China Travel Tips

Reflections on Travel in China

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hiking & Climbing at Mt. Hua

As a Tour Operator to China only, people often ask me about walking, hiking and climbing in China. Chinese people hardly ever go hiking as we know it but do go for walks and some might call it hiking or climbing as well. One of those areas is Mt. Hua outside of Xian about 2 hours by car. It is one of the four famous mountains in China but easy to get to and a great thrill to hike, walk or climb whatever you want to call it. My wife and I were there this year. You take a cable car up onto the mountain and from there either hike or walk up stairs built into the face of the cliffs and peaks to little tea houses, restaurants and picnic areas all along the peaks. For those who want a real thrill adventure, google Huashan and see the trail on the other side of the tallest peak leading to the very high Tea House. I have traveled through China over 50+ times for the past 25 years seeing everything there is to see and do in order to plan trips for my clients to their interests. You might check out my web site at and have me plan a tour to china just for you. Click on the photos for full screen viewing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jiuzhaigou National Park

The most beautiful National Park in China has to be Juizhaigou in north Sichuan Province. I was there 16 years ago when it took 12 hours by car over rough narrow roads and only a hand full of hotels were there. Today there is a full service airport with many flights per day from Chengdu to this fabulous remote National Park. Blue Turquoise ponds and streams with many fantastic waterfalls all with wooden walk ways through out the very large park. The Eco friendly green buses carry you through out the park with many stops to get on or off the bus or you can walk on wooden stairs and walk ways. This area only was open to the outside world in 1975 and allows only 5000 people per day into the park. Many first class hotels and facilities are now available including a 5 star Sheraton Hotel close to the entrance of the park. It is the most pristine park I have ever been in and the whole day I did not see one scrap of paper anywhere. Tours to China is my business and we can fit a park visit into any itinerary for private individual tours or Custom Group tours to your interests and needs. Click on the photos for full screen viewing!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pottery Find in Remote Village

On our way from Shangrila to LiJiang, our driver knew of a family that made pottery that he thought we might be interested in. They live in a small remote village that was very difficult to find. Eight generations of this family have been making pottery for centuries the same way. Above the father and son were working in a room with only light from a single window. Another son was working in another room. Two grandsons were blending clay in the basement. The remarkable part is that they do not use a spinning wheel but turn a wooden platform around by hand while forming the clay with the other hand. I asked why they didn't use an electric or foot operated wheel. They replied that it has been made the same way for centuries that way so they do not change. The samples above are blackened with a by product of the process and is the only color they use. They only sell it out of their home to the surrounding villages and often have standing orders. We of course bought some pieces and brought them home with us more for decoration than to use. During my 50+ trips of travel throughout China looking for new places to send my clients, I often find very unique places like this to experience the cultures in China. Tours to China is my business and I hope I can do a tour for you too. Check us out on our web site at  Click on the photos for full Screen!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dunhuang on the Silk Road

Another place which is a must visit on the Silk Road is the city of Dunhuang. A very small town in the desert but that is where the famous Mogao Buddhist Caves are located. More than 700 caves of very well preserved frescos, and art are kept behind doors leading to the caves. You must go with a local guide who takes you into the caves and explains the details taking about 2.5 hours. It is recognized as the best preserved caves and art in all of China. No photos are allowed but there is a wonderful book store on the site. There is a new railroad station now and takes about 12 hours from Turpan overnight on a sleeper. I prefer to drive back to Urumqi for a good night's sleep and fly to Dunhuang the next morning arriving about the same time the train does. There are good hotels in the city but the 4 star Dunhuang Shan Zhuang hotel on the edge of the city overlooking the great Sand Dunes is in the desert traditional style. There is a wonderful stage show in the evening at the city theater called the Dunhuang Goddess shown above. It is not included in Group Tours but you can usually get tickets for the evening performance on your own or on our private tours, we generally schedule it for our clients. Check our web site for 2010 as we have many new package tours this year that can give you ideas about planning a private tour of your own. Quality Tours to China is our business since 1992

Shangrila - Tibetan Culture Visited

Many people try to squeeze too much into their Tours to China including Tibet. For those who want to visit some convenient Tibetan culture there is Shangrila conveniently located near Kunming and LiJiang. I hadn't been there for a few years so this trip included it in my trip and was very surprised to see that it had expanded greatly. Once a quiet little village it now has 5 star hotels and a modern town next to their Old Town. Above you can see that each night in the City Square is a dance and time for socializing with the locals. At 10,000 feet it has the feel of Lhasa complete with a nearby Monastery that has greatly expanded also since I had been there last. It is just a short flight away from Kunming and there is a fantastic road excursion to LiJiang through the mountains and overlooking the upper Yangtze River. Stopping along the way you can visit remote villages and even the new rare Golden Monkey Preserve that just opened this year. If you do not have the time to visit Lhasa, then Shangrila is a great place to visit some Tibetan culture. Tours to China is my business and we can create a special itinerary just for you. Visit us at and look over our packaged tours too. Click on the photos for full screen!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Belzik Caves at Turpan

Another site at Turpan which escaped the Mongols invasion are the Belzik Caves a short way from Turpan up a remote valley. It is difficult to take photos of the caves which were dug into the side of the cliffs. Caves are fairly well preserved and have doors on each cave to keep the remains clean and safe. An explorer, Stein, a British citizen in the early 1900's with 300 camels removed many of the murals, Buddhist statues and art from these caves and are now in museums in Europe today. Much remains to be seen yet including the Buddhist Monks residences along the river below the cliffs. The above photos were taken from the cave entrances of the river and cliffs across from the caves.

Turpan's Grape Valley

Another great site at Turpan, second lowest place on earth in the desert is Grape Valley. This area is known for the sweetest grapes and melons in China. The locals make raisins from the grapes in drying rooms above their homes. In this dry climate it only takes about one month for the grapes to dry into raisins which are shipped all over China. The grapes are grown on arbors about 7 feet off the ground so they may be harvested from below during the hot weather. Although Muslims do not drink wine, there is a winery located in Grape Valley and I bring a bottle home with me with each visit. The Hami melons named after the city of Hami are the sweetest melons I have ever had and very inexpensive when bought from the growers along the road. We visited a local family and had lunch at their home. I usually include lunch at a local Muslim home as the food and culture experience are one to enjoy and learn first hand about the Turpan history and area. Check my web site for two new tours of the Silk Road that I added for next year.

Turpan on the Silk Road

Turpan is a 3 hour drive east of Urumqi and the second lowest place on earth below sea level. I find it one of the most interesting places with so many historical sights. Here I want to tell you about the two ancient cities outside of Turpan that are in ruins after being invaded by the Mongols in the 13th century. Jiaohe in the top photo was a well fortified city with a King on top of a plateau. The other is Gochang both which can be visited in one day. In the desert both cities had large populations ruled by Kings and were very important to the trade routes of the Silk Road. You can visit these ruins and walk down their streets and visit some of the old buildings some of which are still in good condition. I was there late in the day and we had the ruins almost totally to ourselves for great photography. Jiaohe you can walk up a path through the city but Gochang is a bit further out and you can either walk or take a donkey cart out and back which gives some income to the local people besides having a ride if it is a hot day. The Silk Road is best seen in September for best weather and cooler temperatures. October starts to get cold in the higher elevations.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Learning About Muslims and Ughurs in Kashgar

When in Kashgar on the boarder of Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is a great time to learn about the Ughurs and the Muslim religion. Our friend, Ekbar pictured above is an excellent guide and source of great information since he is Ughur and has lived in Kashgar all his life. Although most known for the Saturday/Sunday market at the Bazaar; Kashgar has many Mosques since it is populated mostly by Muslims. As I wrote earlier it is common to walk into a strange home when both doors are open to visit with the family even though you are a stranger to them. Note above Ekbar and my wife and I just walked in and Ekbar picked up one of the musical instruments and started playing to the delight of the family. Note the colorful rugs in the living space as well as the highly decorated walls. The family eats and sleeps in this room. Unfortunately group tours are not able to do home visits but perhaps you will be able to find some free time to visit the Ughur Old sections of the city on your own. Private tours for two to six people are better able to do home visits and I do provide this service for my clients who are interested in learning more about the local cultures in all areas of the country. I have introduced some new tours along the Silk Road this past year so check my web site at .   Click on the photos for full screen viewing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Kashgar Saturday/Sunday Markets

When going on the Silk Road everyone wants to be sure to be in Kashgar on Saturday and or Sunday usually. Actually the Grand Bazaar is open all week long but on weekends expands into one more building with more of the same goods that are available all week long. The only difference is that the Sunday Animal market is only held on Sunday. Pictured above are a few views of the market but it is extremely large and photos do not do it justice. You will find everything under the sun and at bargain prices. I love the hand made inlaid knives and buy a few each time I am in Kashgar. My wife buys the hand made embroideries. We even bought a Ughur silk rug this trip folded up and I carried it home in my back pack. If shopping is your thing you will enjoy the Bazaar as well as the wonderful Ughur food which I have become fond of and crave when I am on the Silk Road. I have added two more tours as extensions from Kashgar and Urumqi along and around the Takamankan desert to the ancient town of Hotan which actually has markets as famous as Kashgar but not as convenient being on the southwest part of the desert. Both new extension tours are now available as packages however we do custom private tours to any place you wish to visit. Check out our web site at  Click on the photos for full screen viewing.

Kashgar....on the Silk Road

I will be writing about my 50th trip to China this coming week having just returned home after 30 days. We covered the Silk Road, Shangrila, LiJiang, Jiuzhaigou National Park, the Yangtze River cruise, Beijing and Shanghai this trip. Kashgar is known for the Saturday and Sunday Market however the markets are open all week now but one additional building is open on weekends. Just more of the same huge variety of goods and products. The Sunday Animal Market is still held too. Most tours do not include the Old Ughur sections of Kashgar of which there are five. Above pictured is one large settlement near the center of the city. As old as 500 years it is a maze of crudely built homes and apartments attached to each other with narrow walk ways throughout the huge complex. Pictured above is Ekbar our local guide who is Ughur and had a splendid description of the history and culture of the Ughur people. Many hand crafted products are made in homes. It is very common to walk into a Ughur home. There are two doors to each home. If the lock is on then no one is home. If the lock is on and open, someone is home but does not want to be disturbed. If the right door only is open. The woman of the house is home and welcomes any female visitor but no men. If both doors are open, then the man and woman of the house are home and you can just walk in and visit them. It was a bit shocking to just walk in with Ekbar and walk around their homes visiting with them for a short while and then politely walk out. It is the hospitality of the Ughur people. Be sure to do that when you visit Kashgar. It is culturally extremely interesting. More about the Silk Road in the next week. My 2010 web site will be up in about 4 weeks.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chinese Food While Touring China

As a tour operator food is one of the top subjects that I get questions asked. There is of course a difference in food quality not only in China but in any country when you are on a tour. Tour Operators need to be competitive yet most want to offer a quality tour. Hotels and Food are two areas where Operators can save money in order to be competitive. It is my toughest challenge to provide a quality tour and excellent food and still be competitive. Clients sometimes just make decisions based on price only when there is so much more to the cost of a tour. Group tours must be taken to restaurants that provide pre-cooked food or Buffets and the quality of food is often middle of the road as we are use to more bland food in the West. Private tours can choose any restaurant they want but still must adhere to a budget in order to be competitive. Private tours can adjust to your diet requirements or some of your likes and dislikes. You can request to have some dinners on your own where you can order better dishes. This seems to be the best answer rather than providing more expensive meals that make us less competitive. The Lunch in the top photo is lunch for two at a normal cost. The meal shown below is about 40% more in cost. Both include a beverage and soup. For more information on Food in China contact us directly at

Friday, October 9, 2009

Huashan Sport - Climbing & Hiking

For those people looking for sport climbing or just a remarkable hike in a breath taking area, Huashan is the place to go. Outside of Xian about 2 hours by car to the base and then a cable car ride about 3/4ths of the way up gets you there. There are wooden and stone stairways or if you really want some sport climbing there is the Huashan Sport-Climbing Training Base should you have the time and skill. I was there this fall and realized I was way over my head in ability but loved the thrill of this wonderful granite mountain with fantastic views, small hotels and temples on peaks that reached to the sky. For more information contact us at our web site at  Click on the photos for a full screen view.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Buying Antiques in China

Many people ask me about buying antiques in China. Actually over 90% of the ones you see in flea markets are very well made fakes or reproductions. The Government requires antique dealers to have a red seal on them given by the government. Of course many are sold by families and others which do not have the seal on them. Where do you find these? It is difficult sometimes but one place I found is right in Beijing. Li Songtang has been a collector of antiques by going into old buildings and houses being torn down and collecting them on his own recognizing that sometime in the future they will have value. When some of the Hutongs were being torn down to make way for new buildings, he went through the rubble to save some of the time worn pieces for his collection. You can visit his museum and shop at 3 Guozijian Dajie in the Dongcheng district between 08:30 and 6:00 His phone number in Beijing is 6401-8718. I myself have collected some pieces when I saw a temple being torn down that was over 700 years old. They were burning all the wooden pieces and I saved a worm holed monk from the fire and have it in a case in my home. Other carved wooden pieces adorn our walls from homes in LiJiang destroyed by an earthquake in 1996. For more information and places to visit to collect these rare pieces check my web site at

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What Time is it in Kashgar?

I am back from a month in China and will be writing many stories of one of my best trips ever in the coming weeks. Having been out to the far west in Kashgar and Urumqi in Xinjiang province shortly after arriving in Beijing, I was still having a bit of jet lag. There is only one time zone in China which is as large as the U.S.....except in Kashgar. There is local time and Beijing Time depending on who you ask and what you are doing....and they are two hours apart. Airports, t.v. and bus schedules run on Beijing time but most everything else including businesses, schools, government etc. runs on what they call local time. Offices open up at 10:00 until 1:30 and then from 3:30 to 7:30 five days a week. Stores open at 11:00 until 9:00 at night. Lunch is from 1:30 until 3:30 and dinner is from 7:30 until 9:30 EXCEPT on Friday and Saturdays. Dinner then is usually between 9:30 and 11:00 and most people do not retire until midnight. Breakfast is whenever. So if you are going out on the Silk Road for a tour you may need to make some adjustments to your normal times depending on who you ask, "What time is it"? For someone like me who likes to get up early and is usually in bed by 9:00 p.m. it is quite an adjustment. Looking for a cup of coffee at 6:00 a.m. local time just doesn't work even though it is 8:00 Beijing time.
Anyway breakfast starts at the hotels around 8:30 for the "early birds". :-(