Home Up

NOTE: "HOME" takes you to our initial home page; "UP" will return you 
to the Round The World 2011 site for more exploring.

If you want to skip ahead to a particular destination,
just click on one of the following links:  Harbin   Shenyang
Baotou   Tianjin    Guangzhou    Changsha


August 24/25:  Happy Birthday Ed!  We spent most of Ed’s birthday traveling 13.5 hours from DFW Airport to Tokyo, Japan.  As usual, our American Airlines’ crew did a terrific job!  We had pre-arranged a Japanese meal that was absolutely delicious (and would have cost $100+ if we could even find something comparable in a restaurant).  After spending a few hours in the Japan Airlines’ lounge at Narita Airport, we flew an additional four hours to Beijing.  Again, we enjoyed another round of wonderful dining & wining en route.  Then, at ~9:30PM, we cleared customs in Beijing and were met by a representative from the Crowne Plaza Beijing International Airport for our transfer to the hotel.  We enjoyed an evening cocktail and toast to our upcoming visit in this amazing country.

Friday, 26 August:  We actually slept well despite the time difference from the USA.  We then enjoyed an amazing breakfast buffet that we’ve come to enjoy during each of our stays at the hotel.  We passed on traditional European dishes and instead enjoyed fresh noodle soup, braised vegetables, dim sum, dumplings, smoked and raw fish, etc. 

At 12:00 noon, we checked out of the hotel and were transferred back to the airport.  We then took the Airport Express into Beijing.  At the end of the airport train, we transferred to the Beijing Metro and, seven stops later, we left the train at the Fuchengmen Station.  The Holiday Inn (our home for the next five nights) was a quick walk away and we were checking onto the Executive Floor at 2:00PM (pretty amazing to have everything go so quickly!).  We settled into our room and then took a brief walk around the vicinity stopping at an ATM to get some more Chinese Yuan.  Afterwards we went to the Executive Floor for snacks and cocktails until 8:00PM. The snacks were an amazing array of Chinese delicacies. Actually some of the best food we’ve had in China.  Then, it was time for some sleep.

Saturday, 27 August:  We enjoyed a leisurely morning highlighted by a delicious breakfast buffet.  Again, we stayed away from the Western dishes which were offered and instead enjoyed traditional Chinese cuisine.  Afterwards, we went shopping at local stores in the neighborhood.  Although we didn’t purchase anything, we especially enjoyed shopping in a nearby supermarket.  Supermarkets are becoming quite common and are very similar in set-up to those found in the United States.  However, that’s where most similarities end since the Chinese stores contain unique products and each department has dedicated personnel to help shoppers select the products which best fit their needs.

At the end of the day we once again went to the Executive Floor Lounge for snacks and cocktails.  The previous evening we had quite the challenge in obtaining a gin and tonic.  That is, we could get a drink but there was about a 1/8th of a jigger of gin included.  The cocktails are not made on the Executive Floor but instead are delivered from the bar (something we have never run into before).  So, we tried ordering a double and after translation we received double slices of lemon.  Next, we ordered four cocktails so we could make two from one and somehow we got three.  Again, something lost in translation!  So, we continued to order cocktails until we actually got enough gin to make a decent drink.  We’ve decided that tomorrow we’re going to try ordering a glass of gin to see what the bar next delivers.

Sunday, 28 August:  Breakfast was once again delicious.  Although the buffet was similar to the day before, the specific dishes changed.  That is, there was a different soup, braised vegetables, salad ingredients, etc. 

After breakfast, we took the subway (making three line changes en route) and reached the Olympic Village.  We walked to the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube.  It was really neat to see these venues from the 2008 Olympics “live and in person.”  We took our obligatory photographs and then set out on a 15 minute walk to the China Science and Technology Museum where we spent the balance of the afternoon.  The highlight there was watching an IMAX 3D film called “The Ultimate Wave,” a film shot in Tahiti about surfing which included wonderful underwater scenery and great Tahitian dancers. The huge screen, incredible 3 dimensional effects and awesome sound system were absolutely amazing!

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A view of the interior
of the Beijing subway
The "Bird's Nest"
The "Cube"
The Olympic Symbols
The Science & Technology Museum
Ed with his 3D glasses

[ T O P ]

We left the museum about 3:00PM and made our way back to the subway.  It then took about an hour to return back to the hotel via a different route (which too involved making three line changes en route). 

We popped into the Executive Lounge to cool off over a cold Chinese beer.  Then, we went to our room to clean up and get ready for the Executive Club happy hour from 6:00PM – 8:00PM.  This evening when we ordered cocktails we did get a double; however, only one arrived.  However, after serving one of us, another gin & tonic did follow shortly.  So, while enjoying delicious Chinese delicacies, we sipped on our drinks and even had another before returning to our room.  It was time to watch some TV, rest & relax, and then call it a night after enjoying a great day in China’s capital city.

Monday, 29 August:  After enjoying breakfast, we had intended to get a very early start at the Beijing Zoo.  Unfortunately, however, a reconfirmation with Air China for our upcoming trip to Ulaanbaatar took about an hour of our time.  There was no problem with our reservation; just a problem getting through to the airline.  Oh well!

Eventually, we once again returned to the Beijing subway and after two stops and one line change we arrived at the Zoo.  We thought it would be somewhat empty given it was a weekday but we quickly realized that children have not yet returned to school so it was quite crowded.  That being said, however, we had lots of time to walk the compound and see all sorts of animals.  It’s somewhat amazing that the Zoo, which is just outside the city center, covers an area of more than 50,000 square meters.  It has a collection of more than 600 types of animal species and houses an overall population of some 7,000 animals.  Wow!   Of course, when you’re in China, highlights of the Zoo include the animals of China such as the Giant Panda, Lesser Panda and the Tiger. 

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The Beijing Zoo entrance
A beautiful marble bridge
A pair of swans
A beautiful and unusual crane
A Lesser Panda
A sleeping tiger
Another view of the tiger
A Giant Panda

[ T O P ]

It was another hot day so we took our time exploring the Zoo.  When we finished, we took the subway home via the reverse lines we took to arrive there in the morning.  Again, we popped into the Executive Lounge and enjoyed a cold beer.  We then went to our room to clean-up and cool off till it was time for happy hour.  At 6:00PM, we returned to the Executive Lounge for some great food and we each got a double gin & tonic.  At long last, they know our drink!  When we left the Executive Lounge, we returned back to our room to relax and savor the day.

Tuesday, 30 August:   After a leisurely breakfast, we decided to take a walk despite the heat and humidity.  We left the hotel and walked along the main boulevard (Fungchumen) until we reached the Guangji Temple.  The Temple was built during the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) with additions made during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).  Guangji is a huge complex that comprises approximately five acres inside the inner loop of Beijing.  However, only the first few temple buildings are open to the public.  The balance remains private and the whole complex now serves as the seat of the Buddhist Association of China.

We spent our morning at the Temple.  It was amazingly quiet despite the Beijing traffic noise because we were behind thick walls.  It was also cool due to thick cover from the many trees.  It was interesting to us at the number of worshippers who came to the Temple.  In the past, we’ve seen worshippers but primarily during holidays such as the National Days (October 1 and the first week thereafter) where individuals use so much incense they almost set bonfires in the incense pits.  These individuals came not only to pray but many also brought food offerings to the monks.

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The entry to the Temple complex
An incense burner in
an interior courtyard
Various roof lines
A beautiful Buddha
A roof decoration

After enjoying this setting, we returned back to the streets of Beijing for the walk home.  En route, we stopped at several of the hutongs – the ancient, narrow streets where individuals still live.  In these areas, there is no indoor plumbing so water and restrooms have been added at the edge of the neighborhood to provide facilities to the residents.

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A street in the hutong
A business street in the hutong
Another shopping street

[ T O P ]

We enjoyed our final afternoon at the hotel (until our return post-Mongolia) by enjoying some espresso in the Executive Lounge mid-afternoon.  In the evening, we returned for cocktails and snacks.  Interestingly, this was the first time we had other guests (Chinese) also enjoying the Lounge.  We then back to the room and prepared for tomorrow’s departure to Mongolia (see Mongolia for details).

Picking back up in China post-Mongolia….

Tuesday, 20 September:  We returned from Mongolia at about 2:00PM.  After clearing Customs & Immigration, we made our way to the Airport Express to get into town.  We then caught the metro to the station closest to the Holiday Inn Downtown.  By 5:00PM, we were checked in at the Executive Club.  At 6:00PM, we enjoyed a beer followed by a lovely gin & tonic (with ice & lemon).  We also enjoyed delicious snacks prepared in the gourmet restaurant in the hotel.  Wow, it was nice to be back in civilization.

Wednesday, 21 September:  We enjoyed a leisurely buffet breakfast.  Then, we spent the balance of the day trying to catch up on some 20 days without internet access.  We also had to repack our belongings and get reorganized in anticipation of what we would and would not use during the balance of the trip.  We did take a quick break in the Executive Club during the afternoon as our room was being cleaned.  Then, we returned back to the Club for another great happy hour before leaving Beijing tomorrow for Harbin.

Thursday, 22 September:  We had breakfast a bit earlier this morning as we planned to leave the hotel near 8:30AM.  We did so and returned to the metro to once again take the Airport Express back to the airport.  However, we made one strategic mistake.  That is, we assumed that the stop at Terminal 3 (the “International Terminal”) was only for international flights so we continued on the Airport Express train until reaching Terminal 2.  Once there, we learned that domestic flights on Air China use the international terminal.  So, we had to catch a shuttle bus back to Terminal 3 (about a 20 minute ride).  Thankfully, we had arrived with enough time to handle this unexpected re-routing.

Our flight to Harbin left Beijing at 11:45AM and we arrived in Harbin at 1:50PM.  After collecting our luggage, we found our way outside to the Airport Bus terminal.  As were trying to figure out the fare, etc., a young man, “Joe” offered to help us.  After seeing where we were going to stay (we had the Holiday Inn City Center address in writing in both English & Chinese), Joe said we should take bus no. 1 to the Tang Da stop and then take a taxi from there.  Joe got on the same bus we did and, at our stop, he too got off and helped us recover our luggage as well as hail a cab to get to the hotel.  Wow, what a nice guy!

We arrived at the hotel about 3:00PM and checked in at the Executive Floor.  We were upgraded to a huge two room suite complete with a kitchen and dining room and great views of Zhongyang Dajie, the central pedway in the old town.  Unfortunately, we learned that we had failed to book a room which included breakfast.  So, taking matters in hand, we headed down Zhongyang and found a grocery where we bought some yogurt and breads for breakfast. 

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The view from our suite
including St. Sophia's
Our bedroom and sitting area
The living/dining rooms

[ T O P ]

We returned back to the hotel a few minutes before 6:00PM and put our goodies away.  Then, we went to the lounge for happy hour.  The only alcoholic beverage served was beer so we enjoyed Harbin Beer for the balance of the night.  There was a buffet which included several meats, sweets and a noodle soup made to order.  We enjoyed these items too.  When happy hour was over, we returned to our room and enjoyed some TV before calling it a night.

Friday, 23 September:  We enjoyed a very leisurely morning catching up on a bit of business and then enjoying yogurt and bread for breakfast.  We then decided to explore Zhongyang Dajie.  There were lots of people milling about – either shopping or eating at the many spots for both.  We walked the entire distance of the pedway and reached the Songhua River.  At the river’s edge is the Flood Control Monument.  It’s a large obelisk with pillars behind it which celebrates the building of the levies which ended the seasonal flooding of the river.  While at the river, we watched the ferries to/from Sun Island as well as a scenic tram you can ride over the river and back.

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The entry into Zhongyang Dajie
A snap of the beautiful pedway
The distinct Russian influence
on the architecture
Topiary in the pedway
The Songhau River
More topiary (a ship)
beside the Songhau River

[ T O P ]

On our return walk, we spotted a WalMart and had to stop in.  It was a three-story building which was very similar to the stores in the US (except for signage being in English and Chinese – no Spanish).  We continued walking back toward the Holiday Inn and we once again made a quick stop in the BHG Supermarket (the one we found the night before).  We bought a noodle soup to have something different for breakfast the next morning.

At 6:00PM, we went to the Executive Lounge for happy hour.  Our hostess was once again “Ice” and she quickly brought us a cold beer.  We then enjoyed the snacks, including a noodle soup which Ice made for each of us.  We stayed at the lounge until about 8:00PM and then returned to our room.

Saturday, 24 September:  After another leisurely morning, we made our noodle soup for brunch.  It was very tasty!  Then, we decided to do some sleuthing to find out to take a shuttle bus back to the airport on Monday.  This took a bit of time but eventually we learned that we would need to take a taxi to the CAAC Office and take a bus from there to the airport.  So, that’s our plan for Monday.

We then walked to St. Sophia Church.  It took a little bit for us to find the church because one map showed that it was located near the Flood Control Monument.  We didn’t have any success finding it there so we returned to the hotel for directions.  Fortunately, one of the individuals in the Executive Lounge was able to show us its spires and then tell us how to walk to it.  We had assumed it was in the pedway but instead it was located by a huge mall a couple of blocks outside of it.

We had bright sunshine which made for some great pictures of the former church, St. Sophia’s.  It was the largest Eastern Orthodox Church in China.  It was built in March 1907 by the Russians who were in the area due to the building of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  Unfortunately, much of the church fell into disrepair and was not renovated until 1997.  It now serves the community as an art museum.  As such, we didn’t pay the admission fee as we were more focused on its structural beauty and not the art inside.

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Magnificent St. Sophia
A snap of her domes & spires

[ T O P ]

At 6:00PM we once again were enjoying Harbin Beer in the Executive Lounge.  This evening “Ice” prepared a fried noodle dish for us.  It was as delicious as the noodle soups prepared for us on previous nights.  Interestingly, we once again had the lounge basically to ourselves.  A Chinese woman and her son joined us shortly but they came primarily for the desserts offered and didn’t linger after they each devoured a few of them.  We said goodnight about 7:30PM and returned to our room to relax and unwind.

Sunday, 25 September:  Since this was our last day in Harbin, we decided to relax and enjoy the ambience of the Central pedway (Zhongyang Dajie).  First, we enjoyed a late breakfast in our room.  Then we joined the masses strolling down the pedway.  We did have a bit of shopping to do since we needed a couple of items for the balance of the trip.  We also purchased some additional bread for breakfast the following morning.

With regard to the bread, instead of making a purchase at the local grocery store, we decided to find ours where the locals were buying small loaves of bread which we saw many of them eating on the street.  The staff on the Executive Floor told us approximately where to find the small storefront and that we could buy either small or large loaves.  We had success!  We bought five small loaves for ourselves (one to eat on the street and four to have for breakfast in the morning) and six loaves for the staff at the Executive Floor.  In particular, it was a small token of thanks to Ice, Bobo and Shirley, each of whom we had dealt with during our stay.

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Lindy at the local bread store

We were back at the hotel at 4:00PM and, after delivering the bread to the Executive Lounge, we went to our room till it was once again time for happy hour.  This evening BoBo was on duty and she prepared another noodle soup for us to enjoy along with our beer.  Then, it was time to return to our room and enjoy an evening view on our last night in Harbin.

Monday, 26 September:  After enjoying yogurt and our yummy local bread, we packed up our belongings and checked out of the hotel shortly before 11:30AM.  We then took a taxi to the CAAC Office to catch a shuttle bus back to the Harbin Airport.  Timing worked out very well as we arrived just as a bus was loading.  We arrived at the airport and had checked our luggage before 1:00PM.  Pretty amazing!  Today’s destination was Shenyang.  Since our flight didn’t leave until 4:20PM, we used our time there to do some paperwork at the airport.

When we arrived in Shenyang, it was a bit of a whirlwind.  We were at the back of the plane and, despite it going on to two more cities, most passengers disembarked for the 20 minute stopover.  So, by the time we got to the baggage claim, our luggage was on the carousel.  After collecting it, we walked outside and immediately in front of us was the bus into town.  So, we were able to store our luggage underneath it and get seats on board.  We then paid our 15CNY each and rode into town until the last stop.  There we were able to negotiate a 30CNY taxi ride to the Crowne Plaza.  The driver didn’t use the meter and, since he was making the run on his own time and for his own nickel, he drove like a maniac.  At one point when traffic was backed up, he pulled onto the sidewalk and drove about a block where traffic was clear before returning to the roadway.  At another point, he squeezed between a parked car and a moving bus with only inches to spare.  Hey, he earned every penny of the fare as we made it to the Crowne Plaza at 7:00PM.

Once inside the hotel, we went directly to the Executive Lounge to check-in.  We learned that happy hour was going to end at 7:30PM.  So, immediately after getting our room, we quickly went there and dropped off our bags.  Then, we were back in the Lounge at 7:15PM and while Ed made a gin & tonic, Lindy put some wonderful snacks on a plate.  Wow, it was so nice to once again have an open bar!  Since we were such late arrivals, the staff at the lounge actually asked the chef to bring in some additional food since many of the dishes were almost gone.  That was great service!

Just before 7:30PM, Ed also poured each of us a glass of delicious Australian Shiraz to enjoy slowly after happy hour ended since the Lounge remained open until midnight.  It was so relaxing and a wonderful way to end our day of travel.  We returned to our room about 8:30PM, unpacked and called it a night.  

Tuesday, 27 September:  We were up early but didn’t go to breakfast until almost 9:00AM.  Once there, we had a huge selection of wonderful foods from which to choose.  There were Western dishes, a dim sum bar, soups made to order, a cold area featuring fish and sushi, a Japanese bar and lots of breads and fruits. 

Afterwards we went to the bellmen’s desk to obtain a map of Shenyang (ours wasn’t detailed enough for our specific area) and to arrange for a tour to see some of the key sites.  We arranged for a tour on Wednesday albeit with a Chinese speaking group.  The individual who assisted us said that we could hire an English-speaking guide at the Imperial Palace since we would need additional information there to fully appreciate the site.  Other sites are listed in an English-language brochure for Shenyang and that will be what we rely on to supplement the sign language our guide likely will use.  On an aside, we once before took a tour with a Chinese group and our guide on that tour did speak English although he was a bit shy about using it.  Also, the rest of the group watched out for us so we expect the same thing will happen tomorrow.

After making these arrangements, we walked to Beiling Park.  The park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is huge – 3,300,000 square meters.  The key attraction is the Zhaoling Tomb, which houses the tomb of the second Qing emperor, HuangeTaiji.  Zhaoling was one of our tour stops for Wednesday so we didn’t pay the admission to go inside.  However, we walked the length of the park and enjoyed its 300 year old pine trees, a beautiful lake and several canals.  It was the perfect way to see the park in a leisurely fashion and take some pictures too.

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The entry to Beiling Park
Ed beside a guardian
at the Park's entry
The main pedway in the
park (which we basically
had to ourselves)
The statute of a goddess
 standing in a lily pond
A beautiful river scene in the park
A picturesque bridge
Zhaoling Tomb

 [ T O P ]

When we returned to the hotel, we went immediately to the Executive Lounge and enjoyed a cold Coke Zero with ice.  It was delicious on a warm afternoon.  Then, we returned to the room to look at our photographs, etc.

At 5:30PM we returned to the Lounge to enjoy the entire happy hour at our leisure.

Wednesday, 28 September:  We had a 7:00AM breakfast in anticipation of being picked up for our tour between 8:00AM-8:30AM.  Our actual pickup time turned out to be 9:00AM due to some traffic issues and a minor car problem.

Despite being told we were once again on a Chinese-language tour, our guide, Ms. Zhao, spoke very good English.  After being picked up, we were driven to Beiling Park (the park we visited yesterday) and met the two individuals from Harbin who were our travel companions for the day.

Together we walked to the Zhaoling Tomb which we learned was built from 1643 thru 1651.  It is an amazing complex of buildings which are surrounded by numerous statues and/or obelisks.  These serve as guardians or servants to the tomb’s occupants.  The tomb itself is a mound which is brick at the bottom and then it is covered with sand.  An elm tree (obviously replanted numerous times) adorns the top of the tomb mound.

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The main entry into the
Zhaoling Tomb complex
The Stone Archway Building
is a typical building within the tomb
Long'en Gate, the main
entry to the area called
Square City, as seen
from the Stone Archway
Square City, a
collection of buildings & halls
Long'en Hall
The decorative interior of
Long'en Hall
Lindy and our guide,
Ms. Zhao, under a water spout
The stairs and protective
wall leading to the tomb
The actual burial site or tomb
A view looking into Square City

After leaving the park, we drove about 30 minutes to reach the 9.18 Museum.  This museum is a tribute to the Chinese who fought against the Japanese during their occupation of the city which began on September 18, 1931.  It also serves as to memorialize the Japanese atrocities so that they will not be forgotten.  The pictures of the acts committed by the Japanese against the Chinese civilians were enough to truly make you ill.  It’s amazing that human beings could do such things to others.

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The 9.18 Museum
Photographs evidencing the
horrible tortures
A torture device
Human bones & skulls

Afterwards, we were going to stop in a famous dumpling restaurant for lunch but it was too crowded with Chinese tourists from huge buses.  So, Ms. Zhao decided that we should first visit the Imperial Palace.  The palace is the only existing royal palace outside of the Forbidden City in Beijing.  It was built in the early 1600’s (1625-1636) by the founding emperors of the Qing Dynasty.  The complex is huge with over 300 rooms and 20 courtyards.  Obviously, we visited only the highlights.

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The Imperial Palace Gate
The entry into the Palace gardens
The Imperial Palace Gardens
Qingning Palace -
the central palace building
The ceiling in Qingning Palace
A beautiful building
within the Imperial Palace
Fenghuang Pavillion, the
place where the Emperor and
his concubines dined & read
The interior of Fenghuang Pavillion

After enjoying the Palace, we did return to the dumpling restaurant where we all enjoyed a feast of freshly made dumplings.  Then, we were off to the last stop of the day – Marshall Zhang’s Mansion.  He was born in 1901 and lived to 2001 – amazing!  The house actually served as both his home and office.  It was started in 1912 and completed in 1914 and it is distinctly Western.  Marshall Zhang gained his fortune by owning a private bank.  His fortune was lost when the Japanese took control of the city but he regained it and retained it throughout the rule of the Communist Party (since banks are necessary in all economies).

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Marshall Zhang's Mansion
The interior of one of the
Mansion rooms
Another interior shot
A statute of Marshall Zhang

[ T O P ]

Our travel companions departed from here to catch the metro (it is operational in this part of town) to get to the railroad station to make some sort of a ticket change.  So, our driver and Ms. Zhao returned us to our hotel at about 4:30PM. 

Thursday, 29 September:  We didn’t do any touring today.  Instead, we enjoyed the hotel and its amenities.  In addition to some “rest & relaxation,” we also caught up on some paperwork, answered emails, labeled photographs, etc.

Friday, 30 September:  We again enjoyed a delicious and leisurely breakfast.  Afterwards we decided to visit the Xinle Relic site which is within walking distance of the hotel.  When we went outside, we were shocked; it was just above freezing.  Burr!  Nevertheless, we needed a walk so out we went.

Xinle Relic was the site of a matriarchal clan which lived during the early Neolithic period (some 7200 years ago).  The “Wood-Carved Bird,” which now is the symbol of Shenyang, was unearthed here and is believed to be the oldest wood-carved art piece in the world.  It took a bit of walking (and showing individuals our map) but we finally found the site.  There is metro construction in this area too so the site, which is set back from the main street, was hidden.

After paying our entry fee, we were able to browse at will since we were the only individuals in the compound.  The site consists of several reconstructed buildings.  They were built partly underground with poles then inset into the earth to form a frame.  The frame was then covered with thatch and then ivy was allowed to grow over the thatch.  Pretty neat insulation.

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A statue dedicated to this
matriarchal society
The Wood-Carved Bird,
the symbol of Shenyang
A housing frame
An interior fire pit
A recreated structure
covered with ivy

Inside the buildings were various diorama depicting daily life and/or social activities.  There also was a building showing which items were found in various locations.  Some items (such as pottery shards) were left in place but items like the jade beads had been removed for obvious reasons.

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A diorama showing individuals
gathered around the fire pit
Another diorama depicting clan life
Some of the pottery found
at one of the sites (House 2)

[ T O P ]

After exploring the site, we returned to the area near our hotel and took funds out of an ATM in anticipation of paying for our upcoming tours in Baotou.  We then returned to the hotel for the balance of the day.  We enjoyed a final happy hour at the Club Lounge and thanked the staff for their hospitality.

Saturday, 1 October:  This was a travel day.  We enjoyed a final breakfast at Alcala, the wonderful buffet restaurant.  The chef made us an extra big bowl of Chinese noodle soup.  It was actually a cold morning (like yesterday) so it was the perfect way to warm up.  We checked out with Nicole in the Club Lounge and she helped us once again by writing the name and location of the airport bus in Chinese characters so we could get a taxi there.  When we arrived on the ground floor, Simon got us a taxi and told the individual where to go so we were off.

Given that October 1 is Chinese National Day (and the beginning of the seven day National holidays), the street wasn’t crowded since it was before 12:00 noon.  We arrived at the airport bus stop just as a bus was getting ready to leave.  So, we got seats on it but not together.  However, it didn’t matter for the 45 minute drive.  Ed did meet a young Chinese medical student who asked him for our email so she could practice her English writing skills (which turned out to be impeccable).

When we arrived at the airport, we quickly checked in and then did paperwork while we waited for our 3:20PM flight on Air China.  Unfortunately, we left 20 minutes late and then it took over 20 minutes for our luggage to get to the carousel.  So, we missed our original pickup for the Airport Crowne Plaza.  However, we made a phone call and the concierge must have called the bellman that assists on the shuttle because he arrived in just a few moments and took us to a van full of individuals awaiting transfer to the hotel.

When we arrived, we went immediately to the Club Lounge.  There we were checked-in and still had plenty of time to enjoy the ambience.  Lina did a great job in making sure we had everything we needed.  She also arranged for us to have a 4:30AM transfer to the airport on the hotel shuttle.  Lastly, she arranged for us to have a “to go” breakfast box waiting at the main check-out the following morning.  Talk about great service!

Sunday, 2 October:  This was an amazingly full day.  We were up at 3:30AM so that we could get ready, check out, pick up our breakfast box and make the 4:30AM shuttle.  We then waited until Air China opened its service counters at 5:00AM for check-in.  Despite long lines, we got our boarding passes and were through security before 6:00AM.  Our flight left early (we guess all passengers had gotten on) and we arrived early in Baotou. We were met by a driver from the Shangri-La who drove us 30 minutes to the hotel and then we went to the Club Floor for check-in.

We were able to get a room right away (amazing) and we had black tea while we were checking-in.  Then, breakfast was served in the Club Lounge and we were invited to enjoy that as well (even more amazing!).

We had arranged in advance with the hotel to take a tour upon our arrival.  So, about 9:30AM, we were picked up and on our way to Wudanzhao Lamasery.  Our driver spoke a few words of English but he had to think about what we said for a minute or two before he could respond.  It took us about two hours to reach the Lamasery.  It’s only about 50KM from Baotou but it is located at the end of a valley in the mountains.  The road was two-lanes and had lots of trucks so it took some good driving and luck to reach the Lamasery by 11:30AM.

The Lamasery was truly impressive!  It was built in 1749 and is the biggest Tibetan Buddhist temple in Inner Mongolia.  The type of Buddhism practiced is known as the “Yellow Hat Sect” or “Gelukpa.” It is the predominant Buddhism followed in Mongolia since the 13th century when the Mongols invaded Tibet and adopted this religion.

We were allowed to visit ten temples with the complex.  At the second one, we made an offering of food (our breakfast box contents as well as our complimentary fruit from the Shangri-La) to one of the resident monks.  He gladly accepted and placed the items on the altar.  Afterwards, he seemed a bit curious that we understood about food offerings since we didn’t offer prayers as practicing Buddhists.  If he only knew that over the years we’ve had some wonderful guides when visiting Asia and they, being Buddhist, explained how important such food offerings are at any location that has resident monks.  The Lamasery has over 1,200 resident monks in its 50 acre complex.

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A view of the Wudanzhao Lamasery
The interior of Suguqindu Temple
A wall painting in Suguqindu Temple
A wall painting in Queyila Palace
Prayer Wheels
The complex continues
Looking down over part of the complex
A monk in transit
Dongkuoer Palace
Looking inside Dongkuoer Palace
Jinke Palace Museum
Beautiful wall hangings
preserved in the Jinke Palace Museum
Statuary kept in the Museum
Carved prayer beads
Another statute in the Museum
Prayer Flags in the hills
surrounding Wudanzhao Lamasery

[ T O P ]

We thoroughly enjoyed visiting the temples and it was a perfect day to do so.  Despite the Fall weather setting in, it was sunny and only a little bit cool.  The air was so clean in the mountains (unlike any city in China) that the blue of the sky actually hurt your eyes.  It made us a little reminiscent about home since the mountain setting was just about identical.

After spending two hours at the Lamasery, we returned back to the hotel.  Before going to our room, we enjoyed a Coke Zero in the lounge.  Then, it was time to unpack and settle in.  The Club offered cocktails and snacks from 5:30PM until 7:30PM.  The latter were really outstanding.  While enjoying ourselves, we met two men (one from Australia; the other from the US) who were on long-term work assignments in Baotou due to the nearby mining operations.  Both were calling the Shangri-La home for six-eight weeks at a time so they each had some fun stories to share about their work and/or Baotou in general.  When happy hour was over, the staff suggested we take a final cocktail (something the two businessmen had already done).  However, we were beat so we declined and left the Club at 7:30PM for an early night given we had a full day of touring tomorrow.

Monday, 3 October:  We once again enjoyed another very full day.  The Club had an extensive buffet breakfast which we went to at 7:00AM.  Then at 7:50AM we went downstairs and our driver was already there (a different driver who spoke no English).  We first drove a little over two hours to reach the Genghis Khan Mausoleum.  We thought it would be one building and were surprised that it was an entire complex devoted to Genghis Khan.  First was an area with huge statues of Mongolian warriors on horseback.  Not only were there warriors, but also statues of support personnel as well as huge wagons drawn by oxen used to move Khan’s ger (yurt is the Chinese term used for this housing).   Then, there were other gers with various artifacts and information as we continued further into the complex.  Toward the back were two marble towers.  Behind these towers, was the actual mausoleum.  We were able to go only as far as the towers; the mausoleum itself was not open to visitors. 

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The entry to the Genghis Khan
Mausoleum Complex
An overview of the many statues
A group of warriors
Ed and a warrior
(to put its size in perspective)
Oxen pulling a ger
A closer view of the oxen
This is a replica of Khan's ger
Traditional costumes found
in the ger (and available for
guests to don for photo's)
A statute of an old woman
Statues of camels being
used as beasts of burden
The marble towers protecting
Genghis Khan's mausoleum
Ed and a friend (she was one of many
young people who asked to have a
a photograph taken with Ed, a
 a handsome Western with a beard!)

[ T O P ]

After spending an hour there, we next drove to a restaurant where our driver ordered two delicious pork dishes for us all to share.  We also enjoyed delicious hot tea.  Since he didn’t speak English, we used sign language during lunch (as well as throughout the day).

We next began our trek back to Baotou and stopped en route at the Singing Sand Reserve.  Here, we rode a ski lift across a small ravine and over to the sand dunes that are famous in this area.  It was a quite day with very little wind so we didn’t hear the sand “sing.”  However, we did enjoy the views and we watched several individuals slide down the dunes.  It was amazing how quickly they moved down the sand slope.

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Signage for The Singing Sands Reserve
A view of the sand dunes
Another view with a traditional ger-style
building in the complex
A few trees on the edge
of the dunes

[ T O P ]

After taking the return ski left, we found the driver and our car at about 3:15PM.  We waited a few minutes there so our guide could give some paperwork to another guide.  Then, we headed back to the Shangri-La Hotel.  We arrived back at about 4:30PM and Ed tipped the guide as we ordinarily do for providing excellent service.  The guide was truly amazed he got anything in addition to the tour cost as he spurted out “thank you!” several times.  Chinese ordinarily do not tip (like Brits and Aussies) and few Americans ever make it here.  On an aside, our guide was of Mongolian descent and not Han Chinese (the majority of all Chinese).  The Han Chinese have been encouraged to relocate to this area in turn for receiving the higher paying jobs.  This is hoped to encourage marrying among the Han and those of Mongolian descent to dilute the Mongolian peoples in this region despite Baotou’s location in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.   There is a similar situation in Tibet. 

After quickly cleaning up, we returned to the Horizon Club at about 5:15PM.  There we enjoyed snacks and beverages until 7:00PM.  Then it was time to return to our room and get things packed in anticipation of our next travel day.

Tuesday, 4 October:  “On the road again….”  We enjoyed a 6:30AM breakfast at the Horizon Club and we then checked out of the hotel at 7:30AM.  We took a taxi to the airport to catch our Air China flight back to Beijing.  Everything went smoothly and we arrived in Beijing at 10:30AM.  After waiting for our luggage, we finally cleared the secure area in the airport at 11:15AM.

We then went outside and found the Airport Shuttle Bus station for long-distance transfers and then located the pick-up spot for the bus to Tianjin.  It departs on the hour each hour so we had a brief wait for the 12:00PM shuttle.  Ed purchased our tickets (80CNY each or ~26USD for both of us) and we were one of the first onboard when the bus arrived.  The ride took about 2.5 hours.

When we were dropped off at Tianjin’s long-distance station, we then caught a taxi to the Holiday Inn.  We were checked-in in the Club Lounge and in our room by 3:30PM.  Wow!  While we were getting settled in, we enjoyed a traditional pot of tea prepared with gourmet vacuum-packed Jasmine tea leaves.  It was truly delicious and very relaxing after a full day.

At 6:00PM we returned to the Club for cocktails and snacks.  We stayed there until 8:00PM and relaxed there enjoying the views of the river at night while we planned how to spend the next three days in Tianjin.

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The giant Ferris Wheel over
one of the rivers
The dazzling lights along the river

[ T O P ]

Wednesday, 5 October:  We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the hotel restaurant.  The place was really busy.  We guess that Tianjin’s proximity to Beijing makes it a popular destination for National Days for the Chinese, esp. since we were the only Westerners in the place.

After breakfast, we went to the bell desk and asked for directions to walk to the Tianjin Rail Station.  It took a few minutes to find someone who spoke English and he seemed surprised that we would want to take the 40 minute walk.  However, we explained we weren’t going with luggage; just to purchase tickets in advance for our return to Beijing.

The bellman didn’t have a detailed map, so we used the one on the back of our registration card and also one we printed off the internet.  The Holiday Inn sits on the Haihe River and the Tianjin Rail Station wasn’t too far from the river so we figured we couldn’t get lost.  Also, we had the name written in Chinese characters so that is always a plus too.

Thankfully it was a cool morning when we began our trek along side the river.  We first came to Liberation Bridge (Jiefang Bridge), a place with two groups of the PLA (Mao’s “People’s Liberation Army”) met and fought back Russian forces to liberate the city in the 1940’s.  After taking a few photographs, we continued walking along the river.  Ultimately, we came upon people pulling luggage and knew we were in the immediate area.  So, we walked away from the river and, in doing so, came across the “Italian Romantic Area.”  It is a collection of Italian-style buildings (along with a few coliseum-style pillars) with restaurants, shopping stores, etc. featuring Italian items.  Sort of a “Little Italy.” 

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Liberation Bridge
A monument commemorating
the PLA Victory
A nearby tank and artillery gun

We continued a bit further and then saw the Rail Station.  It was absolute chaos.  The number of people was incredible and those not in lines had claimed spaces on the grounds to have lunch, sleep or play cards.  We went into an exterior ticket office and after waiting in line (and fending off people who wanted to break the cue), we were lucky that the agent spoke English.  She told us that tickets for Beijing were sold only inside on the second floor (this was a sales window on the ground floor that was accessible before entering the terminal).

So we walked over to the terminal entrance and it was sheer chaos.  The lines were incredible and, to enter the building, you went through a full security search.  So, Ed raised the idea of instead of using the train to return to Beijing that instead we take the same airport shuttle bus and return directly to the airport.  Brilliant!  So, we left the mayhem.  However, we did take time to photograph the Clock Tower which is located across from the Tianjin Rail Station.  It is huge (40 meters high) and sits in the middle of a roundabout.  It is made of bronze and is decorated with the 12 symbols of the Chinese Zodiac.  Based on a 12-year mathematical cycle, the Chinese Zodiac identifies each year to an animal and each animal has distinct personality attributes.  Individuals born in that animal’s year are reputed to have similar personality attributes.  For anyone interested, Ed was born in the year of the Rabbit; Lindy was born in the year of the Rooster.

From there we began retracing our steps back to the Holiday Inn.  En route, we had to explore the “Italian” neighborhood and take some photographs.  Hey, Ed made the place look authentic!  Then, we continued along the river.  By now it was getting very warm (it was after 1:00PM) so we took several breaks and tried to walk in the shade.  Ultimately, we arrived back at the hotel near 2:00PM.  We figured out that we had walked about six miles!  We made a quick stop in our room and then headed up to the Executive Lounge to enjoy an ice cold Coke Zero.

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The Clock Tower at the
Tianjin Railway Station
Ed in the "Italy Style Town"
Ed outside a trattoria in the area

[ T O P ]

While there, Ed worked on culling photographs while Lindy got help from Margaret, one of the great staff at the Lounge, to help write down the address and name in Chinese of the airport bus station with buses back directly to the Beijing Airport.  Margaret knew the fee (same as we paid – 80CNY) and she confirmed that buses left early.  So, we made a commitment to ourselves to get to the station early on Saturday morning so that we could catch a 7:00AM back to Beijing Capital Airport and arrive there at 10:30AM.

We returned back to our room for a few hours (we were pretty worn out) and then were back in the Lounge at 6:15PM for cocktails and snacks.  At 7:30PM we were once again back in the room and planning tomorrow’s outing.

Thursday, 6 October:  While Ed got up early and caught up on business work, Lindy slept (nothing new there).  We enjoyed another leisurely breakfast at 9:00AM.  By 10:00AM, we were ready to hit the streets.  We crossed over the Haihe River on the closest bridge and immediately found Tianjin’s Ancient Cultural Street.  Instead of a single street, the area is actually a collection of small streets built in traditional style of the Qing architecture.  They are now filled with stores selling everything; that is, merchants selling inexpensive souvenirs to rare and expensive works of art.  We had a blast wandering around with the other shoppers and tourists (and not seeing any Westerners in the complex). 

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The entry to the Ancient Cultural Street
The Street and the crowds
Besides the crowds, note
the colorful decorations
A narrow walkway in the area

In our wanderings, we were able to find Tianhou Gong or the Heavenly Empress Temple.  It was originally built in 1326 as a tribute to the Goddess of the Sea who was said to protect Tianjin’s seafaring population.

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The entry to Tianhou Gong
The front gate in the Temple
Ed next to a beautiful bonsai
in the Temple complex
Within Tianhou Gong we found
a second temple, Phoenix
Temple, founded in 1326
The interior of Phoenix Temple
Lindy in the temple complex
beside a pot of poinsettas
Individuals leaving huge
lit bundles of incense

After viewing the Temple, we returned to the shopping area.  Then, we came across an area where nothing was sold except foods.  It was aptly called “Food Street” but was not the famous one located near the railway (that one is more like a mall with more than 100 restaurants in a 40,000 square meter building).  However, the smells were terrific and lots of people were enjoying an afternoon meal out.

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Stall after stall along Food Street

[ T O P ]

We finally reached the end of the area and came out along the banks of the river.  So we crossed over and walked back along the other shore to reach the Holiday Inn.  Again, we stopped in the Lounge and enjoyed an ice cold diet coke before returning to the room to look at pictures, etc.

At 6:15PM, we returned to the Lounge and enjoyed drinks and snacks.  Most of the other guests left before 7:00PM so we were able to spend some time talking with Margaret.  At 7:30PM we decided we should let her get back to work.  However, she insisted the she open a bottle of wine for us (she knew we had enjoyed wine on previous occasions).  Then, she brought out a plate of walnuts and cashews as well as some potato chips (the latter she said Americans really liked).  Finally, she gave us a small gift of Chinese chips so that we would have something to eat on our ride to the Beijing Airport since we were leaving before breakfast on 8 October.  Talk about a warm and friendly individual!  We did enjoy a glass of wine with our treats and then it was time to say goodnight.

Friday, 7 October:  It was interesting that the hotel breakfast room was not very busy this morning.  We asked our host, Reis, and he explained that the National Day holiday was winding down.  So, not only was it a leisurely breakfast, it was a very quiet breakfast.

Afterwards we went for our final touring in Tianjin (for this trip).  We walked to the nearby Daibei Monastery.  There we learned it also is called the “Compassionate Temple.”  It is supposed to be the busiest Buddhist monastery in Tianjin and it was very busy while we were there.  The complex is much smaller than it was when originally built in the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties.  Much of it also was destroyed during the “Cultural Revolution,” but many of the buildings have been restored and remain quite grand.

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The entry to Compassionate Temple
This building is Heavenly Kings Hall
Worshippers in front of a
huge bronze incense burner
The beautiful Sakya Hall
also known as Grand Hall
The giant Buddha in Sakya Hall
(it weighs 6 tons!)
A decorative Pagoda in
the Temple complex

[ T O P ]

After visiting the Monastery, we walked back to the Holiday Inn and enjoyed our final afternoon in Tianjin there doing catch-up activities in anticipation of tomorrow’s travel day.

Saturday, 8 October:  It was another early day as we were up at 5:00AM.  We left the hotel near 6:00AM and took a taxi to the Long Distance Bus Station.  There we were able to book the 7:00AM bus back to Beijing International Airport.  Despite some heavy fog, the driver made it to the airport early and we were checked in, through security and in the DragonAir/Cathay Pacific lounge before 10:00AM.  Wow!  We relaxed there and enjoyed some wonderful food, especially the Hong-Kong style congee.

It was interesting that at first we only found a small lounge in the club which had boxed noodles and a coffee machine.  Given it was early and the lounge was empty, we thought that was still nice for early in the morning.  However, one of the staff who clean up after the guests (a woman who spoke no English), motioned for us to go to another area where she showed us that the lounge had full food service (i.e., congee, lots of dim sum, etc.).  It’s no wonder that we love Cathay and its affiliates!  She was so sweet that we gave her a small tip just before we left.  You would have thought we gave her a $100 after the hug that Lindy received in return.

Our flight was terrific!  The in-flight team was wonderful and since DragonAir is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific, we received the same wonderful customer experience.  We had a fabulous lunch along with some delicious Chilean wine and arrived in Hong Kong in what seemed like no time at all.  Once there, we had to proceed through immigration since Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region.  Also, one reason we returned to Hong Kong is that our multi-entry visa into China allows for maximum stays of only 30 days.  So, we needed to leave in order to be able to return and finish our final touring (for this year) in Southern China.

We then took the Airport Express into town.  Once at the station there, we picked up a free shuttle bus to the Holiday Inn Golden Mile, our home for one night.  The staff at the Executive Floor did a great job and we enjoyed relaxing there until it was time to return to our room to get ready for tomorrow’s departure,

Sunday, 9 October:  We returned back to Mainland China via the InterCity Rail from Hong Kong to Guangzhou.  Originally, we had a 1:30PM train booked.  We were both up early so we had breakfast and then decided to go ahead and take the subway over to Hung Hom Station to pick-up our rail tickets.  When we arrived there, the ticket sales person told us we could take an earlier train – one that was leaving at 11:28AM – and had just opened for boarding.  We gratefully accepted and made our way onto the train.  Ed was able to stash the luggage in the overhead storage area and then we enjoyed the balance of the ride.

Once we were in Guangzhou (about 1:10PM), we had planned to take the metro to reach our hotel.  However, as we were walking out, we saw a transfer booth for the Holiday Inn City Centre.  After confirming we had a reservation, the woman walked us out to a waiting van and we were whisked to the hotel – very nice and all complimentary

When we arrived at the Holiday Inn, we went to the Executive Floor.  Spring, one of the staff we met in May 2010, was waiting for us.  Spring remembered that she had said we should return since we only spent one night in Guangzhou in 2010 and she was very pleased to see us.  We too were so happy to see Spring since she’s a great representative of the IHG Group.  She always has a smile and is willing to do anything possible to help a guest.  She checked us into the hotel and upgraded us to a beautiful two room suite.

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A view of Guangzhou from one
of our windows
The view from another window

[ T O P ]

Once we unpacked our luggage, we returned to the lounge to say “thank you” for such a beautiful room and also to enjoy a cold Coke Zero while planning our touring for the following day.  As expected, Spring offered to answer any questions, gave us the forecast for Monday and made us feel very welcome.  She also told us to expect things to get hectic toward the end of the week since the annual Canton Fair would begin.  Good timing to enjoy both the sites in Guangzhou as well as the Executive Club before the masses arrive!

After enjoying our time in the lounge, we returned to the room and finished settling in there as well as taking care of a few business items.  The happy hour at the Executive Club in Guangzhou is a really extended one – 5:00PM-8:00PM – so we headed back to it around 5:30PM.  We enjoyed wonderful snacks and beverages before calling it an evening. 

Monday, October 10:  Since the hotel wasn’t crowded, we opted to have breakfast in the main restaurant (when the hotel is fully booked later in the week, we can always opt for breakfast at the Club floor).  It offered a delicious variety of foods and we especially enjoyed the noodle soup.  Many of the dishes were local – that is, Cantonese – while a few were spicy Hunan and Sichuan.  We were both reminded that Cantonese cuisine really is wonderful.

Before heading out touring, we stopped at the Executive Floor to see if we could get some help booking train tickets to Changsha, our next destination.  We had planned to take a bullet train but couldn’t get more than cursory information via the web.  Again, Spring helped us out and started making phone calls.  She too had trouble getting schedules, pricing information, etc.  So, she suggested we go tour while she investigated the possibilities.  Again, such great service!

We took Spring’s advice and headed on out.  We took the metro near the hotel and, after making two line changes, arrived at Ximenkou Station.  From there, we quickly walked to the Guangxiao Temple (also know as “Bright Filial Piety Temple”).  This Zen Buddhist temple was bustling with visitors, most of whom were there to worship but there were other tourists too. 

We spent several hours exploring the Temple complex.  It was initially built to house royalty during the Western Han Dynasty (207BC -24AD).  It next became a lecture hall until finally becoming a Zen Buddhist temple during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279).  We began at the building which houses the Maitreya Buddha along with his protectors.  Next, we entered a beautiful courtyard with huge Banyan trees.

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Guangxiao Temple
The Maitreya Buddha
The beautiful courtyard in  the Temple

To the left of the courtyard, we began our explorations at the Drum Tower.  Next to the tower, is a building housing a beautiful reclining Buddha.  In the center of the courtyard is Mahavira Hall which was built during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420), again before the complex was devoted strictly to Buddhism.  We finished our explorations in the courtyard at a building housing a Thai Buddha (it didn’t appear any different to us but the signage designated it as being Thai).

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The Drum Tower
Incense burning outside
Mahavira Hall
Another beautiful Buddha -
this one in Mahavira Hall
The building housing the Thai Buddha
The Thai Buddha

Passing beyond the courtyard, we came to the Pagoda of Liuzu where individuals again were praying or making pilgrimages.  It holds a lock of hair of the equivalent of a Buddhist saint.  Another highlight in this area was seeing the East Iron Pagoda which was erected in 967 (the West Iron Pagoda was erected in 963 but only its base remains).  These are the oldest iron towers in China.

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Pagoda of Liuzu
Lindy standing by the
East Iron Pagoda

We were totally impressed at the Temple complex as well as the age of the items located within it.  It was definitely a great experience and one we will remember.

After leaving Guangxi Temple, we wandered along the small streets nearby and eventually worked our way toward the Six Banyan Pagoda (also known as Liu Rong Temple per the entry ticket).  En route, we found a store with technology kiosks so we went inside and were able to purchase a wireless USB mouse to replace one that had died during our travels).  Prices were much lower than anything in the US.

Six Banyan Pagoda was built between 420-479 in the Song Dynasty.  It’s an amazing building and it too was visited by both those worshipping Buddha as well as tourists.  Again, we were impressed with its age and its condition.

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The pagoda of Six Banyan Temple
The base of Six Banyan Temple
The Protectors inside
Six Banyan Temple
Burong Pavilion
The Bodhivista in Burong Pavilion
Mahavira Hall
Sakyamuni on the left;
Maitreya on right;
each statue weighs 10 tons!

[ T O P ]

About 3:00PM, we returned back to the hotel via the metro.  We went to the Executive Lounge and Spring gave us an update on our train booking to Changsha.  She had been able to make the outbound booking but couldn’t get any one to answer the booking line on the return ticket.  Imagine if we were trying to do this without the language skill?! Spring also offered to go to the train station on our behalf to see about purchasing both tickets.  That offer was well-beyond what any employee should do!  So, we declined and instead said that we would go to the station tomorrow.  Spring then wrote in Chinese (with English for us) the information about the booking she had made for us to Changsha as well as a question about being able to buy our return ticket to Guangzhou at the same time.  So, we are armed with the information we need and we’ll see how things go tomorrow at the railway station.  Hey, all part of the adventure; right?

We once again went to our room until it was time to go back to the Executive Lounge for snacks and cocktails.  We stayed in the Lounge until 8:00PM as there were virtually no other guests so we enjoyed all the ambience and one another.

Tuesday, 11 October:   Our key goal today was to purchase our rail tickets to Changsha.  So, after enjoying a wonderful breakfast at the hotel, we once again headed for the metro. Today we rode to the end of the blue line (line no. 2) and reached the Guangzhou South Railway Station.  Using the note Spring had written, we first went to a ticket booth and were told we were at the wrong location.  (The employee didn’t speak English but asked for someone in the queue who did to tell us to go up another level to the high-speed ticket desk.)

After going to where we were directed, we were able to purchase both our outbound and our return ticket.  Yeah!  After making our purchase, we spent time sleuthing the station to ensure that we would be able to find our train on Saturday morning.  When we felt comfortable that Saturday would go smoothly, we decided to do some touring.

We left the Station and headed back into the heart of town.  We went to Beijing Street which is a pedway located a few blocks from one of the key metro stations.  There was incredible shopping in the area.  However, our key reason for going was to visit the ancient streets under the pedway which had been discovered only in 2006 (we think).  There, in the same location, archeologists found that a street had been in the same location since the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and then above it were two more streets from the Song & Yuan Dynasties (1127-1368) and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).  It’s amazing that the road had never been moved but simply had been repaved with the addition of new stone over that previously put in place.  Amazing!

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The protective cover over
the ancient road
The road from the Song
Dynasty (960-1279)
The road from the Song &
Yuan Dynasties (1127-1368)
The road from the Ming
Dynasty (1368-1644)

[ T O P ]

After visiting this area, we returned back to the hotel and caught up on business while enjoying a cold beverage in the Lounge.  Then, it was time to return to our room and relax there.  At 5:30PM, we went back to the Executive Lounge and were surprised at the number of guests already enjoying the amenities.  Obviously, it’s getting closer to the Canton Trade Fair!

Wednesday, 12 October:  Our day was spent exploring the Museum of the Nanyue King of the Western Han Dynasty.  Prior to arriving at the Museum, we once again enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the hotel’s main restaurant.  Then, we took the subway (only making one line change) to Yuexiu Park.  It was drizzling but the entrance to the Museum wasn’t too far so we were able to make it without getting soaked.

Once at the Museum, we had a great surprise in that it was a free day and admission was waived.  Surprisingly, the place wasn’t jammed as a result.  We did rent an English audio guide to help us with our explorations.

In summary, we were absolutely stunned at what we saw at the Museum! We thought it is one of the top museums of antiquity anywhere in the world.  It is located off one of Guangzhou’s major streets and it is the actual place of the tomb of King Zhao Mei, leader of the Nanyue State of the Western Han Dynasty (206BC – 24AD).  It is the oldest and largest Han tomb found in the Lingnan Area (the current provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi).  The tomb was hidden until 1983 when it was discovered by chance as construction on a new building began in the area.  The tomb itself is 65.6 feet underground and is made up of 750 huge stones which originally were painted with colorful murals.  Since it was hidden, there was no looting and most contents were found intact.  Unfortunately, there was some flooding and 2,000 years of time so most wooden objects were destroyed.  To us, this was a find as great a find as the discovery of King Tut’s tomb but receives very little attention.  We hadn’t heard of it before; have you?

We first toured the actual tomb site.  We were able to enter various rooms (we just had to really stoop since the height was pretty low).  Each featured a picture of what was originally uncovered as the excavation team progressed.  Afterwards, we visited the Museum.  It contains over 1,000 pieces of cultural relics, such as bronze decorative items, jade carvings, musical instruments, pottery, weapons, glass, etc., found in the tomb. We were amazed at how advanced the Chinese civilization was 2000 years ago!!!

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The walkway leading to
the entry of the King's tomb
Lindy crouched in the tomb entry
A door handle in the tomb
This tomb room was
reserved for the King's concubines

[ T O P ]

One item which the Museum highlights is the King’s silk-jade burial suit.  It was made up of 2,291 pieces of jade connected by silk thread.  Although there have been other jade garments, this is thought to be the only one where silk was used to connect the pieces.  It also shows that the tradition of using jade – both as a decorative material and as a practical material.

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King's Tomb Museum
Decorative Gold Disks
Gold Ornaments
The amazing jade burial suit
The king's remains
A jade bowl
A jade tea cup
with a wooden leg
A replica of ancient armor
A screen depicting a story
An ivory wine cup

We truly enjoyed exploring the 10 exhibition halls which house the materials found in the tomb.  The King had a short life (between 40-45 years of age) but an excellent one.  His tomb also contained the remains of four concubines as well as a guard, musician and other individuals who would accompany him in death.

As we were leaving the Museum, we did make one purchase.  In one of the gift shops, there was an artist painting porcelain objects.  Although he didn’t speak English, one of the staff explained that his objects were first painted and then they were fired.  The porcelain was so fine and thin you could see a candle light through it.  We watched him work on one item and it was amazing how the tiny strokes resulted in a beautiful design.  So, we purchased a very delicate decorative bowl featuring one of the candidates for China’s national flower, the peony.

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Our photograph with the
artist from whom we
purchased our peony bowl

[ T O P ]

We returned back to the Holiday Inn late in the afternoon.  We again enjoyed happy hour in the Executive Lounge before returning to our room at 8:00PM and relaxing for the balance of the evening.

Thursday, 13 October:   This morning we woke up to a light drizzle.  So, instead of rushing out for touring, we instead had a leisurely breakfast.  Afterwards, the drizzle relinquished a bit so we decided to do shopping in the area. 

We began our shopping at the Guangzhou Friendship Store.  In prior years, we previously had visited the Beijing Friendship Store.  It primarily sold various arts and crafts which were created by Chinese artisans.  In contract, the Guangzhou Friendship Store was a collection of upscale boutiques.  These included well-known labels such as Gucci, Chanel, Hermes, Boss, etc.  So, we primarily did window shopping in this area.

Afterwards we found some “regular” shops in a nearby mall.  We spent the balance of our shopping day there.  In the afternoon, it really began to rain so we worked our way back to the hotel and we were glad we made it before the deluges began.

Upon our return to the hotel, we went to the Executive Club for a cold diet coke.  After returning to our room and cleaning up a bit, we returned to the lounge to review and cull photographs that we had taken on previous days.  During the early evening happy hour, it really started to rain and lightening began too.  We called it an evening about 8:00PM.

Friday, 14 October:  We spent our final day in Guangzhou (for this trip) in one of the shopping areas known to many locals but not many tourists.  We took the metro to an area known as the Shangziajiu Pedestrain Streets.  It was a maze of streets and alleyways featuring tiny shops selling just about everything.  There were also lots of food vendors and restaurants.  We knew that many foreigners didn’t visit the area when we got lots of stares and also were asked to pose for pictures. 

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The very busy Shangziajiu
Pedestrian Streets area
Ed by a great rickshaw bronze
Note the female shoppers
walking arm & arm
A snap of the jewelry district
described below

[ T O P ]

During our explorations, we came across a jewelry district that was huge.  The primary product was jade and the selection of bracelets, earrings, necklaces, etc. was amazing.  Most of the work (polishing, setting stones, etc.) was done in the back of shops.  In nearby streets, we came across vendors selling all the tools necessary to cut, shape and polish jade.  It was an interesting end to our journey.

We again returned to the hotel in late afternoon but had to begin the process of packing, etc. in anticipation of our departure tomorrow to Changsha.  Interestingly, the Canton Trade Fair began today so the hotel was very crowded.  The staff in the Executive Club advised us to get there early for happy hour to ensure we had a seat.  So, we went to the Club at 4:30PM.  Interestingly, it didn’t get very busy until about 7:30PM as most individuals staying on the floor didn’t return from the Trade Fair until that time.  So, we were able to enjoy our final night at the Executive Club (for this year) in a leisurely fashion.

Saturday, 15 October:  Again, it was a travel day for us.  We had an early breakfast at 7:00AM and afterwards went to say good-bye to the staff at the Executive Club.  At 7:50AM, we left the hotel and made our way to the metro station.  We then caught the metro to the Guangzhou South Train Station.  We arrived there in about an hour.  We left the metro and worked our way upstairs to the third floor where the high-speed trains depart.

We caught a 10:48AM train to Changsha, about 439 miles north of Guangzhou.  Although we made several stops, the train maintained a speed of about 245/KM hour (or 152/MPH hour).  Wow!  We arrived at the Changsha South Train Station at 2:30PM.  From there, we caught a public bus to the Changsha Train Station in the center of town.  (We had asked Spring to write out “Changsha Train Station” in Chinese characters before leaving Guangzhou and that’s what we used to communicate with the bus drivers until we located the no. 135 bus which took us there in 40 minutes).

Changsha is installing a new metro system and, as a result, traffic in the city center is a real mess.  So, once at the Train Station, we had a walk a couple of blocks and cross over to a major street running perpendicular to the Station to catch a taxi.  It turned out to be only about a 10 minute taxi ride to the hotel so we were checked in at about 4:00PM.

We went to the Executive Club Lounge at 6:00PM for happy hour.  While there was everything needed for cocktails, there were very few snacks (very, very few).  This was somewhat disappointing after enjoying so many other IHG properties.  Oh well!  We returned to our room at 8:00PM and relaxed for the balance of the evening. 

Sunday, 16 October:  We went to the hotel restaurant (Spice) for breakfast at 9:00AM.  Afterwards, we inquired about nearby shopping.  We were directed to a great pedway which was filled with lots of small, local shops.  Although we didn’t buy anything, we spent time wandering from shop to shop.  Again, we were off the beaten path and got lots of stares and looks.

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The only sign in English is
for Coors Light!
The pedway continues to
have lots of shoppers

[ T O P ]

Early afternoon we returned to the hotel and stopped by the Executive Club Lounge.  Afterwards, we spent the balance of the day catching up on business, paperwork, reviewing photographs, etc.

At 6:00PM, we again returned to the Executive Club Lounge for cocktails (we knew not to expect snacks other than peanuts and a few sweets).  We left there at 7:30PM and returned to our room to relax for the balance of the evening. River

Monday, 17 October:  Today was a very full day.  After enjoying breakfast in the hotel restaurant, we decided to take a long walk (1.5 hours each way) to the Mount Yuelu Scenic Area.  We walked down Wuyi Avenue and crossed the Xiangjiang River.  We then walked along the river and ultimately reached the scenic area. 

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Individuals fishing from junks
underneath a bridge on
the Xiangjiang River
A view of Changsha from
 Mt. Yuele Scenic Area
Another view of Changsha

Once there, we had to walk up small road until we reached the Yuelu Academy, one of the area’s key attractions.  The Academy was built in 976 during the Song Dynasty.  It is an amazing complex of buildings, including lecture halls, pavilions and a Confucius Temple.  It is known as one of the “Four Academies” of China.  Unlike national or district schools, the Yuelu Academy was a private school built away from the city to provide a quiet environment for scholars to pursue their studies.  In 1903, the Academy became a university and in 1926 it was officially named Hunan University.  Interestingly, today’s modern Hunan University is immediately outside the Yuelu Academy doors but the Academy has been kept intact.  Yuelu Academy, with its 1,000 years of history, is the only one of the “Four Academies” which evolved into a modern institution of higher learning.

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A decorative map of Yuelu Academy
Us at the main gate
to Yuele Academy
The beautiful Yushu Library
A shot of Ed from the
Library which shows the
numerous beautiful roof lines
Lindy on a bridge in the complex
Another building in the Academy
These are statutes of Zhu Yi &
Shang Shi who were memoralized
by the Changdoa Temple a/k/a
"Zhu Zhang Temple"
A Confucian Temple in the Academy
A view inside the Temple

[ T O P ]

After exploring the Academy, we decided to visit the Aiwan Pavilion, a bit further up Mount Yuelu.  The Pavilion was built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).  It is very famous because Chairman Mao used to visit the Pavilion when he was a student to discuss current affairs with friends. 

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A view of Aiwan Pavilion
A closer view of the Temple signage
Some beautiful bonsai trees

[ T O P ]

Afterwards we made the long trek back to the Crowne Plaza.  We should note that when crossing the Xiangjiang River, you have to be extra careful because motorcycles use the pedestrian walkway instead of the roadway and they feel they have the right-of-way.  It’s not for the faint of heart!

Tuesday, 18 October:  Today we decided to stay in the downtown area and explore the many shopping streets near the hotel.  Again, due to the building of the subway system, it’s a bit difficult to get around.  Sometimes you have to walk in the opposite direction of where you ultimately want to go to reach a cross-over but it was nothing compared to the walking we did yesterday.

There were quite a few malls nearby and most were full of shoppers.  Also, we found a street which was nothing but food stands and it was jammed near the noon hour.  In one of the malls, WalMart took up the two upper floors.  We stopped in to look at the seafood and produce (always interesting).

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One of the many busy shopping streets
Ed sitting at a bronze noodle bar
Individuals transporting goods
via traditional methods

[ T O P ]

When we returned to the hotel, it was time to begin packing in anticipation of an early departure tomorrow morning.  We did enjoy a final happy hour in the Club Lounge before calling it a night.

Wednesday, 19 October:  We got up early and were at breakfast as the restaurant opened.  We thought we would be the first ones there given the early hour but there were two large groups of Chinese tourists who filled the place.  It was quite chaotic but we managed to eat and get out before 6:50AM.  Since we had checked out the night before, we just dropped off our key and by 7:00AM we were waiting for our taxi to the Changsha South Railway Station.

We had been told that the ride could take as long as an hour but since it was early in the morning, we made it in about 30 minutes.  Ed gave the driver a generous tip since the Station is a bit off the beaten track and the driver was ecstatic. 

Our train left at 9:20AM and arrived at the Guangzhou South Railway Station at 1:20PM.  We quickly caught the metro from there and took it first into Guangzhou for a transfer and then into Foshan.  From the metro, we were able to walk to the Crowne Plaza Foshan although it took a bit of time to locate it.

Our check-in went quickly and we were upgraded into a suite.  When we got to the room, we discovered it was either a “honeymoon” or “anniversary” suite since it was decorated with pink balloons and ribbon and the décor was red and white.   As we settled in, we had to take a few photographs.

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Our honeymoon suite
The spa tub for two
The decorated bath room

[ T O P ]

Afterwards, we went to the Club Lounge for tea time but learned we couldn’t have anything but coffee or tea without a charge (this should have been a signal….).  When we went up for happy hour, it was an absolute mess.  The staff had no clue what cocktails were and initially said we were allowed only one.  After speaking with a manager, we got that straightened out as well as the ability to get a gin & tonic (we still weren’t able to order wine).  Ultimately, we (as well as several other guests) asked to speak to the hotel’s General Manager who came to the Club about 30 minutes later.  Ultimately, we got our expected beverage service (sans wine) but it was not without a lot of complaining.  This is definitely a hotel that we won’t be returning to when we’re next in China.

Thursday, October 20:  This was a travel day which extended into two days.  After breakfast on the 20th, we took a bus from the hotel to the Hong Kong International Airport.  Before arriving at the border, the bus stopped and we were transferred to vans holding six passengers.  Then, we proceeded through exit procedures from China into entry procedures into Hong Kong.  The whole process from leaving the hotel to arriving at the airport took four hours. 

Once at the airport, we went to The Pier Club (one of Cathay’s clubs) to relax until our 9:30PM flight to Sydney.  We enjoyed the Noodle Bar as usual and then about 7:00PM we began enjoying some fine wines.  We left The Pier to do a bit of window-shopping before boarding our flight.

* * * * * * * * * *

We continue to enjoy our time in China and will return again in 2012.  The culture is incredible, the people friendly and helpful and it also is quite the value.   Now, to continue on with our “Round the World 2011 Adventure” click on the link below.

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