Offbeat Places to See in a China Adventure
China is a place to go because it is so different. A quality tour will be full of experiences and not just being bussed from site to site. A quality tour skips “shopping opportunities” and allows for authentic shopping and interaction with the locals. “Shopping opportunities” on many tours are subsidized by what the government store will pick out of your pocket. Lacquered Chinese furniture can be purchased at Big Lots, right here in Surprise, AZ. Here I want to highlight some unique experiences, not rehash another boring Buddhist temple.
Yashow Market has recently undergone renovations. Reports say the tailors are still in business on the third floor. The several floor department stores were full of vendor shops. The prices are negotiable. I had two custom tailored suits made there and we had clients do the same. One client had several custom tailored shirts made. One client purchased a camera at what she said was a very good price. This was an authentic shopping experience.
The Walk of the Sacred Way is not to be missed. It is either done before or after the Great Wall and lunch depending on traffic congestion. The walk goes along a path of statues, gardens ending with the Ming Tombs. The path is on flat ground with much shade. Definitely do this on your China tour.
Taking a sleeper train in China is an adventure to itself. First there are four beds to a compartment. They assign you a bed just as the airlines assign you a seat except Southwest. There are western and eastern squat toilets on the train. They were hawking drinks and snacks as we were boarding. Once the train begins to move there is nothing to do but try to sleep. The gentle rocking allows some sleep. Luckily we were able to check in very early in Dunhuang and were able to shower before we began our day.
The Dunhuang Sand Dunes on the Silk Road make for a fun morning of play. Here you may hire a camel and camel master to lead you to the top of the dunes. Also in the mix are orange moon boots to keep the sand out of your shoes and scarves. They rent sleds should you want to scoot down the dunes too. On the way down you will get a great view of an oasis lake, eventually you will stroll by it atop your camel.Xian is most noted for the Terracotta Warriors but we remember the bicycle ride atop the city wall around the city. My butt still jiggles from 10 km of cobblestones. None the less the Chinese foot massage was good for my feet. It did not do anything for my butt.
On the CCTV Television series Travelogue the host shows the audience the ins and out of hotpot. We did the hotpot thing as it was very hot in Xian. We had a boiling pot of chicken broth on our table, about one pot for every two persons. Here we added sliced pork, chicken, beef, vegetables, and mystery ingredients. I can’t say we ate a whole lot.
Leaping Tiger Gorge in Yunnan makes for a great stress test. It is about 1000 steps down and 1000 steps back out. The gorge at the headwaters of the Mekong River are purported to be the”world’s deepest,” from the Chinese perspective. The Grand Canyon drops a mile from the north rim. But anyway there are very nice wooden stairs, overlooks, benches and photo stops. The gorge with rock and thundering water along with cool breezes will work up an appetite. Let’s say you are at the bottom and you push your medical alert button because you can’t get up. Well they have porters that will carry you up on a chair with rails. Two men with thick calves with whisk you to the top for about $20.
We have had many kind comments about the quality of hotels in China. The Songtsam Shangrila Retreat in Yunnan was one of those places. We were greeted with ginger tea on a chilly afternoon is a wonderful lobby. The room was tastefully appointed with Tibetan furnishings, copper wash basin, exquisite shower complete with a wooden bucket and brush and a wood burning stove. The grounds were covered in cobblestone, the buildings were all stone. It looked like something is Sedona, AZ. The blanket over the door was the finishing touch. The rooms all have a view of the now restored Monastery. Our dinner was Tibetan complete with Yak butter tea, yak meat, soup, rice- well you get the idea.
Kumning, home to the Flying Tigers, serves as a base for the Stone Forest. On the way we stopped at a non-descript wayside for the local specialty, Yunnan Duck. The fat ducks are smoked with pine needles from the local forests unit the skin is crispy and the fat rendered. Served with plum sauce, it is considered just an appetizer. Girls in Yunnan Blue uniforms served us the rest of the meal. We departed to the Stone Forest to walk off the lunch. In a maze of tall stones and streams of water the forest made for a pleasant walk. Some of the local girls were in costume and happy to pose for photos.
This is just a taste of activities in China that are not a standard fare.