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image: David Brodie

Travel reports

These are accounts of independent or semi-independent journeys in China. They are based on direct personal experience.

 

On this page you can scroll to find 'quick info', maps and images relating to several locations. You can then click to see more detail of each featured site.

1. Longji Rice Terraces, Guangxi Province

click here to see the full report

Quick info:

 

Beautiful and highly photo-friendly terraces, especially in late spring and early summer, before the rice grows so much. Then the contrast between the water in the terraces and the contour-hugging mud banks is at its best.

 

Nearest major transport hub: Guilin, Guangxi Province, in the far south of China.

 

Main local centre as a base for visits: Longsheng town, reached by bus from Guilin

 

Accommodation: Excellent places right among the terraces

 

Recommendation: Stay for at least two nights, preferably more. Get up for the dawn. Hire a guide to walk through the bamboo forests.

image: David Brodie

image: David Brodie

Early morning sunlight glinting off the water of the rice terraces
Map of mainland China showing the location of the rice terraces
Photographers set against tbe early mornng light, overlooking the rice terraces

The terraces are extremely photogenic. So you'll have to be clever to do anything original.

Map showing the various terrace locations, Dazhai and Ping'an villages, and Longsheng town

maps: David Brodie

2. Hong Kong click here to read the full report

Quick info:

 

It advertises itself as Asia's 'global city'. Certainly it is a global financial centre and is more cosmopolitan than anywhere else in China. Urban areas are very densely populated but there are also country parks and islands to explore.

 

Major centres: On one side of the harbour is Tsim Sha Tsui, where the most demanding shoppers can keep on shopping ... on the other is Hong Kong island itself, and the Central district where you can find, yes, more shopping, plus the financial centre, ferries to islands, and Lan Kwai Fong bar area.

 

Accommodation: Hotels have a western style, and are significantly more expensive than equivalent establishments on the 'Mainland' (as the rest of China is called).

 

Recommendation: Take the Star Ferry across the harbour. Visit Lamma island or Sai Kung for the sea views and seafood, and Sai Kung, which is a 'small town' with many many seafood restaurants and ferries to various islands and their beaches.

Hong Kong is a place of maritime tradition. It's one of the busiest ports in the world, and there is plenty of opportunity to jump on a boat, right in the city centre, to escape to a smaller island  at the weekend.

Evening light on the Hong Kong skyline, taken from the cross-harbour Star Ferry

image: David Brodie

Boat carrying passengers between Sai King town and island beaches

image: David Brodie

3. Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan Province

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Quick info:

 

Lijiang is an interesting old town, but busy, with narrow lanes lined with tourist shops. Cable car access to high altitude is available nearby, at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Tiger Leaping Gorge, a deep rocky canyon, offers opportunities to escape into wilder country. Other places, such as Xianggelila (ShangriLa) are several hours away, but form part of the same interesting area.

 

Transport: Lijiang and Xianggelila both have their own small but modern airports. Dali (another tourist centre) and Kunming (the provincial capital and a larger city) are some distance and some time away.

 

Accommodation: The quaint courtyard hotels are one of the greatest charms of Lijiang. In Tiger Leaping Gorge there are various inns for walkers.

 

Recommendation: Either walk along the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail, or stay near the northern end of the gorge at Walnut Village, and use that as a base for walking.

Map of the region, showing Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge, and Xianggelila
Map of mainland China, showing the northern part of Yunnan province

maps: David Brodie

Map of Tiger Leaping Gorge, showing the High Road footpath
View of Lijiang town rooftops

Lijiang town

image: David Brodie

image: David Brodie

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Mountain silhouette, with sunbeams from behind

image: David Brodie

4. Harbin and Heilongjiang in Winter

click here for full report

image: Adobe Stock

Large ice sculpture in Buddhist style, Harbin Ice Festival

Ice sculpture

Map of mainland China showing Harbin and Tiger Mountain snow town

map: David Brodie

Wooden houses in deep snow, with red lanterns, Tiger Mountain village, Heilongjiang

Houses at Tiger Mountain Snow Town. There are still wild tigers in the forests.

Quick info:

 

Harbin is the capital city of China's northernmost province, Heilongjiang, somewhat north of Vladivostok, Siberia's easternmost city. The ice sculpture festival runs from late December to late February each year. Nearby towns and villages – remote communities living from seasonal forestry – are famous for their snowfall and beautiful in midwinter.

 

Travel: Harbin has an international airport. Tours are available to the 'snow towns' – ask at hotels in the city.

 

Accommodation: Harbin has a good range, and the key snow centres have comfortable and well heated hotels. It is also possible to stay in homes in the villages. Again, enquire in Harbin.

 

Skiing is possible in some places.

 

Recommendation: Have plenty of warm clothes, for temperatures below -20°C.

image: David Brodie

5. Siguniangshan, Sichuan Province

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Map of mainland China showing location of Siguniangshan
Map of Siguniangshan relative to Chengdu and the Wolong Panda Reserve
Map of Siguniangshan park, showing the three valleys and Rilongzhen town

maps: David Brodie

Quick info:

 

The mountain landscapes match anything, anywhere in the world. The 'four sisters' or 'four girls' mountains rise to 6000 metres. There are three valleys, each at a more modest 3500 metres and each with its own character. Ponies are available in two valleys. In the third, Shuangqiaogou, there is a a road with a bus service, and a long boarded walkway that makes walking very easy.

 

Nearest major transport hub: Chengdu, which has an international airport. The drive doesn't look so far on the map, but takes four hours. Wolong panda reserve is on the route.

 

Main local centre as a base for visits: Rilongzhen town

 

Accommodation: There are many comfortable small hotels in the town, along with a tourist centre,

 

Recommendation: Unless camping or climbing, allow a day to explore each valley. There are very few people on the walkway in Shuangqiaogou, most being happy to 'hop' between photo sites on the valley's buses. A walk down the valley is a beautiful experience.

Buddhist stupa in the mountains, Haizigou, with multicolored prayer flags set against the sky
A high peak, about 6000 meters, partly enshrouded in cloud, Siguniangshan,

image: David Brodie

image: Adobe Stock

image: David Brodie

Three pandas looking as if posing for the camera
A peaceful courtyard in Chengdu

image: David Brodie

A stupa in the lower Haizigou valley

Yes , pandas really are that cute.

Chengdu is a big city, and like  most big cities it has a mix of the bland and the wonderful. The food is certainly not bland. Sichuan is famous for spicy hotpot. Try it if you dare. The city also has a reputation for its relaxed pace of life. And it's true that groups can be found playing mahjong in pleasant shady courtyards, at all hours of the day. 

6.  Xinjiang

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Quick info:

 

Xinjiang is vast. And mostly pretty empty. The Turpan basin is below sea level, two and half thousand kilometres from the sea. The cold and very dry Taklamakan desert is mostly shifting sand, with the Silk Road having routes north and south, never across. The city of Urumqi is a cultural melting pot at the heart of Asia. Tourism continues, and is growing, but in the past there has been unrest and police have a higher profile than elsewhere in China.

 

Getting there: By plane, to Urumqi

 

Recommendations: Xinjiang is photographers' heaven. It's best to get a group together and then arrange travel with car and driver. Check your own country's travel advice. Expect frequent passport inspections.

image: David Brodie

image: David Brodie

Roadside restaurants in Xinjiang
Uyghur, Chinese and Russian texts on shop front in Urumqi, illustrating the multicultural nature of the region

The distances are vast, and road stops  are important

Uyghur, Chinese and Russian

Mapof mainland China showing location of Urumqi

maps: David Brodie

Buddhist shrine amongst snowcapped mountains and by the side of a frozen lake, at Tianchi, Xinjiang

The frozen lake at Tianchi

image: David Brodie

Map of Xinjiang province

7.  Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong

click here for the full report
Map of mainland China showing location of Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong

maps: David Brodie

Map showing relative locations of Jiuzhagou, Huanglong and the airport
Map of the Jiuzhaigou valleys, showing the locations of principal waterfalls and the walkways

image: David Brodie

Branch with autumn leaves, set against colorful reflections from a lake

Minerals in the water enhance the autumn colours

image: David Brodie

Quick info:

 

Access:  The region has its own airport (Jiuzhaigou, also known as JiuHuang, JZH, 53km from Huanglong and 88km from Jiuzhaigou, with flights to many major cities including Shanghai and Chongqing. The airport itself is at an altitude of almost 3500m, and the road to Huanglong reaches about 4000m (though a major tunnel is under construction [2016] through the mountain).

 

Minibus and car services are available to the attractions. The nearest town to the airport, Chuanzhusizhen offers very little, but close to Jiuzhaigou, in the neighbourhood of Zhangzha town, there are very many hotels of all categories. Zhangzha is about 6km from Jiuzhaigou park entrance,

 

Recommendation: Stay within Jiuzhaigou park if at all possible. There is accommodation, but it's not advertised on the major booking websites, so you will need to enquire locally. Make it a longer trip, to take in Xianggelila and Pudacuo National Park.

White doves at the monastery in the lower Jiuzhaigou valley

White doves at the monastery

image: David Brodie

One of many waterfalls at Jiuzhaigou, seen across a lake and through autumn leaves

image: David Brodie

Juizhagou is a fairyland of water, forest, and Tibetan villages. There are many many waterfalls, intermingling with the forest, connecting together the lakes of coloured water. At the waterfalls. most of the time, there are also many many people.

A highly decorated and colorful house in Tibetan style, at Shuzheng village, Jiuzhaigou
A worshipper in a smokey temple, seen through the large temple doorway

A temple in the mountains, at Huanglong

Huanglong: Across the mountains, and a beautiful if twisty and sometimes hairy drive away from Jiuzhaigou. It takes its name, Yellow Dragon, from the yellow calcite deposits that form pools, naturally dammed by the hardened material.

 

image: David Brodie

8. Beijing

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Quick info:

 

Beijing: bei – north, or northern; jing – capital.

 

In fact many different cities have been capitals of China, including Xi'an and Nanjing (nan – south, or southern).

 

Now it is very much established as the centre of Chinese government.

 

It has traffic. It has very serious air quality problems but it also has charms, including the old low-rise residential areas or 'hutongs'. There are, of course, the more obvious sites – the Forbidden Palace, the Summer Palace, and, not too far away, the Great Wall.

 

Main sites: The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, The Temple of Heaven, The Summer Palace, The Great Wall, plus hutongs, roast duck restaurants, teahouses in the parks,  789 Art Zone, Chinese cultural performances ...

map: David Brodie

Map of Chinese provinces, showing location of Beijing

map: David Brodie

The Great Wall, near Beijing

image: Adobe Stock

A view across the moat of the Forbidden City, Beijing

image: Adobe Stock

9. Pingyao, Shanxi Province

Click here for the full report
Pingyao street scene

image: Adobe Stock

Exquisite carvings of figures at Shuanglin temple, near Pingyao

image: Adobe Stock

Pingyao interior in traditional style, with red lanterns

image: Adobe Stock

Map of mainland China showing Pingyao

Pingyao is a wall city with a network of lanes that are too narrow for serious traffic and are lined with shops selling antiques, antique replicas (aka fakes) and other goods for the large numbers of tourists. However, dating back more than two and a half thousand years, having its heyday as a banking centre for several hundred years until the start of the twentieth century, it is, certainly one of the best places to get a sense of Old China.

 

Nearest major transport hub: Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, about 90n km away.

 

Accommodation:  The town's hotels are ancient buildings that make a wonderful display of Chinese visual culture.

 

Recommendation: man zou ... walk slowly. And don't buy 'antiques' in a hurry, unless you can tell real from fake.

maps: David Brodie

Map showing Pingyao

10. Wutaishan

full report to follow

Quick info:

 

This a place of Buddhist pilgrimage, dating back almost 2000 years to the early days of Buddhism in China, and one of the four most revered Buddhist sites in China. There are temples, a total of about 50 still active,  inside and outside the main town of Taihuaizhen. Some seem more like isolated farmhouses, surrounded by high walls, while others can be visited.

 

Entry to Wutaishan Park is by ticket, with an extra (obligatory) fee for use of the bus service.

 

Taihuaizhen is at an altitude of 1700 m, with surrounding mountains between 2000 and 3000 m. 'Wutaishan' means five plateau mountain.

 

Nearest major transport hub: Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, a five hour bus ride away. There is a station (called Wutaishan) an hour's drive away across the mountains.

 

Accommodation:  There is a range of accommodation – see ctrip or other booking websites..

 

Recommendation:  The opportunities for walking around the 'five plateaus' (Wutaishan) here are good. Take walking boots. There are also horses with guides available, and even a cable car. Alternatively, you can make your mountain pilgrimage on a bike.

Map showing Wutaishan relative to Taiyuan and Beijing
two people walking the mountain pigrimage route, Wutaishan

Wutaishan: Pilgrimage on the mountain

maps: David Brodie

image: Adobe Stock

Buddhist stupa at a monastery

Adobe Stock

Buddhist monastery buildings at Wutaishan

image: Adobe Stock

image: Adobe Stock

11. Xi'an and the Terracotta Warriors

click here for the full report
Looking up at the city walls, Xi'an

Quick info:

 

A three thousand year old city, matching Athens and Rome in importance ... a base for visiting the 'Terracotta Army', which can be argued to be the GREATEST wonder of the ancient world ... with 700 year old walls enclosing towers and temples, markets and museums, peaceful corners amid bustling streets ...

 

Xi'an and the nearby centres have a population of more then 12 million. So there is an international airport, and many hotels.

 

Recommendation: Stay at a hotel within the walls. At all costs avoid China's holiday periods.

image: David Brodie

Stone lion

image: David Brodie

Display or re-enactment of 'ancient' soldiers

image: David Brodie

Rows of terracotta warriors showing the highly realistic sculpture work

image: Adobe Stock

Soldiers now, pretending to be soldiers then – an enactment at the city walls.

Soldiers then – lifelike figures created more then 2200 years ago.

12.  Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), Anhui Province

click here for the full report
Sunlit wild rhododendron flowers in mountain landscape

image: David Brodie

image: David Brodie

Map showing transport links to Huangshan
Rocky landscape with hotel and restaurant perched on top of high crags
Map of mainland China showing location of Huangshan

maps: David Brodie

Quick info:

 

This is the ultimate rock garden, and an iconic venue in Chinese life. The crags, the vegetation, the mountain mists and cloudscapes, in winter the snow and in late spring the wild rhododendrons – the inspiration for much Chinese painting and poetry.

 

Nearest major transport hub: Huangshang city, also known as Tunxi, in Anhui Province. has a train station with high speed (gao tie) link to Shanghai and Hangzhou, and also an airport.

 

Getting to the mountain: There are inexpensive buses from Tunxi / Huangshan town to Tangkou, taking a little more than an hour. Having paid at the entrance, park buses will take you to the Yuping and Xinyungou cable car base stations.

 

Accommodation: Plentiful, in Huangshang, Tangkou, and on the mountain.

 

Also: The general area is very beautiful, especially in the springtime. Tea grows on the valley slopes and there are several old villages – see the full report.

 

Recommendation: Unless you are on a tight budget, stay a night on the mountain. Enjoy the quiet of sunset after the crowds have gone, and even quieter sunrise. Be prepared for your legs to ache for a day or two – there are many steep steps. Visit some of the area's other attractions – see the full report.

 

Note: If you ask for a map in the shops you will receive an attractively decorated piece of paper that has little value for choosing pathways on the mountain.

Springtime trees and bushes, including wild rhododendron in flower, on a cliffside

image: David Brodie

 

 

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