My first Chinese Tour!

October 16, 2016 at 12:05 pm (China, Travel)

In China there are two 7-day national holiday weeks referred to as Golden weeks. They have been implemented since 2000 and were introduced by the government to increase domestic travel. October 1 is the National Day of the People’s Republic of China and also part of my first Golden week in China. I had been warned against travelling in China during this time but I wanted to take the opportunity to start exploring my new country and jumped on the chance to join an organised tour with other teachers.

Day 1:
img_2539Widely considered by the Chinese tourism board to be James Cameron’s inspiration for Pandora in Avatar, Zhāngjiājiè is a magnificent sandstone landscape. There are more than 3000 karst pinnacles. The structures dominate the scenery and produce an eerie, almost unearthly affect. Cut away from the mountains around them and standing proudly in their glory the peaks are simply breathtaking. The definitely reminded me of the Erzgebirge in Dresden although the colours here are more vibrant and I believe the pinnacles are also more numerous.

We spent the day marvelling at viewpoints, standing in lines and catching transport to different parts of the 264sq km park. It begun with a cable car ride and finished with the most spectacular glass elevator ride I have ever been on. Surprisingly we found both a McDonalds and a KFC in the UNESCO protected park. I kid you not! Literally we are at the top of a mountain surrounded by breathtaking scenery and lord and behold… McDONALDS! Always the one for a giggle and a lover of the ridiculous, I just had to buy myself a burger! It was McDonalds with an unbelievable view and quite the bizarre situation!

Day 2:
img_2546We set off in the morning eager to visit the newly re-opened glass bridge. The bridge was first opened about a month ago but was quickly closed again due to popularity. The bridge’s structure was fine but the infrastructure surrounding the new tourist attraction just couldn’t cope! Signs of this was apparent during our visit. It was definitely not as slick as at Zhāngjiājiè and I have the feeling the bridge was only opened for Golden Week before they will close it again to continue improving carparks, food options and a one way system of using the bridge.

This glass bridge is 430 m long and 300 m above ground level. The structure boasts to be the longest and highest in the world. It has had quite a bit of international press; at least two of my friends had tagged me in Facebook posts about the bridge opening.

When I imagined the glass bridge, I thought it would be a bridge of purely glass panels and was disappointed when it was not. It was more of a sturdy structure with glass panels built into it. The canyon itself was not particularly spectacular but it was fun posing on the glass, or more specifically, watching other people take photos. I guess this was one of the places to tick of my list to say I have been there… walked across the longest glass bridge. TICK!

Next on the itinerary was a visit to Yellow Dragon Cave proudly announced as an indoor cave by our tour leader Frank. We really had no idea what we were in for and were definitely not prepared for four levels, underground rivers and a total cave area of 120 acres. We avoided the big Chinese tour groups and instead just wandered through the labyrinth (96 chambers) of colourfully lighted karst structures. Some of the cave formations were absolutely amazing and one in particular has been insured, much to our astonishment, for 100 million RMB. A four floored cave means a LOT of steps, but the electric boat ride up the cave river was a unique way to view formations and also quite the novelty.

Day 3:
img_2586After a thirty minute cable car ride, also Asia’s longest, we arrived at the top of Tiāmén Mountain to a cloud of white mist. I had flashbacks to my trip to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio where the view had been similarly non-existent. The walk around the mountain top was still lovely, particularly as the path clings to the side of the cliff face. One could only imagine what the view is like on a clear day!

Here we also walked on a glass platform and it was much more like I was expecting. The path hugged the cliff and the inclusion of glass panel fencing helped to allow for more of a ‘vertigo’ feeling. Along the way we also encountered img_2624the Forest of Wishes. This was a landscape of red ribbon holding messages of wishes in various languages. Against the green backdrop the red added to an even more majestic atmosphere and somehow fitted with the scenery without feeling overboard cheesy or tacky.

From the mountain top we descended via escalator. Yes, you heard right… escalator. We travelled down through the mountain in a shopping mall like escalator. It felt like we were in a surreal world and the escalators just kept coming. I think there were five in total!

Tiāmén Dòng is one of the drawcards at the mountain and it was under this keyhole cut that we emerged from our shopping centre escalator world. The cut has been used by numerous flying squirrel base jumpers, otherwise known as ridiculously crazy men. Below the keyhole cut is a img_2614magnificent staircase with a reported 999 steps. I counted 891! It didn’t really matter though as the view at the bottom of the steps with the cut out of stone was simply stunning.

The bus ride down the mountain was more exciting than most. The Heaven Linking Avenue is over 10km of spine tingling hair pin turns. The bus drivers certainly earn their pay and know both their vehicles and the road like the back of their hands. It was amazing watching the road twist and turn from the cable car on our way up. At the bottom I sat with a magnificent view of the mountain and called mum. Such a surreal feeling to hear her voice especially with such a wonderful background.

We spent the evening at our last destination, the ancient town Fèngháun.

Day 4:

img_2660Our morning was spent exploring Fèngháun. This beautifully preserved town is situated along the riverside and is an ethnic mix of both Chinese culture and architecture. I enjoyed wandering aimlessly along the hidden alleys and marvelling at the stunning views. Our journey finished with a leisurely boat ride up the river, truly culminating a spectacular and worthwhile first Chinese adventure.

Here a huge thanks must be said to all members of our tour team but particularly to our star organiser Kitty and my roomie Jen. Thank you to all of you for a wonderful and memorable trip.


P.s More photos?


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Chilling in China

October 4, 2016 at 5:56 am (China)

img_2422Life in China continues to be full of surprises and amazing experiences.  Us newbies have been told that we’re having a wonderful spell of weather here.  I’ve seen blue skies and have barely noticed any pollution issues.  Each morning I ride my e-bike to school and pass my favourite statue.  Saying, “Good morning Mr Penguin,” has become a bit of a morning ritual.  I am working my way through a running plan and trying to look after myself as best I can.

School is going well and I have made it through to my first holiday break.  My Grade 5 team is an amazing group of people and I am learning from them every day.  I hope they are learning some things from me too!

img_2485Last week was Grade 5 camp which was at a 5 star hotel!  The food was absolutely amazing; you wouldn’t believe how many pieces of cheese cake I had.  Camp was full of lots of fun activities but one of the best was making pancakes with chocolate patterns.  The kids looked extremely cute in their aprons and chef hats and of course I had to get into the action as well.  Another highlight was going on a behind the scenes hotel tour.

The AFL grand final was shown here at the respectable time of 12:30pm.  Much better than the 6:30am start in Germany.  As a result I went to the pub to watch my first AFL game in seven years.  It was definitely a good game to be jumping back on the bandwagon with!  It was lovely seeing the Doggies win the flag, especially as we had a true Doggies fan in our midst.  Her joy and excitement made the whole game even more memorable.

img_2376A little bit of sightseeing is also important.  I joined the staff trip to the Master of the Nets Garden and a river cruise.  The garden is considered to be one of the finest in China and among with others here in Suzho a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The garden was started in 1140 and is a beautiful mix of contrast, dimension and depth.   It was my first Chinese garden and I must admit to expecting more flowers.  I hadn’t really done my research and garden for me, means flowers.  Instead, the Chinese garden is a combination of man made and nature.

At every turn you are confronted with new and surprising glimpses.  The western side of the garden surrounds the the cloudy lake while the eastern side is the residential area.  The thought and love that went in to the building of the garden is phenomenal.  Every turn, every picture frame, every rock has been placed for a reason and it’s hard not to be moved by the precision and beauty the garden presents.

Unfortunately the river cruise wasn’t quite as interesting.  We were unable to go the set route for some unknown reason and the commentary was loud and not translated.  There was also a musical component, but the less that is said about that the better.  It was fun being out with the other newbies and the evening finished celebrating another colleague’s 40th party.

img_2503Yesterday I spent the day at Suzhou Amusement Park with Emma, Frankie and Leo.  It was lovely being out for the whole day and busy.  The park is fairly worn down and due to Golden Week also fairly full.  There were some fun rides though and it definitely beat a day in my classroom organising things.  I want to go back in winter with less lines and the opportunity to go on a few of the rides that were too full.  The view from the top of the mountain was well worth the hike!

In the evening a few of us ‘newbies’ met to check out the lanterns at Ancient Street.  These huge constructions were made of nylon and absolutely spectacular.  I loved the vibrant colours and almost cartoonish styles of them.  They were much bigger than any of us were expecting!  We knew we were going to see lanterns but hadn’t really figured they would be humongous constructions, rather we expected the hanging type in different styles and forms.  No complains though, it was a img_2504lovely evening!

At the moment it’s time to enjoy my October Golden Week break.  I’ve had a few days at home and now it’s off to the Avatar Mountains.  I’m particularly looking forward to visiting China’s highest and longest glass bridge… let’s just hope it’s not overfilled with tourists!



P.s  More photos?


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