Shanxi Province, China: Pingyao

Pingyao Old Town

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Yamen Government Complex

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Pingyao City Wall

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Group of senior citizens relaxing outside the city wall

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Street seller on south street

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Main tower on Pingyao’s south tourist street

I blame a previous issue of Silverkris (Singapore Airlines’ inflight magazine). I tend not to take any more airline magazines as they all turn out to be paper weight after it leaves the plane, but now with a camera phone with enough resolution, I can take a picture of the page and read it later. And so it was, one edition had an article on Pingyao. That’s in Shanxi, Shanxi with single “a” and not the one where the terracotta warriors are located. It was not a long article, just one page, and something about not being affected by the cultural revolution and the fact that this small town was the first financial hub in China about a hundred years before Shanghai. And so during the long weekend in May, when I was out of ideas of where to go, Pingyao came to mind. Wouldn’t be that bad to decamp over there for a few days just to chill out.

The only issue is getting there. One idea was to go to Beijing and then taking a train, but that seems to take a whole day. Another way is to go through the capital of Shanxi Province, Taiyuan, just about 2 hours by bus. I like the chinese bus. Dirt cheap (though train would be cheaper) and full of locals. So… mind made up, and ready to go.

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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.

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Taipei, Taiwan: Guandu Nature Reserve


One very effective way to get attention is to distribute brochures. On this trip, it was a bimonthly pamphlet I found in my hotel room called “Spectacular Taipei”. It was filled with sections dealing with flowers, and floral expositions (Spring is about to arrive) and one thing caught my eye, and it was a map of a Nature Reserve just outside of Taipei and a few stations  before Danshui, what I call “Deauville of Taiwan”, and which I have been to many times. Best of all, it was reachable by the excellent Taipei MRT. On the map, Guandu looked like a small town, with a temple being the centre of attention, and a wetland park on its borders. Guandu straddles the Danshui and Keelung river.

Now I’ll confess I’m bored with Taipei city centre, so anything nature is interesting to me at this stage.

Guandu Town

Getting there is straight forward. Get yourself onto the Danshui Metro line, and while my brain is still fresh from the trip, that’s the blue line that goes up north. Somewhere along the way, some of the trains will terminate at Beitou and you will have to get off and switch to one that goes all the way to Danshui. Should be rather obvious when you’re in the metro. The tip here is that the MRTs to Beitou is almost always empty, as the whole of Taipei goes to Danshui on the weekend.

Guandu Nature Park:

When you get to Guandu station,  there are buses going to the Nature Park or the temple, but it’s not fun if you don’t push it a little, so I walk instead. It takes a good half an hour to get to the Nature Park entrance. But that’s mostly because I set off on a different direction and went through some nice tour of almost the whole of Guandu town.

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Travels: Nanxiang, Shanghai, China

Pavillion at Guyi Garden, Nanxiang
Shanghai is famous for this little dumpling with thin skin and soup inside. Bite it and if still hot off the steamer, it guarantees a scalding where it hurts.

The most famous restaurant in shanghai that sells them by the bucketloads, figuratively speaking, is Nanxiang Restaurant over by that tourist hole, Yuyuan Garden right in the middle of the city. Its not too far from where I stay and on weekends, I sometimes take the walk over, and stand in the half and hour queue (if I’m lucky). Its not the best in Shanghai though and its quite obvious it’s famous because it’s famous, no more. Nanxiang Restaurant also starts to expand with branches overseas.

Shanghai Bus, encountered on the way looking for that bus that will take me to Nanxiang

So not to dwell too much in stories, I found out during a chat with a colleague that the xiao loong bao, what this tasty dumpling is called, was first invented in a town called Nanxiang. Just tens of kilometre from downtown Shanghai so close that a public bus (actually many from all points) runs there from the Shanghai railway station, so we found out after browsing the chinese languaged internet. So quickly this became my mission for the coming weekend.

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