China Trip May 21-June 3, 2009

Last update: 04 June 2009    Photos     Videos

Warning: Below are my quick and sometimes rambling notes made during my China trip.


Thu May 21: Leave LAX and take Asiana Airline international flight to Incheon/Seoul, then transfer for flight to Guilin.

I left Oakland on Southwest Airlines to LAX. Collected my checked bag and headed for the LAX international terminal. Everything OK so far. I got checked in on Asiana Airlines thru to Guilin and headed for the gate. At the gate I met the tour host, Alan McKay. It turned out that for the Guilin tour there was only 4 of us, myself, Alan, and two older ladies (who are sisters). There would be a few more meeting us in Xian and Beijing. The flight left around 2pm. I survived the 13 hrs to Incheon/Seoul. I was able to nap a little. Service was very good. They served a snack, dinner (I had the beef steak dinner), a sandwich (which had cucumber, tomato & lettuce, and another dinner (I had the chicken, though I should have gotten the bibimbap). We arrived about 6:30pm and went thru the health screening where they measured our body temp just behind the left ear. After passing thru another security check point, we walked quickly to the gate for the flight Guilin (which started boarding at 7:15p). We made with time to spare. The Incheon to Guilin flight was another 3 hrs 20 mins. The 4 of us were the only westerners on the plane. They served another dinner (I had the beef/rice plate).

Fri May 22: Arrive in Guilin. Staying at the Guilin Bravo Hotel

The plane landed at about 10:30pm local time. Filled out the passenger arrival and health declaration forms and passed thru the health screening and waited for the luggage. My bag arrived just fine. The other ladies were telling their travel stories of them going in one direction and their luggage going in another. Got my passport stamped and headed out the airport to meet our bus. Met Simon our guide and hopped on the van for the 25 minute drive to the hotel. I got my first experience of driving in China. Pretty amazing. By the time I got checked in and to the room it was about 11:50pm local time. I had been up for over 24 hours with a little sleep. Not fun.

Sat May 23: See Elephant Trunk Hill, explore Reed Flute Cave.

I had a nice sleep. Had a nice view from my 9th floor room overlooking the lake. The hotel is on one of the four lakes in Guilin. Nice breakfast at the hotel. At 9am met Simon and the van for today's adventures. We headed out to Elephant trunk hill park. Interesting limestone formation. Heard about the folklore about the hill ( and how it got it's name. I'll try to post some pictures. It was fun looking at the crowd (other tour groups) getting their pictures taken with ladies dressed in traditional costumes. Elephant hill is where the Peach blossom and Li rivers meet. We then followed the Peach blossom river to Reed Flute cave. Very nice. I've have to see how the pictures turned out. The features are light up with colored lights. In the great cavern room there was a music & light show. Well worth the visit. We headed back to town for lunch. After lunch we headed to the Guilin Tea Science and Research Institute just outside the city. Learned about growing and harvesting tea, the different types of tea (depend on which leaves are picked, just forming, new or more mature leaves). We saw a demonstration of processing the leaves then upstairs for a tea tasting with one of the tea masters. Got back to town 2:30pm and were dropped off for a 20 minute walk to the hotel around the lake. Nice park. Lots of people out and around. About 20 minutes after reaching the hotel a heavy rain storm blew in. Rained for over an hour then changed to light rain & occasional sprinkles. About 7pm went out to look at the evening street market.  Saw a nicely dressed young lady with her high heels wrapped in plastic bags. Something you don't see everyday. Vendor booths arrive on tricycles and in a matter of minutes they have their booth setup and goods on display. Lots of things to spend your money on. Walked around the lake. Nice reflections of the lights on the lake.

Sun May 24: Take cruise down the Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo

Left the hotel around 8:30am and head out of Guilin to Zhujiang Wharf to start the cruise. The skies were overcast threatening rain. Arrived at the wharf. To get to our boat we had to walk across the bow of 2 other cruise boats. On the aft of the boat is an outdoor kitchen. I'm not sure what they were cooking. Shortly after leaving the wharf it started raining. It rained pretty much the whole way (light rain). Through the mist and clouds you could see the spectacular scenery. The unique shaped mountains with the river winding through. There were a number cruise boats of various sizes on the river. On our cruise we had a couple other tours groups from Leeds, Northern England, & Australia. Most of the way the river is lined with Phoenix tail bamboo. We pasted by a couple villages of 2 of the 56 ethnic minorities in China. I saw a couple bamboo raft boats with fisherman and his cormorants, Very dramatic scenery. We even saw the place that is depicted on the 20 Yuan note. Highly recommended. We arrived at Yangshuo shortly after 1pm. Disembarked and walked up the quaint narrow street (paves with cut stone) lined with shops selling all sorts of stuff. Had lunch at a small restaurant, Ren Min Gong She Cafe. I came all the way to China to have spaghetti. Actually it was very good. Next to the door to the restaurant there is a life size Santa Claus dressed in green military fatigues. Next we headed for the hotel but first took a side trip thru the market. One side is fish and vegetables. The other side has the meat. All sorts of stuff, from pickled chicken feet, duck, crawfish, eel, catfish, and even a gutted dog. Pretty interesting stuff. Arrived at the Yangshuo New Century Hotel. Another nice hotel. Checked in and a little rest then I wandered thru the streets looking at the shops. So many things or sale. (note about garden on roof, signs, etc). We met up at 6pm at jimmy's cafe for a beef burger. It was really good homemade ground beef (at least I think it was) and bun. Then we headed down to the wharf/pier to catch a boat to watch a demonstration of fishing with. Great demonstration of the old way of fishing with the birds. (Add note about the boat we were on to see the fisherman) Headed back thru the shopping streets. Now that it was dark the disco music was blasting from the dance shops. I picked up a couple bamboo art pictures and a couple wooden puzzles. Hopefully I can remember how to put them again. Now it's off to bed. I have to rest up for tomorrow's bike ride thru the countryside. What a spectacular day and adventure.

Mon May 25: Yangshuo. Bike trip thru the countryside.

Woke up early this morning. Heard the rain outside. About 6am got up to get ready to go to the market then climb the mountain next to the hotel. The market was wonderful. In front of the market lots of people set up selling all sorts of fruits & vegetables. I wandered inside to see if it was any different from yesterday. The vegetable side had many tables covered but on the meat side it was really active. All sorts of meat & parts for sale. You could hear the ducks & chickens. Can't get any fresher than that. Chickens & ducks cleaned & butchered right there. There was also the yelp of dogs. I'll leave the story of a dog being dispatched to another day. Then it was outside to find the park entrance and walk around back of the mountain to find the stairs going to the top. I found the stairway which is made up of stones of all sizes and shapes. Near the top there is a covered cement platform. I heard loud voices from there. The 2 young guys were practicing their English. I talked with them for a bit. Taught them a new word, spectacular because the view from there is spectacular. They invited me to the English school this evening to speak to them. I have other plans. Returned to the hotel to have breakfast with the group. We met Simon and had a slight change in plans. Instead of a bike trip, we hired a gas powered golf cart type vehicle and road out into the countryside. We stopped at a small village and walked around the streets. I think I got a slight glimpse of the real China. We entered the humble house of a 79 year old grandma. Simon explained the parts of this old adobe house. Grandma has lived there her whole life. You would see a small mud brick house and next door would be a 3 story cement & brick house with nice tile on the wall. We continued thru the countryside seeing wonderful views of the mountains surrounding the rice fields. Very picturesque. We looped around and headed back to the hotel and then out for lunch. The group wanted to pizza. I ordered the Hawaiian. I have never tasted Hawaiian pizza like that. We headed back toward the hotel to rent bikes. Alan (the tour host) and I rented bikes, the ladies wanted to rest and shop. Alan & I headed out and looped around a different way than we did in the morning. What an adventure! Besides Biking thru the wonderful countryside. Took a picture of workers in the field, the family cemeteries. The road follows one of the tributaries of the Li river. We turned off the road an over an narrow flat bridge (no railings) crossing the river. On the other side we took a narrow path and then followed a couple other bicyclists (guy from Australia, girl from china) on to an even narrower path. I was afraid of the tire dropping into the water on one side and the ditch on the other. What a blast.. We thought they knew where they were going. We decided to turn around (not easy on an 18 inch wide path). Headed back towards the bridge. Turned on another gravel road for a bit and came to a nice cement road. Now these roads are basically a narrow 1 lane road. What fun. We continued on. A lady past us on her bake and said something to us. We just waved and continue on. The road followed the river and finally turned toward the river. We were expecting to see some kind of bridge there. Nope. The road ended at the river bank. Now we know what the lady told us! LOL! We had a choice, either turn around a go back or hire a bamboo raft to ferry us over. We chose the later. Boy did we stick out. On the other side is where they put in bamboo rafts to float tourist down the river. Here we are on the other side with no bridge. It was hilarious! We walked the bikes down to the river's edge, across a couple rafts. The the lady poled the raft across the river. It was great!. We continued heading back towards town. A mile or so down the road Alan stops, gets of the bike and starts down a path. Calls to me and says Paul you got to see this. There was an old ladies planting rice. Great pictures. Then I walk on the narrow trail separating the rice fields towards her, take off my shoes, roll up my pants and step into the mud to help her plant rice. What a blast. I found my new profession!. We headed back to the hotel. What a day. After dinner we went to the Liu San Jie show. A spectacular event. Words can't adequately describe the show. Hundreds of participants from many ethnic groups. It was designed by the same person who did the opening & closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. It was a “wow” Event. (add note about local tour guide, Simon)

Tue May 26: Drive to Guilin. Fly to Xi'an. Arrive in Xi'an. Visit Wild Goose Pagoda. Evening watch water fountain show at the square.

This morning left Yangshuo for the Guilin airport, about 1-1/2 hr drive. The plane left after 10am and we arrived in Xi'an after 12pm. We collected our bags and went over the the other end of the airport to wait for the additional tour members arriving from the states. They look tired. Xi'an is a large city of 7+ million. The traffic was incredible. A couple ladies on the bus would scream as cars squeeze next to the bus or cut in front of us. Pedestrians weave in and out trying to cross the streets. Pedestrians crossing the street look like it's from the old video game Frogger. On the way to the hotel we stopped at another market. Different from the one in Yangshuo, no dog but all sorts of grains, spices, fish & meats. The Shaanxi Heizee hotel is very nice. In the evening we went inside the walled section of the city. Xi'an has the oldest wall that still surrounds the city. Had dinner at the dumpling restaurant. Very good food. This is next to the old drum tower and on the other side was the bell tower. The buildings are nicely lighted at night. We drove over to the Wild Goose Pagoda. For the fountain show. It starts every evening at 9pm and goes for 15-20 minutes. The tour guide said there were places in the parks' fountain area (about the size of a football field) where you can watch the show without getting wet. That's not true (at least when the wind blows). I walked around the fountain area and cut thru the fountain area on one of the raised walk path. The show and music was great. Water dancing to the music of the 12 Girls Band. I was there with high school/college kids. We laughed was we got sprayed. They wanted their picture taken with me. Other kids ran thru the fountains. It was a fun night. The internet connect at the hotel works pretty well for awhile then slows down. Not sure what is going on but glad to have a connection to post my ramblings.

Wed May 27: Xi'an - Terracotta Warriors.

This morning woke up to rain. The Xi'an is in a drought and needs the water. It's interesting that Xi'an is surrounded by mountains. When we flew in yesterday, you could see the mountains. Normally they are obscured by the fog or smog. There was a wind that cleaned up the air. Today with the rain it was foggy and at times could see the tomb mounds as we drove. We drove out of the city to the terra-cotta warriors. We first stopped at a factory (which is part of an art school) to purchase mini-warriors as well as glazed tiles, silk embroidery, lacquer furniture, and more. We watched the students make their crafts. Of course I had to buy a few items. Leaving the factory, we passed the largest pyramid in the world, the emperor's tomb. Many wheat fields, pomegranate and persimmon orchards. We visited the museum, pits 1, 3, 2 and the museum. It was a “wow” moment. Incredible. After seeing a couple pieces a few years ago at the Smithsonian, a larger exhibit last year at the Bowers museum and now the actual location, it now puts it all into perspective. We then had lunch at a restaurant in a nearby shopping area. It continued to rain/sprinkle. We headed for a 45 minute ride to the orphanage (more about that later). Decided to try a Big Mac at the nearby McDonalds for dinner. It tastes pretty much like the ones in the states.

Thu May 28: Xi'an – Ancient city wall and bell tower. Evening board the overnight sleeper train for Beijing.

The morning was light mist and fog. Our first stop was to the flower and fish market. Lots of different plants and flowers. The fish are aquarium type fish. Some turtles too. One of the most interesting fish I saw were ones that had tattoos. Many of the tattoo fish had colored vertical lines. A few had a couple flowers. We headed to the old city center to visit was to the History museum. That was fascinating. I could spend a couple days wandering thru the museum. Lunch was next. Went to a hotpot restaurant for lunch. Very good food cooked in your own personal hotpot. Then we headed to the south gate of the ancient city wall that still surrounds the inner city of Xi'an. The city wall was built in 586 AD. We ascended the stairs to take in the views. We headed over to the bike rental to get a bike to ride part of the wall. I headed over to the southeast corner and to the eastern gate and then back. We only had about an hour. Then we headed to the Muslim quarter to shop and grab something to eat before boarding the train. Once you get off the main market street, you see different shops. This Is where I could get a Chairman Mao wrist watch with Chairman Mao waving his hand and Chairman Mao sunglasses. Many times I heard that the price was “almost free”. At 6:20pm we headed to the train station. We took the express train to Beijing. Each berth has 4 bunks. I was assigned the top one. Right at 20:16 the train pulled out of the station. I was asleep by about 21:20pm.

Fri May 29: Arrive in Beijing in the morning. Tiananmen Square and adjacent park.

The train trip was uneventful. The toilet was a traditional squat type. We arrived in the Beijing on schedule at 7:20am. I slept OK. We boarded the bus for the hotel. We are at the Best Western Premier Beijing hotel. Very nice. Alan, tour host and Henry our local host headed to the airport to pick up 5 others to join our trip. We met in the lobby at 1:30pm and headed to lunch. We arrived at the restaurant to have Peking duck. It was really good. We then headed over to Tiananmen square. The bus dropped us off about a block away. We entered the square by the Beijing Railway Museum. It was impressive the size of the square and especially Chairman Mao's tomb. The tomb is open every morning with thousands lined up to see. We walked around the square. The skies were very blue. Something that doesn't happen enough. The past two days it rained here and the wind has blown out the smog and junk. I saw the 4pm changing of the honor guard at the flag pole across the street from the gate to the Forbidden City. I had my picture taken with a nice lady and her daughter. I guess they like the tall blue-eyed stranger. Very nice people here. We headed across the street (actually under the street) to the gate of the Forbidden City. The paint and “face lift” that was done for the Olympics has starting to peel. I had my picture taken in front with Chairman Mao's picture in the background, We entered the 4th gate. We'll see more of the Forbidden City another day. We headed out the west entrancing into a park with plenty of old cypress trees and the mote on one side. The trees have either a red or green metal plate on them. A red plate denotes the tree is older than 300 years and a green one less than 300. Many large pieces of limestone with shrubs planted around. We waited for the bus to show up to take us back to the hotel (arrived around 6:10p). Later for dinner I headed down the street to sample the KFC menu. As I walk up to the counter, the girl pulls out the English menu. I selected menu #1. I really don't know what the sandwich was. All I could tell it was some kind of chicken on a roll. The chicken flavor was overwhelmed by the loads of mayonnaise on the roll. Not bad, just have no idea what the sandwich was supposed to be.

Sat May 30: Visit the Great Wall of China. Sacred way of Animals, Ming tombs.

Since we are having great weather in Beijing, Alan, tour hosts, adjusted our schedule and we visited the Great Wall of China. The weather is clear due to the rains a couple days ago, windy conditions, and the 3 day holiday (dragon boat festival). Traffic wasn't too bad. Reminds me of the LA basin. We headed out of Beijing toward the mountains. Our first stop was the Beijing Run-De Jade Garden. There we saw how jade carving is done. Pretty amazing things there. There's a jade ship that was priced over $150,000. It had a long (30+ inches) jade chain carved from a single piece of jade. From there we continued to the Great Wall. The skies were very clear and we could see the wall from a distance away. The local tour guide, Henry, said this doesn't happen very often. We got dropped off near the wall entrance. There are two ways to walk on the wall. The north direction is the most popular (and crowded) and is easier to walk. The southern route is more difficult. In fact there is one section that is almost vertical. The step sections has steps that are different heights, making it challenging to climb. From the top you could see another valley and another mountain range. Over that range is Inner Mongolia. Normally you can't see that far due to pollution. It was a workout walking/climbing that section but there was less people. We took a group photo and I picked up a bronze plate stating I climbed the wall. We headed down the canyon to have lunch at the cloisonné workshop and store. Very nice work. Amazing detail. I picked up a couple things and boarded the bus again for the Sacred way of Animals. We walked along the same route that the emperors took. Great carved animals and sentries over 600 years old. The Ming tombs are a distance from the Sacred way of animals so we drove by a couple tomb from the Ming dynasty. We then headed back to Beijing. Got stuck in a traffic jam. Arrive at the hotel very tired after that workout. Most of the group went to the 7:15 show at the Beijing Chaoyang Theater Acrobatics World. An incredible show. The performers are really good. They are from Sichuan Province. Now off to bed to rest up.

Sun May 31: Freshwater pearl showroom, Summer Palace, Olympic venue.

Today we got to sleep in a bit longer. The bus didn't leave until 9:30am. Our first stop was Beijing 1st ward then off to the New City Jewelry store for a fine lunch upstairs in a private room. Afterwards we had an explanation of fresh water pearls. Pretty interesting stuff. Instead of planting a grain of sand as they do for salt water oysters, they use a part of an oyster and cut it up very small and use that for the seed. There is about 20 pearls in a freshwater oyster. There was one pearl out on the counter for 315,000 Yuan ($46,000+). The colors are interesting too. From there we went to the Summer Palace with its 200+ acre man-made lake. On the way back to Beijing, we swung by the Olympic stadiums (bird's nest and water cue) and walked from the bird's nest to the other side of the water cube. Bob the bus driver (he is amazing) managed to take us to Yashow Clothing Market. There just about everything there to buy, We'll go back there Tuesday evening. Go back to the hotel a little after 8pm. I'm typing thins, checking email and then going to bed to recover.

Mon. Jun. 1: Temple of Heaven & Forbidden City

Woke up to another great breakfast in the hotel. We left at 8:30am to go to the Temple Of Heaven. There we see the older folks exercising. They come to exercise and socialize. In our group there was a high school boy (16yrs old) so for his eagle scout project gathered old eye glasses (600 pair) and brought them to hand out to the old folks. For a moment it looked like he started a little fight as the women were grabbing them. We placed the glasses on the edge of a planter for the seniors to come and try them on. Our guide Henry saw an 80 yr old woman with a cane who couldn't force her way into the crowd. So he guided her over to me and the bag I had. After about 10 pairs of glasses, she tries on another pair, pulling out a newspaper ad to read. She shook her head yes and smiled. We left the glasses and the those seniors and entered the east gate. The Temple of heaven was beautiful. Walked to thru the complex and out the north gate. We boarded he bus to go to the Silk Factory, Yuan Hou Chou Zhuang. There we were shown how the silk is unwound from the cocoon. The different between a single and double cocoons. Doubles are used for comforters I picked up a couple comforters and pillow with a special pouch for the “healthy” silkworm excrement. Lunch was next to the forbidden city. We entered into the forbidden city along the meridian. I'll have to watch again the Last Emperor. Very impressive. We walked around to the concubine living quarters and then thru the gardens. We boarded the bus and back to the hotel for an hour or so before we go out for dinner. We went downtown to Pizza Hut. This Pizza Hut, in addition to the pizzas that you'd expect to see in the states, had rice plates, grill, noodles and smoothies. I could spend a week trying out the different menu options. After dinner we walked a few blocks to see the line of street vendors selling all sorts of food. Most are on sticks, fruits, “meats” of all kinds. Like silkworm cocoons, scorpions, starfish, cockroach, sea horse, hearts, livers, stomach, and sheep penis. Wow!. The line was about 2 blocks long. After being dazzled with this culinary assortment, we walked back to the bus. Tomorrow we start early with a bike ride thru the old city.

Tue Jun. 2: Bike ride, Surprise location, Hutong tour, Ya show shopping.

Today started early. Most of us left at 6:30am for an optional bike ride thru the hutongs and around the forbidden city. It was great way to start the morning. parents/grandparents were taking the kids to school. Traffic was pretty busy making crossing streets, turning and negotiating the round about was pretty interesting. You try to figure where the cars are going then sort of weave around them. Other times I followed other bicyclists. It was fun touring that way.
Started at oriental bay international hotel
hotel for breakfast
surprise trip to see pandas at Beijing zoo.
Lunch- more traditional cuisine
rickshaw tour of hutongs and house
ended at porcelain factory toured
big U turn by bob
ya show shopping
hotel to pack.

Wed Jun 3: Fly Beijing to LAX to Oakland

We boarded the bus for the airport.  It's hard to believe that the trip is coming to an end. With so much we've done, it seems like it was a long time ago that we arrived in Guilin and was biking in the Yangshuo countryside.  The Beijing Airport is really nice and very large.  The covered parking in front has a large turtle shaped roof.  The terminal is in the shape of a dragon.  We went thru immigration and arrived at the terminal for the plane. Boarded the 747 and left for Incheon/Seoul airport.  The flight was a little over 2 hours.  At Incheon we deplaned and went thru the health screening. We headed thru another security screening and waited at the terminal to board the same 747 (though I had a different seat assignment).  The plane departed for LAX.  It was uneventful. I think I was able to sleep some.  The guy next to me was an older man from Vietnam. He didn't understand Korean nor English. Was interesting to watch the interaction between airline attendant and him. Arrived at LAX. Made thru immigration and customs. I then headed over to terminal 1 to catch a Southwest flight to Oakland.  I arrived and the house at 6pm.  A very looong day.  I'm ready to go back for another China adventure.