crowd the roads loaded with everything from huge packages of toilet paper, plants to live animals to families of four with joyful toddlers and sleeping babies who manage to stay on these 2 wheeled vehicles with apparent ease.   I was very happy to see that 95% of all riders were wearing helmets.  Many of these were also wearing masks or had wrapped their heads in towels or sheets too!

Family of 4 travelling around.

Family of 4 travelling around.  I love the high heels on the Mum, matching outfits and helmets for the girls, plus all the masks.  I was quite pleased with this photo as it was taken from our moving car!!

My memory of the 2 wheeled vehicles that dominate the roads in Vietnam!  They are everywhere and in such huge volume.

My memory of the 2 wheeled vehicles that dominate the roads in Vietnam! They are everywhere and in such huge volume.

The tunnels of Cu Chi are a network of connecting underground tunnels located in a district to the north of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that span across the country.  It is rumoured that the tunnel network is over 250KM.  The Cu Chi tunnels were the location of many military campaigns during the Vietnam War (the locals call it the American War) and were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968.  The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters.  The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped achieve ultimate military success.  For the Viet Cong and Vietnamese locals, life in the tunnels was difficult.  Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and vermin.  Most of the time, Vietnamese soldiers and fighters would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and only come out at night to scavenge for supplies, tend their crops or engage the enemy in battle.  Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground for many days at a time.  Sickness was rampant among the people living in the tunnels, especially malaria, which was the second largest cause of death next to battle wounds.

This was an incredibly moving experience.  I could not believe the engineering, architectural miracle that was created over many years.  In some places, the tunnels are 4 levels deep and include deep fresh water wells, cooking, sleeping, and even hospital set ups.   The secret tunnels, which joined village to village and often passed beneath American bases, were not only fortifications for Viet Cong guerillas, but were also the center of community life. Hidden beneath the destroyed villages were underground schools and public spaces where couples were married and private places where lovers met.  There were even theaters inside the tunnels where performers entertained with song and dance and traditional stories.   Having previously held the belief that these tunnels were created during the Vietnam War, it was eye opening to discover that the network was actually started decades earlier during the French occupation of Vietnam.  The tunnels were extended and built out during the conflict in the 1960’s.  Even more amazing to me was the fact that this complex system was built with bare hands and bamboo shovels.

An example of the tunnel network.  4 levels with ingenious ways to get fresh water, cook and live.

An example of the tunnel network. 4 levels with ingenious ways to get air into the system, fresh water, cook and live.

It was horrendous to see the traps that were set for the enemy – so evil with lots of bamboo sticks, covered pits and nasty ways of trapping people.  Having lived in America for so long and interacted with many US Vets of this war, it was also interesting to hear the other side.  As in any situation there are always 3 versions – his story, her story and the truth, which is usually somewhere in the middle.  In summary (in my humble opinion), this was a horrific period in time with no real winners, a tremendous loss of life and has left a lasting impression on both sides of the world.  Even in times of peace, the tunnels continue to serve as an enduring tribute to the sheer human will to live and Vietnamese peasants’ wartime ingenuity.

One of the trap doors into the tunnel system.  You can see the size of the opening compared with Isabelle’s shoes.

Going into the tunnels.  Oliver is behind me to go next......

Going into the tunnels. Oliver is behind me to go next……

I am way too cool for these tunnels.

I am way too cool for these tunnels.

Isabelle popping up at the end of one tunnel.

Isabelle popping up at the end of one tunnel.

A restored tunnel as a tourist attraction.

A restored tunnel as a tourist attraction.

Isabelle standing by a termite hill.  Except, this is actually a clever disguise of a lookout for a tunnel.

Isabelle standing by a termite hill. Except, this is actually a clever disguise of a lookout for a tunnel.

Coming out from the "banquet" tunnel.  We were so close to many bats - the kids thought that was really cool!

Coming out from the “banquet” tunnel. We were so close to many bats – the kids thought that was really cool!

The experience of crawling through these tunnels was unforgettable.  Even though the tunnels at Cu Chi have been “westernized” – made larger for western people to get through and with low level lights installed, it was still a heart thumping, stomach churning adventure.  Oliver did one tunnel run and then did not want to go back down.  Isabelle and I (along with Jenny, Dan and Luke) went down as many as our guide showed us.  Some of them were long, dark and required getting on hands and knees.  It was claustrophobic, dirty, dark, dusty and muddy.  I highly recommend it!

The tourist propaganda on the walk through the jungle to the tunnel entrances.

The tourist propaganda on the walk through the jungle to the tunnel entrances.

Displays of bombs and missiles!

Displays of bombs and missiles!

I hope they all un-armed!

I hope they are all un-armed!

Trying out the medical hammock!

Trying out the medical hammock!

Engaging with the

Having fun with the kids by pretending to “chat” to the Vietnamese

The "souvenirs" that are available for the tourists to buy.

The “souvenirs” that are available for the tourists to buy.

One of the nasty traps that is on display.  It is camouflaged so well in the Jungle with leaves and dirt.

One of the nasty traps that is on display. It is camouflaged so well in the Jungle with leaves and dirt.

When you step on the trap it flips up and you slip onto the sharpened bamboo sticks.  If you are lucky it will kill you, otherwise it is a slow, painful death.

When you step on the trap it flips up and you slip onto the sharpened bamboo sticks. If you are lucky it will kill you, otherwise it is a slow, painful death.

Examples of the many different types of traps that the Viet Cong used in the war.

Examples of the many different types of traps that the Viet Cong used in the war.

A bombed out cave.

A bombed out cave.

After the tunnel adventure it was time to wander back through the jungle to meet our driver.  Along the way we had the opportunity to see a local making flip flops out of discarded tyres!  We could also try some of the simple food that was eaten during the War.  All of the kids loved the fresh coconuts here!

Next stop was at the Firing Range (a very short drive from the tunnels).  We wanted to have a go at firing AK47’s.  It costs about $1 per bullet to fire and so we bought 8 bullets to share among us.  Oliver was too small to reach and John did not want to go.  That left the ladies, Dan, Luke and Owen.  As Owen had fired many of these when he was in the Army, he was very helpful in setting everything up for us.  It was very loud!!

At the firing range.

At the firing range.  Putting ear plugs in to wear underneath the defenders.  Even so, the shots were very loud!

Fire!

Fire!

Our hotel had recommended and booked a restaurant for us to have lunch at.  This was about 30 minutes from the tunnels on the way back to the hotel in HCMC.  Our van pulled up into an idyllic place and we were very excited about more local food.  Especially me, as I cannot get enough Pho!!  We were a little suspicious that there were no cars or people around.  True enough, once we walked over the bridge to the restaurant, a man came out and told us he was shut because of Lunar New Year.  Our driver tried to explain that we had a reservation that had just been made that morning, but it was obvious that we were not going to eat there that day!

A fantastic location for the lunch that never happened!

A fantastic location for the lunch that never happened!

We decided to go back to the hotel for a very late lunch and more pool time to relax.

Oliver is getting used to chopsticks and is getting quite good with them!

Oliver is getting used to chopsticks and is getting quite good with them!

A New Year money tree.  You see these all over China, Hong Kong and Vietnam at the Lunar New Year time.  I am sure that most of Asia  that celebrates this new year does the same thing.

A New Year money tree. You see these all over China, Hong Kong and Vietnam at the Lunar New Year time. I am sure that most of Asia that celebrates this new year does the same thing.  Red is a lucky colour in this part of the world.

The next morning was the start of our relaxing break at the beach.  The only thing that stood between us and that was the long, boring 5 hour car journey.  It is only 114 miles (according to Google Maps) but because the roads are so bad, the entire trip was done at about 35 MPH at top speed!  We had considered taking the train, but colleagues of mine who have travelled extensively in ASIA, advised against this in Vietnam.  Apparently, the local kids all throw stones and rocks at the passing trains so all the windows are boarded up.  You cannot see out and you are stuck for an equal length of time to a car journey with many other people.  At least, when we had a driver we could stop at our request and also see some of the beautiful scenery of this lovely Country.

There are rest areas set up at regular intervals along the road.  Each of these has a shady hammock sleeping area.

A rest area on the side of the road with hammocks for sleeping.  Another photo taken from our moving car!

A rest area on the side of the road with hammocks for sleeping. Another photo taken from our moving car!

Our driver was constantly on the horn – beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, every time we overtook a scooter/motorcycle.  As I already said that these outnumber cars by 20 to 1, the horn feels non-stop and became quite irritating.  We stopped for lunch where I had …….. Pho!!

Eventually we got closer to the ocean and passed through some lovely little villages.  There is much evidence of a land trying to re-invent itself and compete in the 21st century.  It is obviously still a very poor nation and it is hard to see so much of that on the sides of the roads.  But, the Vietnamese people are wonderful – very friendly, always smiling and a warm, welcoming race.

Evidence of the Vietnam war is everywhere.  You would think it was more recent than over 40 years ago.

Evidence of the Vietnam war is everywhere. You would think it was more recent than over 40 years ago.

Beautiful Vietnamese boats on the River

Beautiful Vietnamese boats on the River

The things you see on the road are amazing!  This is why a 114 mile journey takes over 5 hours!

The things you see on the road are amazing! This is why a 114 mile journey takes over 5 hours!

We arrived in Mui Ne on the coast in the late afternoon and met the owner of “Villa Panda” who showed us all the facilities of this lovely Villa on a golf course by the ocean.  This would be our home for the next 5 days.  He also took John and I shopping to buy some staples to keep us going.  He kept a running commentary going with restaurant and bar recommendations, shopping and beach access.  Once back at the Villa we quickly unpacked and settled in.  Time to explore!

Tourism has transformed Mui Ne into a resort destination since 1995, when many visited to view the total solar eclipse in 1995.  It has many resorts on the beach, as well as restaurants, bars and cafes.  Mui Ne is a popular destination for Russian tourists, and many of the restaurants and resorts are Russian-owned.  The strong sea breezes make this the kite surfing capital of the world.  None of the beaches are crowded and I love that feeling of space when you are relaxing.

Kite surfers galore

Kite surfers galore

Tranquil beach.  So peaceful to just chill and watch the surfers.

Tranquil beach. So peaceful to just chill and watch the surfers.

The town has a Florida feel to my mind.  It is very casual and relaxed.  Our villa is lovely – 4 double bedrooms, so perfect for our 2 families of 4.  The kitchen and living room are spacious and open.  We could walk to the beach but it would be a long uphill return and it is only a 5 minute car journey.

The sunset view from our back patio.

The sunset view from our back patio.

The golf course has a 5 star hotel which has a luxury recreational area with a pool system of 5 interconnecting pools.  Our next few days were spent alternating between the beach and these pools.  It was very relaxing.

Burying each other in the sand at the beach.

Burying each other in the sand at the beach.

Dan buried Oliver up to his neck!  And, he loved it!

Dan buried Oliver up to his neck! And, he loved it!

Fun in the sand

Fun in the sand

Jenny and I bought some boogie boards for the kids.  These were a big hit and not only with the children.  All the adults couldn’t resist either.  The waves were perfect for this – large enough for fun for all, without being too rough for our littlest man!

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Luke, Isabelle, Dan and Owen catching a wave.

Oliver riding his wave.

Oliver riding his wave.

Owen riding a wave.

Owen riding a wave.

My turn to drink the ocean!

My turn to drink the ocean!

My 3 favourite people - watch the wave behind them......

My 3 favourite people – watch the wave behind them……

.....And Splash!

…..And Splash!

Love this one!

Love this one!

And this one!

And this one!

The hammocks were all over the resort - not just at rest stops along the road.

The hammocks were all over the resort – not just at rest stops along the road.

Nighttime swimming was a first for Isabelle and Oliver and they loved it.

Nighttime swimming was a first for Isabelle and Oliver and they loved it.

The slides were fun for everyone.

The slides were fun for everyone.

Good sharing of the hammock.

Good sharing of the hammock.

When Mr John was "checking the fishes" Oliver pushed him in.  He loved this and thought it was hilarious.

When Mr John was “checking the fishes” Oliver pushed him in. He loved this and thought it was hilarious.

"I am getting the sand out of my swim shorts!"

“I am getting the sand out of my swim shorts!”

Oliver,  Dan, Luke, Jenny Isabelle and Sara.  Great Italian dinner in Mui Ne.

Oliver, Dan, Luke, Jenny Isabelle and Sara. Great Italian dinner in Mui Ne.

Final night in Mui Ne and we went to a lovely restaurant.  All the boys here.

Final night in Mui Ne and we went to a lovely restaurant. All the boys here.

All the girls.

All the girls.

After a very relaxing stay in Villa Panda in Mui Ne, it was time to return back to HCMC for our flight to Hong Kong.  John & Jenny and their kids were an absolute delight to be away with and I can’t wait for our next adventure!

It was another horrendous 5 hour trip in the car, but this time we started it at 4.30am to make our flight time.  It was lovely to watch the sun come up and see so many people going to church at 5:00am – they were packed.  I was very surprised to see so many Christian churches – I guess that is the consequence of prolonged European influence.  The French baguettes in Vietnam were also some of the best I have tasted!  We passed field after field of dragon fruit growing.  I thought this was marijuana as all the plants had lights around them!  In stopping for the toilet on the way back, it also is apparent that squat toilets are not unique to China!

A fantastic Chinese New Year for all us!

Chengdu – weekend of site seeing

Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province in southwest China and is home to 14 million people.  It is a 3 hour flight from Shanghai and this is where we set off to on Saturday morning.  Chengdu is also known as the Country of Heaven!  It has a deep history which can be traced back over 2300 years.

We arrived at lunchtime and went straight to our hotel – the Sheraton Chengdu Lido in the heart of downtown.  We dumped our bags in our room and then solicited the help of the Concierge to organize a couple of things for us.  Within minutes, Jack (a super helpful, very nice man) had arranged a car and driver for us; provided us with a map of the City, highlighted areas that we should visit and gave us his cell phone number in case we got into any difficulties!

We ate lunch (buffet style) in the hotel and by the time we had finished, our driver and car were waiting to whisk us away for an afternoon of site seeing.  We started at the Wuhou Memorial Temple.  Our driver took a photo of us outside the doors and told us where he would be waiting for us when we ready for the next stop.

First Stop – Wuhou Memorial Temple.
This memorial celebrates the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history. During that period, Sichuan belonged to the Kingdom of Shu, which was at almost constant battle with two other kingdoms for more than 100 years.  Wuhou Memorial is dedicated to the heroes of those battles.  Zhuge Liang, the military advisor of the King of Shu, even 1800 years after his death, is still regarded as one of the most gifted and brilliant strategists China ever had.

This temple has some larger than life statues, mainly dating back to the 17th century but some from the 14th century.  There is also the most magnificent bonsai tree garden hidden away in the middle – a lovely surprise!

Ming Tablet

History of The Three Kingdoms and individuals.

A very large bell!

One of the many statues on display

Beautifully carved wood – unusual doorways all over.

Me and Isabelle. We were trying to get photos of the ladies dressed in old tradition costumes behind us. They wanted to charge for photos! (Perhaps we should try that tactic when people want to take photos of our kids!)

Sara – year of the Monkey

Owen and Isabelle – year of the Rooster

Oliver – year of the Pig/Boar

Very cool architecture outside too! This passage led into the Bonsai tree garden that was not sign posted and so a delightful surprise to stumble upon.

A typical Chinese gazebo

Pointing at the Bonsai Trees. This was a lovely garden with many varieties.

What you don’t see is that there at least 8 people behind me also taking photos of our children!

Enjoying the sunshine in the Bonsai garden with my 2 lovely children

Owen with Oliver and Isabelle sitting by the Koi Carp pond. Once you leave the Bonsai garden, you are in more gardens with a lovely pond filled with lots of fish.

Burning incense sticks

There are stone carvings of the key individuals during The Three Kingdoms period. Again, many people behind us taking photos of the children!

Another stone carving

After a leisurely couple of hours walking around the lovely grounds of the Wuhou Memorial Temple, we walked into Jinli Street.  This is a big tourist area filled with many shops, cafes, street food vendors and souvenirs.  We passed a stall with a man painting on the inside of glass bottles.  The pictures were so detailed and beautifully done.  Both Isabelle and Oliver came away with mini bottles with their names painted.  We watched while he did it and was amazed at the skill to be able to do this!

Painting Oliver’s name inside a tiny glass bottle

Leaving the Temple to walk into Jinli Street

Ear candling or ear cleaning. Not for the faint hearted!! Although, they do train for over 2 years to do this. People were lining up to have their ears cleaned……

I bought a lovely pair of silver earrings in this shop. The lady was dressed in an old Chinese Princess Warrior costume and agreed to pose with the children!  Her head gear looks really heavy!

A lovely couple of hours spent shopping and site-seeing here.  We headed back to the hotel after this as James (the fantastic concierge) had managed to get us front section tickets for the Chinese Opera.  As we needed to be at the Theatre for 7:30pm we decided to eat at hotel again.  Another buffet for the kids, who have completely won over the staff.  We, rather they, get so much attention – the Chinese want to know their names and ages.  They were escorted around the food stations and assisted both of them with filling their plates!  Owen and I sat back and watched!!!

Chinese Opera Theatre

We were so excited to be going to the Chinese Opera as we had heard great things about this.  There were 7 different acts in the 90 minute show, with the finale being the “Face Changing” display.

First on was a dance depicting a love story where 3 heros fight against lvbu.  Then the story continued with Lv Bu and Diao Chan.  There was a stick puppet show, some acrobatics, a hand shadow show, Sichuan Opera song (not our favorite!) a man playing the Erhu and then the finale which was the face changing.

Chinese Opera – dance display

Beautiful dancers

The face changing was the most intriguing display as you could not see how it was done at all.  It is a closely guarded secret and it is not known how they do it.  The performers even came into the audience – 1 was 3 feet away from us and did 3 face changes.  It was impossible to see how they did it – the effect is stunning.  They also threw some masks into the audience.  A gentleman behind us caught one and then gave it to Isabelle, who was thrilled!  Oliver, meanwhile, was fast asleep.  We could not keep him awake and he fell asleep half way through the performance.  It had been such a busy day!

On Sunday morning, we got up early to go to the Panda Research Base.  I have written a separate post on this trip.  It was amazing!

When we got back we went to the Wenshu Monastery.  This buddhist monastery is one of the oldest and best preserved temples in Chengdu.  Worshippers light candles and incense, constantly filling the temple with a thick, perfumed smoke.

The monastery, formerly known as Xinxiang Temple, is situated north of the central square on Renmin Zhong Lu.  During the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, a monk named Cidu arrived, built a small hut to live in and carried out a practice of complete self-denial.  Legend holds that when Cidu was cremated, a statue of Wensu (Bodhisattva Manjusri in Sanskrit) appeared in the flames and stared at the onlookers.  After this people began regarding Cidu as the reincarnation of the Bodhisattva Manjusri.  Thereafter the Xinxiang Temple was rechristened as Wenshu Temple.

Outside the Wenshu Monastery

Beautiful detail on the roof

One of the many containers for burning incense. The perfume smoke filled the monastery.

One of the many Buddha’s. There are over 300 Buddha’s on display. I took this photo before noticing that photography was not allowed. It is still an active Monastery and we saw many monks walking around.

Cultural relics are the highlights of Wenshu Monastery.  Since the Tang and Song dynasties, over 500 pieces of painting and calligraphy by celebrities have been stored here.  In the Sutra-Preservation Pavilion, many famous handwriting exhibits, paintings, and artwork are restored.  These precious works of art were created by renowned Chinese painters and calligraphers, including Zhang Daqian, Zheng Banqiao, and Feng Zikai.  Of all the precious relics, a piece of the broken skull of Xuan Zhang, a renowned monk of the Tang Dynasty, is the rarest. Another treasure is a delicate jade Buddha statue brought from Burma to China in 1922 by Xing Lin, a Buddhist monk who walked the whole distance.  In addition, the monastery houses some 300 Buddha statues of various materials including iron, bronze, stone, wood, and jade, some gloriously painted.

Recreating a Buddha face!

The Chinese dragons are spectacular

Carved from a single tree trunk

We saw many people praying and bringing offerings to the different Buddha’s.

One of the garden areas in the Monastery

If you look closely, you can see the chains that are tying the animals down!

Very peaceful here…..

The detail of the architecture is amazing. I love the curved roofs that you see in the older Chinese buildings.

Some statues outside the walls of the Monastery

Another stop on our site-seeing tour today, was to the Ancient Town.  This is a walled area that has many alleys and narrow roads filled with shops, food, and souvenirs.   We had just walked in when we saw this couple have wedding photos taken.  Red is an extremely lucky colour in China, so brides are always married wearing a red dress!

A Chinese wedding

Starbucks is everywhere! We stopped here for coffee, hot chocolate and cake!

And we also stopped for ice cream!

Fabulous photos that come to life……

Owen: “your move”

Sugar on a stick. There is a wheel that you spin and when the pointer lands on an image, the man will make the caramel (sugar thing) in front of your eyes in seconds.  Of course, the kids loved this…….

The Rong Club – just liked the sign!!

Rabbits head – a delicacy. (Top right)  We did not try these.

Back in our hotel room and the kids with their Face Changing Masks.

Our Sunday night dinner was a recommendation from Jack (lovely concierge!)  We walked a couple of blocks to a Sichuan restaurant.  The cuisine in this area of China is spicy and Owen and I wanted to try some authentic food from here.  Nobody spoke English in the restaurant, so between our iPhone apps and the pictures on the menu, we ordered several dishes to share.  I made sure that we ordered plenty of Mifan (rice – one of the few words I know!!) so that Isabelle and Oliver would have something that was not spicy.  As it turned out, a couple of the dishes were not too bad and they tried almost everything.  It was very funny watching them with the chopsticks – they have been practicing at home, but they are difficult to use in little hands!  It was a delicious meal.  A table full of food, beer for Owen and I, and we had change out of £30.

Spicy Sichuan dinner!

Another early start on Monday morning as we were back to the Panda Research Facility to cuddle with a Panda Bear.  After we had experienced this fantastic interaction, we walked around the sanctuary again.  We spotted this Peacock on a roof.

Peacock on the roof at the Panda Research Base

Big fish pond and loads of fish!

These fish thought they would be getting fed!

Brother/sister hugs! Notice the panda bears in the trees behind them.

My lovely children

Hugs for Daddy too.

Beautiful flowers

After the Panda Experience, we went to another restaurant recommendation for Hot Pot – another speciality of the Sichuan region.  The Pots on the table had a spicy chilli oil side and a chicken broth side.  This was ideal for us as Owen and I cooked all our food in the spicy side, while Isabelle and Oliver could enjoy the same meat and vegetables without the zing!  This was another delicious meal.

Sichuan Hot Pot for Lunch

Finished lunch, off to the airport and home we went!  A fantastic weekend with so many memories to last a lifetime.  I will never forget the Panda that we cuddled with.  The whole weekend was non-stop enjoyment.

Stone sculptures in the street outside the restaurant.

Chengdu is a fabulous City to visit.

Chengdu Panda’s – Bamboo, Apples and Cuddles

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding facility is a fantastic place that has great success in breeding pandas – 7 have been born in the last 3 months alone.  They also loan Giant Pandas to facilities around the world to help with the re-population of this magnificent animal, including a male/female pair to Zoo Atlanta (that has resulted in 3 successful births).  The park is set in over 1000 hectares with plenty of room to replicate the natural habitat.  As someone who is generally against animals in captivity, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this environment is built and maintained.  There are huge areas for each Panda and Panda family and we arrived early enough in the morning to see plenty of activity – they feed and actively play in the mornings when it is cooler.  After doing some research, this is also the best time of year visit.

Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding

The main driveway up to the Panda area

So excited for the day – lots and lots of Panda Bears to see!

Pandas playing in the trees

The Research Facility is huge and there are electric “trains” that take you to different areas of the park. It is a very natural looking environment to help with the re-introduction into the wild.

One of the pandas- Mei Lan, had special significance for us as we had seen her as a baby panda in Zoo Atlanta when she was the result of a successful breeding in 2006.  There are fewer than 1000 Panda’s in the world, so the breeding successes in Chengdu are critical to the Panda’s survival.  They simulate as natural environment as possible as the goal is to release them back into the wild.

We walked around some of the areas and took some fabulous photos – they are such lovable animals.  As well as giant pandas, this facility is also home to the Red Panda which actually looks more like a raccoon.

By the Red Panda area

Red Pandas!

Our first visit was on Sunday morning and we strolled around the different areas, took many photos and oohed and ahhed at the babies in the nursery!

Very cute baby Panda Bears in the nursery. These 2 were born in September. (Another 3 were born in August – we saw these in a separate nursery).

Unfortunately, the “Panda Experience” was not open so we made the decision to return the following day.  As well as Giant Panda’s we also saw many Red Pandas playing – all of the animals were very active!

Peek a boo!

So playful, wonderful gentle giants.

A lot of information about the Panda is given. It is so nice to read their story, learn where they get their names from and get a better understanding about these fantastic animals.

On Monday morning we went back to the Chengdu Panda Base for the “Panda experience”.  We arrived at the Sunshine nursery at 9:30 to be told to come back at 10:00 with a donation of 1300RMB per person to have an interaction experience – truly a once in a lifetime event.

After we had paid, we watched a video of the Panda life cycle from birth to fully grown, saw pictures of Pandas from birth to adulthood and got an education on their diet (no meat for these bears) and then we were escorted into a back room. We were given blue surgical coveralls to put on, plastic covers for our shoes and plastic gloves.  We gave our camera to the lady in charge and then they brought out the most gorgeous panda. Her name was Zhen Zhen,  and she is 1 year old, weighing 100lbs.  They had attched an apple to the end of a bamboo stick and she happily followed along to the bench.  She was helped up and then was fed some apple slices and given some bamboo sticks dipped in honey.  It is true that bears like honey – Winnie the Pooh shared that secret many years ago!!

Zhen Zhen just arrived at our Interaction area. 1 year old and already 100lbs.

Yummy bamboo dipped in honey!

Owen was the first one to sit next to her. He could not keep the smile off his face – and the same was true for all of us who followed!  Oliver was a little apprehensive and did not want to sit as close as Owen had done, but quite happily stroked her and smiled for photos.  Isabelle was next and she loved her, scooching up close for a cuddle with feet curled up on the bench.  It was not long enough for Isabelle who had to move to make way for me.  I could not believe that I was sitting next to this marvellous gentle creature whose fur was so soft.  Throughout all this interaction, Zhen Zhen was happily munching her way through sticks of bamboo and oblivious to all the attention.  We finished off by having some family photos taken as a fabulous reminder of a truly wonderful experience and well worth the money, in my opinion.

Owen was first.

Kissy, kissy! And a scratch behind the ears……

Oliver was not too sure to start with.

But he had cuddles too!

Isabelle absolutely loved her cuddle “She is so soft, Mummy!”

Truly wonderful

I don’t think she could get any closer!

My turn at last!

I am speechless. I cannot believe that I am actually cuddling a Panda Bear.

We will never forget this experience

The rumours are that they will be stopping this after next year so we are grateful to have had the opportunity to get so close to one of natures most beloved animals and such a recognisable mascot for China.

I love this sign!

Shanghai Aquarium

Owen took Isabelle and Oliver to the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium which includes a very long tunnel that takes you through a coastal reef, open ocean, a kelp cave, shark cove, and a coral reef.  They all saw sharks, jellyfish, seahorses, penguins, stingrays, tropical fish, chinese fish, huge turtles and amazing coral.

The kids enjoyed everything except being stared at and photographed.  I don’t know what the fascination is for Western children, but the Chinese love to take photos of them.  Oliver is not so bothered by it, but Isabelle really does not like it.  At one point there was a lady taking video and as Owen moved around, turning the kids, the lady did a 360 around too!!  How do you explain video of complete strangers?!!!?

Oliver & Isabelle at the Aquarium

Oliver & Isabelle at the Aquarium

This Shark swam over their heads!

This Shark swam over their heads!

Hugging the Penguins

Hugging the Penguins

Oliver & Isabelle on the Starfish

Oliver & Isabelle on the Starfish

It was cold in the penguin section

It was cold in the penguin section

Beautiful shot of the jellyfish

Beautiful shot of the jellyfish

This turtle is huge!

This turtle is huge!

Wow!

Wow!

Hiding behind the fishes

Hiding behind the fishes

I & O said this area was "stinky"!

I & O said this area was “stinky”!

 

Big Red Bus Tour

On a very hot sunny Sunday afternoon we decided to do some site-seeing in downtown Shanghai.  After a very local lunch (chicken head on our chicken dish!) we started our Big Red Bus Tour outside Madame Tussauds.  We were doing the red route which took us along the Bund (means embankment).  This area is 1 mile of spectacular buildings along the waterfront.  It is famous for magnificent 19th and 20th century architecture on one side with state of the art sky-scrapers on the other modern Financial District side.  There is even a mini Big Ben – a throw back to the old British influence!

The ever changing Shanghai Skyline

The ever changing Shanghai Skyline

Moving on from there, next stop was Xintiandi (“New Heaven and Earth”).  It is a traffic free area of restored Shikumen (“Stone Gate Houses”) houses on narrow alleys, some adjoining houses, which now serve as book stores, cafes and restaurants, and shopping malls.  Shikumen are 2-3 storey town houses surrounded by a high walled courtyard, built in the late 1800’s, they blended East with West.  As Shanghai’s population exploded many of them were cleared for new modern developments.   Xintiandi has been restored to its former glory and is a great place to eat out, stop for a drink or shop.  On the edge of Xintiandi is the building that hosted the first congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921 and is now a museum.

Kids by a fountain in Xintiandi

Kids by a fountain in Xintiandi

Cooling off in the Fountain!

Cooling off in the Fountain!

We drove by, but did not stop at, Yu Gardens.  Owen and I had both visited here during our look/see visit in December.  It is a 5 acre spread of a wonderful example of a traditional Chinese garden.  It was established more than 400 years ago by Pan Yunduan who spent 20 years building the gardens to please his parents.  Surrounding the gardens is the Yu Bazaar.  Here, Owen and I were hassled to buy many Chinese souvenirs in December!!

Sara at the Yu Gardens (Look/See trip in December 2011)

Sara at the Yu Gardens (Look/See trip in December 2011)

Beautiful traditional Chinese building at Yu Garden

Beautiful traditional Chinese building at Yu Garden

The red route took us past Nanjing Road East which is one of the busiest shopping streets in China.  The street runs from the Bund to People’s Square, which is where it turns into Nanjing Road West.  I work in a big building on Nanjing Road West, just off People’s Square.  You could be anywhere in the world walking down Nanjing Road, as the shops are just as familiar to any in London, New York or Atlanta.

Nanjing Road East

Nanjing Road East. The building at the end (middle of photo) is the Radisson Blu hotel and is a 5 minute walk from my office.

I can thoroughly recommend the Big Red Bus Tour, but not on a hot, humid sunny day.  We will be back in the Autumn to do the green route.

Big Red Bus Tour Map

Big Red Bus Tour Map. Red Route – Done! Green Route – to do!