Victoria Sophia Cruise Review by BCHappyGal: Yangtze River Crusie & 3 Gorges + Terracotta Warriors, Guili
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Yangtze River Crusie & 3 Gorges + Terracotta Warriors, Guili
Asian Trip April 21 - May 24, 2008 Yangtze River Cruise Shanghai - Chongqing
May 4th - Rebecca our Shanghai guide took us to the Holiday Inn and saw us onto the bus that would transport us to Nanjing and the River Cruise Ship Victoria Prince. Normally we would have boarded in Shanghai but due to a bad storm on May 3rd the Navigational Authority required all river passenger ships to tie up. Thus the Victoria Prince stayed at the dock in Nanjing and bused the disembarking passengers from there to Shanghai. The bus ride to Nanjing took 4 hours; however, boarding the Victoria Prince was a case of just walking down the gangplank and onto the ship. We checked in and obtained our room key as if it was a hotel by simply walking up to the desk giving them my name and being welcomed.
The Victoria Prince is an older ship but well maintained. Our home for the next 2000km or 8 days while we sail up the Yangtze River to the head of its navigable waters. The lobby on the main More deck held the Purser's Desk - where all ship related business was conducted and money exchanged - the gift shop plus a crafts corner, where artists worked on their crafts which were for sale. The dining room where we enjoyed buffet style breakfasts and lunches with family style served dinners was at the front of the ship with wrap around windows. There was a single seating for each meal and we sat at round tables. We enjoyed our tablemates a couple from Australia and a couple from San Francisco. The food was good and plentiful but other than breakfast mainly Chinese and came with your choice of nonalcoholic beverages. Up on deck 4 we found the lounge at the front of the ship where we enjoyed all the shows/lectures put on by the staff, the bar and the internet stations. Also on deck 4 there was a beauty salon, a library at the rear of the ship, and a card/games room as well as the Dr.'s office. The top deck was open with chairs and lounges. Our cabin was small with twin beds either side of the patio door to our balcony. We had a small closet but only 2 drawers so storage space was at a premium. The bathroom on the other hand was large for a cruise ship with a shower tub combination. Each deck had a desk at the head of the stairs which was manned seemingly 24 hours a day so that all passengers needs could be quickly attended to. The biggest negative was the lack of an elevator on the ship. However the staff did everything they could to help Dad by locating him in a cabin on the main deck, setting up a table in the lobby for us to play cards so Dad did not need to climb up the stairs to the lounge or card room on Deck 4. At our ports of call the ship provided a wheelchair for Dad as China is a walking type of country. Victoria Prince staff even carried the chair off the ship and pushed Dad to the tour bus, then were there to meet us on our return to push the chair back to the gangplank. All of the port tours are part of the river cruise package. The tours were all well planned and lead by local guides. I especially liked the Yellow Mountain excursion.
The staff put on entertainment most evenings in the lounge. My favorite was a fashion show of various ethnic costumes. In the mornings and afternoons that we were aboard ship lectures on China, the Yangtze, the Three Gorges Dam Project and Chinese Medicine were conducted.
I felt that the staff and Victoria Prince looked after us very well and would definitely recommend this river cruise. In fact on Mother's Day a large cake decorated with "Happy Mother's Day" was served in the lounge at Tea Time then as we entered the Dining Room that evening each lady was presented with a flower. There was of course the Captain's Welcome Party one evening where a lovely buffet of hors d'oeuvres was set up in the lounge and cocktails were served. The Captain came around to welcome us all individually. At the Captain's Farewell Dinner the Captain again visited each table to thank us for sailing on Victoria Prince and to wish us all a safe journey home. On another evening everyone celebrating a Birthday or Anniversary was honoured with cakes being brought in for each person celebrating and then they were given a scroll commemorating the event. I am very happy that I insisted on the full river cruise all the way from Shanghai to Chongqing rather than the abbreviated 3 or 4 night version that only travels thru the 3 gorges. The time on the Yangtze was not only relaxing but interesting and entertaining. Also the opportunity to visit Yellow Mountain was a definite highlight of the whole China trip for me.
May 5th Nanjing Our morning tour was to visit the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum. Led by Dr. Sun the Chinese people brought down the corrupt rule of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 to end 2000 years of the feudal monarchy system. The majestic Mausoleum which is regarded as the most outstanding in Chinese modern architectural history was completed in 1929. The structures, along with the mountain ascends gradually along with the central axis line running from south to the north. Traveling along the marble road, firstly you will arrive at half-moon square in the south of the Mausoleum. It is understated and modest, while endowing grandeur to the Mausoleum. Then at the entrance to the mausoleum stands the great marble Paifang (memorial archway) on which is written 'Bo Ai' meaning 'love'. Through Paifang there is 480 m long marble walk lined on both sides with pine and cypresses trees. high and 27. The Frontispiece has three archways, each of which has a pair of symmetrical enchased copper gates. Four Chinese characters are inscribed on the lintel over the doorways written by Dr. Sun Yat-sen meaning 'the world is commonwealth', which fully explains the cause he struggled for during his life. Following this gradual sloping walkway we arrive at the stairs which lead upward to the tomb of Dr Sun. We returned to the ship for lunch and then headed out again to the Confucius Temple and time to wander the market stalls which surround this temple. In front of the temple was this golden tree which is revered for good fortune/wealth. Across from the temple is a canal. With of course houses lining both sides of the canals and plenty of bridges to provide easy crossing. That evening the Victoria Prince sailed from Nanjing to Huang Shan a distance of some 240km. It always amazed me how fast the Victoria Prince was at casting off and being under way the minute the last passenger boarded the ship. Not even time enough for the final person to finish climbing the 1 flight of steps up to the Main Deck.
May 6th Full Day excursion to Huangshan ("Yellow Mountian") Yellow Mountain (Huangshan) Yellow Mountain, is undoubtedly China's most celebrated mountain for all its grandeur and beauty. In 1990 it was declared a World Natural and Cultural Heritage by UNESCO . Within an area of 154 square kilometers, the mountain offers a crowd of peaks. The mountains are a body of granite, often with vertical joints. When it is cloudy the pinnacles loom in mists as if they were illusionary. When the sun shines, they unfold in all their majesty and splendor. We were lucky to have a sunny day. Because of its peculiar terrain, the Yellow Mountain's climate is marked by a vertical change, and the vertical distribution of vegetation is also distinctive: plants on the summit, on the middle levels and at the foot belong to the frigid, temperate and subtropical zones respectively. There are more than 1500 species of plants, of which trees comprise one third. Here you will find century-old pines, firs, ginkgoes, Chinese torreyas, Chinese sweet gums, nanmus, camphor woods and the precious Magua trees, remnants of the glacial era. The Yellow Mountains abound in flowering plants; many of them are rare ones, such as Goddess Flower, the Yellow Mountains Azalea as well as camellia, plum, lily, crape myrtle, orchid, Spring Heralding Flower and so on. It has a rich store of medicinal herbs; more than 300 kinds are found here; the notable ones being glossy ganoderma ginseng, Chinese gold thread rhizome and Chinese cinnamon. Maofeng tea of the Yellow Mountains is well known at home and abroad.
This day at the Yellow Mountain was definitely a highlight of the trip. After our long bus ride to the foot of the gondola car we rode to the top of the mountain on the longest cable car in Asia the ride taking 15 minutes. Once at the top we walked down the stairs to a hotel for lunch. Of course what goes down must also go us. So after our lunch it was back up the stairs to return to the gondola station the only way down. Everything needed at the top comes up the gondola cars and is then carried by hand to its destination. Here is a photo of men carrying construction sand for concrete to the hotel site where an expansion is underway.
May 7th Enjoyed a relaxing day cruising on the Yangtze River. This was a rainy day; one of the few days of rain and poor weather we had. We travelled some 493km to reach Wuhan our next port of call. We arrived in a little late at about 8pm. Guides and buses were waiting for us to whisk us off to visit the stone museum.
May 8th - Cruising the Yangtze River with time for a manicure and a body massage. In the afternoon we played cards while we watched the Yangtze River Life unfold. Every time you find a flat bit of river bank it is utilized as a ship building yard. Ships loaded with a special type of straw grown by the farmers for use in the pulp & paper industry generally carried a load that was stacked higher than the wheel house thus the Captain is sitting on top of the wheel house on a chair steering with a rope attached to the wheel.
At all times there were dozens of ships sailing the river right along with us; coal ships, cargo container ships, several barges tied together to be pushed by 1 ship.
Even an old style "Junk".
And of course everywhere were the small sampan's used by the locals for everything. The dredging of the river is constant as the Yangtze is a shallow river with the currents bringing down tons of silt from upriver.
Along the shore we saw the coal bins where the mines deposit the coal ready for pick up by the ships. The coal loads by gravity feed down an open trough and then falling onto the ship. Not much pollution here!
Fishing by the locals; catching their dinner or just enjoying themselves is constant.
Wash day for people living close to the Yangtze means a rock and a scrub brush.
May 9th Arrived Yichang at around 11am for our passage thru the Gerhou Dam locks. Built as the experimental dam of the Three Gorges Dam Project Gezhouba Water Conservancy Project is located 38 kilometers away from the TGP. When the Yangtze River goes through the Nanjin Pass, the river suddenly becomes a lot broader, widening from 300 meters to 2,200 meters. This project was finished in 1988. It consists of two hydro electric power stations, three navigation locks, and several sluice-gates.
Later in the afternoon we arrived at Sandouping and it was time to visit the Three Gorges Dam site. We were bused from the dock to a Visitors Centre where we could look down on the 5 locks which we would later pass thru and on the other side the largest dam in the world. Here they have a model of the Three Gorges Dam Project
The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River has been a dream for generations and is one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken by mankind. This great dam, the largest of its kind in the world, will provide China with tremendous power generation and flood control services. A project that will have taken some 17 years to complete when finally finished in 2009, some ninety years after Dr. Sun Yet-Sen, pioneer of the Chinese democratic revolution, first proposed the idea. The TGP Dam will raise the water level some 80 meters which has necessitated the relocation of entire towns. The water has already risen 40 meters and has 40 more meters to go. At very frequent intervals we would see markers showing the height the Yangtze will rise to. Here is a photo of a farmer's existing home and the new house he is building above the 176 m mark as his old home will be under water by next year. May 10th This morning it was rise and shine as we started our trip thru the Three Gorges - we started with Xiling Gorge at 7am. Although it was foggy out it promised to be a clear warm day. This is the longest Gorge at 47 miles long and the TGP Dam is actually built at the mid point of this gorge.
Soon we were into the Wu Gorge which is 24 miles long. Here we find the 12 peaks of Wushan with the most notable; Fairy Peak which holds up the Goddess.
Here we saw evidence of the old "Trackers" path used by the men of old that pulled the boats thru the Three Gorges using ropes. At the western end of the Wu Gorge is where the Daning River joins the Yangtze. Here the Victoria Prince docked and we transferred to a smaller boat which took us up the Daning River some 33km thru the Lesser Gorges. . The first and most dramatic Lesser Gorges is known as Dragon Gate Gorge. In this gorge, the river ranges from only ten to thirty meters wide while the cliffs on either bank soar to an average of 800 to 1000 meters. Mysterious plants and fungus of longevity are said to grow high up on the cliff face. Two rows of square holes extending the entire length of the gorges are all that remain of an ancient plank walkway. The walkway allowed easier access to salt mines far up the river. The existence of the walkway was first recorded in 246 BC and was finally destroyed by the imperial Ming army during the 17th century after a peasant uprising. In the Misty Gorge, a 2000 year old "hanging" coffin can be seen suspended on a precipice high up on the cliff face. The coffin is a relic left over from the Ba people who inhabited the gorges region 3,500 to 1,800 years ago. At one time hundreds of these coffins could be seen throughout the Three Gorges and the Daning River, suspended from seemingly inaccessible areas on the cliff-sides. Emerald Gorge with its lush green vegetation and clear green waters was very beautiful. Last but not least was the Mini-Three Gorge where we had to transfer to an even smaller boat - a sampan We had a fun boatman who gave us all a turn at poling even allowing us to wear the traditional rain wear We enjoyed our trip thru the small gorges where waterfalls, lush vegetation, weird rock formations and even the occasional monkey captured our attention. On shore we passed by friendly villagers who would wave to us and saw their fishing nets drying in the sun ready for the nights fishing. They lure the fish into the nets with lights. At the entrance to the Daning River is the ByeBye Bridge so named as next year when the TGP Dam brings the water level up to its final height the deck or road way will be only 10 feet above the water; thus blocking all river traffic. Consequently this bridge is being demolished and a new one built.
After leaving the Lesser Gorges we continued westward up the Yangtze and thru the last of the Three Gorges, the Qutang Gorge which although the shortest is considered the most scenic. The Qutang is only 5 miles long but the narrowest and with the steepest sides. We entered Qutang thru Kuimen Gate
May 11th We docked at Fengdu only 107 miles east of Chongqing. Having a history of nearly 2,000 years, Fengdu County has formed a special culture of ghosts and the afterlife. Well known as the resting place of the spirit of the dead, Fengdu is now the most characteristic and reputed historic and cultural town in China. Our tour took us up Mt. Ming; a mountain combining the religion of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Sculptures, paintings, and architecture are unique characteristic of the mountain. This was an interesting mountain top and at the bottom was the usual line of stalls and vendors hawking souvenirs.
May 12th A day to long be remembered by millions of people; however, it started off innocently enough with our disembarkation at Chongqing. Our guide Kenvin Wu came aboard to greet us and escort us ashore. It was a long hike over pontoon floats to the shore and then up 70 steps to the van By walking along the shore to the next set of steps we shortened the stair climb from approximately 70 steps to about 20. Kevin had the wheelchair brought to the top of these steps for Dad and a man pushed Dad up the steep hill to where our van was parked. Another man carried our luggage ashore on his shoulders all for a cost of 200RMB or about $30.
We now headed out to Dazu to see the Buddhist Carvings. Dazu, is a small mountainous town 167 km west of Chongqing. It is famous for its stone carvings, with more than 100,000 pieces left over from the Tang (628-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties. The well-preserved carvings are representative of an ancient Chinese art tradition. They also take a very important position in the religious, artistic and cultural history of China. Stone carvings are found in more than 70 places scattered throughout the county of Dazu. The largest, richest and most exquisite collection of statues is at the foot of Baoding Hill These carvings were hewn out from 1174 to 1249. The row is 500 meters long and consists of nearly 10,000 statues, of which the most distinctive and majestic are the "Thousand-arm Goddess of Mercy" and the 31-meter long sleeping Buddha. These stone carvings are unparalleled works of art in the world and were included by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1999. The 3 largest statues are carved on an angle so that it appears that they are looking at you. The end one holds a stone pagoda which weighs 400 lbs in its hand. All of these carvings are out of the natural rock of the mountain and still attached to the mountain. The craftsmanship in both carving and painting these figures is amazing!
After hiking down into the valley to view all of these works of art and climbing back up I was happy to pay 2RMB (about 25 cents) for a ride from the gates to the village As the hike up and down would have been too much for Dad he stayed in the village and shopped in the multitude of stalls for souvenirs. We met up again in the restaurant were we enjoyed a very nice lunch.
Leaving the village we stopped for a photo of this roadside shrine to Buddha
As we headed back to Chongqing we stopped to visit Mrs. Lee on her farm. Mrs. Lee lives in a small farm community of 10 homes of which about half have been replaced with new homes. Mrs. Lee's son is building their new home which is a 3 storey half duplex style. I found her home very clean and modern in that the bedroom had a normal western style double bed and beautiful hardwood floors, satellite dish for TV reception; however the kitchen was what to western standards would be primitive with a wood burning stove with only 2 woks inset into it. In contrast on the counter was a modern rice cooker. We left the very welcoming Mrs. Lee who was proud to show off both her Grandson & her home to head back to Chongqing. On the way we stopped for gas and I could not resist taking a photo of their fire fighting equipment - local fire station. (2 shovels, a coiled up canvas hose, 4 buckets, 2 fire extinguishers on wheels) Now for the excitement of the day - the earthquake hit as we were stopped in a toll booth so yes we felt it. Upon our return to Chongqing Kevin took us to the old town. This area is filled with narrow winding pedestrian only streets full of stalls. The streets are paved with stone so for Dad it was a very rough ride in the wheelchair I think the thing that caught my eye the most was the outdoor tea pavilion where patrons drank the tea while sitting at tables right in the water of the polluted Yangtze. Chongqing is called "The Furnace" as summer temperatures exceed 40C hence sitting like this is cooling. Of course the restaurant with its kitchen right on the sidewalk was interesting too! Next we visited the Flying Tigers Museum which was of great interest to Dad. This is a museum dedicated to the volunteer US Air Squadron that fought with and for China against the Japanese during WWII. One more photo stop before dinner at the Convention Centre which can seat 4000 and was built to resemble the Temple of Heaven in Beijing
This evening we enjoyed a Sichuan Hot Pot Dinner (spicy).
After our busy and eventful day we were happy to check into the Holiday Inn North Chongqing. This is a relatively new hotel and was very nice. I would definitely give this hotel 4 stars. Our rooms were very clean and spacious. All the amenities we could wish for were provided in the bathroom including a hairdryer and the usual 2 bottles of complimentary water. A free internet connection was beside the desk. The king size bed was again very firm. The breakfast in the Cafe was lavish and the chef was waiting to prepare your eggs. This restaurant did have a small (5 tables) non-smoking section but as it was not separated from the rest of the restaurant and smoke drifts it made little difference. I would definitely recommend this hotel.
May 13th The morning after the devastating earthquake and a cancelled trip to Chengdu as the airport there was closed to all except emergency traffic and the Sheraton Lido Hotel was closed as well. Thus we missed visiting the Giant Panda's Breeding Centre. Accent Travel and Kevin our guide in Chongqing were wonderful in stepping up to the plate to revise our itinerary, rearrange our ongoing air flights, and made sure we had another marvelous day only in Chongqing rather than Chengdu. We spent the morning at the Chongqing Zoo to view 7 Giant Panda's. The baby Panda was only 3lbs at birth but has gained 3lbs a week ever since. The Panda's diet is young bamboo shoots and as there is little nutrition in bamboo they must eat a lot of it. Good thing this type of bamboo grows a foot a day.... The zoo also feeds them a small amount of fruit. The zoo is in the midst of a renovation to create new premises for the large animals. We spent considerable time watching as the workers move boulders from the roadway where they had been dumped into the construction area all by hand.
After lunch we visited Elgin Park which is the top of a high hill; it took both Ross & Kevin to push the wheelchair up the steep path to the top. Located at the apex of the Jailing and Yangtze Rivers it gave us a "Bird's Eye" view over the 2 rivers and the city which sprawls out in all directions. In the Elgin Park Tea House we enjoyed our first tea ceremony. The types of tea were described with what they were good for in regards to health as well as the general demographics of who likes what types of tea. We got to try 3 types; Jasmine, Ginsing, and Lycee even bringing home a small tin of my favorite "Jasmine" tea. Of course we were shown the proper way to hold the cup different for men & women! Then much like wine tasting how to enjoy not only the taste but the smell and sight of the tea. Our hostess surprised us with a magical ceramic cup & teapot where the picture changes color with the temperature of the water.
Kevin now took us to a modern multi level shopping mall in Chongqing which could have been in any city in the world. It was spacious and clean boasting all the famous brand names from "Rolex" to "Calvin Klien" to "Starbucks" etc.
On leaving the mall we saw our first real life sign of the earthquake in that a mobile blood donor clinic had been set up in the court yard and people were lined up to donate blood to help the victims of the earthquake.
May 14th A new flight to Guilin had been arranged having us arrive in Guilin in the early afternoon. Here our guide, Lisa met us. She immediately took us to lunch at a restaurant overlooking the lake. The fruit platter which always comes at the end of every meal in China was intricately carved. After lunch it was off to wonder thru Daxu Ancient Town. This is definitely a poorer area that sees only a few tourists. The people watching opportunities where great! Here we met the Pharmacist in his local pharmacy which sells traditional Chinese medicine and he demonstrated the operation of his grinder with his feet; used to grind the herbs into powder to make the medicine.
Across the street was the winery.
Over each doorway is a mirror and fork to ward off evil spirits.
We walked to the Longevity Bridge which is over 500 years old.
Lucky locals have a 1 stroke engine, 3 wheel truck to carry about their goods while others use a bike. Many just get to carry everything around on their shoulders.
In the evening we took a boat ride on the 4 lakes, joined by man made canals which were originally the cities moat system. The many bridges have been built to imitate world famous bridges such as the "Golden Gate". All the parks, bridges, walkways and pagodas are illuminated to create a photographers paradise. The crystal bridge is built totally of glass.
In the largest lake the local fishermen came out on their bamboo rafts to demonstrate how they fish using cormorants. The fish are attracted with a light and the birds dive into the water to catch the fish and then bring it back to the boat and the fisherman. A string around the birds neck prevents the bird from swallowing the fish.
In Guilin we stayed at the Park Hotel. Again we had booked non-smoking - well this hotel does not even understand the word non-smoking. Our rooms stunk of smoke and people smoked everywhere. The room had a view over the pool which was closed. Cleanliness of the room was only medium; I definitely did not check under the bed for dust. The first night our towels were left over from the previous occupant who was definitely a smoker. After drying ourselves we felt dirtier than before our showers. The bathroom came with the usual amenities plus lots of stuff for sale including flavored condoms....Made me wonder who normally stays in this hotel! The bed although a kingsize was very hard; upon request they did put 2 comforters down as a mattress pad to make it a little softer. They arrived to do this at 10pm at night rather than doing it while we were out for dinner and the evening. The breakfast in the restaurant was good although the coffee was terrible. We also ate dinner in the restaurant one evening and it too was very tasty and the staff was very pleasant and helpful. Again the hotel provided a wheelchair for Dad's use during our stay here in Guilin. I would not recommend this hotel and would give it only 2 stars.
May 15th The Li River cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo was an experience. Lisa picked us up early to take us to the dock to board our river cruise boat which was tied up with some 20 others. The first thing we noticed was the kitchen located on the back of each boat. Guess where our lunch was being prepared?
As we glided - actually raced as each Captain wanted to be first and so the river boats kept trying to pass each other which was difficult in the narrow channel. The view of the limestone outcroppings called "karst" by the locals; kept us up on deck so as to miss not a second. We watched water buffalo in the fields and swimming in the water. Yes the very same water being used to wash our lunch dishes and clean the vegetables that were going into our lunch...
Locals on bamboo rafts came by selling all kinds of souvenirs. These rafts made of only 4 lengths of bamboo; I am still amazed that they didn't either sink or capsize. The crown- like crag earns the hill its name; Crown Hill. Under this hill is a twelve kilometer long water-eroded cave. It is a wonderland of various stalactite, stone pillars and rock formations in the cave. Hanging basket is just that a cave high up in the rock face where supplies and water are hauled up in a basket. Half-Side Ferry (Ban Bian Du) is where 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 of the rock. 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) Bamboo rafts are awaiting the evening fishing time and the cormorants wait too. All along the Li River Limestone outcroppings pop up, reaching to the sky. A reputed attraction is Mural Hill, a 100-meter-high cliff face, which has been weathered and has stratified rock surface in various shades of colors. Just before lunch the staff came around offering Snake Wine, for a small fee of course. The snake wine made from formenting water in a jar with a snake in it....I have a photo of the snake in the jar that they were taking the wine from. After lunch served on the boat; yes the one prepared in the boat kitchen, which we ate with no ill effects. We arrived in Yangshou. This town of narrow streets filled with shops, stalls and lots of street vendors is a souvenir shoppers paradise. Once onshore the vendors started. We paid to have our photo taken with a fisherman and his cormorants. After walking thru the stalls for a distance of about 5 blocks we arrived at the golf cart pick up point for the 10 minute ride thru town to the outskirts where the car park is.
May 16th Furbo Hill was our destination this morning even though it was raining lightly. This "Krast" towers above the Li River reaching a height of 213 meters with 62 meters above the water. Half of it stands in the river and the other half of it on land. Since the galloping water is always blocked here and eddied, the hill is considered to have the power of subduing waves. Yes Ross and I climbed all the way to the top for a view over Guilin however with the rain it was a very hazy view. At the foot of the hill is the Pearl-Returning Cave, the Thousand-Buddha Cave and the Sword-Testing Rock so called because the fat stalactite almost touches the floor and looks as if a sword has cut off the tip.
After lunch it was to the Ludi or Reed Flute Cave Guilin's largest and most impressive cave. Its name is explained by the fact that reeds for making flutes and pipes have been grown in this region since ancient times. This dripstone cave is 790 feet deep, and a visitor will walk for some 550 yards through a zigzagging sea of stalactites and stalagmites in dazzling colors. Although the cave is also known as a Palace of Natural Art, manmade strategies use artificial lighting to emphasize the coincidental similarity of the rock formations to birds, plants, and animals. One grotto is called The Crystal Palace of the Dragon King--an area that resembles a miniature Guilin. Over 70 wall inscriptions from the Tang Period (618-907) bear eloquent witness to the cave's long history. Here is a photo of the Xmas tree and the Statue of Liberty. Dad could not have climbed all of the steps so he was carried thru by 2 men in a sedan chair.
May 17th morning flight to Xian
Xi'an, Shannxi Province Xi'an was an important cradle of Chinese civilization. The famous "Silk Road" that linked China with central Asia and the Roman Empire starts in Xi'an in the east. The city served as the first capital of a unified China and capital of 11 dynasties periodically from the 11th century BC to the early 10th century AD. Located between rivers and mountains in the center of the fertile Guanzhong Plain Xi'an--the provincial capital--is the natural place to nurture the nation's civilization. Back in the Neolithic Age, about 6,000 years ago, a matriarchal clan was formed at Banpo village in the region. At that time, the Banpo people used tools made primarily of wood and stone. Women, the crucial labor force, were responsible for making pottery, spinning, and raising the family, while men fished. We visited this village or at least the actual site. In 583 AD, the Sui emperor, Wen Di, established his capital here. The area flourished and developed so quickly under the Tang Dynasty that in time it became the most prominent city in Asia, with a population of about a million people living in a vast, well-planned area protected by large walls with ramparts. The City Wall 600 years old and 14km long and built during the Ming Dynasty is the largest & best preserved city wall in China. The Wall is 40m high and 18m wide at the base with a width of 14m on the top. Every 120m there was a rampart platform which extended out from the wall 12m and was 20m wide; in total there are 98 of these. Atop these platforms sentry houses where built to store weapons and to shelter soldiers. The distance was based on the range of an arrow which was 60m. It is the sentry houses that stand out in the photo above. For over a millennium from the Second Century BC, China's silk was transported from Xi'an to central Asia and Europe via the infamous "Silk Road".
Our visit to the Shaanxi Provincial Museum was pretty boring. The best part is the gardens with the city scape behind and the architecture of the modern building. .
Next stop the Wild Goose Pagoda originally built in 652 it functioned to collect Buddhist materials that were taken from India by the hierarch Xuanzang. Starting off from Xian, along the Silk Road and through deserts he finally arrived in India, the cradle of Buddhism. Enduring 17 years and traversing 100 countries, he obtained Buddha figures, 657 kinds of sutras, and several Buddha relics. Upon his return with the permission of Emperor Gaozong (628-683), he supervised the building of the pagoda. First built to a height of 60 meters - five stories, it is now 64.5 meters high since the addition of two stories. Externally it looks like a square cone, simple but grand and it is a masterpiece of Buddhist construction. Built of brick, its structure is very firm. Inside the pagoda, stairs twist up so that visitors can climb and overlook the panorama of Xian City from the arch-shaped doors on four sides of each storey. On the walls are engraved fine statues of Buddha This is set inside an active walled temple complex.
This evening William took us to a very interesting restaurant; Wen Hao Shi Fu Restaurant, that specializes in soups cooked in small clay pots placed inside huge clay urns located outside in front of the restaurant. Each urn has a charcoal fire at the base. Inside the urns the soups are cooked on 3 levels thus 3 different types of soups can be cooked in each urn as the heat is different on each of the 3 levels. Our individual tables clay pot of soup.
In Xi'an we stayed at the Bell Tower Xi'an Hotel which is very centrally located in the heart of downtown Xi'an. Our room overlooked the Bell Tower and across the street was a large shopping mall. Our room here was long and narrow with the TV acting as a divider so that it appeared that our bed was in a room separate from the sitting area. The washroom provided all the usual amenities and of course the room had a safe. The breakfast was the usual lavish buffet with a chef to cook your eggs for you. Again there was no non-smoking area but as this hotel seemed to be used by mostly foreigners not many people were smoking in the restaurant. I would definitely recommend this hotel and give it 4 stars.
May 18th Another busy day started with visit to the Temple of the Eight Immortals (Ba Xian An). This Taoist Temple is 3000 years old. Taoism is the original religion of China. Monks ring this bell during special ceremonies. The real adventure is getting there; our van dropped us off at the end of the very narrow alley which was packed with street vendors. These street vendors had their wares laid our on pieces of cloth or newspaper right on the street. This made the passageway of this alley so narrow that Ross had to fold up the wheelchair and push it folded while Dad walked. This temple was very busy as they were hosting a fund raising drive for the Earthquake victims. People were liked up to donate to the cause and in return received a gift of a cloth shopping bag. After making their donation almost everyone burned some incense and prayed. The next courtyard of the temple was set with tables laden with food for all. Everyone, including us, were welcome to enjoy the offerings. It is believed that to give food and partake of food like this helps one to have a good and long life.
For lunch we went to the Dong Lui Shun Restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious individual hot pot lunch. The meats to cook were beef and lamb along with mushrooms lettuce and cabbage plus of course noodles. It was delicious but no time for a nap as it was off to see the Terracotta Warriors.
After a drive of over an hour out of Xi'an into the country we arrived at the site of the Terracotta Figures. Excavation started in 1974 and to date they still have a lot more to do... The museum covers an area of 14,000 square meters and contains 6,000 life-size terra-cotta warriors and horses. The impressive sight of the figurines lined in neat formation grips the spectators with grandeur and magnificence to capture their admiration. The 2,200 year-old wonder was part of the Tomb of Qinshihuang, the first emperor of China. It is located in suburb of Xi'an and was discovered when local farmers were digging a well nearby. Three exhibition halls house the continuing excavation of an army of 7,000 terra-cotta soldiers and horses that guard the tomb of Qinshihuang. These figures have actually been damaged either by enemy invaders or by nature with the collapse of the earth falling onto the figures. Each figure was individually crafted so that no two are alike. When we arrived at the site our we exited our van and headed thru the ticket turnstile into the museum park. It is a large park with a long path over a kilometer to reach the actual museum. There is a golf cart you can ride for a small fee. Once at the actual site there are 4 large buildings. The main one has been built over the site of the excavated Terracotta Warriors. Another is over the partially excavated site that is currently being worked on. The third one is a museum that houses the golden chariot and other artifacts. Finally the last and smallest is a gift shop which also features an excellent film that explains the building of the warriors and the history. We spent the whole afternoon here and exited the final building to find that a big black cloud had formed and rain was imminent. We ran along the path pushing Dad in the wheelchair; at least the paths here are smooth and the buildings basically wheelchair friendly. We planned to walk back along the path we came up but a guard refused to let us a the paths are "One Way" we had to go the other way out which is further. Of course the "Way Out" is thru the shopping arcade that sells all kinds of souvenirs. We ran all the way to the van not taking time to look at any of the souvenirs and made it just as the heavens opened and it started to pour. However; by the time we had driven back to Xi'an the rain had stopped. Following dinner we enjoyed a Tang Dynasty Show where the costumes where colorful.
May 19th This morning William picked us up at only 11am after he had retrieved Dad's alarm clock from a fellow guide at a different hotel. Dad had left the clock behind in the hotel in Chongqing and realized it when we arrived in Guilin. Lisa in Guilin called Access China who in turn called the hotel. The alarm clock was at the hotel and they would give it to an Access China guide who had a group coming from Chongqing to Xi'an on the 18th . Our guide could than get the clock and return it to Dad.
Today we drove to Tongchuan to visit the potters of Chen Lu. In reality we visited a very run down museum and the excavation sites of 2 kilns from 800 years ago. It was a 2 hour drive each way and I definitely would not recommend anyone else waste the time visiting this attraction. We did not visit any potters at work or any working factories.
May 19h Early evening flight to Beijing check into the Park Plaza Beijing Wangfujing another excellent hotel. Landing at the brand new Beijing International Airport, the largest airport in the world, we were met by our guide, Leylee Huang and our driver Mr. Yan who had a wheelchair for Dad. After reaching our van it was off to the hotel and a good nights sleep.
The Park Plaza Beijing Wangfujing was an excellent hotel with the softest beds we found in China. Here we did not need to ask for comforters to act as mattress pads to make the bed softer. Our room was kept immaculate and all the amenities that we could want were in the bathroom including new toothbrushes each day. The room also came with an ironing board and iron, slippers and robe as well as the normal safe. Here we did get the non-smoking floor. The restaurant provided us with a sumptuous buffet each morning for breakfast with of course a chef to cook our eggs to our liking. This restaurant had a large non-smoking area which was separated from the smokers area. We enjoyed 2 dinners in this restaurant as well; both times I ordered a steak and it came just as I like it. I would definitely recommend this hotel and give it 4 stars.
Beijing is the capital of China, with a 3,000-year history, 15.3 million people and covers 16,808 square kilometers in area. It is the political, cultural and economic center of the People's Republic of China. China as a whole is not wheelchair friendly although Beijing due to the Para-Olympics coming in September 2008 is working on it. Dad did get a lot of very rough rides in the wheelchair with Dad frequently having to walk up a couple of steps and then step over high door sills while Ross carried the wheelchair.
May 20th Tiananmen Square was our first stop in Beijing. It is so large that it is hard to comprehend its real size. Packed with people; mostly Chinese tourists, we did not find this a comfortable venue to wonder in. Across the 12 lane ring road is the Forbidden City - fortunately there is an underpass for pedestrians. After crossing the ring road via the underpass where the wheelchair ramp was still under construction we arrived at the Forbidden City, also known as the Imperial Palace or Palace Museum. Located in the center of Beijing, covering 72 hectares, and built in 1420; it was the imperial residence of 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The last child Emperor moved out in 1911. Almost all of the courtyards here are paved without any trees or shrubs. This was done to eliminate hiding places for possible assassins of the Emperor. This "Large Stone Carving" is a single piece of stone 16 X 3 meters and weighing over 200tons. It was pulled to the Forbidden City in the winter by sprinkling water on the road in front of the stone so that they could slide the stone over the ice path thus created. At the rear of the Forbidden city is the Emperors quarters and the palace gardens the only place where any vegetation is found. This harmonious assemblage of buildings displays the best characteristics of Chinese architecture -- majestic style, flawless construction, and fine coordination of the whole and the parts. The moat which surrounds the Forbidden city is 3800m long and while the wall is 10m high. This moat is connected to the lake at the Summer Palace as well as the canals that lead to Suzhou in the south. After lunch we visited the Hutong (old residential area of central Beijing) by pedicab. I had noticed that all the homes, which are surrounded by walls are cement grey; this color was decreed by the Emperor as only the Emperor was allowed bright colors. The Emperor did not want any competition! In olden times the doors were black as red was reserved for Royalty but today all the doors are painted red to provide some color. All of the streets are very narrow and in general poor condition. Many of the homes here lack bathrooms so there is a public bath. However; due to location these homes are very valuable and much sought after. We visited Mr. Wu's home here. Mr. Wu is a retired Engineer from the Institute of Archaeology; who worked on the excavation of the Ming Tombs. Mr. Wu in the living room of the home he inherited from his Mother who purchased it in 1963. The home is divided into 3 - 3 room apartments which face a central courtyard and share a washroom. Mr. Wu occupies 1 apartment and his 2 sons each have an apartment. Below is a photo of Mr. Wu's courtyard. Here is the front entrance to Mr. Wu's home and the courtyard. Notice the high sill that wards off evil spirits. After the end of our Pedicab ride we walked to Prince Gong's Garden/Mansion. Prince Gong was the last Emperor's Uncle who was also a wealthy Merchant.
In what was originally the study we enjoyed another tea ceremony while seated on antique 200 year old sandalwood chairs. All of the china cups were of the type that the designs changed color with the heat. I purchased a full set of the mugs where the characters tell what the scene on the cup is when filled with hot liquid. My family love using them and now quibble over who gets what scene with the Great Wall being the all time favorite. Only problem is they are not dishwasher safe so I have to wash them by hand! Back out in the garden we strolled along more corridors and past ponds and pavilions.
You can see the haze in these photos - it was the start of a sand storm. By the time we were back in the van and returning to the hotel the haze had turned brown and outside you could feel the sting of the sand in the wind.
Now for our Peking Duck Dinner at Dadong this was a delicious meal. The ovens behind a glass wall were open for viewing. We watched the chefs putting the ducks into the hot burning coals and then later taking out the succulent birds. A chef brought a whole duck to our table and carved it in front of us placing paper thin slices on each of our plates. Of course the duck came with all kinds of other goodies and we waddled out a couple of hours later after having definitely gorged ourselves.
May 21stth Leylee picked us up early to head out trip to the Great Wall at Mutianyu which is 70km from Beijing. On the way we stopped at a factory where enamel vases, jewelry, dishes and other items are made using copper and paints. I bought several Christmas Tree ornaments in the factory store. The Great Wall is one of the best known ancient constructions in the world. The massive project built over 600 years ago it stretches from Shanghaiguan in the east to Jiayuguan in the west, a distance of over 6,300 kilometers. The Great Wall at Mutianyu is 23 - 26 feet high and 13 - 16 feet wide, constructed of granite slabs. The coping on both sides of the wall has parapets and battlements, which made it possible to repel foes from either side. The bases of the indented battlements have square holes arched at the top from which soldiers shot at the besiegers. Additional walls with watchtowers were built in order to relieve the enemy's assault on the main wall which is densely distributed with watchtowers, twenty-two in total. The wall runs up and down following the contours of the steep mountainsides. In one section it rises with a gradient of nearly 90 degrees on bare rock posing a challenge to any climbers Comfortable cable cars are available to facilitate climbing this section of the wall. You can see from the above photos that a walk on the wall is a climb either up or down. However that this could have been built in this location so long ago and remains intact today is amazing. Getting to the top of the wall was a feat as well. There is a cable car for ease in reaching the top of the Wall; however, one must reach the cable car station before you can board. The path up is very steep and too rough for a wheelchair. It was all Ross could do to push the empty wheelchair up this steep hill so unfortunately Dad had to hike it. The whole way is lined with vendors selling all types of souvenirs. Once at the top we thought we had made it to the cable car station; only to find out; that there were still 3 flights of steps to be climbed. Finally we were in the cable car and on our way to the top of the Great Wall! We exited the cable car and guess what more stairs; we still hadn't made it all the way to the top! The final steps are definitely "Man Size"! Ross & Dad on top of the Great Wall The Great Wall is a must for anyone visiting China and will be the highlight of the trip. The reason is simple: it is one of China's most important cultural and historical symbols
We left the Great Wall with feelings of awe in having walked on a magnificent and significant piece of history; also regret that our time on the Great Wall was finished.
On the way back down we shopped for souvenirs and bargained like troupers.
We stopped in the village just below the wall for a BBQ trout lunch which was delicious. The trout are kept in ponds and you can actually catch your own and the restaurant will cook it; however, in our case we let the chef do all the work both the catching and cooking.
Next up was the Ming Tombs. As the actual tombs would have required a lot of uphill climbing and stairs - no wheelchair ramps here - at Leylee's suggestion we opted to spend our time at the Scared Way which is the roadway leading to the tombs. Lined with trees and statues at regular intervals it was a very pleasant walk. The first statues are royal guards to guard the tombs then came the animal likenesses. There were 2 sets of each animal; one standing on guard and one laying down resting. In the centre of the walk is a temple with a stone tablet inside. On the way back to our hotel we stopped near the Olympic site to see the Birds Nest Stadium that was to open the next day. May 22nd Leylee had another very busy day in store for us. We started at the Temple of Heaven, the place where Emperors worshipped heaven and prayed for abundant harvests. Situated 2km southeast of the Forbidden City, the Temple, plus subsidiary buildings and surrounding gardens, covers an area five times the size of the Forbidden City; or 273 hectares. With exquisite architectural workmanship, it is the largest existing ancient architectural group for worshipping in China. These huge grounds form a beautiful park that is heavily utilized by the local residents. Here we watched people practicing Tai Chi, ballroom dancing, calligraphy, singing, walking their birds in cages or just enjoying the park and meeting with their friends.
The Temple of Heaven is built of wood is 32m high and has no beams instead there are 26 support pillars. Situated on top of 3 circular marble terraces each 9 steps above the lower one. Beautifully carved rain spouts run the circumference of the terraces and are cleverly designed such that during a rain storm they create a waterfall effect. Still within the Temple of Heaven complex we visited the Echo Garden with its own temple. In this walled space everything was built to ensure that ones echo comes back to you. The Heavenly Circle is simply 3 terraces with a sacred round stone inset in the centre of the upper most terrace. Again 9 steps up to each level. In the photo you can clearly see the rain spouts.
The Temple of Heaven Complex is surrounded by a circular wall which is 1700m in diameter.
Upon Leaving the Temple of Heaven Leylee took us to a "Knock Off" market. Here there were 4 floors of stalls with merchants selling all kinds of souvenirs. Bargaining was the order of the day! We bought some cheap electronic gadgets; a USB fan for the computer that lights up while it cools you off and a computer mouse that lights up too! We could have spent an extra hour or so here!
After lunch we visited the Summer Palace. The original one was burnt down by the allied forces in 1860; only to be rebuilt in 1895. In reality this is a huge garden covering 290 hectares; however, over half is actually Kunming Lake. The "Long Corridor" with brilliant decorative paintings on the ceiling goes on for ever. An unbelievable art gallery! The Marble Boat was built by Empress Dowager Cixi with fund allotted for building the Chinese navy. This Marble Boat sits serenely on the lake which was stocked with fish for the Empress by Eunuchs couriering favour as she liked to fish. Another feature of the Summer Palace is the 17 Arch Bridge. From here we proceeded to a wonderful Restaurant, Bai Jia Dayuan, which featured "Imperial Cuisine" served in the old Imperial Style. We were met at the entrance by men costumed as Eunuchs from the Imperial Court of the Qing Dynasty. Once the residence of Prince Li of the Qing Dynasty this"Yuejia Garden" is surrounded by 41 private dinning rooms. We were met at the door of our Dinning salon by our waitress dressed as a Concubine of the Imperial Court. Inside all was decorated in yellow the Royal colour. Following a wonderful dinner served by very attentive staff we were ushered out to our van. They carried lanterns to light the way for the guests. Now we headed off to a theatre to watch an episode of Peking Opera which is all about costumes, facial expressions, and body language. In the theatre we were seated at tables and served with jasmine tea
May 23rd This morning is was the Yonghegong Lamasery built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty as the residence of the Emperor Yongzheng before he ascended the throne. In the year 1744, the residence was completely converted into a lamasery. So this resplendent architectural complex is endowed with the style of an imperial palace, making it distinctive from others. The scriptures here are inscribed on brass cylinders and should only be turned clockwise. Next we visited the new BC Pavilion located just off Tiananmen Square. Opened to showcase British Columbia and Canada to both Chinese Tourists and Businessmen
After lunch Leylee dropped us off at the Panjiayuan Market. This is a huge 6 storey building filled to overflowing with stalls which sell everything; however all of it just cheap reproductions of the original. Again one has to really bargain, but here I found a "knock off" Harley Davidson T-shirt for Robert as well as other souvenirs. In the 4 hours we spent wandering around we only covered about one third of the Market.
May 24th Our China trip which we had dreamed of for many years and spent 2 years planning is drawing to an end as we pack and head off to Beijing International Airport and the trip home. This ornate wall is a decorative feature in the main entrance lobby of the airport. Once in the International Departures area we relaxed in the Business Class Lounge. They have created many relaxing features in this area from a dancing fountain to garden areas. Currently this is the newest (opened March 2008) and largest airport in the world.
If you would like a copy of the above reveiw with photos included I will be happy to e-mail it to you directly just let me know at ann at century 21 vancouver dot com
To enjoy the first part of my review which is Shanghai plus our 7 day cruise aboard the Rhapsody of the Seas to Japan & Korea see the Rhapsody of the Seas Review.
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