Chawu, this great place

When we receive a request for a long weekend in China, most of you ask us if we can recommend a non touristy place , far from the crowd…well we have it!                                  Here is the place you have been looking for.

Chawuraining

Where is it located?
Nestled in a small village of the Anhui province, Chawu is a bed and breakfast opened by French owner Julien Minet in 2003.
Your host will welcome you in his 3 bedroom house and tell you all kind of stories and anecdotes about his house, the village and so on.
 Chawu
 Chawumaison
How does it work?
At first Julien will give you a tour of the village, the streets, the temples and also some craftsman workshops.
Zha Riwang, a good friend of Julien, manufactures paint brush so if you’re yourself an artist you might want to buy one of his home-made paint brush. You can also buy them online (also available for people living in Europe, on this link you’ll find more infos: http://club.zhaji.com/pinceauxen.html).
We visited his house which is also his studio. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see him while making a brush.
paintbrush1
paintbruch
and for the rest of the stay?
You can either go there and relax at the house or explore the surrounding countryside with the detailed maps than Julien has prepared.
Maybe you’ll go and meet the monk who paints with his little finger and play the traditional flute? He might show you the zen walk at his place and you will probably have to do it too :-) Zenwalk
Chawu is the right starting point for all the excursions:
Only 1 hour and half from the Yellow mountains.
Leave early in the morning with your driver, then go up by cable car, enjoy a 4/5 hours walking (mostly stairs) in the middle of pine trees and granite peaks then go back to Chawu to enjoy your local dinner.
Huangshan
Huangshan1
Also only 1 hour from the house, you can discover the two small typical villages of Xidi and Hongcun (where the scenes of Crouching Tiger, hidden Tiger where taken). It is easy to combine the two in one day.
Hongcun
 Hongcun1

 

Best season to get there?
The best season to stay at Chawu is between May and October
How to get there?
From Beijing you can reach Chawu either by flight, from Nanyuan airport to Chizhou then transfer by car (~3hours) or since beginning of July 2015 by train to Jingxian (泾县 ~5 to 6hours ) then 2 hours by car.
From Shanghai, you can either come by car directly (around 5hours) or by train to Nanjing and then transfer by car (~2hours).
Well to conclude, if you’re looking for some calm, countryside and a great host just contact us and we will help you to organize your trip.
 
Check our website for inquiries:
www.travel-stone.com/tours/yellow-mountains-and-wannan-villages

 

Strolling in Shanghai …. Jing’an temple, history in the heart of the city

Shanghai has many unusual place, one of the most is undoubtedly Jing’an temple. This Buddhist temple located on the famous Nanjing West Road has recently been completely renovated.


The feature of this temple is really its location, surrounded by shopping centers and more modern bulding as each other, it’s the last touch of history remaining to this expanding area.


In 1216, during the Song Dynasty, the temple was moved to its present location from the bank of Wusong River where it was originaly. It was rebuilt during the Qing Dynasty. This is the first Buddhist organization of the country who was established here in 1912. Later, The Cultural Revolution has transformed the temple into a plastics factory, it regains its original form in 1983.

Inside, you can see a statue of Buddha seated 3.8 meters high. It is the largest statue with its characteristics throughout the country. There is also a copper bell of Ming Dynasty 6.2 meters high and weighing 5 tons.

One of the best times to visit Jing’An temple is late afternoon when the sun sets on the golden roof, also a good way to escape from the frenzy of the city. You can finish the tour going to the park located in front and admire old people doing Tai Chi or play mahjong.

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Strolling in Shanghai …. Nanxiang, dumplings paradise

If you want to escape from Shanghai without going too far, one of the best solution is to go to Nanxiang. It’s located 18 kilometers from downtown Shanghai. To get there, just take the metro line 11 and stop at the Nanxiang station, which takes only 20 minutes. Nanxiang is the original town of the dumplings (Dim Sum) known in Shanghai and throughout China as the Xiaolongbao (小笼包).

The city is also known for its beautiful Guyi Garden, one of the oldest in Shanghai, its old town and of course its restaurants. In 1991, Nanxiang was listed as one of the four major historical and cultural cities in Shanghai.

The Guyi Garden located 800 meters from the metro station is from the Ming Dynasty (1522-1566). It is  one of the five most important classical gardens in Shanghai and is a wonderful place of serenity.

The old city has over 1,500 years of history, especially with its Temple Yun Xiang, one of the largest in Shanghai. The center is only a few streets, but it is really nice to walk around the two towers pagodas, the temple, the little shops and restaurants. Although the city is famous for its xiao long bao, two other specialties are also to be mentioned: nougat and caramelized ham.

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Beijing hutong tour on e-kick scooter

Travel-Stone’s Beijing team went through Beijing narrow alleys for an e-kick scooter tour.

e-scooter in Beijing
e-scooter in Beijing

First thing first, we had to try our skills at e-kick scooter, as it’s electric and goes quite fast a 10minutes practice to adopt the machine is definitely necessary.
And then when it got smooth for everyone we left to discover the beauty of the Gulou area where some of the famous small alleys of Beijing are located (the hutongs).

e-kick scooter in Gulou
e-kick scooter in Gulou

The e-kick scooter allows you to go to the hutongs only known by your tour guide who will explain at the same time the old wooden doors, courtyards and all the stories behind them.

Maybe you’ll be lucky to encounter Beijing locals who would be more than curious to try out your e kick scooter…be ready to make some envious!

Chinese in Houhai trying the e-kick scooter
Chinese in Houhai trying the e-kick scooter

If you want also to get some fun, we have group departures in the morning but also private tours. Note that this tour is only allowed for children over 12 years old.
Contact us at booking@travel-stone.com for more information.

Team picture
Team picture

A little stroll in Taxia village and a night in a Tulou, Fujian (part 2)

During the Winter. everywhere in the area, you can see huge basked of powder drying. They are sweet potato and other roots floor drying in the sun and later they will make  pasta out of them (cf. picture below), they are way more chewy than regular pasta, a bit like marshmallows…not sure if we like it or not.

White powder
White powder drying on the street
Breakfast made from beet root powder
Breakfast made from root powder
Taxia village
Taxia village

Start the day with the visit of Chenqilou, the biggest tulou, the “tulou king” as it is called.
It is definitively touristy and the tourist center is almost as big as the tulou itself, yet it’s worth seeing it. It’s really big and it has a second circle inside where you can get lost like in a maze. You can imagine how the life was in such a structure.

King Tulou
King Tulou

 

Inside the King Tulou
Inside the King Tulou
Persimmons seller
Persimmons seller

Afterwards, we went to“龙潭楼”Longtan tulou, also called the Tulou Museum. The village is far away from the crowds, you’re almost by yourself and the museum is relatively interesting.
Another tulou not far away we stopped by was Yanxiang Lou.

You could imagine someone would one day repair one of the crumbling house and build a charming hotel along the river, but maybe give it a few more years.

Serene place
Serene place

There is even a square tulou (Liben Lou) devastated by a bomb in the 30s and left wild, it looks like a temple lost in the jungle.

Liben Lou
Liben Lou

Finally we arrived at Chuxi village. A superb village with only traditional houses and tulous, almost no modern building destroying the harmony. After 5pm, the village is for yourself. You can take a little stroll behind the village and arrive quickly (20mn) to another village, more remote, a bit more desolated. If you have time you can hike  into the woods. A good hiking, some fresh air… you can walk to the summit of the mountain, in 1-2 hours, you will enjoy the alpine air and view.

Drying clothes and leaves
Drying clothes and leaves

 

Tulou posters
Tulou posters
Playing cards in a tulou
Playing cards in a tulou

Spent the night at the “余庆楼” Yuqing tulou, we highly recommend it: not only you’re in the tulou but the rooms are comfortable: they have heating system when it’s a bit cold (though they might stop it in the middle of the night…) and they are made of wood which gives them style. The only sound you can hear is the river steam behind the room.

Tulou at night
Tulou at night

The day after, on your way to Xiamen, stop in the tea plantation. It is not very much used any more and most of the tea leaves were sent to a bigger tea factory but we could still see the machines used for processing the leaves, they have a 50’s-space area style.

TeaTea plantations

A tour in Fujian: Nanjing County and its round houses (part 1)

Fly to Xiamen and already feel the south atmosphere: green green green.                          You are in a tropical zone, palm trees and banana trees all around which makes you much happier (especially in Winter).

Once you’ve left Xiamen behind you, you will progressively see tea plants around you: they are very neat shrubs decorating the road. You see them on every piece of land, a bit like rice paddy fields.

Fujian tea plantations
Fujian tea plantations

For the coming 2 days, it will be tulous and tulous and more tulous. More than the tulous themselves, you will enjoy the scenery around them, the villages and the landscape.

First stop at the tulou tourist center. A huge fake tulou (ugly and scary), where you have to buy your tickets to visit the valley, we can hope the money is used to maintain the villages… There are 3 itineraries, poetically named A, B and C. We chose A and C .

The first tulou clusters we’ve seen, after 2 hours drive from Xiamen, was the Tianluokeng cluster A group of 4 round tulous and a square one. They are quite touristy, too much to my taste. Still the location is very nice and the view from the top or from below is worth getting there. It’s a good introduction to the tulou world, don’t be surprised if you see the tulous packed with sellers inside.

Tulous dishes
Tulous dishes
Tianluokeng cluster
Tianluokeng cluster

A short introduction to the tulous: they have been built by Hakka, who are Han Chinese who flew the center of China during trouble times, they have flown to the South of China and further in South Asia. In Fujian, they have developed the tulou style, in other regions, like Guangdong you can find similar house styles (like the Weilongwu).

Tulou are fortresses, they have a clear defense purpose, very important in the troubled time they were built in, the first floor has no window. The eldest ones are from the Ming Dynasty but tulous are still being built: you can visit tulous from the 1960s sitting next to tulous from the 18th century.

They are made of thick wall of lime, sand and clay with some wood beams to reenforce the structure. Some walls are 2 meters wide and have withstand centuries of natural and human aggression.

Tulou
Tulou

The most famous ones have a round shape, most of them are square (the stopped building square ones as the bad spirits were hidden in the corners) but you can find all kind of shapes: half moon, losange etc.

A tulou is most of the time made of 3 floors: the ground floor is used for the kitchen, and it’s still often the case when it’s not invaded by the temple merchants. The second floor is the storage unit and the third floor is for the housing.

Inside of a tulou
Inside of a tulou

It’s a bit like a castle fort or a defensive council estate… everyone lives together, in clans, and it seems there is no privacy at all.

Back to our trip. Then we moved to the C itinerary and I highly recommend it. That’s the poor man’ tulou. The one a bit further, most tourists don’t go there. Therefore, it’s the most pleasant one, the most genuine one. There are no shops, you can see a “naked” tulou for the first time. On the ground floor, you see clothes drying, chicken running free and not so many people. We will understand progressively, that most people living in the tulous are the old people or the children. The young and the young adults have mostly left to the big cities.

Inhabitated tulou
Inhabitated tulou
Hakka inhabitant
Hakka inhabitan

We finished the day at the village of Taxia. It’s a great place to spend the night. A traditional village with a river going through it. We stayed in a charming little hotel. In November it starts being cold and at night we stayed inside. But in Spring, Summer or Autumn, it is very pleasant to wander around or to eat in a cafe watching the river. Life is the same as decades ago.

On the bridge, on the street, mustard leaves are left to dry.

Taxia village
Taxia village

There is also a Hakka temple dedicated to illustrious ancestors who achieved a great career as imperial civil servants.

Temple in Taxia
Temple in Taxia
Warrior
Warrior

 

 

 

 

 

Pingyao old town, a destination for a weekend not to be missed!


Pingyao is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Han Chinese city, founded in the 14th century.
Covering an area of 225 hectares, the Ancient City of Pingyao is a complete building complex including ancient walls, streets and lanes, shops, dwellings and temples.

The area of the old town in entirely surrounding by its wall, and the wooden buildings, unchanged since 6 centuries which gives you the feeling to be out of time.

Pingyao is known for its vinegar and its baijiu (traditional alcohol in China).   Make a stop to taste a lot of different homemade baijiu. But dont drink too much, or you will not find your hotel in all those little narrow streets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s around:                                                                                                                                                  The surroundings of Pingyao have also a lot to see. The Mianshan mountain is a superb cultural and natural Buddhist site. Out of the wall, there are also a couple of  ancient rich Chinese family compound, as the Qiao family compound,  where Zhang Yimou’s popular film, Raise the Red Lantern, was filmed. You can also stop at Jinci Temple on your way to Taiyuan.

Where to stay:                                                                                                                            You have plenty of choice to find a nice place to sleep. There are the guest houses of Tianyuankui or Yide and more fancy the nice Jing Residence.
Most of the hotels are constructed and decorated in a Ming and Qing style, comfortable and easy for visitors to appreciate the authentic flavour of old times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When to go:                                                                                                                           Pingyao is a nice place whatever the season. You will enjoy it in summer as in winter, when the old town smells charcoal and is under the snow.

From Beijing or Xi’An, it only takes around 3 hours by high speed train. It’s a perfect getaway for the weekend!

 

The first Baijiu bar in Beijing

If you live in China you definitely know what Baijiu is, for the others…well this is the favourite alcohol of our fellow Chinese. Wanna try?

The Capital Spirits bar located in a Beijing’s old hutongs made this alcohol its speciality. This small cosy bar  with intimate atmosphere will welcome you to taste the China flavour.

baijiu bar
baijiu bar

You have different formulas, but we recommend you to try the “baijiu tasting”: 4 variety of baijiu to develop your taste buds. Quite strong but I am sure you will make it through! Personally after the 3rd one, couldn’t taste the difference when sipping them but definitely a great experience.

Baijiu testing
Baijiu testing

 

If the tasting is not what you are into, they also have a wide range of cocktails based with Baijiu. I tried the Baijiu sour and it’s a good one :-)

Baijiu testing
Baijiu testing

We also organize tours to discover all the secrets of the Baijiu. This tour, will take you on a private session and walk you through Baijiu’s 2,000+ year history in China.  You’ll learn about the different fermentation and distillation techniques and be able to discern the distinctive tastes of various Baijiu from the many regional specialities in China. You will also get a live demonstration on how to distill spirits and show you how you can make tasty Baijiu cocktails. You’ll finish the session by preparing you own Baijiu cocktail.

Contact us if you are interested (minimum of 4 persons ).

Leaks and cabbages invade Beijing

November is not only announcing the arrival of winter, when you start to wear boots, scarf and coat but also the season where for two weeks leaks (大葱) and cabbages (白菜) will flourish on the sidewalks of Beijing.

Stack of cabbages and leaks
Stack of cabbages and leaks

Piles in every corners of the city (mostly in the hutongs area). It’s quite impressive and hopefully this tradition will continue over the years.

In the district of Dongcheng
In the district of Dongcheng
An individual bought a good reserve of leaks
An individual bought a good reserve of leaks
Leaks & cabbages piles
Leaks & cabbages piles
A bike emprisonned by cabbages
A bike imprisoned by cabbages
Cabbages and leaks boardwalk empires
Cabbages and leaks on the  sidewalk

 

Piles of leaksCabbages being loaded