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Been there, Dan that!

a travel blog by Dan

Well, i'm off to wing it in China for a while, there is some structure to my plans i'm just not sure what they are yet! Thats not entirely true, i'm hopeing to do a bit of teaching somwhere whilst i'm out there and i fully intend to land in a plane in Hong Kong, see i've got loads of plans!!!
it'll be reet mum...

note: the name has changed again, for the last time i promise!

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Lugu Lake

Lugu Hu, China

200 km North east of Lijiang is the second biggest freshwater lake in China, Lugu Hu. Surrounded by villages inhabited by the Mosu people one of the last matriarchal societies on Earth. Sounded really interesting so i took a bus there from Lijiang, 8 hours later we arrived and the view as we came over the Ridge and into the valley was excellent, a crystal blue lake surrounded by pine forest with a few villages scattered around the edge. Sadly as we descended to the lake the weather started to change and the clouds rolled in quickly turning the lake to a more average shade of dark blue. Not to worry my guide book points me in the direction of a little village on the north edge of the lake. "A serene little place where only you and a few other adventures backpackers will make it to" Not so the village it self has been flattened (the traditional house is a wild west style log cabin) and replaced with 2 story guest houses. Worst of all the work isn't finished so there's building works everywhere. Serious disappointment but its to late to go anywhere else so I got a cheap bed for the night and plan to move in the morning.

Next morning the weather has worsened, high winds and driving rain and the lake resembles the north sea. I head to the main town all the same and though its a similar story there the guesthouses have been around much longer so don't look so ridiculously out of place, the day though is a washout and I resort to my book.

The weather on day 3 is no better so i took a bus back to Lijiang. That was the other thing the Lonely planet was wrong about. Hopes of carrying on north are scuppered by buses leaving at odd times and i didn't want to end up in a random industrial town at 1 am.

Massive disappointment all in all, as all the locals (sensibly) stayed in doors and got not real views of the lake or any chance to cycle or walk around it. In fairness its been the first failure in 7 weeks travel so my odds haven't been to bad.

permalink written by  Dan on April 27, 2008 from Lugu Hu, China
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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Third times the charm!

Lijiang, China

Back again.

This time for 2 nights, more excellent hospitality at Mamas then a monster trip to Chengdu, bus east in the morning 7 am then a train north arriving 6.30am thurs morning.

Woohoo its gonna be fun!

permalink written by  Dan on April 29, 2008 from Lijiang, China
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Made it to the Du

Chengdu, China

An epic journey but we made it and Chengdu seems nice if a little hazy. Its certainly the most humid place I've been so far, though not to warm. The trip itself was a bumpy 7 hours bus from Lijiang to a town called Panzhihua in southern Sichuan. This place was horrid, thick layer of grime on everything from the surrounding factories. We took a bit of a risk too as May 1st is a national holiday and most transport is fully booked around this time. We got away with it, but only just, 4 Czech guys were behind us in the cue at the train station and only 2 of them got a bed for the 14 hours 800 km train ride north!
Slept ok on the train and arrived at 5.30 am getting to the hostel around 7 exactly 24 hours after we'd set off!
Will check out the Panda sanctuary tomorrow i reckon!

permalink written by  Dan on May 1, 2008 from Chengdu, China
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Big Buddah!

Leshan, China

Immediately after arriving in Chengdu we jumped into a minivan a drove south to Leshan to see the biggest seated Buddha in the world.
Somewhat stupidly we went on May the first, a national holiday, to one of the most important and popular tourist destinations in China. Thought we'd got away with it at first as we only had to queue 5 minutes to get tickets but then after wandering up the hill to the top of the big fella I saw the queue. It was like Alton Towers on a bad day as the queue went on for 6 or 7 25 meter long sections before heading round a corner and up some stairs for yet more lines. First instinct was to give it a miss but this Buddha was the biggest in the world and it wasn't like i was ever going to come back. So we joined the line and 3 hours and a couple of ice creams later got to the front and descended the cliff to the feet of the chap. He's massive (71 meters tall) and he's sitting down! Carved into the cliff face over looking the river he took 90 years to complete and was started in 713 AD by a Buddhist monk who wanted to calm the river waters and protect the local fishermen. Apparently the surplus rock from the carving was thrown into the river so it did slow down but locals say its the Grand Buddha, or Dafo, that is the cause.

Despite the madness it was an incredible experience especially standing at the bottom and looking up, it defies comprehension as to how they managed to do it especially when you consider that they included a water drainage system inside of the body to prevent erosion!

We returned to Chengdu that evening shattered and promptly booked ourselves on to a panda tour for the next morning.

permalink written by  Dan on May 1, 2008 from Leshan, China
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Pandas and stuff!

Chengdu, China

So next visit on the list was the Panda sanctuary just outside Chengdu. You had to get up early to get to the sanctuary during feeding time before they go to bed to sleep of there meals.

A note on Pandas. There a ridiculous animal, I knew they were cute and were nearly extinct but the latter is for good reason, they have the digestive ability to eat meat but instead elect to eat faffy sticks which have little nutritional value, not only that but they are clack and white solely so that they can spot each other from a distance and so don't have to fight over territory and waste there limited energy. Sadly and predators that spot them don't have the same inclination. Oh and to top it all off they struggle to mate so much that the sanctuaries have resorted to showing males a form of panda porn so they can work out what to do!

Despite all this there still ace, especially baby ones! They sanctuary has been doing well at getting results from mating too, though a lot of artificial insemination has been used. There were 7 cubs in the park this year, I remember, when I was about 13, 1 baby was a massive event with articles on newsround and stuff.

After this escapade the next couple of days in Chengdu were spent recuperating as we'd done loads on little sleep, got around the city though and its a really nice place with a big square and loads of shops, loads of people too, Chengdu has a population of 4.1 million and is the 4th or 5th biggest city in China. Its got some nice green spaces and lots of tea houses and temples.
Tried the famous Sichuanese hot pot, was greasy and pretty spicy but the beef we had was really good mainly because you cook it yourself in the hotpot in the middle of the table so it was really lean.

permalink written by  Dan on May 2, 2008 from Chengdu, China
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Horse trekking

Songpan, China

From Chengdu we took a bus to northern Sichuan to the Tibetan town of Songpan, there not a whole lot to do here , though its a nice enough town, other than to go horse trekking with some local guides. So after a night in a bizarre hostel above the bus station which cost 10 yuan we set off on our Mongolian horses up the mountains. The altitude is fairly high here (about 3000 meters) and I felt pretty bad for the horse having to carry me and my tent up a hill!

By lunchtime we were at our campsite and from there we walked into a local park which contained some crystal clear lakes. Or at least it did when it rained the first 10 were all dry as a bone but the last 2 had water in and were beautifully clear. I think its because of the high ph levels in the water meaning that absolutely nothing grows in them.
We then strolled back to the campsite had dinner and built a fire. It was bloody freezing and the ground was hard too so after a restless night we rode back to town via at village and over another slightly smaller hill.

A nice enough trip but we didn't ride all that much, mind you i didn't mind and i'm sure the horse wasn't too gutted either!

permalink written by  Dan on May 6, 2008 from Songpan, China
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Terracotta fun!

Xi'an, China

From Songpan we took a bus back to Chengdu then a train that same day/night to Xi'an. Long before Beijing Xi'an had been Chinas capital city and has the artifacts and history to go with it. A massive walled (15km) city its now a very cosmopolitan place but its kept its history too with a lovely Muslim quarter and massive bell and drum towers in the centre of town. These were all explored on the afternoon of our arrival the mosque in the Muslim quarter being the highlight. Its a tasteful amalgamation of Muslim and Chinese architecture in a lovely garden. The massive prayer room with its turquoise tiled roof is especially nice.
We ate well there too, bbq lamb from a street stall we got loads for about a pound, smothered in green fennel and chilli, it was really tasty.

Next morning we went to see Xi'an's main attraction and the reason the place is literally full of western tour groups. The terracotta warriors.

They were discovered in the 70's by some peasants drilling a well a few excavations later and the Chinese had discovered what they call the "8th wonder of the world"
1000 complete soldiers still stand and there gluing more back together as we speak.
There are 3 pits of soldiers all created for the tomb of emperor Shi Huang Di during his lifetime in around 200 BC (that's the Qin dynasty by the way)
He was one of Chinas first great emperors and thought his mighty rule would continue after his death so he wanted to take a great army with him. There must be at least another 10,000 soldiers in bits under the still un-excavated parts of the tomb including crossbowmen, warriors, chariots (they were wooden and have disintegrated, but the horses remain) and generals. It is a truly astounding peace of art especially the fact that each warrior is different to the next!

2 complete bronze chariots were also excavated next to the sight, they too are beautiful and incredibly detailed with working halters on the horses using hinged peaces of bronze. A little ahead of there time these Chinese. The weapons of the high ranking officers were apparently even chromium plated a techniques not officially invented until the 1930's by the Germans!

The afternoon was taken up by internet and train ticket shopping, serious long trip up next.

permalink written by  Dan on May 9, 2008 from Xi'an, China
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Miles from the sea

Urumqi, China

First of all, I'm fine and missed the Earthquake, disconcertingly close though as the road to Songpan passed though the epicenter of the quake and we were there 4 days ago. Scary to say the least. We didn't feel a thing up here and it took ages for any news to come through. Sounds pretty bloody awful in the rural areas in particular I think Chengdu is fairly untouched.

Urumqi is an interesting place, officially the furthest city on Earth from any sea, its in Xinjinag province which is a predominantly Muslim area of NW China, It also has 30% of Chinas oil reserves so its pretty affluent.

Urumqi itself looked a bit of a hole as we came in on the 27 hour train form Xi'an. The train was cool by the way it traveled all the way from Beijing, we just took the last 2500 km's. Spent most of the time entertaining the natives with my seriously lacking conversational Chinese!

After arriving and scratching the surface its not such a bad place, the buildings are fairly eastern blockish and painted fairly garishly but theres lots of different faces and scripts everywhere. The Chinese claimed the province officially in the 50's and moved a lot of Han Chinese over here to run the big businesses so theres a lot of regular Chinese faces too but you also see Central Asian and Turkish looking chaps along with Russians.
There really friendly too and they can cook, we found a massive bustling food market last night and ate yet more lamb and really good bread!

Nick is getting his visa for Kazakhstan today and tomorrow were going to head to an Oasis town just south of here. Most of Xinjiang is desert so theres going to be some interesting landscape to check out.

permalink written by  Dan on May 13, 2008 from Urumqi, China
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Hot to trot!

Turpan, China

Stepping off the bus from Urumqi in the afternoon I was hit by a blast of hot air, it didn't stop! The only thing i can liken it too was a massive dusty hairdrier. Turpan an Oasis town in a basin 200 km south of Urumqi is without doubt one of the hottest places i've ever been equally as hot as my short escapade into the sahara with Helen back in the day. And this was the town it was only going to get hotter once we ventured into the surrounding environment.
Turpan is famous for being the hottest place in China (it once recorded temperatures just short of 50 degrees) and its also the second lowest depression on earth (only the dead see is lower) at 154 meters below sea level.
Didn't just go there for the sauna like conditions though, Turpans surroundings contain some fabulous ancient cities and green valleys full of grapes.
So our single full day there was spent taking a car to the sights and coping with the heat.
We got 2 major sights in. Tuyoq a traditional Uigar village which is a major pilgrimage sight for muslims, its considered that 7 trips here equal 1 to mecca, the mazaar a tomb is the object of the pilgrimage as it contains the first Uiger muslim (Uigers are the majority race in Xinjiang province by the way) Also by the village are buddhist caves dating from the 3rd century AD. We walked up there only to find that they were all closed but just as we were heading back a local chap came puffing up the hill with a set of keys and opened them up for us. The paintings still remain though up to head height they have been picked away (apparently by German archaeologists in 1903 and those above have all had the faces chipped off by Mao's cultural revolution in the 60's They are still amazing with more than 1000 small Buddha's painted there, you'll have to just imagine though as no photos where allowed.
Driving back we went past what are called the flaming mountains, as the sun shines directly on them around midday they go orangey red because of the colour of the earth. Apparantly you can walk around them but only at dawn as its too hot the rest of the day.
That evening I clocked up a 3rd UNESCO sight in a month. The Jiaohe ruins is one of the worlds largest oldest and best preserved cities. Originally established by the western Han in around 200 BC it was carved on a plateau out of the rock, and flanked by 2 deep valley of water and green trees. It king of looks like Luke Skywalkers home in Star wars only there no robots! Its a crazy place as you can still make out the streets, houses and temples, spent the evening there wandering around and there where no other tourists to be seen.
After driving back to Turpan we strolled though the bazaar eating yet more shaslik kebabs and naan breads... I really need some vegetables!

permalink written by  Dan on May 15, 2008 from Turpan, China
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The silk road

Kashi, China

Kashi is the Chinese name for Kashgar the hub of the legendary silk road. Its the original multicultural city situated near the boarder and mountain passes to 4 other countries.
I arrived here on the train after a few more days in Urumqi helping Nick through a few money problems. I left him there getting ready to head into Kazakhstan so I boarded the train travelling alone for the first time in ages. Its quite exciting relying entirely on yourself again.
After arriving and sharing a taxi with an enormous old Uigher chap I dropped off my bags and had a stroll around the town. The weather is really warm today so most locals are lounging on beds or anywhere they can get shade. There's a small area of adobe style old town still standing though most of Kashgar has been modernised, these streets are lovely with fresh nan being baked on every corner and chaps working lathes, there's even the central asian staple of carpet shops.

No chinese faces here just Uighers and Kyrgyz, its important you use the Uigher greetings too, an idle Nihao gets a bit of a frown from the locals. its hard to believe that I'm in China at all.

permalink written by  Dan on May 20, 2008 from Kashi, China
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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