Chinese Coat of Arms

Exploring China
Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Songpan, Yangshuo

May 2007

Beijing - Xi'an - Chengdu - Songpan - Yangshuo - Back in Beijing

Organized by TrekTrek, Slovenia

Duration: 19 days
Group size: 8
Tour guide: Roman Križanič

Map of China
Map of China

Canon PowerShot S2 IS Photographs presented were taken with Canon PowerShot S2 IS digital camera, originally taken in 2592 x 1944 (5 MPixel) resolution and downsampled for the web site to 1280 x 960. Original photos are also available on a DVD version. Most images were digitally adjusted for optimal color and contrast to compensate for exposure errors. There are a total of 848 photos in this gallery, additional 126 were not included.

It goes without saying - click on any thumbnail for a larger picture.


To begin our jurney, we gathered in the late morning in Ljubljana, and drove by van to Muenchen, Germany to catch a night Air China flight to Beijing.

Munich International
Our Air China B-767 Flying over Mongolia and northern China...

...before landing in Beijing the next morning local time.

Initial impressions of Beijing
while driving from the airport
The first home away from home, an ex-brothel, Leo Hostel

Map of Beijing Beijing Subway Map
Map of Beijing City Center Beijing Subway Map

Having settled down after a long flight, in the afternoon we took a walk and visited the nearby Tian'anmen Square.

Leo Hostel has a near-perfect location, within walking distance of Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City,
and in the one of the few remaining old parts of the city, with busy market streets.

Locals gather for board games, and street vendors offer a quick snack The Qianmen Gate (Front Gate) and
Arrow Tower, south of the Tian'anmen Square
and the Forbidden City

The Tian'anmen Square, the largest
public square in the world
Kite flyers Tian'anmen Gate, entrance
to the Forbidden City
Monument to the People's
Heroes, with Chinese
History Museum

Great Hall of the People Mao Zedong Mausoleum Guards at the Tian'anmen Square

We headed from the Tian'anmen Gate to the east,
by the high-class hotels... the Wangfujing Street, one of the
most famous shopping streets in Beijing
The first Chinese-style dinner,
right when the evening shift
was starting

The following day was reserved for paying a visit to the most famous of Chinese landmarks, The Great Wall. We have opted to go to the Simatai section of the wall - a bit remote, less crowded than some more visited locations, highly authentic, and earning the reputation of being the most beautiful section of the Great Wall.
Simatai is some 130 kilometers to the north-east of Beijing, about three hours of driving.

Leaving early, we got stuck
in a morning rush hour
Arriving to the entry, The Great Wall
was looming on the ridge above
A path goes to the remains of the second tower,
after that it's a steep climb on the wall itself

Making our way
to the wall
There are two sections of the wall in Simatai, eastern
and western, divided by a river valley
The first two towers on
the steep eastern side

All the way up we were accompanied by a group of
friendly local women, selling souvenirs
A view to
the west...
...and further up the
never-ending stone stairs

Inside one of the towers Relentlessly attacking the stairs
and quickly gaining height

Half way up, the final
few towers ahead
Simatai entry with
path to The Wall
In some parts, The
Wall is narrow...
...while other sections are a challenge
on their own

Massive guard towers A quick photo session before the
next group of stairs
Some of the bricks
carry old inscriptions
View to the north, that's
Mongolia over there

The top of one of the
guard towers
The Wall goes on,
6.700 km in total
Ever-present souvenir vendors
high up on the wall
Almost at the top, it's
not that steep anymore

Reaching the last accessible tower on the east
side, the rest is closed to the public
Starting our way back down the stairs,
the souvenirs ladies went into action

Instead of walking for 30 min, you can
take the flying fox and slide down
over the lake in half a minute
A short boat ride takes
you back to the entry
Driving back to Beijing through
local villages

Chinese drivers are capable of creating long
stand-stills should two cars happen to touch
Beehive-like buildings
in Beijing
To end the long day, we were awarded
with a foot massage at the Traditional
Chinese Medical Health Center

Before moving out of the Beijing and proceeding to central China, we had one more great landmark left to visit, The Forbidden City (or The Palace Museum, as Chinese would like to have it called now days). On our way there, we stopped at The Great Hall of the People, the Chinese parliament, for a quick tour.

Walking by the Tian'anmen Square, there are
lots of Chinese own tourist groups
First, we pay a visit
to the parliament
The vast main lobby

Hunan Hall Those are expensive
There is a lot of art in all halls

Beijing Hall The main auditorium The main lobby from upstairs

The Ballroom Shanghai Hall Several other halls for meetings Chinese parliament
drive park

The Great Hall of the People from the outside,
with a neat small park in the front of it
Back on the Tian'anmen
Square, Forbidden City
entry ahead
Tian'anmen Gate and seven arched bridges
in the front

Forbidden City Map
Forbidden City Map

Entering the
Forbidden City area
It's hot, it's Sunday, and it's crowded The Meridian Gate

The inner courtyard with five bridges
over the Golden River
Bridges over
the Golden River
The Gate of Supreme
Details of the
gate's roof

Looking back at the
five bridges
The Hall of Supreme Harmony, the central building in the
Forbidden City, is being renovated. Grand ceremonies
were held on this large marble plateau in the front
Passing it on the right,
Hall of Preserving Harmony
is to the left
Throne in The Hall
of Central Harmony

Golden roofs of
the gates
The Hall of Preserving Harmony. The number of animals
on roof's corners mark the importance of the building
The throne inside The square north of The
Hall of Preserving Harmony

Gate of Celestial Purity Marble relief from the
stairs behind The Hall
of Preserving Harmony
A lion in front of
The Gate of
Celestial Purity
Hall of Celestial Purity The queen used to be
carried around in this

Details of the Imperial Garden, the northmost part of the Forbidden City

A wide water trench
surrounds the Forbidden City
Behind the North Gate is a Jingshan Park with the prospect hill, and
The Pavilion of Everlasting Spring on top, offering great views of Beijing.

Panoramic views of Beijing from the top of the hill

To sum up the day, we took the subway to the nearby Silk Street (Xiushui Market), famous shopping center notorious for counterfeit designer brands and heavy bargaining. What used to be an outdoor market is now a five storey shopping mall. We will be returning here on our last day in China for some serious shopping.

Beijing subway Most of Beijing is
under construction
Silk Market, packed
with counterfeited goods
Chinese have a sense
of humor


In the evening that day, we left Beijing on a sleeper train and moved overnight to Xi'an. Xian is the capital of Shaanxi province with a population of over 3 million, and one of the most important cities in Chinese history. Today, Xi'an has become an important cultural, industrial and educational center of the central-northwest region. Many of us liked Xi'an the most of all cities visited.

Beijing train station On the train Scenery while leaving Beijing

Many vast sleeping neighborhoods by the railroad, and building even more... Reaching Xi'an early
in the morning

The city is surrounded by a well-preserved wide
city wall, dating to the Ming Dynasty (1374),
12 meters high, and spanning 13.7 kilometers.
A toilet on the move Xi'an city center, the Bell Tower

After settling in the Bell Tower Youth Hostel, right in the city center, we took off some 40 km east of Xi'an to see one of the main attractions in the area, the Terra Cotta Warriors.
Terra Cotta Warriors, the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, is the burial place of the first unifier of China, surrounded by an army of nearly 8.000 life-size clay figures, horses and chariots, buried there for over 2.000 years. Not two figures are the same. The Terracotta Army was discovered in 1974 by local farmers drilling a water well, and is considered the most significant archeological excavation of the 20th century.

On the way, we have stopped in one of the local shops,
where they make and sell replicas of Terra Cotta warriors
Be a Terra Cotta warrior

They also make beautiful Chinese style
furniture and carpets
Arriving to the Terra Cotta museum site

An amazing view on the Pit 1, with more than 2.000 clay solders, horses, and chariots dug up so far,
estimated a total of 6.000 of them standing there in a battle formation

A few close-ups. Each figure is different. A view on the army from the side

Many figures have been destroyed or damaged, and are being reconstructed Pit 2 contains four mobile combat units;
some 1.000 warriors and 500 horses

Pit 3 is much smaller, and represents the command center
or headquarters
The whole museum complex is newly built
around the location...

... with many accompanying
One of them is a tea house, a welcome refuge
from the heat to sample many kinds of Chinese tea
All major kinds of tea

Returning from Terra Cotta Warriors in late afternoon, we went cycling on the Xi'an city wall (Chengqiang). You can rent a bicycle right there on the top of the wall, and drive all the way around for the whole 14 kilometers.

On the top of the city wall We picked up our bikes

It's a clear, sunny day, the heat has let off in the afternoon, and we are really enjoying it.

Peeking over the wall on the streets below The massive wall

A few impressions of the city from the top of the wall A typical
Group photo at
one of the corners

Looking down on
the crowd below
It's an opportunity to get away from the crowds, the noise, and the traffic congestion.

Main city avenues, the latter one going straight
to the Bell Tower and our hostel
Mixing old and new, these buildings are
over 600 years apart

The day ended up with a tasty dinner in the Muslim Quarter, and later on with large quantities of action-priced beer at a local night club. The next day was free to go around the town on our own, until the afternoon, when we were catching another overnight sleeper train to the next destination, Chengdu.


Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province and the 5th most populous city in China, with estimated 11 million residents in the city area. As we quickly came to realize, due to its location Chengdu has one of the lowest sunshine rates in China, most of the days are foggy and cloudy.

Once again on the train. Countryside is getting more diverse, and train is driving slower than to Xi'an

City streets while driving to the hostel

In Chengdu, we stayed at the Holly's Hostel. The plan for the day after putting down our luggage was to go to Leshan, 180 km south of Chengdu, and see the Giant Buddha, the tallest stone Buddha statue in the world, carved out of a cliff face on the Emei mountain. This was the first day we were let down by the weather, it's lightly drizzling most of the day.

Driving to Leshan,
a thick fog all around
Sichuan is one of the main green tea provinces, and Chengdu
is well known for their teahouses. We stopped in one on the way.
Entrance to the
Giant Buddha site

There are many Buddha and other smaller statues along the path leading to the top
of the Giant Buddha
One of the pavilions
where visitors can rest

Buddha's head and a view down to its feet
by the river before starting to descend
Even if raining, there is
a long slow-moving line
Slowly descending on Buddha's right side..

...on wet slippery stairs A view to the bottom platform, worshippers lighting joss sticks

Going further down with the crowd Final descend to
the bottom
Giant Buddha as viewed
from the feet up

Incense is burnt in a
big pot at Buddha's feet
Leshan city in a
thick fog
Taking the stairs on the other side back to
the top, by a small waterfall
A pavilion with
a huge bell

There is a nice small
temple near the top of
the Giant Buddha site
It's supposed to be
good luck to rub this
Buddha's belly
Arhats at Great
Buddha Temple
Lighting candles and joss-sticks
as an offering and asking for benefits

Young monks presenting
their work
There is a beautiful and peaceful garden with thick vegetation
behind the temple on the way down
Everywhere to be
seen, rickshaws

The next day we have visited one of the Chinas greatest national treasures, pandas. Pandas are found in wild only in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, and there are fewer than 1000 of them left, a majority of them in the Sichuan province. Just outside Chengdu is the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center has been created and imitates the pandas' natural habitat in order that they might have a the best possible environment for rearing and breeding. The center is open to visitors for further scientific education and to improve public awareness of the protection of both wild creatures and their environment.

Driving 10 km
outside Chendu...
... to the Giant Panda
Breeding Research Center
We are lucky, pandas are very active and playful this morning

Way too many photos of pandas. They have about 50 pandas in the center, of varying ages.

AVI Video clip
480x640, 30fps, XVID, MP3 stereo
(17 seconds, 5.97 MB)

The center is arranged
as a very nice park
There was a peacock
walking around
The center also has a few lesser pandas, also known as
red pandas, or small pandas

They are much smaller than giant pandas, quite cute,
and resemble a mixture between a fox and a raccoon
For a fee, you take a picture with one

Returning from the panda center, we visited the Wenshu Monastery, Chengdu's oldest, largest, and best-preserved Buddhist temple in the Chengdu city. We treated ourselves with a vegetarian lunch prepared by monks in the monastery's restaurant, and relaxed in the adjoining teahouse. The afternoon was free to explore the city on our own, and in the evening we are going to see a Chinese opera performance in the local theater.

Local streets with many small shops
near the Wenshu monastery
Wenshu monastery dates in the 6th century, it has almost
200 buildings, and comes with a distinct red wall

Delicate gardens and statues inside the monastery A nice meal in the monastery's restaurant, everything is vegetarian

Relaxing by a
cup of green tea
Walking around Chengdu and
stumbling on a marketstreet
Live fish and eel are
common to find on markets

In the evening, we visited the Sichuan Opera in the Shufengyayun Operatic Circle in the Chengdu Culture Park. With a cup of ever-present green tea you can enjoy performances like the famous magical Changing faces, where actors are capable of changing as many as 10 masks/makeups in less that 20 seconds, each with an instant split-moment gesture! Other performances also include musical solos, acrobatics, hand shadow show, Rolling Light (clown play while balancing a flaming bowl on one's head), and Spitting Fire.

Shufengyayun Opera
in Chengdu
Inside the theater Attendants with special
tea pots for refilling

Opening performance, traditional music, and a dancing act Sichuan Opera puppets on sticks,
amazing skills, puppet comes to life

One of the dancing
A humorous play where
wife punishes husband
Changing Faces and
Spitting Fire


Songpan is a charming small Tibetan countryside town in the northern reaches of Sichuan, lying at the foot of the Minshan Mountains, on altitude of about 2.900 meters. High altitude shows, especially for the first day, the simplest effort leaves you out of breath. The population, a mixed variety of ethnic groups, predominantly Qiang and Tibetans, live primarily on agriculture, raising livestock, and lately tourism. It is especially known for the horse trekking, which is what we were planning to do in the next three days. Songpan is about eight hours drive on the local bus line from Chengdu, travelling there pretty much takes the whole day. It's a quite an interesting ride though, and not one for the fainthearted - if you have seen Chinese drive, imagine them on a busy, narrow, curvy mountain road...

Early in the morning on the Chengdu's bus station, leaving for Songpan Making several quick stops on the nearby
stations and markets, picking up people

We are passing through many small towns and villages on the way

A 10 minutes stop
to stretch our legs
Tourists posing
on yaks
The road gets more
corners and turns uphill
Obviously we are in
the countryside now
Arriving to the
destination, Songpan

A view on southern
part of Songpan
The main traffic road is routed
around city walls
The ancient gates to
the city center...
...leading to the main
shopping street

There is very little motorized traffic within the city walls The Mingjiang River is
flowing through the city

The main city street is full of shops and small business, everybody is pitching in
to help the business running
If you are into ethnic
clothes shopping, you
will love it here

Children in vivid colors are sparky, and just ask to be photographed

If you step around the corner from the main road, local streets are immediately more like to
what you would expect in a countryside

Some houses stretch high up the hills,
with a temple on the top
A bit different map
of the World

Horse trekking is why most visitors come to Songpan. We have opted for a three-day trek, spending two nights camping in tents, which is just about right not to get too demanding. We spent some three to four hours in the saddle each day, with additional hour or two walking, the rest was devoted to camping, or taking on hiking trips on our own. There is no need to be an experienced horse rider to enjoy this trip, horses know better what are they doing and where are they going than we do.
Most horses do have an attitude problem. Not to us, but to other horses. They will furiously defend their position in the line, biting around or springing in gallop on the steepest and narrowest slope to cut the intruder off, should some other horse try to overtake. Apart from low branches, that's the most likely reason to end up on the ground if you are not holding on tight.

The weather next morning is perfect, with clear blue skies, and our guides and horses are waiting Our backpacks are
tied to horses...

...then we are
sat on...
...and off we go The trail leads us to a valley behind the town, and then uphill

The path is not too difficult for the first part although steadily climbing,
and we can soon start to enjoy the view
After being in the saddle for a good hour,
we reach the summit and it's time for a break

Open scenery near Songpan, with snow peaked mountains in behind Me and my horse

Downhill we go on foot, as it's easier on fully loaded horses, and we need to stretch our legs anyway

There is a road going through
the valley below...
...and the last few kilometers
we ride on the asphalt
Around midday, we get
to the first camp site

Horses are rolling in the dirt, guides go about
setting up a camp, and we proceed up the road
to a small park
The park consists of series of beautiful seasonal lakes, however it
not being "the season" meant there was a serious lack of water,
and many lower "lakes" were just puddles

Praying flags Further uphill, the water situation improved considerably, and we enjoyed the walk

Up on the top is a hot spring this park is known
for, water is bubbling with slightly smelly gases
Some were eager to jump in; others, not so much...

We are returning down on the other side
of the lakes, by a circular path around the park
Back in our first camp in late afternoon, tents
are standing already, and dinner is cooking
Crossing the stream
to get to the camp

Having a dinner by the fire, before turning in
for a very uncomfortable and cold night
It is quite chilly in the morning, tents are still
wet and frozen as the camp gets packed up
We start up
the valley

The trail leads through
bushes and a forest
Terrain is steep and muddy, horses
are stopping for a sip from the stream
The view opens up as we near
to the top of the hill

Up on the summit, horses get a 20 minutes break before proceeding further, and we enjoy the scenery

The hot spring we visited yesterday
is visible way down below
On the move again, the trail is much easier, staying close
to the top of hills

We are quite high at this point, on altitude
of about 3.700 meters
Riding for one more hour, on a well
maintained, easy going trail...
...until we dismount for a
walk down to the valley

Of course, a break
comes first
One of the horses is having a particularly bad day,
after first throwing off our guide, half an hour later
it run away with gear still strapped on.
We wait for the outcome among cows
as one of the local guides runs after it

This bull isn't too happy
to see us around
Horse is retrieved,
scattered gear found,
and we move on
Guides are having
a blast watching
us getting on
We ride some more through thick
bushes to the second camp site

On the way we stop at a forest lake... ...and walk the rest of the way down the valley Coming to the
second camp site

Guides are preparing
the camp...
...and we do what
we do best...
...even some yoga In the afternoon, our local friends gather the wood
for the night, and we go sightseeing

We take a walk to a nearby lake, a beautiful one,
although a bit empty at this time of a year
Waterfalls a bit
away upstream
A tricky crossing

In the morning, we have some breakfast... ...while the guides
pack up the camp
My horse is waiting
rather nervously
Starting up through
the woods

As usual, we walk downhill behind the horses

Horses seem to be well motivated,
they know they are going home today
Around the corner, the
first signs of civilization
Just crossing this
small scree...
...and we enter a
small village

Riding by stone-made houses We stop for the first
beer in several days
Local boys are
playing cards...
...a small girl is washing
her hair by the road...

...and the rest of the kids just find us interesting
and don't hesitate to show us their skills
We need to press on. There is just one last hill to go over,
and we are climbing again over the village

The last climb
of the trek
We leave the village
behind... we reach the top Our goal is in sight,
Songpan behind the hill
The guide of our two
horses is posing for us

Horses enjoy the green
grass for a change
We descend on foot down the last hill... ...and then ride the final few miles to the town

After three days, the town of Songpan
welcomes us back, hot showers awaiting
We enter the
buildings via back
...and ride triumphally
through Songpan in the
middle of the main road

Showers were in high demand that afternoon, before we ventured out on individual shopping trips in the town. Some of us have treated ourselves with Tibetan massage and foot massage before meeting for dinner in the most popular hangout for foreigners in Songpan, Emma's Kitchen. Emma speaks excellent English, offers as western food as you can find in China, and can help with everything you could possibly need.
The next morning, we have embarked on the same local bus line back to Chengdu, for another exhausting whole day of driving.

Mountain road drops
with sharp turns
Cooling bus brakes after
a long descend
Delicious beef noodles in
a small diner by the road
China is destroying
their environment

Back in Chengdu

Some nine hours later, the bus finally stopped in Chengdu with our gratitude, and we have traded cold, clean, high-altitude air for a multi-million city polluted and foggy one. We settled back at Holly's and retrieved the excess luggage left there for safekeeping before going on horse trekking.
In the evening, we visited the Chengdu Bookworm. Partly because it is an unique blend of an English language library, a bar, a Western restaurant, and a location of regular cultural events; and partly because Velma, a fellow Slovenian now living in Chengdu, is a manager there, and we went to say "hi".

The next morning was free for last shopping in Chengdu, as early in the afternoon we are flying on to Guilin. Three of us have woken up earlier than necessary, in order to catch the morning activities in one of Chengdu's public parks.

It's too early for Chengdu people, streets are nearly deserted at 7 a.m. Two hours later, this will be crowded.

A small market at park's
gates is much more alive
Park entry An otherwise nicely maintained park is in the morning
full of people of all ages...

...running, exercising, ballroom dancing, practicing tai chi, or just relaxing in a teahouse by a morning cup of green tea

Someone brings a tape player, and they
dance in a group
Some are true
martial arts masters
The park itself is relaxing and gives
you energy for a new day

A bird at
the teahouse
On the way back, city streets of Chengdu are packed already in a true Chinese fashion

At the Chengdu airport, waiting for
a plane to Guilin

Guilin, Yangshuo

The change of climate is obvious the second you step out in the open, it's hot and very humid. Guilin belongs to the subtropical region, but it's not the mild weather it is known for. Guilin is considered to be the pearl of China's tourist industry on account of the natural beauty of the karst landscape. The whole region stands on limestone, weathered and eroded by water, resulting in today's fantastic stone forests, peaks, underground streams and caves. The mountains in Guilin, rising abruptly from the ground, stand in various shapes, strangely-shaped peaks and in unique formation, characterize Guilin's scenery and have brought it world fame.

We have not stayed in the Guilin city itself, we drove 65 km to the south, to the smaller laid-back town of Yangshuo. Yangshuo by the Li river and surrounded by towering karst peaks has attracted a large number of international travelers.

A room at our
hostel in Yangshuo
The West Street in Yangshuo, flanked by small shops and
vendor's stands selling all kinds of souvenirs and snacks.

As it was almost an evening by the time we got settled in Yangshuo, it was a perfect time to visit one of the local attractions, Cormoran fishing demonstration. While some fisherman still make a living by using these birds, this is largely a tourist show now.
The basic principles are simple, you take a bunch of domesticated cormorans and tie a thin rope around their necks. The rope is just tight enough to prevent them swallowing large enough fish. Birds are sent fishing, with fisherman following in a boat closely behind. When a bird starts struggling with a fish it can't swallow, it's pulled to the boat and fish is taken out.

Cormoran fishing is done by night, under a light that attracts fish. Cormorans dive for fish in front of the boat.

We all stop
on a shore
For a demonstration how this works, birds are allowed to eat caught fish,
which are then extracted back from their beaks
Fisherman and
his bird

Bicycling is probably the best and most enjoyable way to experience the amazing limestone peaks that spread for miles around, ride through rice paddy fields, and witness the real rural China by the river. Countless roads and dirt tracks in the Yangshuo area are quiet, making them ideal for cycling and sightseeing.
We had a friendly local guide with us, and first we cycled to her home, very close to the famous Moon Hill, for a home-cooked lunch.

We get some breakfast in the morning on our home street... ...then we pick up our bikes for a day at
the nearby bike rental shop

Shortly after leaving Yangshuo and crossing the Li river we are in the countryside Rice fields and

The scenery around us is astonishing, we are stopping for photos all the time

Passing several small villages and locals going about their business Chinese irrigation
One more stop for

More of the scenery as we are cycling some 8 km south of Yangshuo The last stretch to the destination goes on a road

One of the most famous peaks and a tourist attraction, the Moon Hill, with a hole that was once
a cave inside the mountain

After taking a rest at our guide's home, throwing some dice and having a great home-cooked meal, skillfully prepared by guide's husband, we walked to the nearby Buddha Water Cave. Visiting this cave is nothing like visiting a cave at home - they give you special slippers and a helmet on the entry, and for a good reason! Going through the cave is a true adventure that involves lots of squeezing through narrow passes, ducking, using rope and chain, climbing very steep stairs and ladders, going knee-deep through the water... You get to bang that helmet a lot. The cave has two special attractions - a very narrow, several meters long and only 30 cm high horizontal crack, just high enough for a person to wiggle through; and a real mud bath at the bottom of the cave, a naturally-formed pool of thick gooey mud you can jump in. There is even a lake with clear water right next to it to wash off.

We get equipped at cave's entry The beginning is easy, as guide points out some of
more interesting rock formations

resembling breast
This looks like
a Buddha
A throne Going deeper in
the cave
We are supposed to
crawl through here

Emerging on the other side, with a photographer waiting

Low and narrow
Most of the cave is
wet and slippery
There are several underground lakes to cross

A pool of thick mud deep
below the surface...
...and we are in it! As muddy as we get Climbing back out to the daylight

In the afternoon we ride our bikes again and cycle back towards Yangshuo, taking a different route. The weather turned slightly cloudy, and it wasn't so hot anymore. We marveled at the scenery all the way, and photos speak for themselves.

Bamboo rafts on
the Li river
Going through villages surrounding Yangshuo Back in the
Yangshuo crowd...
...and our West Street

We have returned our rented bicycles, went for a quick shower to rinse of the mud, and were ready for the next big undertake of the day. The day is coming to an end, and we are climbing the hill with a TV tower on top that stands high over the city, trying to catch the sunset from there. There is path full of stairs that leads to the top, and takes about an hour to reach the summit. In such humid environment, climbing stairs gets you soaking wet in minutes.

It is too cloudy for a sunset and getting dark already, so we settle for a few photographs of the city

A panoramic shot of the Yangshuo from the above

The next morning in Yangshuo is free for shopping, sightseeing, or just walking around the town.

There are several lakes and ponds in Yangshuo, as well as a nice park One of the Yangshuo
back streets

The afternoon of the last day before flying back to Beijing next morning is reserved for a boat trip. First we take a local bus line and drive to the small village Pingxin about an hour away. Scenery there is as beautiful as elsewhere, however this village is famous for the view that appears on the Chinese 20 yuan note.
It was very humid in the morning, and just as we were stepping on the bus the first fat rain drops fell. It was raining heavily all the way.

We travel with
some chicken
Compare the scene with the picture on the note We waited out the rain and embarked on boat
when it stopped for a few minutes

The famous two peaks in heavy rain This is no fun
in a downpour
Cruising on the river,
water is all around
Our local guide
in Yangshuo

Water buffalos Peaks are embedded in low clouds River transport

Raining finally stops, and clouds start to disappear A cave in the
wall of rock
We stop on a particular
spot by the river...

...and local souvenirs sellers have a real camp waiting for us there This rocky face contains
many images of horses
The sun is trying to come
through dispersing clouds

Driving back the same way, the country gets lit by a low setting sun

A few more photos of the famous peaks, without the rain Boats are returning
to the harbor
Pingxin after rain

The next morning we pack up our luggage and leave Yangshuo. We drive back to the Guilin airport, and make a two hours flight back to where we have started in China, Beijing.

Our brand new B737-800
with leather seats
Taking off

Back in Beijing

In Beijing we are reunited with our little colorful brothel, Leo Hostel. As it is about midday, we go first out on a lunch, and then drive through the city to the Olympic Park, checking out the new stadiums, parks, and the Olympic village for the upcoming Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Apart from a very long and high fence going all around the site there is hardly anything to see, the whole location is one big construction yard, and they seem to be very careful no one sees what's inside until they are finished.

Once again on Beijing streets, and quickly falling into heavy traffic A lot of building is still going on
around the Olympic Park

The Water Cube, National Aquatics Centre, is a
construction site. The design mimics soap bubbles.
I guess having a view out
is not the point here
Returning downtown in
the afternoon rush hour

It was late afternoon already as we sought out the Chaoyang Theatre for one of the treats of the trip, the Acrobats Show. This show is very popular among both tourists visiting Beijing as well as locals, and is an impressive on-stage demonstration of their breathtaking athletic and artistic skills, at moments seemingly almost superhuman. Many of the performers are kids and teenagers.

Inside the theatre The opening
The show starts on fairly easy, dragons doing
the warm-up of the audience

Then everything shifts into a higher gear Quick paced jumping through various hoops A very flexible young
girl coming on

Balancing several stacks of glasses while rolling and twisting

Probably the most difficult act of the evening, incredible strength and balance He first goes down
this way, then back up

Girls spinning on sticks two dozen of plates each, and performing group figures Young boys showing
off acrobatics skills

Lots of salts and air time in this act One more balancing act Girls on bicycles

Formations and acrobatics on bikes How many girls can you fit on a bike?

Shichahai, the city's lake district, was the last stop of the day at the dusk, a delightful area to relax over a drink while watching life on and off the water. Shichahai is beautiful all the time, but has a special attraction in the evening, when the promenade by the lake is filled with neon lights, countless bars and restaurants. Shichahai is often crowded, especially in the evening and on weekends.

Exploring the local
hutongs (narrow alleys)
You can rent a boat, or just drive in one,
and enjoy the scenery
The old Yingding bridge
connecting Front
and Back Lake
The place comes to
life at night

We have one last full day in China remaining, the next morning we are flying out from Beijing. In the morning, we went to the Temple of Heaven Park (Tiantan Park), one of Beijing's most impressive parks and more that twice in size of the Imperial Palace. Several times a year, the Emperor would come here to pray for good harvests, enough rain and other heavenly boons. The construction of the Temple is based around the number nine, which is divine in Chinese numerology.

Temple of Heaven Park Map
Temple of Heaven Park Map

Apparently many come
here with bicycles
The South Gate
to the Park
Walkway to the
Altar of Heaven
Playing Jianzi, kicking
around the shuttlecock
Practicing calligraphy
using a brush and water

The Altar of Heaven, constructed with details representing the
number nine. If you stand in the center, you can hear your own echo.
Series of small gates
between the Altar and
the Vault

Hall of the Imperial Heavenly Vault (the Echo Wall behind it) served as storehouse for the spirit tablet
of the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. It would be moved to the Altar for the sacrificial ceremonies.

A gate to The Bridge
of Cinnabar Steps
Old cypress trees surround the buildings,
creating an appropriately spiritual atmosphere
The Bridge of Cinnabar Steps, a 360m walkway.
The middle path was reserved for the Emperor alone

Gate of Prayer for a Good Harvest The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, a 38 meters tall building which does
not have a single nail holding it together, it's completely wooden

Gate to the
Long Corridor
The Long Corridor is a popular gathering point of local people, engaged in all kinds
of social activities

Playing dominos A card game going on.
They do play for money.
Many amateur bands and singers come here to perform

Chinese Chess, or xiangqi, is
a popular game among Chinese men
Singing lessons in a
truly professional manner
There are tourists here, too,
but most are locals, starting
a day with pleasant activities

More Jianzi, this time we have a pleasure of watching a real expert and the crowd is loving it

Chinese like to exercise and stay fit,
some are really flexible
It may not be quite as easy as it looks... A thoroughly equipped
exercise area, a fitness
out in the open

Feeling all spirited up and energized for the battle ahead, we proceeded directly to the Silk Market for some last day shopping and heavy duty bargaining. Those may have been the most exhausting hours of the whole trip, but at the end of the day we emerged victorious, and with empty wallets.

All there was left for us to do in Beijing the last day there was to pack our luggage and move out to the Beijing International Airport for a flight home.

Nearly three weeks after last holding a fork, going home