Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

What a hectic weekend. Saturday morning flight to Haneda airport followed by a drive to Fujikawaguchiko and the rush back the next day to catch the last flight from Haneda. This trip was supposed to take place the week before (31st October) but was delayed because of Typhoon Chaba, which would have caused non stop weekend of rain. And there would be no way Mount Fuji would be visible from the town located 10km away to the north.
If you have followed this site quite a bit, you would have noticed that this is one of my favourite sites to shoot Mount Fuji. I could wake up early in the morning and walk 30 mins to the other side of Kawaguchiko across the bridge and set up my tripod before 6am. And in the last 3 times I have been here, Mount Fuji would always be visible in the morning along with a calm lake to catch some reflection. Kawaguchiko is large enough not to be perfectly calm, and the wind does kick in about 7-7:30am. So get there early. I will not detail too much how to get there, the easiest would be via the Keio Express bus line from Shinjuku just opposite Yodobashi Camera. And as a primer, Fuji 5 Lakes regions composes of… of course, 5 lakes. From the right to the left, there’s Yamakako, which I have never been, and since I have not heard too much about the view there, I have no plans to visit since it is also out of the way. Kawaguchiko is arguably the easiest one to access, as it is just situated by Fujikawaguchiko and the northern shore is littered with attractions like a monkey show and a music box museum. The views here are one of the best accessible without long hikes and a car, and Mount Fuji looks symmetrical from here. The only possible issue is that the town would be visible in your picture of the famous mountain. Only an issue if you’re after the mountain sans civilization. Just next to it would be Saiko, where Mount Fuji is not visible at all, obscured by a close by hill. News has it that Saiko is a good fishing place. Next to it, a little drive a way is Shojiko, which I think rivals Kawaguchiko. Cars could drive to the lake bank facing Mount Fuji, and you could get down to water level. What you would see on the opposite bank on the foot of the mountain is just pure nature. However, Shojiko is not that easy to reach without your own car. The public buses don’t run regularly, so you may have 1 hour there and if you do not get on the returning bus, the wait may be quite long. No buses at night the last time I checked, so night time shooting by bus would be impossible. One could camp by the lake side though. The last one is Motosuko, a relatively large lake, with an elevated vantage point at the far side of the lake. It is even more remote than Shojiko. This is also the view of Mount Fuji that could be found at the back of a 100 yen note.

Lets see what we have here…

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Shoji-ko: This is one of the first shot of this Autumn season for me. The EXIF reads 5:30pm and it was already dark. Exposure reads 30 secs at f5.6 on a 28-70mm. It was already dark when I got there, and the long exposure lights up the mountain a bit. I kept the foreground dark to convey the evening mood. You could see car lights on the right at the bottom of the mountain, and some faint lights at what could be the mountain 5th station. AT this time of the year, the snow cap is starting to grow, but obviously it is still early.

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Shoji-ko: This is one of my favourite picture of the shoot. Exposure reads 4 minutes 30 seconds and f8. I did another one that was 20mins long but came up to almost a blank shot. I had a ND8 on the lens and I would have to stretched it to 1hour exposure if I was to get something like this. What I wanted to do with this shot was to have a long enough exposure to catch the star trail. You could also faintly notice a line of a passing aircraft. I would have wished to have more time here, I guess I will explore the possibility to camp here the next time. Would have been great to catch an hour long star trail.

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Kawaguchiko: This was taken at very close to 6am. Note the vapour on the lake surface. This morning was not what I hoped for, with cloudy skies in the morning. When I got to the lakeside at 5:30am the mountain was covered in clouds, but almost always it clears at close to 6am when the faint trace of sunshine appears. You also notice that Fujikawaguchiko town is quite prominent in the foreground. This is a 4 sec exposure at f8, at about 40mm, and I cropped the top and bottom of the original frame. You also noticed that the view from Kawaguchiko is a little different, with the long gentle sloping sides of the mountain visible from here, while at Shojiko, the slope is quite strong.

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Kawaguchiko: Looking at the east at the rising sun. The only good thing about a cloudy day is that the morning red sun glow is quite strong.

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Kawaguchiko: With the sun starting to appear in the morning, Mount Fuji starts to glow a little shade of red. This scene only lasts not more than 10 mins. In fact I think it might have been shorter than that. So this is where an ergonomic camera comes in, when you switch from one scene and light type to another. The controls has to be easily found and you do not have the luxury of diving into the menus to change something.

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Ungilsan, Seoul, South Korea: Autumn Hike

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Ungilsan in Autumn: Achieved by focusing much closer than the subject itself and let the bokeh work its magic.

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Although I was using a wide angle lens, the slope on the left and right is not an optical illusion.

This trip started as a routine mountain hike a little outside of Seoul at a place called Ungilsan (운길산) mainly because it is possible to get there by taking the suburban line 1 metro to a station with the same name. At least on the map it looks like there is a mountain to climb over there. And it looked like one of those popular places to go on weekends as there are quite a number of overdressed korean hikers (nothing new here). The metro line is supposedly quite new, going all the way to Yangpyeong town and going upstream along the Han River.

Ungilsan metro stop is new enough to be built less than a year or two ago. Just outside the station is a large map of the hiking paths that lead off the station. I counted at least 2 or 3 high peaks and many smaller routes. There’s no real need to memorize it for me since all routes would be new to me. Best would be to follow the crowd. The path starts by going back where the train came from, past many village restaurants on your left. This is where it is possible to load up on lunch by buying a kimbap or two (Korean maki rolls). Then the road goes under the train track and through a small village. Very quickly it starts to go uphill through some woods.

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At the village at the bottom of the montain, some of the lower peaks around Ungilsan

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Some parts of the hike is quite like an easy walk.

Continue reading “Ungilsan, Seoul, South Korea: Autumn Hike”

Islands off Incheon, South Korea: Muui-do

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Revenge of the killer seagulls. Just lucky timing, on the way across from Jamjin-do to Muui-do.

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Fishing boat at Yeongjong Pier with Incheon City in the background

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Panorama of Incheon City in the horizon from Muui-do

It seems that autumn is finally upon us. Temperature has dropped to 20C on a sunny day like today. Looks like the right time to explore some islands off the city of Incheon. Island hopping is a term I wanted to use, but it is technically not really any hopping at all, since by public transport I would be lucky to even get to one island per day. What more, everything is in Korea here so I will have to guide by chance and by the grace of my GPS. Good light also means I can ditch my big camera and go light with a D300, lunch and plenty of water. Always ready for an adventure.

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Google Earth capture of the entire journey mapped by a GPS. Green path is the actual route taken throughout the day.

Getting to the island is a multi-transport discipline. On my research, it looks like the easiest way to get there is to get out of Seoul and get on the express train to Incheon Airport an then hop onto a bus. The alternative way going through Incheon and then a ferry ride to the Airport island looks to be a longer journey. In most cities, Seoul included, the authorities have this idea that tourists are beings meant to be fleeced, so for example a metro ride to Incheon city proper is less than half of what it cost to go to the airport. Price aside, I’ve said that getting out of the city to the airport by Metro is not an easy task. There are some signs at metro station that looks like you could get a A-REX express train to Incheon Airport at Seoul Station, but don’t make the mistake I did. There’s no train going to the airport as of 2010. The line should be ready in the future, but just not now. I wasted 1 hour looking for that phantom train. Some maps indicate that the line is there, but some doesn’t. Best way seems to be to get to Gimpo Airport using Line 9 and then hopping to the A-REX to Incheon Airport without getting out of the station at Gimpo Airport stop.

Outline for today therefore, to take metro to Incheon Airport and then onto one of the island next to it by bus. End the day with a ferry ride into Incheon city before dark. It doesn’t really matter how it turns out. What is clear is that I will have to take a bus over a causeway to Jamjin-do and then hop onto a ferry to Muui-do. Will make up the itinerary as I go along…

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Incheon City from Yeongjong Pier

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So now at Incheon airport, it takes a little bit of investigation to know where to go next. I used up at least 1 hr here figuring out that it is impossible to walk to the pier (2km away) because of the airport security, so a bus is the best option. Go to departure area on the 3rd floor and take bus 222. Unfortunately there is no way to know whether the bus is going to Jamjin island or to Yeongjong pier for the ride into Incheon city. Just have to take your chance or ask the driver.  Bus fare seems to be 1000W as I didn’t really pay attention to my stored value card as I put it on the sensor.

However I was one of the ones that got on the wrong bus as the first one I took was going to Yeongjong pier on the return trip from Jamjin-do. When I got there, it was time to wait for the next bus to go to the island I wanted to go in the first place. Good time killer is to hang around the pier and look at all the tent-restaurants that sprouted out at the parking lot, full of drunk Koreans munching on BBQ pork and kimchi.

After half and hour, it was time for the bus to start moving again. Somehow I have a feeling that there’s not more than 2 buses that services this route going from one end of the Incheon Airport island (that would be Yeongjong Island) to the other end. The bus goes through the airport to pick up more passengers (or victims) and then darts to the west, where I wanted to go, confirmed by my GPS. Right after the airport the bus turns left into a small lane full of korean restaurants, seemingly built so that patrons can look at the sun setting over the sea. After a while, going through a tight road and avoiding carks parked on both sides of the road, the bus goes over a causeway connecting Jamjin-do with larger Jeongyong-do where the airport is located. The bus stops in the small island just before the ferry point. Roads here are tight, as real estate is not plentiful. A building sells 3000 Won return tickets to Muui-do for pedestrians.

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Ferry connecting Jamjin-do with Muui-do

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Four lanes of cars, they go in on the left then make a u-turn at the end of the ship and get out the same way.

Continue reading “Islands off Incheon, South Korea: Muui-do”

Gyeonggi Province, South Korea: Suwon City Fortress

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Suwon old city wall

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Architectural detail: An old door with armored metal sheets taken at one of the secret entrances into the city along the wall.

Alright, I’m here now in a new country, ready to explore the place out and what a better place to do this than during the golden weekend. We are now around end of September, and this is what the Korean calls their Thanksgiving and what happens is that the whole of Korea goes on holiday for a whole week. Equivalent to the lazy christmas week for the Americans and a shorter version of the French summer holidays. Offices will be closed. Everyone will either go home to visit their elders or gravitate towards the summer playground of Jeju Island. Whatever it is, I’m not about to go far on this long week, in fear of highway traffic jam, lack of return tickets on trains and flights, and overpriced hotels. Hell, I’ve not even had time to visit any place around Seoul yet. So its time to do a little research on Wikipedia and Google Maps for the best place to visit for this long weekend.

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Suwon City, nothing special about it. This is the view from the top of the hill where the wall passes through.

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Old city walls separate the ordinary residents from the Kings that live inside the wall. Not true of course, just cooking things up.

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Map view of the walk. Train station is on the bottom left. Wall is that baloon formed by the orange line.

The old town of Suwon looks interesting. What it is, in short, a town with a core that has its ancient city walls intact. From the map it looks a lot smaller than the city walls of, say Nanjing or Xian in China, but perhaps they don’t have as crazy an enemy to protect against; who knows. Best of all, Suwon is just an hour or two out to the South of Seoul allowing travel by Metro in the morning and returning late in the evening. So the plan was hatched. I will need to plot a GPS course this trip while walking the whole circumference of the city wall, which looks achievable in a day.

Continue reading “Gyeonggi Province, South Korea: Suwon City Fortress”

Bukhansan, Seoul, South Korea: Climbing the Hard Way

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One of the daunting peaks at Bukhansan National Park

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Forest Canopy from the peak

The answer to question of what a typical normal Korean would be doing on their weekend would be to climb a mountain. So in my assimilation training, I picked up a friend and we’re off to Gupabal Station on Metro Line 3 on an excellent warm summer Saturday morning. We’re in shorts and t-shirt while the fellow hikers at the Metro station are all in Gore-tex and week long packs with titanium cups hanging off it. Reminds me of the old hikers in Japan, overdressed for the occasion. All I had was a bag with my camera and GPS in it, expecting an easy walk all the way to the top.

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Blue line shows the GPS plots from this trip. The peak is marked with the GPS coordinates, reason being I have no idea what the peak is called as of writing.

Target this weekend is one of the peak at Bukhansan National Park, a bunch of peaks to the North of Seoul City Centre. Its technically inside the city, surrounded by urban sprawl. Some of the peaks in the National Park are quite scary indeed, craggy peaks with no visible easy route other than with crampons and drilling holes in the rocks. And most of them are 500-800m high. Nuts. This is one of those weekends where my mind is in a “what the hell” mode and that’s how most memorable adventures start.

At Gupabal Metro station, there is a large crowd of hikers (remember what I said about what Koreans do on weekends?) waiting at the bus stop. Follow them and you won’t go wrong. The bus goes fast here, they are probably the proverbial race car drivers in their previous career. But quickly we get off at a nice village. Having a friend that knows Korean helps, but not mine as we’re all first timers here at Bukhansan. So I took out my GPS and said that peak looks interesting and lets go the path of least resistance which is straight as the eye can see.

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Make no mistake. This is the EASY part of the climb. I don’t have pictures of the tough part because obviously I’m hanging on for dear life.

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View across the valley. While I doubt climbers for that mountain will have to scale those rock face, they still look scary.

Continue reading “Bukhansan, Seoul, South Korea: Climbing the Hard Way”

Hong Kong: Sai Kung East Country Park

Now this is the starting part of 100km MacLehose trail. I did not intend to finish all of it this time and I did not take too much notes on the day of the trek itself. In short, total distance covered is around 25-30km over two weekends in searing heat and full of uphill and downhill. Bonus would be the hidden beaches, at least in the morning until the yachts from Hong Kong drop their anchor and noisy daytrippers hang around for a bit of sunburning. Recommended, but bring more water. I love it… Here goes…

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Seoul, South Korea: Inwangsan


I have been having free weekends in Seoul lately and this weekend I was quite determined to go somewhere outdoors after a few disappointing sights around Insadong. Saturday was not that great, it rained. Pretty heavily too. Sunday started off good, not a sunny day, but with low clouds and chance of rain. I did a quick check of the weather, clouds are moving relatively fast, but the texture seems consistent and there doens’t seem to be too much risk of heavy rain, so umbrellas were not required. So picked up my small utility bag with a D300 SLR and a Nikkor 12-24mm lens and a GPS and I was out without a clue of the route to take, but as long as I’m going uphill I’m on the right path.

Target today is Inwangsan, a mountain just to the northern border of Seoul. Close enough to be able to reach it by Metro line 3, Dongnimmun Station. Not the mountain top, of course. The station straddles below a main road that leads out of the city to the north. This destination took up only a small portion of Lonely Planet guide book which I did not bother to bring along with me. So I started looking around for a way to get up the mountain. (By the way, realised after this climb that the proper and easy way up is on the east of the mountain, so you will need to walk anticlockwise around it from the Metro station. I went clockwise.)

Going up north, I came across a bunch of apartments and a pedestrian foot bridge after going slightly uphill, still along the main road with mountains on both sides. Figuring that as long as I go uphill, I’d get to a trail, I decided to go up a very steep concrete road, which leads to a small village on the foot of Inwangsan. Its a tough slog up this slope that runs about 200m. There were a few old hikers loitering around so I followed one. Look for the playground behind the village, where you will find the start of the trail identified by a map board which is unfortunately in Korean. It looks like the old city wall goes up this mountain along the spine so this should be fun.

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Hong Kong Trail Part 5, Hong Kong: Shek O Road to Big Wave Bay

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View of Shek O from the ridge

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Highlight of this trip: Dragon’s Back ridge, which is what you think it is: trail on a ridge

And what a way to end the Hong Kong Trail. On this last stage, officially named Stage 8, but for me this would be the fifth section, the sun would be out in full force. I’ve been doing this long enough, my backpack and shoulder bag is rather standard by now, including dinner packed to enjoy when I get to Shek O later in the evening. Except this is the second time I’m out with a new GPS, and this is Garmin’s Colorado 300. Hardly new, but as a replacement to my old eTrex Vista, it is years more modern. The way to get to the start of today’s walk is still very fresh in my mind. Take a metro to Shau Kei Wan, and at the Bus Terminus, jumped into a No. 9. The fare is around 6.90 HKD and all this bus does is to go up Chai Wan/Tai Tam Rd and then on to Shek O Rd all the way to the town that bears its name. The only tricky part here is I need to get off at the right bus stop. On the map, the coordinate of the stop is somewhere near (22.227375, 114.239611). I didn’t have my GPS out at this time because everything is packed shut in my backpack and I wanted only to take them out when I get to the stop. I remembered what the stop looks like, but with the speed buses go in these out-of-the-way roads, it is difficult to anticipate.

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GPS plots of Section 5, from Tai Tam Bay to Shek O via Dragon Back ridge

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Tai Tam reservoir in the background, on the way up to Dragon’s Back

At the stop, amidst tourists an local hikers and families I start to put everything into hiking configuration – camel bak piping, gps latched on bag, etc. I must say that this is the day when it seems everyone attempts Dragon’s Back trail. I see families with kids barely able to walk, and mainland chinese tourists overdressed in their faux-Burberry shopping attire. And these for a trail that’s rated as strenuous? I think I have to be up against an easy day today. Its noon by the time I start, and the first kilometer up to the top of the Dragon’s Back are steps and relatively tree-cover free. If you remember the last post in Section 4, this part of the Shek O Country Park has a lot less tree cover than the part closer to Chai Wan. There are some shade, but a nice had is in order for sure. Around the coordinate (22.229759, 114.24293) the trail branches into two and there is where the first rest stop lies, the right path leading up the hill to the top of the ridge, while the left goes in parallel but at the same altitude as the branch.

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Two pictures of Shek O from the start of the ridge

Continue reading “Hong Kong Trail Part 5, Hong Kong: Shek O Road to Big Wave Bay”

Hong Kong Trail Part 4, Hong Kong: Tai Tam Reservoir to Shek O

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Start of Part 4: Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir

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End of Part 4: Shek O village from Tai Tau Chau

This spring has been quite terrible here in Hong Kong. It rains everyday, and just like back in Shanghai, you rejoice when you get the sun, because it is rather rare. So it is with this I told myself, whatever happens I’m out to complete the Hong Kong trail this weekend. That would be Section 7 & 8 according to the official map. This would mean starting off at Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir, go right through to To Tei Wan and then up to the Dragon’s Back mountain trail and ending up at Big Wave Bay. Lets just get to the plot here, to mention that there’s a Part 5 after all, and I never made it to Section 8 on this trip as Dragon’s Back trail is a little too tough to complete in one afternoon along with the hike from Tai Tam reservoir.

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GPS plots of the path (in green) for Part 4, with Stanley and Shek O in the picture for positioning

It’s the usual. After filling up on a heavy brunch, I’m off by MTR to Shau Kei Wan, and then onto bus 14 on the main road just before Chai Wan Road. Booted up my Garmin Colorado 300 GPS and got off the bus right before the reservoir. There are not too much space here for any lingering. The dam is so narrow, there is only room on the top for a 2 laned road, so the views will have to be appreciated either in the vehicle, or on one end of the dam. Water is choppy due to a drizzle, with wind from the sea whipping up small waves.

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A road runs on the Tai Tam reservoir dam, but being narrow, I don’t think I want to walk on it while double decker buses come charging down one side.

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Tai Tam Bay

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The initial part of the trek is along thick forests, along a concrete path, so it is quite safe.

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Tai Tam reservoir viewed across from the other side of Tai Tam Bay

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Tai Tam Bay coastline

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Lan Nai Wan Village

Then it is a short walk up Tai Tam Road before going into the forest on the right following a path where I left off in Part 3. Here the path should be rated as easy as it follows a catch water and the altitude reading on my GPS is pretty much constant throughout. Under this heavy tree cover, there are no photo opportunities except for plants macro. The trail are paved almost all the way to Tung Ah Pu Village. The trail is not really straight, quite simply because it follows the contour lines of the hillside. There are some areas where there are clearings and this is where the views of Tai Tam Harbor can be had. It looks across to a bunch of apartments on Red Hill. Some sections I could see Lan Nai Wan village in the foreground and the expensive houses on Red Hill in the background. So a nice mid telephoto lens like 105mm can be useful here. Wide angle lenses are ok, but because there are always shoulder level undergrowth, it is not possible to get a clear shot. When I was there, there were patches of rain cloud and some patches of sunlight, so I was hoping for perfect lighting to capture an interesting shot. I don’t think I was given that opportunity anyway.

Continue reading “Hong Kong Trail Part 4, Hong Kong: Tai Tam Reservoir to Shek O”

Shanghai, China: Shanghai Film Park


It is difficult to write about something 5 months after. For one, I can hardly remember how I got to the Film Park. But I still remember how it happened, I’ve read about this place in Shanghai where many movies were shot, especially the ones that depict Shanghai pre World War II, and for completeness sake, let’s just place that in the 1930s. I can recall Kung Fu Hustle. So, there was no real direction available on the internet, and I had the GPS coordinates only. I remembered taking the Shanghai metro to the southwest, changed into a bus, a wrong bus, and then having to walk a bit and one more bus before I got to within 1km of the park by GPS.

Shanghai Movie Park

As of writing, maps of China on Google Maps has to be viewed in map view and no satellite. There is a little 500m offset on it. I did a little internet sleuthing and came up with this address, copied and pasted (shall I say plagiarized?) without much though:

Shanghai Film Park, Chedun Town, 4915 Beisong Gong Lu, near Cheting Gong Lu
车墩镇北松公路4915号,近车停公路
Coordinates: 31.01228, 121.31037

Now that I have, hopefully, given enough instructions to get there, let me first start by saying that this is one of the hidden gems in Shanghai. Sure, the internet has plenty of day tours, but do you REALLY need a tour guide in a movie studio? I was there late in the afternoon, and there was a movie that was being shot at that time. I can’t imagine another studio where you could just walk up to the set, and watch the film crew doing their stuff.

There is an entry fee, but it is a pittance, a little less than lunch for a tourist. Since a local can eat for less than 10RMB I’d make that clear first. I can’t recall the entrance fee, lets just say its between 10-15RMB at the most. Could even be less.

Continue reading “Shanghai, China: Shanghai Film Park”

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