Weekly Inspiration

Hooray! Blue skies are awaiting me here in Hong Kong. Let’s be honest, I’m probably going to sneak out for an hour or two to enjoy, I may even visit the Rubber Duck Project. Although I hear it suffered some trauma in the harbour last week?

So keep your fingers crossed I can stay focused today and churn out some more photographs. This photo in particular stems from the Yangtze River cruise portion of our China trip. A visit to a local village presented a fascinating insight into the way of life along the river. More soon…I hope.

 

Yangtze Cruise China-1

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Pingyao Pingyao Pingyao

Pingyao. Say it over and over again and it hasn’t got a bad ring to it. Ping –yaaaaoooo. Okay, moving on. This was a great little surprise incorporated into our China itinerary. Comparable to my old neighbourhood of Stone Town, Zanzibar; Pingyao is like walking around one big historical maze.

A UNESCO listed world heritage site, Pingyao is considered the best ancient walled city in China today, if not the world. Within Pingyao’s 2.6-squared kilometre wall, its inhabitants still relish the traditional Chinese lifestyle. High-rise buildings and cars are absent, and people prefer to move around on foot or bikes. It’s a fresh perspective on China, and you only have to look over the wall to be reminded of the development flourishing on the other side.

In the beginning Pingyao was a popular backpacker stop, now its frequented by all types of tourists – predominantly mainland Chinese. Prepare yourself for the cheesy tourist parts, however it’s easy enough to wander off and grasp a real feel for the place.

With high-speed trains being constructed faster than ever in China, Pingyao will become more accessible in due time. Get in now, before this little place becomes even more popular.

Pingyao streets

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Xian

The entrance leading into Xian does not at all represent its 3000-year plus history. Beyond the endless skyline of new apartment blocks and commercial skyscrapers are the astonishing terracotta warriors.

To be honest, I’m not going to delve into great detail about the warriors though I will say they are without question worth a visit – including the city of Xian.

Unbeknown to many travellers, Xian oozes history and culture in many facets. It’s not all about the thousands upon thousands of terracotta men you know.

Be sure to check out the Muslin Quarter and take a tour to one of the oldest mosques that exist in China today. Reward yourself with Muslim food delicacies at the evening market, where the streets come alive with bustling and colourful food stalls. Your taste buds will appreciate spicy shish kebabs, Chinese style pizza, piquant lamb dumplings, and hand thrown noodles.

Grab a bike and ride around the well-preserved city wall, which was re-constructed in the 14th century during the early Ming Dynasty. Lastly, visit the impressive Big Wild Goose Pagoda originally constructed in 618 AD.

For those interested in the warriors, here is an intriguing article by the National Geographic that I read last year. It definitely inspired my desire to visit Xian and I hope my photos will also help you too.

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Shanghai

It might be the new kid on the block in China but Shanghai is no disappointment.
Commonly referred to as Asia’s New York, the city offers a mixture of shopping, relatively new history, attractive parklands and trendy neighborhoods.

The Bund is where the action starts and is the symbol of Shanghai. The sweeping waterfront area occupies some of the city’s best examples of Art Deco hotels, along with China’s ever growing high-end label outlets.

The name “bund” is derived from an Anglo-Indian term meaning “muddy embankment,” but after the 1920’s the area became a showcase for foreign enterprises, impressive Western-style banks, trading houses, hotels, consulates, and clubs. Nowadays thousands of tourists and locals flock to this superb waterfront to enjoy the view across the river to Pudong and its surrounds.

Before venturing into Shanghai’s neighborhoods we take a detour to the Urban Planning Museum. Inside the building is an exceptional model of the city, which allows you get your head around the vast sprawl of buildings. It is somewhat of an uncommon stop but a worthwhile one at that.

We begin the tour in the French Concession, one of the largest and most popular districts in Shanghai. This original European settlement area was established after the Treaty of Nanking (signed in 1842).

Driving through the streets there are still many fine examples of 19th and early 20th century architecture. Art deco, Neogothic, Teutonic, and even southern antebellum dot the streets of modern Shanghai, testament to the diversity which once earned the city the title of, “Paris of the East”.

Many of the old French houses are still run by the government as either houses or guesthouses. Vast majorities are in desperate need of a refurbishment; nevertheless they remain unique symbols of a city where East and West once merged. If you are going to make one stop in the concession, give the area of Tianzifang a go. It symbolizes typical Shanghai’s 30th Shikumen architecture. Make sure you get lost among the labyrinth of streets while exploring its chic bars and shops.

The Old Town of Shanghai is our next move. Once upon a time a defensive wall stood around this ancient area to protect the people from invading Japanese pirates. Today broad circular avenues have now replaced the ancient walls. Despite two Starbucks hidden amongst the historical buildings, notable features include the City God Temple in the centre of town and the Yuyuan Garden.

Don’t ask me to pronounce its name but ultimately my highlight of Shanghai is Zhujiajao. Approximately an hour’s drive from the Shanghai, this charming town can easily be labeled as China’s own Venice.

This ancient river town is built on top of crisscrossing waterways flowing from the Diashan Lake. Covering 47 square kilometres, the town has simple and elegant Ming and Qing Dynasty architecture. Walk or take a boat around the quiet streets, secluded alleyways and arched stone bridges to experience the real soul of this town.

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Hangzhou

Something we learnt quickly on this trip around China is to avoid tourist destinations on the weekends. The Chinese have an incredibly strong passion for their country and culture, and love to travel at any opportunity.

On weekends you will find hotels raise their rates and it won’t be unusual to battle a crowd at popular tourist sights. So where possible, try and plan your big city visits on the weekends when locals tend to retreat to the countryside.

Hangzhou is a prime example of weekend sightseeing havoc. Located only a short distance from Shanghai on a high-speed train ride, Hangzhou draws tourists in for its famous West Lake, high quality green tea plantations and superior scenery.

Although it was a quick two-day stay in Hangzhou, we manage to soak up its addictive charm (yep, A&K made sure we weren’t there on the weekend). The Hu Qinyu Yu Tang, a traditional Chinese medicine pharmacy, is our first stop. Declared in 1988 as a national key cultural relic, the pharmacy is intriguing. We watch on as the pharmacist put together concoctions for their patients, so quickly it was as if they were putting together a simple scone recipe. One thing that is evident; you need a few hours for this place. Take the time to explore its exhibition hall, the working patient room, and the extensive display of medicated food. It also has a business lobby where visitors can use the pharmaceuticals tools and buy Chinese drugs.

Only a short distance away, we walk to the residence of Hu Xueyan, who was Hangzhou’s wealthiest merchant in the late 1800s. The home was built in 1872 at enormous expense. Nevertheless he’s investment is still evident today, with a showcase of exceptional craftsmanship shown throughout the house and its garden.

Moving on, we drive to the Lingyin Temple that provides us a nice opportunity to stretch our legs and appreciate this active Buddhist temple. A world-famous scenic and historical site, the temple was founded in 326 AD however has been rebuilt at least fifteen times since then.

The Guo Family Garden located on the edge of the West Lake, provides a harmonious combination of water, pavilions, stones and plants during our afternoon visit. Experience one of the best existing traditional private gardens in the Hangzhou.

Lastly, and what no visitor will fail to learn about in Hangzhou is its Longjing tea. We visit Me Jia Wu, set in the heart of the Longjing Tea growing areas around Hangzhou. It reminds me of Stellenbosch in South Africa, quaint little villages set among beautiful green rolling hills. But this time its all about the tea and tea tasting. You won’t find a drop of wine here, just some of the purest green tea in China.

Anyway, enough said, I hope you enjoy the photos below. And please visit Hangzhou if you make your way to China. Just try and avoid the weekends!

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China: Guilin & Yangshuo

China. On an honest note, I didn’t know what to expect of this unique and incredibly diverse country. From packing up our life in Tanzania, to moving thousands of kilometres away to the vibrant city of Hong Kong, I’ve had little time to think about our travels here.

We are now on day seven of our month long adventure with Abercrombie and Kent Travel, and so far it has been an astonishing and educational experience. 

Beginning in the province of Guangxi, we explored the rural cities of Guilin and Yangshuo. Lime stone mountains, crystal clear rivers and lakes represent the very essence of this eastern region’s beauty. 


In Guilin, we began our tour with a visit to the Royal Tea Garden. It is famous for expertise training and scientific research in the field of tea science. We were not disappointed by the garden’s reputation. Our guide Niko, who studied a four-year degree in Tea Science, provided us with an incredible insight into the world of tea and it’s culture. Lets just say, to use a tea bag in the future will be hard for me. Commonly, the old and bitter tea is thrown in the bag and we miss out on the real gentle taste tea has to offer. Yes, I’m already a coffee snob and now I’ve become a tea snob. 



Over two days, we also explore some of Guilin’s most prominent tourist attractions, the Elephant Trunk Hill, Reed Flute Cave and Fuboshan Mountain. In the evening we take a taxi into town and discover the local life along the river. Businessmen relax by fishing for carp, while large groups of women participate in dancing lessons. It is a calm and inviting environment, which the Chinese are ever so proud to promote to tourists – both local and international.

Although Guilin scenery is referred to ‘the best under earth’, the small town of Yangshuo, located 65 kilometres south of Guilin is actually better. We arrive in Yangshuo during a spell of bad weather however this does not detract from its breathtaking scenery. On offer in the area is a plethora of activities including rock climbing, cooking lessons and kayaking. We experience the more mainstream activities comprising of an idyllic bamboo ride down the Yulong River, followed by a bike ride through the mountainous countryside. Both adventures provide the perfect insight to the area’s culture and natural beauty, particularly on a one-day tour. We return to West Street in town, also known to the locals as ‘Foreigners Street’. 
Chinese-Western style restaurants are littered among a vast range of curio shops. Even the locals are not deterred from selling their delicacies on the street, including fake honeycomb from inside a real bee’s hive. Hmmmm…

After such an active day, we enjoy a relaxing evening at the famous light show, Impression: Liu San Jie, a brainchild of the famous Chinese based film director, Zhang Yi Mou. He is also known for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In a stunning natural theatre, the performance regards the impression Sanjeev Liu as the general theme, and creatively combines the classical songs, ethnic groups, culture and fishing to reflect the harmonious atmosphere between human beings and nature. 
The show is so popular, especially among Chinese tourists that they sometimes play the show up to three times a night. For us, the show is a beautiful way to end our time in the Guangxi province. It only provides motivation for us to return to this area, which undoubtedly warrants at least a few more days of exploration.

Before blogging any further on this trip, I would just like to apologize now if you cannot see any images – because I can’t see anything when I load up! Along with Facebook, China has also blocked Word Press. I can however blog with the Word Press app on my iPad though with extreme limitations. I’m trying to find a way around it, so please bare with me. I can’t even caption photos!

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Legendary Expeditions Website Launch

Today my husband and I embark on a one month adventure through China with Abercrombie & Kent Travel. Yes, plenty of blog posts to come (I promise Mum!). Though before heading to the airport, I wanted to introduce the new Legendary Expedition’s website. This exciting and creative safari company have provided me with countless photographic adventures during my time in Tanzania. From the privacy of the Mwiba Conservation Area, to the luxury of their private camping on the plains of the Serengeti, it has been a pleasure to develop their photographic portfolio. Below is the image of their opening page, featuring one of my most moving and intense African experiences – the annual wildebeest migration river crossing. Enjoy browsing Legendary’s website. Please note that not all images were taken by me. If you would like to see my official portfolio please email me at lizhalloran@hotmail.com.

Legendary Expeditions Website