Visa on arrival in Mongolia

It is easier to go to Mongolia since 2014, June 3rd, the Mongol visa is delivered on arrival to the tourists from the following countries, so don’t hesitate!

1 Luxembourg
2 Norway
3 Switzerland
4 Austria
5 Netherlands
6 Ireland
7 Sweden
8 Iceland
9 Belgium
10 Denmark
11 Finland
12 France
13 Italy
14 Malta
15 Slovenia
16 Czech Republic
17 Slovakia
18 Estonia
19 Greece
20 Spain
21 Portugal
22 Lithuania
23 Poland
24 Hungary
25 Latvia
26 Bulgaria
27 Romania
28 Lichtenstein
29 Monaco
30 Andorra
31 Gibraltar
32 Vatican
33 Bahamas
34 Barbados
35 Trinidad Tobago
36 Argentina
37 Uruguay
38 Panama
39 Chile
40 Grenada
41 Costa Rica
42 Seychelles

Contact us to organize your trip: www.travel-stone.com

Mongolia

Mongolia

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Nepal : a hidden gem and an adventurer’s paradise

It is actually not the first destination that comes to your mind when planning your coming holidays but that’s a mistake ! Because traveling in Nepal never leaves you indifferent.

Small land country locked between two giants of Asia; China and India, Nepal has always fascinated travelers. Well known for its trekking opportunities in the foothills of the Himalayas mountain, it was one of my best trips. I plan to go back again and again.

Traditional clothes style

I actually spent 8 days there. It was enough to give me a good overview of what I can basically expect from this wonderful country.

Kathmandu and its valley contain many treasures such as the temples of Bhaktapur. Further north west, Pokhara is surrounded by all the highest peak of the world.

Now let’s hit the road together!

My itinerary :

Arrival in Kathmandu by land from the Tibetan border. I stayed one day there.

Following day, going to Pokhara for one day (by flight)

Then heading to the mountain for a four day trekking.

From Pokhara, going back to Kathmandu (by flight) during two more days. Flying back to Shanghai.

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Kathmandu valley – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

The cultural heritage of Kathmandu is internationally renowned for its historic and artistic accomplishments. Among the most famous monuments of this city you have: the Durbar Squares of Hanuman Dhoka, Patan and Bhaktapur, the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Bauddhanath and the Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan.

The first impression this city gave me, made me think that the capital of Nepal was noisy, crowded, and dirty. Indeed, when I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel, which was located in the touristy area of Thamel, I could feel the same atmosphere than in all the Indian cities. Here we are, no traffic rules, wild animals crossing the street, and the annoyance of horn noise.

Finally I reached my hotel, The Holy Himalaya where I enjoyed on arrival a cup of Masala tea. A nice and comfortable place, well located, with a reasonable price (35 dollars per night) – suitable for families.

Then, I immediately explored Thamel by foot where you will be able to see a huge concentration of touristic shops of any kind of souvenirs. The streets are colorful with a lot of Indian influences. But you don’t need to stay too long, you’d rather save your time for the rest.

Thamel district

Undeniably, the other part of Kathmandu with its large range of  old temples really well persevered will create better memories in your mind. For example Bhaktapur, which is about 25 minutes by taxi from Thamel, is one of the three royal cities. Such a rich area in architectural beauty, where you will enjoy a lot of ancient Hindu and Buddhist religious sites, and palaces and courtyards. You can easily spend half day.

Bhaktapur

I also visited the Monkey Temple, a Buddhist temple in a park on a hill. It is actually inhabited by hundreds of monkeys. After climbing hundreds of steps you earn the right to admire the peaceful atmosphere of this quiet place, with prayer flags floating, fountains, old trees and the panoramic view of Kathmandu.

Monkey Temple

Then I went to the Bodhnath, the biggest stupa in the Valley.
Traditionally, this place was a significant staging post on the trade route between Lhasa and Kathmandu where Tibetan traders would pray for a safe trip before heading with their yaks on to the high road of the Himalaya.

The best time to visit Bodhnath is during the late afternoon, when all the group tours leaves, all the light butter lamps are lit up, you will watch the performance of people doing a ritual clockwise circuit of the monument. If you are lucky try also to go there on the evening of the full moon, when the plaza surrounding the stupa is lit up by thousands of butter lamps.

Bodhnath

Finally my last attraction before heading to Pokhara was the Kathmandu Durbar Square. This massive complex is one of the most famous touristy spot of the city; palaces, temples and courtyards has been built in this original center of Kathmandu often named as Basantapur. It has various historical royal and governmental institutions mixed with religious monuments of different styles and ages.

Durbar Square

Pokhara – Remarkable place of natural beauty

Such a magic place! Even though I didn’t see the magnificence of the Himalayas mountains rising behind the lakes; the serenity of the lake created enough peaceful ambiance to make me happy.

The city is actually now the starting point for most of the popular treks and rafting destinations. It is also a place to relax and enjoy the beauty of the scenery.

Pokhara’s Lake

You will get a lot of different options for your accommodation. I can recommend you mine which was the Hotel Dream Pokhara:  nice view, good breakfast and comfortable bed for 35 dollars per night – suitable for families.

4 day Trekking to Poon hill 

As a traveler in Nepal you can not miss going on a trek! Besides the physical effort that you have to make to climb and your accommodation which certainly won’t be the best ever, your experience will be still unforgettable. Indeed, the scenery is just unbelievable.

Actually the Poon hill Ghorepani trek is an extremely popular short trek to the Annapurnas (a trek permit is needed). The breathtaking mountain scenery of the full Annapurna range and the lovely ethnic Gurung villages explain the popularity of Ghorepani Poon hill trekking.

Pretty easy trek that has short walks along streams and forests which does not involve high altitude. So you don’t have to be afraid of the altitude sickness on the road. I recommend this trek – with a guide – for everyone who loves nature. Indeed for security reasons and also because only local people really know the roads, a guide would be a wise decision.
Ghorepani trekking can be done at anytime during the year although in monsoon ( July – August) even it is not the good season. I did it in July and only got half day rain.

Trek

I started my journey with a 2 hour drive by bus to reach Nayapul where I crossed the suspension bridge over Modhi Khola river. I climbed through different villages, local farms, and terraces rice fields to reach Tikhedhunga at 1525m where I use a random mountain lodges called the tea houses for my food and accommodation.

Trek

On the second day (the hardest one) we climbed a lot of stairs for the first 4 hours trek. That was actually pretty intense. Then my guide and I mostly walked trough woods before reaching Ghorepani Village base camp at 2850m.

Trek

Next morning we woke up really early (4.30 AM) to be at Poon hill for the sunrise. And the spectacular view of the Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, Nilgiri, Fishtail and other famous mountains of the west region was waiting for us. The panorama was breathtaking ! Speechless just look at the picture:

Trek

And then for the 2 days remaining we went down through Tadapani and Ghandruk. On our way we cross the beautiful Gurung village, known for its traditional houses, rich culture and the great landscape. Finally after these numerous steps we made a loop at Birethanti and did catch our bus for Pokhara.

Trek

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7 days small group overland expedition to Tibet

The Friendship Highway between Lhasa and Kathmandu, is the main travelers’ route through Tibet. It enables to see a large number of excellent sightseeing. It’s an ideal itinerary in the sense that it takes you to most of Tibet’s main sights, offers superb scenery and features. A spectacular ride down from high La Lung-la into the Kathmandu valley.

The 5 colors of Tibet

 

With our small group, we headed straight from Lhasa to the coiling scorpion-lake of Yamdrok and the glacier-draped Karo-la pass to Gyantse. Then we drove 90-minutes away to reach Shigatse with its impressive Tashilumpu Monastery. Finally, the most popular excursion was probably to visit Rongbuk Monastery and Everest Base Camp.

This classic overland road of around 1300km could be done in just 6 days.

To make sure that your trip goes smoothy, please contact us. We will send you on a well organized trip, that will takes you to the central Tibet’s most important monasteries, the best landscapes, and the world’s highest peak : Everest; within a week.

Arrive in Lhasa (alt. 3600m)

Welcome to the “Roof of the World.” On your arrival to Tibet, depending on how your body will react and also which transportation you took you may feel a little bit dizzy. Especially if you took the plane as your body did not have enough time to get used to the high altitude. We advise you to stay at least 3 days in Lhasa to give time to your body to adapt itself and also get some rest.

If you really feel in good shape you can get the first impression of this ancient city by yourself and end up your journey with a Yak steak which will make you feel better. For that, feel free to go to Dunya Restaurant which gave me a good overall impression regarding the food, service and prices.

With the altitude of a bit more than 5,000, many people may be occupied by the possibility of the mountain sickness. To prevent a little bit that, you can take a medical treatment (pills) available in every drugstores in China : Diamox (Acetazolamide)

But you need to understand that there are no specific factors such as age, sex, or physical condition… Some people get it and some people don’t.

Tour of Lhasa

Early in the morning we walked all way up through the spectacular Potala Palace which was built in 637 AD by Songtsen Gampo. It was the chief residence for the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama. It is now a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Potala Palace

 

After that we went to the Jokhang Temple, consider as the spiritual centre of Lhasa,
which is located on Barkhor Square. It was first constructed by King Songtsän Gampo in the 7th century and still remain for most Tibetans it is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet.

Portrait of a Tibetan

 

Later after a typical lunch finishing with a Yak butter tea, we did witness the famous debate sessions realized by the monks of the Sera Monastery.

Tibetan Monk

Prayer of the monks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drive to Shigatse via Gyantse

In the morning we started the drive pretty early to Shigatse, via Gyantse on the Southern Friendship Highway. Crossing over the summit of Kamba La (4794 m), we saw the crytal clear waters of the Lake Yamdrok that is one of the three holiest lakes in Tibet. Far away if the sky is clear you may get the chance to spot the massif Mt. Nojin Kangtsang (7191 m), and even the Karo-la Glacier (5045 m) ; but I did not because it was too cloudy.

 

 

Tashilhunpo Monastery & Drive to Shegar

We visited the great Tashilunpo Monastery, an historic and culturally important monument next to Shigatse (the second-largest city in Tibet). Located on a hill in the center of the city, the home of the Panchen Lama got a Tibetan name that means: “all fortune and happiness gathered here”.

Tashilunpo Monastery

 

Then we drove to Shegar via Gyatsola Mountain Pass, rested and got prepared for the Everest.

On the way to Gyatsola Mountain Pass

 

Shegar – Rongbuk Monastery – Mt. Everest Base Camp

On the way

 

As soon as we arrived we could visit the wonderful Rongbuk Monastery, the highest monastery in the world, which was for me one of the best experience of my trip. Indeed this nice place is not a museum but actually remain a small traditional monastery that gives you the opportunity to really see the monks in there daily routine.

Rongbuk Monastery

 

After that we drove the remaining 8 km to visit the Everest Base Camp. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to clearly see the peak. To avoid that be aware that from June to August that it is not the best season to go to Tibet, as it is the raining season.

 

Mt. Everest Base Camp & forward to Old Tingri

On the way

 

We should have drove during the morning to the Old Tingri, where you could enjoy the fabulous views of the 4 peaks above 8,000 meters on earth including Mt. Everest, Luozi, Makalu, Zhuoayou, but as the weather was really bad it was pointless;

Transfer to Kodari Border 

On the way

 

So we directly transferred to the Kodari Border, where our guide helped us to go through the formalities of the Chinese Customs and apply for us to get the Nepali visa.

Some tips :

- Don’t forget to bring with you your Tibet Travel Permit
- Bring a warm Jacket since the temperature in EBC can go below 0 centigrade at night.
- Remember to take the sunglass and anti-UV lotions.
- The average temperature in Lhasa is 9 to 24 centigrade.

In Kodari it’s possible to get a Nepali visa. For a single entry visa for 60 days, it costs US$30 cash or the equivalent in rupees; for 15 days it s US$ 20 cash and for all tourists who visit Nepal for 3 days or less, it should be free. And two passport size photos are required to apply at any entry points.

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Amazing stay at Bubu resort in the Perhentians islands

If you are fan of diving, snorkeling or even a beach lover, you have to go to the Perhentians islands.

Located on the east coast of Malaysia, the Perhentians are open only 9months, mostly
from the end of February to October, the rest of the year the rain is very heavy.
The Perhentians are made of two islands, Besar and Kecil.

The place is not crowded, beautiful beaches and transparent water. You will swim in a natural hot bath (30degres). Multitude of colorful fishes and famous Nemo is too be seen easily (for your eyes only)!

 

How to get there:

The easiest way from China is to fly to Kuala Lumpur then to Kota Bharu.
From Kota Bharu it will take an hour by car to arrive at the pier. If you have already booked an hotel ask them to pick you up, if not, ask for a taxi at your arrival, the price is a fixed one at 78RM.

The speed boat to the Perhentian cost 70RM return and also you’ll have to pay also 5RM tax at the pier. It takes around 30mins to get there.

speed boat

speed boat

Speed boat

 

 

Hotel:

The hotels have a special way of working in here. If you send an email to them asking if
they have rooms available they will probably reply that they don’t, so if you are a planner
better go through a travel agency (us ). If you are more laid back then just show up on
the islands and ask the different hotels for rooms they will probably find you one.
If you are looking for a nice resort I would definitively recommend the Bubu, you
won’t be disappointed. The Bubu Resort is located on Kencil island. The service and the
smiles (true ones) are there to welcome you or help you if you need anything.

Bubu resort

Bubu resort

We did test all the rooms for you.

Superior, Deluxe, Honeymoon or villa they have it all and even more are coming as they
will have 12 new villas around July/August this year.

Superior room

Superior room

Deluxe room

Deluxe room

Honeymoon suite

Honeymoon suite

 

 

 

 

 

The buffet breakfast is served every morning from 7am to 10:30am and has a good
choice of food and good cafe. Every afternoon from 5 to 6pm, 2 cocktails per person will
be served to you on the beach which is quite pleasant.

The restaurant has a menu with a selection of delicious Italian, French and Malay dishes.

Spa:

On the beach you’ll find the massage area with a large choice of treatments. My  advise: avoid the evening when the mosquitoes are out.

Spa on the beach

Spa on the beach

Activities:

Next to the resort you’ll find an activity center where you can rent snorkeling equipment.
You can take also day tours or go kayaking (be careful as some streams can be
dangerous).

We tried the baby islands hopping, there’s nothing else to say that it is beautiful. You will
snorkel in the middle of beautiful fishes, coral, baby sharks and turtles.

fishes

fishes

Beach:

Ask one of the local boat to drop you at turtle beach, this beach is exactly the one which
makes you dream the rest of the year when you’re stuck at your office. White sand, blue,
turquoise water gradient and almost no one.

Turtle beach

Turtle beach

Animals:

Near the Bubu resort, you’ll see those Komodo Lizards hanging around, quite impressive.
Better not to be too close when they move their tail.
And of course the geckos.

Geckos

Komodo Lezard

Komodo Lezard

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                       Contact us for more information: booking@travel-stone.com

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Inner Mongolia tour : Grassland & desert adventure routes

Grassland – Gegentala

How to get there :
First of all, we arrived at Hohhot. At Hohhot Airport we met our driver & English speaking tour guide who took us in a private van to Gegentala Grassland. Gegentala Grassland is 140km away from Hohhot, about 2 hours’ drive heading to the north.

Grassland

What to do :
We received a ceremony – warmly welcomed by the local Mongolians colorfully dressed.

Horse Hiding with the locals

 

Then we had a typical lunch, with some fresh lamb. And right after that we went to the stud farm to select our horses for a 3 hours horseback riding.

 

 

Yurts Sunset

 

The sunset on the grassland is one of the greatest marvellous spectacle in nature. With the sun coming down, before everything turns darker and darker you can see plenty of different colors: orange, yellow, pink, red …

 

 

Where to stay :
We stayed in a local yurts lost into the wild ; to really experience the Mogolian adventure. For a couple of nights we really recommend that – It was such a great feeling !

Our Yurt

When to go there :
In summer and autumn, it s definitely the best time to visit this area. During that time, you will enjoy a pleasant climate with the blue sky and the rolling grass.

It will leave you with a deep impression !

Grassland

 

Kubuqi Desert – Baotou

Location :
The Kubuqi Desert is located north of Baotou City’s Ordos Plateau. You need one hour and a half by taxi.

Having never visited a desert before, it was a unique and memorable experience for me and my friends. The place is quite big with a lot of things to do. We spent the all day there. The only problem is due to the fact that this place is too commercialized, with no decent food. So I advice you to bring your own snacks and drinks.

On the top of that as you may know the sun is strong there. The sands reflect the sunlight and with the altitude, you will probably need some sun creams and hat to avoid getting sunburns.

Camel hiking

Activities :

Yurts

One ticket cost you $260RMB – includes almost all the rides (except the camel ride and ATV – all terrain vehicle), like an amusement park The cable car takes you into the desert. A modified van steers you to the main hub. There is as well a swimming pool, the train ride, sand dunes slides, sand sculptures viewing…

Kubuqi


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Jinshanling – An amazing trip to the Great wall

We really wanted to avoid being with a lot of tourists, that is why we did not pick other section – often crowded areas where most of the people goes.

On the contrary the section of Jinshanling is a peaceful part of the great wall which is really worth it. Indeed the landscape is unbelievable – with almost nobody there, you will be able to experience a nice adventure. The scenery is spectacular and particularly beautiful.

For the ones, who do not like hiking you can take the car cable to reach the peak (50 yuan for the rounds trip or 40 yuan for one way).

As soon as you arrive on top, take a moment to relax and enjoy the countryside. You will need at least three hours to walk up there between Jinshanling and Simatai. Some parts have been repaired and others remain like before. In other words different kind of landscapes are waiting for you – for  a truly “authentic” wall experience.

Fortunately, the weather was sunny and made us a perfect day. There are a few local people that will follow you around on the wall and if you did not take enough snacks or drinks, you will be happy to buy something from them.

Warning : this section is often dangerous – which made it not really appropriated for children.

How we got there: we opted for the quickest and the most convenient way – a personal driver who drove us directly there from our hotel in Beijing.

As you can notice it was spectacular and here aren’t any other people in our pictures!

 

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Stay at Qin Inn on Kinmen island

Jinmen is a Taiwanese island located only 1 hour by boat from Xiamen.
If you want to escape cities, I invite you to consider this place for a 3 day weekend.

Temple

When to go:
The best period to go will be May & June and from September to December. Average temperature is 20 degrees.
Avoid January, February and March as it will be colder there, March & April as it might be foggy and summer as it will be really hot.

How to get there:
You can either fly to Xiamen then take a boat or fly to Jinmen.
Be sure you have a Chinese visa which will allow to come back to China after.

Info for the ferry to/from Jinmen
The ferry leaves from Dongdu matou (东渡码头) and it will cost you 160RMB and 1 hour to reach Jinmen. The ferry leaves every 30minutes from 8am to 5pm.
The last ferry leaving Jinmen is at 5:15pm (be careful there’s also another boat leaving to Xiamen but not to the Dongdu pier) and it will cost you 750NT$.

It is possible to exchange RMB to NT$ at the ticketing.

Where to stay
I definitely recommend you to stay at ChiangLin’s place in Shuitou village.

Qin Inn

Qin Inn

ChiangLin is a Taiwanese with long black hair and a big smile to welcome you that you will immediately like. He left Taiwan for Jinmen to learn more about his family history and prepare a documentary about them, but so far some documents have still not been released by the government so his documentary remains unfinished.
After having renovated this 100 years old house (mix of Minnan and western architecture style), he started to have his friends coming over and decided to start this home stay 2 years ago.

ChiangLin

ChiangLin

The house is really quiet and beautiful, impossible not to feel relax there!
It has different kind of rooms, single, twin or double and quad, some with private bathrooms and some to share. Altogether 7 rooms to rent.
During my stay I met this lady who told me that each of her stay were getting longer as she loved the place.

Patio

Patio

From the pier, you can either take the bus (7, 7A or 7B) which will cost you 12NT$ or a taxi for 200NT$.

How to travel in the island

The best way to visit the island is to rent a motorbike. Even if some of them will refuse because you have no Taiwanese license some of them will be more indulgent and will only ask if you know how to ride.
If you feel scooters are not for you, you can either take the bus to Jincheng (7, 7A & 7B) which those 3 choices should be every 30mins, or take a cab (and ask the price for the day) if you feel like exploring further the island.

 

 

 

 

History
Jinmen was a strategic military area to attack China until 1960, so today there are still traces left of this period. Bunkers, tanks and transverse peak to attack the enemy at sea are still visible along the coast. It is mostly on small Jinmen (small island on the west of Jinmen) and also on the north of Jinmen island that most armament were.
All the mines have supposedly been  removed, the last ones a few years ago. It seems also that the government is trying to forget about this time and has started to dismantle the military proof (as the bunkers), which as Chianglin (owner of  QIn Inn guesthouse) told me is a shame as it is part of history and should then remain visible so people can witness history.                                                                                                                                            This island used to inhabit 100 000 military, today it has only a few thousands.

Tanks and bunkers

Tanks and bunkers

Where and what to eat

The specialty of Jinmen is the beef noodle, here are 2 different addresses I tried.

Beef noodle

Beef noodle

Noodle shop

Noodle shop

Best beef noodle soup

Best beef noodle soup

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jincheng

Jincheng

 

 

 

 

 

Jincheng feels very relaxing and if you want to go out at night this is not the good place, but while exploring the city I found an Irish pub “White Lion”, opened by an Irish/canadian guy and his wife Amy – both are industrial designer – who decided to open a pub for fun.

The pub is not open everyday but you can always try!

Pub in Jincheng

Pub in Jincheng

Pub opening hours

Pub opening hours


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special thanks to Begona who intoduced me the idea to go there and stay at Qin Inn.

 

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A tour in Guizhou, part 3: from Kaili to Yintan

This day we go on exploring further the Bala valley: I wanted to visit Xijiang. I was told it was too touristic but I wanted to judge by myself. And here we’re in the worst of Chinese tourism: a huge parking, a very expensive entrance (RMB 100) followed by a little train (a good measure of the degree of “tourism”) that we had to pay extra and finally we see the village… at least 50 shops in a row, selling statues, food, souvenir, anything…the classic trap. It’s a pity, the village was nice and its location is great. In conclusion, don’t go there unless you want to have a live experience of what is Chinese mass tourism. We wanted to go to the end of the valley, we took another road, a huge expressway that starts from Kali towards Duyun and then to Rongjiang. The little road along the valley is much nicer and I would rather recommend it, though it’s quite slow, not much more than 40km/h.

 

 

 

The expressway is interesting too: a feat of Chinese engineering, very large and modern, going through countless tunnels, some more than 3km long. It crosses gorgeous landscapes, bordering areas with a different geology, more karstic (like in Guilin) near Duyun. And no one on the road. Sometimes we saw some villages walking along the road as if it were a dirt road… Finally we rejoined Rongjiang and we went up the Bala valley, towards Pingyong and then a smaller road towards Dong villages, like Wangli. This new road, very small, follows another river and it’s really magnificent: nothing fancy, but the river, Miao and Dong villages, you feel so far away from the Chinese mega-cities, a rest for the eyes.It was late and we didn’t had time to go till the last villages, it’s safer not to drive by night on such little roads (and we wanted to find a restaurant for diner). But just driving this road was worth it. And if you have time, go higher to the Leigong Shan area (the biggest mountain aroun), it seems breath-taking. You feel like in Switzerland… which is not the first time I had this strange feeling in Guizhou.   We spend the night in Rongyang in a decent hotel, the Dongxiangmi. Nothing to say about Rongyang. The following day was the return day, just time to visit a Dong village 1 hour to the East, in Dong country, Yintan.

A piece of Switzerland in Guizhou

Quite large, another wood village, you can see a few differences that makes it Dong: the people’ attire, the lack of horn on top of the houses and more obviously the 2 Dong towers: every Dong village has such towers which are used as a public place for the community. They must have had some party the day before, it was covered of remains of firecrackers. If we had more time, the ideal plan would have been to go further East in Dong country to these famous villages like Zhaoxing and Chengyang and its famous covered bridge, another Dong distinct feature. Until Guilin.

Yintan village and its tower

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A tour in Guizhou, part 2: from Shuitouzhai to Kaili

The following day, we went to Pingzhai and discovered a few Miao villages, like Mashizhai or Xienchao. I highly recommand Mashizhai, a very quiet village, where people lives their life as usual, not for tourists. It’s quite close from Shuitouzhai (less than 1 hour).

Miao woman

The women dressed in blue cultivate the field, the men are driving the animals, the house are made of wood, the corn dries at their entrance, the pigs are in their shelter and the chicken run free everywhere. A world that doesn’t seem to have changed for centuries.
A little comment on the ethnic minorities “tourism”: I’m always afraid by the concept of visiting traditional folks: afraid of the artifice of all of it, which climaxes in the “ethnic minority park” in Beijing or in Kenya, with the Massai warriors coming from the city to dress like Massai warriors during the day. And there is plenty of this in China, you will see… But sometimes, you just watch a village living its life, business as usual, and they don’t wear traditional clothes to please you, don’t sing to get money etc.

fields in Mashizhai

And you can still experience this in Guizhou, if you’re properly guided. (There is much to discuss, even in that case, about the meaning of the entomologist look of the tourist: what does it mean? what are we looking for? is it insulting for the people… food for thought.)

Then we reached Kaili and started visiting a few of the Miao villages in the Bala valley. The valley is really a must: you follow a small road along the Bala river. And on the other side of the road you see multiples traditional Miao village, always separated from the road by a bridge.

Before Leishan, there are a few nice villages, like Qi Dao or Lang Hua (still quite close from Kaili, roughly 1 hour drive).

The first stop was in Shuidian after the bigger city of Leishan. A nice Miao village, a bit too close from Leishan maybe, you see it from the village.

On our way back to Kaili, we stopped at Langde, the upper village. Interesting experience: it’s a bit of a touristic village, where the mayor was one of the first one to organize dances on the main place on demand for groups.

top of Langde

A bit scary at first. But no, it’s really worth it: we arrived late, no groups, just a few people. No big shops, just one or two local grocery stores. And the village is very nice, then you can walk up, pass some rice fields, go to the top of the hill behind the village and walk even more, with a beautiful view on the valley. In a word, it’s a bit touristic but worth.

It is possible to sleep in homestay, they were full and I couldn’t visit it. I suspect it to be very basic.

Langde village

Most of the time, there is no sleeping option in these wooden villages and we have to go back to the modern, big and boring city of the district. At least you have a clean room.
Then we went back to Kaili, which is completely interest-free. We stayed at the Heaven-Sent Dragon hotel, probably the best, still at a very reasonable price: large room, decent bathroom, perfect for a quick night. Be careful, restaurants close early: sometimes at 7.30pm. Even in the hotel… There are always food stands around the market: simple but true local food.
What about the food in these areas? As you may know, it’s quite spicy. The specialty you’ll find a bit everywhere, even at the breakfast is the beef noodles: beef in a noodle soup and pepper… Breakfast is usually Chinese, if you need your western fix, bring your nescafe and your cereal bars.

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A tour in Guizhou, part 1: from Guiyang to Shuitouzhai

Guizhou is a beautiful and relatively unknown province of China. Let’s go and explore it.

Your typical entry point is Guiyang. No reason to stay there or to visit the central square with its unique flame, ode to to something you don’t really understand.
There is a little old modern Chinese charm, for people used to China: a few old “new” buildings, crumbling in the middle of the arrogant new towers and surrounded by a luxuriant vegetation, give Guiyang here and there a lost town allure, but that’s an acquired taste.
Guiyang is a good stop after the flight, before exploring Guizhou. There is a large choice of comfortable hotels at reasonable price, the Pullman is a very good deal (you also have the classics like the Sheraton etc.) and you will have a good western breakfast, probably the last before a few days.

The first pleasant thing when you leave Guiyang is that just 15mn away from the city, you’re in the middle of nature: a lot of small hills, you already feel far away from Beijing and Shanghai. You progress towards the valley, and you see your first village: Xiangzhigou.

Buyi house in Xiangzhigou

There must be tourists sometimes, there are a few signposts but we were the only ones: you can see the typical Buyi house with their white walls and their timbered architecture (“colombage”) with the green scenery around, you feel a bit like in Normandy.

 

 

A bit further, we saw on the right another valley, which seems quite nice but for another time.

We went to Nanjiang He gorges. At first it seems awfully touristic: a big reception, a little train between the reception and the park itself. And probably it can be borderline sometimes. But it was the end of the day, there was no one besides us, and the scenery is quite impressive: it’s worth a tour, just choose the right timing.

We finished our day at Shuitouzhai, another Buyi village. A great location, with the Qinglong river running through the village. It’s slightly touristic and we were on the middle of an official visiting the village with his court.

the river through Shuitouzhai

It’s still worth going there, the village is really pleasant and there are not so many people, even better is to spend the night, when everyone is gone. However I would avoid the village during Chinese holidays and maybe during week ends.

If you cross the river, you can walk for a long time, it makes for a very pleasant and easy hiking, going through the paddy fields.

We slept in a guesthouse in Shuitouzhai, the Indigo Lodge: you’re at the border of the village, just in front of the river, it’s really charming, especially when you wake up.

view from the Indigo Lodge

Most of the time it’s a hot region, however in november, the nights are colder and the rooms are not heated: bring hot pajamas… I would recommend the “honeymoon” room, surrounded by glass windows, just on the edge of the river.

 

We had dinner in the small modern village just before Shuitouzhai. We heard some music and we saw someone dancing to some cheap techno music. It was clearly the attraction of that day. Finally we understood it was a truck selling merchandise but there was a bit of a cheap dance show to entertain the town, then they were selling miracles sweeper and other articles. A bit like the moving seller we we had in our countryside not so long ago. With a dance show twist…

a night to remember in Shuitouzhai

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