Braving the Golden Week Crowds in Beijing

October 8, 2017 at 1:17 pm (China, Travel, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

IMG_5602Every time I got asked what I was doing for October break, people would look at me as if I was crazy.  They didn’t mean to but it is a well known fact that Golden Week is a ridiculous time to be travelling within China.  Basically everyone gets time off so the big tourist destinations are SWAMPED.  Check out some photos here.

It wasn’t an ideal choice, but it made the most sense with my old school friend Erica visiting China.  Luckily for me, my good friends Tim, Lukman and their son Banyu decided to join our Beijing adventure.  They were lured to Beijing with the idea of camping on the Great Wall.  Tim needed my encouragement, support and crazy positiveness… I needed his organisation, booking and Chinese language skills.  It was a match made in heaven and resulted in a memorable trip.

35D6C3F7-5246-4CB4-8B74-C348ADF3CAFF-535-0000004BD62C6FEB_tmpWe caught the overnight train from Suzhou to Beijing and then met up with Erica.  Most of our first day was spent organising accommodation after our Airbnb fell through but in the afternoon he headed to the Hutongs for a casual stroll around the area.  There was a lovely community atmosphere and we loved peeking behind the distinctive red doors into the hidden courtyards.  I wish we had had more light to explore as it’s definitely somewhere I would like to wander through again!

I really enjoyed meeting Tim’s friend Amelie.  They met while teaching French in Beijing many years ago.  She fell in love, married and is now running a beautiful children’s clothing line Tang’ Roulou here in China.  Her clothes are a lovely mix of western and Asian styles and I can’t wait to see how cute my niece looks in the summer dresses I bought her.  Nearly everything she had for little girls I would wear myself, such a pity she doesn’t make adult sizes!  It was interesting hearing her talk about her business and the market here in China and internationally.

IMG_5617Since we were in Beijing, I was determined to have Peking duck so we had it for the first nights dinner.  Under Amelie’s recommendation, we went to a very local restaurant where we were the only foreigners.  We over ordered but had a wonderful meal and I was able to tick it off my bucket list.

My beautiful friend Judy had helped me organise last minute tickets to the Forbidden City for the next day.  As of October 1st (i.e. last Sunday) all tickets had to be purchased online.  This is clearly explained on their website in English but low and behold, when you click to order tickets EVERYTHING is in Chinese.  I know it’s called the Forbidden City because it was off limits for 500 years, punishable by death… but why are they making it so difficult for non Chinese speakers to visit?  The site is limited to 80, 000 people a day.  Can you imagine?  But with Golden Week we didn’t want to miss out so we were really lucky Judy was able to help and that there were even tickets left.

IMG_5635We were prepared for the crowds so off we trotted with Banyu in tow.  He had decided he wanted to join us and as he’s just under 1.2m he gets free entrance.  The crowds were nowhere near as bad as we had anticipated.  Granted, getting out of the subway was crazy and there was no way we were going to brave the crowds at Tiananmen Square but once we actually got into the Forbidden City it was fine.  It’s the biggest palace complex in the world so we never really felt like we were in a throng of people.

The enormity of the complex was really something.  It just kept going on and on.  The initial courtyard alone can hold over 100,000 people.  As we walked around, we had to keep explaining to Banyu why there was a throne in every room!  We particularly enjoyed the Hall of Literary Glory as we were able to actually enter the hall and see the amazing painting on the wooden ceiling and the beautiful ceramic floor tiles.  It houses an impressive ceramic collection which was also interesting.  We also liked the Clock Exhibition Hall located in the Hall for Ancestral Worship, where we even found clocks made in Suzhou!

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time for anything else in Beijing because of our camping plans.  Its a big city with a rich history… I will just have to come back!


P.s  More photos?


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Part Four – Lijian

July 12, 2017 at 9:13 pm (China, Travel) (, , )

Day Fifteen

We arrived in Lijian, the final major town of our trip, at six am much relieved to find out that we could check straight into our hotel. Our room has its own lounge area and even includes an electric mahjong table. This would perhaps be useful if one of us knew how to play! Mum had a play around with it and managed to get the pieces out but now can’t work out how to get them in. The lounge room has been useful for setting up our laundry room though even if most of it is taken up by the special table.

The first stop of the day was at Shùhé Old Town, a former stop on the Tea Horse Road. The Tea Horse Road linked southwest China with Tibet and was equally as important as the Silk Road for trade, ideas and religions.


Shùhé was nicer than expected. Often these towns are very touristy but this one wasn’t too busy and you could see glimpses of people’s real lives among the tourist banter. We saw families eating lunch together in their shop and people washing their hair in the street. The town is a maze of cobbled pathways and we enjoyed venturing down hidden alley ways away from the bustle of the town. We couldn’t get over the amount of people getting their wedding photos taken either. It sure is a big industry here in China.

We then moved on to the Ancient town in Lijian, which is conveniently located walking distance from our electric mahjong table. After an earthquake in 1996, the town had to be rebuilt. Luckily UNESCO decided to support the construction and since 1997 the old town has heritage status. This has been done with an eye for attracting Chinese tourists and actual examples of the old architecture are far and few between; A notion we have noticed everywhere on our travels as a result of the Cultural Revolution.

When not full of tourists, the town is lovely to walk through. It centers around the market square, with streets intersecting around it to form the character for the family name Mu. Interestingly, Lijian was one of the only cities that never had a wall in China. This was because if you put a box (aka wall) around the Mu family name meaning wood the character becomes ‘hard pressed.’ Mu did not want to bring this misfortune onto his family!


The famous entrance to Lijian old town with a tourist posing in a traditional Islamic Tibetan outfit

The city really is a maze, which we found out first hand when we managed to get lost! Our walk took us to some of the more  hidden and quiet parts of the town, which we also found more enjoyable. In particular we saw local people using the three pool water system. These are three  pools of water connected to each other, the top one is used for drinking water, the second for washing vegetables and the third for washing clothes. It’s amazing seeing things like this still in use today.

Day Sixteen

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been travelling for over two weeks and today was our first temple visit. Our trip to the Jade Peak Monastery was both quiet and chilled. Established in 1776, this red hat monastry seemed rather inactive but very colorful with many prayer wheels we enjoyed spinning. Mum particularly liked the monk on his mobile phone while praying.

Our next Ancient Town visit was to Baisha, where frescoes from the 15th and 16th century can still be seen. These were saved during the Cultural Revolution by putting big pictures of Mao in front of them and more amusingly by using the space for keeping pigs. Unlike frescoes in Europe, these incorporated different religions into the one artwork.

IMG_4924An unscheduled side stop at the government run Naxi embroidery center was very interesting. This center trains local people to become embroidery teachers who then go back into the Naxi community and teach the farmers. Some of the work in the display room was phenomenal. Mum has always had a soft spot for needlework and she added to her collection with two beautiful pieces.

After lunch we headed to the Impressions of Lijian cultural show. We didn’t even realise this show was a part of the itinerary! The show was performed in the pouring rain (apparently they even perform when it snows) and showcased Naxi culture and many of the traditional clothing of the ethnic minority groups of the area.

The show was choreographed by the same man who choreographed the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony and the sheer size and amount of performers was mind boggling. They even had horses as part of the show. In Naxi culture it is the woman who is the boss. She basically did everything and made all the decisions. Interestingly, women would choose who to bed with and if this resulted in a child the man was only required to support her while he contiued to live under her roof. The men were responsible for entertaining through sing and dance therefore all the dancing was performed by the men.

On that note, in China it is not unusual to see people dancing in public squares. We came across this in Lijian and Kunming too but what makes it different in these places to what I see in Suzhou, is that they often dance in circles. The other thing I had noted was the involvement of younger Chinese men. This was shown in the performance and it was interesting for us to see it as part of the Cultural show after seeing it randomly in the streets.

To finish the day we took a cable car up to Spring Meadow. If the weather had been better, we would have been able to see the snowy peaks of Snow Jade Mountain… Instead we saw rain and cloud once again. We could see the glacial river below though, which we walked along afterwards.

Spring Meadow was beautiful. It surprises you, as you emerge from the forest with a background of waterfalls complete with mountain goats! Suddenly, somewhere in the middle of China, we both felt a sense of deja vue and a longing for the Swiss Alps.


Day Seventeen

Rain, rain go away come again another DAY. Preferably when I’m not traveling. I kid you not, it rained ALL morning. Perfect time for emailing, updating the blog and organising our gear which was located all over our tiny two hotel rooms.


We did venture out for a walk around Black Dragon Pool Park and through the old town again. We tried flower cakes made with rose petals and bought some souvenirs. We also saw the locals dancing again and I even had a go! An easy and relaxed day before we head to Tiger Leaping Gorge tomorrow.

P.s More photos?

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Part Two – Guìlín, Yángshuò and the Lóngjî Rice Terraces

June 29, 2017 at 9:11 pm (China, Travel) (, , , , , , )

Day Six

Today was simply a transit day. We ate like kings at our buffet breakfast (five star hotel remember?) and then flew to Guìlín where we were greeted with more torrential rain. Mum had some issues with her baggage as she had forgotten about some electricals. Otherwise the day was pretty uneventful the highlight being finding delicious  noodles for 4RMB (0.52€ $0.77AUD).

Day Seven


Since neither of us are particularly fond of cruises, we were pleasantly surprised with our trip down the Lí river. We spent the whole trip up on the top deck marveling at the amazing limestone structures that make this area’s landscape quite spectacular. Earlier this year I saw the same limestone structures rising from the sea at Halong Bay in Vietnam, so it was of particular interest for me to see them now on land.

It’s hard to explain how beautiful yet eerie they are. A combination of rock, moss and greenery, they look as if a child has drawn a crooked outline for their formation. We were truly mesmerized.

IMG_1956In the afternoon the magic continued with a leisurely bike ride along Dragon River. Here we marveled once again and enjoyed the tranquility of nature without the hoards of tourists.

Day Eight

For our free day in Yángshuò we decided to hire bikes again. We found a suggested route (The Yong Valley Countryside Route) and off we went. Surprisingly, we managed to follow the instructions well and had a lovely trip off the beaten path. The route took us on country roads and through minority villages with not another tourist in sight. Neither of us took many photos as we were enjoying the ride so much!


Most of the afternoon was spent playing cribbage in a bar/coffee shop while we waited for our transfer back to Guìlín.

Day Nine

IMG_4798A night at the Lóngjî Rice Terraces was on the cards. Hand dug over five hundred years ago, the paddy fields first became known to the public eye after Li Yashi photographed them in the 1990s. You can certainly see why they have captured tourists eyes ever since.

The views of the cascading rice fields are breathtaking even amongst the rain and mist. They seem to swirl in jigsaw like pieces or like children’s building blocks piled up on top of each other.
IMG_4813The fields don’t even yield enough rice for the surrounding villages and are basically maintained to feed the tourist industry. But one does wonder about the heartache that went into not only building them, but cultivating them by hand year after year. It truly is an amazing landscape.

We were lucky to see the terraces without the rain that seems to be our constant friend on this trip. We visited the ‘Seven Stars with the Moon’ as well as the ‘Nine  Dragons and Five Tigers.’ By the time we walked down, the train had settled in for the day so we spent our afternoon in a cosy postcard shop. After a year in China, I finally managed to write some postcards!

Day Ten

IMG_2052It rained all night and all morning so further exploration off the rice terraces were quite off the cards. Instead we played cribbage and drank tea on the hotel’s balcony. We couldn’t complain about the view and the time before heading back to Guìlín passed quickly.

Back in Guìlín we walked around the university area, succumbed to buying umbrellas and braved the torrential rain for a walk around Shan Lake.

Day Eleven

IMG_4829After a lazy morning, we braved the rain and visited the Sun and Moon Pagodas in Shan Lake. These two pagodas are connected via an underground tunnel that goes beneath the lake. Both structures are octagonal and the Sun Pagoda even has a lift. Apparently it is one of very few that do in China.

We had dumplings in a tiny family owned snack bar. We communicated via hand and foot, and were rewarded with a delicious meal. It was a real Chinese moment, away from the bustle of the city, homemade and served by two smiling faces.


In the evening we went and saw the two pagodas lit up. We ate a Chinese egg waffle dessert and walked around the Guìlín lakes.

Day Twelve

Our last day in Guìlín and with our guide was a little underwhelming to be honest. First we visited Elephant Trunk Hill, which is supposed to be the symbol of Guìlín. The scenic area was unfortunately not very interesting or pretty, but it was pouring with rain and flooded so perhaps that clouded my judgement.

The next stop was Reed Flute Cave. Neither mum or I are huge cave fans so we weren’t really expecting much. The cave has some interesting formations and in true Chinese style was lit up like a Christmas tree. We found out afterwards that this cave was a ‘foreigners’ cave because the Chinese tourists generally go to a different one. Doesn’t really make  you feel that you’re seeing the best the area has to offer.


A bullet train then took us to Kunming, our next destination. We spent eight hours on the train and were on the train for the entirety of its trip. The highlight for mum was tracking the route on the maps in my Lonely Planet book and keeping an eye on the speed, which capped at 208km/h. On a side note, we have decided the Chinese Lonely Planet is fairly useless and needs updating desperately.


P.s More photos?



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Part One – Yellow Mountains

June 22, 2017 at 5:08 pm (China, Travel) (, , , )

This summer mum and I are doing a 20 day trip across China. I’ve decided to break the blog up into the different parts of our trip.

Huangshan (Yellow Mountains) was named after the Yellow Emperor who is the father of all Chinese people. Perhaps a mythical figure, his wife is acclaimed to have created silk when a cocoon fell into her tea. The area is known for its Huangshan pine trees, mystical granite peaks and breathtaking views from above the clouds.

Day One

IMG_4681After some last minute ” I’m about to go on holiday tasks” and a Melbourne style breakfast in Suzhou, mum was on her way to her first ever hash! I’d been talking about it so much, that even though it was a bit tight with catching our train we decided to go. We had a lovely stroll around Lake Taihu in Wuxi. Unfortunately the hash was not as off the beaten track as I would have liked but it did have some lovely parts and it was nice to see all the locals out enjoying the sunshine.

The “Queen’s mother” survived the circle, picked at the Chinese meal (It wasn’t really our cup of tea!) and caught the Chinese version of Uber to the train station. We navigated Wuxi train station fairly easily and managed to pick up our train tickets for the rest of our trip. Even though we had heaps of time at the station, we nearly missed our overnight train though! The gates opened as I went to the toilet and they nearly didn’t let us through. We had to run along the platform with luggage in tow. Typical!

Day Two

I basically fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Not even a baby in our four bed carriage or having the light on all night phased me. We were picked up by our driver at Huangshan and then I slept the whole way to the Yellow Mountains. Too. Upon arrival we made the fatal mistake of deciding to walk up the western steps. I hadn’t really done my research and mum didn’t fancy a cable car, so off we went.

We walked up endless amounts of concrete steps. Up, up and more up. It really wasn’t the best climb and half way up we both admitted to wishing we had taken the cable car. This is quite an admittance for us as we’re both quite stubborn.


Towards the end of the climb we were rewarded with some fabulous views which made us feel a little better. We saw the Five Elders as well as the turtle and the fish embracing. We also met the hoards of Chinese tourists that generally accompany any trip to a national park. This also made us feel better for choosing the western steps, for although it was strenuous and tedious, it was most definitely less full. We understood this first hand as we pushed our way through the Narrow Cliff.

IMG_1765The Guest-Welcoming Pine was most certainly a welcoming sight. The tree is believed to be over 1,500 years old so God knows how many visitors it has had they pleasure of welcoming! This well photographed tree can be found in many paintings and pictures around China so it was really cool to see it in real life. It also signified our hotel must be near and our climb had nearly come to an end for the day. The area was packed with tourists all pushing and elbowing each other to get the perfect shot. Mine purposely includes the tourists of course!

We stayed at Yupinglou hotel. Comfy beds, clean and nice green tea. Restaurant prices  for simple dishes still ok in price.

Day Three

IMG_1782We awoke to the sound of rain and misty clouds. Not exactly the best news! As such, our walk to the next hotel was damp and white. One section, where we climbed a ladder like structure cut into the granite and wedged in between a sea of tourists, was quite something but otherwise unfortunately not too much to report. We arrived at our hotel waited for check in and I slept most of the afternoon.

As such this report will concentrate on the most amusing part of the day… Chinese hiking attire. We have seen dresses, slip on plastic shoes, jeans… You name it, we’ve seen it. Today was particularly amusing as they all produced their wet weather gear. This resulted in a sea of plastic yellow, blue and purple condom shaped figures bustling their way along the stairs. Some even had bootees to keep their shoes from getting wet.

It would be lax of me not to mention the essential hiking accessory for all Chinese tourists. For 10RMB you too can have a simple wooden walking stick. These truly do make you look like a seasoned hiker and are useful for practically nothing!

Before dinner, mum and I ventured out again and were rewarded with some views of the granite peaks above the mist. We have our fingers crossed for more spectacular views tomorrow. We will be walking the Xihai Canyon rain, hail or shine.


We stayed at Baiyun Hotel. Not as nice as the previous hotel but ok. Meals at the restaurant were ridiculously priced so we had Sprite and biscuits from the little shop instead. Beds were pretty hard, but hey… This is China!

The Lotus Peak trail was closed. Apparently it’s been under maintenance since December 2014?

Day Four

We decided on an early start and descended into the Xihai Canyon pleasantly surprised to have the trail to ourselves. In fact we saw no more than ten walkers all the way down! The walk was steep and downwards but the views were absolutely beautiful.

IMG_1799Unfortunately, the trail we wanted was actually closed so we ended up having to take the long way down. This track followed a waterfall down one side and then up the other to the cable car. It was lovely wandering along without the noise, pushing and shoving and not to forget spitting, that we had put up with on or previous two days.

When we finally made it to the cable car, we’d both had enough and decided to take it up rather than walking the other side of the canyon. This proved to be a good decision when we saw the hoards of people coming down the track. It Is obvious that there are certain tour group trails and we were very pleased we had managed to find one off the beaten track.

After a quick coffee and cake stop, we were back on our way towards our next hotel. This was a pleasant walk up to Bright Summit and past Flying Over Rock and took barely any time at all.


Flying Over Rock is one of the ‘sights to see’ on the mountain. It’s 15m high and 7m wide and juts out over the cliff face quite spectacularly. It does look like it’s been placed there by some magical force!

We stayed at Paiyunlou Hotel. By far the shabbiest of the hotels but their fried rice was pretty good and at a reasonable price.

If I came back here again I would not choose these hotels in this order. It’s hard to get an idea of what the best options are because all the maps are terrible!  (According to mum you can’t even call it a map, she reckons it’s a drawing!)

Day Five

The mist and rain were unfortunately back to see us off the mountain. We walked to the cable car fairly quickly and took in the Old Monkey Looking Over the Sea (he wasn’t seeing much) and Lions Peak on our way. I’m sure the lookouts would have been magnificent if we’d been able to see anything but cloud!


With time to spare before our pick up, we decided to take the Eastern Steps down. It definitely made sense that the porters prefer using these steps! The walk down was long but nowhere near as long or as steep as the Western steps. It was actually a fairly pleasant walk even in the train.

I’ve come to the conclusion that every rock in this park has a name. Most of the time it’s pretty hard to A work out which exact rock they are talking about and B how on earth it connects to the name it has been given. I guess that’s all part of the fun.

Wet and tired, we had a quick lunch before taking the bullet train to Hefei. We must be going up in the world because we’re in a five star hotel. It comes complete with gas masks for our protection. 😉

This concludes the Yellow Mountains part of our trip. Stay tuned for our next destination Guilin!


P.s More photos?

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Sunshine in Suzhou

June 2, 2017 at 12:38 pm (China) (, , , , )

Life in China continues to be busy and full of surprises.  At this point I have three and a half weeks left of school before Summer holidays.  After the rough start I had to my new country, I can hardly believe that I am still standing and smiling.  I have a lot of adventures and friendships to be thankful for and I seem to be as busy as ever.


Enter a caption

The weekend after I got back from Borneo I joined the Shanghai hockey players for a sixers competition in Hong Kong.  Those of you who know me well can easily imagine how much I was itching for some hockey and I don’t think you could wipe the smile off my face ALL weekend.  We drank, we played, I scored goals and met some wonderful people.  My roomie Jen and I had a blast being silly, dancing and having a competition to see who could score the most goals.  (She won!)

My trip to the airport in Shanghai was memorable though.  I arrived at the Suzhou railway station only to find out that my train ticket had been booked under the wrong passport and I could not pick it up!  That’s when the stress began.  I had no choice but to buy a new ticket on the next available train.  I finally arrive at the airport train station, already glimpsing at my watch and worried about check in time.

Many of my friends had flown from Hongqiao airport and had told me it was easy as to get there from the train station.  “The terminal is right there Kate.  No stress.”  They must have all flown from Terminal 2… So I am running through the train station trying to work out how to get to the terminal.  I’m stressing out, no Chinese and everybody is pointing me in the direction of the metro.  I get to the metro and suddenly realise that I had changed to my travel wallet.  I had absolutely no money on me.  I’m standing at the ticket machine, sweating, stressing and coinless.  In all my time as a traveller I have never had to ask somebody to help me out with a few coins to get on a train or a bus, but I was desperate and my options were running out.  I had to check in luggage and Jen was waiting at the check in counter with her stick to go in my stick bag!

Luckily a young couple helped me out and bought me a ticket.  I must have looked like a right mess and totally believable.  Mind you, I am not sure why a western person would be asking for cash unless they were desperate in China.  I was desperate.  I caught the metro, ran my little butt off with a huge stick bag and huffing and puffing checked in my bag with only minutes to spare.  Total Kate style!


First Suzhou Hockey Club Training

My hockey trip inspired me to organise getting a small expat group together to hit some balls around.  I am the founding member and chairwoman of the Suzhou Hockey Club!  We’re a small group (currently 12 members) who meet once or twice a month to have a hit.  So far we’ve had two trainings and each time we’ve had six players each time.  Check out our website!  It’s so good being able to have a regular hit and we aim to play against Shanghai after the summer holidays, and hopefully play in Hong Kong next Easter.

IMG_4404Of course, I have also been busy hashing.  It really is the best way to get out and about exploring Suzhou.  Highlights included a hash weekend where I got my hash name QueeNO F*** Everything and an amazing Suzhou city hash through narrow alleyways and the old town.  It’s not quite hockey, but the hash is definitely helping to fill the hole in my life.  I’m excited to try out some hashes when I am home in Melbourne over my summer holidays.

School has also been crazy busy.  My first Suzhou Exhibition is behind me and I definitely learnt a lot through the process.  Here the students do a group project unlike in Stuttgart so this was a big adjustment for me.  I also had the opportunity to work with students across the grade level and not just from my own class.  Our Exhibition presentations centred around making experiences for the audience which was highly successful.  I’m excited to build on what I learnt this year and adapt my teaching for an even more successful Exhibition and classroom practice in the future.

IMG_4454Other random adventures include our school’s International Family Day, Suzhou on the Beat music festival and my first ever adventure obstacle course.  I managed to con Olli and Thorsten into becoming a team with me and in true German style they were very negative about our ability to complete the course.  Olli had even done his research about the different obstacles… I had no idea.  I was just looking forward to the challenge, especially the mud!  It was great fun and I am so glad we did it together.  Doris and Toby were also with us cheering us on and we finished the day all together with a burger and big smiles all round.

Life in Suzhou is busy, always busy.  It’s amazing what you can find to do if you look around for adventures.


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