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Lianzhou Underground River – cave exploring

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Lianzhou underground riverLast weekend, I took a trip to Lianzhou with Kai of CNReviews with the purpose to attend Chinese Blogger Conferene 2009. Kai wrote about our trip  and the conference here and here.

Lianzhou is located in north board of Guangdong & Hunan province. It is about 400 km away from Guangzhou.  A highway (it is not a freeway, for you have fee to pay.) has been built between Lianzhou and Guangzhou now which shorten the trip from 8+ hours to about 4 hours. In my memory, it is one of the most poverty area in Guangzhou. Reason is that it is surrounded by mountains and transportation has been very unconvinient for century. The newly built freeway is designed to change the poor economy situation.

The most interesting part of the conference is that we were gathering at the entrance of a big cave. The cave is in a park called Lianzhou Underground River. We have the opportuniy to explore the cave in a tour during the conference.  Here is the photo tour:

CnbloggerCon 09 at Lianzhou @ the entrance to Lianzhou Underground River

the entrance to Lianzhou Underground River

Lianzhou underground river

Lianzhou underground river

If you have been to Gulin and been to one of those caves, i bet the experience is quite similar. The big impression on this cave is that it is newly developed, the route design and construction, or even the English translation of signs are very professional. I feel very safe in the cave.  However, it is total different from my other cave adventure in Yangshuo.

Magical Mask Change (Face Changing) Show in Beijing

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

I was in a business trip to Beijing recently and was invited to a networking dinner party where I saw the Face Changing show live for the second time. Before we go into the show, here is the history about Face Changing from wikipeida:

” The face changing, or “bian lian”(变脸) in Chinese, is an important intangible cultural aspect of Chinese Sichuan opera – few have been gifted with true talent and skill. They know how to change Sichuan opera masks in magically quick succession. As they flourish their arms and twist their heads, their painted masks change again and again and again.

Face changing began 300 years ago, during the reign of the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795). At the beginning opera masters changed the color of their face during performances by blowing into a bowl of red, black or gold powder. The powder would adhere to their oiled skin quickly. In another method, actors would smear their faces with colored paste concealed in the palms of their hands.


By the 1920s, opera masters began using layers of masks made of oiled paper or dried pig bladder. The masters could peel one after another in the blink of an eye. At present the masters use the full face, painted silk mask. They can be worn in layers, as much as two-dozen thick, and be pulled off one by one.

The most exciting thing about the show is the mystery of the tricks. How to change the mask so quickly that make the audience to not believe their own eyes. It is said the tricks/art are technically forbidden to women, but this time the performer is a woman! I think the chance to see a woman performing it is like winning a lottery. Wow…

Here is the video I took in the restaurant we saw the show:

If you are visiting Beijing, this is a strong recommended MUST SEE show. Ask your travel guide for direction to these two chain restaurants for your Face Changing witness experience. :

1. Ba Guo Bu Yi (八国布衣): there are 4 chain restaurants in Beijing in different areas: Houhai, Guo Mao, Xizhimen and Haidian. We were in the Houhai one, it is a two-story buiding with a courtyard. The stage in on the second floor and the performance will even walk around the corridor and do the magic right in front of you and you will get “mad” at yourself not finding out the tricks in such a close distance. LoL.

2. Da Zhai Men (大宅门): This is another chain brand restaurants offering the show. I went there once in 2006. It was in a big hall and quite crowded.  So it is important that you can reserve a table that is closed to the stage. There are six chain restaurants in Beijing. Not all of them offer the show.

Bonus: if you enjoy spicy Sichuan Food, it will be a memorable dinner!

Visit China (Shanghai) without a Visa with Disneyland

Friday, November 21st, 2008

During the past few months, especially before 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, I have heard a lot of stories about the difficulties to get a visa (long term) to stay in China, either for work or for pleasure. One of my blogger friend was forced to leave China right before Olympics when they have been in Beijing expecting the Games for more than ONE year and were ready to witness the grand event with a whole heart of enthusiasm. (story is here.) That was really sad.

The good news is that foreigners may not need visas to visit Shanghai along with the Disneyland amusement park opens. Disneyland has been the most exciting BUZZ word in the past two days. The stock market fluctuated with the announcement that Disneyland is finally coming to Shanghai, according to all the major local medias.

We knew there has been a rumor that the first Disneyland amusement park in Greater China Area was supposed to open in Shanghai instead of Hong Kong a few years ago. But the Chinese government wanted this project to stimulate the travel industry of Hong Kong after SARS. Now, at the moment of global economy recession, a lot of local investors or companies are so exciting to see the project will pull the domestic consumer needs. It is said that the real estate/land price around the park location has gone up 30% in a few days since the news came out.

The amusement park will be built in an area called Huang Lou (黄楼) in Pudong, 15 mintues drive from Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG).  The most attractive policy is that China will issue 48-hours in-transit permits for travelers who have no valid visa. Isnt’ it cool?

I am so looking forwards to a day when Chinese citizens can visit more foreign countries without applying visas, and happy to see that China will make this first step in the coming few years!

A foreigner friendly budget hotel in Beijing

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

I had a trip to Beijing about two weeks’ ago and stayed at a hotel called TravelerInn Huaqiao Hotel (旅居北京华侨饭店) that might has the same density of foreigners as other 5 stars Beijing Hotels.

This hotel is located northeast corner of the Second Ring Rd. in Beijing. It is 10 minutes walk from Beixinqiao Subway Station on Line 5 or 13 mintues walk to Lama Temple Subway Station on Line 2. During our stay in the hotel, I saw more foreigners than Chinese and was pretty sure it was FULL. Why it is so popular?

Well, designed Liang Sicheng, one of the best Chinese architect in 1950s, it offers a very different feel than other modern hotels you will stay in the cities. First of all, it is in hutong area. You will have to walk through a narrow lane (a.k.a hutong) before you see the well decorated hotel surrounded by old houses. The walk offers you some real images of lives of Beijing people. Second, the whole building is in Chinese style, from the yard/garden to the overall color. I enjoy the lobby design a lot: red and green in harmony. Third, if you pay attention, you will notice there are some very important neighbers. China Red Cross HQ is on one head of the hutong, the home of a General who was an important character in the wars around 1930s is next to the hotel.

The people in front desk can communicate in English very well. And I aslo see tours from Europ so I guess CS can speak more than one foreign languages. As we checked in at 8am, earlier than usual, they didn’t have the room I booked, they gave us a free upgrade from Dulex Room to a HUGE Suite for RMB 498/night. This was the biggest bonus at this stay. The interior of the room is pretty the same as regular budget hotels. The last renovation was in Sep. 2007, everything looks fine. Recommended for: family vacation and budget travelers. See more images here.

I stumbled to some Zurich Hotels from as I am curious about the hotel rates in European cities. The webiste is user friendly, its design looks good. But the best price is EUD 83/night for a single room in a 2 stars hotel in a entertainment district in Zurich, Switzerland. Hmm. pretty expensive. Maybe Switzerland is the last country in Europ to visit if you have a very limited budget. Soccer fans have suffered from not able to get visas to see the recent Europ Cup recently.

Hotels in Hong Kong? Carlton Hotel Hong Kong is amazingly attractive to people who want budget trips: only EUR 27/night in Tsim Sha Tsui. Want to check out next time I am Hong Kong.

A Day Trip to Suzhou- “East Venice”

Friday, May 9th, 2008

As planed, we went to Suzhou, Jiangsu province last Sat. We took a 8:58 am bullet train, China Highspeed Railway (CHR) at Shanghai Railway Station and arrived at Suzhou in 40 minutes. It stopped at Kushan (昆山) for 2 minutes. The bullet train is the best option to travel between Shanghai and Suzhou: 26RMB/person, safe, fast and reliable schedule (no traffic jam).

I’ve been to Suzhou once 8 years’ before. In my memory, it is a lovely small city. I had a great time walking around from one garden to the other.

But this time when we walked out of the Suzhou train station, it took us around 30 mintues to figur out where to take a taxi or a bus. Taxi drivers refused to take us to nearby place, and finally we were in a bus but the route on the map is not correct and we got off the wrong station and had to take a 3-wheel bike. At around 11am, we arrived at The Humble Administrator Garden (拙政园) historial street. Suzhou Museum, Lion Forest Garden (狮子园) and Humble Administrator Garden are in this neighbouhood.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆We started from the new wing of Suzhou Museum, which is designed by Guangzhou born American Chinese architect Ieoh Ming Pei. Mr. I. M. Pei spent a few years of his childhood in his family’s estate, the Lion Forest Garden in Suzhou, now a World Heritage Site. Suzhou Museum is the second architecture designed by I.M. Pei in Mainland China besides of Fragrant Hill Hotel (香山饭店),a four star hotel in Fragrant Hill in Beijing. I was attracted by the big name of Pei and visited (took a look) Fragrant Hill Hotel (香山饭店) in 2000 when I was a student. I didn’t have the “wow” feeling at the design but I bet it to be a nice place to stay for leisure and relaxing. The other mater piece by I. M. Pei I desire to visit is the Pyramids of the Louvre, in Paris.

Fragrant Hill Hotel (香山�店)

A quick image tour of Suzhou Museum:

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

from the outter garden, the building is the entrance main hall.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

The interior garden, the building is the back of the main hall.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

A modernlized “art of the window”. In Classical Gardens of Suzhou, there are always a scenery out of the each window. Typical scenery elements include: a Taihu stone, some bamboom, a small pond, a tree, a Chinese orchid, etc.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

In the hallway.

Suzhou Museum, 苏州博物馆

A modernlized and abstracted version of “Fake Hills”(假山). The traditional “Fake Hills” are made of stones from TaiHu Lake. The natural shape of the stone insprite people’s imaginary. Lion Forest Garden is famous for the thousands of “lion-shape” like stones.

Similar to Fragrant Hill Hotel, the Suzhou Museum adopts the typical colors of the whitewashed plaster wall, and te dark gray clay tile as primary colors. These are the color you will see in Suzhou city. I like the modern design, but not really the whitewashed palster wall. Why? It is too difficult to maintain. The museum is less than 2 years’ old but I can see the rain washed stains on the wall. The air condition is just not good. But the facilities inside the museum are world class, except the descriptions on the exhibits are too short, only titles.

The other wing of the musuem is Prince Zhong’s Masion, originally a part of the Humble Administrator Garden. It is a fun exeperience to walk through a door and go back to several hundred years’ ago. Strongly recommend if you want to see something different in Suzhou.


We spent about 2 hours in the museum (20RMB) and went to a nearby restaurant called Wumen People (吴门人家, 苏州平江区潘儒巷31号), a top 3 reviewed restaurant in

Tiger Hill

In the afternoon, we visited Tiger Hill (虎丘). Tiger Hill is famous for a mystery of a tomb of King of Wu (AC 514-496). The park is in the northwest edge of old Suzhou city, but keep in mind that Suzhou is small and it only took us less than 20 RMB to get there from the museum in the east of Suzou. Visiting Tiger Hill in a national holiday was a disaster: too croweded. So my good impression on Tiger Hill was gone.

Tiger Hill Suzhou

I adore this! It was written by a calligraphy master named Yan Zhenqinq (颜真卿) (AC 709- 785) in Tang Dynasty. In fact, only “剑池“ are original, “虎丘” were rewritten by Zhang Zhongyu (章仲玉) in Ming Dynasty. It is said the the tomb of King Wu is under the cliff befine the sign. (60 RMB/person, free audio guide with 400 RMB deposit, 2-3 hours)

Canals of Old Suzhou

Good news.: one big change of Suzhou since my last visit is the improvement of water quality in the canals. Suzhou was described as Venice of The East (v.s. the west Venice in Italy) by Marco Polo in 1276. Today, the interconnected system of water of 2500 years’ history is back to work and green again.  48 points of interests are linked and accessible by water, including ancient city gates, bridges and gardens. A way to see the city but avoid the crowds and traffic. We visited a friend at his condo where a cannal/river is running next to his back yard.  As a proud Suzhou resident, he kept encouraging us to move to Suzhou!

 Dream Vacation?

I would love to visit Venice of Italy and Amsterdam of Netherlands to see the “water city” of West.

Self-drive: a new lifestyle in China

Monday, May 5th, 2008

“self-drive tour” (自驾游) is a new type of travel mode that is getting very popular in China in the last decade. If you are from a country that takes owning a car for granted, then it will be a bit difficult for you to understand it.

According to statistics from Austria Auto Club (VCÖ) in mid 2007, there are around 9,000 million private owned sedans in the world. This number was 5,000 million in 1995. The distribution is very un-even. There are 2,310 million in EU, 2, 280 million in US, but there are only 29 million in China – a country of 1.3 billion population. Avery 1,000 people own 24 vehicles in China, but 775 vehicles in US.

So, owning a car, driving it out in weekends or holidays for a leisure trip with families and friends is a new lifstyle that doesn’t exit 10 years’ ago. I grow up with the concept that a driver is the master of a car, he/she decides where we go. We should never interrupt when he/she is driving. Today, everyone (not really) wants to master his/her own car – the spirit of “self-drive”. But when you read an advertising selling a “self-drive tour”, a travel agent is actually selling you a “hotel booking service” for maybe one major reason: online booking is still in its infancy stage in China. In a “self-drive“ trip, you are supposed to enjoy the freedom of driving, which I have to say it is not that enjoyable at present because the roads in remote area is much less developed than the fancy-looking sedans sold in big cities.

To enjoy the freedom of driving, Germany (Berlin Hotels) is a good destination for a road trip.

High-speed vehicular traffic has a long tradition in Germany given that the first motorway (Autobahn) in the world, the AVUS, and the world’s first automobile were developed and built in Germany. Germany possesses one of the most dense road systems of the world. German motorways have no blanket speed limit. However, posted limits are in place on many dangerous or congested stretches as well as where traffic noise or pollution poses a problem.

My husband took a business trip to Hildesheim – a small city about 330 km away from Frankfurt early this year. His impressions on the “freedom of driving” are : 1. he was constantly afraid of not driving far enough as he was driving a super small/eco car – SMart (a product of Swatch and Mecede-Benz), 2. the print on the road sign is too small to read and it is very easy to miss an intersaction. I guess that if you rent a good car and have good eyesight, you will have greater chance to enjoy the self-drive trip. How about a road trip from Munich to Köln?

Hangzhou Off Beaten Vacation

Monday, April 7th, 2008

As my Hangzhou vacation plan, we spent three days in this beautiful city. We didn’t go through a typical tour-guided trip in which you will be shown around many attractions, of course including many factories visits, within one or two days, but randomly walked around and saw things as we planned.

Day 1: Longjing Tea Leaf Shopping

We had a pleasant train riding experience from Shanghai to Hangzhou. Check  Shanghai South Railway Station: the start of a most environmental friendly travel option   for tips on how to take trains from Shanghai to Hangzhou.


The weather wasn’t perfect, so we went to Long Jin Village to shop LongJin green tea leaf.  Spring tea season usually lasts for 5 to 6 weeks: 3 weeks before Qing Ming (April. 5) and 3 weeks after Qing Ming. Qing Ming is a traditional holiday for Chinese to “sweep” the tombs of their ancestors to show the respect ion and worship of the passed family members. Because of the snow storm disaster happened early this year in South China, the season started about 2 weeks later than usual and we were very lucky to buy the 3-day old fresh tea leafs from the farmers at very good price – more than 50 % less than the prices  in the tea stores in the cities. 

Longjing Tea and Tea trees

Day 2: West Lake (Xihu, 西湖)

Hangzhou is famous for its West Lake, and West Lake is famous for a lot of Chinese historical events and people, of course also its scenery. I was surprised at myself that I don’t know how the West Lake came from even though I know its big name when I was little. In this trip, I found some description on the attractions implying that West Lake is a volcanic lake, but when i researched on line later resources  say that there are two explanations on the cause of West Lake: 1. volcano eruption, 2. it was a bayHangzhou Xihu  West Lake connecting with Qiantang River and East Sea in about 12,000 years’ ago and was blocked and separated by sediment later and became a lake.  I don’t know  which to trust.

Anyway, because West Lake is a “money making” lake, the government of Hangzhou City obviously invests a lot in maintaining its surrounding environments  so that it is very beautiful around the lake — a lot of greens and flowers. The roads are clean and the air condition is much better than that in Shanghai.

But if you are not familiar with / interested in the Chinese classical literature and histories, you probably don’t want to spend more than half day around the lake, and I also won’t recommend you to take any paid tour around the lake.

Day 3: Silk Museum

There are two kinds of gifts you want to buy when you visit Hangzhou: 1. green tea leaf, 2. silk.  I didn’t buy any silk as I am not confident enough that I can tell the high quality silk products from the bad. Instead, we decided to visit the silk museum to get some education. The museum is free and I didn’t see more than 10 people during our visits. It is very nice and quiet. But if you go with your family, your kids and/or husband might find it a little boring. But I enjoyed a lot especially watching skilled workers to make the complicated patterned silk fabric from the threads.

China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou Zhejiang province

China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou Zhejiang province




Spring Break Trip Plan : Hangzhou

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

(I am going to Hangzhou this weekend to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Here is what I have done in planning our trip:

1. Where to go: Nanjing and Hangzhou were our two preferred options: a nearby city with enough attractions for a 3-day vacation. Both of us haven’t been to Nanjing, and I have been to Hangzhou once 8 years’ ago (I’ve been to Hangzhou in 2006 for Chinese Blogger Conference but I didn’t go anywhere, so it didn’t count.). I know Hangzhou will be extremely beautiful with plum and peach blossom in early April, but I don’ t know about Nanjing. So we decided to take a less risky option to avoid ruining our vacation. Later, I found out there is also cheer blossom and an exhibition of tulip in a park called “Prince Bay Park” (太子湾公园).

2. Where to Stay: I spent a weekend night reading hotel reviews on two major hotel booking sites in China: elong and ctrip. Ctrip has much more user reviews and even has a page of the ranking. For one moment, I was every exciting that I found a great hotel in Ctrip with a very high user rating. But then I cross-checked it on elong and there were only less than 10 (maybe 3) reviews on this hotel. What’s worst: they are all very negative. I was then very frustrated in whether or not to trust the reviews. It is easy to trust when all you hear are good news, but things become complicated even when you read one line of negative words. At the end, I picked a hotel under “holiday inn” brand rather than a highly recommended “best western” one. In my knowledge of hotel, “holiday inn” is a better brand than “best western”. This experience really made me wonder “how hotel reviews will be useful to users” ? I wish I can ask an emotional search engine to filter the reviews for me!

3. What to Do: “West Lake” (xihu, 西湖) is the natural landmark of Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang Province. So this is a must-go spot. And I am highly interested in Chinese green tea, and Hangzhou is the home to the best green tea – longjin tea (龙井茶) in China. I want to hike into the village to buy some fresh green tea of 2008, and watch people “stir fry” the tea leaf. And also check out a few museums.

4. How to organize the trip: We love map! so we start looking at the maps to plan our itinerary. The most interesting map I found is a 3D virtual map (see below screen). It is specially helpful to optimize the route by grouping the attactions by area with map like this.

(click to see  larger image)

Hangzhou visual map

Zoo Day in Guangzhou,Chime Long Safari & Circus

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

We visited my parents in Guangzhou during New Year holidays and we spent one day (Dec. 31, 2007) in the Chime Long Resort (广州长隆旅游度假区). There are a zoo called Guangzhou Xiangjiang Safari Park (广州香江野chimelong safari park, Guangzhou xiangjiang zoo, Panyu, Guangzhou, China : Black Swan生动物园), an amusement park (Chime Long Paradise), a water park(水上乐园), a circus (Chimelong International Circus,长隆国际马戏团), a golf course and a few hotels in the resort area. Its official website is well organized and easy to use for vacation planning.

We took Guangzhou metro line 3 to a station called Han4 Xi1 Chang2 Long2 (汉溪长隆) dedicated to this resort and then took a cycle shuttle bus to the safari park. Free map is avaliable at the entrance and it is very helpful to plan your route when deciding what animals you want to see. The park is quitechimelong safari park, Guangzhou xiangjiang zoo, Panyu, Guangzhou, China : Tiger and Lion large and you can easily get distracted by shows and programs. So plan ahead if you are with kids. I was very exciting about the safari but was a little disappointed after the tour. The animals are no longer WILD and it is not really a safari. You can even see Tiger and Lion live together in the same yard which is out of imagination in Africa real life.
The zoo is closed at 6pm and we took free shuttle bus to the circus. Feel free to hop onto the earliest shuttle bus, they are cyclying and will bring you to your destination anyway. The current circus show is called and waschimelong safari park, Guangzhou xiangjiang zoo, Panyu, Guangzhou, China an extremely exciting one. Highly recommended!!! The show starts at 7:30pm daily and we entered earlier to get front seats. But this is not necessary. We found it could be more fun if sitting at back. VIP seats in the center area are avaliable inside and 100 RMB extra. Basically, you can plan a light dinner between zoo and the circus show.

The amusement park Chimelong Paradise could be a thrilling experience. You will find the world’s tallest diving roller coaster there (but still under construction on Dec. 22 2007, check before you go).

chimelong safari park, Guangzhou xiangjiang zoo, Panyu, Guangzhou, China : giraffe

chimelong safari park, Guangzhou xiangjiang zoo, Panyu, Guangzhou, China : Cheetah

chimelong safari park, Guangzhou xiangjiang zoo, Panyu, Guangzhou, China

chimelong safari park, Guangzhou xiangjiang zoo, Panyu, Guangzhou, China

chimelong safari park, Guangzhou xiangjiang zoo, Panyu, Guangzhou, China :Koala

New Beijing ”Wonders”: The Egg, The Bird’s Nest and The Two-legged Stool

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

You don’t want to miss these three “weird wonders” next time you visit Beijing:

National Grand Theater in Beijing,the egg, 国大剧院

National Grand Theater in Beijing,the egg, 国大剧院

The best view point of The Egg is on the top of Jing Hill (Jingshan, 景山). It is designed by French architect Paul Andreu. My friend Michelle Hu took the first two images.

The Brid's Nest, The National Stadium in Beijing

Photo Courtecy of Dante Busquets

The Bird’s Nest is the National Stadium for 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, designed by Herzog & de Meuron. It looks like an under-constructionnever to me

CCTV tower, Beijing, ChinaCCTV tower, Beijing, China cctv headquarter hq

CCTV (China Central Television) Head Quarter is still under construction (left photo by China Chas on Dec. 2, 2007, thank e-architect for the right image.). It is designed by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren.

Updated on Jun. 12 2008:

I went to the Bird Nest last month during “good luck Beijing” Sohu open, a game design to test run the National Stadium Bird Nest.

CCTV tower, Beijing, China

More images here. CCTV tower, Beijing, China